by Nigel Preece
Based on characters and machines seen in the films and television of Gerry Anderson
© Carlton International Media
1.Glad Tidings and Sad Tidings
Jeff Tracy heaved a huge sigh of relief.
The suspicions had not materialised into a scandal. The Impostors had been found by Penny, Parker and the Tuttles, with a little help from "Ma's Beans".
All was well.
Thunderbird 3 was still in a high orbit over the pacific, taking care of an Astronaut who has lost his tether line and had drifted away from an orbital tracking station. Despite the fact that a global search was out for the International Rescue team and its hardware, Jeff had taken the huge gamble of sending the red rocket into space to search for the lost spaceman. During the flight, word has got to Jeff via John that two crooks posing as Thunderbird men had been captured.
All was indeed well.
The relief was palpable, and very visible to the founder and commander of International Rescue. The whole lounge seemed to collectively whoop with joy. Gordon jumped into the pool, fully dressed, as he only could. Virgil, aware that Alan was not around, planted a smacker on Tintin that lasted for several seconds, and made the young girl smile, blush, and wonder why the hell Alan could not kiss like that, and to Jeff's amusement, Kyrano and Grandma were both arm in arm in the adjoining room, jigging like a couple who had just won the Kansas state lottery.
Jeff looked around and found the whole outpouring entirely understandable. After all he had not spent the many years putting the organisation together for it to fall apart in a matter of days as a result of the actions of two "low lives".
He slumped down in his chair, rubbed his eyes, and as he looked up from having done that, he saw, out of the balcony the outline of a Helijet in the distance. His relief was suddenly cut short.
"Virgil, get on to Alan and Scott", he barked urgently, pointing up into to space, "Tell them to stay in orbit, or, if they have re-entered, and they might have by now, tell them to circle the base at 160,000 until further notice".
Jeff ran out to the pool, where a saturated Gordon, having clambered out of the pool, was looking in the direction of the Helijet.
"Guess they've had a hunch that the base is here dad", Gordon said.
"Yep", said Jeff, running down the stairs onto the patio, almost resigning himself to the fate he felt awaited him, "They've got their men, yet they can't resist having a look for us anyway. They’ve been here once already. Our security is too tight though. They will be wasting their time".
"I'll lay you even money John gets a call while they're here", the aquanaut uttered as he wrung out his wet shirt in the pool.
"Hold it", Jeff yelled, putting his arm on Gordon's wet shoulder, "It's no navy helijet, look".
The men looked. Sure enough it was no navy craft, but the mail plane.
"Thank God” and Jeff uttered his second sigh of relief in minutes. By now Kyrano was at poolside, and at a loss to understand why his old friend was in such a panic over the visitor.
"Mista Tracy, you are paranoid after this scrape with these impostors. You should know that the mail plane come at this time of day".
The ex-astronaut could not help but laugh at himself, and Virgil found it a little amusing too, trying very hard to hide a smile as he arrived at the patio to see the helijet descend on to the runway, and Kyrano slowly make his way down the side path that led over there, carrying with him the handful of envelopes and parcels that were to be couriered by the mail plane to various destinations.
"The minute I called the lads in space I realised it was the mail plane", Virgil said, "Scott says you could do with a weeks furlough in London with Penny".
Jeff’s eyes looked skyward, "He just wants my desk. He takes after his Grandfather, always dropping hints".
Virgil smiled, "Trust me dad, he'd panic ten times worse than you did just now, he'd be on the horn to John every five minutes just to see all was well with the world. Let him have it, I guarantee you in a week he'll end up at that place they took Brains after the Allington bridge job two months ago".
"You just want me to stay; you take after your Mother, always reassuring me about this and that".
Virgil smiled, turned, and walked down the path to catch up the Malaysian manservant, and thought to himself, "Something else I do that reminds him of Mom. I bet he churns up inside each time".
When Virgil got to the runway, he saw that Kyrano had electronically signed to receive the day’s mail. Just one item, a small envelope.
"Mista Virgil, you need not have come, as you can see I can manage, this letter is not even for you".
"Yes Kyrano, but what would you have done had there been a brace of parcels", Virgil asked.
"I would have managed", he simply and modestly replied. He then gestured the Tracy son to turn back for the Tracy house.
Upon arrival at the house, the Major-domo made for the kitchen, where Jeff had sat down with Gordon and Tin Tin for a bite to eat. Soon they would be joined by Scott and Alan, clearance now having been given for them to commence their decent in Thunderbird Three.
Kyrano entered the kitchen, "Mail call", he jokingly said, "A light load, just one letter, for the attention of Daniel J Tracy the 2nd, Colonel, US Space corps, retired".
Jeff smiled as he listened to the show of difference, turned in his chair to face the manservant, and took the letter. He looked at the postmark, and sounded a little puzzled.
"From the offices of the legal firm of Anderson, Anderson, Read, and Hill. Dated May 12th 2028", he put his mug of coffee down, picked up a knife, and slit the envelope open.
His face turned pale.
He read the letter, picked up his mug, took a gulp, put the mug down, read the letter again, then stared ahead, and whispered, loud enough for the whole kitchen to hear.
"Ye Gods", he muttered, "Edgar Kalinski".
"Edgar Who?” Said Scott as he and Alan got up from the settee having been deposited back in the lounge from the round house.
