BY: BONNIE VAUGHAN
She traveled millions of miles to Mars, only to be left behind on the ship…
Confined to a spaceship orbiting Mars in 2050, astrogeologist Morgan Zeller watches the main lander descend toward the red planet without her. Her disappointment would be less painful if the crew didn’t resent how she had ruined their mission. Because she turned up pregnant, NASA canceled their experiments so that Morgan can return to Earth before her child is born. But when the lander crashes, endangering the baby’s father, Medical Officer Randall Arnold, and her other crewmates, which include Randy’s ex-lover, Morgan takes off in the emergency lander to rescue them.
During the descent, she sees a mysterious flash of light in the Columbia Hills and later discovers alien artifacts there. Her discovery triggers a colonization race among countries that are fighting over territory on the moon. How can Morgan stop them from bringing war to Mars while she copes with pregnancy and a jealous rival?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Spaceborn by Bonnie Vaughan Morgan Zeller’s entire life changes the blink of an eye and in ways she never imagined. Her best friend Sandi is lying in a hospital bed and there is only 3 hours before launch of the spaceship to Mars. The flight would not/could not be delayed. So Morgan did the only thing she could do, she took her friend’s place on the mission. But would the crew give her a chance? Would they accept her as part of the team?
Randal Arnold was still in love with Morgan. The problem is that she didn’t know how he felt. After all it was just one night, but now they were going to Mars. How could he possibly keep his feelings in check and the relationship professional and yet be so close to her every day? But there are a few more little secrets no one was expecting that could jeopardize everything they had all worked so hard for and could tear Randy and Morgan apart forever. And only one person who can save them—Morgan. Spaceborn is a page-turner and I enjoyed it very much.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Spaceborn by Bonnie Vaughan is a fast-paced, hard-hitting, science fiction suspense/thriller. The story revolves around Morgan Zeller, an astrogeologist, who is pregnant and doesn’t know it. The space-program doctor, for reasons of his own, doesn’t tell her and allows her to board a spaceship on its way to Mars. The baby’s father is also among the spaceship crew, though when Morgan finds out she’s pregnant, she doesn’t tell him. She doesn’t know how he will take the knowledge that their one-night stand had unforeseen consequences and she also does not want to ruin her career. When Mission Control finds out that Morgan is pregnant, at first, they fear for the baby’s life and want her to come back home. So they cut the mission short. Then Morgan finds alien artifacts on Mars and Mission Control suddenly wants her to stay there and complete the mission. It seems the alien artifacts are more important than the lives of the crew or Morgan’s unborn child.
I found Spaceborn not only interesting but educational. For instance, it had never occurred to me that when someone bleeds in zero gravity, you have to vacuum up the blood. So I’m impressed. Vaughan obviously did her homework. The plot is exciting and intriguing and the book is hard to put down.
Cameras flashed around the crew like lightning on an angry sea. Morgan Zeller stepped behind the van to avoid them. Instead, she found Sandi Kapoor talking to a Latina reporter. The reporter was dressed in a black suit jacket and matching slacks despite the murky Florida heat.
Net and cable cameras surrounded Sandi, yet even in her spacesuit, she radiated confidence. Her salt-and-pepper hair, pulled tightly back, contrasted with those hazel eyes of hers, which were so light that they were almost golden.
She placed a hand on Morgan’s shoulder and gave the reporter a grin that was more genuine than any of the other astronauts could conjure when dealing with the press. That was only one of the reasons Sandi was their poster child.
“Jamison Robles, this is Morgan Zeller, an astrogeologist who is part of my ground crew,” she said. “Morgan discovered an unknown substance in samples returned from the last Mars mission.”
If only they could skip this part, Morgan mused. As soon as the astronauts rode off in the van, she could go work at her station in the control room.
A cameraman moved closer to Sandi, next to Jamison. His face wore an expression of unwarranted anger, unlike any Morgan had seen since the day her grandparents died.
“You’re a mission specialist on the next crew, aren’t you?” Jamison asked her. “I just read your bio.”
The cameraman stepped nearer. Again, Morgan flashed back to the day of her grandparents’ murder.
“I need to talk to you for a minute,” she told Sandi. “Now!”
“We can talk later.” Sandi shot her a warning look. Humor the reporter, it said, but this was no time to humor anyone.
“I mean it,” Morgan said, her voice rising in pitch and volume.
The man took another step, his expression blank now. Mindless.
“No,” Morgan yelled and grabbed Sandi’s arm.
The silver Astrovan door opened for the crew’s traditional ride to their spaceship.
Sandi shook her head. “Let go of me,” she said. “You know I’ve got to leave.”
The man jerked the back of his camera open.
“Take cover,” Morgan shouted, and pulled Sandi away as hard as she could.
Hot air flashed around them, shoving Morgan off her feet. Amid raining debris, her back slammed the ground. A boom filled her ears, pinning her to the asphalt. Screams drew her into blackness.
Where was Sandi?
