The Planets Series – Uranus

I had been climbing for just over an hour and stopped to catch a breath. Below me was a white mist of nothingness. I had no idea how far I’d come but had estimated before I started that the full climb would take me around 2 hours.

Surprisingly my feet felt fine. I wiggled my toes inside my stiff leather knee-high protective boots and felt some joy in being able to still move them. The sharp crampons pointing from my toes held my weight assuredly against the ice, fighting against the 250 mile per hour winds which were trying to tempt my large rucksack, and by association me, out into the cold white abyss below.

Both arms, wedged into the solid white ice in front of me, were fitted with sharp axes on the forearms to assist against the winds. My hands, protected from the biting cold with specially designed gloves which hugged my wrists in a tight, warm embrace, clenched tightly two steel ice tools to help me on my vertical trek. My grip felt great, no cold and thankfully no sweat either. The insulated gloves were doing their job perfectly so far.

With my feet, arms and hands wedged firmly into the ice, I let go with my right hand and pulled my protective face mask around my mouth open ever so slightly. I swung my upper body almost 180 degrees to face the drone which flew level with my face. “1 hour down!” I shouted against the wind, giving it a reassuring thumbs up. I quickly pulled my mask back over, swung back round to face the ice which held me in place and grasped my tool with my right hand. I was ready to start, what I hoped, would be the 2nd half of my record breaking climb. I had agreed to document this momentous, WI8 graded climb, using a state of the art drone which was live streaming my progress directly back to a PPV paying audience back home. The lucky folks sat in their warm living rooms on Earth would be getting a live stream which included a constant monitoring of my mapped progress, my current health vitals including blood pressure and heart rate with some beautiful panoramic shots of the surrounding landscape for good measure.

When I’d initially announced via my social media sites a year earlier that I intended to change the ice climbing game forever by scaling the great Titan Wall of Uranus, there had been much hilarity and guffawing in the dirtsheets about my ambitions to “climb on Uranus”. The laughing soon stopped when I sold the live streaming rights for $4 million. With an endorsement deal signed with Arc’teryx soon after and an agreement in place with SpaceX, my dream had quickly become a reality.

The eerie whistling of the wind filled my entire face mask as I continued the slow lumber upwards. My hands began to shoot with cramping pains and the fear of being caught by the increasingly powerful winds refused to release itself from the tightening in my muscles and the knotting in my stomach. The hardest thing to overcome with ice climbing was never the actual wall you intended to scale, it was the fear. Fear of falling. Fear of missing a foothold. Fear of the crampons slipping and taking you tumbling downwards. This fear radiated around the body, often leaving you feeling like you had competed in a much more physical, violent sport in the days after. Unfortunately for me, once I reached my summit I would still have a solo flight home to navigate, albeit with the assistance of SpaceX’s finest remote pilots guiding the way.

In the last few minutes I had began to feel a peculiar rumbling in the ice. A kind of vibration as I stabbed my tools, arms and feet into it. As it increased I felt as I was scaling some sort of giant speaker belching out a repetitive rhythmic bassline. Increasingly my body shook in time with the force of the pattern.

Just as quick as it had arrived, it stopped. My head snapped forward in a whiplash-like motion and I tightened my grip on my tools. Looking up I could still see nothing but white, however when I reached out to plunge my tool in there was no more ice to meet it. With a rush of adrenaline I pumped my legs upwards and threw my aching body onto a solid rocky ledge. I threw my rucksack off my back and jumped up and down, screaming out into the white sky. I pointed at the drone which buzzed along level with me and threw up the V for Victory sign.

I turned to take in the breathtaking panoramic view around me. As I did, I bumped hard into something solid. Looking up, I gasped and stumbled backwards as a large man, maybe 9 foot tall towered over me. His long red robes and large, thick majestic grey beard blew wildly in the winds.

“wh, wha, whaa” I blurted out incoherently.

“YOU STAND BEFORE I, OURANUS, THE PRIMAL GOD OF THE HEAVENS. YOU HAVE SCALED THE TITAN WALL OF MY PLANET” he bellowed out into the world.

“NOW THAT YOU HAVE CONQUERED MINE, IT IS ONLY RIGHT THAT I NOW CONQUER YOUR ANUS”

As he began to unbuckle his robes, the last thing I remember was his bellowing laughter shaking the entire mountain as I dived off the side into the depth of the white below.