"Edgar Kalinski", said Virgil, "And before you ask, don't ask. I'm blow'd if I know who the hell he is, no one has a clue, not even Grandma or Kyrano, but I know this much. As soon as Dad said this fellow’s name, he got up slowly from the table, and without so much as a word, walked straight out of the galley, letter in hand, and he looked about as pale as one of Alan's pastries".
"I beg your pardon", Alan blurted out with hands on hip's, and umbrage taken.
"Where is he now", Scott asked, trying not to smile at his brothers little snipe at Alan's often disastrous cooking.
"Bedroom", Virgil replied, trying to smile.
Scott tapped Virgil on the arm, motioning him to come with him, "C'mon", he said, "let's go see if he's OK".
"D'ya thinks that's wise", enquired Alan.
"Eldest son's prerogative", said Scott as he marched out of the lounge, dragging Virgil with him.
"Second eldest son's prerogative", said Virgil as he was dragged out.
Alan stood alone, hands still on hips, then suddenly something dawned on him, he raced out to the corridor and yelled at his brother.
"Who was it who ate them all then!” he enquired sarcastically, still peeved about Virgil's culinary sarcasm.
The pianist simply turned around and smiled even more broadly than he had done a moment earlier, before bringing his hand up to his lips and kissing his fingertips as if to say "Bon appetite".
Alan now had a furrowed brow to add to his hands on hips pose.
Scott was not one to worry, but having heard Virgil's account of the events in the Kitchen; he felt the need just to check that all was well. Over the years Scott had noticed that his Father had always seemed to confide in his eldest two sons for some reason. On more than one occasion at family conferences either before going out on, or after coming back from rescues, or even on family gatherings to discuss matters relating to the family's other business, the official business that is, namely Tracy Aerospace, Jeff would dismiss the meeting, only to ask he and Virgil to stay behind, and then certain matters relating either to the official or un-official businesses, matters of a slightly more delectate nature, matters of either security, or finance, would be talked over. The others never seemed to take offence, not even Alan. Heck, Gordon used to sum up these things in a few well chosen words, "What we don't know, we don't have to fret over".
Yet all five of the lads were a little worried, why had Jeff just got up and left like that.
The two sons reached the bedroom door. Scott looked at Virgil, took a deep breath, and then knocked the door.
The door then slid open, Jeff stood there, still pale. Scott peered inside and saw that his Dad was packing a suitcase. Jeff himself had changed into a clean shirt and trousers and was in the middle of tying a tie. A black tie at that Scott noticed.
"Good", said Jeff, "You're back Scott, right. Come in, both of you".
They walked in, Virgil closed the door, and sat on the bed, next to Scott.
Jeff had walked over to a mirror to finish tying the tie, "I shall be leaving the island for a day or so. Scott, I want you to mind the store until I get back. Alan is due to relieve John at 14:00, Gordon can deal with that. Once John is earth side he can pilot '1, Virgil, you will remain with '2, and as '1 and '3 are not ever needed on the same job, John can pilot '3, Gordon can double crew on her as he does on '2. Scott has my plane made ready for launch straight away please, and Virgil, get on to Air Terrainean and book me a seat on the first Fireflash that leaves San Francisco for London tomorrow morning. Any questions, no. Good. Snap to it both of you, there isn't much time".
The two sons looked at each other, a little startled at their father’s abruptness. It was Scott who spoke.
"Is everything OK Dad".
"I don't recall saying I wanted to discuss this matter with you", Jeff said, now bent down putting the remaining items into his case.
"But we've noticed . . ."
Before Virgil had chance to finish, Jeff turned to face them both.
"END OF CONVERSATION!" he shouted.
The two lads both looked at each other, message now fully understood.
They got up, and left.
Straight away Scott went down to the hangar to see to his father's plane. There was little to do in reality, the fuel level was OK, so were the electrics. Scott had Brains bring the plane out of the hangar and down to the point where the runway met the footpath that meandered its way back up to the house.
From that direction emerged Virgil, still a little startled by his father’s manner.
"Tickets taken care of?” Scott asked.
"Yep", he replied, clearly not enjoying seeing his Dad in such a state. It was as much as he could do to talk.
The two men stood by the plane, not saying a word, both deep in thought about the events of the past days, not just their Dad's sudden mood swing, born of the letter, but also the attempt to frame the organisation by two crooks, posing as them, even in their uniforms. Maybe this business with the letter, coupled with the investigation by the world's armies into IR's affairs had taken their toll on him. Or then again, maybe not.
More questions than answers, yet none would come at this juncture.
The quiet was broken by the noise of footsteps on the path from the house. It was Jeff, looking straight ahead at the jet, his manner still the same.
It was Virgil who spoke, "Dad, you're booked on the 6.45am Fireflash to London via New York, stop-over in the Apple will be an hour, you'll be in London at 6.30pm local time, collect your tickets at check-in 3, in the southern concourse".
"Fine", the reply came. With not another sound he got into the plane, looked out of the cockpit at the two men, raised his hand in acknowledgement, his face still stern looking, and fired the motors.
Scott and Virgil walked back towards the cliff hanger to watch their dad leave; they both noticed that the rest of the family had gathered on the balcony of the cliff-house.
A worried family. Yes, for all Jeff's assurances, a very worried family.
