Mission: Flight to Mars

By V. A. Jeffrey

Sci-Fi

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336
10 mins

1

Mission: Flight to Mars

By V. A. Jeffrey

Copyright © 2014
All rights reserved.
Artwork by Streetlight Graphics

An Epistle Publishing book

The stories contained in this book are works of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, past or present is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved.
1
"I've been putting in a good word for you, Bob. Don't know how much good it's actually done. . .but. . ." he trailed off. He had that doubtful, pitying look again that drove me nuts. I hated being pitied, even if I was a pariah. I guess people couldn't help it whenever my name was tossed around the water coolers. And there are a whole lot of water coolers at Vartan Inc.
"Don't worry about it, Fred." I said, putting on my well-worn brave face. "It will just create problems for you. I'll either get fired or I won't." If I was fired, which was very likely, I wouldn't be able to work in the industry again. But I tried my best not to think about the magnitude of the issue I was facing. I had dared to call out, continuously, the chief financial officer of Vartan Industries for theft, fraud, embezzlement of funds and selling company secrets to our biggest competitor, Whitney Corporation. I'm still not sure what I was smoking when I decided to go on the warpath against Bradford Teely. Even though I had TRUTH AND JUSTICE on my side it seemed a lot of folks around here thought the truth was relative, justice was over-rated and that I had forgotten my place.
I got the dreaded call again. Fred looked destroyed. I threw him a tired and exasperated look and he got the message. After he left I took a pill with a drink of tepid water, slowly rose from my desk and started off toward the head supervisor's office. I could feel sharp sparks shooting throughout my body with each step. My blood pressure was through the roof! Would I even make it home today without having a stroke? I focused on the gleaming surfaces of the ceilings and walls of the corridors down the long, bright halls, concentrated on the thousands of employees working below in the assembly rooms. Busy as bees. I focused on the heavy doors leading from the department I worked in to the air-sanitized section that lead to the sterilized lab rooms of the micro-chip processing units and the fabs. On every gleaming surface I focused my attention, to distract myself. To bolster myself. That was how I made it to the supervisor's office; it was like floating in a dream. It was strange but even though something was rotten deep within this company and I'd tried to bring attention to it, my focus on external surfaces kept my mind clear and calm. Behind those doors my career was going to end in a toxic meltdown. Perhaps I could at least salvage what remained of my dignity before I was mauled and everything I'd worked for left in blasted shreds. . .
"Okay. I'm going to ask you again, Robert," he said, voice full of frost. I thought I could detect a faint bit of a smirk in his expression. "At what point did you begin to notice that product from the assembly lines in Section C-30 were going to Recycling instead of to their intended destination?"
"As I've said many times before," I kept my voice level and calm. "the latest VPHILM model android? You know, Will?" I said pointedly, still angry over that incident.
"Yes, we're aware of the last VPHILM model," he said dryly. The others sitting around looked on, stony-faced.
"When he worked with me on the floor he first alerted me about the the problem. This was about three years ago."
"I also remember that model being destroyed because of too many malfunctions in his programming," he said. The others in the room nodded, concurring like sheep. I couldn't believe this. After three years they were still holding to that lie.
"I found it interesting that he was destroyed after I revealed the discrepancies found between the assembly line floor and Recycling and a certain someone's computer logs, that Will discovered!" I said. I was no longer allowed to accuse the CFO of what I and I'm sure others knew he was doing.
"Careful, Mr Astor. We don't intend to go down that road again. Mr Teely is a well respected and highly influential man at Vartan. He has a well regarded reputation in the industry. He is not the one in danger of losing his career here," he said coldly. For the past two and a half years they had been trying to get me to admit to something I knew, and suspected they knew, was false; that I was responsible for robbing the company.
"You've been here for fifteen years, Mr. Astor. We expect competence from someone in your position." Said one of the supervisors. This one, his last name was Grant, had a permanent sneer fixed on his face and made me want to punch that smirk right through his face. Grant's eyes always made my skin crawl. I couldn't figure out why. He intimidated people every time he decided to fix that icy, raw gaze on them, which was why he was always at every disciplinary hearing in section C-30. He had the ability to unnerve people with that odd stare; a stare that made you feel as if he were flaying you alive. I held his gaze for a few moments and then looked away from him back to the smirking-chimp flunky heading this farce. I used to hear my father talk of unions. I was sorry they had all finally been done away with decades ago. I could use a representative now.
"Don't presume to point fingers at others for what is clearly, from what we have found in our fact-finding investigation, your own negligence," he bristled.
