Wednesday, November 25, 2009

nano post 57

Year Twenty Fifty Two

The knife ripped through the tent, and Dejah blinked in the bright shaft of light that drifted into the tent. She widened the opening, wishing that she was tall enough to peek out of it.

The weight of the sand against the hab tent wall caused the fabric to pop as the fibers seperated slowly. It wouldn't hold much longer now, she thought.

She'd rolled up the blankets and tried standing on them to gain some height from which to pull herself through the opening, but the material simply collapsed under her weight.

“Alright, we're gonna do this the hard way then,” she said. The opening ripped further, and a few particles of sand drifted in.

She checked the seals on her suit for the final time, and stepped under the opening. She placed her hands on either side, and gripped the tent fabric. With a leap, she forced her shoulders through the opening and out into the air.

For a moment, she thought she'd made it. Then the fabric gave way underneath her, and she tuimbled back into the tent, sand pouring down in a torrent.

Dejah scrambled out from under the heavy stream, and looked up. The opening was growing wider, and easier to reach, but the sand was pouring in at an alarming rate. She watched the stream, judging the distance, then took a step forward onto the sand and launched herself upward again, clawing at the dust that had drifted outside the tent.

It was like trying to swim upstream, she thought frantically as she clawed at the shifting soil, trying to find the surface. The dust covered her helmet, sliding off rapidly only to be replaced by more of the red soil.

She pulled herself forward slowly, fighting for every inch, and finally found herself outside the tent, ankles still inside the opening, and looked backward. With the loss of integrity to the tent's frame, the structure hadn't lasted long. Dust filled the floor of the tent, and the other walls had caved in, the fabric of the walls and ceiling giving way under the weight.

Dejah got to her feet, and looked around. The landscape was more rugged here than it had been during the earlier stages of her trip, but it was still mostly level.

Dejah took a step forward, then another. “Just you and me now,” she said to the world beneath her feet. “Just you and me.”

Year Twenty Fifty One

“Alright, we've got eight months before departure,” Dejah said to Eduardo and Thomas one morning, looking over the time line for training. “Here's what we still need to do. We need to clock a lot more time driving the actual rigs on the range. We've been practicing with the rovers, and I think we're solid there, but Thomas is still the only decent rig driver. Eduardo, your extrication scenarios have been great, but I think we can scale them back now. Let's say one every two weeks, just to keep us sharp, alright? Besides, we'll be needing you on the obstacle course with the rigs from now on.”

He nodded, and Dejah continued. “Thomas, I want you to start thinking about running more long term sims for the rigs. We're going to be spending about sixteen hours a day in those things for two weeks just getting there, and I'd prefer it if we were used to it by the time we left the Dome. Put together some twenty four hour sims, a couple of thirty six hours, and one for forty eight. Oh, and let's take the rigs out for a few days in the field, too. No extrication scenarios, just us and the vehicles. Simulators are great, but let's add some variety, huh?”

They agreed, and went their seperate ways to focus on the tasks at hand. Dejah saw Kruiser filling out a form by the rigs and wandered over. He glanced up and saw her approach, but didn't stop writing. “You know who's making the real money on Mars?” he asked. “the damn air filter companies. It's not the water companies, or the mining folks. It's the damn air filters.” he jabbed the pen at the clipboard. “This is the third request I've had to make in a month for refills for the rovers, and that's not counting the filters for the rigs, shuttles, transports...” He shook his head. “Crazy, that's what it is.”

Dejah laughed, and leaned up against a table. “I'm probably about to give them even more money.” She quickly outlined the plan for the rig training that Thomas would be doing. “So we'll be doing a lot of field work for a while, and those filters are going to need checking every time we come back. I thought you might want to know.”

the mechanic nodded. “Yeah, thanks for telling me. I'll play around with my schedule, try to do most of my other work when you guys are out playing in the dirt. Just get me a copy of the training schedule, and i'll see what I can do.”

