The original draft was written on an electric typewriter. It was a "fictionalization" of my earlier TRS-80 adventure game of the same name, which in turn was an adventure-ization of a creative writing assignment I wrote by hand in pencil way way back in fifth grade (1975-6). All spellings, punctuation, capitalizations, oddly Earthlike conditions and species in the solar photosphere, etc. are as in the original.
Of all the times to go crazy, why did Steve Fullman decide to do it on this mission? thought Herb. He always seemed like your average, well-bred American astronaut, and he always followed orders. So why did he want to take a first-hand look at the corona when he knew it would be suicide?
Herb hadn't been watching Steve when the event happened. He was too busy making everything perfect for the "landing", and was almost certain that Steve was just going about his normal duties. Suddenly, the red-alert sounded, and the warning panel indicated that the airlock had been opened prematurely. Herb immediately pushed the button that would close the airlock door, but by then it was already too late. As he opened the inner door, he could see the charred and partly evaporated airlock walls, the exposed fuel line, and the pin upon which Steve's B.T.A. suit had been hanging.
As herb readied to report this back to the command module still in orbit around the Sun, all he could think of was, 'drat.' There wasn't an ounce of emotion in his thought, while under these same conditions most men would've cracked. This was one reason why he'd been chosen as one of the first men to "land" on the photosphere of the Sun.
Most likely, Steve had taken the suit and tried to leave, hoping that its mere 10,000-degree heat shielding would protect him from the 1.5 million degree temperature of the middle corona. He probably didn't make it ten feet through the exit tunnel before being turned into some gas ready for contributing to some solar flare. That little excursion probably ate through ten feet of graphite on either side of the tunnel before Herb managed to close it. Why the boys at the lab made a sliding door that moved a quarter mile of hyperdiamond and a half mile of graphite, nobody was sure.
This mission would have been a complete impossibility if it had not been for the invention of hyperdiamond crystals. Some wild scientist about twenty years beforehand had what would have been considered a crazy idea - he made a diamond-like crystalline substance out of iodine molecules. That seemed about as plausible as making an airplane out of radioactive plutonium, but somehow it worked. The crystal structure was almost as strong as that of real diamond.
And it was a whole lot more temperature resistant. It was the most perfect insulator of high temperatures that was available. It was submitted to searing temperatures reaching as high as ten thousand degrees Kelvin, and was able to insulate an ice cube and have it emerge frozen from just such a test. This would be perfect for insulating solar satellites.
But the most remarkable aspact of hyperdiamond was its ability to be made extremely thin and flexible - almost like a rather coarse cloth. An airtight hyperdiamond suit was soon fashioned, and its user submitted to the same gruelling heat as the ice cube. The wearer didn't feel a thing.
In that day when asbestos had been outlawed due to its damaging effects on the lungs, hyperdiamond suits were truly a blessing - and affordable. And because of the old firemen jokes about doing "asbestos they could," the hyperdiamond fabric was nicknamed, "better-than-asbestos", or B.T.A..
But not even pure hyperdiamond could withstand the 1½ million degree wrath of the solar corona; however, it did help. A quarter mile layer of the stuff would certainly be sufficient to carry a spacecraft down through the corona, down to the feeble, 6000 degree photosphere. However, as Herb soon found out, this was not quite the case.
Herb went through the routine landing maneuvers, being advised continuously by Warren up in the command mod. In the expected amount of time, the capsule was down on the photosphere. Herb checked up on the instruments to see if anything had gone wrong, just in case Murphy was right. And it seemed he was right this time; the hyperdiamond shell that protected the capsule from the corona on the way down had been completely burnt through, and all that remained was the slowly evaporating half-mile of graphite in reserve for the trip back up. Hyperdiamond was cheap to come by, but the people over at NASA were just a little bit cheaper.
Not only that, but the sightseeing tour that Steve undertook was just enough to let the corona wear down on the fuel line, and allow a trace quantity of fuel to escape. This soon developed into a minor leak which, when unchecked, expended enough fuel so as to make the fuel level too low for any return to orbit.
