The Fifth Man

The Fifth Man

4.4 14
by John B. Olson, Randall Scott Ingermanson

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The sequel to the award-winning Oxygen. Courage and self-sacrifice have finally brought the crew of Ares 10 safely to the planet Mars. They enthusiastically begin the mission they were sent to perform. Though working under dangerous conditions and experiencing strained relationships, the astronauts are encouraged by fascinating discoveries that seem to point to the


The sequel to the award-winning Oxygen. Courage and self-sacrifice have finally brought the crew of Ares 10 safely to the planet Mars. They enthusiastically begin the mission they were sent to perform. Though working under dangerous conditions and experiencing strained relationships, the astronauts are encouraged by fascinating discoveries that seem to point to the presence of microscopic life on the planet. But their work is disrupted when frightening sabotage, like that of the trip to Mars, begins again. Is the “fifth man” alien or human?

Product Details

Bethany House Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.44(w) x 8.37(h) x 1.05(d)

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Part I: The Fifth Day
"Sometimes I fancied it must be the devil, and reason joined in with me upon this supposition, for how should any other thing in human shape come into the place? Where was the vessel that brought them? What marks were there of any other footstep? And how was it possible a man should come there?"

-Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

Chapter 1
Monday, March 16, 2015, 3:45 p.m., Mars Local Time


Water. Valkerie Jansen forced one foot in front of the other, a weary survivor on a death march across a dry and barren planet. Water. Valkerie's soul cried out for it. A patch of frost. A dark stain in the dust. Subterranean ice ...

Dry dust coated her visor—red streaks across a blur of powder-white scuffs. The grit was everywhere. Valkerie could taste it, acrid and dry in the filtered air she breathed. She could feel it grinding in the joints of her EVA * suit, eating deeper and deeper into the fragile seals that stood between her and death.

She plodded to the edge of a deep canyon and scanned the rocky walls below. Heavily shadowed grooves started at a point a hundred meters below her and snaked their way down the rocky walls, dividing into smaller and smaller subbranches. Weeping fissures. They looked so promising, so much like erosion gullies back on Earth. But where was the water? She and Lex had searched hundreds of fissures, but they were all dry. Dry as ... the rest of Mars.

"Okay, Lex. Here's another one." Valkerie bit into the butterfly valve of her water bag and took a reluctant swallow of sweat-sock-flavored water.

"How's it look?" Geologist Alexis Ohta's voice crackled over the comm speakers.

"Good enough. Pull the rover all the way up." Valkerie pointed to a line two meters back from the four-hundred-meter drop-off. The six-ton rover inched forward, climbing over rocks and small boulders like a monster truck at a redneck fair. Only in this case the rover was more of a monster minivan—with a laboratory, airlock, and bunks to sleep four. "Okay, that's good." Valkerie waved at the rover's gold-tinted windshield.

The rover shuddered to a halt and sank down on its hydraulic suspension. "I've got this one." Lex's voice sounded in Valkerie's helmet, followed by bumpings and thumpings as she made her way to the back of the rover. "Out in a second."

Valkerie flipped open an external storage hatch and pulled out a tool bag. The puttering of the compressor motors faded to nothing as Lex evacuated the airlock. Nine months on Mars and already the pump valves were wheezing. She'd have to mention that to Bob—

No. Valkerie took a deep breath. She could look at them herself. Bob had enough to worry about right now. The last thing he needed was more whining from her. She'd caused him enough pain already.

A gloved hand clasped Valkerie's shoulder. "You okay?"

Valkerie rocked back and forth in a slow nod. "Want the MoleBot?"

Lex shrugged. "Let's get it out, just in case."

The two women hoisted the badgerlike digging robot from its bin and eased it to the ground. On Earth, it weighed almost sixty pounds. Here on Mars, barely twenty. Lex strapped the winch controller to her wrist while Valkerie attached the cable to Lex's rappelling harness.

"Okay, go." Lex backed toward the drop-off, pulling the line from the rover's winch taut.