Dejah nodded, and started to walk away, then turned back to Kruiser. “Why did you come to Mars?”

“Now that's an easy one,” he said, signing the form and hanging the clipboard on the wall. “I came to Mars because when I was your age, this was the only free place left in the solar system. Earth hasn't had a really free country in fifty years, and the lunar colonies are just an extension of that. But the governments thought Mars was too complicated to mess with, so they would make the occasional U.N. Pronouncement, which had exactly as much effect here as pissing into Mareneris. Not too much crime here; people were just trying to survive. When it did crop up, it was dealt with. If you were a crazy twenty year old kid, you could come up here and make your own way without having to ask anyone for anything. I just hopped a shuttle to Bradbury, grabbed a piece of land and put up a little shack. Wasn't much, just concrete blocks, but it worked. Got a job working on engines for one of the companies, and just made it work.” He grinned suddenly, and she noticed that his greying beard was streaked with red dust. “Also, Mars looks a hell of a lot like Arizona, and I guess it just always felt like home.”
As Dejah unlocked her door, her communicator beeped. She set her bag down, and looked at the information screen: Nathan calling.

“Hey hon, this is an early call for you. What is it, five in the morning there? Is something wrong?”

“No,” he said, stifling a yawn, “I just checked my comm records, turns out I hadn't heard from you in about three weeks. Guess you must be pretty busy over there.”

“It's pretty crazy,” she replied, picking up her mail off the floor and sorting through it. “Only eight months out, so we're busier than ever running sims, and the PR department has me doing a ton of interviews and stuff.”

“Yeah, I caught the first one on ISSN, I thought it was pretty good. You looked a little uncomfortable, I guess the spotlight really isn't your thing.”

Dejah felt a slight buzz of irritation, but ignored it. “Not really. I just want them to leave me alone to do my work. It's still better than the office in Spirit City, though. How's your work coming? Have you had anyone interested in your cathedral design?”

“Not in building the cathedral itself, but that's not surprising. A lot of people have liked the basic design, though, so I've gotten some work from that.”

“Well, that's good!” Dejah said brightly, wondering how to continue the conversation. An uncomfortable silence fell for a few moments, then Nathan said awkwardly, “I miss you. Sure wish you'd visit once in a while.”

“I can't leave my crew right now, Nathan,” she sighed. “It's a twelve hour shuttle ride, at best, and I'd have to be gone for several days to make the trip worth it. But you could always come here, you know.”

“I don't think i'd really fit in that world, Dej,” he said. “Too busy, too...driven...for me. I like a city that can relax a little, leave some room for art, you know?”

No, you wouldn't fit in here, thought Dejah wearily, but I do. Another awkward silence stretched. “I'll be back in less than a year,” Dejah said, trying to sound positive. “Once the mission is over, I'll just have a few things to finish here, then I'll hop the next shuttle to Spirit City.”

there was silence on the other end for a moment, and Dejah was beginning to think that the connection had been lost, when Nathan finally replied. “Are you really going to come back, though, Dej?”

“Nathan! I promised you I'd come back!”

“But you didn't promise to stay,” he reminded her.

The weeks continued to pass quickly. Dejah, Eduardo, and Thomas ran simulation after simulation, preparing for every possibility. Several trips lasted a day or more, and Dejah returned to her apartment exhausted after every excursion. She found less and less time for the gym, but the hours on the gymnastics and weight training equipment had made her body quick, strong, and repsonsive, ready for anything.

Six weeks before the scheduled departure date, Dejah walked into the warehouse, holding a clipboard with several sheets of paper.

