Read an Excerpt
By SIGMUND BROUWER
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.
Copyright © 2000
All right reserved.
Chapter One Sandstorm!
Across the plains, the black shell of the gigantic dome gleamed in late-afternoon sunshine. It was beautiful against the red soil, laden with iron oxides, and the faded rose-colored Martian sky. From the bottom of the mountain where I stood, it took less than an hour's trek across the plains to reach it-in good weather.
But we would not get that hour. Sand rattled hard against my titanium casing, warning me of how little time remained. Much less than we needed.
I turned my head to the left, into the wind that raked the sand across me. A huge dark wall lifted from the north of the plains, a blanket of doom that covered more and more of the sky. Winds of near-hurricane force lifted tons of red sand particles. Already the front edge of the storm reached out to us. In less than half an hour, those tons of sand would begin to cover me and the three scientists I had been sent out of the dome to find.
"Home base," I called into my radio. "This is Rescue Force One. Please make contact. Home base. This is Rescue Force One. Please make contact."
There was no answer. Just like there had been no answer the other hundred times I'd tried in the last half hour.
A solar flare must have knocked out the satellite beam. The sun was about 140 million miles away, so weak and so far from Mars that on winter nights, the temperature here dropped to minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet all it took was a storm on the surface of the sun to fire out electromagnetic streams nearing the speed of light, and communication systems through the entire solar system would pay the price.
"Home base," I said. "This is Rescue Force One. Please make contact."
One of the scientists walked in front of me, blocking my view of the base. He leaned down and pushed his helmet visor into my forward video lens. "What are we going to do?" he shouted.
He did not have to shout. I could hear him clearly. Nor did he have to walk around in front of me. I could have seen him just as easily with my rear video lens. Or one of my side lenses.
"Forward," I said. "We cannot stop."
"No! We must make shelter."
Did he think I had not thought of this already? Standard procedure in dealing with a sandstorm was to go to high ground, unfold an emergency pop-up blanket, and crawl beneath it. The pop-up blanket made a miniature dome that would easily provide shelter for as many days as it took the storm to pass. But fools who used the pop-up blanket on low ground would be buried by the sand, never to be found again.
"Forward," I said. "Follow me."
"That's easy for you!" he hollered. "You're just a stupid machine!"
He was correct both times. It would be easy for me to travel in a sandstorm, and I was just a machine. But he was also wrong. I was more than a machine. And I was not stupid. I knew plenty.
I knew that during each Martian fall and winter, the carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere froze out of the air and onto the ground, making a giant hood of frost that covered from the pole to the equator. I knew that as spring arrived, the difference in temperatures between the sun-warmed soil and the retreating ice made for fierce winds. I knew these strong winds were so monstrous that sometimes sandstorms covered the entire planet. I knew if we took shelter, we might be trapped for days.
I also knew that the last scientist had only 10 hours of oxygen left in his tank. If we took shelter, he would die long before the storm ended.
"One of you will die if we stop," I said. "If we continue, all of you will survive."
"We'll get lost in the storm! No one survives a sandstorm."
"No," I insisted. "My navigation system is intact. We will link ourselves by cable, and I will maintain direction. All you need to do is follow."
"No!" he yelled. "Not through a sandstorm!"
"Listen," I said, "if we stop, he has no chance."
"Should three of us die instead of one?" The scientist picked up a rock and tried to smash it against my head. But since he wore a big atmosphere suit and was very slow, I moved out of the way easily.
He picked up another rock and threw it at me. I put up my arms to protect my video lenses, and the rock clanged off my elbows.
The other two scientists watched, doing nothing. They were very tired. I had rescued them from the bottom of a giant sinkhole where they had been stranded for two days.
The first scientist picked up another rock to throw. It was a big rock. Even though his suit made him clumsy, he would be able to throw it hard. Mars has very little gravity compared to Earth. A person throwing a rock the size of a grapefruit on Earth could easily throw a rock the size of a basketball on Mars.
What was I going to do? If I let the scientist with the rocks force us to stop and put up a shelter, one of them would die. But if I grabbed the scientist with the rock in my sharp metal claws, I would most certainly poke a hole in his space suit. With an atmosphere of 95 percent carbon dioxide, he would die within minutes.
Either way, it didn't look like I could find a way to make sure all three scientists made it back to the dome alive. I would fail in my task. I could not allow that.
Another rock clanged off my leg.
"No!" I said. "No!" This was getting worse. If I ran off to protect myself, then all three of them might die. But if I stayed to try to protect them, one of those rocks might smash and disable me. Which would mean all of them might die. I couldn't decide what to do.
The scientist threw another rock. It hit my shoulder.
A huge blast of sand swept over us. For a moment, I could see nothing in any direction from my four video lenses.
In the instant the air cleared again, I saw the scientist with another rock in his fist. But it was too late. Out of the swirling sand he appeared, aiming the rock toward my video lenses.
The rock smashed down.
The rose-colored sky tilted. The red soil zoomed toward me. Then everything went black....
Chapter Two "Ouch," I said.
