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Where No Man [or Woman] Has Gone Before
Carmichael hammered out his words as if he built a dog house with them; “Habitable worlds fall into three basic categories, Ray. Somebody just up and started living there for some reason; like the research station on Europa. It’s that moon that’s someplace, Ray. Uh; you know; orbits Jupiter, Ray. With a little help from my friends planets like the Mars Colony. And God made it that way like Earth and Sirius 4.
Nobody breathes methane. All known animal-esque life forms use oxygen. Most plant like growths use a gas like carbon monoxide. Nothing breathes methane, Ray. That’s why bombast 12 is considered uninhabitable.”
“Morganstar Two, Boss.”
Carmichael glanced at Ray’s computer screen, “Temp extremes are good, gravity good. Nothing breathes methane, Ray.”
“We just need another probe, a bit more data; there’s green plant life on the images. All of our data came from a volcanic sight. Just one sniffer probe, boss.”
“Do you know how much that costs?” Carmichael tapped the image on the screen. Ray smelled tobacco and sweat. “I’d bet nine month’s pay there’s life or at the least a non suit, mask free environment there.”
“I’ll take that bet. No life; you pay for the probe. And if it’s habitable, you get paid, that is you keep your job for at least the next nine months.” Carmichael’s odor faded with his departed.
“I’d like to go on the first contact trip,” said Ray into the empty air.
“Remember, Ray! Three layers of meth; the first starts at an hundred thousand meters. You won’t have to touch it all off to incinerate yourself. Remember, it took the auto probe three tries to make landfall.
“After the second burn extend the wings and disengage the auto flight. You’ve got to be below ten thousand meters before you initiate another rocket burn and below five for the jets to breathe.”
Descent into Morganstar Two began the moment the hatch clicked. By the time Ray thumbed the auto flight disconnect, the inside of his visor fogged so badly that he couldn’t read the altimeters.
The Master Caution panel illuminated and the device that Ray thought of as Auto Bitch complained in a stern female voice. “Check suit ventilation, check…”
Ray touched “Cancel All,” flipped the “Suit Vent” toggle switch to its “ON” position, and began hand flying the lander.
Auto Bitch cooed seductively, “Caution, no thrust zone. Incineration possible.”
‘Possible,’ ‘probable’ and ‘certain’ alternately accompanied ‘incineration’ for a full thirty-five minutes.
Don’t try to cancel it. The engineers made that impossible. Who programs these things? "Shut up!" Ray unplugged his helmet cord and pulled all of the communication circuit breakers. Auto Bitch announced each infraction and added a sharp warning, “Transmitting configuration status to company officials.”
Small knuckles knocked on the side of Ray’s helmet. Two thumbs stabbed together in front of his visor. I forgot about Madame de Second-pilot.
Ray pushed in circuit breakers and plugged up his cord, “What, Alice? I got all I can stand without…”
“Talk to me. Curse. Fart. Anything, the voice caution is about to flip me out.”
Ray stared the landing briefing and Auto Bitch auto-muted., “I didn’t know it would…”
“Just keep talking.”
After the briefing Ray shared his entire high school senior-year basketball schedule; bounce by bounce and shot by shot. He described the second of three overtimes for the region championship. He flexed to take the winning shot, when Auto Bitch announced, “Below ten thousand,” and fell silent.
Yesteryear remained in suspended animation as Alice and Ray enjoyed the first right to be recognized by human society, “the right to be left alone.”
“Other than knocking down a dozen or so tree sized local plants, that’s a, what’s the word. Dangerous, useful…” Alice paused, “Lucky? Flukey?
“Miraculous, Ray-the-boss, a true miracle of? I couldn’t hear you praying I was praying too loud myself. A miracle of a landing, Troll Killer.”
Ray pulled off his helmet and sat down right on the ground, “Troll Killer?”
Alice pointed, “If that ain’t a dead troll with a surprised look on its face, I’ve never read Mother Goose.”
Ray studied the furrow cut by their arrival, “We just flattened the troll equivalent of Farmer Brown, and his tractor and a sizable portion of his crop.”
“Some kind of melon; smells sweet,” said Alice.
Ray spoke onto his communicator, “You heard right, Carmichael, A lawyer! And they breathe methane to get high, Carmichael.”
The troll-cop straightened his belly-gun-belt combo and led the space travelers towards a cell.
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