Herb rushed back into the airlock chamber and patched up the leak on the pipe, then covered it with about an inch of hyperdiamond, the same thickness as the chamber walls. Herb knew he was in a real fix. There was no way the capsule could be returned to orbit under its own power, and there wasn't enough time for a rescue to take place. At the rate the hull of graphite was going, the capsule wouldn't last an hour.
There was no doubt in his mind that he was doomed to live the last of his life on his home planet's star. After the capsule had been melted through, only the hour-and-a-half of air in his own B.T.A. suit would support him, and then.... But his mission came first. If he was going to die here, he might was well let the Earth know what it was like to be the first man on the Sun. He liked that title - he would go down in the world's record books twice: as the first man to step foot on the Sun, and as the first man to die there.
He donned his miniscule B.T.A. suit. In his helmet was the usual dark screen which would protect him from the sun's glare, the small t.v. camera which showed the world what he was seeing, the radio transmitter which would let them hear what he was saying, and the radio receiver which would allow him to talk to both Warren and Houston (of course, a conversation with Houston would have a sixteen-minute delay between each line, but that didn't really matter to the people trained as surface explorers). Herb wanted to let everyone know what was happening, but he did not want to be interrupted in any moments of glory that might be his. Thus, he made sure that the receiver in his helmet was deactivated before he put it on.
He opened the inner airlock door, stepped into the partially charred airlock chamber, and shut the door behind him. Before he was to go outside, he had to be certain that the solar light wouldn't suddenly render him completely blind. Thus, just before he pushed the button that would open the outer "door", he pulled down his dark screen. For a moment, as he pushed the button, he was in total darkness. Then, the room began to fill with the sun's almost overpowering glare, which gave the room a yellow-orange appearance and was accompanied by the deep-seated rumble of the sun's internal fury.
His eyes quickly adjusted to the strange yet magically normal light, and he could see the nearly half-mile long exit corridor stretched out before him. Grabbing his hyperdiamong supply pack and strapping it over his back, he removed a little cylinder of some compressed gas which was supposed to be used for getting in and out of the capsule. He had practiced this maneuver several times before in an Earth simulator, and now he was ready to put his skill to the test in the sun's inappropriately triple gravity. He pointed the cylinder in back of him, and pressed the release button. All too quickly he was rushed out of the airlock room and down the long corridor, emerging on the other side in record time.
Using the small amount of propellant remaining in the cylinder, he eased his descent and broke the inertia of his fast exit. As his specially adapted hyperdiamond shoes came to rest on the photosphere, he mockingly announced, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.... How cliche!"
He opened his supply pack once he removed it from his back and began to search its contents. There was a second propulsion cylinder for re-entering the capsule the way he came in, a large set of markers that knew how to stay put on the photosphere, a dish antenna that could increase his com range with the capsule and - what was this - a bucket!? What was he going to do with a bucket, scoop up the waste helium or something? Well, it did have one thing in it; it contained a rather large homing dart, most likely the explosive type. No, this one wasn't quite so explosive as it was cold producing; it could freeze the object it hit from the inside out. What he would have to use it against was anyone's guess.
He reloaded and decided to set out on foot, however one was supposed to do that on the Sun. It seemed when he tried it that walking would work, but it was like walking through some kind of thick goo, not completely unlike the effect of taking a walk on beach sand. The roadside scenery was nice enough, and it was certainly a sunny day.
He had gone no further than thirty meters when he was stopped dead in his tracks by a rather small solar flare. It seemed to envelop him as soon as it erupted, probably because he stepped on some sensitive part of the photosphere. This was an annoyance, but judging from the structure and color of the flare, it was not a real problem. Herb just picked up his old pace, and walked right through the wall of fire.
It was then he noticed something peculiar up ahead. The photosphere is littered with lighter and darker patches all over, the darker regions sometimes being referred to as sun spots. But this region couldn't even be called "dark" it was so black. It was long and thin, almost like the old stories of the Martian canals. He decided to investigate....
