00hrs, 59mins, 59secs until arrival
Jerking awake her breath caught in her lungs as she fell. Heart skipping several beats Abigail flung out her hands and feet, searching for a handhold. With an involuntary yelp she awoke in mid air. 'Jesus!' a voice said through the blaring sirens as Abigail's hand smacked them across the face. Rolling over on her bed Abigail blinked several times trying to clear her vision, their sleeping quarters were bathed in sporadic red light as the lights pulsed in time with the siren. Alex was crouched down, as Abigail had been allotted the lowest of the three levelled bunk bed, a hand rubbing the bridge of his nose, blinking away the tears quickly.
'Oh my god Alex I'm so sorry.' Abigail said groggily. Blinking again her vision cleared as she saw a small army of feet walking past the edge of her bed. 'What's happening?'
Her answer didn't come from Alex. It came from the ships automated A.I. 'Warning, warning, entry into planet's atmosphere in approximately fifty-eight minutes. All crew members to the cockpit. Warning, warning...' the female voice droned on through the siren.
'How can you sleep through this god damned racket?' asked Alex handing Abigail a sealed packet of the standard issue white joggers and hooded top.
'I've slept in worst places.' she smiled. Opening the bag she reached in for the clothes and out of the corner of her eye saw Alex avert his eyes and stand up. What a gentleman. Thought Abigail with a smile. It's not like he'd not seen it all before, after she was taken from stasis she'd staggered back from the showers almost completely naked, but it was a kind gesture. 'You can go you now. I know the way to the cockpit.' she said kicking off the sheets and pulling on the pair of jogging bottoms.
'Captain's orders. We have to move through the ship in twos. Orbital entry has turbulence like you wouldn't believe; you remember what it was like during training. I got thrown halfway across that god damned plane like a ragdoll. If that happens here we could hit our heads on a bulkhead door, or the ceiling, and I don't know about you but I'd rather not have come all this way to get a serious long term head injury.' his voice spoke down to her. Abigail just laughed over the whining siren.
'So if you go flying you honestly think I can stop you?'
'Hell no. But if I'm going I'm sure as hell taking you with me.'
Abigail laughed. Pulling on the hoody her hair got dragged down by the fabric, pulling several hairs from their roots, straining her neck before her head erupted through the hole at the top. 'Right. Let’s go.'
Alex hadn't been wrong about the turbulence. The ship was getting tossed about like a child’s toy. Up, down, left, right and all the directions in between the ship was thrown violently. More than once Abigail and Alex had been forced to crawl along the floor instead of risking standing up and being thrown into a wall. It was a heart stopping feeling. That split second of falling as the vessel was torn from beneath your feet. Then hitting the decking with a clang as your heart thundered in your ears. Abigail was glad when they finally reached the cockpit. Smacking the touch lock whilst holding on to one of the overhead bars for dear life the bulkhead door slid open with a satisfying hiss of pistons and revealed the large cockpit of the U.N.S Pharaoh. It was diamond shaped floor with enough seats to hold every crew member and the science team, computer screens and holo-screens projected information to the crew who sat by the edges of the cockpit. Hands rapidly thrashing the keyboards and twisting dails as the ship shook and bucked like a wild bronco. Captain Sila sat at the diamonds point, in front of two massive panels of crystalflex glass, heads up displays projected onto the twelve inch thick sheets of cystal as he held the two joy stick controls with white knuckled ferocity.
Staring past the heads up displays of telemetry information and heat shield readings Abigail felt her jaw drop. Mars grew across the clear crystalflex. Larger and larger. Expanding in the void of space like a murder red ink stain on blotting paper. She could just see both poles, a pale, dusty white against the rusty red of the rest of the planet. She felt her cheeks dimple as she smiled at the planet. It was just as beautiful as she imagined. It was...perfect.