Valkerie flipped a switch and watched Lex disappear backward over the edge. She stayed by the winch controls, not bothering to watch Lex's progress. She would call if she needed anything.

Valkerie shifted her weight from one leg to the other and, using the mirror on her wrist, checked the gauge on her chest. One more hour and they'd call it a day. Then home for an obligatory evening of awkwardness and the whole thing would start back over again. Two hundred and ninety-six days to go. How was she ever going to make it? Bob was so ...

She stomped her foot to shake out a cramp. Didn't he know what he was doing to her? They were astronauts. They had a job to do. The whole world was watching. NASA hadn't paid fifty billion dollars so she could ... so she could let her guard down. What a—

"Val!" Lex's frantic voice blared in Valkerie's helmet.

Startled, Valkerie peered over the edge. "What's wrong? Hit another patch of—"

"Send down the mole! And a bigger pick!"

"What? Did you find something?" Valkerie squinted at her friend. "What is it? More sedimentary rock?"

"Salt deposits. I can't believe it! In a depression. This is ... I mean, it's a ledge, really. Not very big, but it's ... Val, I need the brush set and—"

"A depression?" Valkerie's heart slammed into overdrive. "At the top of the fissure?"

"It only goes back a couple of feet, but it's crusted with salt deposits and—Val, we don't have much time. Send down the tools."

Valkerie scrambled to the side of the rover and pulled out the remote control for the mole. She strapped it to her arm with trembling fingers and worked the miniature joysticks to guide the small robot to the edge of the canyon. A torch, a brush set, more sample bags ... She buckled them to her tool belt and attached lines to her harness ring and the mole. Guiding the robot over the edge, she hit the remote winch controls and followed it down.

"Val, what are you doing? You're supposed to stay with the rover. If Bob finds out—"

"Bob's not here." Valkerie maneuvered the mole alongside Lex and toggled off its winch control. She let herself continue down a few feet farther and stopped her descent. Lex moved aside to let Valkerie see. A small basaltic overhang overshadowed a scree-filled depression in the canyon wall. Thick, powdery deposits caked the rocks that filled the shallow groove. Layer upon layer of tan-and-rust-smeared white.

"Did you touch it?" Valkerie searched the deposits for evidence that they had been disturbed.

"I don't think so. Does it matter?"

"Probably not." Valkerie pulled the torch off her belt and heated a platinum scoop in its flame until its edges glowed a dull red. She waved it in the thin Martian atmosphere, waiting impatiently for it to cool.

Valkerie extended her arm to Lex. "Get the mole ready. We're running out of time."

"What channel is it on?" Lex unfastened the robot controller from Valkerie's arm and transferred it to her own.

"Three." Valkerie scooped up a sample of crust and slid it into a collection bottle, then snapped the pen cap off the back of the scoop handle and labeled the bottle. There wouldn't be anything alive out in the open, exposed to all the peroxide dust and UV radiation, but maybe back behind the loose rubble ... She worked her way back under the overhanging rock, collecting and labeling samples as she went.

"Ready to start digging?" Lex's voice sounded tense, eager.

"How much time?" Valkerie took the offered pick and started digging back into the loose gravel.

"Thirty-five minutes ... to zero ..."

And thirty minutes of reserve beyond that. Valkerie completed Lex's thought and swung the pick harder, pulling out the loose debris with her left hand. She scooped a sample into a vial and kept on digging. If there was anything interesting it would be deeper inside.

"We'll have to wait until tomorrow. There's not enough time." Lex's voice hung with an unspoken question.

Valkerie dug furiously through the rubble with her shovel. "We'll use the mole. We've got to get behind this regolith." She swung around on her tether and pulled the dangling robot toward the ledge. "More line."

Lex lowered the robot and helped Valkerie detach the winch line and position it on the edge. "Okay, stand clear." Lex flipped a switch on the remote control panel, and the robot churned forward, biting into the mound of loose gravel, pushing the debris backward between its heavy metal treads. Valkerie inched along after the robot, scooping out the rocks that mounded in its wake.

