Monday, November 30, 2009

nano post 61

When Dejah awoke and saw the dim red light of the sun filtered by the blowing dust, she thought she might cry. Four days, she thought, four days! Surely it had to stop soon.

The day was very much like the ones that had preceded it. Dejah woke, checked in with Thomas, ate a quick breakfast, and spent the rest of the day alternating between exercise, sleep, and irritation at being closed in.

Around midday, her comm beeped.

“Hey Dej, have you seen the latest sat images?” Thomas asked. Dejah noticed that the reception on the comm sounded slightly clearer than it had for the previous few days. She glanced up, and realized that she could make out the outline of the other rig through the blowing dust.

“No, I hadn't pulled them up yet today. Is it good news?”

“Looks like it. The satellite even picked up our location a few hours ago, must have been a pretty big gap in the storm.”

Dejah tapped the instrument panel, downloading the satellite images. The storm had moved on, and the rigs were now in the trailing edge of the cloud.

“Hey, that's fantastic!” she shouted, waking Eduardo from a nap.

“Ugh...what's fantastic? I still just see dust.”

She showed him the satellite images, and he whooped loudly. “At this rate, we'll be able to get outside in an hour or two!”

Dejah grinned and nodded. “Yeah, looks like it. Alright guys, let's put together a checklist to make sure that we do everything right, instead of running around like dust devils. First, let's clean up the inside of the rig cabins—I don't know about you, Thomas, but we've made a bit of a mess over here. I don't want anything out of place when we get moving again. Let's check for trash, make sure that's all in the compactors, and get the beds put away. Once we can leave the rigs, let's go over the outsides of the rigs. Each team checks their own rig. If there's no obvious damage outside, then we need to get into those engines, and see if the seals held. If the seals are good, then we need to pull the air filters and see they need to be replaced—they may not, they can take a lot of dust, but we'll see. Once that's done, we can get underway.”

“And if the seals are busted?” asked Thomas.

“Then we need to get on the comm to Bradbury Dome as soon as possible and get a lift team on its way here. It'll take them two days to get here, so once that's done, we'll need to find a way to keep from going crazy during that time.”

As the morning passed, the dust outside lessened gradually. Dejah watched as she could finally see the other rig clearly, and then a few of the nearby geological features, and finally the far horizon.

When the sky was clear, she called over the comm, “Alright boys, let's get out of here!” She slipped into her exploration suit and sealed the helmet.

Eduardo popped the seals on the rig door, and swung the door open. They climbed out, looking around the landscape. Dust was drifted thick against the wheels, and the rigs were almost red with the stuff.

Dejah and Eduardo made their way around the rig, checking all of the seals and the surfaces.

“I don't see any damage, Dej,” Eduardo commented. “You got anything?”

“No, it all looks good here. Let's go ahead and check those engines.”

They moved to the front of the rig. Eduardo unlatched the engine cover, and popped it open.

They stared at the engine inside. The seals around the inside of the cover were cracked and crumbling, and the engine was coated in red dust.

“Oh shit,” Eduardo commented.

Year Twenty Fifty Two

The sun was a cold bright disc in the sky, and the western half of the sky was a faint purple. Dejah slogged forward through the dusty landscape, stumbling occasionally over rocks that were hidden in the dust.

She hummed to herself, trying to keep herself focused and awake, sometimes breaking the silence with commentary.

“Ok, watch out for the rock there...can't afford to trip...there you go...”

She looked at the horizon ahead. It was slightly rough, like the outline of a crumpled piece of paper. The Phoenix was out there, somewhere. Only twenty kilometers now, she thought, checking the distance on the map.

Step. Step. Step.

“the damn horizon never looks any closer,” she muttered to herself. Her legs were numb, and she forced herself forward. “Not gonna give up. Not this close.”

She stepped forward again, setting a booted foot on the dusty soil, watching at the motion sent a puff of dust into the air. It swirled for a moment, then settled. She turned and looked behind her again. The trail of footprints led off into the distance for kilometers. “Too bad these won't last like they would on Luna,” she commented, “they'd last forever there.”

She turned back to the path ahead. “I kind of like that thought, of there being a permanent trail of footprints, all the way up to the top of the world...but in a few days the wind'll cover them up again.”

The silence was overwhelming, so Dejah kept talking, having had her fill of silence for the last few days.

“I suppose I should start working on a speech for the museum opening. I never was good at those sorts of things. Let's see...'Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to the opening of the new Mars Heritage museum...' Alright, that's boring as hell. Maybe 'Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Mars as you've never seen it before...' No, it's not a damn movie. Crap.”