"Or deception," added Grant, his voice low and sly, that sneer returned. This time I threw him a nasty look, holding his gaze longer, trying my best to match steel for steel. A dangerous shadow fell across his face. He didn't like that at all. But I was so angry by this point that I refused to allow him to throw me off. I wasn't going to be here much longer. I rolled my eyes and shifted my gaze back to the other one.
I steamed silently through the hearing even though I was ready to launch a volley of accusations and reasons for why we were bleeding product and money suspiciously.
"I told you before. It's done in such a way that the computers I use to monitor the product coming through on the floor in my department are unable to detect the issue."
"Why? Your machines are working fine. We went through your logs numerous times and saw no such difficulties. In fact, we found odd discrepancies in the data streams. . ."
"Oh, right! Discrepancies in the data streams that lead you to believe that I'm responsible for the problem. So then why would I not bother to cover up my supposed theft if I knew it could be traced back to me? If I knew an investigation was going to require my machines to be examined? I was framed!"
"Always the resort of the conspiracy theorists and the guilty." Sneered Grant and they laughed at this. I felt myself breaking out in a sweat. I decided to keep silent as much as possible for the duration of the meeting. My hands trembled slightly. I balled them up in fists to keep my temper under control.
"You have been working with state of the art machines and software, yet you have no explanation for these discrepancies?"
"Here we go again." I said.
"No answer?" He asked again, expectantly. Once more unto the breach, dear fiends! I had a hard time seeing this group as true friends of anyone.
"Rather, he refuses to give the obvious one." Grant goaded. His strange eyes flashed dangerously. I remained quiet. Someone had set me up because I had unwisely, pointed the finger at the true culprit. Mr Vartan, whom I had previously thought would address the issue was himself fighting for his own position as CEO with the board of directors. Word was he was on his way to being ousted. He'd left me with no protection from the CFO and his lackeys.
"I told you before, I have no answer for that. However these thing are getting through, it's not coming from my end." I insisted.
"And yet, our investigation indicates that this problem is definitely coming from your end." Said the lead supervisor. Trembling slightly, I was ready to blow.
"I wasn't hired as a security agent to monitor or prevent theft. I was hired to make sure the products coming through this department are of excellent quality. I'm a quality assurance agent." They all smiled at each other knowingly but didn't answer.
"It is part of your job description, whether you acknowledge it or not. We can no longer see any reason to keep you on, Robert. We've gone over this too many times. And besides that, there is much concern over your mental stability. That is not a safe and acceptable combination here." Well duh!
"Be thankful we don't bring the law down on you. We would be within our rights to bring charges of theft," said Grant. The lead supervisor finally released the last volley. With a little too much glee. I thought.
"You are not able to fulfill the duties for your position, Mr. Astor. We're afraid-" There was a call on the intercom at his desk. Why couldn't you just send me an email or a text? I could see that hateful sneer twisting round Grant's face again. Insufferable ass. I felt my face growing hot. So it was done. The intercom beeped again. The lead lackey answered it. He shot me a brief look, tapped the intercom screen on his desk and picked up the receiver.
"Yes?" His face changed from a smirk, to a frown and then surprised dismay. "Ah. . .yes, yes! I understand. No. . .uh, well, yes. I understand. Yes." His face turned bright pink, then purplish until he looked like a head of purple cabbage. Well! This was an interesting development. Grant narrowed his strangely colored eyes. And I was sitting here wondering what in the world was happening. I was tired. I was ready to be rid of the harassment. At least I'd get my sanity back.
How I would tell my wife that I no longer had a job was going to be much more difficult.
He set the receiver down with a decided, hard click and looked me up and down slowly. The other four gave him questioning looks and then they glanced back at me. With a slow release of breath he finally spoke. The air in the room had changed.
"Robert Astor. Go back to your office. You will not be let go. Make sure these shrinkage issues do not happen again. I have nothing more to say to you. This meeting is over." He said abruptly. The others gasped. Grant nearly jumped from his seat, or looked as if he wanted to. The first lackey gave him a warning look.
"E. Vartan." He said simply. Grant's face turned white with anger. I looked from one supervisor to the other. That call had changed something radically.
"Sooooo, what? I'm not being fired and marched out of here?" I asked.
"We have nothing more to say. Please go back to your office. Good day, Mr Astor," he snapped. I frowned, got up and left the office, hoping to never see the inside of it again. A part of me was jumping for joy at this strange turn of events, the other part of me was dreading having to come to work in this place. A place I was once proud to be a part of.
. . .

