Enjoy your sneak peak from Mars Journey: Call to Action: Book 1
Brent and Williams unharnessed themselves and floated in zero G over to the Wyvern dock hatch where they waited for the automated coupling to complete. The Pisces schematics showed backup battery on the oxygen generation units, so they had anticipated the results being 50 percent of optimal. If it was low or zero, they would quickly reattach their helmets. Thankfully, there was no need for that, since the display showed positive at 80 percent.
That’s higher than it should be… thought Brent, but the hiss of the hatch opening broke his concentration.
The Pisces docking port opened into darkness.
Brent stared into the void as his eyes adjusted. Then, suddenly, a figure careened wildly toward them, shouting gibberish.
It’s not gibberish, he realized. It’s French.
It was Andrea Martine, the lead civilian scientist. Her red hair and fashion model-like facial features would be hard to mistake for anyone else, even despite her current disheveled appearance.
“Merci, merci, you must help the others,” she said, grabbing Brent by the suit. “We thought we were done for.”
“That’s why we’re here,” said Brent, gripping her hands as she looked into his eyes.
“Thank God,” she said. “Thank you. Thank you so much.” She tried to pull Brent closer, and Brent found himself holding her back.
“Ma’am, ma’am,” Williams interjected.
“Oh, yes,” Andrea said, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.
“Where is the rest of your crew?” continued Williams.
“Jean Louis and crew at your service,” came a French-accented voice from the dock doors.
They turned to see the remaining four members of the Pisces lined up at the hatch.
“We figured that a rescue via space vessel was the highest probability, so we gathered here,” said Jean Louis.
“That was a good plan,” said Brent. “It’s far less risky for us to have to board the Pisces. Come on. Let’s get you all strapped in so we can get you safely home.”
The lights in the entryway began to flicker. All at once, they turned on.
Andrea looked up at the lights with a look of shock. “How is that possible?” she said.
“We are powering the station temporarily,” said Williams. “We thought it might be necessary.”
“Smart thinking,” Andrea began, but she was cut off by Jean Louis.
“Wait—power is on now?” he said. “I can get my experiments that were on emergency lock down! It will only take a minute.”
Before Brent or Williams could say anything, Jean pushed off and floated his way back on to the Pisces.
From behind, an alarm started blaring.
Brent turned to look at a gauge on the Wyvern console. “Not good,” he said. “We are dropping altitude faster than the predictions.”
“Why?” asked Williams.
“Must be when we reversed the energy flow,” said Brent. “Some of the structural alignment thrusters kicked in… We’re rapidly descending.”
“Roger that,” said Williams. “Lock these guys in. I’m going after our runner.”
Brent gave his okay, but then, all of a sudden, his world appeared to move in slow motion. Brent’s hyper-speed mind had taken over. Something wasn’t right. The rapid descent. The oxygen levels at 80 percent instead of 50 percent… Layers of schematics, blueprints, conversations with techs and engineers ran through his mind in rapid succession.
Andrea floated in front of him. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Brent didn’t respond. He was still locked in his trance-like thought, running the scenario again and again in his mind, changing tiny details and small variations. Maybe it was nothing.
Stay focused, this is important, a voice spoke up in his mind. It was the voice of his wife Shayla—the internal voice he used to keep himself calm in stressful situations.
He had been thinking of the Pisces in its entirety; but now he focused in on individual modules, their components, and how they interacted. How they each affected one another, and—
Wait. There it is—No!
Brent, startled from his trance, shouted, “Williams! Wait! If you go after him, we all die! We have to get out of here now!”
“I’m not leaving him behind,” Williams shouted back and continued to make his way back to the Pisces.
Sorry, my friend. No way I’m going to let that happen.
Brent quickly searched for a way to stop him. Williams wasn’t responding to commands. He wasn’t the type to respond to threats. A blow from the fire extinguisher to Brent’s right could kill him. Any punch that Brent threw could break his hand and was no guarantee of disabling Williams. Williams was far too strong to grapple.