Her boot snagged on a stone, and she lunged forward, stumbling as she tried to keep her footing. She scowled, and kicked the rock away. “Fine, so I'll just work on the speech later.”

She checked her wristcomm and found that she had begun to veer of to the east, and corrected her course. The sun was slowly sinking, its bottom edge almost touching the horizon.

“What's that, maybe an hour before sunset?” She judged the remaining time left. “Might as well keep walking through the night, it's the only way to make it to the Phoenix on time. And it'll help me stay awake.”

She shifted the pack on her back, and felt the deep aches of exhaustion in her shoulders. “Ugh,” she grunted, “that is not a great sign. Phoenix, little buddy, you damn sure better appreciate this when I get there.”

the edge of the sun touched the horizon, and the sky began to darken, a deep purple spreading across the landscape. Elongated shadows stretched behind each stone and dune, thin inky shapes tracing along the ground. Dejah's own shadow streamed across the dusty soil far into the distance. As she walked forward, it rippled and waved, looking like some strange creature.

Even through her thick suit, Dejah could feel the chill settling in as the sun sank lower. Soon it was a brightly glowing half disc perched on the edge of the world, then just an incandescent sliver and finally it slipped away and was gone, leaving only a bright purple area of sky over the horizon. Dejah looked to the other side of the sky, where the stars were coming out in a black sky.

“Quite a sight out here,” she breathed. “Phoenix, I can see why you would want to stay here,” she added. “Not that you can hear a word I say, you're just a machine. But if I don't talk to someone out here, I'm going to go crazy, and quite honestly you're the closest thing for hundreds of kilometers. And,” she grinned to herself, “it's not like you can tell any one that I went a little loopy and started talking to a machine, right?”

The night darkened, until the entire dome of the sky was black, dotted with thousands of stars. It was harder to see the way ahead, and Dejah slowed her pace, trying to avoid the rocks in her path.

The ground looked a dim purple in the starlight, and the horizons were invisible, blending seamlessly into the dark of the night.

“Don't worry about the night,” she muttered, stepping around a large rock outcropping. “I'm coming for you, just hold on a little longer. You should see the place they've got prepared for you in Bradbury Dome, you're going to love it. It looks a lot like this, actually, except there's no dust storms. Gods, I am so tired of the storms! I never really thought about them in the Domes, they're not that big of a deal there. I hate having something as stupid as dust keep me from going forward, you know? Actually, I bet you do know—that dust played havoc with your solar panels, didn't it?”

She pushed forward, her steps falling into the rythym of her speech.

“Anyway, you'll like the museum. There's a lot of people who are really excited to see you, and there will be a steady stream of people through the museum, even after the big opening. You're one of the big reasons why we're here on Mars, after all.”

She paused, and looked around. The ground here was flat, and mostly free of rocks. She could feel her arms and back aching from the weight of the pack, and her legs were beginning to quiver. “Damn,” she muttered, and let the pack slide to the ground. She rummaged through it, and pulled out a blanket. She unfolded it halfway, and spread it on the ground, then lowered herself into a sitting position.

“Too cold to sit on the ground, even with the damn suit,” she muttered. “Just gonna sit for a minute, let my legs relax and get some energy back.”

She leaned against the pack, and looked up at the stars. Orion was rising, and Jupiter was a bright cold dot in the sky. She could hear the faint whirring of the ventilation system in the suit, recycling her air, keeping the moisture in her breath from fogging up the faceplate in the helmet. The suit heaters struggled to keep up with the creeping cold, and Dejah shivered.

“I don't miss the Dome as much as I thought I might,” she stated, pushing back the silence again. “Even with the storms, the dust, everything that's happened...I don't think I'd trade this for anything. Well, a little more heat would be nice, I'm not a huge fan of dying of hypothermia, but aside from that, this is perfect.”

She stretched her legs out, wincing as the overused muscles cramped. She leaned forward, wishing again for more movement in the suit, and tried to loosen the tight muscles. Slowly, the cramps subsided, and she breathed easier, massaging her aching legs.

“Aw, hell, that's not a good sign. I'm going to have to get moving again soon, and I don't know if I can get up for a while.” She leaned back against her pack again, and looked up at the sky, fixing her eyes on Jupiter.

“I can't get stuck out here,” she muttered, flexing her gloved fingers. “Im going to do this, I'm going to bring the Phoenix home. I'm not going to die out here just to be forgotten in a few years.” She struggled to her feet, and pulled the pack back into place on her shoulders.

“Alright, Phoenix baby, I'm coming.”

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