'If you would be so kind to take your seat Doctor Carter thing's are about to get very interesting.' Sila growled through his teeth as he struggled to contrail the bucking space craft. She did as she was told without a moment’s hesitation; her seat was across from Alex's who had already buckled his four point harness so tight that Abigail could see the straps digging into his flesh. The others looked just as nervous as Alex. Gregory was streaming off Russian swearwords at a rate of knots, Ling seemed to be praying, Jacque's usually expressionless face was a taught mask of barely restrained fear and Elliot just sat back in his chair. Eyes closed and head slightly raised towards the ceiling, blocking out the world around him, possibly thinking that if he didn't see it it wasn't really happening. 'Cosmology report?' hissed Sila.
It was the Pharaoh’s engineer that answered. His words rolling with a polished Scottish accent. 'We have a huge dust storm pushing up from the southern hemisphere Captain, winds clocking on at close to one hundred mph.'
'Can we adjust course?'
'Not on our levels of fuel. We'll have to ride it out.' said Damien, his ash blonde hair falling in straight curves around his face, the light from his holo-screen shining through the sweat on his brow.
'Alright Mr Tipling,' said Sila. 'This ship is in your hands now. You plot a course and I'll follow.'
'Aye aye Captain.' said Graham, the navigator was clearly another ex-soldier. He worked with a calmness and efficiency that only battlefield training of the most extreme and demanding level could instil into you. Finally strapped securely into her seat Abigail tried to control her breathing; she could feel the diamonds of sweat rolling down her face, she, like Elliot, refused to look at what was happening. She just closed her eyes and focussed on keeping her breathing slow and regular, if only she could control her heart so easily. It thundered in her chest like a jackhammer. Soon enough lights bright enough to send colour flaring across her closed lids began to spark beyond the ship. Jets of superheated gas tearing at the shuttle as it punched it's way through Mars's thin atmosphere. Soon the whole ship was wreathed in flame. Then the turbulence became damn near unbearable. If she hadn't have been strapped into her seat Abigail was sure she would have been launched through the ceiling. It shook like an angry god had gripped hold and wouldn't let go. Her bones juddered in their sockets; her teeth clattered together sending a high pitched ringing in her ears, her nails ripped into the fabric of her chair's arm. She crunched her eyes together. Her breath catching every time she inhaled. Sirens blared as the Pharaoh was shaken apart. She heard voices shouting orders but couldn't understand them. Metallic screeches cut through the cockpit as the ship was literally falling apart. She could feel the heat of the flames on her face. She screamed.
Then it stopped.
The Pharaoh levelled out, the shaking reduced to nothing but a gentle aftershock, the heat dying away to be replaced with face numbing cold. Opening her eyes Abigail looked around, she checked her hands and felt her body, she was still alive. Alex's laugh broke the silence as he rubbed his hands down his face. 'God damn what a rush!' he laughed. 'Can we do that again?'
'Please no...' squeaked Elliot from his chair. Soon they were all sharing a laugh, that kind of laugh that only happens after a moment of unbearable tension. Rubbing a hand across her forehead to wipe away the sweat Abigail couldn't help the smile that cut across her lips, she was alive. She had just survived travelling through space, waking from stasis and entering the Martian atmosphere. Not a bad run for an archaeologist. She grinned to herself.
'Ergh, I theenk' I'm goeeng' to throw up.' moaned Jacque, looking back at him even Abigail had to admit the Frenchman looked ill. He'd gone drip white and his eyes seemed to have glazed over.
'Aww, what's wrong Froggy. Not got the stomach for it?' teased Alex.
'Alex!' barked Abigail.
'What?' he whispered. 'The guys a douche bag. Deserves all he gets.'
Abigail watched the blocky American carefully as he lifted a hand to rub his forehead. 'Your head still hurting?'
'Yeah, doc says it’s just Stasis Sickness. She said It'll...'
'U.N.S Pharaoh this is Arc Sight One,' said a voice over the coms. 'Come in U.N.S Pharaoh.'
