The Other Red Planet

While she never reached the same level of fame as her spacefaring brother Rashid, Raya Andiyar-Mistry (2071-2164) made her mark as author of the quintessential book on the Odyssey missions. The Other Red Planet: A history of the Odyssey program was published in three editions, one for each mission. It was adapted twice to film, once as a documentary and once as a docudrama. With the help of the Odyssey astronauts, friends and family, and program insiders, Andiyar-Mistry took on the daunting task of covering the entire program from start to finish without losing sight of the human element. Although she outlived the Odyssey program, the third and final edition of The Other Red Planet was published posthumously by her granddaughter Rashida Arunachalam.

Her previous work as translator allowed Andiyar-Mistry to republish the book in several languages. Excerpts from the English edition are presented below.


Tales from the Home Front

The sweet smell of coffee and moon cakes wafted through the narrow street as a lone man pulled out of the bike lane and dismounted. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was. His commute from the industrial district took him through downtown Zhengzhou and rarely did he make it home without stopping for a bite. There were a lot of quality restaurants in the area, but tonight he was too tired to shop around.

He locked his bike and shuffled to the source of the smell, Wei Wei Café, and peeked inside. There was no music playing, only a holographic monitor streaming a Gods and Warriors tournament behind the bar at low volume. The place was moderately crowded but not too noisy. That was good. It was biting cold outside and he could use a hot drink. He walked in.

“Ready to order?” the cashier asked.

“Not yet. I’m going to call my girlfriend and see if she’ll join me.” He found a quiet corner, pulled out his earpiece, and called Ji Hyun Lim.

“Shen, I can’t make it, I’m sorry. An old friend is making an important flight and I have to watch it. They’re broadcasting it live.”

“What do you mean, an important flight?”

“It’s a lot to explain but I have to watch – he could die!”

“Ji, don’t hang up. I’ll get right back to you.”

Shen approached the bartender. “Excuse me, ma’am. Is anyone watching the tournament?”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “Why? Did you want to see something else?”

Ten minutes later, Ji Hyun ran through the doors, her helmet still in her hands. “Did I miss anything?”

“No. They’re just recapping while the shuttle cruises. The pilots haven’t said a word.”

“We are broadcasting live as the remaining crew of Odyssey I makes the flight back to orbit,” the voiceover said for the third time. “We have allowed a one minute delay to give our translator time to caption the pilots’ communications. Of course, none of this is truly live as it took the signal six years to reach Earth.”

Shen looked at Ji Hyun, then back at the cockpit feed. There were two pilots, both in orange flight suits and white helmets. Their visors hid their faces. They would have been impossible to distinguish if the one in the starboard seat didn’t have his left arm in a makeshift sling. In the back was a third astronaut. He sat on the left; the seat to his right was empty.

“Your friend, is he the pilot with the broken arm?”

“No, he’s on the other side. And he’s not really a pilot. He’s a doctor. He’s just filling in. Oh, and the one you asked about, that’s a woman. She’s a real pilot, thank god.”

“I guess I haven’t really been following the Odyssey mission.”

“Most people haven’t been. It’s not like the Mars days. I think people would be more interested if everything weren’t so delayed.”

A low roar overtook the audio and the astronauts broke into a rapid-fire chatter. The captions appeared right on cue, thanks to the delay.

“Not yet, not now!”

“I thought you said rockets at 2,000.”

“20,000, Luo.”

“No…I’m sorry.”

“We’re not doomed. I can fix this. Rockets deactivated, Odyssey. Over.”

“Lily, Odyssey. Watch your loading. Over.”

“Roger. 3.3g and counting. I can go up to 9 without passing out. Over.”

“On a good day, over.”

“Luo, listen carefully. The attitude controls are on the center panel. I can’t reach them.”

“Erin, I can’t see.”

“Then grope.”

“I thought her name was Lily,” said Shen.

“No,” said Ji Hyun. “Lily’s the shuttle’s call sign. It’s short for Little Iliad.

“You’re looking for three rubber-tipped knobs in a triangle formation,” Erin continued. “There, that’s it. Now put your thumb on the bottom knob and don’t move. That’s the pitch.”

“Erin…”

“Lily, Odyssey. What the devil are you trying? Over.”

“When I say ‘go,’ pitch down 25 degrees.”

“On the count of three, Luo. Ready?”

“Luo?”

“Erin, Odyssey. I’m afraid you might be on your own.”

