Wednesday, November 25, 2009

nano post 55

Year Twenty Fifty Two

Dejah woke, wondering why the wind sounded so much quieter. She looked around, and saw that the sand has risen again, nearly five feet up the wall of the tent. There would only be a little space for the seal to open, and even then she might not be able to work her way free.

Something else was strange, and it took her a moment to realize what it was. Finally, she saw the shadow of her hand on the floor, and realized that the sun was shining through the tent, for the first time in days.

She whooped with excitement and clambered to her feet, ignoring the stiffness that always followed sleeping in the explopration suit.

She grabbed the comm and quickly punched the key for Brabdury dome.

Thomas answered. “Hey Dejah, what's the storm like this morning?”

Eduardo interrupted, “Please tell me that it's finally stopped! The satellite photos indicated less activity in your area, but we havne't been able to tell what the situation is like on the ground yet.”

Dejah laughed. “Well, it hasn't completely stopped, I can still hear the wind sometimes, but it looks like it's stopped piling sand around the tent. I'm going to try to dig my way out today.”

Another voice came on the comm,. “Hey Sorenson, how high is that sand? Your last report said three feet and rising.”

“Hey kruiser. Yeah, that's right. It's up to five feet now. I'm not sure if it's just piled up against the tent or if it's that deep everywhere.”

kruiser was quiet for a minute, and she felt a bead of sweat form between her shoulder blades. “Kruiser?”

“Yeah, Dej, I'm just doing some thinking here. That front seal is what, six feet high?”

she nodded, and replied, “Yes, I think so. Taller than me, anyway, I usually don't open it all the way when I'm getting in or out.”

“Does it open from the bottom or the top?”

Confused, she replied, “The bottom.”

She held the comm away from her ear as the mechanic began swearing loudly, and she heard the metallic clang as he trhew his wrench across the warehouse. “What is it?”

“You're not going to like this, Sorenson,” he replied. “You're going to have to cut through that tent at the top if you want any hope of getting out.”

Thomas and Eduardo began protesting loudly, and she heard Kruiser shouting at both of them, trying to make his argument.

“Hey! Kruiser! I can't cut through the tent, it's the only thing I've got left out here. If I don't have that hab tent, it's just met and Mars, nothing between us but this exploration suit. The little heaters in here aren't enough to handle the cold, and the filters sure as hell can't withstand a storm in the open.”

“You think I don't know that?” he replied angrily, shouting over the other two. “Shut up, you morons, let me finish! Sorenson, it's your only chance. Otherwise you are stuck in that tent, and I don't think those filters will last the two more days it'll take for us to come and find you.”

“No, no they wouldn't. Damn it.” She looked over at the opening of the tent. The top, over the door seal, was a stretch of featureless fabric. It would be tough to cut, especially with the carbon fibers, but she thought her knife could do the job. The weight of the sand would probably expand any small tear she made, she just needed to get the hole started.

“Once I'm out, what's the plan,” she asked calmly.

“You just wait where you are, and we'll get a shuttle out to you. It's going to take us a day to get a crew together to land on the surface and pick you up, so probably two days total.”

she realized what he was saying. “Two mean spendning a night out here, with just the suit.”

He sighed. “Yeah. It's not good. I suppose you could just wait and get out of that tent tomorrow. But if the filters are showing what the info here says, that air is likely going to get poisonous in the next five or six hours. You don't want to be cycling that stuff through the breather in your helmet.”

“No, that would just be asking for trouble, especially over a few days.” She sighd, and looked at the line of sand again.

“Ok, Kruiser, just me what to do, it sounds like you have this under control?”

“Control??” he swore again. “No such thing, kiddo. I just happen to be thinking more clearly than any of you morons at the moment. Alright, first things first. You gotta gather up everything you can carry with you. Especially those mylar blankets. They're not going to be a huge help out there on the sands, but if you put them between yourself and the ground, you might be able to cut some of the chill. Pack up those, I think the tent comes with at least two. Don't bother with the food pouches, you're not going to be able to unseal your helmet to eat them. Eat as many as you can before you cut open the tent, but don't make yourself sick. Now, you're not going to have the high powered tent comm antennae any more, so you're going to have to rely on your wristcomm. I don't know if the signal will hold, but the boys here tell me that they're going to try to get Dandelion to move one of their satellites closer to you, to up the relay power. If you've got any paper, crumple it up and stuff it inside your exploration suit. Probably won't help much, but you never know. Anything that might keep in some body heat is going to help you. I think that's about it. Once you get outside the tent, stay the hell where you are so that the shuttle team can find you.”

Dejah paused in her preperations. Can't the shuttle team find me no matter where I am? The suit GPS is on, and the wristcomm has it, too.”

