"The Ray of Phobos" was a story printed in the second issue of The Twilight Zone comic published by Gold Key Comics.
Astronaut Matt Wayne has found himself in the middle of a barren desert with no idea where he was or how he had come to be there. With his oxygen in short supply, he sets out in the direction of tracks in the sand, in hopes of finding help. Matt Wayne would find help, but perhaps not the sort he had hoped to find.
Cast of characters
- Matt Wayne
- Lt. Knight
- Major Borkin
- Dr. Frazer
- Air Force officers (2)
"Morning! The fierce sun beats down on the vast reaches of an endless desert...For Matt Wayne this is the weirdest moment of his life..."
Matt Wayne awoke in the middle of a harsh desert, flat on his stomach, dressed in a protective suit with an oxygen pack on his back. He had no memory of his arrival at this barren place or how he had come to be in the spacesuit. He stood up and looked around. There were no signs of anyone else anywhere, aside from a trail of footprints that led off behind a distant rock formation. Wayne opted to follow the tracks in hopes of finding someone that could help him.
After walking for some time, he finally reached the rocks and upon passing behind them, found a crashed rocket! The lettering on the side of ship read: "OPERATION TRAIL BLAZER, U.S. EXPEDITION TO MARS!" Suddenly, Wayne's head is flooded with memories. He remembered that he had been in command of a human expedition to the planet Mars and assumed that he had lost his memory as a result of the impact.As he explored the ship, Wayne could not believe that the mission had been a solitary one and when he thought harder, he recalled that there had been others. He was comforted by the fact that he was not alone on this alien world, but he had no idea where they had gone. He checked the radio to see if it still was functional. First he tried to call home to the base on Earth, then to the other men. No response. Astronaut Matt Wayne was on his own again.
Wayne took a walk around the rocket, looking for clues as to where his crew might have gone. He found more tracks leading in the opposite direction of his approach, away from the rocket ship. He followed the trail for hours until he finally saw something. It was the crew's oxygen tanks! Wayne could not understand how the men could have survived in Mars' atmosphere without the tanks and feared the worst. He began to look for their bodies nearby. The tired traveler did not find the missing men, but he did find more tracks—only this time they weren't human! Wayne began to fear that his fellow astronauts had fallen prey to some unknown Martian creature that had dragged them off to its lair. He decided to follow this new trail. Maybe his men were—somehow, miraculously—still alive.The astronaut continued to track the alien beast—and hopefully his missing crew members—and finally came upon pairs of boots. Wayne knew that he was on the right track, but his oxygen levels had begun to diminish. As he walked farther, he began to lose his breath, forced to kneel and crawl to continue on. Finally, when he could no longer muster the strength to even crawl, he leaned himself against a large rock, certain this was his end. Then, he heard a noise. Next, he saw a shadow approaching—then three! In horror, he watched as a group of bulking brutes approached him, wearing his lost comrades' helmets! The weakened astronaut became sure that his crew had been killed by these hirsute, menacing creatures and they now had a similar fate in store for him!
The aliens did not harm him, however, but carried him to a nearby cave. Wayne demanded that his abductors tell him what they had done to his friends. To his surprise, the beast wearing Knight's helmet began to speak in English! Even more shocking—the alien claimed to be crewman Knight! The three brutish frames before him were not aliens, but the commander's lost companions, somehow transformed from average humans into barbaric beasts! The excitement and anxiety had quickened his breath and Wayne began to gasp for air as the last of his oxygen supply was depleted. The creature claiming to be Knight handed the crew leader an odd stone and instructed him to rub it with his bare hands. Desperately, he followed the directions and soon noticed that it had calmed him. He drifted off to sleep.
When he awoke, he was being dragged by the strange beings out of the cavern. He asked where he was being taken and was harshly commanded to be quiet. Knight told him that the time was near, that help would be there soon. Matt Wayne did not understand. The figures began to point toward the sky as Mars' Moon started to rise on the horizon. As the beams of light reached Wayne, he felt a strange sensation creep over his body. Suddenly, he realized that he could breathe once more! Moments later his strength returned as well. He somehow could now breathe in the Martian atmosphere!Though relieved, he still did not understand how the moon beams could have helped him the way that they did. Knight explained that scientists had long believed that Phobos was in actuality an artificial satellite launched by an ancient civilization. According to Knight's theory, this assumption was not only true but that the ancient people had used the invention to send a ray of light that would help their bodies to adapt to the Martian environment. This is what happened to the humans, too. Wayne began to realize changes in his own body by that time, changing to resemble that of his transformed crew. It was too much for Matt Wayne. He did not want to watch himself turn into a savage beast like his friends. He started to scream and ran off, repeatedly shouting that he would rather die than become a monster. He then amazingly took flight, flying away from his former crewmen into the sky of Mars. In his frenzy, the world spun around him and he became disoriented.
