Chapter One, Then and Now

Chapter 1. Now and then

The day started just like every other day, with breakfast at his favourite Café. But for Max this was a big day, it was job lotto day, the day when he would discover what job he would win. Ralf, Max’s best friend, who had already won his job, had organized a lotto party to celebrate Max’s new job. Many of Max’s friends would be coming around to watch the draw live.

Max was an unassuming person, quite and reserved, he was not a great one for parties but Ralf was the opposite, out going and always up for a party. Where Max would be happy to sit at home with a good book Ralf would be out on the town dancing up a storm. But they had grown up together and formed a close bound that made them great friends. Max was twenty nine years old and this would be his tenth job, he had not been very lucky when it comes to winning jobs in the lotto.

None of the jobs Max had won over the years were desirable, not one of then involved him getting dirty. They were all clean jobs like computer data entry or event organizing, the closest to a dirty job he had ever had was computer maintenance and that was not very dirty. Ralf on the other hand was on a lucky streak of six straight dirty jobs with this year’s job being his best yet, a plumber. Everyone was very envious of Ralf’s good luck and he was rubbing it in by constantly boosting about how he would get the opportunity to put his hand down a toilet. But it would not matter what job Max won, he would embrace it with both hands and through himself into it whole heartedly.

When a society gets to the point where this society was it can loose the connection to what makes people, people. This world was at that point, it had a small population of only ten million, living in ten domed cities on an other wise frozen planet. The cities were fully automated and maintained by small robots that did all the real work.

Everyone won a job in a lotto each year and would spend the majority of the year learning about the job and only a few months doing it before it all started again. They would read about the work and spend many hours in simulators perfecting the skills they would need to do the job. They received no return for this, it was done for the joy of it, to bring meaning to their lives. This was a society in complete harmony, everyone lived for the work, it was what they looked forward to and the lotto was a big event.

This society was a total democracy, there were no leaders, no politicians, no politics. Anyone could put forward changes but it was very rare, in fact no one could remember the last time there was a general vote. This society had no disputes, no arguments, no violence, and everyone lived a very happy life.

Max’s job lotto draw was due for eleven thirty eight and as the time got closer everyone gathered around the big screen with anticipation.

“Coming up next is the draw for Max Alexandra, East wing, Dome two, I hope your watching Max, well off course you are,” said the Presenter on the big screen.

“Go Max,” called out Ralf which made everyone laugh.

“Oh my goodness, Max has not been that lucky over the last few years so let’s hope he gets lucky this year,” said the Presenter.

“Get on with it,” called out Ralf and then added, “we’re not getting any younger.”

The big screen started flashing jobs up every few seconds as music played, which was getting louder as the jobs flashed in a quickening paten. Then the music stoped and the job on the screen read, ‘Space defence Pilot’ there was a few seconds of silence before Ralf said, “that has to be the worst job in existence.” The whole room erupted with cheering and laughter.

“I have to give it to you Max, you know how to keep a streak of bad jobs going, what’s that about six in a row?” asked Ralf.

“Seven,” replied Max.

“It’s not that bad, you will get to go into space,” said Ralf.

“And I get to leave the dome,” replied Max.

“Oh well there is always next year, you might get to be a plumber next year,” said Ralf.

“But this year I am a Space defence Pilot and I’m sure there will be hidden joy in saving the planet,” replied Max.

“It will be great, you always make the best of it better than I do,” said Ralf.

After a while the party started to wind down as people slowly departed with Ralf as usual being the last to leave.

The first thing Max did to start preparing for his new job was to understand why the planet needed a defence force. So he went to the city museum to look at what brought about the defence force.

Over a hundred years ago while digging for fossils archaeologist found pieces of metal frozen in the ice. After a long excurvation the pieces of metal like a giant jigs saw puzzle were put back together resulting in a space ship. The body of an Alien was found in the space ship and it was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. Not knowing whether these Aliens were friend or foe the society decided to create the Space defence force. It has been estimated that the space ship was in the ice for over a thousand years so the society doesn’t feel overly threatened so the Space Defence force is quite small. There is also a network of early warning satellites in deep space that would give some warning of a approaching space craft.

Max studied the real space ship plus a full size replica of the space ship which he could walk around inside and get a feel for how the Aliens lived. As he left the museum he bought a small model of the space ship as a keep sake.

Flying a Space Ship would take a lot of study so Max through himself into studying the technical side of flying a Space Ship. But there was a lot more to it then technical specifications, there would be a lot of instinct. He spent a lot of time in a flight simulators trying to perfect the skills needed to not only fly a space ship but to use all of its weapon systems.

The Space Ship for the most part flow it’s self and Max’s input was more to do with what to do rather than actually doing it.

On the simulator there were some buttons labelled, manual flight and complete manual flight. Both the instruction book and the computer said, ‘don’t press’ and ‘never press’ respectively. Max found himself wanting to push these buttons and he resisted for a long time but one day he just had to give it a go. With the manual flight button pressed Max was able to keep the ship under control when flying straight and level but as soon as he tried to make a turn he lost control. With the complete manual flight button pressed Max lost control straight away.

Max was gaining confidence in his ability to fly the space ship but he was having trouble with the planets in the solar system, for some reason he could not remember there names and positions. He tried a number of technics to master this problem but none of them worked, he just had a mental block when it came to the planets.