The flight to the mainland lasted just over an hour. Jeff flew into Oakland, and took a magnetrain across the golden gate, or rather under it, as the track had been built and situated under the famous bridge, before heading back along the coast to San Francisco International.
He made for the southern concourse where, upon arrival he went to Air Terrainean Check-in desk 3, as advised by Virgil, he collected his tickets, and then went about seeking a room for the night ahead of his early departure the next morning. He was lucky, the girl at the check-in desk checked the main airport hotel for vacant rooms, and the news was good. Thus the 58 year old father of five with suitcase in hand headed for the recently built San Francisco International Airport Holiday Tower, an un-inspiring sight, situated on the outer rim of the airport complex. "Just a block of un-remarkable concrete", Jeff thought, but it would suffice.
He checked in, and within minutes he was in his room, he threw off his jacket, dropped the case by the side of his wardrobe, kicked off his shoes, and collapsed on to the bed.
It must have been the strain of the past forty-five hours, the worry about the future of the organisation, and the lack of sleep to-boot, not to mention hearing about Edgar Kalinski, that all contributed to him being as tired and worn out as it was humanly possible.
So much so that the moment his head hit the pillow, he went out like a light, and the thoughts that has been going through his mind since the moment he opened the letter, thoughts that were the reason he was now on the American mainland, thoughts known only to him, and no-one else, now became more than just thoughts.
Perchance to dream.
2.Dreams and Realities
"First Luna Outpost personal log entry number XA22. February 19th, 2004. Re-assumed command at 18:00 after returning from maternity leave. Wife Lucille gave birth to our fourth child on the 14th of all days. Leroy Gordon weighed in at 8 pounds 5 ounces. Both are doing fine. Major Tim Casey, acting as base commander in my absence has nothing of any real concern to report".
Lt Col Daniel Jeffrey Tracy flicked the switch on his bedside com-board, adjusted the small lamp over his head, and began to look over the job log for the following day. His concentration was interrupted for a moment as he caught out of the corner of his eye, the launch of the shuttle for Earth. The Saturn 9B single stage vehicle with four boosters, lifted off with the minimum fuss. Leaving the pad on the other side of the crater they were in.
A launch of any sort, however mundane and everyday these days was still something that Jeff would never tire of watching.
He counted himself lucky.
Lucky to have been born at the time he had, 1970, just as man had gone to the moon for the first time. Despite what some critics had tried to predict, man's venture to another world was something that had united human kind in way no politician could ever hope to do. Instead of the world saying, "We've gone to the moon. So what!” the people of planet Earth had said in a loud and clear voice, "There must be more, we cannot stop here!", and so began the real space age.
The 22 Apollo missions had shown the world just what man could do, yet it had taken until now for the United Nations to agree a framework for the moons colonisation. No one nation would have sole rights to the moon. All nations would have to work together, and so was born the Luna Homesteading act. Paving the way for building what Jeff described to Lucille on the very day it was passed, Millennium Day, as "A home from home".
It was Jeff who led that return to the Moon on Athena One, and uttered the first words said on the Moon, those same words he said to Lucille, "Here man will build for himself a home from home, where the stars look down".
Jeff often used to think, that had man’s enthusiasm for carrying on not been so evident, then we would probably been just 17 Apollo flights, and only have gotten round to building the International Space Station by now. He used to joke to Lucille that this sort of half soaked attitude to exploration probably is happening, in a parallel universe!
We were not about to stop on the Moon, already the Solar System Exploration Council, an organisation created by the United Nations to supervise the colonisation of space had made plans for the inner planets of Mercury and Venus to be visited by people from Earth by no later than 2012. A period of consolidation would then take place as the colonies on those two worlds and the Moon would be established, and whole communities would eventually exist on these faraway places. Cities and villages would dot the landscapes of Venus Mercury and the Moon, and each of these colonised worlds would have their own capital city, complete with legislature, government, and an elected governor.
The moon's future was what excited Jeff the most. Where he was at this time, the first Luna outpost or FLO 1 was in a small crater on the edge of the massive crater Tyco, measuring fully 50 miles in diameter, here would be built the military garrison that was to be called Tycho City. Four hundred miles north, in the sea of Tranquillity the Luna Capital, Armstrong City, and Legislature building, Aldrin House, would be built.
Other huge Luna settlements were planned even at this early stage by the S.S.E.C., to be located in places familiar to people back home as the places first visited by man in last century, as well as landmarks visible from Earth. Places such as the crater Copernicus, the Hadley Rille, the Frau Mora Highlands.
All very exciting indeed, but Jeff’s thoughts were interrupted suddenly.
The door buzzed in his cabin.
"Come", he called.
The door slid open, it was Casey.
"It's only me Jeff, Just calling to see you is settled back in. Haven't had chance to talk since you got back, smooth flight?”
"Barely a quiver", Jeff replied, putting the duty log down on the table next to his com-board.
"Any pics of the new arrival", Casey asked.
Jeff pulled out of his top pocket a small picture of baby Leroy, or Gordon as he was to be called. He handed it to Tim Casey. He looked at it in silence. Jeff was guessing how Tim was feeling, he a career man in the S.S.E.C. with no wife, let alone kids. Yet opposite him was Jeff Tracy, a man with already more space hours behind him than any other astronaut in history. The first man to return to the moon.
"How do you find time for a family Jeff? I just could not do it. I'm not the family type anyway, at least not yet, just how do you manage", he asked as he handed the picture back to him.
