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 diverse writing experience to offer my clients and readers. Sometimes that exploratory writing is the white-rabbit-chase of a story idea down a hole. Where I’d find a dead end and nothing there at that moment, or perhaps never would, 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 burgeoning idea journal to expand later or am compelled to complete as they are realized.
The story in this post, FIRST CONTACT, is from a few years ago (though I have tweaked it further from its original version), and I still consider it a work in progress. It resulted from one of those exercises 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 extinction. DISCLAIMER: It’s off-color, risqué… has sexually suggestive content, humor, innuendo, and is satirical. 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 via 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-time.
But deep into the new drive’s human trials and test phase, several astronauts killed each other or themselves after engaging the PP drive in their prototype spaceship. Fortunately, one survived and was studied and analyzed to find out why he lived. This resulted in discovering 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 scrambled to find someone else in the astronaut program with the same genetic trait. Someone who could successfully human-test the PP drive and pilot the solo-crewed survey ship, the space probe. Hopefully, the pathfinder 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.
But the clock was ticking. The next solar cycle was expected to yield more massive flares to complete Earth’s destruction. The agency found and convinced Bob he was their—Earth’s—only available option as they hunted for others with the genetics willing to enter the astronaut training program.
Concurrent with Bob’s accelerated training, the agency searched for a resolution to the genetic requirement that enabled 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. But in the mid-21st century, an overreliance on conscious devices used for personal-preference entertainment and human enhancement (or replacement) led to a globally catastrophic result. Mankind did not wish to return to that device-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 discovered no 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 PP drive ships already headed to the planets targeted for transformation. They could receive the first hyperspatial arks in a year if the human-bearing vessels could engage their PP drives.
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. He had chafed at the requirements in the planning and training sessions 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 thrusting drive into dark regions—by what came to mind. A name from his love of 20th-century 1960s/70s beat generation literature and classic rock music, not its official Space Agency designation: “Steely Dan is down on Tenebris-9, Landing Site 1. All orbital, pre-landing tests, and sensor-scan confirmation protocols have been run. The planet is stable, but the night periods are considerable because of its rotational aspect and position.” Long, dark lonely nights, he thought.
“Space Probe 1, this is Mission Control; proceed with your EVA and physical exploration of your surroundings. Do not exceed the 5000-meter from LS-1 threshold without approval 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.”
* * *
Bordered by hills on the 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 break in the level plain. A crater or cleft. He slowed the Mark LXIX crawler and then, at the proximity alert, came to a complete stop. Exiting the rear loading bay, he stepped into the darkness that trailed behind… leading back to where he’d come from… 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. Let’s see how far it is to the bottom of whatever this big-ass hole is. He ran a sounding. He rechecked. Damn. It was 2112 meters down, and right where he stood was at the LS-1 distance 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 the threshold, 5000 meters from Landing Site 1.” He sipped 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’s 2000+ meters deep, and the emission generates from near the end of what seems to be a path down into it. It’s not wide enough for the creeper, 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 pulse-reported his brain’s emotions and thoughts based on external stimuli 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 visited many times. 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, a circular green light glowed at its center. 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’ve lost comms with 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. The military-grade-augmentation access at the base of his skull had been re-initialized with his return to the agency. He squirmed as the instrument signaled and inserted the connecting sensor through the input/output jack. He reached to press the glowing green button on the airlock. The mechanism was different but opened and worked the same as the types he had used. The inner chamber led to another door 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 the fuck is this?” He moved toward the lighted area. The space-suited human shape floated vertically. A helmet and a visor made of an opaque obsidian-like material covered the head and features. Below it, an oval of pale flesh was exposed. And that chest—he stared at the upper arc of high-profile breasts—rose and fell. A hand—her hand—began to move… reaching down between…. Bob blinked and raised a hand toward her, then stopped. He shook his head and took a step back, “Recording for mission log: First contact,” he followed the hand again, “first contact. I’ve found an alien life form, a female form… 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,” 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 last 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:
In this use, Steely Dan is not the musical group but what the group was named after. ‘Steely Dan III from Yokohama’ is a shiny-metal strap-on dildo mentioned in the William S. Burroughs novel Naked Lunch.
To my knowledge, the PDF (Psychotronic Data Feed) does not exist.
There is not a Pleasure Planet (as Tenebris-9 once was) … though there was this place in Palma de Mallorca I visited that comes damn close.
The brain’s pleasure center… is real. Light it up!
Bob’s adventures are just beginning….
I have story expansion notes and an outline that will utilize what you just read as an early-to-middle piece of the larger story. The story will continue with what (who) Bob found, what happens next and what else he discovers that leads to more adventures: 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.