“Alright everyone, it's starting to get close now. I have here--” she held up the clipboard-- “the list of things that we will need to have packed on the rigs before we start. Some of it we can do right away, some of it will need to wait until the day gets closer. I say, do what we can, when we can. Things that can be done today, or at any rate, sometime this week, are as follows: hab tents—they're prepackaged and ready to go, we just need to store them on board. One for each of us. Chains, ropes, shovels, anything we think we might use to get the Phoenix out. We should already have them on the rigs, but I want someone to check every square centimeter, and make sure that nothing needs to be replaced. The last thing we want is one of those snapping when the Phoenix is over our heads, right? Let's try to avoid any obvious errors. Thomas, do you mind checking those for me? Great. The food pouches are going to be available soon, but I'd like to wait until we're about two weeks out before getting those onboard. Oh, and we need two rovers on board, one for each rig, Eduardo, can you check with Kruiser to see which two are in the best repair and have him get them prepped for the ride? I think that's everything that can be done this week. Eduardo, other than helping me load the rigs, what is on your plan for the week?”

Eduardo adjusted his grimy ballcap, and thought for a moment. “Well, I have another extrication scenario I'm working on. It's pretty important—i want to run at least one where we have to worry about avoiding frost. I know, we're scheduled to get there at least two weeks before that's a problem, but I'd just like to be sure. Other than that...I need to clock in some more time on the course, I'm still not comfortable turning that rig at top speed.”

Dejah nodded, and made a note on her schedule. “Thomas?”

He cleared his throat. “Well, it's going to take me a while to check those chains and cables. Probably two, maybe three days, longer if we have to replace any of them. I'd like to watch both of you put the rigs through the obstacle course again—we haven't done that in about two weeks, and we should probably brush up on your driving skills at least once a week.”

“Sounds fair to me. Alright guys, looks like we have a lot to get done this week, but I'm confident that we can take care of it. Only six more weeks!”

Thomas gave a faint cheer, and Eduardo whooped and clapped his hands together eagerly. Dejah leaned against a nearby table, and began scheduling when the rest of the items for the trip could be stowed aboard the rigs. She looked at the two large vehicles that had been chosen for the trip.

The rigs were large, as big as medium sized construction equipment, and built to withstand anything Mars could throw at them. They had a thick outer metal shell, composed of an alloy that flexed instead of cracking when the freezing winters came. Tiny heating filaments snaked through the chassis, keeping it warm enough to prevent fracture. The windows were made of a strong, flexible plastic, clear as glass and as tough as steel. They could each carry several tons of cargo, and were generally stocked with chains, cables, rovers, and everything that an exploration team might need in case of deep sand, dust drifts, or other difficulties. On the side of each worn vehicle was a small black silhouette of a rhinoceros, with the words MarsRhino stencilled beneath it. Dejah patted the logo affectionately; MarsRhino Machines made the best rigs and rovers in the solar system, and the logo was recognized as the unimpeachable seal of quality. Each of the rigs was given a call number to use over the comms, but each had also been given a nickname, which was generally used by all of the employees on the Dandelion site. One of the rigs for the Phoenix mission was called Ferris; the other, Flint.

Good names, she thought. Solid.
Her comm beeped.

“Sorenson here.”

“Hello, Dejah! Scott here, at the front desk. How are you today?”

She smiled. “I'm good, Scott, just busy. What can I help you with?”

“there's a young man here from Mars Heritage who would like to speak with you.”

“Well, tell him that the progress report isn't due until tomorrow, and he can rest assured that I will have it in on time.”

There was a muttered conference on the other end of the comm, then Scott spoke again. “I'm sorry, but he says that it's not about the progress report. He'd like to see you in person.”

“He's going to have to come out here. I'm in the middle of planning out the next few weeks.”

“He says that will be fine, and he'll be there in five minutes.”

“Alright. Thanks, Scott.”

“anytime, Dejah!”

She sighed, and looked out the open warehouse door, and across to the wall of the Dome. Just out there, she thought, just out there is freedom, a wide open view, and...the surface of Mars.

“Six more weeks,” she whispered to the rig. “Six more weeks, and they can't hold us back any longer.”