"Tim, as is said so often, if something is important, you make time for it", he took the picture back, and put it on a small shelf, next to four other pictures, namely those of the other members of his family. Tim leaned forward and peered at the pictures together, rubbing his chin as though trying to figure something out, "Now let me just figure this out. How many former astronauts have you honoured now Jeff."
"Four now Tim", Jeff responded, "From left to right we have Scott Malcolm, then Lucille with John Edward on her lap, and on her left is Virgil Ivan".
"Doesn’t he look like his mom, young Virgil", Casey commented.
"He sure does, and he plays the piano like his mother too, even now, and he's only 8 years old. He and Scott are very close you know. I remember when we had Virgil baptised back in Abilene, Scott was walking with the minister when he was showing Virgil off to the congregation, and he kept saying, that's my brother, I'm gonna take good care of him", he paused, and a small smile came to his face. He continued, "Scott's the boss though, he has all the Tracy traits in him. Leadership. Whenever the two of them go out exploring on our new island home, he's the one in charge, but that's fine by Virgil, he knows if they get into any trouble it will be Scott's head on the chopping block, because he's the one who decides where they go".
"Future astronauts?” Casey smilingly enquired.
"Who knows?” Jeff answered, "Who knows what the next year, next week, or even the next day will hold".
At that point Jeff's attention was again drawn by another bright flash from outside his window.
"That's odd, I thought I just saw the shuttle leave", Jeff uttered, with furrowed brow.
Casey had also noticed the flash, "Yeah, what the hell was that".
Jeff and Tim both peered out of the window, and what they saw startled them. High up above, amid the mass of stars, a bright light shot across the sky, brighter than the brightest of the stars behind it, but moving not too fast. It was heading in a gentle curve, a curve that would take it below the Luna horizon. As it moved in the sky, both men could make out what appeared to be a vapour trail of some sort behind it.
Jeff hit the button on his com-board.
"Tracy to operations. Beyda, do we have any satellites on a low orbit that takes them over the sea of tranquillity".
Dylan Beyda, duty officer for the night in the operations room at FLO 1, paused for the moment, wondering why his C.O. was asking such a question, "Lunacom 2 has a polar orbit that takes it over that area, yes. Although it has not started operations yet sir".
"I know Beyda", Jeff cut in, "Are there any others".
"No sir, the other two both go away from there".
"Thank you Dylan", said Jeff as he sat down heavily on his bed, "Stand by".
He put the mike on mute and looked up at Casey.
"Its Lunacom 2 isn't it, Tim", he said, with an air of resignation.
"It looks that way", Casey replied, heaving a sigh and staring at the floor, "What the hell are we gonna tell the Commissioner back on Earth".
Jeff looked out of his window, "We tell the truth Tim", he took a deep breath, "And then, we go out there and try to find it. I think it is safe to say it has crashed now. You know that might not have come down too far from here".
He pressed the button on his com-board that took it off mute, "Lt Beyda, have the tractor made ready for first thing in the morning".
"Yes sir", came the enthusiastic reply.
Jeff continued, "What time it is in San Francisco".
"Coming up on 4pm sir", Beyda replied.
"OK, open a radio link please, direct to SSEC Headquarters I want to talk to the Commissioner”.
Jeff smiled, and continued.
"No Jeff, it's not Lunacom 2, your scanners should still be picking it up. Ours here on Earth are sweeping the area, Lunacom 2 is answering her automatic locator call. No it's something else you saw, but I want you to look for it anyway. It could just be a meteorite, but we can't take any chances. Don't take a tractor out there, as planned, use a Hopper, I'll tell you why in a moment. See if you can find out what it is".
Edgar Kalinski sat back in his chair, his face filling the screen, he and Jeff Tracy were old friends, having both been born and raised on adjacent farms in Abilene, Kansas, with Edgar being some 15 years older than Jeff, the young Tracy treated Edgar as a sort of "elder brother". They got to know each other quite well in those early days, before they went their separate ways, Jeff into the Air force, and eventually the Space service, Edgar into the world of politics, beginning in his home state of Kansas, working in the governors office, before his career took him to New York, eventually serving as a secretary in the United Nations.
Now at 49 he was the head man at the SSEC, appointed there by the UN Secretary General, much to the delight of Jeff, who saw Edgar’s move there as the final reward for a great career of service to country and planet. He was blessed with a wife of 25 years, Sabetha, a son Steven, already making a career for himself in the diplomatic wing of the UN, and a daughter Bernadette, who was a best selling author, and of science-fiction at that. She counted Jeff and Lucille among her most loyal readers. He had it all, and Jeff had nothing but the greatest respect for him.
"OK Edgar, I'll get out there", Jeff responded to Edgar's order, "Do you have a fix on where exactly it should have smashed".
He obliged, "Yep, reference 198 by 531, bang smack in the middle of crater Delambre, some 900 miles north east of your position. Hence my request for you to use one of the hoppers. Go steady Jeff, as you know this is only a one man vehicle, and we've only got two of them there for you to play with, so be careful".
"Will do Edgar. Just one question. Was it tracked as it approached the moon, if so why were we not warned about it"?
"We only picked it up when it was passing over your position, its speed was what caught the eye, but we can't understand why it only registered on the scanners at that point. Now enough talking, it's getting late for you up there, you get a good nights sleep now, I get the impression it will be a long day for you tomorrow".
