Over the years—as both a writer-stretching-exercise and a break from other writing—I’ve experimented with different genres. And that’s given me a diverse range to offer my writing clients and readers. Sometimes that exploratory writing is me on the white-rabbit-chase of a story idea down a hole. At times it’s a dead end, nothing there—at that moment or perhaps never—to take me further. Other times it’s the entrance to a passage into a new world with thought-provoking—at least to me—characters to meet and document what they experience in their world. Those are the stories I either keep in my bourgeoning idea journal to expand later or am compelled to complete as they are realized. THE TAKING I’m serializing for readers is a recent ‘what-if’ white-rabbit-chase story idea whose arc formed quickly. I’m writing it in spare moments from client projects, then that spare time goes back to use in The Red Cliffs Prophecy for this summer and then my novel The Company of Masters.
The story in this post—CONTACT—is from a few years ago (though I have tweaked it further from its original version). It resulted from a ‘writer-stretching-exercise’ and contained enough promise to keep for future consideration. A science-fiction piece. My ‘what-if’ the wrong stuff was sent into space because the protagonist was the only person left capable of the mission whose success offered humanity its only chance to avoid extermination.
DISCLAIMER: It’s off-color, risqué… has sexually suggestive content, humor, and innuendo, is satirical with an irreverent and flawed protagonist. Proceed only if you’re not offended by that kind of content.
About the Story (the rough premise at this point):
Earth was dying and colonies on the solar planets were only marginally sustainable. Humanity would survive only if a suitable Earth-like or terra-forming viable planet was discovered to mass-migrate to in gigantic space-arks. [I know this is a common sci-fi scenario, but it’s just the backdrop inciting incident circumstances.] Necessity is the mother of invention, and a revolutionary dark-matter Push-Pull (PP) hyperspatial drive was developed. A dozen autonomous AI survey ships powered by the new drive technology have already searched for and found prospective planets and sent back telemetry via a real-time communications channel the PP-engine drilled through the fabric of space. But deep into the human-trials and test phase of the new drive, several astronauts died—killed each other or themselves—when they engaged the PP-drive in their prototype spaceship. Fortunately, one survived and was studied and analyzed to find out why he lived. This resulted in the discovery of the PP-drive’s effect on the D4 Receptor, which partly controls the brain’s response to dopamine, a chemical often associated with the body’s pleasure system. Then the surviving astronaut—with a genetic trait making him DRD4-PP-drive impact-resistant—was killed in an accident.
The Space Agency scrambles to find someone else in the astronaut program with the same genetic trait. Who could human-test the PP-drive and pilot the solo-crewed survey ship—the space probe—that would be the pathfinder, hopefully, to a new home for humanity. They found a man, former Captain Robert Nathan Joyet, who also had the genetics needed. His father, a legendary astronaut with the Space Agency, had led the first mission to the moons of Jupiter. And had raised his son to follow in his footsteps. But Bob Joyett hated his father—the military and anything associated with it—and had resigned from the space force and walked away. The agency found and convinced Bob he was their— Earth’s—only available option. The clock was ticking down to the planet’s destruction from a massive solar flare as they hunted for others with the genetics willing to enter the astronaut training program. Concurrent with Bob’s accelerated training, they searched for a resolution to the genetic requirement enabling humans to survive hyperspatial travel. Otherwise, they would have to send humanity on what would be a century-long voyage in suspended animation and reliant on sentient-robotics and systems to get them to the new Earth. In the mid-21st century, an over-reliance on sentient devices used for personal-preference human augmentation (or replacement) had a catastrophic—frightening—result globally. Mankind had no wish to ever go back to that dependent relationship and only grudgingly allowed augmentation for necessary—but limited—military use.
This story, CONTACT (original title ‘On the Pleasure Planet’), begins with Bob near the end of his mission. [Keep in mind what I told you above in the disclaimer.]
Shit. He had landed on the 324th day of his one-year mission, and on the 19th planet, the next to last, the twelve PP-drive Deep Space Survey ships had reported as viable. He had cataloged two that could be terra-formed to Earth-standard. Still, he had yet to discover any planet matching Earth’s atmosphere and perfect—Goldilocks principle—relationship to its star. And no signs of life. This—the 19th—was described as a mineral resource planet in the report generated by DSS12, so this landing held little promise to change that outcome. He was just accumulating more data and expanding maps for future colonies. Unmanned autonomous limited-AI Earth-scaping/TF-engine ships were already headed to the planets targeted for transformation and in a year’s time could receive the first hyperspatial arks if they became a reality. He was also the human guinea-pig test for any issues from repeated use of the PP-drive. While scientists worked on addressing the genetic factor that had made him the one man—the only man—left who could do what he was doing. Too much of dad in me, he thought, to turn the agency down. In the planning and training sessions, he had chafed at the requirements but understood why the mission was solo. But the vids and holoporn just weren’t enough anymore. The being alone, not having anyone to touch or feel, other than himself, was getting to him.
