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Authors: Michael T. Best

Odyssey Rising

BOOK: Odyssey Rising
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Michael T. Best


Copyright © 2011


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are merely used fictitiously. Any similarity to persons living or dead is merely coincidental.

Third e-book edition.




An adventure of fantasy and mystery coming soon


“Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light. I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”


Sarah Williams, The Old Astronomer to His Pupil, 1868



Survive or die were the last words the four Positives heard from the hologram nurse. She faded away and the countdown began.


Strapped in for the ride of a lifetime were three boys and a girl. A fifth passenger, Harry Wolf the Siberian husky, flailed along the slick white floor of this deep space Escape Pod.

If only the countdown had gotten stuck on ten or even nine, this nightmare would end.


Ellie, the only girl, shut her eyes and crossed her fingers. She asked, “What about Harry?”

Next to her, Theo Starling, the oldest of the group yelled, “Come here boy! Come here!” Theo was lanky tall, pale and wore a black sweater over his khaki jumpsuit. His dark brown hair was shaven closely to his head.


Harry Wolf scampered toward Theo and jumped into his lap. The dog wrestled at Theo’s sleeve.

“It’s okay boy. Just sit here. Come on Harry, sit still,” Theo said.


They could think of a hundred reasons why they shouldn’t have been placed in the Escape Pod, but none of them were going to help them get out. They were about to hurtle through zero gravity black space at an “oh crap I’m going to die” speed of six G’s.


Sam Suzuki looked out the only major window of the Escape Pod, which now faced Odyssey’s starboard flank.

Odyssey looked like a spinning raindrop with three hundred solar panels.


Before the thrusters exploded with a burst, there was a strange silence and stillness.

Then with a deafening burst, the force of motion down toward the planet knocked them all in the gut, like a roller coaster on steroids.

Soon, Harry Wolf yelped like a dog drowning in quicksand.

“It’s okay boy,” Theo said. “It’s going to be okay.”

Ten seconds later, through the viewing window, they saw white and silver clouds wisps, the first signs of the planet’s atmosphere. They were separated from the main shuttle, separated from Earth, separated from the Ark and on their way down to the planet they knew only as GidX7, a foreign place, unexplored, virgin to human feet, though theoretically supportive of their lives.

Sam Suzuki already sweat bullets. He was a big bear of a boy nearly seventeen years old. He was half-Japanese, half-American

Sam yelled, “Who’s flying this thing? Who? Come on! Who?”

Even though Ellie’s eyes were still closed, she answered, “No one!!”

“Because the landing protocol is automatic,” Theo added.

“This better work,” Ellie yelled. “I’m not ready to say good-bye to life.”

“This is great. Our lives are on autopilot. I can’t believe this is really happening. We’re going to crash and die,” Sam said. “I can’t believe this. This is the worst week of my life. All because I sweat too much and because Theo Starling got lucky finding a bunch of contaminated, infected bones!”

Through the window they looked to a star clouded in a haze of silver and gray atmosphere. It was more than just a star. It was a habitable planet in a habitable zone near its own sun.

With her eyes still closed, Ellie asked, “We’re going to make it, right?”

“Yes,” Theo said a little tentatively.

The fourth passenger, who was the quietest and youngest finally said, “You don’t sound bloody convinced.”

Sam looked over to Ravi Starling and shouted, “Maybe it’s because landing even a small probe down there is like playing pin the tail on the donkey…blind-folded…and in a tsunami. It’s practically impossible!”

“For the first time this summer you’re actually bloody right! Only four out of ten drone probes have landed successfully. And oh yeah, the others crashed!” Ravi added.

Sam shouted at Ravi, “Thanks mutant! Thanks for confirming the impossibility of our survival!”

Theo urged, “Everyone settle down. Please!”

The Escape Pod served many functions and was designed to be a self-sufficient emergency shuttle with the ability to reach the nearest Furman Space Station. However, in all of Odyssey’s tenure in space, this round cocoon of instruments and sensors had never separated from the Main Station and landed on any terrestrial body of any size.

In every earlier landing onto GidX7’s surface four out of ten robotic drone probes had missed the planet completely. The blame was mostly associated with the thin atmosphere and a phenomenon known as atmospheric disturbance. It was as if in one breath GidX7 was whispering “come here, explore me” while on the exhale it was shouting: STAY AWAY! DO NOT LAND HERE! The Wet Willy probe was the successful exception.

As the surface of the brown planet neared, the infected Positives were in a banter of confusion. Even Harry Wolf was howling and barking non-stop.

“Do we have to do something?” Ellie asked.

“We’re in free-fall. Automatic landing protocols will kick in,” Theo said.

“When?” she asked.

“Soon,” Theo answered.

“But when?” Ellie asked.

Sam yelled, “Now! “Please! Now!”

“Are we there yet?” Ellie asked frantically. “Are we?”

Sam yelled her, “You could open your eyes to see!”

“No way!” Ellie shouted.

Ravi announced, “This Pod wasn’t totally designed to be a graceful landing shuttle on a tiny planet like GidX7. How to get something very heavy onto the surface of a planet with a super-thin atmosphere has perplexed engineers and gifted minds for centuries.”

