Ibrahim Hadmani wandered through a door from the landing in his new house, and stepped into Erimem’s Egyptian villa… at least it looked like a villa. It was really an artificially constructed pocket universe but Ibrahim didn’t really care. As far as he was concerned, this was just Erimem’s home.
‘Erimem?’ he called. ‘Have you seen Helena?’
Two figures in bulky space suits lumbered out of the small room off of the living area in which Erimem’s time travel apparatus was housed.
‘What the hell?’ Ibrahim exclaimed.
‘Don’t get your knickers in a twist,’ a muffled voice said. The taller of the two figures twisted the helmet and lifted it from her head showing a flash of bright red through dark hair. ‘It’s us, Ibrahim.’
‘Andy?’ Ibrahim pointed at the shorter of the two. ‘So that’s…’
The other helmet twisted off and Erimem smiled at Ibrahim in a rather guilty manner. ‘Hello.’
‘Where have you two been that needed space suits?’ he asked. ‘Come to think of it, where the hell did you get space suits?’
‘Andy had the Habitat make them,’ Erimem explained.
‘It can do that?’ Ibrahim asked.
‘Yep,’ Andy confirmed.
‘Brilliant.’ A broad grin spread across Ibrahim’s face. ‘I may never have to buy clothes again.’
‘Skinflint,’ Andy said, reaching for a catch at the mid-section of the spacesuit.
On closer inspection, Ibrahim noted that the suits were considerably smaller than those he had seen astronauts wearing on TV. They were more flexible and looked a lot easier to move in. ‘So,’ he said. ‘What have you two been up to?’
‘Nothing,’ Andy said.
Ibrahim’s eye arched. He didn’t believe her. ‘Nothing?’
‘Nothing,’ Erimem confirmed. ‘Nothing at all… much.’
‘And it’s the ‘much’ that terrifies me,’ Ibrahim said sourly. ‘If Helena finds out that you two have been away exploring space, she’ll go…’
‘Will somebody help me get this bloody space suit off?’ Helena’s muffled voice said. A moment later she lumbered into the living area, still fully clad in her space suit. She saw Ibrahim and stopped. ‘Oh, bollocks.’
Ibrahim looked at the three of them. ‘Somebody really needs to tell me what’s going on.’
John Wilcox looked at the clock on his monitor and then looked around the rest of the European Space Agency’s Mars Rover Mission Control room. Only five of the thirty stations were manned, including his own. Everybody else was counting down to New Year. He glanced at the clock again. In one minute it would be the year 2021.
And he would still be at work.
A panel popped up on his screen. He has an incoming message from the rover Leonardo, currently on the surface of Mars. He hit the control to open the message. A small video opened on screen and he switched it to full-screen.
The rover had spotted something shining on the surface of the planet and was trundling towards it. The rover was painfully slow and had killed its camera for most of the journey towards whatever was catching the sunlight on that distant planet.
John had to fight hard not to hurry the video file on until he reached the object. Chances were it would be a rock that had been worn by the wind and showed some kind of crystal inside.
Oddly, though, as the rover approached, the source of the reflection seemed to be remarkably regular and square. The rover trundled forward until it finally stopped at a rock on which the object perched. John opened his mouth in shock. A small clear square he guessed about twelve centimetres square was propped on the rock. Inside was a picture of an undeniably human male face with the words DAVID BOWIE: LIFE ON MARS written beside him.
His shoulders dropped. Brilliant. A New Year prank by one of his colleagues. They must have recorded the gag with one of the test rovers in Arizona. He sighed and checked the clock. It was almost one in the morning. The prank had killed an hour at least – but he was damned if he was going to report it.
He reached for his earphones and scrolled through his playlist to BOWIE.
‘You left a David Bowie CD on Mars?’ Ibrahim looked horrified at the three women, who had changed out of their space suits and were now sitting comfortably in the couches in Erimem’s living area.
‘Yes,’ Erimem agreed. ‘I do not know exactly why Helena and Andy think it is funny but I think it is a good thing.’
‘It is,’ Andy said firmly. ‘One day, humans will discover Life on Mars – on Mars – and it’ll be by David Bowie.’
Ibrahim struggled to find the words. ‘I can’t believe you did that. What will scientists…’
Helena put a finger to his lips. ‘You’re very sexy when you’re annoyed, Mr Hadmani. Not as sexy as Bowie in a suit at Live Aid but still sexy.’
‘I give up.’
‘You are a wise man,’ Erimem said. ‘It is done.’
‘The man was an enigma,’ Andy offered in her most sage tone. ‘This felt appropriate.'
Helena offered a placating smile. ‘Don’t be annoyed, Ibrahim,’ she said. ‘It’s a god awful small affair.’
Andy pressed a button on a remote control and David Bowie’s voice took over from Helena. ‘To the girl with the mousey hair.’
Ibrahim looked at the three women. ‘You’re bloody lunatics, the lot of you.’ He turned and headed back through the door into his own house. As he went, a huge grin began to creep over his face and he started to sing to himself.
‘Is there life on Mars…’