Storyline: Colony Reports, A Surprise Discovery

12/24/2012, 13:15 PHX

Missions are entirely completed. I have a full survey of the 500 meters surrounding the COHAB site, and heading through the final preparations for return. I am waiting return instructions and the proposed launch windows. The storms have been increasing in intensity of late, and some minor damage has reduced the solar array’s effectiveness. I have been running at the lightest possible load to ensure enough battery charge before leaving. The return missions here will need to bring additional PV panels, and possibly a replacement battery system.

I hit another snag in the generation of fuel. Running a single pump means carefully metering water to the COHAB and the ERV for fuel. In running the COHAB lean, I have been able to get enough fuel reserved for a safe take off, however oxygen still needs to be capped off. I am planning to divert the ERV rations to the COHAB to store up adequate oxygen and transfer the last requirements tomorrow.

12/25/2012, 18:16 PHX

I found an anomaly in the sampling data earlier. About 56 meters south of the ERV I have found traces of methane. My first assumption was that I had a leak in the EVR fuel system, but it all checked out. My only conclusion is that either there actually is methane or that somehow the samples were contaminated. I resampled around the general area and found a “cluster” of samples – with a very regular dispersion pattern consistent with gas leakage.

There is no protocol for drilling and recovering methane, and I tested the stability of the surface gases with a torch. Not enough oxygen present it seems to make it flammable. So I setup the drill and dropped a 25 meter hole. The hole is venting a visible fog stream into the atmosphere, and I was able to recover some water vapor. While the LIBS cannot test vapor or gas, I managed to mix some of the gas and local sand by condensing the vapor in a plastic tent. The LIBS analysis showed 60% water with about 15 ppm methane. This is exciting, because there are very few geological explanations. While scientists believed to find methane clouds in 2010, few people were willing to entertain the idea of biological determination.

I have sampled and bio-bagged the aggregate mud returned from the drill. I do not have the time or the facilities to do any biological testing here on planet. I will need to modify the rock bin on the ERV to ensure these are properly secured and can survive the trip home.

12/26/2012, 02:15 PHX

Countdown to return is on, however I am more than a little irritated. It seems that a new protocol is rerouting me to the international space station for biological isolation. If I have been exposed to any kind of bacteria, germ or virus, they will need to figure out the danger, as well as begin to analyze the samples.

This delays my return to my family significantly. The good news is that I am also to get credit for the discovery, although actual ownership will remain a corporate asset. The bad news is that I am now a corporate asset if I have been contaminated. I don’t believe there is any real danger, although I was exposed to the exterior of my suit  in the COHAB. I feel fine and doubt that any bacterium would survive outside their own unique extreme environment.

Regardless, this will be my last entry. I am scheduled to lift off at 04:00 PHX and will be starting the life support procedures shortly. It has been exactly 26 days since I landed, and there have been some crazy challenges. All in all I am pleased with my performance. Physiologically, I have lost 12 pounds and my suit is a lot looser  now. Otherwise, no  other medical conditions. I am a bit nervous about the launch, I recall descriptions of these kinds of launches as a bit like riding a bomb. The computers manage the entire procedure, and I will be tightly strapped in, and sedated. I hate needles, and I guess now I am going to see a lot more of them at the space station.

Signing off. By the way, I am looking at my last sunset. The sun is cresting on the edge of the crater, creating deep red and orange shadows. I have worn a path that runs between the wellhead and the COHAB that looks purple in the fading light. Off to the west is a massive dust storm catching the dimming light. I can’t say this has been the most comfortable few weeks, but I am looking forward to coming back. There is a lot to do and a lot to gain. If I am lucky, we will be able to bring an oxygen garden and the diet can expand to something besides freeze dried sludge.

Message to my family: I am looking forward to our reunion. I have a lot to share with you all and miss you very much.

Storyline: Colony Reports, Zeus found

12/15/2012, 13:15 PHX

I found the remains of the Zeus Rover this morning while on a hike searching for new geologic samples. Since I have finally gotten the routine maintenance down to a couple of hours, and the fuel conversion is fully supplied, I decided to take on the extended sampling mission. 