Making his landing report, he couldn’t help calling his ship—powered by its revolutionary drive and intended to enter the unknown regions mankind must go—by what came to mind. From his love of 20th-century 1960s/70s beat generation literature and classic rock music and not its official Space Agency designation: “Steely Dan is down on Tenebris-9. All orbital, pre-landing tests and sensor-scan confirmation protocols have been run. The planet is stable, but because of its rotational aspect and position, the night periods are considerable.” Long, dark nights… alone, he thought.
“Space Probe 1, this is Mission Control proceed with your EVA and physical exploration of your surroundings. Do not exceed the 2000-meter threshold without confirmation from the Mission Director.”
“Copy that, Mission Control.”
He went through the arduous task of suiting up. “State-of-the-art,” he grumbled for the 204th time. “Feels like my nethers are wrapped in foil.”
* * *
Two hours out and nothing yet. Bordered by hills on left and right, the plain he traversed ran all the way to a vast mountain range at planetary north. Sensors showed a change in topography ahead. A crater or cleft. He slowed the Mark LXIX crawler and then, at the proximity alert, came to a complete stop. Exiting through the rear loading bay, he stepped into the darkness that trailed behind… leading back where he’d come from and the landing site. Suit lights on, he walked around to the nose of the crawler and realized he was at the top of a winding path leading down into a huge crevice. He ran a sounding, ‘Let’s see how far it is to the bottom of whatever this big-ass hole is.’
He rechecked. ‘Damn,’ 2112 meters down and right where he stood was at the threshold. He could go no farther without permission. He raised the scanner and, in visual mode, locked on what should be the closest point where it bottomed out. Right at the foot of the path down. “What the…” The scanner showed light emitting from something. A structure? He switched mode to check for energy signatures. “Shit!” He got a spike indicating power was coming from whatever was down there. “Mission Control, this is Bob.”
“Follow communications protocol, Space Probe 1.” He recognized the voice of the Mission Director, Barbara Filsnaught; the bitch-powered distortion of her voice could have created its own wormhole and warp without the PP-engine pulse channel. From day one of his return to the agency, they had clashed. Her tone was cold as Steely Dan’s outer hull on the shadow side.
“Yes, Sir.” He thought it stupid to call a woman, sir, but that was protocol, too. And though she probably did not have a penis… she had balls… bunched and strapped tight. “Mission Control, this is Space Probe 1. I am at threshold, 2000 meters from landing Site 1.” He paused to sip from the suit’s water reservoir—recycled piss and perspiration—despite his training, he didn’t like to give that much thought. “I’ve detected light and energy signatures at the bottom of a rift in the level—may be a plateau—I’m on. The rift goes down 2000 plus meters and the emission generates from near the end of what seems a path down. It’s not wide enough for the crawler, I mean the Mark 69 Ground Exploration Vehicle, and I have to go on foot from here. I’ve sent you telemetry on my readings.”
“Analyzing, now, Space Probe 1… hold and wait.”
“Copy that.” Yeah, hold and analyze this. In space, they can’t hear you touch your crotch, he thought as his gloved hand patted it.
“Space Probe 1 this is Mission Director Filsnaught.”
Like I don’t know, “Yes, Sir.”
“Proceed to investigate and once at the source of those signatures… continue live transmission of visual feed to accompany telemetry and data. And enable your Psychotronic Data Recorder.”
“Copy that, Mission Director.” Fuck, he hated the Psychotronic Data Recorder. The PDR literally recorded and data-packet reported emotions and thoughts his brain emitted based on external stimulus and physical and biological reactions. It was like having a microphone and camera shoved up his brain’s ass. And who wants a peeder in their butt? “The PDR will draw down suit power considerably and reduce the time I have at the source for investigation,” he couldn’t help putting some snark in. “You know that, right?”
“Do as ordered Space Probe 1. Report again when you reach the source.”
* * *
The structure had enormous lights on its four corners at the top and base. Their ruby-red pulse synchronized in a repeating pattern and made him think of a particular—still lively—section of Amsterdam. He’d circled the building, which was about 750 meters square. In front of him was what must be the entry point; an airlock. Outlined in a steady blue light that framed the lock, at its center, a circular green light glowed. A button the size of his fist. Hell of a doorknob, he thought.
