Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nano post 52

The next day, Dejah called Nelson as soon as she got to work.

“Hey Nelson, I just got a packet of letters from some kids on earth. Do you know anything about that?”

“I believe that any fan mail you receive would come through this office, so I'm sure we have a record of it somewhere. Why?”

“I'd like to send them something in return. I don't think I have anything extra in my budget though, and it would take me a little while to save up the leftovers from my stipend. I thought you might have some ideas.” She stuck a finger in one ear in a futile attempt to block out Eduardo's blaring music.

“I don't know, I'll have to check into it. I know we'll have some promotion items when the departure gets closer, but I don't have much at the moment. I'll let you know. How old are the kids.”

“Second graders.”

“Ah, I have a daughter about that age. I'll see what we can do, Ms. Sorenson.”

“Ok, thanks!” She closed the comm and stuck it in a pocket. “Ok, Eduardo, you're still working on resetting the extrication scenario right?”

He nodded. “Yeah, it'll probably take me a couple of days to get it completely reset. I figure a week's prep for each initial scenario, and minimum three days for each reset.”

“Thanks. Thomas, how are you coming along with the simulators for the rigs?” Dejah turned to the large quiet driver.
“We're almost there, for the first couple of sims anyway. I was able to take some existing programs and add in the variables we need, but there are a few tricky parts that have to be coded manually. I should be done by Monday, though.”

Dejah nodded. “alright. In that case, let's plan for another extrication exercise on Monday, and follow it up on Tuesday and Wednesday with rig sims. Sound like a plan?” the two men nodded, and quickly went back to work on their individual projects.

“What about you, Dej?” Eduardo asked as he pulled on a breather in prepration for directing the resetting of the extrication ground.

“I think I'm going to sign out one of the small rovers, and clock some time on the obstacle course. I want to try to spend at least one day a week on the course: I haven't really driven these since my exploration courses at the University, and I need to brush up on my skills.”

“I hear you there. See ya tomorrow!” he said with a wave as he started the rover and roared off into the exercise yard.

Dejah scanned her ident badge into the reader next to the rovers, and pulled her exploration suit from one of the nearby lockers. In a moment, she'd snapped her helmet into place and was driving off towards the obstacle course. She drove the rover slowly through an airlock, and found herself out on the open Tharsis plateau. She followed the dirt path that had been pointed out to her, and soon found herself looking out across a miniature Mars: it seemed as if every type of terrain that Mars offered was represented. Cliffs and a canyon on one side, flat hard packed dirt plains on another, various different mixes of gravel, sand, and dust all over. The course looked as if it stretched for several kilometers; Dejah looked over the whole thing for a minute, then decided to start out on one of the simpler courses, a flat expanse of hard packed dirt, with a few flags to serve as turn markers. She could see dust clouds from several other rovers on the range, and wondered what other missions might be in preperation. An attendant drove up on a battered rover, and asked to see her ident. As it was scanned, he smiled, and greeted her.

“Getting in some driving time? That's a good idea—you wouldn't believe how many people assume that because they've driven a rover before, they'll know how to drive it under all conditions. We encourage our scouts to get as much rover and rig time out here as they can.”

“that's the idea,” Dejah agreed, checking the seals on her suit one last time. She gunned the motor once, then sent the rover rolling over the terrain. The rover only had a top speed of forty kilometers an hour on good terrain, but they were rugged, and their low bodies and large wheels enabled them to go over much more rugged terrain than ordinary transports.

Dejah drove in simple slaloms around the flags for the first few rounds, testing the soil and gearing up her reflexes. Then she circled around to the beginning of the course and ran it again, this time holding the rover to a tight circle around each flag, bringing it in as close to the flagpole as she dared. Once or twice, she misjudged the dirt beneath the wheels, and slid out from the flag for a few meters before correcting her course. After the second time through the course this way, she was able to make each turn correctly, and maintain control of the vehicle. She slowed to a stop, and paused to catch her breath.

The attendant pulled up again. “Pretty good driving there! I like how you handled those turns, but you've really gotta watch it. Most places on the surface have more dust or sand than that, and it can really take you by surprise. Did you want to try a different course for a while? Several of the others just opened up.”

“Is the canyon open?” Dejah asked, looking across the course. “I haven't driven in canyons in years.”