The Zeus Rover went silent several years past its prime and expected functionality, I think late 2009. It seemed that an unusual storm was heading into the area near the rover, and after the storm passed, no new signals were sent. Interestingly, the original Phoenix and Opportunity took on a special “life” at NASA and JPL, and were bestowed a kind of honorary status. My understanding is that I am to only recover a key memory module, and leave the wreckage intact, while carefully marking the spot.

I set out about 10:15 PHX this morning heading north, intending to climb out of the crater, and sample at 100 meter points on tangent from the lander. This process is extremely tiring and time consuming, and I can only carry 4 properly bagged 15 gram samples at a time, due to limitations in the suit. I found an unusual shape, a long cylinder, with a shiny black window, barely peeking out of a rock pile. This took me about 20 meters off my target tangent, about 380 meters from the COHAB. I logged this into the GPS and took two samples nearby.

It took me a couple of hours to carefully remove the rocks and dust from the top of the rover. The damage is extensive, the camera boom is entirely detached from core body, and the solar panels are smashed. Protocol requires a system check, however the rover was unresponsive. I could not locate any of the external access hatches, and did not have the proper toolkit with me in any case. 

I returned to the COHAB, and will make another EVA to the site later.

12/15/2012, 16:12 PHX

A minor dust storm swept through on my way back to the COHAB. I am simply not prepared to deal with these amazing winds, nor the noise they generate. While minor in comparison to other such storms, a very strong gust was blowing nearly vertical up the crater, and I could barely move against the wind, and visibility was nearly zero. It took me almost a full 40 minutes to fight my way back to the COHAB.

Kudos to the engineers of the COHAB, the insulation effectively buffers the noise outside, with the occasional exception of small debris raining down. It has been several hours of silence, preceding this storm, and I had adjusted to only the sound of my breathing and the scraping sounds of the geo sampling. The storm ramped up the noise about 60 decibels inside my helmet, and the small rocks that struck my suit sounded like a fastball hitting a catcher’s mitt less the “Steeeeeriiiiike” from an umpire. It’s incredibly disorienting and I have a loud ringing in my ear. This was NOT covered in the training. Fortunately, a few meds have taken off the edge.

Another pressure system is moving in. I will not make it back to the rover today.

12/16/2012, 9:18 PHX

Beautiful calm day today. Made it back to the rover with my toolkit. I was only able to expose a bus connector, and connected my computer to download the information. Fortunately, my kit contained the proper adapter and was able to fit into the bus. It was clean and no dust or grit had gotten in. I found a couple of the wheels, one smashed and one more or less intact. and returned them to the lander. Against protocol, but I feel as if I have found the body of a former Colonist, so I stacked some rocks around the wreckage, forming a sort of cairn. I didn’t dig up the whole wreck, and certainly couldn’t lift the rover, so I wrapped some plastic around Zeus first. Perhaps someone can return and fully recover the relic.

The GPS location is 92 495 1262. The cairn fully covers the wreckage, and I have planted a pole into the cairn to mark the location. I wish I had a flag, seems more fitting. Around the cairn, I scratched out and laid out large rocks in the form of a 4 point star, aligned to the poles. We should have no problems finding it again. That said, some of these storms can bring several inches of dust and debris. I expect it will be covered again soon, leaving only the pole.

I cannot explain my feelings on this matter. I feel sad, as if I have lost a friend. I know the rover was a robot, and served well past any wild expectations. Perhaps that is it… a feeling that I should persevere and refocus. Get this done so we can return and start building the colony.