“Mission Control this is Bo… Space Probe 1.”
Nothing came back. Just empty air.
“Mission Control this is Space Probe 1.”
“Shit!” A scan showed energy levels higher, which he expected in proximity to the source, but there was something else. A new signature like an oscillating wave, a rhythm… almost like a biopulse the building emitted. Maybe that had knocked out comms; he was sure that was what stirred him as he stood before the airlock.
He called again, not thinking it would get through but for his suit recorder and mission log. “This is Bob,” screw Filsnaught, “transmitting in the blind. I’m at the source of the energy signature and have found one point of entry. I’m not able to contact Mission Control. There’s some new signal down here that’s interfering. I have decided, without Mission Director approval, to attempt to enter the structure and investigate further.”
With a sigh of reluctance and another muttered, “Fuck,” he enabled the PDR. Squirming, as the mechanism within the back collar of his suit helmet, inserted its sensor through the input/output jack. The military-grade-augmentation access at the base of his skull had been reinitialized with his return to the agency. He reached to press the glowing green button. The mechanism was different but opened and worked the same as the types he had used. The inner chamber led to another door, this one with a red glowing button in its center. He felt the lock cycle behind him, and pressure equalize. The door light in front of him turned green. He pressed it.
Entering, he saw points of light around the interior. There weren’t any walls he could discern… the structure was one huge room. In the nearest pool of light was a figure. If he could have touched them, he would have rubbed his eyes. “Great Jupiter’s testicles… what in the hell is this?” He moved toward the lighted area. The human-shape was suspended near vertically within a transparent tube. The head and features were covered by a helmet and a visor made of some opaque obsidian-like material down to the tip of the nose. The crimson lips over the V of a chin were moist and slightly parted. And the chest—he stared at its magnificence—rose and fell. A hand—her hand—began to move over her body, reaching down. Bob raised a hand toward her to be stopped by the tube. He shook his head and took a step back, “Recording for mission log: I’ve found an alien life form, a woman… and she’s working it!”
* * *
Earth, Mission Control
“Director, still no communication with Space Probe 1.” When it seemed, she didn’t hear him; the controller added, “He has only eight hours of suit time left.”
“Follow protocol. Continue to monitor past Life System expiration point plus four hours. I’ll then decide about mission termination.”
Barbara Filsnaught walked to her office, flat shoes slapping the tile floor. She sat at her desk and took out the mission folders, selecting the one for Captain Robert N. Joyet. She opened it. He’d not been her choice but he was all they had. “If only we’d found a woman,” the sound of her voice echoed in the stark office, “next time we will,” she snapped the folder shut. Twelve hours to wait.
* * *
The controller handed the readouts to her. “Still no communication, Sir. We’re at plus-four now.”
“Nothing at all?”
“We got one final burst of data from his PDR.”
“What did we get?”
“Mission log, tracking and location navigation data… and that—just before it cut-off—he was happy. His system was flooded with endorphins and dopamine.” The controller looked uncomfortable.
“Spit it out.”
“Part of his brain was lit up; at levels we’ve never recorded; the pleasure center.” The Mission Director’s blank expression compelled him to add, “He had an erection….”
SOME NOTES FOR THE READER:
ORIGINALLY TITLED: The Adventures of Captain Bob | Space Explorer On the Pleasure Planet. What you just read is a draft–not edited beyond my self-edit–so bear in mind it’s not had that final polish. But please do share your thoughts about this piece. Comments and feedback are always welcome.
In this use, Steely Dan is not the musical group. The musical group was named after Steely Dan III from Yokohama, a ‘revolutionary’ steam-powered pleasure device mentioned in the William S. Burroughs novel Naked Lunch.
- The PDR—to my knowledge—does not exist.
- There is not a pleasure planet… though there was a place in Palma de Mallorca that comes damn close.
- The brain’s pleasure center… is real. Light it up.
I have story expansion notes and an outline for Captain Bob that will utilize what you just read as an early-to-middle piece of the larger story. The story will continue with what he found and what else he discovers that leads him to more adventures: Captain Bob’s in deep shit. He’s a lover, not a fighter. He had done what was asked—terra-forming had started on two planets—but wasn’t as interested in going where no man had gone before as he was in getting to where every man wanted to go. But if he wants to get the girl — and once he gets to know her, you can bet he does — he has to find the courage to fight for her.