“Well, sure...” he began, then snapped, “Oh you're not going to do what I think you're going to do, are you? You stupid--! Don't you dare keep pushing toward that damn machine! It is not worth it, just stay put!”

She shook her head, and quickly tore open a food pouch. “Not a chance, Kruiser. It's going to take you a day to get the team together anyway, and I can't be more than two days out. The last known position is twenty seven klicks from here, and I can make that in two days.”

“Two days with a hab tent, Sorenson!” he shouted. “You think you're going to make that kind of time when you can't sleep at night? You're going to have to stay awake the whole time! If you let yourself go to sleep out there, you're not waking up!”

She heard a scuffle on the other end of the comm, then Thomas' voice floated through the tent. “He's right, Dej. You're going to use all of your energy just trying to stay awake and warm through the night. Don't try to go any further, we're coming to get you.”

She finished gulping down the last of the food pouch, and opened another. “Sorry guys. I can't let Dandelion lose that grant money, i'd never live it down.” She added, “And you know, being out here, I've reached a decision. It's not worth it. If I can't get to the Phoenix, I mean. It's not worth being here if I can't leave a mark in the end. It would be all for nothing.”

She paused to drain another food pouch, and Eduardo burst out, “You idiot! We never should have let you push forward when the rigs broke down! If we'd stuck to your plan, we would have called it off, started Plan B then--”

“You couldn't have started it then,” she informed him. “Plan B requires us having a fix on the Phoenix. Then we could send a team down to dig it out and airlift it out, hoping it wouldn't break apart on us on the way. But we have to have a fix on the damn lander. This is Plan B.”

The others kept yelling over the comm, but she stopped replying. The notebook was sitting on the ground, beside the makeshift bed where she'd left it the night before. Calmly, she picked it up and began ripping the pages out, stuffing them into her exploration suit. Aresian landscapes, notes on the trip surrounded her, insulating her body from the cold outside. Newer pages now, letters to her friends, crunched into loose balls and placed around her torso, keeping her core warm. Finally, near the neck of the suit, the letter she'd penned to Nathan. She caught a glimpse of the final line as she tore it from the book. “I want you to know that I always loved you, even if I didn't know how to show it—I'm sorry I couldn't have shown you more.” Bittersweet, she thought, stuffing it into place. I hope they give it to him if I don't make it.

She sealed her helmet, and picked up her bag. It felt oddly light, emptied of everything but essentials now. She switched the comm on inside the helmet, and moved toward the door of the tent.

“Alright, boys. Here I go!”

Year Twenty Fifty One

Dejah looked at herself in the mirror, somewhat surprised. She knew that she'd been getting more in shape with the daily workouts and weekly training, but she hadn't been this toned since the University. “Wish I had time to take the Valkyrie out today,” she said, glancing over at the glider bag that was propped up in the closet. It was such a hassle though, she thought. There weren't any good updrafts or canyons until you got to the edge of the Tharsis bulge, and that was a half day's journey away. Good for camping trips, but not for impulse flights.

A few minutes later, she trotted down the apartment steps, and headed for the warehouse.

She had woken up earlier than usual, and no one was in the warehouse when she arrived, except for kruiser. He was half hidden under a big rig, tinkering with the drive system on the wheels, and she could hear him cursing before she stepped inside the building.

“Hey!” she shouted, and she heard the clang of a dropped tool on the concrete floor.

“Shit!” he yelled, and slid out from under the vehicle. “Oh, it's you. I was expecting somebody important.”

She grinned, and offered him a hand. He grabbed it and pulled himself to a stand, leaving oil all over Dejah's palm. “Sorry about that,.” he said, and tossed her a stained rag. “Hazard of the job, you know.”

She wiped the grease off of her hand, and nodded. “Listen, I was wondering. How long have you been working here?”

He thought for a minute. “Let's see, they put this Dome up twenty years ago, but there wasn't much here at the time. This was the first Dome, you know, very experimental. Once they got the kinks worked out, they put up Spirit and Opportunity. I think I've been here for seventeen years now.”

“A mechanic the whole time?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I like the work. Everybody here needs a good mechanic, all of the time.”

she leaned against a table and studied him. “Kruiser, you're smart. You can fix damn near anything, and jury rig anything you can't outright fix. But you keep it hidden behind that whole grease monkey stereotype. Why don't you get tested for a Scout job, or any of the others?”

He looked her in the eye. “Because I like this job. It's a great job. I get to do what I want with my evenings, and hear about all the stuff going on here every day. You know, I grew up on Earth, and I'd spend all my time thinking about space, wondering if I'd ever get up there. Couldn't keep my mind off it, even in Mass. Thought that the candles were just like the stars, except that there were more stars. Hopped a shuttle as soon as I turned eighteeen and made it to Luna, then off to Mars as soon as it could support life outside a damn suit.”