Storyline: Colony Reports, Thanksgiving Slurry

11/24/2012, 04:15 PHX

Major malfunctions with the well head this morning. I was awakened by an alarm that the well head pump had exceeded the capacity of the attached container. When I got out there, about 150 meters from the lander, it was clear what had happened. It seems that the heat tape failed and the well head had frozen. Simple physics will tell you that water expands about 20% after freezing, and the entire well head cracked, from the riser pipe into the container valve, resulting in a catastrophic failure. Interesting to note that water continues to come up and freeze on contact with the surface, making repairs nearly impossible. I recovered as much of the frozen water as I could, breaking the ice into large chunks and hauling back to the lander. Difficult since the containers I have are setup for a pressurized release – and have a 4 inch opening.

I jerry-rigged a plastic tarp inside the breezeway and have left containers under the tarp with a small drip hole to catch the water as it melts. Not the best solution – but it works. I now have enough water to sustain the lander for another few weeks. And should have some spare to feed the seperator and algae tanks.

11/24/2012, 11:54 PHX

I have the well head in the bunk house to see what I can salvage. I noticed an interesting phenomenon with the well. When I freed the well head, water continued to surge out, at about a gallon a minute. Not great flow, but certainly interesting. It seems the pressure below is greater than in the atmosphere. The water freezes into a flow pattern, but also evaporates into the atmosphere creating a general fog around the hole. A high pressure system came over while I was dragging the well head home, and the water ceased flowing. Apparently the balance of pressure is delicate.

Fortunately I have another well head, and will find a nearby area to create a new drill site and seat the well head. I plan to layer some insulation around the well head system this time to help prevent heat loss – and will connect another sensor to the heat tape in case it fails.

Need a break for lunch. yesterday I harvested some algae and have freeze dried it following the protocol. It dries in layers, not unlike nori used in sushi back home. Supposedly I can use it in broth, or toast the sheets and eat them. Will see. More later.

11/24/2012, 21:35 PHX

The temperature in the breeze way (or pressure lock if you prefer) is just barely above freezing, and I have been leaving open the lander hatch to let some of the heat into that area. It is very slow going. The safety timer on the door keeps throwing an alarm, so there has been little rest or relief. Every three minutes alarms blare and the system wants to go through a full debug check.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving back on Earth. I am thankful I have survived so far, but still not too sure about this mission.

11/25/2012, 08:15 PHX

Happy Turkey Day. I have set out the “T-Day” dinner pouches to thaw. Looks like turkey, yams and stuffing, with what appears to be pumpkin pie. Looking forward to the change.

Unpacked the spare well head last night. Yet another slightly different model from what I was trained on. Going to have to modify my tools and wrenches to properly fit. Today will install over the new well hole drilled over night. I haven’t checked the drill yet – but the computer shows a successful drop and water. Can’t go out just yet because of another dust storm.

11/25/2012, 12:10 PHX

I am giving myself the rest of the day off. I successfully installed the new well head and it is pumping liquid water into container, albeit a bit slower than the previous well. I suspect the old well has not fully frozen closed and pressure is leaking out.

I managed to gather enough ice to melt another 15-20 gallons of water. This will go into the fuel separator. I need an immense amount of hydrogen, and oxygen. For fuel and for air. The melt rig is working well, except I have a pressure lock with about an inch of slush and mud on the floor.

Turkey dinner, more like turkey slurry. Freeze drying takes more than just the water out of food – it takes the flavor and texture turning everything into a mush. I got a bit too much water into the turkey and it was more soup than meat. Still – the hint of familiar flavors brought back some interesting memories. The pie was the best… and I got the mix just right. It was more like a pumpkin shake with some flaky bits and lumps, but the sweet was really welcome.

I got the message today from Earth, checking in on things and wishing me a wonderful Thanksgiving. The afternoon is full of storms, some pretty rough, so no EVA the rest of the day anyhow.

Call me sentimental, but I called back watching parades and football at home. Didn’t have much of a home life, and most holidays ended in alcohol soaked fights, but for one or two perfect hours – it was nice. Anyway – no booze here – but cheers to my family and friends. I am well, eternally cold, and likely too freeze dry myself here. Tomorrow I have to make up the lost hours, but for now – I am grabbing my book (Ayne Rand, The Fountainhead) and a glass of tea and curling up in the bed for the rest of the day. Happy Thanksgiving.