As he came up to its edge, he noticed something rather peculiar about it. It wasn't just sitting there, or moving about randomly by solar interference; it was flowing off in one direction. He removed his supply pack once more and put the whole thing down into the stuff. An LCD screen on the side of one of the pack's built-in indicators read, "STEEL."
"A river of steel," Herb said, to let the world know about it. Playfully, he took out the bucket and scooped up some of the stuff. Somehow, he felt that this would be some sort of good luck charm; maybe it had a use.
But whatever someone did with a bucket of steel wasn't all that important to this mission. Herb proceeded to do what any self-respecting boy scout would do in a situation like this; he followed the river downstream.
What he saw near the end of this rather short stream could have caused the Bismarck to turn back. Herb simply stared in open-mouthed astonishment at this sheer impossibility. The sun was the last place Herb would ever think of to find any form of life!
The thing looked like sort-of a symmetric pig with some strange form of fins for feet. It obviously had its eyes in the right place, because when it turned its head in Herb's direction, it almost lept into life. It let out a sickening cry which sounded something like, "Gronk!" and then raised one hand in the air, pointing one of its longer fingers at Herb.
Suddenly, a silvery line sprang from the finger and headed straight for Herb's middle. Herb recovered from his shock and surprise just in time to dodge the thing, whatever it was. Herb saw the tip of the line hit the photosphere and become dissolved, indicating that this was most likely what he thought it to be - a weapon.
He took off his supply pack, and held it out in front of himself as he opened it. Once again, the pig hollered, "Gronk!" and let loose with a carefully aimed line. This time, the silver streak hit dead center on the pack, and made a rather small protrusion through it on one side before dying out. That thing could penetrate solid hyperdiamond as easily as a poking instrument could penetrate ordinary cloth! Think what it would do to B.T.A., besides letting the hole fry its wearer!
Herb quickly reached into the pack and pulled out the single homing dart he had taken out of the bucket. He pushed a small button on the back of the dart, took aim at the pig, and let it fly.
The pig tried sluggishly to evade the attack, but the fins on the dart curved its path in the strong solar wind, and closed in. The dart hit squarely, and as the pig let out its final "Gronk!," it was frozen. Soon, the 6,000 degree heat caused the frozen monster to crack and finally shatter.
"How that 'gronk' ever reached me through the solar rumble is anybody's guess," commented Herb. "Hmm ... I think I'll call that thing a Gronk gronk."
And then, he was off. He went treading along, merrily evading the tiny sunspots (step on a sunspot, break your mother's back) for about fifteen more meters, then his eye caught a hold of something else. As he approached it, it took on the silhouette of a human being - a ridiculous thing to see in an environment such as this. It was probably just some strange and deformed sunspot which his mind had identified first-hand as a person.
But as he got closer, his second impression gave way to his first. It was a human - most likely a man - and was human in every aspect except for his skin color. It might have been the color of the sun, or the dark screen of his helmet, but he appeared bluish-green. Well, he might have been Greek....
No, he wasn't. Upon close inspection, Herb found that with the only exception that the color coordination was all wrong, the man was as American as big business. And all this time, he never moved. His eyes followed Herb when they could, but the rest of him just stood at-ease with both hands slightly behind his back. Herb soon lost interest because of this, and began to continue on his way.
Suddenly, a voice rang in his ears: "Fuel?" It was a calm voice, containing about as much emotion as a computer. Herb nearly panicked, and frantically twisted his head inside his helmet to get a look at his receiver. It was shut off, just the way he had left it.
In disbelief, Herb slowly turned to face the bluish-green alien. once again, the voice sounded, but this time Herb saw the alien's lips synchronized with the sound: "Do you want fuel?"
Herb shook his head to recover from the shock. Why pass up an opportunity like this one? "Why, yes," he said, "I do need fuel. You see, I'm from a nearby planet, and -"
"Never mind that, I know. I have some fuel, if you need it."
