"One step at a time, man shall conquer the solar system. And with our arrival in Mars, we are one step closer to our goal."
With boots firmly on the ground, Captain Lawrence Perry, of the United States Space Corps, looked around him to see the desolate and desert like landscape of Mars. Taking in the new and unfamiliar world around him, he felt a great sense of unfamiliarity and a small hint of disappointment. As a kid, Lawrence grew up watching movies and reading about science fiction. Stories of exploring unfamiliar worlds, meeting alien like creatures, and finding a paradises out in the stars, those were what filled his young mind and stuck him as he grew. Now, as part of an exploratory team to Mars, he felt the excitement he once had when he was young, as he stood in this unfamiliar world, yet a sense of small disappointment was also there, for he stood here in a desolate and bland place, nowhere near to what he dreamed of as a child.
Well, nothings perfect. At least you got to fulfill your dream.
Taking his first steps on the Martian surface, he tried to reassure himself that although that wasn't anything like the beautiful worlds he envisioned as a child, it was still the closest he would get. Although Mars was no paradise, it was indeed an unfamiliar world. And it was his job to help explore it.
"How's the weather down there, Captain?" Lieutenant Anthony Sherman said, as he stood by their spacecraft's hatch, preparing to go down the ladder and join his commander on the surface of the planet.
Grinning as he turned around to face Sherman, he motioned him to go to him, as he called out in the wireless intercom: "Why don't you come down and see for yourself?"
"Roger that, sir." Anthony said, already going down the ladder, as another member of Lawrence's crew emerged from the spacecraft's hatch.
"Was that quick proclamation really necessary before stepping onto the planet, sir?" Lieutenant Jessica Silver said, as she looked down on him from her position.
"Of course it is, Lieutenant." Lawrence said, before letting out a chuckle that echoed in their intercom. "We got to give those guys in the PR department something to work on."
"Oh, I'm sure they'll have a great time quoting you one hundred years from now after this entire mission is declassified." Jessica said, as she too began descending the ladder on her way down onto the Martian surface.
Being a part of the covert operation named the Martian Base Program, Lawrence and his crew of Space Corps personnel were secretly launched and sent to Mars, where they would land and conduct reconnaissance and sight clearing for a future Space Corps bases on the planet. Part of a complex plan of building a Martian base for military purposes and the testing of machinery in another planet, it was hoped that they would be able to discretely create base on the planet for the use of the Space Corps.
But not wanting to alert foreign nations and spark a new space race, the U.S. Government did their best to keep this mission in the shadows, without information anyone but involved personnel and important members of the government about the operation. No one outside that group knew they were on Mars and no one will ever know that they've been to Mars till many decades from now.
"I don't even know why even bother wasting oxygen on such a short line, it's not like you're the first man to step on Mars." Jessica said, once she was on the ground and walking towards him.
"Just to satisfy my own ego, Lieutenant." Lawrence said as he faced her. "Besides, I also wanted to redeem mankind after Paul Crow's terrible 'Mars has been conquered' line."
"Well, I got to agree with the Captain on that one, Jessica." Anthony said through the intercom, as he opened the cargo bay on their spacecraft's hull. "Crow's line was terrible and the Captain's, although a bit cheesy, was quite good."
Smiling behind his helmet's visor, Lawrence shook his head. He had known Anthony and Jessica for a long time, having served with them for almost two years now. Although they could get a bit chatty at times, they were the best crew a commander can have and he knew that he could rely on the two of them.
Anthony, being the crew's flight engineer, was quick to act and highly capable. Able to handle any technical problem, he was the perfect guy to have in a spacecraft when there is a malfunction in the vessel.
Not that a major malfunction can easily happen in a Space Corps spacecraft, especially on the Seeker-class ship they used to get here. Fitted with the best computers and equipped with the best machinery, the Seeker-class was the perfect vessel for this interplanetary mission and the specific ship they used, Seeker-3, proved to be very reliable. Having gone to Mars two times before, in unmanned testing mission, this was the first time Seeker-3 undertook a mission to ferry man and equipment to Mars, and so far it has done it without a hitch. Since leaving Earth and landing on the Martian surface, the ship functioned perfectly and smoothly, landing on the surface of the planet with the gentleness of a feather floating down.
In a way, both Lawrence and Anthony also had to thank Jessica for that, since it was her job to get Seeker-3 onto the ground.
As the crew's pilot and navigator, Jessica was an expert in maneuvering spacecraft and getting them onto their designated targets. Although aided by the many computers on board, the gentle steering and fine movement needed to get the spacecraft on the ground was all her doing and she was never afraid to let everyone else no that.
"So, Captain, what's the first order of business?" Jessica said, as she walked towards the cargo bay to assist Anthony in unloading the supplies and material.
"Well, right now we need to unload all of our cargo." Lawrence said, as he moved up to join. "Then, we'll need to unpack and set up the equipment. After that, one lucky member of the crew would join me as I take the buggy out for a spin and tour around the land."