'This is Captain Sila Everest of U.N.S Pharaoh,' he said reaching up to a console on the ceiling above his head and depressing a blinking purple button.
'Hello Captain, welcome to Mars.' said the women, nearly every one of the science team smiled at that. 'You've obviously noticed the storm front that's heading our way, its several months away from Arc Site One but to be safe we advise flying over M.M.S.P just to be safe.'
'Rodger Arc Site One. We request clearance to land on runway Alpha.'
'Already been cleared for you Captain, a dune rover will arrive to pick you up upon landing. Happy flying.' with a quick burst of static the connection was terminated.
'We're one Mars baby!' Alex whooped. Raising his hands above his head and performing a little dance in his seat. Laughing with him the rest of the flight was a dream, no turbulence at all and only the rolling rusty deserts and mountains of Mars to look at.
'What's Arc Site One?' asked Ling softly.
'It just stands for archaeological site. It was the first place humans started digging and it’s the biggest base for the residential teams when they are here.' answered Damien looking back at them from his seat, the young scot had a soft smile on his face as he watched the world pass by through the thick windows. It's his first time here. Abigail realised. At least the science team had something in common with at least one crew member.
'Ees' thees' place where zey' found thee' arteefact'?'
'No matey. The whole Arc Site complex is spread over about fifty miles with half a dozen separate labs and living colonies. They found the artefact at Arc Site Five.'
'Mother of Christ,' Alex blasphemed yet again, he did that a lot. 'What's that hell hole?'
Looking out of the windows Abigail saw what he was looking at. A sprawling array of dusty steel buildings sat like a huge black spider over the dunes, a massive wall surrounding the entire structure with rusted razor wire running in coils along its top. The buildings were in ruins. Towers had been broken in half and left to crumble, windows were broken and half of the lowest buildings had been swallowed up by the Martian sands. Consumed into the planet. 'That's M.M.S.P.' said Damien with a knowing grin. 'Martian Maximum Security Penitentiary.'
'That's a prison?' asked Elliot in shock.
'Yep. When the U.N.S was first formed they didn't see the point of keeping prisoners on Earth, so they shipped them off here. It worked for a few years until the prisoners rose up against the guards. They killed them all and contact was lost for years.' said the Engineer checking a pict-image that had flashed onto his screen.
'What happened to the prisoners?' asked Abigail.
'Nothin'. The U.N.S left them to kill each other, what could they do? There was nothing else on the planet back then and the only colonies were miles away. So they let them die.'
'That's horrid.' said Ling.
'That's government missy.' said Damien dryly. 'People still claim its haunted, say one prisoner still lives, searching for a way to get back home.' he said in his best Halloween scary story voice, reaching over to grab Abigail with a twitching hand.
'Piss off.' she laughed, batting his hand away. Damien laughed and turned back to his screens as the prison disappeared beneath them.
'Fifty miles until we reach Arc Site One Cap'n.' said the scot not looking away from his screens.
'Very good.' said Sila, settling down into his driving seat, his hands relaxing on his controls. The blood bleeding back into his knuckles. Abigail fell back into her seat, that she discovered was actually quite comfortable when g-forces weren't using their ship like a play toy, and watched the landscape roll by through the viewing screens. 'There we go people. Our home for the next fourteen months.' Sitting against her restraints Abigail lifted herself a few inches off her chair to see over Sila's head, and sure enough their home was slowly spreading into view.
Arc Site One was an amalgamation of six huge white plastek domes; each half sphere made of hundreds of individually cut hexagons and set into a carbon steel frame. The largest of the domes stood in the middle of the others, roughly triple the size of the other five it sat on the rusty sands of Mars like a cabochon cut gem. Corridors stretched from the central dome to the others, connecting the site together into one huge expanse of stark white buildings. It was here...the find that could change the world...this was the place that could go down in history as the site where humanity lost its independence as the only sentient species to have inhabited the universe.
Such a small place for such far reaching consequences.