"It's going to take forever to—"

The robot surged forward and disappeared.

"Turn it off! Turn it off!" Valkerie yelled into her mike while Lex whooped in triumph. A cavity. It had to be. The MoleBot had broken through to some kind of cave. She aimed her light into the gloom. The walls and floor of the small tunnel were crusted with glittering white. She couldn't even see the back. "We've got to go in now while it's fresh. Help me dig out the opening. I've got to sterilize." Valkerie backed out and torched her pick and scoop while Lex dug furiously to enlarge the opening.

Valkerie looked at her watch. Eighteen minutes to zero. Forty-eight with their reserves. They didn't have much time. "That's enough. I've got to go in."

Lex raked aside two more scoops of scree and moved aside. "Val... ?"

"Okay, give me some line." Valkerie stretched out and wormed her way into the constricting tunnel, holding her flashlight and collection kit out in front of her. She took two quick scrapings and wriggled on her belly, working her backpack through the narrow passage.

When she came to the mole, she pushed it aside and pointed her flashlight down the dark vent. She sucked in her breath. Something had moved at the end of the tunnel. Something big.

"Val, what's wrong?"

Valkerie probed the darkness, training the trembling beam of light on the point where the passage curved out of view. Nothing. She held her breath, afraid to blink. What had she seen? A rolling rock? She raised the flashlight, and a dark shadow leaped down from a protruding rock.

"Val, are you okay? What's happening?"

"Sorry, I'm okay. Got spooked by a shadow, that's all." Valkerie forced a laugh.

"Well, you'd better hurry. We're running out of time. Fifteen minutes to reserves."

"Okay. Copy." Valkerie pushed the mole ahead of her and wormed her way forward. The best samples would be deeper. She swept the walls with her light, but her eyes kept darting back to the end of the vent. Then she saw it—milky pink striations on an outcropping of white, just beyond the overhanging rock. She tried to duck beneath the jagged protrusion, but her helmet was too big.

"Thirteen minutes, Val!"

"I found something. Just a little bit farther." Valkerie reached out, stretching as far as she could reach with her pick. Too far. She tried to back up and a surge of electric panic shot down her spine. Stuck! She pushed harder. Harder. "Lex!"

"Val, what's wrong?"

The alarm in Lex's voice shamed Valkerie to stillness. She squeezed her eyes tight and forced herself to take a deep breath. Then, undulating gently from side to side, she inched her way backward. Just enough to let her get a good shot at the stony spike that barred her way.

"Talk to me, Val. I want to hear you talking right now."

"It's okay now. I'm fine." Valkerie swung at the protrusion. Her pick only struck a glancing blow, but the rock seemed to move. Maybe it was loose. She swung again, this time higher up, where it disappeared into the ceiling. The pick embedded itself into soft dirt. She pried her fingers into the scar and pulled on the rock with all her might. It swung down reluctantly with a drizzle of dirt and sand.

Then, with a shudder, a shower of gravel pelted her body, pinning her to the ground.

She was trapped.

*Extra-Vehicular Activity Suit--NASA's term for a space suit

Meet the Author

John Olson got his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Randy Ingermanson got his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the University of California at Berkeley.?

For no good reason, John and Randy would rather make up stories about imaginary people than do honest work. This is a serious character defect, but they’re not a bit sorry.