Storyline: Colony Reports, the first two days

11.18.2012, 08:17 PHX

The landing was successful, with only a few areas of damage. I have confirmed the return vehicle is operational, however significant fuel leaks will require repair, and re-composition of fuel reserves are necessary. The generation of fuel will require finding a significant source of water, which is underway.

It was a beautiful morning, but cold. I underestimated how cold it could be here. The landscape is beautiful and orange. I prefer to view it without the blue filters in my EVA suite enabled, although the brightness is a bit stark. I am surrounded by hills of painted rocks and soil, much richer than expected. I am sheltered in a large crater, that is beginning to fill in from erosion, but it creates a wonderful sunrise and sunset, particularly as the light shows through the dusty winds.

11.18.2012 12:00 PHX

Still adjusting to clock cycles. I have given up trying to keep up with earth time.

The lander module status is fine; however, I seem to be using water, food and air at a more rapid pace than predicted. This reduces the original estimate of 2 weeks down to something more like 10 days. The GPR device is functioning, however I am losing some of the results due to a glitch in GPS readings. This makes it extremely difficult to return to measurement sites as the wind quickly erodes the footprint left by the device.

I should note that I have found what appears to be icy formations about 80 centimeters below an area I have dubbed the Swamp. I have not been able to successfully analyze the crystals themselves as they evaporate in the pressure lock. I suspect these are not water, but a frozen gas. I am working to determine what possible gas formations can crystallize under the prevailing temperatures and pressures outside.

11.18.2012 20:17 PHX

Tired. Hungry. Again I underestimated the physical demands of this mission. The food is terribly bland and I am finding that spending more than a few cycles in EVA is wearing.

Found a likely sight for a water well. The oxide levels are high – so I am concerned about contamination. My estimates on current sustainability of existing resources will be further dialed back, meaning that I must bring my water levels up to 50% in about 8 days or face a prolonged stay. Our data on available water at this site, however, seem accurate. It seems that I have found a large water source about 180 meters from the lander. This is good news as lugging the drill and well head will be difficult.

While checking drill and well head status, was caught in a dust storm. The electrical and radiological activity was significant. Faced bright light but white out conditions. It took about 40 minutes to locate the lander visually as the EVA suit electronics were not functioning properly. Need to pay closer attention to pressure levels and the weather prediction systems.

11.19.2012 06:14 PHX

EVA suit is not recharging properly. I am forced to take apart the suit systems and clean all of the  connections. Significant powdery dust has accumulated in all of exposed connections and seems to be creating interference.

11.19.2012 08:47 PHX

Suit maintenance is completed. It seems that some of the materials oxidized the connections. I cleaned all of the terminals and the suite is fully charged. I must admit a bit of reluctance to climb back into the EVA suit and head out. I am still quite sore from yesterday.

11.19.2012 14:34 PHX

Success. The drill is currently pushing down to an estimated depth of 72 meters. I have found water. Tomorrow, will be setting up the well head, assuming I have hit an adequate pressure source.

The drill was a bit finicky. It seems the model provided is older than the more automated tool I trained on. Basic principles apply and I should have no issues retrieving the drill.

This was another terribly difficult day. There were three critical storms that slowed things down. In one case, I was forced to abandon the drill and return to the lander module. I am performing maintenance at every opportunity with the EVA suite. While this slows me down significantly, I am able to keep the suite at peak operating status throughout the day. Map module seems to be working again, but maintenance of all facilities are necessary and more frequently than protocol suggests.

Solar panels are covering up with the powdery dust. This dust seems to be a product of sand and soil that gets caught up in the plasma generated by storms. My analysis shows a variety of chemical traces all burned and sterilized in high temperature. After each storm, there seems to be an “ash fall” like event which is piling up on all horizontal surfaces. Also – the dust appears to be acidic, and has caused minor burns on my skin. All future maintenance of the suite will require gloves for cleaning.