"Yeah? Well, give it to me!" Herb was a bit over enthusiastic to say anything else.
"Not so fast -"
"Okay, then, PLEASE!"
"No, no, it's not that. If you want your fuel, you'll have to run a little 'errand' for me."
"Well, hurry up. What is it?"
"Go into our test model flight craft and shoot down the gronk gronk fighter."
How did he know about the gronk gronks? Were they his enemy or what? "Okay, okay, where is it?"
"That way." He pointed off in one direction, and in the distance Herb could see a small aircraft. "Now, go on, you want your fuel, don't you?"
Reluctantly, Herb trudged through the thick photosphere towards the little airplane. That alien, whatever he was, certainly had a rude temperament. "Kill it or you don't get fuel!" What a grouch!
He was at the airplane, and about to enter what can only be called the cockpit, when he became aware of an object in his left hand. He'd packed everything up in his supply pack, so what could be there?
As he opened his hand, he saw a very odd-looking card made of some high-temperature substance that resembled gold. The surface of it was smudged, but he could just make out the single letter "S". The fact that it had gotten there probably had something to do with the alien. If he had the power to read his mind and figure out his language, then teleporting a credit card into his hand wouldn't be all that difficult.
And why were the gronk gronks the enemy? Was he in the middle of some kind of war? Why, for all he knew, he could be fighting for the wrong side altogether! That first gronk gronk that attacked him back at the river of steel might not have been naturally hostile; it probably attacked him because he looked something like the alien!
But nevertheless, fuel was fuel, and he wasn't exactly ready to die for any causes just yet. He climbed aboard the flight craft and quickly studied the instrument panel. It consisted of three buttons: green, black, and orange. Herb looked down at the outer wrists of his B.T.A. suit and remembered the yellow buttons there, and what their purpose was. It seemed that his stay aboard the airplane would be color-coded.
He decided to try some of the buttons. He pushed the black one first, which caused a line of cold frost to shoot forth from the front of the craft. Next he tried the green button. This seemed to do a bit more, because as soon as he pushed it, he felt the whole craft surge forward and take off.
The lower corona was as gorgeous as he had remembered coming down from orbit. It looked lika yellowish aurora borealis with a few occasional breaks for sunspots. But soon another item came into place. It was built by someone, since objects that look like it did are never natural works. It looked vaguely like the craft he was flying now, only slightly larger and more maneuverable. The craft he was flying wasted no time in closing its range to what was probably its target, and suddenly, a mechanical voice rang in his ears: "Red alert."
The target immediately began to take evasive action. This was most likely the gronk gronk fighter he'd been told to shoot down. Once again, he pressed the black button and watched the line of cold race toward the target.
But the aim was slightly off. The enemy fighter was easily able to avoid the beam and let it go its own way. Herb looked rather puzzled at this spectacle. If there was no way he could manually control the craft, then how was he supposed to kill the enemy with such a lousy aim?
Then, he remembered the orange button. He pressed it, and immediately the same mechanical voice he had heard the first time intoned, "What is the password?"
"Password?" announced Herb. "What password?"
"Wrong" intoned the voice.
Herb could have strangled that machine for that last line if he had not remembered that the computer wouldn't need to think more accurately than any of his own. On a spurn of intuition, he looked down at the "S" on the card, and pushed the orange button again. And again the voice intoned, "What is the password?"
"S," said Herb.
"Wrong," said the voice.
Drat! What could that password be?
Suddenly, the fighter he was attacking altered its course and came head-on towards Herb. He sucked in quickly, panicked and not willing to breathe. He could only hope that the built-in guidance system aboard the aircraft would evade the attack.
Fortunately, it did. The aircraft swerved just in time to miss a ball of matter launched from the fighter, which had already begun to swerve on its own accord. It was coming around for another pass. Frantically, Herb pushed the black button.... Again, no bronzer.