The Planets Series – Jupiter

Juniper Gentlin fiddled with his tie once again, then buttoned and unbuttoned his jacket, feeling the strain of his ever increasing waistline. He shot his hand into his pocket again, reassured that it was still there.

The man behind the large desk in front of him stood to catch his attention, informing him that the Premier would see him now. Juniper took a long inhale of breath through his nose, exhaling violently through his mouth. He gripped the arms of the chair he was sat in and pushed himself to his feet. Go time.

“If you could just face the pad and hold very still” instructed the man behind the desk. The security pad scaled the full height of the wall in front of Juniper. It scanned him from head to toe and then a burst of light blinded his vision. When he opened his eyes the reception he had stood in had gone and he was stood facing a large imposing oak door with the title of ‘Premier Benchoullah’ marked across it. He knocked once then delicately pushed open the door.

“Junie!!”

Premier Edson Benchoullah rose from behind his desk to greet his old friend. Genuine affection laced his tone as they first shook hands then embraced. “Please. Sit”. He gestured to a large comfortable looking couch in the corner of the office.

Benchoullah was of small height but he had a large, undeniable presence. His every word was complemented by a jerking gesticulation. The Jupitan media had referred to him as ‘The Italian Stallion’ an old earthling term, such was his habit of using his hands whilst conversing just as much as his voice.

The two old friends shared a drink and reminisced. It had been a lifetime ago that they had bunked together whilst serving with the Jupitan Army. International Service was required of every Jupitano ages 18-21 and it was a right of passage for every member of society. Every Jupitano had their own anecdote about their time fighting The Great Red Spot, the famous anticyclonic storm at the heart of the Solar Systems largest planet.

“So Junie, what brings you to see me today?” asked the Premier, placing his hand on his old friends knee affectionately.

Juniper cleared his throat.

“Well Premier, you may be aware that I was recently elected leader of the UMJ.” He bristled, awaiting a reaction from the notoriously hot-headed Premier. Instead the response was non-plussed. “UMJ?” asked Benchoullah.

“The United Moons of Jupiter?” replied Juniper. “I was elected by voters from all 79 moons, Premier. Having moved off-planet ten years ago to Europa, it occurred to me that decisions are made here on the mother planet which directly affect billions of families living on our moons. I felt someone should be representing the views of the UMJ to try to influence decisions made by you and your Cabinet. I’ve come to you today with a proposal, Premier.”

Benchoullah stood from the couch and paced the room. He began nodding and muttering to himself. Finally, he fixed his gaze back on Juniper. “Well, that’s quite the tale” he chuckled. “As you well know Junie, the Luna’s who elect to live on our moons do so off their own volition. They are afforded no Jupitan rights and nor are they, technically, able to call themselves Jupitano.” He scratched at his chin and ruffled his hair, pacing again as if trying to solve a puzzle which had a missing piece.

“So, let me get this straight“ he went on. “You’ve decided to cash in on our relationship to see what you can get for these billions of Luna.” It was a statement not a question.

“Please Premier” said Juniper “we prefer not to use that word, we see ourselves just as Jupitan as you do.”

The word ‘Luna’ was a derogatory term used by the Jupitan to refer to those who lived on the 72 surrounding moons. It’s origin came from the Earthling phrase ‘lunatic fringe’ meaning a political group which shared extreme or foolish ideals.

Benchoullah threw his hands in the air. “Well they’re not fucking Jupitano” he spat. “I govern this planet Junie” He rumbled, arms flying in different directions to pontificate his annoyance. “And you fucking Luna’s will accept any decision I make. You’ll get on with it whether you like it or not” he banged into a chair whilst pacing and turned to kick it hard across the room.

“No Junie” he continued. “I’m sorry but you Luna’s will be happy with what you’ve got. You’ll take what you’re served, you’ll eat it up, smile and ask for more.”

Juniper sighed. He knew Benchoullah as a hot-head from their time together and what he’d watched on TV but he hadn’t expected this reaction. Regretfully he placed his hand into his pocket, felt the device between his thumb and forefinger and clicked it three times.

“I’m very sorry old friend. My intention was to come here and talk things through. Have a measured discussion about what you could offer us. I never wanted this.”

The man from behind the desk who had beamed Juniper through, entered through the office door behind him. He held an automatic pistol in one hand and a recording device pointed at Benchoullah in the other. The Premier shielded his eyes from the shining light coming from the recording device. Suddenly, he saw the weapon.

He began to protest at Juniper. He tried to reason, then he aggressively spat threats then pathetically begged for help, snivelling and crying on his knees.