Storyline: The Ride

Brutus arrived in orbit, queueing a release of a slow spinning satellite that would remain asynchronous with the landing site. With a silent dance, small rockets oriented the satellite, as solar arrays and antennae opened and closed, testing the systems. In a few minutes, Brutus would receive the first string of communication exchanges, high resolution photography and radar scans of the landing surface, weather information and the queue to start the “The Ride” phase, or atmosphere entry.

Gerome woke up. It was the 4th and final awakening on his trip. While his head was fuzzy and his mouth felt like he had been eating insulation, he was fairly certain this time he would be preparing for entrance. The stasis bunk clouded with a blast of mist that smelled faintly of apples, and when the fog cleared, so did Gerome’s brain. He was hungry.

“Brutus, ETA on entry please.”

Welcome Gerome, I hope you had a pleasant sleep. The time is 21:08:47. Entry will occur in approximately 2 hours. You will find refreshments in the cooler. All systems are go. Please run entry protocol tests.

“Fine.” Gerome wondered about the wisdom of speaking to a computer. It seemed odd, but the computer had been programmed to use natural speech patterns, and he had the ability to change it’s voice, language, even accent and sex. Yet he had given it a fairly electronic voice, just to remind him this was NOT a person.

His legs were quite stiff, as was just about every other muscle in his body. The last stasis session was nearly 200 hours, and while his body was provided with nutrition and mild electrical stimuli to help prevent bone and muscle loss, he still felt somewhat plastic. Protocol required a short period of calisthenics, followed by a quick checkup at the medical station. It only took a few deep bends with bungies cables for sweat to break. With no gravity, Gerome still fought the nausea that most people felt, but his training had helped to keep his bearings, and he knew it would pass in a few minutes.

As Gerome sipped a cold protein drink, he stroked the control panel which immediately brightened to life. The lights hurt his eyes a little, but he quickly adjusted. Protocols were running and ship statistics indicated that everything was a go. He looked through the video streams showing the position of the ship and satellite in geosynch over the landing site. The planet glowed a golden orange and the dark shadow was shrinking away from the large crater that was his destination. The truck, the train of resource modules that were being towed into position, created a long line of tubular “boxes” behind the lander. A count down timer started.

Prepare for truck release in 30 seconds…

When the count down finished, a muffled clunking sound indicated the release of magnetic and vacuum lines that held the modules behind the lander. Silently, the modules fired small bursts of gas, moving the containers into a formation preparing for entry. Short bursts of rockets launched each module into a decaying orbit. These modules would sling around the planet and enter at a lower orbit than the landing module. The monitor showed the modules, flying into the planet like fighters ascending for a bombing run, glowing slightly as they broke the upper atmosphere. Visuals would be lost as the modules raced behind the planet.

Palettes are away. Trajectory patterns are correct. Expect parachute deployments in 6 minutes. Please prepare for entry in 30 minutes. Module confirmations expected in 12.3 minutes.

Gerome powered down the non-critical lander systems, per protocol, and carefully buttoned up all of the loose gear. He kicked back over to the stasis bunk, and slid back in. This time, as he belted into the seat, a number of air cushions inflated, pinning and stabilizing his head and torso. The pressure would keep him safely in place and provide pressure to help to mitigate the effects of shock on his internal organ and sensors would monitor his vital statistics. Should something go terribly wrong, the bunk would be released like a torpedo from the lander, and very slowly descend to the planet surface via redundant parachutes and air brakes.

All palettes are down, skids deployed and leveled. Please brace for entry in 5…4…3…

There were three things that Gerome remembered from the ride to the surface. First the incredible noise that seemed to build and build, creating both an aural pressure and panic that lasted until the an incredible jerk indicated the chutes had deployed. The second was the amazing shaking, which he was sure would leave him broken and bruised. It felt like being dropped into a blender. The third was the heat, an immediate flash over of energy that raised his bunk temperature by 45 degrees C. A cold mist deployed again providing some relief.

