Wednesday, November 25, 2009

nano post 58

Year Twenty Fifty Two

for the first few hours, Dejah relished the feeling of walking across the face of Mars, unemcumbered by the hab tent. She felt lighter, as if she could take a few running steps, and launch into the air, and simply fly to the Phoenix.

But after a few hours of walking, the monotony of the landscape set in. It was still beautiful, she thought, there was just so damn much of it that looked like the rest.

The ground was littered with rocks, and she had to watch her footing to make sure that she didn't trip over a loose stone. One rip in the exploration suit, and it would all be over. No ship could get to her in time, and a patch would only stop the air from escaping for a few hours.

Step. Step. Step. The rythym of her footsteps was inescapable, and Dejah found her thoughts falling into the rythym as well. She shivered with the cold as the sun skimmed the horizon. She could see a field of stars in the sky to her right, but tried not to look at it. It made her feel even colder, and out here,. To be cold was to move slowly. Moving slowly was death.

She picked up her pace again, grateful for the food pouches she'd eaten earlier. The energy from the extra food was welcome.

When the sun reached its highest point, still barely above the horizon, Dejah decided to risk stopping for a moment. She pulled up her maps on the wrist comm. Still twenty kilometers away, she thought with frustration. No way to make it to the site today, and perhaps not even the next day, depending on how quickly she was able to make time over the ground.

“Well, at least I don't have to stop tonight,” she said, “gotta keep moving.”

Step. Step. Step.

Year Twenty Fifty Two

“Alright, I want to roll out of here right after sunrise tomorrow,” Dejah commented, surveying the two rigs. They had been loaded and packed over the last few weeks, and the supplies had been tied down to prevent shifting. “So tomorrow, I expect to see everyone here at five sharp. I'd recommended spending a little time in the gym, too, since it'll be a while before we get a good workout. We're going to be spending an awful lot of time in those rigs, so stretch while you can.”

She looked at the clock. “It's already seven o'clock, and I think we've got everything ready to go for tomorrow. You guys go home, eat a good dinner, and get as much sleep as you can. Let's all be rested, ready to go, and at the top of our games tomorrow.”

Thomas and Eduardo nodded, and the group dispersed. Dejah stood in the open door of the warehouse, looking out across the sunset landscape, watching as the colors slowly changed from peaches and salmons to deep purples and blacks. The stars came out, easily visible through the Dome.

“finally time,” she heard behind her, and turned to see Kruiser cleaning a large wrench with a rag.

“Yeah,” she commented laconically.

“Seems weird that it's actually here. Sometimes the prep begins to feel more real than the actual mission.”

She laughed, and nodded. “Yeah. It's pretty weird. If everything goes well, in about six weeks, I'll be back in Spirit City. I'm really going to miss this place. I'll miss the energy, the...I don't know what to call it. That thing that tells you to toss the safety precautions and just go for what it is that needs to be done.”

He grinned, and set the wrench in a nearby tool box. “Insanity.”

“I think determination is more what I was looking for, but that works too.” She looked out at the sky for a minute longer. “I need to get going. I need to get some sleep before we head out tomorrow.”

Kruiser nodded. “I'll be here to see you off. Just in case something goes wrong, which it will because it always does.”

She laughed, and waved goodnight before heading out into the night of the domed city. It was cold, and she stuck her hands into her pockets to keep them warm. The stars were bright overhead.

“I can't believe it's time already,” she breathed as she walked up the steps to the apartment. She began to scan her ident to unlock the door, then pulled back.

She sat on the walkway, with her back to the door, and looked up at the stars again.

Pressing a number on her comm pad, she heard it beep several times before a voice came on the other end.


“Hey Nathan. The mission rolls out of here tomorrow, and I just wanted to say goodbye for a while. I'll be out of reach on the mission, gotta keep the comm channels clear for official business.”

“Wow...tomorrow, huh? That seems...quick.”

“Yeah, almost seems like just the other day I was back in Spirit City. I'll be back in about five or six weeks; we've got two and a half weeks to get there and back, and then I've just got to finish up some things here, get packed, all of that kind of thing.”

“Must be strange to think about coming back here after that,” Nathan said. “You've been living along for nearly two years now, it'll probably take some adjustment to get used to being in the same house again.”

Dejah agreed, and the conversation fell into an uneasy silence. She looked up, eyes fixed on the stars.



“What time is it where you are?”

“About...six in the morning. Why?”

“Can you see the stars?”

He paused. “Let me check.” She heard him opening the door of the house. “It's starting to get light, but there's still a few out.”

She ran a hand through her hair. “Will you sit and watch the stars with me? They won't be the same stars, but it will at least be the same sky.”


The silence returned, but it no longer felt so empty.