***

It was January 2119 and Canada was experiencing record low temperatures from coast to coast. One of the hardest hit regions was the Lakeland district near the Saskatchewan-Alberta border. A terrible ice storm laid siege to Lakeland’s power lines and felled more than a hundred trees. The glaze looked delicate but it proved to be more than a match for the infrastructure. No amount of salt could make the roads safe for automatic cars and many were inaccessible even to heavy driver-controlled vehicles. Lakes that hadn’t seen ice in decades were beginning to freeze over.

Among them was Cold Lake, a large, deep lake abutting a city of the same name. Cold Lake was one of the few cities not affected by the prolonged power outages that neighboring cities were suffering. Cold Lake, see, was powered not by the central plant but by a prototype Kearney-Rasmussen Controlled Reaction System. The fusion reactor would keep the city warm and bright as long as the underground cables held fast against the frost.

Holed up in his toasty living room, Brian Carellos hoped that his mother’s handiwork would not fail them at this hour. Kathleen Kearney was sitting on the other couch, her lips pursed and shoulders stiff. Her eyes never left the screen of Brian’s living room computer. Her husband looked more relaxed but his eyes sagged under the weight of three days’ uncertainty. Marcario Castellanos was not a renowned physicist like Kathleen but a humble calculus teacher, famous only within the confines of his high school for his avuncular nature. Next to Brian sat Heather Pearson and their squirmy ten-year-old Zach. Zach’s younger brother Avery huddled beside his mother, though he was too young to understand what his parents and grandparents were fretting about. Always the perceptive one, he picked up the tension and felt it just the same.

“And now we are at an hour forty and Ping is still not responding to commands,” said the man on the screen. This particular reporter usually had the fervor of a sports commentator, but today, he spoke with a hushed, almost reverent tone. After a few seconds of silence, the report cut back to the fisheye view of Little Iliad’s cockpit. “Carellos has removed her seat restraints, her gloves…and will you look at that. She is taking off her sling.”

“C’mon, Erin,” Kathleen said. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

“You know she wouldn’t,” said Marcario.

The reporter yielded the floor to the astronauts, who were speaking again.

“Cut-and-pitch rescue, Commander, that’s what I’m trying. It might work, over.”

“Roger, carry on. Just be quick with it and try not to do anything stupid, over.”

Marcario turned to Brian with a grin and a wink.

“Lily, watch your altitude. You are sinking too fast, over.”

Erin was no longer clinging to the center panel’s hand rail but was pressed into the portside seat, pilot and all. The weight of 7g flattened her arms and legs and even the fabric of her flight suit. Her breathing, visible through her suit, was erratic and not controlled as it had been before.

“Lily, you are losing altitude, do you copy?”

Brian’s eyes widened.

“Lily, do you copy?”

The house in Cold Lake fell silent.

“Erin, wake up…”

***

Annalee O’Hearn parked her wheelchair in the kitchen and propped her tablet on the wooden table. This was her favorite place to watch TV and this show was no exception. A nervous eater, Annalee knew she would be calmer with a bowl of assorted sugar free chocolates at her side. Murder mysteries made her sweat enough. Watching Alex sit in the back of a space shuttle while the pilots made their best effort to cheat death was too much for her.

Today was the day her boy was supposed to leave Ilion’s surface. And he did, but now it looked like he’d be landing again. For good.

“We at Mission Control do not currently believe that the crew of Little Iliad are, as you put it so kindly, making a pit stop in the ocean,” the flight controller told the reporter. “The automated systems are stabilizing the shuttle as we speak.”

Mission Control. Ha, thought Annalee. As if they had any control over the fate of Alex and the rest.

The cockpit feed stopped shaking. The two figures heaped on the pilot’s seat were beginning to stir.

“Erin, it looks like your little stunt worked,” said the commander. “You are on track for orbital flight. How about we drop protocol and continue level flight until you’re back in your seats? I’m tired of saying ‘over’ and ‘roger’ like we’re strangers at Mission Control. I just want to see you home and safe.”

“Ok.”

“R….roger.”

Annalee leaned back and exhaled. She couldn’t believe that she would see Alex in the flesh in just a year. It had taken so many for him to get to Ilion, thirteen to be exact. Yet, the return trip would be only one year from her perspective. It didn’t make sense. Alex once tried to explain how Doppler shifting and time dilation would make this happen, but she never quite grasped it. It didn’t bother her now. Her only son was coming home next year. That was all that mattered.

 

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