|It was the year 2031. Nothing much had
changed, really. Technology was faster, more
sophisticated and cheaper, and people still didn't know
how to program their videos. Something new and incredible
was being done with microchips every day. They'd figured
out how to give everyone on the planet affordable Web
access, and if they could just figure out how to give
them all affordable food, the human race had a real
chance of going places.
The Middle East was still a powderkeg and nobody would back down over Northern Ireland. More significantly, McDonald's was in real danger of reaching the critical mass of hamburger restaurants, and were about to begin their plan to diversify into pizza. Talentless saps still ruled the music charts. And everyone was still burning up the world's increasingly precious oil stocks like there was no tomorrow.
But on the space exploration front, NASA was kicking arse. Although they'd developed computer graphics simulators so realistic they could virtually just simulate all their missions instead of actually conducting them, they knew that if anybody ever found out, the government would want all the money back. So they kept on sending up rockets.
In 2012, one entrepreneur had even organised a civilian excursion onto the moon. A kind of moon picnic for anyone who could afford the astoundingly expensive fare. It had been a bit of a disaster though - halfway to the moon somebody had pressed the wrong button, and the hundreds of sandwiches had gone flying off into space. Everyone had got back safely, but boy were they hungry when they touched down. Nobody had tried that since.
A manned mission to Mars had finally gone ahead in 2015. It had proven beyond all doubt that there really were no little green men - not that we should discount the existence of red dust creatures or something equally improbable and not perceptible to man. After this, NASA started to look towards Venus for the next mission.
Unmanned craft had dropped in before, but they had been so primitive that they provided little information, and certainly nothing as juicy as the kinds of pictures they'd got from Mars.
Another, more sophisticated, unmanned craft arrived to take a look around in 2023, but all it had managed to find was the kind of visibility that a blind man with a blanket over his head might find in a sand storm. It was not a nice place to be, and the unmanned craft, rather woefully lacking in the heavy-armoured-protection department, had all its useful scientific and communication bits ripped apart within minutes by the force of the particles flying around in the atmosphere. Since getting a service technician out there to repair the thing was trickier than getting a plumber on a Sunday, they had to abandon the mission.
But NASA was determined to try again. They wanted to know what was down there on Venus. If they could get some good information on it, they'd be able to argue for funding for landings on the rest of all the planets. Heck, at this rate they could have the solar system wrapped up by the end of the century.
So they began their search. A search for someone who would go down onto Venus, go down to that coldly desolate unforgiving dump of a planet. Someone who would risk a lonely death for the glory of science, for the glory being the first onto a new, if extremely crappy, planet. A search for The Stupidest Man Alive.
Actually, it would be a search for the Two Stupidest Men Alive. A crew of two, the experts reasoned, would stand the best chance of survival. They could help each other if there was any trouble. And they could play chess and Scrabble during the voyage to keep each other sane.
The scientists decided they wanted men, and men only, for the mission. Not because they were worried about their female astronauts' physical or mental ability to perform the mission. But because they suspected that any woman with any sense would realise it was practically a suicide mission. No, this mission was to be powered by testosterone.
- The Year 2031
Copyrightę1998 Daniel Bowen