A small vehicle pulled up outside the warehouse door, and she saw a young man get out of the passenger's side door. He wasn't dressed in a suit, like so many of the interviewers and managers she'd met in the past two years. He wore ordinary street clothes, and a pair of sunglasses that seemed oddly incongruent on his young face.

“Scout Sorenson, I presume?” he asked, sticking out a hand. She shook it reluctantly.

“That's me. What can I help you with today?”

He smiled. “Actually, we'd like to do a little something for you. I'm from the curator's department of the new museum. We had to be a little sneaky to keep this away from the PR department, or they'd want to tag along and stick a microphone in your face the whole time.”

Dejah shook her head. “I'm sorry, during what whole time?”

“See, I knew I was going to mess this up! This is why I'm in research, not PR. The museum staff, the ccurators, researchers, everyone, would like to take you on a tour of the museum. A private tour, no press, no PR. We want you to see the home that you'll be bringing the Phoenix back to.”

She raised an eyebrow. “No interviewers?”

“Not a one.”

“You're not going to record the whole thing to send to Terran classrooms?”

“I don't think any of us even knows how to operate the video function on our comm cameras.”

“No reporters, writing about how this is a 'historic moment,' 'the end of an age'?”

He grinned. “You can go through the museum alone, if you like. Though I think that would disappoint the others in the research department, they've been dying to meet you.”

A slow smile spread across her face. “I think I can rearrange my schedule. But can I ask my team to come, too? They've worked their butts off for this mission.”

“Sure, go right ahead, we'd love to meet them as well!”

She punched the group number into her comm. “Hey, Eduardo, Thomas, Kruiser, everybody get on this channel.” She heard a series of clicks as they connected.

“Listen, we've just gotten an invite to get a tour of the new Heritage museum, and go see where they're gonna put the Phoenix. No press, no interviews, just meeting the research team and taking a look at the museum. Who's in?”

“Not me,” Eduardo said. “Museums are too quiet, they give me the creeps. I might check it out when it's open in a few months though.”


“Sorry, Dej, I think I'd rather just get some work done around here.”


“Hell yeah! I want to see where this pile of junk is gonna go once you get it hauled back here. I'm elbow deep in an engine at the moment, though, so I'm gonna need about ten minutes to clean up and make myself presentable.”

“Alright, just come over when you can.” The comm clicked as the call disconnected.

“Just the four of you?” commented the young man from the museum.

“Just us four. And only three are actually going out on the field; Kruiser's our mechanic. He makes sure everything runs, but we're not his only project, so he's got to stay here. Besides, the grant money is good, but not enough for training a fourth person for the whole two years. By the way, I don't think you ever told me your name.”

He slapped the heel of his hand against his forehead. “See? I keep doing these things. I'm Charles Stroupe.”

“good to meet you, Charles. I was beginning to wonder if all of the Heritage people were like the dopes i've met so far. No offense.”

He laughed. “No, that's a fair assessment of the PR office. Really, they're a very small but necessary part of what we do. I wish you could meet the advocates, but they're usually out in the field.”

“The field? You've got your own scouts?”

“Oh, no! Sorry, when I say 'the field,' I mean domes, cities, colonies, even Terra. Our advocates give talks about Mars, the history of our exploration, and the importance of preserving at least some parts of it, so that future generations can get to know the Red Planet that we all fell in love with. They're neat people,. Very passionate. You'd like them.”

“I bet I would.”

She heard steps on the concrete floor, and turned to see Kruiser walking quickly towards them. “Ok, I'm here, let's get this show on the road, huh?”

Charles gestured toward the waiting vehicle. In a few moments, the transport was speeding towards the city.

The museum was larger than she had expected. It vaguely resembled a Grecian temple; the main building was set on a small hill, with a wide flight of steps leading upwards towards the entrance. At the top of the steps, where the path into the museum began, there was a large pedestal, reminiscent of the Spirit memorial at the University.