Suddenly the shaking stopped and the noise dropped considerably as Brutus snapped against the cables holding several parachutes. These were designed to slow the lander enough to properly deploy landing skids and allow the heat shield to come away from the lander. As the shields broke off, Gerome’s ears began popping as the pressure of the capsule equalized with the atmosphere.

A low growling roar sounded, and the lander dropped away quickly as the parachutes released. Then the lander seemed to float as the rocket skids engaged. Gravity seemed to pull immediately, rather than the slow transition that was proposed in the training. It took Gerome’s breath away. In all of the confusion, he realized that Brutus was speaking…

… deployed. Airspeed slowing to 12 meters per second. Touch down to terra in 3…2…1…

The roar ramped to an explosion and the lander touched down.

Welcome home Gerome.

Gerome felt like he had ridden an explosion.

Storyline: Outbound

Gerome slid exhausted into his bunk. Since arriving at the Delta Space Offloading Station, Gerome had spent seemingly limitless hours reviewing procedures and policies of claiming the homestead. He was still adjusting to the slightly less gravity of the space station. Tomorrow would be another big day, introduction to his new home, that just rolled off the manufacturing line. The bright and shiny lump of lander would be loaded onto a “truck,” attached to the series of modules containing gear, a rover, analytical material and even a drill and extraction device. So much to learn… Gerome slipped into a deep sleep.

The lights in the bunk cabin slowly lit, simulating the rise of the sun. Even the temperature rose in the room, as if the artificial sun was bringing its warmth. 8 men in the cabin all climbed out of their beds and cleaned up. A few, Gerome included, finished packing their few personal items into a ruck sack, prepared to take “the Ride.” The station was moving within the window to shoot the next few rides into deep space. A quick breakfast and some bitter black brew that posed for coffee and Gerome found himself in the briefing room for SigCorp’s send off.

“Congratulations. You have completed the necessary training and prerequisite engineering skills necessary to survive for a year and half mission. Upon completion of your mission, you will be granted full rights to your homestead, including mineral and gas rights. Many of you will fail, some will succeed. You have been fully briefed on the dangers and risks and have indemnified SigCorp from responsibility.

In a few hours, you will be put into a cryostatis state for the journey. Upon approach to the planet, your truck will deploy a series of drops, as well as deployment of a communication satellite in stationary orbit. This will allow the satellite to link communication and data streams to SigCorp, and determine the proper drop times for your lander and modules. Modules will enter first, followed by the lander. During the lander sequence, your statis will start to lift. This can be very disorienting, so we will administer some drugs to ease the transition to conciousness. Your stasis chamber will act as an escape pod in the case of catastrophic failure, and automatically deploy in such a case. A survival gear kit is found under headrest.

The lander and the modules, powered by their rocket skids, will land on auto pilot. The modules will intentionally stear a minimum of 100 meters clear of the lander. You will start your setup protocols immediately.

It is also important to note that you will need to manually set the circadian cycle clock on your lander. This will coordinate with your satellite to optimize the daily cadence, and transition your body clock into the necessary time frames. Once we determine the proper working schedules for your planet, taking into account any environmental effects, a work schedule will be laid out.

A list of tasks will be loaded into your master computer, and can be loaded into your EVA suit. The lander and modules will automatically level, run through basic pressure and bring up tests without your guidance. These tests should be run regulary to ensure the proper working of your craft and provide a maintenance schedule.”

Gerome sighed. It was hard to pay attention to the droning voice. At the least, SigCorp could have sent a human representative for the briefing. He was sure this was all prerecorded. He was ready to go – the Ride sounded like fun.

Finally, several lights above the large monitor blinked, and a synthetic “ding” woke Gerome out of his day dream. He wasn’t sure how much he missed, but was sure it was boring. It was time. The monitor asked him to report to Bay DCA-1009B immediately.

