by Roger NelsonLink, Sheryl, and Sandy arrived at Medina after pedaling 47 miles along the Erie canal. They got their duffel bags off the truck and set up their tents. As part of the tour, a they took a boat ride through the locks. Later, after dinner at the school, they decided to go for a walk.
Strolling along the tow path, Linc said, “This canal is pretty amazing, but I've been on bigger ones.”
“No way,” Sandy said.
Sheryl wondered where this conversation was going. The Erie canal was 363 miles long. Were there canals bigger than that? Not the Panama. Not the Suez.
“What, did you ride on the Grand canal in China?”
“No, that one is a thousand miles long, but the government in China wouldn't let me in the country. I've been on a canal bigger than the Grand canal.”
“There aren't any canals bigger than that.”
“Yes there are. On Mars.”
“There are no canals on Mars. Pictures we got back from the spacecraft, Mariner 4 proved it. Mars is full of craters, just like the moon. Besides, no one has ever been to Mars. The furthest man has been is the Moon.”
“That's what most people think, and that's what the government wants you to believe. But actually, an expedition was sent up there secretly. And when I was a little younger and more foolish than I am now, I stole aboard the spacecraft that went there. It was called Ares 7.”
“But it would take you over a year to get there, and you'd be lucky to make it back alive.”
“That's what most people think. I read Popular Science and other magazines, so I know what the everyone says. What you don't know, is the US is far more advanced in space exploration than it lets on. Even right now we're setting up a base camp on Titan with plans on going outside our solar system. But think about it, Sandy. We're roughly 93 million miles from the Sun. How long does it take for particles from the Sun to reach us? About 3 minutes. That's because they travel at near the speed of light. How long do you think it would take to reach Mars at that speed? Mars is only the next planet out, and not that far. The truth is, with a fast enough spacecraft, one can go to Mars and back in less than a day.”
“But no one has a spacecraft that fast.”
“Not the ones you see in the news. They are chemical powered, and get a lot of attention because of the spectacular image they make taking off with their plume of fire. Scientists have been studying the atom with their particle accelerators and digging into the nature of matter for years. Recently, and not yet published, it was discovered how to negate the effects of gravity. In fact, they found out how to create negative gravity. That is, if you stand on a platform so equipped, when they turn on the switch, you actually float up. And up. Faster and faster. There is no noise, no light, nothing to see, it just happens. At a constant acceleration, it doesn't take long to get near speed of light. I think that one of these days, we will learn how to exceed the speed of light. Those UFOs you hear about use this power. Gravity is the weakest of all forces in nature, and it only takes a little energy to negate it. Taking off at night, a spacecraft can leave and be virtually unseen, especially if stealth technology is used on it. Even radar can't pick it up. What do you think is going on out at White Sands, New Mexico?”
Sandy totally didn't believe him. “How would you know what's going on out there in New Mexico. Have you even been there? And how would you steal aboard a spacecraft anyway?”
“Of course I've been there. Do you think I'm making this stuff up? When I was fresh out of high school, I hitchhiked out west. I was in New Mexico in the middle of the night when the ride I was with had an engine problem. We were stopped along the side of the road in the dark, and this military vehicle pulled up beside us to see if we needed help. Yes, we needed help. The GI said he'd radio in a tow, but it probably wouldn't be until around noon before we got help. If you've ever been there, you know it's a very remote area. Well, I didn't want to wait until noon and I didn't particularly like the guy I was riding with, so I decided to split. I stole in the back of the Jeep thinking that wherever it was going would be better than where I was. I had no idea it was going to the White Sands Test Facility.
It took me through all the checkpoints, and once inside, I began to wonder what I got myself into. This wasn't exactly where I wanted to be either. How was I going to get out? I mean, I didn't want to get caught. I'd heard stories about being thrown in a military prison, and what they did to spies. I didn't know if they were true, but I didn't want to find out, either. It was still dark out, so when the coast looked clear, I climbed out of the Jeep and started looking around for a way out. Then I heard some people coming, and I saw a door on a shed, so I went in. I had no idea where I was. Then suddenly, I was turned upside down, I literally fell on my head. It must have knocked me out for a while. I didn't know what happened then, but now I realize that what happened is they turned on the negative gravity switch. I fell up. Anyway, when I came to, a couple of guys were looking down at me and I knew I was in big trouble. It turned out I was in bigger trouble than I thought.”