Let me explain what came before. Will was an android known as a VPHILIM, which stood for Vartan Pragmatic Heuristic Impression Linear Model. He was built and put on line September 7, 2147 A. D. A minor but historic day for technological progress. You see, he was the first android we'd built that could truly think for himself. In fact, the first android built, period, that could. The thing is, most people didn't realize this. Only me and a few others at the company. Will began working with me soon after in my quality assurance department monitoring some of the products being created in this department. We were making and shipping parts for spaceships, space station housing units and housing unit modules for future colonies on other planets. These were being made under contract with the U.S. government, Canada and Great Britain. Will had found serious discrepancies in perfectly made products going to Recycling. Then these products were picked up illegally from Recycling and completely disappeared from the system. By whom? No one knew. There were also problems with how certain allotted funds from the company were being used and where they were going. This all lead back to the CFO, Bradford Teely. All these discrepancies Will picked up and examined with accuracy and he relayed these problems to me. I, in turn, relayed them to the now embattled CEO, Elias Vartan. He made a show of seeing about the matter but what happened instead was a nightmare of epic proportions that unfolded right in my lap. The word got back to Teely that there would be an investigation of his accounts and his activities. Things went downhill for me, fast!
First, Will was destroyed and the excuse claimed was that there was some irreparable malfunctioning in his programming. The next three years turned out to be the worst years of my life. The CFO made it his mission to make my life miserable. For whatever reason, he wasn't able to get me fired immediately. So he resorted to attacking me through his minions. I soon found myself in "progress" report meetings and disciplinary hearings with my supervisors almost every week. I never heard from the CEO again. My work was sabotaged. Sometimes my computers had mysterious viruses and I was blamed for the system wide issues they caused, not only in my department but in others too. I'd been suspended from work without pay on four occasions, months at a time. I was accused of holding up and disrupting work flow. I was accused of intentionally being lazy or slow, incompetent and also accused of theft. My reputation as a team player and a good, loyal employee had steadily been destroyed. Loyalty to company was everything around here. In fact, it was right up there with patriotism, no matter what company you worked for. People stopped speaking to me and some even grew to loathe me.
I was nearly a nervous wreck by the third year and started taking anxiety medication. Two weeks ago I'd received a letter through company mail that because of my insurance reporting to my employer of my new medical prescription for anxiety, that I needed to come in for a mental health evaluation. Folks with mental health issues weren't qualified to work here. Yet, they couldn't simply fire me like they wanted to. They'd tried their best to hound me out of my job and failed.
Which explained the farce that had become my work life.
Then one day, over a mysterious intercom call, it was over. Most people avoided eye contact with me these days except Chip, Jerome and sometimes Fred. Others stayed far away, not wanting to share in my plagues. But finally, I'd received a victory.
And by the way, my doctor just put me on light duty and this was enforced without complaint. After that fateful meeting, my workday was temporarily reduced to four hours per day, four days a week and I didn't have to go to meetings unless they were the mandatory, Green Room kind. Mysteriously, I found when I'd signed into my company email that on my future paycheck statement I would be receiving all my back pay owed for those months I was suspended without pay. Plus, I'd received a shocking and exciting surprise when I got back to my office. One that completely turned my world inside out.
. . .