“No family?”

He smirked, and shook his head. “Nah. Never had time, and couldn't find anyone who didn't just want to settle. It's ok. Mars is enough for me.”

They both turned as Eduardo walked into the warehouse, singing at the top of his lungs. “Chantilly lace, a pretty face...yeah baby, you know what I like!” He grinned, and gave a mock salute. “Hello earlybirds! Dej, you ready for another exgtrication today? I've got a fun one in store. Full suit, lander in pieces, and a storm on the horizon.”

She groaned, and threw the rag at him. “Damn you, couldn't you wait until the middle of the week to spring something like that on me? Seriously, a Wednesday! How about a Wedesday? Then it's not a Monday, and it's too early to wrekc my weekeend.”

He grinned. “what, you got plans? Your husband flying in this weekend or something?”

She rolled her eyes and walked away. “I gotta check the reports,” she called over her shoulder. “I'll come back when you've matured past the age of twelve.”

the team stood around the buried Lander replica, staring at the wreckage.

“Damn Eduardo,” muttered Thomas. “What did you do, drop it from orbit? There's pieces of it everywhere!”

It was true, Dejah thought., The solar panels had been splintered and scattered around the site. The lander was half buried, but the camera assembly was snapped off, and sticking out of the ground a meter away. Other bits of metal were scattered around, on top of the soil and half buried, and Dejah was pretty sure there were a lot of pieces that could be seen. She sighed.

“Alright, well, the main body of the thing still looks like it's in one piece. Let's try the standard plan to pull it free, then we'll collect the pieces we can see, and run a metal detector.”

“don't forget,” Eduardo said, trying to restrain a grin, “there's a storm on the horizon. Looks like a strong one, and we need to be back in the rig by then. We can navigate back to the Dome by instruments if we have to, but these suits wouldn't last a minute in those winds.”

She groaned, and nodded. “Yes, there's the storm. How much time does it give us, conservative estimate?”

“Five hours.”

“Five frakkin' hours?” she blurted out, then bit her lip and shook her head. “Then we'd better get moving. Thomas, get that crane spooled down to take up the slack as soon as we've got a harness on it. Eduardo, we've going to dig like we've never dug before.”

Two hours later, a harness was wrapped around the main structure of the Lander, and Thomas took up the slack so that the crane was supporting most of its weight. Dejah began to scrape away the dust from around the lander. The legs, as always, took a long time to clear completely, but she gave the thumbs up to Thomas to take in the cable on the crane.

With a groan, the lander began to move upward, then caught. “What the hell-?” began Dej, starting to give the signal to lock the crane down, but it was too late. With a crunch of rusted metal, the legs of the lander gave way. Two of them fell back into the freshly dug pit, taking part of the underbelly along with them. The others twisted out of shape, but held.

Dejah swore, and kicked a nearby dust pile. “Damn it! Ok, Eduardo, you get the last of those leg pieces free, and pick up anything in the pit you can see. We've got an hour and a half, and I really don't want to leave any pieces of this thing behind if we don't have to.” She grabbed the metal detector from the back of one of the rigs. “Thomas, lock the damn crane into position, and come help me clean this place up.”

“Thirty minutes until storm fall,” Eduardo announced over the comm as he stepped out of the pit, cradling a canvas bag full of rusted metal. “How's it going up here.”

Dejah glared at him, and he pretended to blow a kiss through his helmet. “We've got all the surface pieces, and most of the buried ones that I could find. Thomas, you got that last marker I put down right?”

“Got it. Piece of the solar panel. Pulling it free now.” He pulled a shard of the panel out of the dust, caked in red dirt, and put it into a bag.

“Alright, let's give it fifteen more minutes, then get into the rig. I don't want to lose the whole damn mission because we wouldn't leave behind a two inch sliver of rust.” She swung the detector in a wide circle, listening for the telltale beeps.

Five minutes before the storm would have hit, had there been one, Dejah loaded the team into the rigs, and got all of the cabs sealed. They turned the vehicles around in a wide circle, and headed back to the Dome.

Dejah, fighting through her exhaustion, called over the comm, “So Eduardo, how did we do? We got out before the storm, right?”

“Yeah, we did, but we left some stuff behind. I think there were another couple of square centimeters of solar panel left, and there's a foot of the lander that I'm missing.”

“Would it be enough for Heritage to be able to reconstruct it for the museum?”

“Yeah, I think we could still get them to pay out, under the circumstances. I'll log it as a successful mission.”

She acknowledged the report, and logged off for a moment. Then she leaned forward, and asked, “How long did you have that thing rusting, anyway? What'd you do, soak it in a pool?”

He laughed, and Dejah grinned tiredly. The Dome loomed ahead, sparkling like a diamond in the setting sun.

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