Sheryl asked, “What happened?”
“Well the two guys had a military look. I thought maybe they were MPS. I'd never been in the military, so I wasn't sure what a military policeman looked like, but I was scared. And my head hurt. I took quite a bang.”
One of the guys was really tall and he asked in a deep voice “Who are you? And what are you doing here?”
The other guy asked, the tall guy, “Lurch, what are we going to tell the guys back on Earth?”
“What do you mean 'back on Earth',” I asked.
“We're on Mars. By rights we should lock you up,” Lurch said. “But we don't have a brig on our little spacecraft. How did you get on board? We were in a secured area.”
It turned out the shed I thought I entered was actually a spacecraft. “I explained to them what happened, and that I was there by accident, I wasn't a spy.”
They were really nice about it and even showed my around the craft. There wasn't much to see though. It was just a capsule with an air lock and a room with a couple of chairs and an instrument panel. I don't know what the air lock was for unless they were planning on meeting someone out in space. There was no place to sleep, and not much luggage, although they had some scientific equipment. I guess when they can get to Mars in just a couple of hours, they didn't need to spend the night.”
Then Lurch asked, “How's your head? Are you going to be OK?”
“It hurts a little, but I think I'll be OK.”
Then he asked, “Spock, what do you think we should do?”
“Lurch and Spock, I thought. I must be dreaming this. But it turns out that they were the nicknames they used, Lurch because he was so tall, and Spock because he was a science officer.”
“Spock said, “It seems logical to take him with us. We could use the help.”
“I'll help,” I said. “What do you want me to do?”
Spock said, “Help me carry this equipment. We're going to explore on of the canals.”
At this point, Sandy was shaking her head 'no' and rolling her eyes. But Sheryl seemed really interested.
“We landed right near the canal, so it was only a short walk. We had an inflatable boat with a fuel cell powered motor and some devices for taking water samples and rock samples. Lurch operated a camera to record wildlife. We saw a couple of animals that looked like otters so that's what we named the canal, Otter Canal. After couple of hours we could see a dust storm brewing, so we headed back. It was really a nice trip, once you got used to the reddish skies and the low gravity, and the cold. Also, the oxygen levels were low, so we had to do everything slowly or we would run out of breath.. We got back in the craft, Lurch flipped the gravity switch, and away we went. Lurch and Spock were strapped in their chairs and once we were off the ground they turned the spacecraft around so gravity felt normal. I had to sit on the floor, but this time I was prepared for the takeoff and I hung on to the back of Lurch's chair until the craft was turned around and then I could sit on the floor. When we got back near Earth, gravity started to pull us in, so Lurch adjusted the gravity engine somehow so we landed gently. It was amazing. While I was aboard, I looked at a map of Mars and discovered that Otter Canal was over 2,000 miles long. After we landed they decided to let me go and warned me not to tell anyone. 'Besides, who'd believe you', they said. 'If you go telling people this, you'll end up in a loony house.' So I haven't told anyone before. And you probably don't believe me. But Spock gave me a little red rock from Mars as a souvenir. I'm not a geologist, but I think it's sandstone.”
Sheryl said, “You are one lucky guy. I wish I could go into space and explore.”
Sandy said, “You're a terrific story teller, Linc. If I didn't know better, I'd believe you actually went to Mars.”
Sheryl said, “Sandy, take a picture of spaceman and me by the canal.” Linc took Sheryl's hand and walked to the edge of the canal and faced Sandy. Sheryl's had felt so small, and so feminine, it just made Linc want her more. He wondered if she'd let him kiss her.
“Smile,” Sandy said.
They smiled. Click. Then Linc leaned over to kiss her, but she just took her hand out of his and walked back to Sandy.
Later than evening, they were sitting outside their tents in the shade, enjoying themselves, and Sandy said, “I'm going to buy a pop. You guys want one?”
“Sure,” Linc said, and gave her a dollar. “Get me Coke.”
After Sandy left, Sheryl said, “I don't think Sandy believes you about going to Mars.”
“Yeah. I know. Some people will doubt anything.”
“Yeah. People will doubt whatever they want to doubt,” she said.