"Well, Captain, I think I'll graciously volunteer for that one." Jessica immediately said, as she hauled out a medium sized container filled with sensors and terrain mapping equipment.
"Alright, you'll riding shotgun with me then." Lawrence said, as he assisted Anthony with the large container that had the solar arrays. "Sorry, Anthony, I guess you'll be staying with the ship and the equipment."
"It's alright, sir, I'm perfectly happy staying with the computers. They're ten times more fun to be with than you guys." Anthony joked, as the two of them gently placed the container on the ground.
"Careful, Anthony. If you hang out with those computers for too long, you'll start becoming one of them." Jessica warned, as she helped the flight engineer lift another box of heavy equipment.
"Ha-ha, very funny." Anthony said sarcastically. "You know, maybe they aren't as fun as you guys, but they sure are a lot more respectful than Jessica over here."
Smiling as he listened in, Lawrence soon intervened between their friendly batters. "Alright, alright, knock it off you two. If you keep that up, we'll get nothing done. Silver, I want you to go up and create a perimeter around the ship and set up the sensors. For all we know, other nations may have secretly sent up unmanned rovers to scout out this area. If one of those rovers just so happens to find our sight, then its game over for us and a political nightmare back home."
"Copy, that, sir."
With that, Jessica immediately went for one of the unloaded containers that held the four specialized threat detections sensors they brought up with them. Capable of locating an object the size of a shoe box from 100 miles away, the Mk. 8 Long-range Detection Sensors were the most effective compact sensors the crew had. With its radar systems, long-range thermal cameras, and seismic detectors, which can notice even the most gentle of movements, the sensors were capable of providing proper surveillance.
If placed on good ground and in locations where each set would cover each other, the group of sensors can provide strong security for Seeker-3 throughout the entirety of its stay.
"Now, while she's off doing that, we'll finish up on this unloading." Lawrence told Anthony. "I want all of the equipment out and ready for use in three hours."
"Three hours? That's easy." Anthony remarked, brushing it off as nothing as he hauled out a small container from the spacecraft.
"Then stop your blabbering and get to work, Lieutenant."
With that, the two of them continued the laborious task of bringing out each container and setting it up in order to create their outpost in this foreign planet.
Central Command, this is Red Sand – 1, all preparations for patrol drive have been made, currently awaiting final approval for the patrol. Typing it in, Lawrence allowed the computer encrypt his message before sitting back on his chair, waiting.
Sitting back on the driver seat of the specialized open top Martian surface vehicle, Lawrence tried to patiently wait for a reply, staring blankly at the communications screen that he had on the side of the vehicle's driver seat.
Due to the distance between Mars and the Space Corps operations headquarters orbiting Earth, the radio signal that carried his message would take about fifteen minutes to reach the operator he was contacting. After that, the reply the operator would give him would take another fifteen minutes to reach him. With such a long time, Lawrence had learned that to wait calmly by sitting and relaxing was the best course of action in order not to stress himself with this long communications process.
Trying not to let the wastage of time get to him, Lawrence quietly waited as he gave a quick glance towards the triangular silhouette of their spacecraft and the small cluster of shapes that was their outpost.
In the three hours since they got here, he and his crew did a pretty good job setting up their base of operations, having created a secure and working site for future missions. Lying about thirty meters away from Seeker-3 was the inflatable dome like habitat, which he and the crew would be using as their headquarters throughout the duration of their stay. Ten meters in diameter and three meters in height, the Kevlar and Mylar layered habitat contained the crew's living quarters, computers, and main supplies. This would be the central hub of all the operation and all work that needed to be done inside a pressurized environment would be done here. Built as a temporary habitat, this inflatable dome would be used by the crew till foundations of the more permanent underground base could be built and finished.
Ten meters away from the habitat lay the six large solar arrays that they would use in order to power all the machinery they would be using. Not wanting to drain Seeker-1 of its needed power supply, the more sustainable and easy to get energy the sun would be a more effective way of keeping the base supplied with electricity.
But if solar power wasn't enough, there was also one tall pole that held up the wind turbine that kept on spinning because of the strong Martian breeze. Helping power the station, as well as identifying the direction of the wind, this wind turbine was both a valued power supplier and instrument.
Of course, in order to conceal the bases' location to orbiting satellites, all of these structures and equipment were painted or covered with camouflage. Even Seeker-3 was covered in a gigantic tarp that made it look like a hill of sand, while the solar arrays had a shade that resembled the sand and was often covered by a camouflage tarp when not in use. With colors and patterns resembling the Martian surface, it was believed that any passing satellite would be fooled by the facade.
With a good base of operations creating a firm foothold on the planet, Lawrence and his crew were ready for the big task of creating the foundations for the Space Corps' base here on Mars.
Red Sand – 1, Central command approves patrol, you are cleared for Martian surface scouting. Please follow the agreed upon course and report any findings. Happy driving. The words stated, appearing on his screen after an almost thirty minute wait.
