Sarah’s Challenge

Time to come back to another challenge issued by another reader. The third comment on my initial blog post came from Sarah, who provided the following prompts…

  • Character Name: Samuel
  • Setting: Mars
  • Object: A notebook
  • Emotion: Confusion

Samuel ran down the corridor of Echo base, clutching a torn notebook in his hand as he made his way to Dr. Tim Brody’s quarters. He knew that Tim would be angry about being woken in the middle of the night, but he would be even angrier if Sam failed to share his findings immediately.

After decades of sending manned missions to Mars, the planet now had a population of 53 humans, as well as one dog and two cats. The entire Martian population was spread out between five different bases: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, and Echo. Unfortunately for Samuel and Tim, they were the only two to be found at Echo base. Every few weeks they received supplies in the form of fresh food and water being produced by Bravo, which had become known as the farming colony on Mars and was, by far, the largest of the five bases. Other than giving Bruce Feldman a hard time about being the only FedEx employee on the planet, Sam’s social life was limited to Dr. Brody, who seemed to sleep now, more often than not.

But this notebook had answers that they had been seeking for months. It was a remnant. Some of the journal entries made note of the fact that they had been written during the late 21st century, back when Echo was first being built. Echo’s first inhabitants had been a married couple, Drs. Jeremy and Deborah Fisher. According to their notes, they were working on the same problem that Dr. Brody had been tasked with solving: how to keep Phobos from impacting the Martian surface.

According to the Fishers’ calculations, Phobos, one of the two Martian satellites, was in a decaying orbit that would eventually fail altogether, causing the moon to crash into the planet in an epic and explosive display. But this should not be anything that anyone alive would ever need to worry about, as the orbit was not expected to completely fail for roughly 50 million years. Nothing to worry about, that is, until a small meteor made contact with Phobos, slightly altering the small moon’s orbit. Now astronomers believed, and Dr. Brody agreed, that Phobos would only hang in the sky for another hundred years. Perhaps less.

Samuel pressed the button to buzz the intercom outside of Dr. Brody’s room. To be safe, he pounded his fist on the door at the same time. “Dr. Brody!” Sam shouted. “Dr. Brody, I’m sorry to wake you, but you really need to see what I’ve found!”

A groggy Tim Brody pulled his door open and stared at Samuel with a look of utter disdain. “Sam,” he said, “you’re the only other person in this God-forsaken place. You really shouldn’t work so hard to make me hate you.”

“Right,” said Samuel, “sorry about that. Again. But you really need to see this.” Sam handed Dr. Brody the notebook.

“What is this?” asked Tim, turning back to his room to find his glasses.

“It’s a notebook I found in one of the old crates left behind by the Fishers. I was reading through it and they had some funny theories about Phobos’ decaying orbit. But it gave me an idea.”

“And what’s that?”

“We blow it up.”

Dr. Brody looked up from the notebook. “Sam, I think you’re the one who needs some sleep.”

“Yeah, I do,” he said, “but just read their entries toward the end of the notebook. They talk about the possibility that Phobos could have eventually just been pulled apart by the planet’s gravity instead of impacting the surface. That being the case, Mars would have eventually had a ring around it, made up of the Phobos remains.”

“That’s all very interesting,” said Dr. Brody, returning his attention to the notebook. “How does that help us with our current situation? As it is, that moon will not be torn apart. It will impact this planet in less than a century, seriously derailing plans for long-term colonization.”

“I realize that, sir. That’s why I said we should blow it up.”

“It’s funny, Sam,” said Dr. Brody, “Hearing you say that multiple times does not make it sound any less ridiculous.”

“But if we can destroy it, we can just bring about the Martian ring that was a possibility 50 million years from now anyway.”

“Sam, I want you to go to bed,” said Dr. Brody, pushing the notebook back into his assistant’s hands, “And then, in the morning, I want you to take some time off. I want you to get on the network and do a search for a late 20th century film called Armageddon. Watch that film and then come back to me with your ‘let’s blow it up’ idea. Okay?”

“Sure, Doc.” Samuel stepped away from Tim’s quarters as the doctor slid his door closed once more. Flipping through the pages of the old notebook, he was confused. He felt certain that Dr. Brody would have embraced his idea. After all, he’d been working in conjunction with astrophysicists on Earth for months to try and solve this problem. Sam was just trying to think outside the box. What made the idea of blowing up Phobos such a bad one?

He had never heard of this Armageddon that Tim was talking about. Sam had never been much of a fan of movies from the 20th. He thought it was laughable how horribly most of them had incorrectly predicted the future. But he figured that he would humor his boss. He’d sleep on his “let’s blow it up” idea, then he’d watch an old movie in the morning. If Armageddon turned out to be about blowing up a moon, maybe it wouldn’t be half bad.


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