With only a short time before Max would start his first day at work he felt confidant and ready. It was Ralf’s first day at his job so Max went around to see how his first day went.

As Max walked towards Ralf’s flat he could see Ralf walking towards him, he looked exhausted and covered in dirt, his shirt was hanging out and his hair looked wet but he had a smile on his face.

“How was it?” asked Max.

“Brilliant, unbelievable, do you know what that is?” said Ralf as he pointed at a stain on his shirt.

“No idea,” replied Max.

“Some sort of mould that grows on the inside of pipes,” said Ralf.

“You are so lucky,” replied Max.

“I know,” said Ralf.

“What is that smell?” asked Max.

“The smell is unbelievable, I nilly pasted out,” said Ralf.

 “You are so lucky,” replied Max.

Ralf opened his front door and they both went inside and sat on the lounge.

“I am totally exhausted, I will be in bed early tonight, your turn next, when do you start?” asked Ralf.

“In seven days,” replied Max.

“Your going to love it,” said Ralf.

“I want see you for a while as the first job is a trip to Marte. Two of us will be escorting a transport ship to a Research Station to exchange personal. Then we will be escorting the same ship to the far side of Marte to do some maintenance on the Early Warning Station that has stoped working. All that will take about four, may be five weeks,” replied Max.

“I bet you end up having a great time,” said Ralf.

“I’m sure I will,” replied Max and then added while standing up, “I will see before I go.”

Max walked out and headed home.

The next week passed very quickly for Max and before he new it, it was time to start work. He spent the first day at work formularising himself with the real ship against the simulator but there was no difference so he felt at home. He also had to attend some meetings to plan the flight as well as meet everyone else on the mission.

The mission was a joint venture between the Space Defence Force, Research and Exploration as well as Maintenance. Research and Exploration were in overall command of the mission and their team was made up of ten people, mostly Scientists, with a few Archaeologist and Geologists. Four Engineers made up the Maintenance Team while the Space Defence Force team consisted of three pilots. Max and Toby would be flying the fighter ships while Jenson would be piloting the transport ship.

Toby was an older man, may be forty five, he seemed well prepared and ready for the job but he did seem to lack spark, which was perhaps due to his age. Jenson on the other hand was very young, this was his first job, he was very keen and well prepared but lacked some life experience. But all in all the Space Defence Force team were a well rounded group who if tested would perform well.

Max did not have much contact with the Research and Exploration Team other than one of the Archaeologist. Max had struck up a conversation as they waited for one of the meeting to start. She was very happy to be on this mission and like anyone with a dirty job she was looking forward to digging in the ground looking for proof that life once existed on Marte.

The aim of the mission was to transport personal to the Research Station on Marte and return the current team. Before the return trip Max and Toby would be escorting the transport ship to the far side of Marte so the maintenance team could repair an automated Early Warning Station that had stopped working. This was expected to take about three days which would give the current personal time to brief the new team and equate them to the Station. Only two of the maintenance team would make the trip to the far side of Marte, one from the existing team and one from the new team.

The transport ship was fully loaded with supplies for the Research Station, everything from food and water to spare parts to research equipment. All ships were fully stocked with small robots which everyone would be reliant on for a multitude of tasks. Only one in ten of the small robots had speech capability and some were designed for particular tasks.      

Even though the job of Space Pilot was looked at as being a bit lame Max had become engrossed in it. He loved the complexity of it all, the planing and the adventure. Even Ralf’s story of falling into a cesspit could not put a dampener on his launch day.

Ralf and a few other friends had come along to watch Max take off and to give him some encouragement. Max and Ralf climbed a portable stair case located at the front of Max’s ship so Max could glue his small model of the Alien Space Ship to the nose.

“You know that want last the take of, don’t you,” said Ralf.

“I know, it’s just a bit of fun,” replied Max.

“Just think in an hour or so you will be taking off and in a few weeks you will be in orbit around another planet,” said Ralf.

“I know, it’s something,” replied Max.

There both climbed down and walked to the rear of the ship.

“Well, this is it, I have to do my pre flight checks,” said Max.

They shook hands and as Ralf walked away he said, “see you when you get back.”

“Enjoy being a plumber,” replied Max.

Max climbed the ladder into the rear of his ship and then made his way through the ship to the cock pit, where he went through his pre flight check and got himself strapped in and ready for take off. He radioed to the other two ships that he was ready for take off and after a short time the other two replied with their readiness.

The hatch in the roof of the dome started to open and snow started to fall through the opening. Toby was the first to take off, followed by the transport ship and then finally Max took to the air. They all joined up in orbit and set course for Marte. They took up a slash formation with Toby in the lead, followed by the transport ship and then Max. The view from the cock pit of Max’s ship was spectacular with the transport ship not that far ahead at forty five degrees, and Toby’s ship a similar distance ahead of the transport ship.

The ship was now running on auto pilot and required no input from Max so all he had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride. The next few weeks would be challenging for Max, other than the small robots and the computer he was alone. He could communicate with the other ships but a voice on the radio is not the same as talking to someone in person.

It did not take long for Max to fall into a routine, he would check the ships systems and run through the emergency procedures as well as procedures relating to being attacked. But all that only took about an hour and a half so he would then fill the rest of his time reading.

Max was enjoying his job, it may not be a dirty job but the ever present danger of space travel and the view made up for it.

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