The next thing that Matt Wayne knew, he was lying in a hospital bed, attended by a nurse, a doctor, and Air Force brass. More bewildered than ever, he asked for an explanation. One of the officers handed him a newspaper with a headline that read, "Wayne lands after 50 orbits of Earth." He had never been on Mars at all! He had been part of a space flight to orbit the Earth. Upon return to the planet's surface he had been pulled unconscious from his capsule and brought to the hospital for treatment. He had suffered a mild hysteric reaction due to the stress he felt from remaining in Space for so long. All those events on Mars had only been a dream! This came as a huge relief to Matt.
He leaned back in his bed, thankful the nightmare had ended. Then, one of the Air Force officers told him that he had some good news. As a result of his relatively successful mission, the leadership had made the decision that Matt Wayne would be placed in command of Operation Trail-Blazer, the code name for their upcoming Mars expedition! His superior went on to introduce him to his flight crew: Lieutenant Knight, Major Borkin, and Doctor Frazer and the men from his dream! He soon began to question if it even was a dream, but knew it had to be. The story was too bizarre to have actually occurred—but could it be a premonition or all a matter of coincidence?
"It all happened months ago! But now as Matt Wayne prepares to lead the first expedition to Mars he is still plagued by his brief visit to the Twilight Zone!"
Notes and annotations
- The Trail Blazer rocket carried a NASA insignia. As of 2009, there have been no manned missions to Mars, but NASA plans still exist for the future.
- Phobos is the larger of the two moons orbiting the planet Mars and is named after the son of the Greek god Ares (Mars), a personification of fear. It was discovered in August 18, 1877 by astronomer Asaph Hall. This moon possesses many characteristics that makes it stand out amongst others. It is of an irregular shape, orbits its primary closer than any other planetary moon and is one of the least luminous bodies in the solar system. The positioning of the moon results in Phobos orbiting Mars at a speed faster than the planet itself. This causes Phobos to rise in the west and set in the east, roughly every 11 hours. The position also allows for the moon to cast a shadow onto the primary's surface as it transits in front of the Sun. Images sent to Earth from the Mars Global Surveyor have shown that Phobos is covered with a 100-meter thick layer of fine-grained regolith believed to be the result of impacts on nearby objects, but how an object with such a low degree of gravity was able to capture the material is unknown.
- Theories truly did exist in the 1950s which suggested that Phobos was an artificial construct. In 1958, Russian astrophysicist Iosif Samuilovich Shklovsky observed characteristics of density and speed which suggested a light, "thin sheet metal" structure for Phobos and led to speculation of an artificial origin. At the time, the theory was even advanced by prominent scientists of the day. Chief of Applied Mathematics at NASA in 1963, Raymond H. Wilson Jr., asserted that "Phobos might be a colossal base orbiting Mars," much as NASA itself had been considering building in Earth's orbit. S. Fred Singer, then science adviser to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, supported Shklovsky's theory and furthered it by stating, "[Phobos'] purpose would probably be to sweep up radiation in Mars' atmosphere, so that Martians could safely operate around their planet...there is little alternative to the hypothesis that it is hollow and therefore martian made." Singer did allow, however, for the possibility that the statistics gathered, on which the conclusion had been based, were in error. By the end of the next decade, more accurate measurements proved this to be the case and the artificial satellite hypothesis was proved inconsistent with the known facts.Subsequent investigations of Mars and its moons have led to the suggestion of a natural origin, potentially from an object such as an asteroid having been captured by the red planet's gravity. There are some who still favor the artificial satellite hypothesis rather than the more widely accepted natural theory, but it has come to generally be considered a fringe theory or historical novelty by modern science.
- Alberto Giolitti - Penciler, inker
- Ben Oda - Letterer
- Originally published in color
- Printed on newsprint, 11 pages
- Reprinted in Mystery Comics Digest 06
Notes and references
- Bob Klein and Mike Tiefenbacher. "The Twilight Zone no 2 (1962 series)." Grand Comics Database. Retrieved: June 23, 2009.
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