Wednesday, November 25, 2009

nano post 51

Year Twenty Fifty Two

the storm was still blowing when Dejah awoke the next morning. “Day two,” she muttered, “and still stuck.” She got out of the makeshift bed, and began checking the walls. All of the seals seemed to be holding, and the pressure inside the tent kept it from collapsing, but she could tell that the dust had risen higher during the night. It was almost to her knee now.

The day was much like the one before it: a call to Bradbury Dome, trying to talk through the static and interference. Waiting, trying to keep her mind occupied. Dejah wished she could take the exploration suit off and do some basic stretches, but it was still too cold.

By the end of the day, she was singing songs to herself, nursey rhymes, even commercial jingles, anything she could remember. It didn't take long for her to run out of things to sing.

“I'm gonna go crazy here,” she exclaimed, throwing a used food container across the tent where it ineffectually slapped against the wall and fell to the floor.

She looked around the tent, and finally her eyes fell on her sketch pad. She couldn't think of anything else to draw, but perhaps she could write.

She pulled out a pen, and began to write.

“to whoever finds this diary. If you are reading this, then I probably died in the dust storm, or trying to reach the Phoenix...”

The weeks began to pass quickly, and the days fell into a familiar rythym. Wake early, go to the gym, do a quick workout, shower, head to the warehouse and word for a few hours, then to the cafeteria for lunch, back to the warehouse, one more trip to the gym, and then home for dinner.

Within tow weeks, Eduardo had built the first extrication simulation. He was eager to show it off, so Dejah, Kruiser, and Thomas followed him out to the exercise yard that he had used to recreate the first of several scenarios.

Dejah knew that many replicas of the Phoenix had been built for the team's use in training, but this was the first time she had seen any of them in person. There, buried in the dust, was a life-sized model of the Phoenix. The solar panels were snapped off, and only an edge or two of them peeked out through the dust. The camera assembly of the Phoenix was the only part free of the soil, though bits and pieces were visible under a heavy coating of dust.

It was a shock to actually see it, sitting there in the soil, she thought, even if you knew it wasn't the real thing. It looked tired, battered, and somewhat pathetic.

“Alright, this is extrication scenario number one, basic burial with dust. We're going pretty late in the year, and there's a chance that we'll see some carbon frost, but we should be there before the main freezing sets in. We'll just go with the dust for now, and worry about frost in a later sim.” Eduardo explained the basic terrain, pointing out features of the landscape that they would be likely to see if the Phoenix was still where it had last been seen.

Thomas drove one of the big rigs over. It had a crane on the back, capable of supporting several hundred pounds of weight. He unspooled a little of the cable, letting the hook on the end come down a few feet above the ground. “I need something to hook this onto,” he said.

Dejah looked at the lander, and shook her head. “We can't attach it to anything on here directly. That dust weighs too much, we'd snap it apart. We're going to need to dig it out, and slip a harness under it.”
“Can we dig it out, though?” asked Thomas, surveying the sand. “It looks like it will just slip back into any hole we dig.”

“Well, let's try doing a shallow dig around it, and just gradually pulling the sand back. The important thing is to get all the soil off of it—then we only need to dig under a small part to get the harness under it. We can hook the harness onto the crane to support the weight, and then dig the rest out.”

Dejah rummaged through the cargo compartment of the rig, and came back carrying three shovels. She, Thomas, and Eduardo started digging, carefully clearing the area around the Lander, and gradually pulling the dust away from it.

“You really think it will be buried this deep, Eduardo?” Dejah grunted as she tossed another shovelful of dust away from the lander.

“It's our best guess as to why the cameras can't see it anymore,” he replied, “since there's no tectonic activity to move it anywhere, and no dust devil is anywhere near strong enough to even budge it, much less pick it up and drop it somewhere else. It's gotta be there, just buried.”

It took nearly two hours to clear the Lander enough to pass a harness under it, and even that proved tricky. Since the top of the Lander was almost level with the ground, Dejah had to worm her way down into the pit that they had dug, and pass the harness under, where Eduardo grabbed it, and hooked it onto the crane cable.

“Ok, Thomas, take up the slack. Don't try to pull it out, I just want to make sure it's not going to slip further down as we dig the rest of it out.” Thomas nodded, and climbed into the cab of the rig. The crane creaked to life, and slowly began retracting the cable. It took up the slack, and as soon as Dejah saw tension on the harness, she waved to Thomas. “Alright, that's it! Lock it down, I don't want that to slip while we're under it.”

Dejah and Eduardo slipped down into the shallow pit and began clearing the dust from the lower parts of the Lander. Dejah ended up lying on her stomach, almost curled around the Lander, scooping handfuls of dust from under the Lander, trying to make sure that the underbelly and legs were free. Her face was covered in the fine red dust, and she sneezed, feeling it in her lungs, even through the breathing masks they all wore.

“I'm gonna need to change the filter on this thing soon,” Dejah grumbled, indicating her breather. “This dust is ridiculous.”

“I think we're almost there,” Eduardo commented. “It looks like the legs are clear.”

“Thomas, give us a little tension on the harness, I want to see if it can move freely or if we've got to dig some more. I'm not really crazy about the idea of trying to get under that thing to dig, but I'll do it if we have to.”

The cable spool turned slowy, and the Phoenix creaked as the harness tightened. The replica shuddered, then moved upward, free of the soil. Dejah couldn't restrain a small cheer.

“We did it!”

eduardo laughed, and patted her shoulder. “Yes, we did. Now I get to bury it again, and we get to do this all over again in a week, this time in our exploration suits.”

Dejah groaned. “I hate those things! I can't move in them at all.”