The short walk was brisk, and the nervous pioneers around him were silent. All were jittery. A collective hum of awe sounded when the hanger bay doors slowly slid open. A massive bay stood before them with no less than six Lander modules, all shining chrome in the bright lights. Robots on big rubber wheels slowly rolled around each Lander doing a last inspection of the exterior and detaching cables and hoses. Gerome walked up to his Lander, sitting on a padded grid laid out in bright neon green paint indicating 1009B. He grinned as he saw hand lettering that spelled out “Brutus” near the entry door in hand lettering that reminded him of the lettering he had seen on fighter jets in the movies.

“Brutus” was the name he had chosen, bucking the convention of giving female characteristics to a craft. There was little that could be called womanly about the hulking two story brute in front of him. It was a massive tube of aluminum alloy fitted with large rockets and equipment, all wrapped in a foil looking material that helped prevent radiation damage. The pad it was sitting on would fold up – providing an entry heat shield that will fall away after the primary chute system is deployed. So “Brutus” was ready and capable. The question now would be, could Gerome survive the trip, the landing, and ultimately survive and find valid resources sufficient to sustain his homestead, perhaps ultimately a colony.

The door hissed and the cabin pressurized as he stepped inside. “Welcome Gerome” displayed on the laser driven HUD before the controls panel and a voice said, “Please stow your personal belongings, launch sequence and truck load begins in 30 minutes. Please enjoy your flight.” A motorized sound came from behind the control panel that opened a door into the top “Quarters” of the Lander and the statis module whirred to life. Gerome testing the glove like fit, snuggled into the bunk compartment. He grinned, and taped an old photo of his mother to a bare spot where he would see her first thing on waking.

Storyline : Chartered

Gerome walked briskly out of the office. A large sign flashed behind him, clearly stating “Office of Colony Management, SigCorp” and that the land rush still had plot of land available in a variety of off-world fringe locations. His fingers were turning white grasping the small packet of material that guaranteed him a 36 clik square homestead with a guaranteed 20 kilometer buffer, all mineral and gas rights as well as guaranteed pricing for 2 years on sell back of resources. Gerome could only hope this was the turning point for his future, one bathed in the sewers of the underworld and a plea bargin to avoid imprisonment on public nuisance charges. At 24 years old, the next few years held little promise, with no credits for education or trade apprenticeship. His friends were sure this was yet another scheme and failed to doom as Gerome was viewed as a quitter. There was no turning back now, and this seemed a much safer option than joining the Merc-Militia in securing and policing underworld or scraping a subsistence in dead end jobs. Petty crime paid little and with the heat on – heavier stuff would land him a long term stint on a prison planet.

The exterior of the packet was labeled with a scatter code, date and location; CNY-945673-A2, 08Jul2027, Hanger 12B, Chang-Clinton Aerospace Portage, Overworld. After carefully packing a few reminders of home and personal treasures, Gerome stepped onto the transport sled and scanned the packet. Personal cabin 1247 beeped and the door slid open. The inside was a padded chair that rotated to view a curved data monitor that was running another space station resort advert. The door slid shut and a variety of options were offered for the long trip to aerospace port, as well as instructions to place his thumbs into the authorization pad. The monitor indicated that the travel time would be approximately 6 hours, they would be travelling at a speed approaching 800 kilometers per hour and that the personal cabin would provide all of the conveniences necessary, even a toilet should such accomodations be required. Large icons on the monitor HUD blinked as he was told of the selections. As part of his contract, the details and plans for settlement would be reviewed momentarily. He would be tested on the requirements to ensure his understanding. Additionally, on arrival to his transport to a space station, training and overview of survival techniques would be provided. He must successfully complete those steps as well as file the proper “Settlement Proprietarship” paperwork and business plans or risk losing everything, likely to work for SigCorp as a manual laborer to pay off the debt he just signed up for.

“Business class is something…” Gerome mused. This was the first time he had been on a speed tram of this quality. Normally he just stayed around his neighborhood, occasionally jacking a scooter or hitching a scoot behind a taxi.