"I don't doubt that. As soon as I arrive, I'll have a radio link set up from there".
"Good. By the way, how are Lucille, and young Leroy", Edgar asked, lightening the mood.
"Oh they're fine", Jeff's face produced a small smile, "That's four Mercury men honoured now", he said laughing.
"Give them my love Jeff", Kalinski requested, "and take care tomorrow. Kalinski, out".
"Love to Sabetha and the family Edgar, FLO 1, out".
A good night’s sleep was his one thing Jeff did not get that night. For hours he thought long about what he might find. Clearly those on Earth were convinced it was just a meteorite, but they wanted to make sure. Was it a meteorite though, and if not, then what.
08:00hrs, and Jeff, having eaten a hearty breakfast made for the operations wing of the outpost. First Luna outpost one consisted of four hemi-cylindrical structures, each 100 meters long and ten meters wide, transported to the moon on the back of giant boosters, as though they were just empty rocket stages. Once on the Luna surface, they would be split and then laid down in the shape of a giant letter "X". In the middle was a small module that served as a connection for them.
The operations wing contained the storage bay for the Luna tractors, and a control room where the day to day work on the first space colony was done, the other three wings were for crew’s quarters, stores, washing and eating facilities, as well as recreational equipment.
The principle aim of FLO 1 was to survey the area in and around Tycho crater to establish what part of it would be suitable for building the much larger garrison settlement there in the years to come. Such a similar survey would in the next months be made in the Sea of Tranquillity by FLO 2, and Copernicus crater by FLO 3. Jeff called the crew together before he prepared to leave on his assignment. Altogether there were five people on the base, Jeff Tracy: base commander, Tim Casey: senior surveyor, Dylan Beyda: operations and monitoring, and two mobile survey operatives, Susan Bevan, and Gill Best, who were charged with checking out the land in the tractors and, if required, the hoppers.
Jeff got to the point, "As someone once said, I'm going out for a walk, I may be some time".
The others laughed, well; the ice-breaker always works.
"Now you all have your assigned duties for the day, Major Casey will be in charge for the next day or so, as I have a little meteorite catching to do. Just carry on as normal. Hopefully this will not be more than just a routine flyover. Besides it will put the hopper though its paces and we do need to see just how far we can push these things". He held out his hands, "OK end of talk, let’s get to work".
Once he had donned a space suit, Jeff made for the airlock at the end of the operations wing. Once outside he slowly trundled toward the two hoppers that stood on the far side of the small crater they were in, on the other side of the rim of this crater was the edge of the massive Tycho crater itself. The hoppers resembled the Luna modules used by the first Luna pioneers some thirty-five years earlier. These however were a single unit, with cushioned sprung feet, and had a low thrust plasma jet, much smaller than on its Apollo counterparts, providing sufficient acceleration to take the vehicle into a low sub-orbit. They were built purely for survey purposes, not for investigation.
Jeff opened the airlock at the back of the upper section having climbed the small set of steps built into the rear of the craft. He pressurised the cabin, took off his helmet, sat at the controls, and called the base.
"Hopper Two to operations. Hatch secure, power on, give me a go/no-go for launch".
"Ops to H2, commence check", Beyda replied.
"Go, this is FLO 1. Hopper Two you are clear to go, countdown stands at T minus 60 seconds".
Casey took over countdown, leaving Beyda to monitor systems during launch, "OK Jeff firing of motors at launch minus 2".
"Understood Tim", Jeff said, waiting for the countdown to reach two. He heard Casey counting, every fifth number until 15 seconds, then continuous, "14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7", Jeff's finger hovered over the launch button on the left joystick, which controlled thrust. The right joystick was gripped tightly, this would control guidance, pitch, yaw, etc, "6, 5, 4, 3, 2, ignition, zero".
Jeff punched the button, and the Hopper slowly rose on a column of mild gentle thrust. Gradually Jeff opened up the left joystick, gaining height for himself, while with the right stick, he angled the craft for horizontal flight. As he did this, the top half of the craft slowly rotated so as to be constantly upright, even if the lower half was on its side as it flew, the upper control sphere of the hopper would remain vertical, enabling Jeff to have a constant view of the Luna horizon, as well as a fair view of the ground below. It was held on to the main body of the hopper by two brackets, wich held it on either side; these were hinged so as to allow the sphere to rotate through ninety degrees, so that it would always face forward.
"Next stop crater Delambre", Jeff said to himself.
Hours passed. As did the many craters that peppered the route Jeff was taking. Passing below the hopper, that was now flying at a height of some one hundred miles so as to maintain contact with base with the very low powered transmitter, at a speed of some 200 miles an hour. The one thing these hoppers were not built for was speed. The spectacular landscape more than made up for the long hours of monotony. Every now and then, familiar landmark craters would pass beneath the craft giving Jeff an idea how far along the way he was.
First crater Walter, just slightly smaller than Tycho. This was the 250 mile mark on the journey; Jeff knew he was now just under a third of the way there.
Soon, to the left, on the north western horizon, the crater Purbach was visible, just.
Another hour passed when on the opposite south eastern horizon; Jeff was able to make out the crater Catharina, followed closely by the twin craters Theophilus and Crillus. He knew now he was only a matter of minutes from his destination.