Thank you, Central Command, beginning patrol now. Lawrence typed in and without waiting for a reply he immediately switched the screen to display the vehicle's map before getting his hands on the vehicle's controls and set forth, allowing the vehicle to move forward, allowing the four wheeled vehicle to navigate the Martian surface.
"See you, Anthony." Jessica called out in the intercom as they drove off. "We'll be back by dinner time!"
"Yeah, yeah-" Anthony replied. "-just don't go on complaining if you come back and receive cold rations later."
"That's why mankind invented the microwave, Anthony, to heat cold meals." Lawrence replied, as he drove the vehicle farther and farther away from the base sight.
Exchanging glances between the Martian landscape in front of him and the map that plotted the course he was supposed to follow, he guided the vehicle as to make sure that he did not diverge from it. Occasionally studying the landscape as he drove, Lawrence wondered how man would ever colonize this landscape. With such unfamiliar land that was different yet sometimes similar to Earth, the job of creating a human colony here would be hard.
And yet Lawrence knew that man would be able to do it. Every difficult task that faced by humanity was always taken up as a challenge, a challenge that the human race almost always overcame. Now Mars was the new challenge and one day man will be able to solve it and colonize the planet.
Already, slow steps were already being made in order for humans to accomplish the task. Expeditions conducted by both government and civilian organizations have landed on Mars before and they would surely land again in the future. Lawrence himself was a part of these steps in these steps in helping colonizing Mars for although his mission was covert, it would still help bring valued information and experience about building bases on Mars.
"So, Captain, where we heading too?" Jessica said, looking around and enjoying the scenic view. "Any nice sights over here? Aside from the various sand dunes, that is."
"It's just a simple drive around the country, Lieutenant." Lawrence informed her. "Although we will be taking a quick stop at a sand dune ten miles from here."
"A sand dune ten miles from here?" Jessica repeated, recalling something. "Is that the one with the odd energy reading that the guys at Central Command want us to check?"
"Yup, the exact one."
For as long at the Space Corps could remember, various orbiting satellites had detected the odd thermal signature emitting from that area on the planet's, leaving the scientist back to speculate on what created such unusual signatures. Observing the information given by the orbiting satellites, the scientist of the Space Corps believed that it was an old abandoned Soviet probe that had been secretly sent there during the Cold War and eventually buried under the Martian dust over there years it's been there. Curious about the satellite, but not willing to expend money to send a new drone to investigate a single object and having no nearby robotic surface drones nearby, the mission of exploring the odd thermal signature was put on hold till a nearby mission would happen near the area. And that mission so happened to be Lawrence's Martian Base Operation and thus it was assigned to him as a side objective.
Wanting to accomplish all the simple side missions as soon as possible, so that it won't interfere with operations later, Lawrence decided to immediately complete this simple scouting task. That way, he wouldn't have to worry about it later.
Now heading towards the, Lawrence scanned the horizon for the dune, before finally seeing it in the distance as his map indicated that he was getting closer towards the target area. Studying the dune as he approached, he noticed that is was quite bigger than he expected it to be.
Fifty meters high and three hundred meters in length, the pile of Martian sand looked intimidating as he stared at it. Looking at it now, Lawrence began to have second thought on being too enthusiastic on accomplishing this side mission, as it seemed to be a much harder task than he had expected. Having only brought simple digging devices with him on the vehicle, he knew that the goal of locating the supposed Soviet prove and retrieving it would be an impossible thing to accomplish today, especially if it was buried under all the sand. At most, the only thing they would be able to do is survey the area with their thermal scanners and ground radar, as they try to locate any sign of the supposed probe being there.
Parking the vehicle on the base of the dune, Lawrence could hear Jessica whistle in amazement through the intercom as she expressed her opinions about their mission.
"You plan on us digging that entire thing up, Captain?"
"No." Lawrence said. "At least not today. For now, we just take a look around; see what we can find here. Digging this thing up would have to be pushed back into a later date. You get the thermal camera, I'll get the ground penetrating radar."
"Roger that, Captain." Jessica replied, as she got off of the vehicle and began unpacking her equipment.
Soon enough, the two of them were scanning the dune, trying their best to locate the supposed probe. Catching the heat of the energy source on the thermal scanner, Jessica confirmed that the prove was indeed somewhere within the dune. But to be able to pinpoint it precise location and depth, the two of them would need to scan the sand pile with the ground penetrating radar.
Struggling to haul the equipment up the slope yet achieving it, after a lengthy amount of time, Lawrence, with the assistance of Jessica, were soon pushing the device above the dune's surface, as it mapped out an image of the ground beneath them. Scanning through the sand and painting an image on the screen attached to it, Lawrence stared at the forming picture with great disbelief.
From what the radar was seeing, there seemed to be a gigantic metal structure buried beneath the sand dune, bigger than what Lawrence expected the probe to be.
Staring at it as he finished his job, he knew that he would have to make send an immediate report to Central Command.