As Dejah climbed the steps, she squinted, and held up a hand to shade her eyes from the sun. She didn't recognize the bulky shape atop the monument; as they approached, she could see an engraved stone at the front of the monument, and stopped to read it:

Viking I

Here we reached out
Here we touched another world
Here began a New World

“Is that the real Viking Lander?” dejah asked in amazement. “That's incredible, I thought it was recovered in terrible condition, after being exposed on the surface for so long.”

Charles nodded. “Oh, it was. There's an exhibit inside about the whole restoration process, and you can see some of the pictures there. Our restoration department is one of the best in the whole solar system—there are museums on Earth that would kill to have them on the payroll. We can't pay even half as much as some of those museums, but they just love working here. Love getting their hands on those old landers. So they work for a lot less than they could.”

Dejah couldn't take her eyes off of the lander, and reached up a hand toward it. “Can I touch it?”

Charles laughed, and nodded. “Of course. We've got a protective coating on there,, and touching it won't do any harm.”

She brushed her fingers across the surface of the lander, feeling the chill as she came into contact with the cold metal. As with the Spirit, the dish of the lander had been positioned facing outward and upward, as if still transmitting a signal back.”

“you know, the only mission to ever beat her, until the colonists came, was Opportunity.” he shook his head in amazment. “Gets me every time.”

Kruiser was walking around the pedestal, looking at the relic from several different angles. “You gotta respect a piece of machinery like that. People want to get all crazy over artificial intelligence and thinking machines, but they forget about these things.” He slapped the side of the pedetal in appreciation. “You tell one of these what to do, and it does it. No questions, no secodn guessing. Gotta love that simplicity.”

Dejah grinned. “you'd kill for a machine that always did what you told it, wouldn't you?”

“Damn straight I would.”

Charles beckoned them to the museum's main entrance.

The red stone building lay low and close to the ground, but over the doorway rose a large arch. They passed under it, and entered the building.

Dejah blinked as her eyes adjusted to the dimmer light in the building. The main doors opened onto a wide but shallow lobby: the far wall was a large mural. Mars was shown in full, the western hemisphere on the left, and the eastern one on the right. Small doors were located in the lower left and right corners of the mural: over the left door was written “An Ancient World,” while the inscription over the right one read “A New World.”

“This is, of course, to stress the two things that Mars Heritage is really all about: preserving the Red Planet that inspired all of us to come here in the first place, and yet honoring all of the effort that it took to get us here, where we are beginning to carve out a place for ourselves. It's a delicate balance, so we want to make people aware of the great natural history that Mars has had, without losing the pride in the fact that we're here now.” Charles looked at the mural, and Dejah could tell that he was proud of the work that had been done.

“Where should we start?” Dejah asked. “Ancient world, I presume?”

Charles nodded. “That would be the best place to start for a first visit. Of course, feel free to take things in whatever order you'd like. I do have one request though: let me take you to the Phoenix exhibit last.”

Dejah and Kruiser both agreed, and Charles held the door open as they passed through.

The walls were dotted with small luminous stars, and the floor had been modeled to resemble the Martian soil. In the center of the room was a large globe, made of polished red stone. Dejah walked over to it, and ran a finger across it, setting it spinning slowly on its axis. The polar caps were some sort of irridescent white stone, she realized, and as her fingers trailed across the surface, she could feel the various major features of the world. That deep crack was Marineris, and that finger-jarring bump was Olympus.

She looked around at the rest of the room. There was a flatscreen monitor showing an animation of the fbeginnings of the galaxy, the solar system, and finally the formation of the planet mass and geological features. It seemed to be on a loop, and Dejah turned away again after watching it through a few times.

A series of slabs of rock were inset into another wall, and she saw labels beneath. Different types of rock found on the planet, she realized, and let her hand trail across one of the slabs, feeling the texture across her palm. “Feels good to actually be able to touch something like this without gloves on,” she commented, and kruiser nodded.