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Fifth Man 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Kerry_Nietz More than 1 year ago
I’ll admit, I’ve been a distracted reader lately. Too many things pulling for my attention. Consequently, “The Fifth Man” took me much longer to complete than I expected. Even so, it was an easy book to pick up and read a page or two at a time. Starting out where the preceding book left off,” this tale finds the crew of the Ares 10 now on Mars and well into their first calamity. The action takes off, and goes from one tension-inducing situation to another—all the way until the end. It is an enjoyable ride. I give the authors credit here for is adjusting the speed of the main romantic relationship back a few notches from where it ended in the first book. I think the characters needed that readjustment to make that portion seem believable. I also credit them for their authenticity and attention to detail. The habitat on Mars, the lingo, the technology, and control procedures seem very NASA-like. I also quite enjoyed the action and intrigue on Earth this time. Probably more so than in the previous book. There are a lot of fun mysteries there, and some really great twists. I only have two caveats with this book. The first is—as someone who used to dream of travel to Mars—I could’ve used a bit more of the scope and grandeur of Mars early on. I mean, you took me there, now show it to me! A little more exploration or even some sweeping vistas would’ve been neat, I think. The other thing that I wondered about is the ending. Though there is enough closure, there is also a bit of ambiguity lurking too. I liked the idea of “Fifth Man” and I even liked the identity of that “Fifth Man”, but I also could’ve used a few more pages of conclusion. Regardless, “The Fifth Man” is a fun book. If you enjoyed “Oxygen” then you have to read this too. It is a worthy addition to the story. Not to me missed!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A party of 4 is doing exploration on Mars when unexplained accidents start happening. The team on earth is also having problems. Will they ever be able to make it home? I enjoyed it . It kept me wondering what would happen next. The characters could be real people.
docmon More than 1 year ago
A terrific thrill to read, even better than the first, Oxygen. The tension remained high through most of the story, with few points for a breather. Best of all, I really didn't know who the culprit was until the reveal, a true surprise. This story has the added bonus of being set on Mars, an ongoing fascination of mine. And the appendices hold a bonus for new writers, with excellent advice I've already applied to my writing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a wonderfully spell-binding book! I couldn't put it down! Written in a way that grabs anyone's attention.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A fascinating tale of near-future Science Fiction, the skill and brilliance of the writing of this pair of books more than compensates for a couple of technical, logistic oversights. This is a rich and rewarding read with high drama, incredible risks, competing political and career goals for both individuals and for Multi-Billion Dollar industries. It combines competing ideologies, elements of romance, and a raw survival instinct in a harsh and completely unforgiving environment. Some logic problems become more pronounced in this second book, yet it kept me turning pages. A delightful read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As good as 'Oxygen'? Nope...Better! This has everything that 'Oxygen' did and more. If you liked 'Oxygen', sci-fi or space thrillers don't let this one pass you by.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Is there evidence of life on Mars? That¿s the question the four-person crew of the Ares 10 needs to answer. However, while looking for life on the red planet, the astronauts discover proof that life is a lot more complex than even scientists imagine. This book is the sequel to Oxygen and continues to follow the expedition of this two man-two woman crew. After a rocky voyage, the astronauts have an even more difficult time surviving in this alien land. Strange things begin to happen with their equipment, yet diagnostic tests don¿t point out the source. Could there possibly be a fifth man among them? Is this survival mission actually someone¿s idea of a suicide mission? The authors have placed characters in dual settings for this story that spans the universe. Readers will closely watch the happenings on Mars, and also be allowed into the confidential conferences at NASA. This inter-galactic view gives readers a more complete understanding of the issue of ¿life¿. The mysterious static in their communication system and the unearthly happenings with some of their equipment, all point to ¿someone¿. Things like that don¿t happen by themselves. It is here that the authors make a strong, yet subtle, case for ¿intelligent¿ life. Just as the crew knows that the reason for these malfunctions comes from a logical and traceable source, so will readers see that connection applied on a larger and more universal level. NASA¿s powerful technology is indeed a character in this drama. The authors¿ conscientious research shows readers the astonishing capabilities of the space center. Readers will be amazed at what their technology can do. However, the underlining theme points to an even greater source of power. The magnitude and scope of this mission highlights the intelligence of man, yet what is the source of that intelligence? The Fifth Man may be the missing link between belief and hope. (Review used by'Courtesy of Love Romances')