I’ll have to put him to sleep.
Brent narrowed his eyes on the back of Williams’ neck. By now, he was halfway through the vessel docking bay.
Brent grasped the side of the seat he was next to for stability, planted both his feet on the side of it, and propelled himself forward as he floated in zero G on a precise trajectory for Williams. At the last second, Williams sensed Brent’s approach, but it was too late. Brent’s arm was already snaked around Williams’ neck, wrapping around to clasp his own arm. He placed his hand on the top of Williams head in a perfectly executed rear naked choke.
And Brent squeezed as hard as he could.
Excellent technique. Ideal leverage. Williams should be out cold in three, two, one…
Williams defied the average and, tightening the knotty muscles in his neck, managed to stay conscious. He thrashed and elbowed back into Brent’s ribs to little effect. He reached back and tried to punch Brent in the face but missed awkwardly. Brent was using the benefit of weightlessness to nullify his friend’s incredible strength.
Former friend, probably, he thought. I don’t see us staying friends after this.
Finally, Williams went limp.
Brent sensed the seconds ticking down fast. He grabbed Williams under both armpits like a lifeguard with a drowning victim, then found purchase with his feet on a rung and launched them both sailing back through the Wyvern bay.
Brent clipped his head hard on the top of the hatch bulwark.
That’s gonna leave a mark.
As he sailed past Andrea he shouted to her, “Get that hatch sealed!”
Andrea, with tears rimming her eyes now, shook her head no. Behind her, the rest of the crew were buckled into their seats, looking nearly as confused as they were terrified. Brent muscled William’s limp body into a seat and threw a harness strap over his shoulder.
“Get that hatch shut now, or you kill the rest of them!”
A massive reverberation rocked through the vessel, vibrating the very air. Brent’s hyper-speed mind identified it as the engine compartment.
“Now!” he shouted at Andrea.
She obeyed and pushed off to towards the hatch to close it as Brent made his way to the cockpit chair, taking time to buckle only one of his harness straps. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw down the Pisces docking bay. Jean Louis was returning, his hands full of documents, his face fearful. He started to shout something, but he fell out of view as Andrea closed the hatch.
“I am so very sorry, my love” she whispered just barely loud enough for Brent to hear.
The Wyvern capsule was rocked again by another explosion. It was a sound Brent’s mind could only imagine as the tearing down of a skyscraper or the rending of an airplane in half. It ripped through the capsule. His hands were rapidly flitting across the touchscreen display, disengaging the connector protocols.
“Buckle up!” he shouted to Andrea, “motioning with his head to the seat next to where Williams was lying, unconscious still. “And get him fully strapped in.”
Andrea, face gaunt and distant as a shell-shocked soldier, moved forward to comply with the order. Brent looked to the heads-up display that showed minute separation.
Not happening fast enough! We’re dead if we don’t get some more thrust…
Brent activated a separate console display used for the six reentry thruster rockets to slow the Wyvern down for landing—not the minute and detailed thrusters used for space ops. He held his breath, hit the button, and waited for the acceleration.
Nothing happened. He looked down and saw the screen was visually crossed off, displaying the words: Action Prohibited.
“Action prohibited!” Brent shouted. “The hell it is! This is my Wyvern!”
Brent pushed aside the console and reached down between his feet to pull up the manual controls. He locked it in place, found the six red panel covers for the thruster switches, and flicked them up.
He was about to flip the switches when he heard screams from behind him. He looked back to see the rescued crew staring out at the viewport window. Half of the Pisces III was on fire, and it was spreading to where the main oxygen tanks were housed.
“My God…” Brent said. Then, he flipped the switches.
Full thrust buried them all back in their seats just as the Pisces oxygen tanks exploded. The Wyvern boosted forward, chased by an ever-expanding translucent blue fireball threatening to engulf them.