This concept was one of six finalists in the 2012 Fresh Voices Pitch Competition.
Working Title: Sun Flower
Location: Deep space, mid-way between Earth and Mars
Travel between Earth and Mars is now routine, even mundane. The moon is an artist’s colony populated by rich dilettantes and environmental zealots. Mars is a largely uninhabited desert that accommodates a massive, sprawling nuclear test complex that has become critical to Earth’s survival. Earth has long since depleted its own resources and relies on Mars for its survival. In the red planet’s vast desolation, facilities too dangerous to exist on Earth produce extremely powerful, concentrated isotopes that fuel the nuclear power plants back on Earth.
The isotopes produced on Mars are transported to Earth in an inter-space caravan that shuttles back and forth between the two planets.
Fueled by the same isotopes that make life on Earth possible, the shuttles make an 8-month round-trip between the two planets - hauling supplies to Mars and returning the precious isotope to Earth. Because the isotope is so radioactive that only small quantities can be transported on any individual journey, hundreds of shuttles run continuously.
A typical shuttle resembles a weightlifter’s dumbbell, except these dumbbells have grossly miss-matched ends. On one end a tiny globe houses the crew. At the opposite end a much larger pod houses the isotope shrouded by considerable shielding. The two ends are separated by a long, narrow, rigid tube. The shuttle design is supposed to isolate the crew from the radiation. In practice, the design just prevents them from dying sooner than later. After a few trips the shuttles themselves become highly radioactive.
The shuttle drivers are known as Lukes since over their short careers they accumulate significant radiation poisoning leading to various forms of leukemia and grisly deaths. To induce people into a job that is virtual suicide, Lukes are paid extremely well. Despite or perhaps because of the danger, driving a dumbbell attracts quite a few men and women - outliers who do not fit into the rigorously ordered societies on Earth.
Half-way between Earth and Mars is the Sun Flower, a space station so named for the splay of giant solar panels – each the size of a football field - that radiate from one end of a mile-long cylinder. The Sun Flower is a wide-open “town” that provides for the needs of the Lukes with a hotel, a brothel, an extreme sports arena, and a high-stakes casino. On the Sun Flower, shuttle crews experience a temporary reprieve from the boredom of the Earth-Mars journey. with booze, sex, gambling, and various novel ways to taunt a quick death in lieu of the inevitable slow one that comes from driving a dumbbell.
One day the communications from Mars cease. The isotope shuttles don’t return. Cut off from their energy supply, Earth begins to degenerate into chaos. Military teams sent to investigate Mars are never heard of again. Soon communications from Earth cease. The inhabitants of the Sun Flower are marooned in space. Isolated, they must discover how to survive on their own.
© Stephen Rustad, 2012