Sure enough, Delambre loomed on the horizon, with the sea of tranquillity stretching out just beyond it.
Jeff radioed Tycho.
"FLO 1 from hopper 2, commencing decent to crater Delambre. Estimating loss of signal in 15 minutes. Will radio you when Lunacom 1 passes over your position and I can relay a short message. Anticipate this will be in approximately 28 minutes".
"Negative on that Jeff", this was Casey, "Lunacom 1 is losing altitude and will soon be out of commission, we can't contact you once you are over the horizon. Estimated time to repair not yet known, but we've got a signal to Earth, to tell them of what has happened. Their despatching a ship within the next 24 hours to go direct to the satellite and fix it. I wouldn't bother trying to get a signal to earth to have it relayed back to us here; your radio is just not powerful enough. Do you still want to go ahead with the descent as you will be without radio"?
"Yep", came the confident reply, "I'm not going to abort this flight now I've come this far. How come you've only told me about Lunacom 1 now", he demanded.
"Altitude loss is rapid, and has only just begun, sorry Jeff, we reckon it's a thruster’s malfunction. One of them could have fired by accident and thrown the thing in a downwards descent, I'm afraid we've been caught with our waste bags on the floor".
Jeff sighed, "OK Tim. In view of this, I'll still make a landing; do a brief survey, record a few minutes on tape for the record then get out of there".
Tim agreed, "That's the idea Jeff, get in, get on with it, get it over with, and get out".
"Eloquently put Tim", Jeff complemented the man, "and with that, I'll sign off and make a start. I don't know how long I'll actually be, but I won't be too long, that's for sure. This is hopper 1, listening, out".
"Good luck Jeff, Tycho out".
By now Jeff had fired attitude control jets to turn the craft round through 180 degrees. The craft was now travelling engine first. The onboard computer had calculated at what time the engine would fire. A three minute burn would follow during which time hopper would lose height in a cradual arc. However Jeff would all the while have his and the craft's back turned on the crater itself. The rear camera was thus deployed, but this was pointed straight down and only gave Jeff a view of the land directly beneath his vessel as it lost height. It would do, it would have to.
The engine fired.
Slowly the hopper lost height in its arc, as it did so, Delambe crater passed across the view screen. As it did, Jeff could make out the outline of an object that had appeared to have come to rest at the rear of the crater. Mindful of this, Jeff fired the main rocket again to slow the decent, and make the arc a little more gradual. This would take him toward the end of the crater. With the help of the onboard computer, Jeff calculated the correct points at which to start and finish this extra burn.
This done, he sat back and prepared for the final part of the decent. Again the computer came into play, and Jeff saw it read out the height, he looked at this and the screen, showing the camera's view, and nothing else. Slowly the craft dropped towards the surface. Every now and then, Jeff would fire the main rocket just to slow the descent down to a safe speed. After a while, he fixed his gaze on the computer readout, satisfied the ground he would eventually land on was going to be smooth and free of boulders. His eyes never left the monitor panel, fifty feet, forty, thirty, twenty, fifteen, getting lower, another burst from the engine, fuel OK, enough to get back, ten, five, two, one, point five, contact light, all four contact lights, hopper one down, and without so much as a jolt.
No time to waste, Jeff went through the pre-launch checklist, and made sure the craft was ready for take off. He
realised that in this time, the dust blown up by the hoppers descent would clear sufficiently for him to go straight out and take a look. This checklist procedure took a little over 15 minutes to complete. Once done, he picked up his helmet, put it on, de-pressurised the cabin, and unlocked the door.
What he saw made Jeff almost stumble down the steps of the hopper with shock.
It was a spacecraft.
In all probability, a manned craft at that. It looked like nothing Jeff Tracy had seen before. Certainly nothing built for space travel existed like this, at least not anything that Jeff knew of.
It had a fuselage, a tail, no wings at the top of the tail, but two massive wings at the rear and on each wing tip were two giant fins, both attached to the wings half way down each fin. The craft had come to rest just in front of the craters edge. From where Jeff stood he could see a further set of fins at the front, these were situated just behind what looked like a view port at the nose cone.
Only now, having got over the shock of what he had seen, did Jeff notice the craft has a series of letters on its, side. These same letters, followed by a number were printed on both the giant fins on the two wingtips, although Jeff could only see one from his position, he surmised the fin opposite had the same legend on it, and they were also on the massive tail at the rear of the ship.
Jeff could just make out what they said.
3.Discoveries and Dilemmas
Jeff stepped down, still incredulous at what he saw, his mind racing. A hundred questions suddenly raced through his mind. What was it? where had it come from?, was it manned?, and biggest question of all.
Was it of this Earth?
Once his feet were on the surface, he slowly made his way towards the vehicle, his heart pounding. What would he find? only the next few minutes would tell.
He passed the giant wing fin, and saw up ahead at the front of the craft that there was a light at the view port. He took another deep breath, and walked forward.
He drew closer.
The light seemed to get brighter.
Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, he reached the window, and looked inside.
It WAS manned.
Two people were in there, a man, and a woman, both slumped at what looked like very futuristic controls.
They both looked very elderly, and they were not moving.
"I have to get inside", Jeff said to himself, "I've simply got to".
He turned and made for what seemed like an airlock on the side of the fuselage. He expected it to be designed in some way that would render it impossible for him to open it up, but to his astonishment, he found it to be a standard airlock. Astonishment turned to confusion. It would appear this craft WAS built on Earth, but who the hell by.