Dejah took an hour to explore the Ancient World section of the museum. It was impressive, she decided. Not quite a true museum, perhaps, more like a discovery center, like the places she'd enjoyed as a child, but perfect for conveying a basic knowledge and appreciation of the planet and its features.

“I guess we're ready for the next section,” Dejah commented, turning to Charles. “Is there a way to get there, or do we have to make our way back through this exhibit?”

“Oh no, that would be a traffic flow nightmare. I think you'll like this.” He pushed open a door that read “Per Aspera Ad Astra.”

“You know, I see that phrase a lot,” Kruiser muttered, following them through the door, “but everyone seems to forget that we're still circling the same damn star we've always been.”

“Oh come on,” Dejah teased, “it's just poetry.”

“Yeah, well, there's nothing wrong with poetry getting the facts straight.”

They found themselves in a small hallway. Scores of small lines lit up across one wall, and Dejah saw that they were labeled. “Mariner 4,” “Mariner 9,” “Mars 2,” “Mars 3,” “Viking 1,” “Viking 2,”and many more. The lines snaked down the hall, luring them onward. Tiny images of the various missions dotted the lines here and there. Dejah touched the tiny spaceship that read “Sparrow: first colonists,” and thought for a moment about the crater cathedral that Nathan had shown her. Here was the ship that carried the man who built it.

At the end of the hall, Mars was emblazoned on the door that lead to the next section of the museum. Dejah could see the domes and habs marked clearly on the surface as she passed through the door.

The first room, like the first room of the Ancient World section, was painted to resemble a starry sky, but instead of being filled with small exhibits, the space was given over to models of the first probes to be sent into Aresian space. Dejah smiled as she recognized many of the missions, and tried to name them all. Kruiser peppered Charles with questions about the technical specs of the models—all of the original orbiters and probes were gone, either lost to deep space, or having burned up on entry into the Martian atmosphere. The replicas, Charles informed her, were based on the records of the old space agencies, and were as accurate as possible.

The next room was similar in concept. The floor looked like the dusty Martian surface, and the walls were painted to imitate a sunny day late in the year, before witner began to set in. On one side of the room, the Spirit rover looked up from the dusty pit where it had finally gotten stuck, after nearly six years on the surface. On the other side of the room, the rover Opportunity sat perched on a mound of soil and rocks, looking as if she might move again at any moment and begin sending data down to the Terran agencies again. Eight years, Dejah thought in amazement. Eight years, and it was only supposed to run for ninety sols.

“Of course, these are only replicas,” Charles commented. “The real Spirit is in Spirit City at the University, and the real Opportunity is in Opportunity City. But having the original rovers available, we were able to recreate them in incredible detail, down to the scratches and scrapes.”

Several other rovers and landers were present in the tableau, but it was obvious who the stars of the show were.

Dejah heard footsteps, and turned around to see a young woman enter the room. Her skin and hair were dark, and she seemed slightly nervous. Charles waved at he. “Oh, good! Dejah Sorenson, I'd like you to meet Doctor Kim Wideman, one of our restorers. Kim, are the others coming.” The young woman nodded, and flashed a shy smile at Dejah as she reached out a hand.

“It's a great pleasure to meet you, Scout Sorenson. We've been following the progress of the mission since you were announced as the leader of the retrieval team.”

Dejah shook her hand. “It's good to meet you! Oh, this is Kruiser, he's a member of my team. He keeps our machines in top shape she we can get out there and back as quickly as possible. So, Doctor Wideman, you're going to be working on the Phoenix to get her ready for the big day?”

Kim smiled and nodded. “Yes, and I can't wait! I missed the chance to work on either rover, and this is my last chance to restore one of the major missions.”

“I know how you feel,” Dejah said.

The group moved into the next room, and Dejah could see that this was where the Phoenix would eventually be placed, once it was no longer the star exhibit. Here was the Mars Science Lab, Curiousity, poised to take a sample of a nearby rock. On the other side was the Ambition, and digging itself into the soil was the Cicada, the first drilling robot to land on the planet.