Slowly Morgan sat up, her aching back and arms resisting each movement. Her ears rang. Microphones and helmets littered the ground around the Astrovan. A detached hand about two meters away grasped a camera strap. Next to her, Sandi lay in a bloody spacesuit.
“Sandi? Oh, God.”
The only answer was a moan. She lay without moving, eyes closed, breathing too quickly. Morgan had to get help.
“What happened?” It was the reporter. What was her name? The sleeve of her jacket was completely torn off, and her arm bore a deep gash. She spoke as if in a daze. “What should we do?”
“Get a doctor,” Morgan said. “Right away.”
“I’ll try.” The reporter, whose name she could no longer remember, limped past the van, its wheels stripped of tires.
Sandi’s breathing changed to irregular gasps. Lifting her chin to open her airway, Morgan reached for her wrist. A thready pulse beat against her fingers.
All around her people called for help. She couldn’t see the reporter anywhere. She reached into her pocket, but her hand shot straight through a hole in the fabric. So much for trying to find her phone.
“Emergency,” she yelled, jumping up. “Randy!” Why had she called to him? After that one intimate night together, he was the last person she needed help from. “Koll,” she cried out. “Koll, please. We need a doctor over here!”
Ringing filled her ears, the light dimmed, and she lost her balance. As she fell next to Sandi, darkness enveloped her again.
In a bed at the Kennedy Space Center clinic, Morgan waited to be released. Her head throbbed, and her body still felt sore. A few bandages covered her cuts. The wall clock read fourteen hundred hours, three hours before launch. Why was she still here? Her CT scan had shown only a mild concussion. She had to find out if Sandi was all right and then get to her station before Pax took off. Had they delayed the launch to replace Sandi with Basheer?
“Time for you to get dressed, Zeller.”
She looked up into the unreadable face of Timon Brown.
He looked official in his tan summer suit, but he couldn’t hide that nervous twitch in his right eye. Not good that the director of the program had time to visit her during the final countdown.
“Didn’t mean to startle you.”
“You could have knocked.” Director or not, he deserved that.
“I tried. You were asleep. And, yes, before you ask, Sandi is going to be fine.”
“What about the rest of them? And what happened? An explosion?”
“Unfortunately. A suicide protestor used the old camera-bomb trick. Without your warning, Sandi would have died. Good work.”
She shuddered. “The cameraman moved too close to us, and he looked like he was ready to kill someone.”
“He managed to kill only himself, but eleven people have serious injuries.” Timon looked at his hands, his eye twitching faster. “Unless you’re in too much pain, you should get up now. I need you to attend a meeting in two hours.”
“But what about the countdown and launch?” She swung her feet over the side of her bed and fought nausea. “How long do we have to delay it?”
“Do you want to go on Pax?”
“Pax Three? Of course, I do.” She wasn’t ready to stand just yet. “I wanted to discuss the next mission with you, but it can wait.”
He put a hand over his eye. “I mean Pax One.”
“What? Why?” Panic tightened her throat, making her voice sound higher. “You told me Sandi’s all right.”
“She’s in the hospital, with damage to her internal organs, but thanks to you, she’ll recover. We need you to take her place, Zeller. Can you be ready in a week?”
“Just a week?” Chills shot up her spine, but she didn’t dare move. This opportunity was at Sandi’s expense. Thrilled as she was, she couldn’t do more than nod. “Yes, I can be ready.”
“The plan is to put her in your slot for the next flight.” Timon looked at the clock as Morgan tied the lower string of the gown tightly behind her waist. “Do you agree?”
“Of course,” she said. “But I haven’t gone through the mission training. What about Basheer? Isn’t he Sandi’s official backup?”
“He filled that slot only because you were still in basic training on the moon. With his father so ill, he’d rather not leave Earth at this time.” He held his palms out, as if welcoming her to the team. “We need you to keep the program going, Zeller. You have more online followers than anyone else at NASA, and after Sandi, you’re the top astrogeologist on the planet.”
Second in the world? “Who decided that?” she asked.
“Glad to hear you sounding like your old self.” He stood and walked to the door. “Be at the Beach House at sixteen hundred to meet with the Pax crew.”
She would have answered, would have tried at any rate. But he was already gone.
Her mind raced with training plans. There was no way she could practice even the basic procedures in a week. She’d have to decide which tasks to do now and which ones she could do later on the ship. The mission team was probably making task lists for her already. This was going to be far different than the first mission she had envisioned. Already out of control, it could be a failure if she didn’t learn her job fast.
What would the rest of the crew think? They’d spent two years preparing for the trip. Her lack of training would cause resentment. What about Randy? He was supposed to have been a one-night stand, but now, he would be her doctor as they traveled together in a small ship with six other people.
First, she needed to get dressed and let everyone who mattered know she was leaving. She pressed the speaker button on the room phone and then spoke a number as she retrieved her white pants and pale green shirt from the tiny closet. Adrenaline filled her with energy.
“Hello,” a cheerful voice answered.
“Mom,” she said. “I’m going to Mars.”
© 2013 by Bonnie Vaughan