He pressed the control that he hoped would open the hatch, it did. Once inside and the hatch was closed, he hit a button marked "Pressurise". His suit monitor registered the increase to normal atmosphere. Jeff then took off his helmet, and turned to open the inner door of the airlock, and take his first step inside this strange craft.
He found the lighting to be rather bright, this took him a little by surprise, but he ventured in, and saw what almost certainly was the dividing door between this compartment, and the front of this ship.
As he came to it, it opened, by itself.
Jeff looked inside, and saw the two people. Still slumped, motionless. They both had to be in their seventies, or even eighties, so old they were. He went to the woman first, tried for a pulse. Then he moved over to the man and did the same again.
They were both dead.
He sighed. Sadness overcame him as he stood there, and also disappointment to a degree. He would never know who or what all this was about.
Or would he.
As he turned to walk back out of this cabin, he noticed a book, lying on the floor, and a pen not far from it. As though the book has been written in.
Jeff picked up the book, opened it up at the first page, and began to read.
"This is the final log entry of Colonel Steve Zodiac, commander of the World Space Patrol vessel Fireball XL5. We have been catapulted through what appeared to be a vortex cloud following our departure from Earth. This cloud has sent us crashing on to the moon. Yet when we sent out a distress call as we lost height over the Luna surface, no one responded. What was even more disconcerting, I noticed as we got closer and closer to the surface that the Luna cities and homesteads had all gone. There was no Armstrong City, Tycho City, Copernicus Village, Lovell Settlement, or the Scott complex at the Hadley Rille. Nothing. All that registered on the scanner was a tiny structure on the edge of crater Tycho.
It’s as though we have travelled back in time, back a hundred years. This is not how I and my wife, Venus had planned to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. Everything had gone so wonderfully well. We have had the best possible present anyone could wish for. The gift of our old craft. Long since de-commissioned. Then after leaving Earth we detected this strange cloud formation ahead of us. We signalled the nearest WSP ship, as we were not in a position to make any kind of investigation. Yet we barely had time to open the radio channel, before our ship was dragged into this cloud.
My wife and, I are losing blood all the time, unless someone locates us soon, well, that’s it.
If anyone finds this journal, can they please pass this to my family. We have no children of our own, I'm afraid the life that we have both led has stopped us from doing that. The name I have taken is not my real family name. I took it from my father, the late Air general Steven Zodiac, who changed it by deed poll as a result of the occupation he had. An occupation that even on his death bed, he would not disclose, even to me.
If anyone finds this journal, can they please pass it on to the Kalinski family; this is my family's real name. My grandfather was. . "
Jeff's eyes could not quite grasp what he was seeing. He had to read it again, but it still said the same name.
". . . . Edgar Kalinski".
The very man he had spoken to less that 24 hours earlier was now being spoken of as in the past tense. All of a sudden this man who Jeff had the most deepest respect for was now, in the mind of the person who had written in this journal, who had channelled all his remaining hours of strength into writing this record so that someone could learn of what had happened and somehow preserve a little of the life’s that were now at an end, dead.
Was this supposed to be a ship from the future, a vessel commanded by his own grandson? It was simply too much to take in. Simply too wild a scenario. Simply out of this world. This was simply not happening.
According to what he had read, and seen, this giant vessel was from the future.
It was impossible, some sort of trick. Yet how could Jeff disprove what he had seen. Goodness knows it all made sense. This craft, the Fireball, XL5 looked like nothing he had seen before. Maybe this was a craft from the future.
Having read the journal, it all made perfect sense.
Yet Jeff had his dilemma.
He read on.
"Edgar Kalinski was the former commissioners of the old Solar System Exploration Council, he supervised the exploration of the inner part of the solar system, and is a man I hold very dear. Even though I never met him.
I would love to have told him about the day that changed mankind. The day that I will never forget, nor anyone who was alive that day will forget either. To anyone who reads this journal I will tell this story.
It was my first mission as master of this vessel.
In the latter part of the earth year 2072, a disabled spaceship from another world was found, adrift, off the orbit of Neptune. By the end of the 2060's, mankind could be found throughout our solar system, but that was as far as we thought we could go. Yet here we were. A ship from another world and a ship that could travel faster than the speed of light. This ship was a representative from an alliance of worlds. An alliance of over 50 solar systems.
They knew of Earth, and they knew of our language, and they were actually thinking of sending a ship to make first contact. This ship was now in trouble, it had developed a fault that was causing its life support system to fail. The XL5 was diverted from its journey from Pluto to Saturn’s moons and located the craft. The result was a Stella alliance of worlds including the Earth. Our world was invited into the alliance, and Earth was made its headquarters. This was done because of the fact that in saving the crew of the ship we found, we had saved the life of the president of that federation. Had he died, there could have been a war within the stellar alliance. There was at that time, no federation headquarters. So Earth, as a thank you, became the centre of a massive space empire. Our craft had their engines converted to enable them to travel at speeds many times that of light, and a day greater than any day in history since the creation, had gone into the history books as the day mankind evolved into something new, and bold.
He inherited the galaxy.
I grow weak now, eight hours have passed since we crashed, I don't know how I've managed to write all this in such a short time, I will rest, having grieved for Venus, who will die with me in the next few hours if no help comes, having channelled out much of this grief in writing this.