Juniper took the weapon from the man and turned to face the recording device.

“My name is Juniper Gentlin. I am the leader of the United Moons of Jupiter. This man here makes decisions everyday which affects billions of people living on our planets‘ moons. I came here today to discuss the rights of those people to state their opinions on decisions which affect them. He refused. Therefore, this is now a coup. The UMJ runs this planet.”

He turned and blasted a hole through Benchoullah’s forehead. Blood and brain matter spattered the walls and carpet. He turned back to the recording device. “I suppose you might say the Lunatics have take over the asylum.” He kicked Benchoullah’s lifeless body, adding “and nobody calls me fucking Junie anymore”.

The Planets Series – Mars

I’m writing this on the eve of my 25th birthday.

Can you imagine every miniscule detail of your life being documented on a daily basis? Think of some of the stupid shit you do every day when no-one else is around, then think about everyone you know watching you do it. Bad huh? You might pick your nose on your daily commute. Chat to yourself whilst you pee. Trip up over a pavement then do that little run/jog thing that people do then look around to see if anyone noticed, remember to laugh so people think you’re a good sport. Yeah that would suck right? Now think about not only everyone you know watching you but everyone on the planet watching you. No, everyone on the planets!! That’s right, planets – PLURAL. That anxiety-inducing thought I’ve just introduced to you is my life. You see my name is Martel Venson, you probably know me as Marty or ‘Mars Boy’. I’m the solar system’s first ever Martian.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m not a green skinned little guy with three eyes who flies a saucer shaped ship. No, nothing like that, it’s much more straight forward than that. I was the first child to ever be born on Mars.

In 2040 when humans officially began to migrate to the Red Planet, my parents were part of one of the very first groups to make the momentous trip. Two twenty-somethings with very little money, not much prospects and one very real bun in the oven. After they miraculously won Elon Musk’s Willy Wonka-esque Red ticket competition they were inducted into an intense life changing experience which whisked them away on a one-way journey to Big Red.

Dad had been a great manual labourer on Earth and despite his modest upbringings, he had become instrumental in helping to develop and build the societal infrastructure which we now live in today.

Fast forward 3 months and I was ready to make my first appearance. 10 or so years had gone into prepping and colonising Mars before the first group of travellers embarked on the journey with health and medical care at the forefront of developments. Thankfully therefore, the medical care both me and my Mother received in the Neuralink Royal Medical Centre was technologically groundbreaking and so beyond the medical attention we’d have received had I been born on Earth.

By my 6th birthday the population of Mars had exploded to 4 million. More new migrators were arriving annually whilst the birth of Martian children increased year on year. Even so, The Red Media Team (RTM was our planets flagship mainstream broadcaster) had never forgotten Mars’ favourite son. Luckily for me, my parents in their infinite wisdom, had decided to sell away the rights to my life. ‘Marty – Mars’ First Son’ would be an innovative reality television show which would document, yep you guessed it, the life and times of the first person to be born on Big Red. The 25 year, multi million Musk deal (Musk was the Martian currency, modestly named after the man himself) had dramatically changed my parents fortunes and had cemented me as the planets premier megastar.

I’ve never ever been able to come to terms with strangers approaching me to tell me how thrilling it was to share with me my first bath, my first feed, taking my first steps or horrifyingly my first kiss. It’s absolutely mind bending. And, for me, completely inescapable. On my first ever trip to Earth in my teens I had concocted a foolproof plan to escape the film crew and disappear into anonymity on the planet for the remainder of my days. Foolishly I hadn’t realised RTM broadcast the show into the TV screens of Earthlings too. As I had tried to slip away into a crowd I was chased down a street by a bunch of screaming Earthling teenage girls as they sang in unison the theme song to ‘Marty’. “Mars Boy, Mars Boy, You’re Our Favourite Mars Boy” they sang. Eventually I gave into the inevitable and posed for the selfies they craved.

It’s so incredibly odd how people, Martians and Earthlings alike, treat me as a commodity. An object they want to attach themselves to so that they can post a video or photo online to gain internet points from strangers. Others believe they know me, feel that I’m part of their own family. They’ll stop me and tell me they’ve grown up with me and laugh and joke about some horrible experience of my life I’ve since tried to forget. But I don’t know them. I don’t really know anyone. I don’t have any friends. And I certainly don’t have any girlfriend. I soon learned in my late teens that the type of girl who gravitated towards me wasn’t doing it for my rugged looks and charming personality.

