Marooned

a writing by Paul Butters

“Have we landed?” gasped Jessica.

“Reckon so,” confirmed Dave.

“Would have thought we’d be dead and cremated by now!” remarked Jessica.

“We really should be,” agreed Stan, “the temperature outside’s about eight hundred degrees, as you know.”

“Is that what it says on the reading then Stan?” asked Anne, the fourth member of the four “man” crew, with a hint of irony in her voice.

“MMM, well no actually,” admitted Stan, “It says forty! Bloody thing must be bust!”

“How many is that in real money, Fahrenheit, then?” enquired Anne.

“Just over a hundred”, answered Stan, “but that can’t be right. Looks like everything’s gone in this damn rust bucket.”

“Wonder if the outside cameras are still working?” mused Jessica, throwing some switches.

“Jessica, these are our final moments!” protested Dave, “This is no time for amateur photog....”

Everyone gasped! All the viewscreens worked perfectly, to show that their spaceship, “The Endeavour”, had landed right in the middle of a tropical jungle!

“So this is supposed to be the melting point of lead?” remarked Dave, “I must be dreaming! We must have all been boiled alive and gone to Heaven!”

“Or else this is the biggest con in the history of the human race!” exclaimed Jessica.

“But Venus has been explored since the early nineteen sixties....” started Stan.

“Yeah, but not by people!” interjected Anne, “looks to me like somebody’s been falsifying the readings.”

“What, from all those probes and what have you?” asked Stan.

“Well have you a better theory? How can we argue with that?” continued Jessica, with a sweep of her arm, encompassing all the screens.

“Any reading on the atmosphere?” enquired Dave, changing the subject.

“Yeah,” replied Stan, “No bull. It’s an oxygen one all right. Well breathable would say, though this ain’t my speciality.”

“Right,” concluded Jessica, “we have only one choice, we have to open the door! Don’t look like that Dave. We’re meant to be gonners anyway. What have we got to lose? Tell you what, we’ll open the door an inch at a time, and close it the instant we hit trouble. Only when we’re stood outside will I open my helmet. That’s Captain’s privilege! Okay?”

All agreed. There was no alternative. Jessica and her crew simply had to gamble with their lives. At least now there was Hope. Jessica had a moment to reflect how all this had began so innocently. A routine journey taking a short cut from Mars to Earth by cutting through the orbit of Venus. A neat enough plan ruined by a freak collision with a meteor, causing the loss of Main Computer, thruster control, and Radio. This catastrophe had sent “The Endeavour” on a truly terminal course: to crash-land on Venus herself, a Hell World if ever there was one!

Just before entering the Venusian atmosphere, Jessica had led all those final goodbyes, those last words of mutual appreciation. Like four prisoners on Death Row, they had all made peace with one another and with their Maker. Then they had simply braced themselves.

The first surprise had been when the ship’s parachutes had duly opened, and not been burned to shreds! The second “shock” had been, ironically, that “soft” landing. Yet nothing had prepared them for this....

Jessica herself took the “hatch” controls. In fact the main outer airlock door was an electronically operated sliding panel. She “inched” it open. Hazy sunlight was all that poured in! Quicker and quicker she opened that doorway. Until presently the four of them were standing outside, admiring the scenery in disbelief. Then she nervously unscrewed and removed her helmet. Fresh air! Birdsong! The smell of vegetation. The other three did likewise, with hugs all round.

Celebrations over, Jessica ordered her crew to make everything “ship shape”. They had provisions on board to last them about three months, so they simply had to be stored away in an orderly fashion. Then she decided it was time to reconnoitre at least the local area. Together, they trekked southwards, a random choice of direction.

“Helicopters!” exclaimed Dave suddenly.

“Yeh, lots of them,” agreed Stan.

They all stared up into the cloudy sky above.

“There’s somebody ahead!” yelled Jessica. Instinctively they all tried to hide amongst the bushes.

“Sounds like tanks!” snarled Anne. Sure enough, four huge tanks bulldozed their way through the undergrowth and into clear view. These tanks came to an abrupt halt, and immediately a horde of soldiers appeared. Human soldiers.

“People!” gasped Anne.

“Look at those flags!” snapped Jessica.

Stan: “American! And Union Jacks!”

“Some of those soldiers have green skin!” remarked Jessica, “Venusians I guess.”

“What about the other bastards though!” yelled Dave, “My Dad was right, never trust the government.”

“Don’t move!” shouted the first soldier, in plain English, “Put your hands on your heads!”

“Ever felt you’ve been had?” sighed Dave, and the four of them meekly walked into custody.


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