I opened my eyes to the square, sterile room of the computer simulation lab. I was under the dome, not outside of it, stuck in a raging sandstorm. That was the good news.
The bad news was that although no rock had actually hit my body, my head hurt. That's the way it is with a virtual-reality program. It's like a computer game. Except you're actually in the game. Instead of watching your players get knocked out, it happens in a small way to you.
I pulled the surround-sight helmet off my head. My hair was slick with sweat. The concentration it took to move the virtual-reality robot controls by flexing my own muscles was hard work. It didn't help that I was also wearing a one-piece jacket and gloves, wired with thousands of tiny cables that reacted to every movement I made. I'd been in the computer program for five hours, and that jacket held every scrap of my body heat.
"Ouch is right," Rawling said, looking up from his own screen where he sat at a desk across the cramped room from me. "My readout shows he cracked three video lenses and shocked your computer drive. Basically he killed you. A human defeating a robot."
Rawling McTigre, one of the two medical doctors under the dome, was stocky and in his mid 40s. He had been a quarterback at his university back on Earth when he was younger, and his wide shoulders showed it. His short, dark hair was streaked with gray. He said his hair had turned gray from trying to look after me. I spent so much time with him that there were days when I wished he were my father. I mean, because voice-to-voice calls were far too costly as my real father traveled between Earth and Mars, and because the round trip took so long, all I really had for a father was a photo of some guy in a pilot's space suit.
"What were you thinking out there?" Rawling asked.
"Thinking? I didn't have time to think," I responded. "I'd spent four hours tracking them down, and suddenly the one goofball decides he doesn't want to be rescued. Besides, who programmed the sandstorm into this rescue operation? Wasn't it bad enough one guy is running low on oxygen and the satellite communications are down? What was next-a short circuit that left my robot unit with only one arm or one video lens in operation?"
"Tyce, Tyce, Tyce." Rawling shook a good-natured finger at me. "I don't remember anyone ever making it to stage five of that program. You have this gift, this talent, this-"
"You're about to lecture me, aren't you?" I said, sighing. "You always start your lectures by giving me a compliment. Then you let me have it."
He laughed. "You've got me figured out. But I have to discuss your mistakes and what you can learn from them. If I don't, how will you be able to control the perfect virtual-reality robot?"
"That's another thing," I said. I was hot and thirsty. I was mad at the scientist who'd knocked me out with a rock. I was grumpy. "Why do I need to control the perfect virtual-reality robot?"
Rawling gave me a strange look.
"I've been thinking about that a lot lately," I said, pressing forward. "I'm not the one who wants me to be perfect. You are."
He still said nothing. I wondered if he was mad at me.
"Don't get me wrong," I responded quickly. "It's fun to become part of the program and pretend I'm actually outside the dome. But I want the real thing. I want to get outside. I want to look up and actually see the sky and the sunset. Not just have it projected into my surround-sight helmet. I want-"
"Tyce," Rawling said quietly, "look down."
Even though I knew what was there, I looked down. At my wheelchair. At useless, crippled legs. At pants that never got ripped or dirty because I was always sitting, legs motionless, in my wheelchair.
"I know. I know," I said sadly. "Sinking into Martian sand would eat up these wheels in less than a minute. But I can't let that stop me."
He stared at me.
"You're the one," I murmured, "who always tells me this is only a handicap if I let it be a handicap."
Dome horns began to blare in short bursts. I counted four blares.
Four blares? That meant ...
"A call for everyone to assemble," Rawling said, reading my mind.
The dome director was going to speak to all 200 of us under the dome at the same time. That hadn't happened since it looked like an asteroid might hit Mars, and that had been five years ago.
"I was afraid of this," Rawling muttered. He took my surround-sight helmet off my lap and set it beside the computer on the desk in front of me. "This may be your last computer run for a while."
"It means a techie has confirmed my oxygen readings. Director Steven is going to tell all of us to avoid using electricity on anything except totally necessary activities. At least until we get our problem fixed."
"Oxygen readings? Problem fixed?" This sounded serious. Too serious. Just as serious as the look on Rawling's face.
"Over the last week," he explained, "and during routine checkups, scientists and techies complained to me about being too tired. And I've been tired myself."
Now that he mentioned it, my arms didn't feel that strong after pushing my wheelchair across the dome. Most of the time my arms were very strong, because I had to use them like my legs if I wanted my wheelchair to go anywhere.
"But I couldn't find anything wrong with them," Rawling continued. "So without telling anyone, I took some oxygen readings. The dome was down 10 percent in oxygen levels."
"That was three days ago," he said. "I didn't want to spread panic, so I kept it to myself and asked the director to get a techie to confirm it. I hoped I was doing the readings wrong."
The dome horns began to blast again. Four blares.
Rawling waited until they finished. "I guess I wasn't wrong. Worse, today my own readings showed we are now down 12 percent. Somehow the oxygen generators are failing little by little, and it looks like the problem is getting worse."
Excerpted from DEATH TRAP by SIGMUND BROUWER Copyright © 2000 by Sigmund Brouwer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.