So, although tomorrow I’ll be completely free of the blood sucking agreement which has literally followed me around my entire life, I’ve come to the realisation that I’ll never be free.

“Marty? Where are we going?” enquired the cameraman as Martel Venson put down his pen and slowly walked out of his bedroom, down out of his front door into the enclosed night, safely breathing the internal Martian air. “Marty?!” he asked again, this time with a little apprehension in his voice. Martel approached the emergency doors and typed in a code. He bypassed the external Bio suits hanging by the doors and opened them out into the gravelly red field. He quickly sealed the doors and paced forward. “MARTY!!” screamed onlookers.

Martel Venson, Mars’ first son, fell to his knees sucking for breath that would never come. As he lay alone beyond the transparent quadruply sealed glass a large group of Martians gathered, watching him from inside. They wailed and weeped uncontrollably as Mars’ first son who had shared so many firsts with his fellow Martians shared with them his final ever smile. He was finally free.

The Planets Series – Saturn

I sat alone in the small, dark cockpit large enough to fit one average sized person and no more. My senses tingled as the lights on the dashboard blinked yellow and orange in my peripheral vision. I dipped my head to look left, then right, through the side windscreens of my pod at 2 of my opponents. It gave me some small sense of relief to see that each of them looked as nervous as I felt.

My ear piece crackled to life giving me a jump. My AI co-pilot, VAHMIS (Vehicle and Human Maintenance Internal System), advised me that the race would commence in 2 minutes time and that he had began warming the engines. The large transparent bag strapped to the right hand side of my seat expanded with a dark yellow as I involuntarily emptied my bladder for what felt like the hundredth time since I’d climbed in the pod. I compulsively checked to make sure my feeding tube was plugged in correctly above me then sat back to take in the view in front of me.

2 or so clicks (km’s) ahead of me stood the enormous, terrifying black void. Only the twinkle of star light and the shining of 2 or so of Saturn’s 62 moons provided a hint of illumination ahead. The mixture of the gritty brown and icy white track below me seemed to be swallowed up by the darkness as it disappeared off into the distance.

This was it. I’d literally dedicated my life to this moment. 12 participants. 550,000 miles. 1 lap. I would be navigating this icy, rocky terrain for a period of 2 days (or slightly less I hoped). But the navigation was only half the battle. The other, arguably tougher test, was the mental game. Confining yourself to a small box with only a computerised voice in your ear for company and carrying out all bodily functions through tubes was not everyone’s idea of a good time. It was all I had dreamed of since I was kid.

In the 3 days previous I had embarked on an intensive stretching routine for 4-6 hours a day. This would allow my body to settle come crunch time. I’d also went through 2 hours daily digestive therapy involving a number of terrifyingly huge needles. This would provide me with a specially developed serum to relieve my body of all requirement to sleep for the following 72 hours, maintaining my optimal functionality for what was to come. The reported after-effects weren’t pretty – a migraine on steroids mixed with temporary paralysis of the body – but these were the sacrifices those at the very top of their field required to make and I was more than ready to make them.

“30 seconds” crackled VAHMIS. As the familiar cranking, whirring and whooshing of machinery and engine fire burst into life my small pod raised itself slightly above the track until it hovered a metre or so in the air. Following my pre-race routine, I slipped in my gum shield to avoid crushing my teeth during the initial acceleration and then commanded VAHMIS to commence playing my personally devised playlist. An aggressive, thumping bassline filled the space around me and vibrated through my whole body. I watched the lights above me begin their ten step sequence to indicate the start and bit down hard on my gum shield.

As they hit green I slammed both feet down onto the accelerator and planted them as hard as I could. My teeth bit down even harder on the protective shield in my mouth whilst my head and neck slammed back against my chair. Pinned there for a number of minutes I began to panic as blood poured onto the panel in front of me. On cue, VAHMIS indicated to me over the pounding bass that I was experiencing a number of ruptured blood vessels in my face but it was not a risk to retaining normal physical or mental functions. Great.

I felt a slow trickle of relief as the initial rush of acceleration eased and I settled into a steady pace on the shoulder of the defending champion who had evidently elected to make himself the pacemaker. I could see on my screen that one pod had already crashed out, disappearing wildly off the pod’s radar as their name was dramatically scratched from the digital leaderboard. 11 of us remained.

With 499,000 miles to go, I spat my bloody gum shield out, checked my vehicles’ vitals across the panels in front of me and slowly began to settle my nerves.

The annual F Ring Endurance Grand Prix around Saturn had begun.