Dejah awoke a few minutes before the alarm went off, and lay in bed for a moment, trying to convince herself that the day had finally arrived. It seemed unreal, as if it was just another day of workouts, sims, and time lines.

Finally, the alarm blared and she rolled out of bed. She had cleaned the apartment the night before, and had been assured that someone would be by to check on things every few days while she was gone. She ate a quick breakfast, and pulled on the thick jacket that she intended to take on the mission.

The walk to the Dandelion building was cold; the sky behind Olympus was beginning to lighten, but it would be hours before the sun would move out from behind the massive peak. She broke into a light jog, trying to warm herself without getting sweaty. There wasn't time for a shower before departure this morning, and showers on the road would be impossible.

When she arrived at the warehouse, the large exit doors were already open, and a single light was on, but most of the building was lost in shadows.

The rigs were parked just inside the doors, and she saw that the cargo doors were open. She grabbed a handhold on one of the rigs, and swung up into it. The cargo area was full almost to capacity. A rover was chained into place near the door of the cargo area, and boxes of supplies took up most of the floor. She began checking the boxes against the packing list that she had brought, but soon heard the other team members come into the warehouse. She jumped down, and made her way over to them.

“Hey, everyone.”

Eduardo turned and flashed a grin at her. “Dej! I was beginning to wonder where you were. What did you do, sleep in one of the rigs?”

She laughed, and shook her head. “No, I just got here early and was double checking the packing list. It all looks good, I think we're ready to go.”

Dejah looked around at the three men, suddenly aware of the importance of the mission before them. She cleared her throat.

“Well, guys, here we are. We're about to get in the rigs and head out on a mission that may very well be the most important thing that any of us will ever do. We've trained for this as hard as we could for two years, and there's nothing more to be done but head out of the Dome and go do what we've been practicing all of this time.”

She paused, and hesitated before continuing. “This may sound a little bit overblown, but they're right when they say that this is the end of an era. After we bring back the Phoenix, there are no more probes, landers, or rovers to find. After this, Mars starts its own time. We take our place as true Aresians; grateful for the Terran efforts that landed humanity here, but moving forward in our own direction, with nothing to hold us back. It's appropriate then, that this is the Phoenix. In legend, the Phoenix was a bird that lived for five hundred years; when the time came for it to die, it built a pyre of spices and set itself afire. As the flames burned, the phoenix would begin to sing a song of incredible beauty. When nothing was left but ashes, a new Phoenix would arise from the ashes. Well, Earth built us a beautiful pyre here, on this cinnamon dusted world. We're going to set this world alight, and see the new world of Aresians rise out of the ashes of the old one. It's time to strike that match. Let's roll!”

Eduardo looked slightly surprised at the speech, but Thomas applauded quietly, and Kruiser grinned.

“Ok, Thomas, why don't you take the Ferris, and Eduardo and I will take the Flint. I'd rather have you be our solo driver, since you're still the most experienced.”

She turned to go, and saw Kruiser standing by, watching the preperations. “Hey, Kruiser. We're gonna miss you out there.”

“Ah, you'll be fine. Those engines are in better shape than they've been since they rolled off the assembly lines. You've got a supply of filters that would last you for two months, and you're insanely well prepared. Almost wish I was going with you, except for the little fact that you're all insane and I like staying where there's air to breathe.”

Dejah laughed, and he grinned. “Seriously, good luck, and get me on the comm if you run into any kind of mechanical trouble. Mental, spiritual, or grammatical trouble, and you're all the hell on your own.”

“Understood,” she replied with a smile.

Thomas stepped up into the cab of the Ferris, and shut the door, checking the seals that would keep out the blowing sand and poisonous atmosphere. Dejah glanced around the warehouse one last time, and pulled herself into the passenger seat of the rig.

Eduardo climbed into the driver's seat. “What, you're not driving? I thought for sure you'd want to be the one driving as we make our way out to the last great adventure.”

She pulled her hair back into a ponytail, and checked the seals of the door. “Nah, I think I'd rather watch for now. Besides, I heard that there's a whole crowd waiting by the airlock, and I think I'll let you be the one to risk doing something stupid in front of the news cameras.”

He laughed, and started the engine. It roared to life, and Dejah could feel the entire frame vibrating as the vehicle slowly moved forward. The sky was brighter, but the landscape was still in the shadow of Olympus.

The rigs moved slowly through the outskirts of the city on their way to the airlock; Dejah looked at the city, still half asleep, with scattered lights dotting the red landscape.

Then the wall of the Dome filled the windshield, curving upward slightly. A crowd of people were waiting beside the entrance to the airlock. Dejah craned her neck to see the faces passing by outside the window. There was Scott, she thought, and Carter. Then Charles, Kim, and the other researches from the museum. Then hundreds of people she didn't know, and had never seen.