In desperation, he tried something the logical left half of his brain would probably never have thought of; he rubbed the gold card over the smudge. Briefly, the full word printed on the card appeared: "Srill."
Once more he pushed the orange button. The voice questioned him as before, but this time he quickly answered with the same word as that on the card - "Srill"
The mechanical voice intoned, "Sadar tracking activated," whatever that meant. But whatever the voice said, the enemy fighter was closing in fast. Herb had no time for an alternative; he simply pushed the black button in a vain hope.
And as Herb gazed out at the approaching fighter, he could hardly believably see the streak of cold connect with its target, freeze it in mid-corona, and shatter it into a zillion pieces. The Sadar tracking had done the trick.
Herb breathed a sigh of relief as he instinctively pushed the green button, which sent him back to the place where he had taken off. After the 40-second flight, he quickly departed and "ran" as fast as he could back to the alien.
"Ok," he panted as he arrived, "Where's my fuel?"
"Well," said the alien, evidently stalling, "I don't exactly have it with me right now."
"Well then, where is it?"
"It's in a nearby sunspot compartment."
"Well then, go get it!"
"I ... uh ... can't exactly do that. You see it's locked and I ... uh ... don't exactly have the key."
"WHAT? You mean to say that I did all that for nothing?!?"
"No, I don't mean that at all - the key's around ... someplace, but I'm not sure where. The gronk gronks evidently took it and hid it someplace. I think I saw them go off in that direction." He pointed his finger ninety degrees off from where the airplane was.
"Oh, brother," said Herb. "This is going to be like looking for a ... well ... a key on a star!" Nevertheless, he set out in the direction the finger had been pointing, since he was pretty sure he didn't have much time left.
As soon as he had gone about thirty-five meters, he was stopped short and taken aback by a sudden solar flare. This one was huge, and it seemed to stretch like a wall forever on either side. Herb was pretty sure he hadn't gone far enough to get the key, so he had to find a way through that thing. Looking at it intently, he found its weakest point, and himing his entrance perfectly, stepped through the wall of whitish fire. This was a hotter flare than before.
After about ten more meters, his eye caught a glympse of something blue-green. He turned around, expecting to find an alien humanoid, but instead saw a rather large creature that looked almost like a boa constrictor except for the color and the large tail fin which propelled it. The thing was just going about its merry way, taking no notice of Herb. Having seen talking alien humanoids and killer pigs, the sight of a snake didn't easily disturb him, so he just shrugged it off and continued in the direction he was heading.
He didn't know how he was going to find a key, or where it would be hidden, and thus he kept having the recurring idea of just giving up; if his life hadn't depended on it, he probably would've. Just then, he stumbled on something not too far below his feet. He reached down, and pulled up what could've only been a cut and polished diamond; but it was definitely a hyperdiamond diamond, and had a strange imperfection in its center.
Herb examined the item more closely. It was only about eight cm in diameter, and was just cheap hyperdiamond, but something about the imperfection puzzled him. As he turned the diamond in different directions, he could see why he was so interested; the imperfection was in the shape of a key!
This was obviously what he'd been looking for. It looked just line any ordinary nineteenth-century key made by humans, so why it was on the sun Herb couldn't say. Nor could he say how he was going to get it out of the hyperdiamond it was encased in. Reaching into his supply pack, he took out the hard hyperdiamond bucket (which was still full of the liquid steel) and proceeded to whack the hyperdiamond against its side. As Herb had expected, the hyperdiamond wasn't even chipped; it would take a lot more force than that to break the second hardest substance known to man.
Leaving logic behind, he began looking around for any possible thing that might help him break it. What was he going to find, a diamond cutter? He felt around with his hands, he looked off in the distance, and he even examined his body, which was where he came across the two yellow buttons on each of his wrists. They were the one-way release switches that allowed a stream of cold, twenty-five degree (Celsius) air to leave the index finger of their respective hand. Herb remembered what cold had done to the gronk gronk and the enemy fighter, so maybe now ...