Vartan Industries was now the main contractor to the U. S. government to build housing modules for the new cities that would eventually be sprawled throughout the solar system. There were plenty others, of course (like Whitney Corp.!) But so far, Vartan had the best contracts.
The moon city was already old in name as it was plucked from an ancient Moon map: Langrenus.
And it was on everyone's lips as the place to be; our forward destiny. Even with all of the stress I'd endured the past few years at work it was hard not to feel wistful about the starry frontier.
Langrenus was turning out to be a fast-growing city and it was built around the titular crater named after Michael Florent van Landgren, a Flemish astronomer.
I was sitting back on the couch, sipping a micro brew and watching the live progress being made in its building on the WSEL channel feed. That's short for World Space Exploration Live. The city was crawling with sub-contractors. About fourteen thousand people already lived there and more were coming. Langrenus was being peopled first by those specifically there to work either in the mines or in the continued creation of the city. There were a few bio-dome farmers there as well, architects, masons and carpenters, scientists of different disciplines, a small force of security and police and medical personnel to attend these people. A few colonies had already sprang up farther south of the capitol.
I'd received a mysterious company email message some days ago inviting me to be one of the Vartan delegates to Langrenus. Me, a nobody! I was going to get a chance to visit the moon on a special mission! After all, those gleaming buildings and most of the civilian space ships docked there were built by Vartan Inc..
I was of two minds about it. Part of me was excited and another part of me felt a pit in my stomach every time I recalled the letter to memory. The letter was simply signed: E. Vartan. So the old guy finally came through for me. I 'm not sure how I felt about that. Why did he wait so late to exonerate me when I was going through hell for the last three years? It didn't make any sense. I was supposed to be grateful. And I was. But I got the feeling that things were happening around me, involving me, that I couldn't understand. Nothing was making sense anymore which put me on edge. I wished I could go back to the happy-go-lucky guy I once was, who simply went to work, talked with his friends over coffee, did his job happily and then clocked out and went home to his family. That feeling of innocence and carefree life was lost and I wanted it back. Will and everything that happened after him was a gross intrusion into my life that I never asked for and at times I deeply resented it. On the outside everything seemed the same. But it wasn't. And it unnerved me.
Many things unnerved me. Things at work that involved me which I couldn't see. People whispering about me. Avoiding me or averting their gazes whenever they saw me coming. I was known as a troublemaker now. A label I had never sought or looked for. And I had powerful enemies now. Me, a quality assurance cog. But I found that I also had unseen allies. Maybe. I couldn't make out if they were allies or if my continued presence in the corporation served some other purpose for them. I just felt these things. It was something I took after my maternal grandmother. She was one of those empathic, hyper-sensitive types that felt emotions and hidden presences others didn't discern. It's no fun being this type of person but I inherited this from her. I've never liked it. This was the first time in my life that I felt myself going through a major life crisis and actually having to rely on these hyper-sensitive senses.
I turned the channel feed off, set my beer down and went out to the patio. It was a late, pleasant spring evening. The sun was finally going down at nine o'clock. My wife and kids were visiting her folks. It gave me time to think. Far above near the upper levels of the city I saw the tiny shapes of small space ships, air taxis and fliers and the great, colorful sails of the airships passing by. We moved out here near the country to avoid the sight pollution of all the city lights and its vehicles that obscured the stars. I could still see the stars from here. The water in the pool was still and the lights underneath glowed softly. It reminded me of what some said about the gas emissions around the Langrenus crater. Soft light emanating from the crater sometimes. It was a known event there, a beautiful sight, like the Northern Lights. It would be nice to see it. Take the wife and kids one day and vacation there. I watched the last of the sun's rays set and then went inside, took a shower and went to bed, writing a note on the digital pad on the fridge door to my wife not to disturb me if I had already gone to sleep. The next few weeks would be insanity at work as the delegation was readying for the trip. Teely's war on me had fizzled out. But I had a feeling that a whole lot of misfortune was still hurtling my way. Just a feeling. So. . .
I needed my beauty rest.



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