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The Sweepstake by Bob Lock
SUMMARY: The mission to Mars exceeds all expectations when "Beagle" returns with an alien artifact. A sweepstake on what the object is quickly ensues but the winner will wish he was wrong...
NASA COMMAND CENTRE — 09.16 May 6th 2009
"Looking good Doug, she should be re-entering Earth's atmosphere within seconds," Paul Scofield, the head of Beagle 6 Scientifics' team looked up from the monitor. Mission control was buzzing; everyone had come in to see the return of the little craft with its unique payload.
"Yeah, she's dropped the solar-collectors; they'll burn up in the ionosphere but Beagle herself is doing well. One last burn and she'll be in the ‘ball-park'. The Navy can pick her up within the hour. Then we can see what our little baby's brought us as a souvenir from The Red Planet," the NASA head of control, Doug Naylor replied.
Scofield unwound his long rangy body from the swivel chair and straightened his back with an audible ‘click', "When are you guys gonna get some decent seating in this place?"
"Hey! And waste valuable money on non-essential items!" exclaimed Naylor, a chubby, good-humoured Texan who looked more at home herding cows than corralling spacecraft returning from another world.
"Listen, when we get our hands on the ‘artifact' your funding problems will be over. People are going to be clamouring to get a piece of it. The publicity alone has guaranteed you another flight to Mars. First the remains of what looks like structures in that rift valley and then to top it all, this. Just imagine if it is what we think it is. Some remnant of a Martian civilization. People are going to go crazy. You'll have funding coming out of your damn ears!" laughed Scofield as he kneaded his aching back. Being tall was a burden when you were bent over a computer monitor for hours on end.
"You're right of course. But funding will always worry me though. If it wasn't for the European's sitting shotgun on this mission I don't think we would have done half as much as what we have."
"Yeah, who would have thought it? Twenty — thirty years ago, we had hardly any collaboration. ‘Space-race' just wasn't the word for it. Now we've got a Russian Soyuz three-stager, taking a British ‘lander', containing an American payload. The only problem now is how the hell are we going to share the proceeds? No one is going to want any Mars rock since Beagle picked up the artifact." Considered Scofield.
"Well, that's not my problem, thank God. The politicians can sort out that can of worms. My problem has just entered Earth's atmosphere; touch-down in the Pacific in a few minutes. Our puppy is back, Paul, and looks like she's brought us home a bone!" Naylor smiled, and thumped the scientist on his aching back.
"Thanks, Doug. I think you just pushed my slipped disc back into place."
MARS BEAGLE 6 RESEARCH CENTRE — 21.05 May 9th 2009
"You're burning the midnight oil," a voice said from the corridor and Paul Scofield looked up from his desk in the vast research centre complex.
"Hey! Hey! Dougie boy, what the hell you doing here this time of night? I thought only mad scientists kept this sort of hour!"
"Now's the only damn chance I've had to call in and see you.