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Chapter Eighteen – The Man Who Fell To Mars

Back to Chapter Seventeen

Beth’s on the comms. “Ok, José, vaquero del espacio, time to load up and head back. That is, if you’re ready.”

José and The Leather Goddesses of Phobos are playing cards (on the tablets) in the galley. “Well ladies, you heard the woman. Time make like a tree and leaf.”

“It’s been nice having company for a change.”

“Come back to visit us sometime.”

“Or send two men next time!”

“I hear and obey.” José starts pulling on his pressure suit. “I’ll leave my extra water and food. Seems you need it more than we do on the surface.”

Sternly, “Remember, you promised us chocolate!”

“I won’t forget. You’ve earned it.”

Before long José is strapping himself into the Bounce Bug. He’s tapping the comms. “Hey, is this thing on?”

“Reading you loud and clear. T minus 5 minutes and we’ll separate you from Phobos and bring you back down. Should all go fine on auto. Don’t touch anything.”

“Don’t worry, I’m scared of this thing.”

“Just relax. We’ve got some music queued up for you, here it comes now.”

With just a touch of thrust the Bug disconnects from Phobos Station and drifts away from the moon. It’s Chief Engineer Preston on the horn this time. “After your epic, history-book writing emergency repairs to our communication systems this team is going to take excellent care of you. No reason for a Hispanic Panic.”

José is watching Preston on the monitor, the Chief Engineer is checking to make sure at least one other person caught him actually trying to make a joke. This is an Important Moment in History. “Has anyone briefed you on what happens next?”

“No. Not even when I asked.”

“Let me ask you this, José. Do you like rollercoasters?”

“I used to. I get the feeling I may change my mind shortly.”

“As you know we can only synthesize fuel slowly here on Mars, so we try to use it sparingly.”

“Yah, where are we going with this?”

“At the right moment we tap the throttle lightly to nudge you out of Mars orbit. You’ll start falling towards the surface. To slow you down we’ll be tapping the retros from time to time, then as you get closer we inflate the Bounce Bags. Ever wonder why it’s called a ‘Bounce Bug’?”

“I tried not to think about it too hard.”

red rubber ball

“We bring you down with three things: one – some atmospheric braking two – some retro-rockets and third and finally – The Big Bounce.”

Now José is starting to sweat. “The Big Bounce?”

“That’s right. The Big Bounce. The Bounce Bags will defray the energy from your fall from orbit, though it means you’ll be a red rubber ball for a few minutes before finally settling to a stop.”

¡Dios mio! Yo voy un hombre muerto.” he mumbles to himself. Then, “How many people have you lost doing this?”

“Don’t worry, more people die from being attacked by cows on Earth than have ever been harmed landing in a Bounce Bug. We have safety features! Ah, I see your pulse and heart rate are going up!”

As he watches Phobos fall away from him José is thinking, I should have stayed with the nice science ladies… The thrusters fire briefly and he can feel the acceleration towards the planet. The butterflies in his stomach grow to Jurassic Park size, the sensation of uncontrolled falling … you can tell his knuckles are white from gripping the seat even through the pressure suit. Silently he gives up and passes out… until a firm blast from the retros slams him into the seat and his eyeballs into the back of his skull. Then a sudden thwump! and he’s airborne in the opposite direction.

José opens his eyes just long enough to see the horizon sink away from him, slow and as the Bug rotates him upside down it reaches apogee and starts to descend again. José finds that he can’t scream like a little girl through clenched teeth. Another big bounce and the cycle starts again. How long this goes on he can’t say but each bounce is gentler until the Bug finally settles to a stop in a cloud of reddish dust with José hanging nearly upside down.

“You did it! Welcome back to Mars!” It’s Chen, sticking his head in front of Beth’s monitor. Beth pushes Chen out of the way. “Down on the ground. Hang tight and we’ll have you back to the base in no time.”

José coughs, mentally double-checking that everything is still attached. “Easy for you to say.”

Onward to Chapter Nineteen – Ghosts In The Tiki Bar