“Yeah, well, not moving much is a small price to pay for staying alive. And we're going to be in those suits when we go get the real Phoenix, so we've gotta learn how to do it now. But I want to give each exercise a run through in just the atmo suits, so we know what we're getting into before we tackle it in the full getup.”

Thomas leaned out of the window of the rig. “Hey, Eduardo, you want me just to lower this thing back down? Or do you want to bury it somewhere else next time?”

The dark haired man thought for a moment, then shook his head. “No, we might as well put it back here. I'll pick a different location for the next scenario, but this is fine for now.”

The replica was slowly lowered back into the pit, and Dejah could already see the soil sliding back in to cover the feet of the lander. The temporary feeling of victory had faded, and she just felt tired.

“Well, it looks like the sun's going to be setting soon, so we'd best get back to the buildings,” thomas commented, looking up at the sky. “It'll be cold soon, and I didn't bring a jacket.”

The others assented, and quickly climbed into the cab of the rig. The vehicle bounced and bump its way through the landscape until they came back to the warehouse.

As she stepped down from the rig, Dejah saw Kruiser waving to her. “Hey Kruiser, what's up?”

“Just gotta check out the rig. Standard procedure, checking over every rig that comes back from a day in the field. If any of that dust builds up inside, it can get nasty. You look like crap, you know.”

His directness made her chuckle, and she ran a hand through her hair, sending a fine mist of cinnamon dust to the floor. She could feel the grit under her nails, on her scalp, and in her mouth, and grimaced. “I haven't been on an exercise like that in years. I forgot just how much dust there really is.”

He nodded, and stuck the wrench he'd been carrying in a loop in his belt. “Yeah, there's a hell of a lot of it, and I've never seen a way of keeping it out. Myself, I kinda like it after a while. Gives everything a bit of texture. Still feels like living in a damn pepper mill after a while.”

She nodded, and suddenly felt the exertion of the day hit her all at once. “I don't know about the texture thing, but I'll try to keep it in mind. I know I wouldn't trade this”—she shook a line of dust out of a wrinkle in her shirt— “for all the moon dust in the world, or all of the sand on the beaches of Terra. But if I don't get home soon, I'm going to fall over. I'll see you tomorrow, Kruiser.” He nodded, and moved to open the hood of the rig.

Dejah walked slowly, trying to conserve energy. I must be getting older, she thought. Five years ago, it wouldn't have hit me this hard. She walked up the steps to her apartment, and unlocked the door.

She closed and locked the door behind her, and flicked the switch on the wall. The room was flooded with warm light, and she saw a stack of letters on the floor, where they lay under the mail slot on the door.

“Letters?” she muttered, confused. “Why not just comm messages?”

She picked up the stack and set them on the table to look at later. She pulled a thick robe out of the closet, and stepped into the bathroom.

Dejah sighed, as she peeled off her clothing, caked with dust and sweat. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, and snorted with laughter: her pale skin was streaked with bright red lines, dust that had caught and stuck to her body. I look like a tiger, she thought absently as she stepped into the shower.

The warm water relaxed away some of the tension in her shoulders, and she sighed as she felt the dust wash away. Looking down, she could see the red dust-filled water spiral away down the drain, where it would eventually find its way to the giant water recyclers in the city.

Dejah leaned backwards, letting the water flow into her hair and down her back, washing all the grit out of her hair. She scrubbed her scalp with her fingernails, feeling the sand slowly loosen and fall away.

When she stepped out of the shower and into the robe, Dejah still felt the exhaustion in every muscle, but a glow of satisfaction was beginning to set in. It had been a good day, she mused, a good exercise.

She grabbed the letters from the table, and curled up in the armchair to read them. She ripped open the first one, and pulled out a single sheet of cheap paper. A drawing, she noted with confusion. A red line had been drawn wobbling across the lower half of the page, and a stick figure stood atop it, with odd protrustions from the shoulders. Wings, she wondered, squinting at the image, or poorly drawn arms? A big yellow sun hung in the sky, which was a large blue scribble. In the far right corner of the drawing was a black boxy image which she couldn't make out at all. She turned the paper over, and saw a block of shaky handwriting on the back.

“Dear Dejah Sorenson,

I am Natalie Phillips. My class at Maxwell Elementary has adopted you as our person of the year, and my teacher helped up write letters to you. I hope you like my picture: it is of you and your glider, going to get the Pheenix. I hope you like it. We are all cheering for you! Love, Natalie”

Dejah set the paper down, feeling sudden tears spring to her eyes. There were really children following the mission, two years away? She looked for an address to write back, but saw none on the envelope. She made a mental note to have Nelson find out about the school, and reached for the next envelope. Another drawing, another letter, this one from a boy who informed her that he intended to come to Mars as soon as he got tall enough to pilot his parent's shuttle. The next was from another little girl who wanted to know how she kept her hair clean, and then another from a boy who offered to send her his best pocket knife to help dig Phoenix out of the dust. Finally, she found a letter from the teacher of the class, and read it eagerly.

“Dear Scout Sorenson;

My name is Emily Carson, and I teach a second grade class in Julian, California, on Earth. My class had great fun watching the announcement from Mars Heritage, and they were so disappointed when I told them that you wouldn't be going out to find the Phoenix for another two years. I couldn't stand the thought of seeing them lose interest in that time, so I asked them all to write to you now. It is my hope that by following your mission over the next two years—and you can be sure that we'll be tuning in to all of the scheduled classroom broadcasts—my students will maintain an interest in Mars and the further exploration of our solar system. We all know that you are very busy, so we don't expect any letters in return, but thank you so much for taking the time to read this.

With love from Earth,

Emily Carson”

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