Guest More than 1 year ago
This sequel is as good as Oxygen. It keeps you guessing and is a real page-turner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The crew has reached its destination Mars after a harrowing near death space trip from earth (see OXYGEN). Now a new survival test begins with the crew trying to live on a planet that makes Antarctica seem like a sauna and no rescue flight possible. Nothing should be able to survive in this frozen inhabitant................................. The four member crew struggles with the harshness of life while trying to meet NASA¿s detailed expectations in which every nanosecond is booked. Meanwhile, deeply religious microbial ecologist Dr. Valkerie Jansen finds proof that life once existed on the angry red planet, but swears she has also seen a ¿fifth man¿ sabotaging their mission. No one else has seen this ET so Commander Dr. Bob Kaganovski worries that she is cracking up under the strain. Illness has hit the team too in what seems like a War of the Worlds reversal. Martian madness grips the crew, but is that why Bob cannot stop looking at Valkerie while they wonder if infected, can they go home?............................... The second book in John B. Olson, and Randall Ingermanson marvelous Martian mission, THE FIFTH MAN, is a great Christian science fiction thriller that enables the audience to feel they are living on the frozen tundra along with the crew. The exhilarating story line hooks the reader on several levels including the obvious survival adventure and whether THE FIFTH MAN exists or is imagined and if the latter who is sabotaging their chances of enduring the severity. Fans will wonder if bacteria could live on this ice cold orb while applauding the two authors for once again proving that science and religion are compatible................................. Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is such an excellent book - I'm guessing it is volume 2 of 3, now that we've had 'Oxygen' about getting to Mars, this book about being on Mars.... hmm, what is next? Ah, going home, of course. This is a solid, hard science story about what it might be like to be on Mars. What would be the consequences of discovering life? What are the psycho-dynamics of a mission of four people over a period of YEARS. National and international politics. And a very realistic portrayal (in this book and the last) about NASA problem solving in Apollo 13-type situations. Oh and there is romance - and moral issues of good and evil. The real shame is that this book is pretty much consigned to the 'Christian fiction' ghetto, when it should be up there scrapping for a Hugo or Nebula. I wish Bethany would cut a deal with TOR or DAW and get these books in the open market!
Guest More than 1 year ago
What I liked best about The Fifth Man is that it isn't 'from Mars.' In fact, I slowly began to recognize Mars, not from anything learned at the NASA Web site (although that is a good place to begin), but from my own life as a child in a cold (sometimes horribly cold) climate, where everything is reduced to surviving the cold. Only life forms equipped to survive a level of cold that is essentially anti-life will make it. Predictably, the four astronauts of the previous book, Oxygen, begin to experience the strain of such a life, now that they have ended up on Mars. They begin to imagine -- or are they imagining? -- that there is a 'fifth man' around who is doing terrible things. Could the fifth man be an extraterrestrial? Extraterrestrials might not want Earthlings bashing around Mars. Or are the astronauts slowly going mental under the strain? Think of this: If someone is on Mars, and you suspect that they have gone bush crazy, you cannot just pick them up and fly them out, the way you can fly them out of the Arctic or Antarctic. Can one person's craziness infect all the others? Or is that the answer to all the strange events? Something to think about as you read ... I won't spoil the fun by revealing the ending, but I will say that this story should appeal to sci-fi and mystery buffs alike -- as well as to fans of novels of the North.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The crew is alive on Mars..for now. Getting home might be the most difficult part yet. Aside from discovering past microbial life on Mars, Valkerie is having trouble with Bob. Kennedy is being his usual paranoid self, while Lex is talking to blank walls. A mysterious illnes is striking the crew members one at a time. Without giving away all the plot, just watch out for Mars bacteria, killers for friends, NASA bean counters, and freezing to death. Ingermanson and Olson make a great team. The chraracters feel like real people who are not completely certain who their true friends are. The plot had me wondering where it would go next. I couldn't put this book down until I finished it at 2 in the morning. Excellent work, as always.