He set the thing down lightly on the photosphere, and aimed his left index finger at it. As he got it lined up along his line of sight, he pushed the yellow button and watched the streak of bluish-white frost strike the diamond square. After about one second, he released the button, since he didn't want too much internal temperature to escape; or rather, he didn't want too much outside temperature to get through the factory-designed "one way" valve.
As he picked up the piece of "ice," he could feel the brittle pieces of hyperdiamond crack off even through his B.T.A. suit. He pulled his arm back, and let it swing at the side of the bucket that he still had out. In only an instant, the hyperdiamond had shattered away, and the key remained.
Proudly, he slipped the key into one of the pockets on the suit. He hadn't much time left, so he simply put on the still-open supply pack, grabbed the bucket of steel, and headed off back towards the alien at a rather fast clip. As he had expected, he soon came back to the wall of solar flares, but now the appearence of the wall had changed. There was no longer any thinnest or weakest part; it was all one big towering wall of white-hot fire, too high temperature for the suit to handle. Thinking instinctively, Herb tried to put out a part of it with a ray of cold from his right finger; that didn't work at all.
He had to use something relatively cold that would cover a large area. If he were on Earth, dousing it with water would probably do the thrick, but he was on the sun.... So a bucket of steel might work! Of course!
He took up the bucket of steel in both hands, and put it in the old familiar throw-water-on-the-clowns position. Pushing it forward in an all too Earthly motion, he let the liquid steel splash out and hit the solar flare near its bottom. In a split-second, the steel had become steam, and the flare in that one place subsided. Taking to his feet as quickly as possible, he sped through the gap, which filled up with fire once more about two seconds after he was through.
"Well," said Herb after he returned to the alien, "Here's your key, now where's my fuel?" He spoke hastily, anxious about the status of his space capsule.
"All right. Come with me." The alien spoke lethargically and walked in that fashion as well. Herb wanted to hit him over the head with something; by the time he returned to his capsule it might be too late, at the rate they were going.
The humanoid led Herb to what looked to be a rather large and bulgy sunspot, covered at one end with a ridiculous facsimile of a vault door. Taking the key, he inserted it into what could only be called a keyhole, and unlocked the big metallic door, which was probably a non-metal since it could take the heat. Behind the door was a meter-long cylinder of what was apparently transparent hyperdiamond about an inch thick, inside of which was a concentrated log of solid fuel.
The alien spoke diffidently. "Er, could you ... uh ... reach in there and get it?"
"Why can't you get it?"
"Because it's too cold in there!"
Well, at least he was speaking the truth. A sunspot is only some five thousand degrees kelvin, compared to the balmy six thousand degrees of the normal photosphere. Reluctantly, Herb replied, "Oh, all right!", reached in, and pulled out the rather weighty cylinder, holding it under his right arm after he had done so.
Quickly, the alien closed the vault door and resumed an upright standing position. He looked almost hypnotized, and Herb would probably have left right then if he didn't notice something rather peculiar happening to the alien; his body, rigid as it was, was changing form. Within the space of a few seconds, the alien looked exactly like the snake Herb had seen while getting the key.
Herb was awe-struck at this spectacle, not so much becuase the creature had polymorph abilities, but because of the way the creature looked at him and felt to him. Nobody face to face with something like this would call it "snake" in their right mind. Herb could tell now that this was an emotional creature with just as much compassion as the next man, and that the humanoid form he took on was only glib because it was a computerized, basic copy of himself.
For the last time, the creature spoke to him in the same computerish voice it had before, but this time the creature's mouth didn't move. The mouth of the humanoid had only been synchronized to the telepathic messages for a human-like quality. "Goodbye," the single word came.
The snake sank down into the photosphere, and emerged ten seconds later and some five meters away, swimming away from Herb as the first snake had done. "Darn it!" Herb said to the listening world. "I wish it had never left!"
