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Mars 1

Mars 1

Mars 1 is the first manned ship sent to Mars. An unexpected development leads to a fascinating end.

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Fantasy / Sci-fi


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Arthur M. Doweyko (United States)



Gilbert spat out words like he had a mouthful of marbles. "Shay, you better not freakin' screw this up."
Shay looked back to the coffin-like stasis pods, which glowed green and hummed just as they had the entire trip—the first manned expedition to Mars. He knew his three crewmates were asleep, but that didn't stop the voices.
Something had gone wrong. He was awoken three months out—way too early—a long time to be conscious and alone. Earth comm was iffy at best and mostly fouled up with solar static for the moment. If it wasn't for the voices, he might have gone insane.
Dayson whimpered. "I don't trust him, man. He'll crash for sure."
Shay shrugged. "Shut the hell up. I need to concentrate." The crew never answered him, but it made him feel better to vent.
Fran said, "Give the guy a break. He'll be fine."
Shay liked Fran. He thought he might be falling in love with her. Every once in a while he sat beside her pod, gazing at her long, wavy blonde hair and those pouty lips. The clear gel made everything look fresh.
The console beeped. Shay scanned the readouts. A graphic displayed his trajectory—the final approach. He sank into his seat, rubbing his palms against his legs. All he had to do was to watch.
A curved blue line grew closer to an orange one. Orbit entry was seconds away. He bit into a breakfast munchie, and reached up to brighten the display. Of a sudden, he heard a ping followed by a deafening claxon. The screen went blank.
"What was that?" said Gilbert.
Dayson screamed, "We're doomed!"
Shay felt the blood drain from his face. Munchie crumbs floated out over the console. It was a breach. Air was escaping. He reached for his helmet, but the clamp held nothing. The helmet wasn’t there.
"Goddamn. Damn it. Damn it."
He unbuckled and floated out over the pods, glancing down at each as he bumped his way to the rear.
"You'll get us all killed."
Gilbert was so damn negative.
Hissing erupted from a far corner of the pod bay, where his helmet twittered in place. It was trying to plug the escaping air. A closer look revealed a shattered face shield. Whatever skewered the ship left him without a working helmet.
He pushed off and headed back. Each pod had a suit perched over it, complete with custom made head gear. Breathing became a chore, and Shay thought he might be turning purple. His suit had a two-hour air supply, but it was useless without a helmet.
Shay paused at a pod.
"Not mine, you don't," said Gilbert.
Too small.
Dayson was next.
"Son-of-a-bitch. Are you trying to kill me?"
A perfect fit.
"Put it back, you self-centered ass!"
Shay felt a bit heady as he filled his lungs. Those two always had something to jaw about. When he drifted over Fran's pod, her face stared up at him, placid and unperturbed. Her eyes were open. He grabbed hold of a crossbeam and looked again. Her eyes were shut as they should be. Lack of oxygen could play tricks.
The ship had turned off the air supply the moment the breach occurred—a great example of engineering by committee. Obviously someone forgot to bring up a damaged helmet in the discussion.
Shay turned off the muted alarm and the monitor flickered back on. He focused on the blue line now intersecting the orange. The impact had delayed the automated entry and the window for orbit insertion had passed. Shay fiddled with the controls. That's when he remembered the other hole—a hole about the size of a dime gaped down at him. It went through the heart of the computer system. The blue line rotated to an alarming angle. They were headed to the surface.
"We’ve got a dumbass at the controls. We're screwed," said Gilbert.
Shay fired off a series of small attitude thrusters, and turned the ship's stern toward the planet. The screen went dark. The Sun's penumbra covered half the display. Beyond the shadow lay a curved horizon, blood red and streaked with blue meteoritic ejecta. His fingers hovered over the retro control. Deciding when and how long to fire that rocket was like being in a falling elevator and trying to jump up just before crashing
"You fool! Look what you've done. We're all going to die."
Gilbert and his frantic squeals only added fuel to the mounting chaos inside Shay's head.
"You'll be fine, Shay. I trust you," said Fran.
"Thanks, Fran. Whatever happens, know that I love you."
He surprised himself with that.
With eyes glued to the altimeter, he punched the retros and snapped back into his seat. The Martian horizon spun. The ship spiraled and at once his stomach rose up against his throat. His outstretched hand wavered over the console. A fingertip caught the chute deployment toggle just before he retched.
He felt the lurch. Wet munchie chunks stuck to the inside of his visor, obscuring the view of the console. He squeezed his eyes shut and held his breath.
"Now you've done it. Puked all over yourself. You're a disgrace."
He could always count on Gilbert.
The landing came too soon. Shay flew out of his seat and smashed into a wall. His last waking thought centered on the screams of tearing metal and popping rivets.
* * *
Shay awoke on the floor. His arms and legs were still attached. A pink glow suffused the cockpit. The rocky terrain of Mars greeted him through jagged edges of torn metal. The ship was a wreck, cracked in half, but he had landed and he was alive.
"Hey. Everybody okay?"
Silence.
"Gilbert, you cranky asshole. How do you like that landing, heh? What about you, Dayson? Still worried?"
He walked back into the shadows. The pods were split open. Gel had turned into dried foam. Gilbert and Dayson, what was left of them, were splayed across the pod bay. His eyes darted to Fran’s pod.
"I knew you could do it." Fran sat atop a fallen crossbeam. She wore only a tee and shorts, the same as she wore the whole trip.
"How?"
She raised a finger to her lips. "I guess I’m just lucky. We're both lucky."
Shay felt the weight of a cold embrace against his back. "But, but you don’t have a suit on. You’ll freeze. And how can you breathe?"
Fran laughed. "As you can see, the air here is fine." She turned to look out onto the shimmering landscape. "Isn’t it beautiful? Shay, won’t you take that awful helmet off and join me for a stroll?"
The half-light illumined her rosy cheeks, which dimpled as she threw him another smile. First man and first woman on Mars, that’s what they were. Thank God she survived.
Fran paused at the opening. "Shall we?"
He thought about what he could say—something the folks back on Earth would repeat forever afterwards—but then, who would hear his words?
Shay beamed at her and unscrewed his helmet.


Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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Read Reviews

Review 1:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing.
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals and conflicts were clearly conveyed.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
General comments from your fellow writer 1:
I liked this inventive story. It didn't overdo it on the sci-fi side, in terms of faux-futuristic terms and gadgets etc, and the ending was nicely done. I thought perhaps the 'voices' the main character hears could have been a little more suggestive of his increasing/increased insanity - everything happens very suddenly, with little exposition of his element of the story - which would really improve the story overall. Good luck.

Review 2:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • The grammar, typography, sentence structure and punctuation would benefit from a further round of editing to avoid distracting from the quality of the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • There needs to be more balance between narration and dialogue. Avoid overdoing the narrative and remember that dialogue can diffuse long claustrophobic text.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • The protagonist didn’t always respond believably against the backdrop of the story. Ask yourself if people would really answer to a situation in that way. Think about whether the characters’ voices could be more convincing for their age, background, gender, time period, genre, gender and ethnicity. Dialogue should be natural and consistent throughout the story.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing.
Character conflict
  • The reader’s experience of the story is heightened when the characters’ goals, conflicts and purpose are clear. Perhaps giving this aspect of the story further attention could be worthwhile.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The build-up was intriguing and I felt the tension mounting with each word.
Technique and tight writing
  • When writing is tight, economical and each word has purpose, it enables the plot to unravel clearly. Try and make each individual word count.
Point of view
  • Point of view helps the reader identify whose perspective we are engaging with, i.e. who is narrating the story. It can sometimes be helpful to double check that the point of view in the story is successfully handled. Ensure you consistently use the same point of view and tense throughout.
Style and originality
  • Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose is tricky. As writers, we face the daunting task of making sure we are not being predictable. Can you find a way to give the content and characters more of a unique edge? Perhaps say something boldly, something fresh or show an unorthodox approach to a topic?
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
  • Great stories, nowadays, start with a powerful opening line and compelling hook in order to keep the reader engaged. Have you baited the reader enough?
General comments from your fellow writer 2:
Even though the opening line was strongly written I didn't feel it worked based on the second sentence. The internal voices were too loud for the characters work being described. Tone down the voices and put the protagonist's voice in some of the areas he uses the voices. If you are showing a man who has lost his mind work with him to show the loss of reality more with the craft and place in space. Maybe add some narrative from time to time. I loved the pace it worked for me so I don't mean for you to lose any of that by adding a little bit of narrative between the internal dialogue he was conducting. The ending was sweet.

Review 3:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing.
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals and conflicts were clearly conveyed.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Technique and tight writing
  • When writing is tight, economical and each word has purpose, it enables the plot to unravel clearly. Try and make each individual word count.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose is tricky. As writers, we face the daunting task of making sure we are not being predictable. Can you find a way to give the content and characters more of a unique edge? Perhaps say something boldly, something fresh or show an unorthodox approach to a topic?
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
  • Your strong opening was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 3:
This was an engaging story. The idea that a lone (awake) astronaut in the presence of his stasis cuccooned shipmates, can hear their voices (particularily after a long time alone) was a realistic and plausible situation. They might as well been conscious the way that Shay portrayed their characters and voices. The soft spot he holds for Fran was also well developed, leading to a satisfactory ending. The story was realistic and not far fetched and I imagine that this situation might actually may occur at some time in the future. Well done, keep writing.