“Yeah, looks like the last driver just left. If you get into trouble over there, just call out on the common channel and I should be able to pick it up and get you out. And watch out for rock slides: we try to make those canyon walls as solid as we can, but there's always a danger.”

Dejah laughed. “Well, if I didn't know how to watch out for rock slides, I'd have no business driving through a canyon on Mars. But I'll keep an eye out, thanks.”

She drove over to the canyon, and looked out across the course. There were no flags here, just a rocky canyon floor, with areas of fallen rock and dust, and layers of soft drifted sand.

Then with a roar of the engine, she directed the rover down the gentle slope and into the canyon. Immediately, she could feel the wheels digging into the soft sand, sinking and sliding, and she struggled to control it.

She pressed down on the accelerator again, and turned into the slide; the tires caught, and she felt the rover gain speed as it rolled quickly across the top of the sandy floor. The canyon wound around tight hairpin curves, and Dejah was glad she had just finished the turns on the basic course.

The canyon wound around for about a kilometer, and Dejah struggled to keep the rover on course, and at a speed that would both allow her to stay on top of the soft sand and take the curves safely.

She could see the end of the canyon coming up, there were just two more turns. She pulled the rover to the left, taking the first curve at almost top speed; the rover rounded the corner, but Dejah saw the next turn coming up too quickly. She tried to slow the rover, and pulled it to the right, but the correction came almost too late. The rover's wheels scraped against the canyon wall, and almost jolted her out of the seat.

Dejah felt a protruding section of canyon wall scrape against her shoulder, and almost immediately felt the freezing cold of the outside air inside the suit. “Damn!” she shouted, finishing the curve and bringing the rover to a halt. She looked at her shoulder, and saw that the suit had been shredded where the rock had scraped, and an inch of skin was open to the air. She felt the odd pain as her flesh tried to expand in the lower pressure of the Martian atmosphere, and quickly began to freeze. She clapped a gloved hand over the damaged area, and pressed her comm button with the other. “I need help! I hit the canyon wall. The rover's fine, but my suit tore and there's skin exposed. Bring a patch. I'm at the end of the canyon route.”

“On my way!” she heard the attendant respond. She climbed off of the rover, and leaned against the canyon wall, using the weight of her body to keep pressure on her hand. The skin underneath burned with pain, but she knew that releasing the pressure would only make it worse. Soon, she heard the roar of a rover engine and saw the attendant driving over the small cliff, and down a short slope to where she was.

“Ok, where's the tear? There? Alright, let's get this patch on.” The young man wiped the suit around the torn area clean with a cloth that steamed slightly as the moisture sublimed away. Then he unrolled a wide swatch of adhesive fabric, and pressed one end of it onto the suit near the shredded edge. “Ok, pull your hand away quickly, and I'll get this on there.”

Dejah did as he instructed, and her hand was hardly out of the way before he pressed the rest of the seal around the hole in her suit. “Alright, that should stop any further damage from happening. You're going to have one hell of a bruise there for a while, might lose a layer of skin, but you should be alright. We've got to get you back inside the Dome, though, and get you checked out. Can you drive?”

Dejah nodded. “Yeah. The path back to the Dome is pretty easy, and I can steer with my other arm.” she winced as the shock started to wear off, and her shoulder began to throb.

“I'll follow you back.” The young man punched a comm button. “I need backup at the course. We've got an injury, and I need to take her back to the Dome, so I need someone out here to watch the other drivers. Great.” He nodded to Dejah, who had gotten back on her rover. “Let's go!”

She started the engine, and slowly drove it up and out of the canyon. The path back to the Dome began not far from the edge of the cliff that overlooked the canyon route, and she quickly guided the rover onto it. The attendant followed a short distance behind; she asked him, “So do you get many injuries here?”

“Oh, a fair number. Serious ones are pretty rare. We try to keep things safe, obviously, but it's a rough terrain, and things happen. Since the range is for scouts and other field personnel, though, most people understand the risks.”

In a few minutes, they were through the air lock, and back inside the Dome. A small emergency station was just a few meters from the air lock, and Dejah pulled up to the door. “I'll be fine from here. Thanks for your help; I'll be back to try that canyon again next week!”

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