Wednesday, November 25, 2009

nano post 53

Year Twenty Fifty Two

The day passed slowly, and Dejah thought she might lose her mind after listening to the endless scraping of the windblown dust outside. By the end of the day, the sand was piled up over three feet high around the walls of the tent, and the storm showed no signs of letting up.

She checked the filters, for the fourth time that day. They were getting close to being full, but there was still some time left. “Probably ought to do that first thing tomorrow,” Dejah noted.

The journal was tucked into a bag once again, now almost full of notes about the trip, sketches of landscapes she'd crossed, and letters to friends and family.

One more day, she thought. One more day, and the seals of the hab tent would be completely blocked by sand. She might be able to dig herself out, she mused, but only for one day further. If the sand piled up much higher than that, it would pour into the tent faster than she could climb out, and she would run the risk of being buried in the sediment.

She pulled the blankets up over her suit, and lay down for the night, though she knew already that sleep would be impossible.

The weeks passed quickly for Dejah as she fell into the patterns of the mission training. It took several months for the bruise caused by the accident to disappear, but she was back on the course the next week, and whooped when she completed the canyon run without incident.

After several weeks of running basic big rig simulations, Thomas approached Dejah.

“Hey, Dej. I think we're all pretty solid on the big rig sims, and i'll start giving you lessons in the real ones soon. But I've got a bunch more programs of problem simulations that I'd like to put us through. Is it alright with you if I start with one of those today?”

“Sure,” she said, “We need to start working on the harder stuff now that we've got the basics down. Besides, you're in charge of the rig training, you don't even need to ask me.”

“Yeah, but I thought I'd let you know. Sometimes people react badly to the problem sims. They're pretty realistic.”

“how so?”

He shrugged. “Well, you know how we divide up into the two rig simulators? The basic ones are pretty simple, you see what the other one is doing, but there's not much that can go wrong unless you deliberately steer the rigs into each other. In this problem runs, you can face things like an engine catching fire, a rig tumbling off a cliff, things like that.”

Dejah wasn't concerned. “I've run lots of sims where I died, Thomas. It's not unusual. I can handle it, and so can Eduardo.”

“No, that's not what usually gets to people.” thomas looked uncomfortable. “The people in the other rig, if they're not involved in the accident, have to watch it happen. And that's the part that most people can't handle, just having to sit there and watch, even when you know it's just a sim.”

“Well, I guess we'll find out what we're made of then, won't we?” Dejah tried to laugh it off, but quickly stopped when she saw the look on the rig driver's face.

When Eduardo returned from working on the next extrication scenario, the three loaded up into the simulators. The simulators looked like the cabs of the big rigs that were lined up in the warehouse, but from the outside, the windows looked black and opaque. Once inside, the windows revealed themselves to be high quality screens, which projected the view of the scenario in realistic perspective and detail. Several times Dejah had forgotten for a moment that she was even in a simulator.

Thomas climbed into the control cab, and Dejah and Eduardo quickly entered the other rig. The screens flickered to life, and Eduardo took the wheel, steering them across a flat and unremarkable landscape.

They drove for at least twenty minutes, Dejah thought, before the canyon first appeared on the horizon. It was narrow, which made it hard to see from a distance, but the walls were steep.

“What do you guys think we should do?” came Thomas' voice through the comm. “It looks like it narrows off to the the west, we might be able to get around it there.”

Eduardo scanned the area, and pulled up the aerial photographs, all programmed into the simulator beforehand. “Yeah, looks like this is the arm of a bigger canyon. Just a little gully by Mars standards. Ok, let's go around to the West, it's the only way we're going to get around this.”

The rigs chugged forward, never making more than thirty five kilometers an hour. Eventually, the narrow end of the gully came in sight, and Dejah watched Thomas drive the rig toward it. Then suddenly, there was a slight motion in the ground below her feet. She watched in horror as the soil beneath Thomas' rig gave way. It looked like nothing she had ever seen, as the ground seemed to turn almost liquid and fall away. In another moment, the rig had slid off of the edge of the cliff, and was tumbling to the canyon below. A yell of terror sounded over the comm, and was suddenly cut off. A moment later, the two heard a loud thump as the rig hit the canyon floor many meters below.
Dejah could hear her heart pounding in the deaathly silence that followed the accident, then the windows flickered and turned black. A line of text appeared: simulation failed—loss of equipment and personnel. Retry or exit?


Dejah jumped as she heard Thomas' voice in her comm, and heard eduardo repeat the command in a shaky voice. The door of the cab popped open, and they climbed out.

