Wednesday, November 25, 2009

nano post 54

Year Twenty Fifty Two

Dejah couldn't sleep. The wind gusted in unpredictable ways, scraping the sand at first quietly, then loudly across the walls of the tent. Dejah lay in the blankets, watching the line of the sand slowly rise up the walls of the tent. Almost four feet now.

She rolled over and looked at the roof of the tent, glad that it had been designed with a slight peak to keeo sand and dust from collecting on top and collapsing the structure. Maybe keeping her eyes focused there could keep her from thinking about the rising drifts outside.

The fabric of the hab tent rippled in the wind, and she began to see patterns in the ripples, images, pictures. Canyons and valleys danced across the ceiling, replacing each other in quick succession. There, wasn't that odd little ripple the spitting image of the Silver Hammer? And that one, just like the long street she walked down every day to get to the Dandelion office in Spirit City? Multipe ripples joined and formed faces that flickered quickly in and out of existence. Max. Her mother. Shelle. Nathan. Eduardo. Thomas. Nathan again. Marcus. Nelson. Kruiser. Nathan. Carter. Nathan.

She blinked, and the faces disappeared, becoming simple ripples again. “I can't afford to go crazy now,” she whispered. “Come on Dej, you've been alone before now, you can do this. You can do this.”

It was a long time before the sun rose.

“We've got some rough training coming up,” Dejah commented to Carter as she stretched in the gym. He was swinging through a simple routine on the rings, and finished the routine before landing, and replying.

“Oh? More problem sims?”

She shook her head, and jumped to the top of the balance beam. “Nope. We're schedule for a round of sensory deprivation. We've got to take turns driving one of the rigs solo, and just in case one of us gets trapped there, or seperated from the group, we've got to get used to being on our own. Pretty standard for long range missions, but not something i've ever had to do before. I'm more of a people person, you know?”

He nodded, stretching his arms. “Yeah, I'd kind of figured that. You didn't really seem like the introverted type.”

“My husband is, though. I think he'd do fine with the whole sensory deprivation thing, but he never had any interest in going outside the domes. I mean, to do anything on the surface, he was fine traveling to other domes or going to see specific things.” She shrugged. “It worked pretty well for us, as long as I gave him some time in the evenings when he could work in silence. I'd just stick my headphones on and work on my own projects.”

“Well, I hope the training goes well,” Carter commented, wiping the sweat from his neck with a towel. “Talk to you later,” he called, sprinting out of the room.

Dejah watched him go, and again felt a temporary regret that he was so much younger. Then she turned her mind back to the beam, and began a routine. After a few cartwheels, she felt her fingers slip over the edge of the beam, and tried to catch herself as she fell. It was too late; her center of balance shifted, and she hit the mat.

“Crap,” she muttered, dusting herself off. “Concentrate, Dej. You're too distracted.” She jumped to the top of the beam again, and started over.

A middle aged woman lead the three team members through the sensory deprivation area. It was a small room, with a wall of tube-like structures in the far end.

“these are the chambers,” the woman explained. She had introduced herself as Melanie Hatch, a psychologist. “you slid in and just lay down. The material is specially designed so that it feels like you're floating. You'll find water inside, heated to your body temperature; this will tend to make you unable to sense the borders of your bodies. The inside will be completely dark, and you may hear occasional sounds—we need you awake for the entire time. The time for each of you may vary, but it's rarely less than two hours, sometimes as much as ten.”

“How do you determine the times,” asked Dejah, eyeing the wall.

“Mostly from your profiles. We want to push you to your own breaking point, and see how well you can handle it. Don't worry, it's not as scary as it sounds. Anyone here claustrophobic, by the way?”

All three shook their heads. Melanie nodded. “You don't get too many claustrophobes in the colonies: space travel itself usually weeds them out. But I like to check just to make sure. Alright, everyone ready?”

They nodded, and Melanie opened the first tube. “Who's first?”

Eduardo stepped forward with a grin. “Aw hell, might as well be me. I'm not afraid of being alone with myself for a while.”

He grabbed a bar that hung over the tube, and slid down into it; Melanie closed the door, and turned to the other two, an eyebrow raised.