Another couple of researchers came into the room, and introductions were made again. Dejah, Kruiser, and the others slowly made their way through the rest of the rooms; Dejah noticed that the mechanic seemed highly interested in the restoration process, painstakingly documented in videos and photos, and displayed in a large room.

The doorway to the final chamber was covered by plastic sheeting, and Charles paused in front of it. “This is it, Dejah. In time, this room will be a simple exhibit room, for travelling exhibits, or items of interest. But for the first full year of the museum, this is where the Phoenix will make her home. We can't wait to see her here, where she belongs.”

He held back the sheeting, and Dejah ducked inside. The others waited by the door, peeking inside as if to allow her to experience the room alone.

Dejah stepped onto another floor that was made to imitate the Aresian soil. The room was circular, and the walls were a single large screen; a view of the landscape was projected onto them, creating the illusion of standing on the surface of Mars. A small hill was raised at one end of the room, and Dejah could see where the Phoenix would soon be standing, looking proudly out across the landscape.

She felt her heart skip a beat, and moved closer to the display. Her boots crunched on real dust and rocks as she stepped forward. She glanced over her shoulder at Charles, who nodded to her to go on. “It'll be more closed off next time, enjoy it while you can.”

She stood on the top of the hill, and looked across the room. It wasnt' entirely accurate, she knew—the Lander was in a very flat spot, but it did look impressive. As she stood, she felt as if something was moving, and finally realized that the screens were slowly changing, the light shifting.

She watched as a day passed on the screens. Dust devils occasionally danced across the horizon, and the sun slowly sank lower. Soon it was a pale disc just above the horizon, and the red dust began to gleam purple, the shadows a charcoal black.

“I recognize this,” she exclaimed. “It's from that picture, that famous artist's concept. I used to have a print of it hanging in my living room.”

Dejah stood straight, watching as the sun sank below the horizon. Stars came out one by one on the walls, and the room was dark, except for the faint light of the screens. Phobos launched itself up over the horizon and across the sky, followed by tiny Deimos. Then, with a burst of light, Dejah turned to see the sun arc over the far horizon, spreading warm light across the ragged soil and beginning the day anew.

She retreated back down the hill, and rejoined the group, who had stepped into the room. “that's...that's really something,” she commented. “I think the Phoenix is going to like it here.”

“It's where she belongs now,” said one of the young men who had joined the group. “She belongs here, with us. We're here in part because of her, and it's time she came home.” The others nodded. Kim Wideman laid a hand on Dejah's sleeve. “Please bring her home, Scout Sorenson. We've been waiting for her for a long time.”

On the ride back to the Dandelion warehouse, Dejah was silent, lost in thought. She bid Charles goodbye, and thanked him for the tour. She shut the door of the transport, and watched it drive away.

“Hell of a thing,” Kruiser muttered as he went back to the engine he'd been working on.

Dejah pressed a button on her comm. “Hey, Eduardo and Thomas, we're back from the museum. Mind meeting me for a second by the rigs?”

They acknowleged the request, and a few minutes later the team was assembled.

Dejah paced in a tight circle. “I hope you guys don't think I was slacking by going to the museum today. I really wanted to take that opportunity, and I'm glad I did. Those are good people there, and they've built something extraordianry. I got to see where the Phoenix is going to be; it's all set up, or almost set up.”

She paused, and pushed a stray strand of hair back from her face. “Sometimes I think we've spent so much time planning for every little thing that could go wrong that we forget about what's going to happen when we get it right. This is the last of the landers from Earth; it's a machine that did a hell of a job, and is a lot of the reason why we're here at all. We're going out to bring that machine home. We can't let anything stop us from doing that. This is something bigger than we are.”

she looked around the group, meeting their gazes. “I know you know all of this, but I just wanted to say...I just wanted to say that I know this team is the best one for this mission. Now let's get ready to bring the Phoenix home!”

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