With a shoulder harness strapped on and sitting comfortably in the seat, Gerome’s ears popped as the door sealed. The cabin was little larger than a cabinet, but could “roll” back to a reclining position, allowing him to relax. With a touch of the monitor, he started the introductory materials for his new job and adventure.

 The monitor filled briefly with a spinning SigCorp logo:

Contract Review: Gerome Taggart, Social ID: GA-443-68-3880, Registered Resident of Earth, New York City, Underworld. Resident at 33485 Madison, Sublevel 4. Your contract terms extend to:

  1. Homestead contract, offworld colony. Site size 36 cliks, all mineral and gas resource rights approved. Please review EPA/Offworld specs 35764/6 subparagraph G governing proper procedures for extraction, process and cleanup.
  2. Colonial Home Lander model 12A, 40 meter living space, self contained truck. Supports 6 storage modules as described below:
    1. Rover/Bot workshop model 36746 – prebuilt rover deck with attachments for earth moving, sampling, site analysis. Parts and mini-machine shop in kit.
    2. Evaporator/Atmosphere processor with 1 year filter kits and storage for 500 gallons of H2O. Algae and chemical innoculators included.
    3. Mineral Resource Extractor Unit model X64
    4. Hydro/Thermal power unit. Photoelectic backup. 1800 Kilowatt hour batter storage. Maintenance Kit included.
    5. Site Construction Toolkit, includes all tools necessary to construction Phase II facility, plasti-foam injectors and alu-crete blender.
    6. Emergency Escape module
  3. Mr. Taggart has agreed to exploit mineral and gas resources on behalf of SigCorp for a period of 2 years. Weekly reports on progress, to include potential volumes and quality of resources, current health and facility status are required. SigCorp will purchase all mass produced resources at a 50% reduced cost from commodity pricing, with the reduction going against the purchase of Colony package. Mr. Taggart has agreed to a price of 12,764,887.75 credits, with an anual compound interest rate of 11%. All rates will be adjusted for inflation quarterly.
  4. Mr. Taggart has also agreed to participate in deep space exploration study that will include the testing and utilization of specific techniques and equipment outlined in the data package load on his Lander. He further agrees to follow all procedures and report gaps in procedural documentation to SigCorp as part of the weekly update.
  5. SigCorp reserves first rights to purchasing homestead from Mr. Taggart should resources prove worthwhile for exploit. The purchase would freely absolve Mr. Taggart from any remaining debt credit on this contract, less any supplied and consumables provided throughout the 2 year contract period. Mr. Taggart may choose to remain insitchu and negotiate a new contract on resource sales and consumables with SigCorp.
  6. Should Mr. Taggart fail to meet required quotas, the Homestead property will be executed as lien against his debt and removed from premised to be returned to a location to be determined. Mr. Taggart will be responsible for all travel costs associated with his return to Earth or other location.

Please touch the screen to indicate your understanding of the above terms. This summary is provided as a proxy to the contract (Colony Contract: Homestead CNY-945673-A2) signed in person by Gerome H Taggart on 07Jul2027. Thank You.

Gerome hesitated. It was easy enough to overlook the more disturbing terms in the multiscreen contract he imprinted at the office yesterday. Now the reality set in. He was racing toward his destiny and failure would utterly bankrupt him. Well, even bankrupt trumped pushing rocks on a prison planet. He tapped the blinking button on the screen, and spoke toward the microphone below the screen.

“I, Gerome Taggart, accept the terms. Thank you”

The transport sled sighed with a transfer of hydrolics and lurched. Another batch of space pioneers were risking it all to feed earth and hopefully strike it rich.

The monitor blanked for a second and responded with:

“Acceptance acknowledged. Thank you. Please watch the following introduction to the processes and procedures for your arrival to the Chang-Clinton Aerospace Portage Facility and the Delta Space Offloading Station where you will board your personal Lander and prepare for your journey.”

Gerome suddenly wondered how the toilet worked, and reached up to tap the facilities icon.