Thomas nodded. “I'll go. Having some quiet time actually sounds nice.” He slid into his chamber, and was closed in.

“Alright, you're the last one,” Melanie commented to Dejah, opening a third tube. “In you go!”

Dejah slid in, and felt the darkness close in around her. Then the door was closed, and the silence was louder than she had ever thought.

She tried to remember the page of the mission schedule that she'd been reading that morning, but couldn't seem to call it to mind. She hummed a few songs, but found that she couldn't remember the words to more than one or two.

She tried wiggling a foot to listen to the sound of the water spalshing against the all, but couldn't hear anything. She figured that the walls must be made of some material that lessened the sound.

Dejah let herself be still for a moment, and felt the silence all around her. It felt like a roaring in her ears sometimes, sometimes it was just...silent. She shivered; not from cold, but from discomfort.

She wiggled her toes again, trying to remember where her feet ended and the water began. It helped a little, but her motion was too restricted to allow much more than that. She tapped her fingers on the foam that supported her, and felt it give way slightly.

Dejah felt like she was floating in space, in an empty void between planets, betweeen stars. The air was warm, everyhting was warm, but empty. She herself was empty, just a hollow shell floating into the void.

A series of clicks sounded in her ears, jolting her from her reverie, and she realized that she had been on the verge of falling asleeep. She wiggled a foot again, but there was almost no distinction between her body and the water.

Strange colors began to appear in front of her eyes, changing and morphing into bizarre and complex patterns. “I've heard about this,:” she murmured, tapping her fingers on the foam again. “In the absence of light, the eyes strain, trying to see, and the brain begins to interpret phantom lightd and colors. Common danger for spelunkers.”

Dejah fell silent again, and blinked. She relized that her eyes had slightly dried—it was harder to remember to blink when she only saw darkness when her eyes were open.

She decided to see how much of her life she could remember, and thought back to the lunar colony, life with her parents. Two years old? Three? She suddenly remembered a beloved toy, a tiny blue hippopotamus, a gift from the dentist for good behaviour during a visit. She sfelt the corners of her lips twitch in a smile, and went back into the memories. Home, the colony, the tiny gravity of Luna, the hours spent in gravity chamnbers, keeping her muscles from atrophy. Flying with Max, nearly crashing. Then the visits from Dandelion, the final years of high school, the flight....

She felt as if she were flying again. Not towards Mars, she thought absently, flying towards the future. Towards something I cannot see...

The clicks sounded in her ear again, and she jerked awake. She felt a scream rising in the back of her throat, but choked it back and resisted the urge to pound on the awalls of the tube and demand to be let out. She sclenched her hands into fists, and held them stiffly at her sides.

She wasn't sure how much later it was that the door of the tube cracked open. She winced, though her eyes were already closed, and tried to lift a hand to block the light that now hurt her eyes. She found that her fingers were stuff and sore, having been held tense for hours. She slid out, shivering in the cold room while melanie handed her a towel.
“How long was I in there for,” she asked, teeth chattering as the chill of the room sank into her wet skin.

“Almost seven hours,” Melanie responded. “You're the leader of the team, and we needed to make sure that you could handle the worst of it. There were a few tense moments there—your heart rate spiked a couple of times, and we almost pulled you out. But in the end you did fine.” She smiled slightly, and held the door open.

Dejah walked into the next room, clutching the towel close around her. There were a row of lockers there, and she quickly located the one where she had stored her clothes. She toweled the swimsuit dry, and pulled the clothes over it, finally beginning to feel warm again.

Her hands were still shaking, but she walked home in the deepening twilight, and made it into the house. She leaned back in the chair, but didn't close her eyes. “It's going to be worth it,” she said quietly to no one in particular. “I'm going to be the girl who found the last of the Earth era landers, who brought the Phoenix home. It's all going to be worth it in the end.”

Before she knew it, six months had passed in Bradbury Dome. Dejah woke early on a Saturday, and hopped out of bed. She got dressed,and quickly walked down the steps to her apartment, and headed into the town.

On the way, she punched a number into her comm. “Hey Max! I hear you're going to be in town today, is that right? Great! I want to come see you, do you have any time to spare? Sure! Ok, I'll see you there.” She grinned, tucked her comm into her back pocket, and sprinted all the way into the city.