Dejah could see the Ferris move into the airlock, and watched as the Flint moved to follow it. The thick clear tube covered the two rigs, and she heard the lock swing closed behind them. The air wooshed back into the Dome, and the outside gate opened. The rigs rolled steadily forward, and Dejah looked in the mirror and saw the outside lock close behind them.

“Alright, we are clear of the Dome,” she called over the comm. “I am marking the start of the mission in the log, and we are on our way.”

Dejah let her eyes roam, straying over the landscape outside as the rigs made their way across the Tharsis plateau, towards the eastern edge where the land sloped easily and passage to the surface of the planet was more accessible.

The land rolled by slowly but steadily, and sooner than she would have thought possible, the Dome of the city was far behind, slipping under the horizon with every passing kilometer.

The comm hissed, and they heard Thomas' voice. “Alright you guys, assuming a sixteen hour day, we can make about three hundred kilometers a day in these rigs, assuming level ground. We'll lose a little time coming down off of Tharsis tonight, so let's plan on camping at the base of the Bulge, ok?”

“Sounds good to me, Thomas, you're the expert on the rigs. That still keeps us well within our time line, correct?” Dejah called out.

“Oh yeah, it's pretty much where we planned on stopping, just wanted to confirm. Better enjoy this landscape while it's still exciting—it's going to take us a week just to get to the Phoenix, and you're going to get bored of flat and red long before then.”

“Speak for yourself, Thomas,” she grinned. Eduardo laughed, keeping his eyes on the ground ahead.

“Oh, you'll get tired of it, trust me. It's impossible not to, it's all so alike in the end. I've brought books with me on long term missions before, just because it gets so dull, driving all day. Although, granted, this one's going to be a little trickier, since we're setting out before sunrise and driving after dark. I'm still not real comfortable with that, but these rigs have got the best lights available, so we should be fine.” He patted the wheel affectionately, and shifted to a more comfortable position.

“Need me to take over?” Dejah asked.

“Nah, I'm good for another hour. We'll switch then.”

She shrugged and agreed.

The rigs made their way to the bottom of the gentle slope, and stopped. Dejah could only see a few meters ahead in the rigs lights, but the instruments showed a flat expanse, stretching away to the horizon for as far as she could see.

“That's got Tharsis behind us,” commented Eduardo, unbuckling his harness.

Dejah let her hands rest on the wheel. The navigtion down the slope had been slightly tense for her, and she felt an ache in her hands from gripping the steering wheel too tightly for too long. She flexed her fingers, then hit the release button on her own harness, and stood up, stretching her arms and back as much as was possible in the cramped space.

“Hey guys, we need to decide if we're spending the night in the rigs, or if we want to set up a couple of the hab tents. Tents will probably be more comfortable, but I'm not sure that I want to use those unless we have to. We don't have very many spare filters for them, and the rigs will be completely safe.” Dejah felt a sudden wave of exhaustion wash over here—no matter how many times you ran a sim, she thought, the mental exhaustion is the one thing you can never imitate.

“I think we should go ahead and stay in the rigs,” Thomas commented. Dejah could see him through the windshield of the Ferris, illuminated by the instrument lights. He smiled and waved.

“I agree,” Eduardo said. “We've got fully stocked food pantries in both, and there should be room to lay down. You're gonna be a little more comfortable, though.”

Dejah rolled her eyes. “Oh come on, it's not like I take up that much space.” She stepped behind the seats of the cab; there was a small platform, designed to be a sleeping space. “See, there's plenty of space here.” She pulled a thin mat out of a compartment, and spread it on the ground.

“Hey, don't go getting ahead of yourself,” Eduardo said, coming around to the sleeping space. “You go to sleep without having something to eat first and you're going to wake up hungry in the middle of the night.” He rummaged through a small compartment, and tossed her a food pouch. “I think the heating thing is over here, sorry. Hand it back and I'll put it in.”

Dejah shook her head, and ripped open the pouch. She settled into a cross legged position on the mat, and squeezed some of the contents of the pouch into her mouth. “Nope, I am too tired to wait. I'm just gonna eat it this way.” She swallowed, and pounded her chest. “Whoa. I should slow down, I think that went down the wrong way.”

“If you choke on a food pouch on our first night out, I will never forgive you. I will mock your ghost with empty pouches.” Eduardo pulled out his dinner from the heater, and winced as the hot packet burned his fingertips. “damn.”

“And if you injure your hand on a hot food packet the first night out, I will never let you forget it. Your children's children would be known by the name Hotfingers.”

He laughed, and tore open the pouch, releasing a cloud of steam.

No comments:

Post a Comment