It seemed amazing how his opinion of a whole being could change so dramatically in such a short amount of time, but it had happened before, several times, with some people he barely knew. By nothing on this mission as much as this had one event made him think so deeply. In fact, he nearly forgot that the mission was not yet over....
About a minute later, he snapped out of the deep state of thought and panickingly remembered the dissolving spacecraft. Snapping his fingers, he dashed off in the direction the pack was pointing; another built-in device was an arrow indicator of the direction of the space capsule.
Running as fast as he could through the photospheric goo, the silhouette of the capsule finally came into view. Within a half minute of worn-out panting and gasping, Herb finally came upon its entrance. Pushing a white button on the supply pack, he waited impatiently for the sluggish door to open. As soon as it was opened wide enough, Herb took out the second entry/exit thrust cylinder and positioned himself on the doorway, which was a bit of a cumbersome task with a log of fuel.
Frantically, he pushed the activator button, and let himself fall through the long hallway, which was now less than a third of a mile long. Near its end, he flipped the cylinder around to act as an air-brake so that he wouldn't crash into the wall of the air-lock chamber. As he came to a dead stop, right-side up of course, he lamely walked over to one wall and pressed the badly discolored "red" button.
The floor felt a bit strange beneath his feet, having walked on a cushion of hot gas for so many minutes. As the door closed, Herb was aware, for the first time since he left the capsule, of the rumble coming from the sun; the door was causing the continuous sound to diminish.
As soon as the door was closed, and the rumble replaced with a psychological ringing, Herb pulled up the dark screen to let some light in. The blue of the shielded fluorescent lights hurt his eyes, having been so adapted to yellow-orange for the last half-hour or so. As soon as the hot hydrogen of the solar wind was pumped out and replaced with cool oxygen, a barely-audible "bleep" sounded, and the inner door was opened.
Herb stepped out and removed his hyperdiamond helmet. The noiselessness of the inside of that helmet was suddenly broken with the continuous "chugging" of the capsule's internal mechanical systems, such as the air conditioner and a few on-board relays. Herb quickly removed the B.T.A. suit, which by this time was beginning to feel scratchy. He gave his body a quick rubbing, and then sat down to examine the solid fuel given him.
Somehow, the fuel was of the right size and shape to fit in the fuel line, but it was still encased in cumbersome hyperdiamond. Examining the case closely, Herb found what had to be the opening hatch, and pried it loose. The log slid easily out of the opened end.
It was even the right type of fuel for the engines! Those aliens were something else. Thinking quickly, Herb opened the little internal hatch that allowed access to the fuel compartment, and inserted the log. It slid in, and was accepted by a loud "clank!"
He closed the hatch, and turned on the in-module transceiver. Gallantly, he said, "This is landing mod to command mod - I'm ready for launch!"
"Roger!" came the reply. "We read you - loud and clear! Start your countdown immediately!"
Herb typed in a short command to the computer, and an onboard "honk" confirmed it. "Rogerenie," said Herb, "Count down started at T minus twenty seconds."
He watched the green glow of the computer's CRT display as the hundreds of numbers and letters routinely shown were replaced with giant numbers in low-resolution square graphics, an idea thought up some time ago to make the count down easier to watch. As herb carried out the last of the pre-launch checks, he could feel the capsule come to life once more, for the last time.
The count reached five, and at that point Herb knew that the engines were ignited. He could feel the ship begin to rock and groan, and finally let its sideways motion give way to the vertical rumble of a takeoff. As the timer reached zero, the capsule lifted slowly off the photosphere.
About half way through the corona, Herb knew that he was going to make it out all right. He simply sat back, thinking of all the strange and wonderful things he had seen and had been a part of. He remembered the snake alien, and wished he would come and visit Earth someday. Wouldn't that be strange - a B.T.A. suit to keep out the cold! Actually, the ideo wasn't too far-fetched.
And then his mind came across one of the oldest jokes about landing on the sun: "We're going to be the first people to land on the sun, but we won't get burnt up, because we're going at night."