The launch pad was crowded, as it almost always was on the weekends, with tourists and sightseerers, and people going to and fro on official business. Dejah saw the Hammer sitting on the launch pad with Max standing beside her, giving some instructions to one of the crew. He turned and saw her, and grinned, waving wildly.

“Dej! It's been too long, how are you?”

She ran up to him, and was gatehred up into one of his usual exuberant hugs. “I'm great Max! I can't believe it here, this place is amazing! You wouldn't believe all the stuff that's got to be done before the mission, though. Here in the next few months, the PR department is even going to have me start recording some interviews and teaching sessions for kids, they're going to broadcast them all over to try to ddrive interest in the mission,. Crazy, huh?”

“You? Always.” He grinned as she punched him in the arm. “Hey, i've got all day, I don't leave til tomorrow morning. I've seen most of the town, and honestly, science and research bases really don't have muhc in the way of good retail. But i've never really been to the Dandelion buildings here, except to make the occasional pick up or delivery. Why don't you show me around?”

She made a face. “That's where I spent sixty hours a week, sometimes more! I love it, but I need a break. How about taking the elevator up Olympus? We won't have time to get to the top,. But there's that nice little halfway station. We could even grab a late lunch or dinner there.”

Max nodded. “Sounds good! I haven't done that in a few years anyway.”

The mountain was more than a short walk, so they hired a transport, and arrived at the base of the mountain after a twenty minute drive,. Max paid the driver, while Dejah bought the tickets for the elevator. They climbed into a tram, and traveled a few hundred meters into the mountain, where the elevator began.

The elevator was a series of hundreds of small cars, with glass sides and seats against the walls. The cars were strung along a long cable, and they rose like tiny gems on a necklace, to the top of the mountain. Passengers could disembakr at any of the waystations, and at the top, made their way to a second elevator cable, which took them down.

Max settled into one of the seats at the back of the elevator, but Dejah leaned against the front wall, resting her forehead on the glass.

“There's not going to be anything to see until we clear the base of the mountain, Dej,” laughed Max. “You might as well sit.”

“No, i've been going stir crazy lately, I think I'll stand.”

In a moment, the car began moving upward. It stopped every few meters to pick up other passengers at the base, but made slow and steady progress. In twenty minutes, the car had cleared the base of the mountain, and come out into the open air.

Dejah looked out over the red landscape spread out below. It looked like old red velvet, crinkled and dusty, a pale red in the morning light.

“I still can't get enough of this,” she said quietly. “This is what makes it all worth it.” She smiled over her shoulder at her friend. “I've been through hell these past few years, Max. The University was amazing, but after that...” She shook her head. “Dandelion, at least in Spirit City, wasn't anything like what I expected. Too much desk work, too little time in the field, and what we did work on just didn't matter. Things with Nathan just went downhill, you know about that. And even here, it's been rough.” She pulled down the shoulder of her shirt and the atmo suit beneath it, and showed him the mark the Martian atmosphere had left on her skin. “Got this doing an ordinary rover run on the obstacle course. Couldn't move my arm for two days. Then there were the problem sims, where I have to watch my team mates die, and try to figure out how I could have saved them. There was the sensory deprivation chamber, where I thought I was going crazy.”

She turned back to the window, and watched the horizon slowly roll into the distance as the car rose higher and higher. “But this reminds me why I'm here. And it is worth it, Max. It is.”

he leaned forward and looked at her. “What if you don't get the Phoenix, Dej? I'm not saying you won't, I believe you will, really I do. But...” He shrugged. “Is it still worth it if you don't?”

She thought for a moment, eyes still fixed on the landscape. “I don't know, Max. I want it so bad. I need to do something here, something to say that I was here, that I was on Mars, that I made a difference. The Phoenix is part of that, but you know, I've loved that machine ever since I was a kid,.”

She turned away from the window, and sat down beside Max, still watching the glass pane. “I really don't know, Max. I guess I'll find out, if I don't get the Phoenix.” then she grinned, and leapt to her feet again. “But I'm going to get that lander, and nothing is going to stop me!”

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