Home of authors Holly Hunt & Jophrael L. Avario

Mercury’s Fodder – Tour Exclusive Extract

The probe circled the dark planet, beaming back images of the atmosphere and surface to the Harvord sitting in orbit. The probe was focussing on the far horizon, where the sun was rising against the darkness of space. The orange globe was a lot larger this close, and the people on the space station watched in wonder as the probe’s images began to take shape on the screens.

“Well done, guys,” the technician called from where he was sitting, his feet up on the computer controls. “We’ve spent six months flying to this hell hole on a bullshit mission to photograph a dead planet. And what did we find? Craters, yay.” He lifted his feet up, swivelling around in his chair in mock celebration.

The Captain stood up straight, glaring at the young man. She’d taken no liking to the boy in the last ten months aboard the ship, and the boy’s attitude hadn’t changed in all that time.

“Marcus, get your feet off the controls and do something useful.”

“Like what, boss lady?” he asked, purposefully dropping his feet heavily on to the keyboard. “All the shit I’m here to deal with has been dealt with. Unlike rock girl and photo guy over there, I’m useless unless something goes wrong.”

The Captain opened her mouth to reprimand him, but the guy staring intently at the photographs suddenly swore, gaining her attention.

“Boss, get over here and take a look at this. I think you really need to see this.”

“Feet off, Marcus,” she snapped at him, motioning the action with her hand. She made sure he did as she said and hurried over to the monitor that Glen was leaning over. “What did you find?”

“There.” He pointed to a vague spot on the monitor, a small black spot on the image.

“It’s a smudge on the lens.” She scratched at the monitor lightly, and pulled the remains of a dead bug from the glass. “Or maybe this would explain your problem?” She held the bug out on the tip of her finger, an inch from his nose. “Bug me when you have a real problem, Glen.”

“Then you might want to take another look, boss,” he said, his eyes still fixed on the screen.

She glanced at the screen and did a double-take. She reached out to scratch at the monitor again, but this time it was as clean as if it were freshly-molten. She leaned back and had another look. The bug on the screen had distracted the Captain from what had really caught Glen’s attention.

There was an object in the probe’s view, large as a planet and just as dead-looking. It was only a vague outline on the image, but the Captain immediately snapped to attention, barking orders.

“Get a copy of those images back to Earth, now! I want a report on my desktop in three minutes, as well as all copies of high-res images taken today. Katie, Glen, get looking. I want to know what that thing is, if it’s hostile or dead. And I want to know ten minutes ago. Move!”

Marcus’ feet bounced off the floor in his haste to follow orders. His hands flew across the touch screen and keyboard, using both in sequence to execute orders that the Captain didn’t even pretend to understand. She stalked across the bridge to her own seat, pulling the small touch-screen from her pocket, her thumbs working overtime.

On her screen, the object loomed.

“Is it a moon?” she snapped a couple of seconds later, examining the pock-marked surface in the high-res images.

“Mercury doesn’t have a moon,” Katie answered, her voice distant. “At least, not one we know of. But the object is too far away to be a moon, and moving in the wrong direction.” She flicked the screen, and the image she’d been looking at replaced the one on the Captain’s hand-held touch screen.

“That’s a projection based on the six-minute gaps in the photographs. That object is moving way too fast to be a moon.”

“Is it just me, or am I seeing a collision course on this graphic?” the Captain asked, zooming in on the time-lapse computer model.

“It’ll be a close thing, but Mercury should end up missing the planet by a few hundred miles.” Glen flicked a graph over to the Captain. “But there’s going to be a lot of turbulence.”

“When?” the Captain asked, sitting down in her seat and pulling her controls closer.

“With how fast that thing’s moving, if Katie’s model’s right, then we have twenty minutes.” Glen looked at the Captain, his hands still flying across the screen. “But her model’s wrong.”

“No it’s not–”

“It is,” Marcus cut in, flicking something to the Captain’s screen. “It’s sped up.”

The Captain abandoned the graph in her hands and grabbed the controls, her fingers shaking. “Hold onto something, kids. This is going to get rough.”

The scientists grabbed onto their desks as the Capitan plugged her orders into the computer. Immediately, the space station shot off away from the planet, knocking Marcus out of his seat. He scrambled to his place as the station broke orbit, floating free of the planet’s pull. She powered down the engines and used the forward thrusters to slow them, preventing them from floating off in the vast vacuum they’d re-entered.

“Here it comes.”

The four humans stopped their frantic calculations and stared at the screen, the Captain maintaining enough thought to hit ‘record’ on all the data programs running in the system.

They watched the large object as it entered Mercury’s scant atmosphere, no resistance offered. The object was barely smaller than the planet it was about to destroy, its entire image seen in the display of the space station above.

“Get us moving,” Katie whispered, then swung around to look at the Captain. “Now!”

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March 15, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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