Thomas was waiting. “So. That was a problem run. It's one of the simpler ones, actually. I admit, it's not quite fair the way I set it up. There's not much the second rig can do, short of telling the driver of the first rig to give the edge of the canyon more space.”

“But there were meters of room,” Eduardo protested, and Dejah could see that he was shaken. “There's no way the edge of that cliff collapsed under just the weight of the rig.”

thomas shook his head. “No, there isn't. It wasn't just the weight. Dej, you know a good bit of geology. Tell us about how those gullies are formed.”

“Um...” Dejah shook her head to clear it and tried to remember the lessons from the University. “It's subsurface water. It comes up very slowly, and as it gets near the surface, it makes the soil unstable, and it sinks down into the canyon below. I guess the weight of the rig was just the tipping point then?”

The driver nodded solemnly. “So you can't just rely on your sight to tell you everything you need to know. There's a lot happening out there, a lot of it is under the surface where you can't even see it. A lot of people are fooled by the lack of tectonic activity on mars, and assume that that means the surface is stable. You make that assumption in the wrong place, and you're dead.”
Dejah dn Eduardo nodded. “got it, man,” Eduardo muttered, running a hand through his thick hair again.

“That's it for today,” Thomas said, turning to Dejah. “It's almost three o'clock, did you have anything else you wanted to cover today?”

She took a moment to respond, then shook her head. “No, I think we all need a breather after this one. I'll see you guys bright and early tomorrow morning.”

They bid her goodbye, and she saw Eduardo turn to say something else to Thomas, but didn't stay to hear what it was.

Her hands shook as she unlocked her door, and quickly shut it behind her. She barely made it to the chair before collapsing, unable to stop the shaking.

A half an hour later, she rubbed her arms, and finally looked around. No mail had come through the slot, and she had already read the mission reports for the week. Looking around for something to take her attention off the shock of the simulation, she pulled her comm out of her pocket. With a hand that still trembled, she punched in Nathan's number.

It beeped a few times, then she heard his calm voice come on the other end of the call. “Hey Dej! Sorry we've been playing comm tag for the last week or two, the tiem difference really makes it tricky to keep up.”

She tried to say something breezy in return, but no words came.

“Dej? Are you ok? Is everything alright?”

She swallowed, and finally forced the words out. “Yes. Yeah, sorry, everything's alright, just a hard day of training today. We had a rough simulation, looked for all the world like one of my team drove over the edge of a cliff. Gave us all a pretty good shock, I guess I'm still shaken up over it.”

“Well, I know you, you're strong,” he replied, in what she assumed he thought was a comforting tone. “You can pull through it.”

Why can't you be here to hold me, she thought, but didn't say it. “I know, it's not like I'm traumatized or anything. It just rattled me, that's all. I guess that's part of the point, you know?”

“Sure, of course. So what's Bradbury Dome like? Have you had any time to explore the city?”

“A little, but not much,. Met a guy who knows Marcus. How's your latest project coming?”

“Oh, it's fantastic! I really think this might be a breakthrough for my career. The building is in the heart of the city...”

She leaned her head against the back of the chair and let him ramble on, just listening to the familiar sound.

Dejah awoke in the middle of the night. The room was cold, despite the heaters that ran continually. She turned over, and soon realized that she wouldn't be able to go back to sleep without doing something else.

She rolled out of the bed, and quickly reached for the thick robe that she'd laid out the night before. She walked over to the kitchen, and put water on to boil. None of the usual tea selections seemed right, so she put a few scoops of hot chocolate in a mug, and waited for the water to heat.

A few minutes later as she carefully sipped the hot drink, she pulled back the curtains and gazed out of the window.

Even in the middle of the night, there were lights burning in many of the Dandelion office's windows, and looking out across the city to the west, she could see lights there as well. “A city that never sleeps,” she commented, taking little comfort in the fact that there were others as wakeful as she.

“Just don't let me get anyone killed,” she muttered, not sure to whom she was directing the request. “I don't mind if it's me, just don't let anyone else get hurt.”

The next morning, Dejah awoke slowly, drifting up towards consciousness, following the blaring alarms of the clock. She fumbled with the switch for a moment before she suceeded in turning it off, and lay there for a moment, trying to convince herself to get up.

With a sigh, she heaved herself out of the bed, and got dressed. “Time to face the day,” she said as she locked the door behind her.

In a few minutes, she walked back into the warehouse, a smile on her face. “Hello, boys! What's on the schedule for today?”

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