I dedicate this to Edgar Kalinski.
Steve Christopher Zodiac
Lillian “Venus” Lumere
June 18th 2113
4.Mending Fences, and Making Promises
Jeff woke with a start, he glanced at his wristwatch.
He had been asleep for just 30 minutes, yet he had dreamed, in detail, for the first time in so many years, a whole day.
One day, a day that was the reason for him being here, in this hotel, about to get ready to travel to London, to tell an old friend a story, one so incredible it would be a job for any sane person to accept. Especially this old friend.
A dying friend.
For a moment Jeff felt a little bad about himself, he had been abrupt with his family, he had not told them one detail of what he was doing. So angry he was that he was being told, at literally the eleventh hour, that Edgar Kalinski, 73 years old, had been fatally injured in a road accident and had merely hours left to live.
So angry because he had made a promise to himself to tell Edgar one day, of what had happened. Now it might be too late. Jeff alone had had to live with the events of that day in his head for all the years past. Living with the knowledge that man will succeed in colonising the solar system, that he will even reach out and embrace civilisations from outside our little nine-planet home.
Yet should he tell Edgar anyway. It raised a whole new type of ethics. A whole new ethical question.
Living with future knowledge.
Such a burden had had Jeff asking himself a thousand questions.
Should he share this with anyone?
Would talking about it possibly alter history away from what he had seen evidence of in the control room of that ship.
Nothing is written in stone, but equally, what is determined, should not be tampered with, in any way.
Even now, 24 years later, he still could scarce take it all in.
He thought again about the family. He decided to call the island, needless to say, not on the com-board installed in the hotel room, but on his wristwatch.
“International Rescue Space Station, this is Jeff Tracy”
“Hi Dad”, a happy John Tracy answered, pleased to hear from his father, “How are things, are you settling in OK”.
“Oh fine son. You sound pleased to hear from me”.
“Well”, John chose his words very carefully, “I’ll let Scott talk to you. Hold on, putting you through”.
A moment’s pause, then the voice of a worried son.
“Hi Dad, a happy Scott Tracy answered, pleased to hear from his father, “How are things, are you settling in OK”.
Jeff felt a sudden feeling of deja-vu, but understood Scott asking exactly the same question as John.
“I’m just fine Scott”, Jeff took a deep breath, “Listen, I’m sorry I blocked everyone out earlier on. I guess it’s just one thing after another. This time two days ago, we stood on the verge of being branded criminals and having our liberty to go and rescue people taken from us. It was getting too much. We built this organisation as a tribute to your mother”.
He paused, tears beginning to well in his eyes.
“It would have broken my heart to have had to let it go”.
“I know dad, I know”, Scott replied, “Look we understand you dad, we always will. Can you tell us though why you are in San Francisco, heading for London”.
“Of course Scott”, Jeff was at least going to tell what he could to his family, “I’ve received news that an old friend of mine, Edgar Kalinski is dying. He and I were neighbours back in Kansas. Although we were 15 years apart in age, we had a lot in common. Edgar was commissioner of the SSEC at the time I led the return of man back to the moon. He was a good man, and I am very sad to hear he has not long left to live. His enthusiasm for space exploration is the reason man has now laid down roots on Mercury, Venus, and the Moon, and soon Mars. It was Kalinski who designed the Zero X, and he was a prime mover in convincing the SSEC to go for a second try at getting a man to Mars. There is so much I want to talk to him about, and very little time, that’s what has angered me. I’m angry with myself, but it’s an anger I should never have vented on you and Virgil. Please pass may apologies on to your brother”.
He paused again, his voice quivering.
“You know Scott, don’t let on to him I’ve said this, but there isn’t a week that passes when I don’t think to myself how much he looks like his mother. Goodness knows she and him were close. I can see him now on his mothers lap in front of the old piano back in the old farm, playing “chopsticks”. If your mother were still here, she’d have given me the chewing out of my life if I’d yelled at him in front of her”.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself dad, you’ve been to hell and back in the past few days. Just forget about it, and go to London, and spend what time you can with Commissioner Kalinski. We’ll be OK”.
“I’ll do that Scott”, Jeff said, reassuringly, “Take care”.
Jeff closed the link.
He got up from his bed, and walked over to his suitcase. He zipped open a side pocket, and pulled out a book.
It was the journal he picked up from the cabin on the ship from the future. All that was left in fact of his encounter. He had taken the two bodies out of the craft, and given them a dignified burial, using tools he had found on the Fireball ship. Then, having laid them to rest at a safe distance, he had found a way to over-run the reactors of the ship, and having got away in time, he saw the ship explode, and condemn the evidence to oblivion. Thankfully, the folks back at Tycho believed Jeff’s story that it was a meteorite, and a large one at that. Hence the huge crater, within the very massive crater Delambre.
The secret was safe.
Jeff took the book, sat down on the bed, and began to read again what was written by Colonel Zodiac.
Jeff looked out of the window, and thought out loud.
“Edgar, if there are people in the room, and we never get any time alone, I won’t say a thing. However if they let me speak to you alone, I’ll tell you about this day, all those years ago”.
He glanced down at the manuscript, written 24 years ago, and 85 in the future.
“Yes Edgar, if I can, I’ll tell you about they day your grandson took a journey, Forward, to the past”.
FORWARD TO THE PAST