“Thanks baby Einstein. Thank a lot,” Sam said.

“I’m just stating facts here. Maybe you know what those are,” Ravi shot back.

“Fine mutant, I hear you,” Sam barked. “But let’s not dwell on the statistical impossibility of this landing, cause mutant, I hate statistics almost as much as I hate this flight!”

“Data never lies,” Ravi said.

“Yeah, only people,” Sam said.

As the Escape Pod rocked and rolled, the entire group let out a roller-coaster scream: “Ahhhh-HHHHHHHHHHH!”

“What is wrong with this thing?” Sam asked.

And then the group in the Escape Pod saw the worst words blinking in red from the control console.





Sam kept yelling. “Do something! Anything! Man, why isn’t anything working?”

“I can handle it,” Theo said.

“You’ve never flown this thing,” Sam said.

Theo argued, “Yeah, but I’ve had some virt-sim training. Have you?”

“No, man, I’m a lover not a flier!” Sam yelled.

Quickly, Theo threw Harry Wolf onto the floor and grabbed hold of the flight console controls. It was a steering wheel of sorts. He took a glance to the altimeter. It showed twenty thousand feet until impact. Theo hoped the parachute would engage and slow this descent because he really didn’t want to wreck an Escape Pod the first time he took control as a pilot.

The Escape Pod continued to knife through an ugly, soupy mess of silvery gray atmosphere, clouds and particles.

As Theo tried to stop the Escape Pod from jackknifing into a three-sixty degree death roll, the others had little to do except scream bloody murder.

Sam had the loudest scream of all and used it frequently, “Oh my FREAKING CRAP! We’re going to DIE! We’re going to knife right into the FREAKING SOIL, stick a fork in us and call us DEADDDDD!”



Twelve days before Theo Starling’s life was forecasted to end and three days before he and his classmates separated from Odyssey in the Escape Pod, Theo climbed up a ten-rung ladder into the air filtration crawlspace on the third level near the Observation Deck.

Theo was seventeen years old but some days felt twice that age. He had already lost 2% of his total bone mass. The loss was mostly in his spine and femur. He was officially an astronaut. No one could deny that.

As Theo tried to breathe normally, all he could think about was rotten fish mixed with a skunk’s spray left overnight in a sweaty locker room. Theo figured that if you looked putrid up in the dictionary, this was what it would smell like. With his eyes starting to tear up, Theo muttered to himself, “There has to be something dead in here.”

From below the work area, Theo heard the friendly voice of Sam Suzuki shouting up to him. “Hey! How bad is it?”

“You don’t want to know,” Theo answered.

Sam was known by most as an intergalactic photographer extraordinaire. Maybe if he lived on Earth, he would have been a football player. Now, he was one of the most famous digital photography artists in space, at least that’s what he told every girl back at the Ark who would give him the time of day.

“Come on,” Sam said, “How bad can it be?”

“Bad doesn’t even describe it,” Theo said.

“Come on. On a scale of one to ten,” Sam said.

“Infinity!” Theo barked.

“Is infinity worse than rotten eggs?” Sam asked.

“If you’re so curious, come on up yourself,” Theo said.

“No. That’s okay. This is your job,” Sam said. “Not mine.”

“Can you believe that this insane smell is the creation of thirty people?”

“I’ve seen those thirty people. Not a pretty bunch after sixty-seven straight days,” Sam said.

“Odyssey is just a nimble, long-distance, self-contained shuttle that really, really stinks!”

Odyssey and the whole Furman Space Exploration Corporation were on some holy and divine journey. At least that’s what everyone kept telling Theo.

The shuttle had a maximum journey of four months away from home, which was a much larger deep space residential shuttle known simply as the Ark.

Frankly, Theo knew the best and worst of both worlds and he also knew that leaders would use every tool in the toolbox to motivate a crew traveling to the deepest reaches of the hot spots in the habitable zone of deep space.

Theo and a small group of his classmates were all on their summer break and had been accepted into a prestigious Summer Semester in Deep Space, though the changing of the seasons was always absent from their view.

Up in the crawlspace, Theo removed the current filter and replaced it with a new one. He climbed back down his ladder to the third floor. When he jumped off the last rung of the ladder, he saw Sam standing there with his communication camera aimed and ready to take a photo.

“Smile for the Intergalactic Facebook!”

“Not now,” Theo said.

“Just smile. Come on. You can do it. Smile. It’s good for the mojo,” Sam said.

Theo forced a quick, though fake smile and Sam snapped a photo with his digital camera.

“How’s that?”

“Great. Great. Just another crazy, dangerous and exciting day in the life of THEO STARLING! Astronaut, Third Class and Maintenance Engineer EXTRAORDINAIRE-AIRE-AIRE!!!” Sam’s voice was booming loud, unusually so.

Theo asked him, “What’s wrong with your voice?”

“Don’t you like it?” Sam asked.

Theo shrugged. “I guess. But what’s wrong with it?”

“When we get back to the Ark, I’m going back to Mars for good,” Sam answered.

“Seriously?” Theo asked.

“Yeah, man, this traveling and living like a monk is not for me. I need Mars like The Beatles needed guitars,” Sam answered. “And from what I’ve read they got all the screaming girls, right?”

“You’re really going to Mars?” Theo asked.

“Yeah. On the next shuttle I can get when we get back to the Ark,” Sam said.

“What are you going to do back there?”

“That’s where the voice training comes into play,” Sam said, “I’ve heard there’s a job opening. And I’m absolutely perfect for it.”

“You’re going to be a sumo wrestler?”

“Close. Rather than high school, man, I’m gonna apply to be the Ring Announcer for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I heard the current guy is retiring. Imagine…me at the center of the ring, surrounded by those smokin’ hot ring girls.”

Theo shrugged his angular, thin shoulders.

“Good luck with that, I guess.”

Theo and Sam walked down the third level hallway where they approached the Observation Deck window. It was hard not to take a peek and so they stopped for a moment. The friends were silent, almost awkwardly so.

White argon plasma sparkled against the velvet blackness of this partial vacuum known as space. There were stars everywhere, millions right where Theo could almost reach out and grab them. Theo’s view was awe-inspiring, in the way the Grand Canyon is the first time you see it up close. Theo should have been blown away by the view, but such a feeling had escaped him for at least the last thirty or so days.

Beyond the white sparkles, Theo looked at the nearest dark shadow from the third level of Odyssey’s best observation deck. He looked out at this black sky, this black space, this permanent canvas already painted full and beautiful. He knew it was full of untamed mystery. It was the out there, the black space that explorers and astronomers had sought to explore, map, understand, tame, champion and praise. He knew the black nothing of space all too well. He had been surrounded by this infinite perfection for most of his life.

Watching the infinite blackness reminded Theo that he could survive another thirty-two days on the return trip to the Ark. Despite his nervous restlessness, thirty-two days was a sunny walk in the park compared to what he had already endured. In his own restlessness, Theo hoped that all of this deep space exploration – this effort, this uncertainty, this claustrophobia – all of it was worth the risk, that it was all for some greater good.

Once, before he was an astronaut, before the wars that left the Earth a wasteland of beggars and bandits, and before he was a home schooled star kid, Theo lived on the terra firma of Earth where he feasted on In-N-Out burgers with grilled onions and sucked down frothy chocolate shakes and learned to skateboard and rock climb, even if the rock was just a ten foot boulder. Before his life in space, he was raised for his first six years in the deserts near Vegas with other Earth bound stops in Indio, California and Palm Springs before heading up to the stars for his life and most probably his death.

Sam noticed Theo’s sober and downright gloomy demeanor and asked, “Hey Theo, you nervous or something?”

“No,” Theo answered.

“But hey, it’s only a Final Exam,” Sam said, “it’s not like it’s all that important or anything. I mean, if you don’t pass, it’s not like they’re going to shoot you out of the garbage disposal into the void of the Green Triangle.”

“I know, I know,” Theo said. “It’s all good, right?”

“Then lighten up. You’re going to ace it,” Sam said.

As Theo and Sam continued walking down the third level hallway, both of their communication devices made a familiar metallic ping. It was a new text message for both of them. Theo and Sam each glanced down at their thin silver communication devices. It was the very latest in wifi-enabled technology and something of a journal as well as a sender and receiver of text and voice communications.

Theo had a text message without a reply address. This was the third anonymous message like this that he had received this week. Theo wasn’t sure if this was part of the psychological game that the Executive Board was rumored to play on junior crewmembers of if the message might have even been from a jealous rival who had been passed over for the internship aboard Odyssey.

For a split second, Theo almost hit delete without reading it. He probably should have.

The message posted on the message board read, “
The reviews are in: Theo Starling gets an F! The only reason a hundred more deserving candidates did not get accepted into the program is because of who Theo Starling’s father is. Just remember, brainwashed lackey monkey butts, no one ever said life was fair even up here in space! And lets remember the lesson of the day dimwit automatons, success in the Furman Corp is defined not by what you know, but by who you know!”

Not sure what to make of the most recent anonymous message, Theo kept walking down the third floor Observation Deck hallway with Sam.

“It’s got to be a totally bogus message,” Sam said.

“Totally,” Theo replied.

“Yeah, one of the hacker wonks back at the Ark is playing a practical joke,” Sam said.

“Yeah, probably,” Theo said.

As Theo and Sam started to walk down the third level hallway, Theo heard his name on his ear buds.

“Starling, Theo Starling, report to the Probe Room.”

“Break a leg or something like that,” Sam said. “But seriously don’t worry, man, you’ve been ready for this since the day you were born.”

Theo just shrugged his shoulders. It was late in the evening of day sixty-seven of this journey when Theo left the observation deck and entered the hallway that led to the Probe Control Room. He was headed toward the most important final exam of his young life. Even though it was just an exam, Theo felt that his future hung in the balance, just swaying in the gravitational pull of the cosmos.

Little did Theo Starling know, but he was about to meet the very thing that wanted to kill him and everyone aboard Odyssey.

BOOK: Odyssey Rising
4.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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