Monday, November 30, 2009

nano post 63

Dejah thought she was dreaming. Darkness had given way to a dim mauve light, and there was a loud roaring sound overhead. She blinked, and through blurry eyes, saw several forms floating on the wind, moving through the thin atmosphere. The loud roar had passed by, but a smaller rushing sound brushed by her ears.

“There aren't any birds on Mars,” she said thickly, not understanding.

Then the first of the forms swept in close to the ground, and she saw two legs come down and land, pulling the shape to a stop. The figure shed its wings, and ran over to where she lay against the lander. A glider, she realized suddenly, it's a glider.

The figure bent over her, and through a faint haze she could see the bronzed face of Eduardo.

“We're here, Dej. We're going to take you home.”

“gliders...” she whispered, “ updrafts here...”

He grinned, and beckoned to another suited figure, and they carefully picked her up.

“You can thank Kruiser for that one. The shuttle can't land here, and we needed a way to get you aboard, so he figured out how to attach an engine to a glider. Now, for once in your life, shut up and let us help you.”

She closed her eyes again, and felt nothing when the glider took off.

Dejah drifted, not knowing where she was, but not particularly caring. All she knew was that she was warm, and comfortable, and she hadn't been either in a long time.

Slowly, she came back toward consciousness. She felt herself lying on a soft surface, and tried to move her arms, but found herself too weak.

She forced her eyes open. It was a small room, painted a warm ecru shade, with a window that was letting in sunlight.

Dejah could tell very little else about the room; her vision was blurry, and she felt as though she would fall back asleep at any moment. But the room gradually swam into focus, and she saw that she was lying on a bed with a plain blue blanket. There were two chairs in the room, but only one was occupied. She couldn't tell who was sitting in the chair—he was slumped forward, head propped on his arm, and his face covered by his elbow.

Darkness came again, and she drifted away, dreaming quietly of red dust and winged machines.

It was two more days of occasional waking before she was able to stay conscious for more than five minutes at a time.

Waking again, she felt fully present in the white room for the first time, more awake than she had been before. She moved her fingers across the bedspread, feeling the slightly rough texture of the fabric. Her arms ached, and she stopped trying to move.

But the slight motion had attracted the attention of the man who had been sitting in the chair every time she had awakened, though she had never seen him leave the chair during her few alert moments the preceeding days.

He knelt by the bed, and took her hand. She slowly focused her eyes on his face.

“Nathan,” she croaked, her throat dry and sticky.

“Shhh, Dej, don't try to talk yet. The doctor was surprised you had even been waking up so soon. I guess you can't stand to stay still, even after all of that.” He smiled, and she could see tears dripping off of his chin.

She swallowed, and spoke again, more easily this time. “I thought you were in Spirit City.”

He laughed, rubbing his thumb along her hand. “You really think I'd stay there when they told me what had happened, that you'd set out across the plains with no tent? As soon as I heard that, I called Max. He had heard the news too, and was getting ready to head off to Bradbury Dome, and was more than happy to take me along. I got here in time to see the rescue crew off, but they wouldn't let me stay in the warehouse. Finally got chased out by some crazy mechanic. I wanted to talk to you over the comm, but they said that you were focused, and that distracting you could break that focus, and you might not have enough strength to hang on until they got there.” He smiled, and kissed her fingers. “I knew that was crazy, that nothing I could say would break that iron will of yours, but it didn't matter.”

“glad you're here now,” she whispered, holding his hand to her cheek as she fell asleep again.

“Well, the long and short of it is that you just pushed yourself too hard,” the doctor explained. Dejah was finally able to sit up again, and Nathan sat beside her on the bed.

“First off, the mission even as planned was pretty intense, and we would have insisted on a full checkup when you came back. Then you spent several days on the rover, traveling between twelve and fourteen hours a day, which is dangerous and pretty exhausting. Your health records indicate that you weren't sleeping well during your trip, and that didn't allow your body to recover or refresh itself. Then the rover failed, and you, Ms. Sorenson, did an incredibly stupid thing, and struck out on your own. The hab tent protected you from the environment at night, but that suit wasn't meant for fourteen hour days for weeks on end; it's a miracle you didn't rip it or get a pinhole leak. But it was those last three days that really did the damage. You didn't sleep or eat for nearly seventy two hours, during which time you traveled over twenty kilometers on foot, through temperatures that the suit was not equipped to deal with. You were already dangerously tired, and your body was under nourished for that kind of exertion. But then you developed hypothermia, in part because your body had nothing to burn for fuel but itself. How you managed to stay awake for so long, I'm not sure, but it's damned impressive.” He examined his clipboard for a moment, then continued.

“The long and short of it is that you have sustained some damage. You may not be able to recover the full strength and flexibility you had at one time, but given your good health before the trip, you should be able to continue in your job, with more low key missions. No more long term missions, I think.” He smiled. “Of course, you've made quite a mark with this mission: any more like that, and it might just seem like a death wish.”

Dejah tried to smile, but didn't quite manage it.

“Anyway, I'm going to recommend that you take a leave of absence from your job. Your employers have been asking after you quite a bit, it seems that they are eager to have a press conference to show the world that you are alive and well. I can give you doctor's orders to refuse them as long as you need to. Two weeks further bed rest, then we'll start with some basic physical therapy. I'd recommend three months leave before going back to work, and six before going back to the field. You should be able to leave for your home in Spirit City once the two weeks of bed rest are up, and I'll send your files to the hospital there.”

He left the room, and Nathan lay down on the bed beside Dejah.

She leaned back against the pillows, and asked, “Nathan, have they brought the Phoenix back yet? Did they send the team?”

He nodded. “Yeah, though they said it was just about the last day they could have gone before the cold got too bad. I talked to Eduardo, and he said they never would have found it from the air without that gps unit you attached to it. The Mars Heritage Museum is already working on restoring it, and they'll be opening the museum in about two weeks. They want you to give a speech at the opening. I asked the doctor, and he said you can if you want, but he'd ask you to be in a wheelchair for it.”

“I don't want anyone to see me in a wheelchair,” she responded. “I don't want their pity, I want their respect.”

Nathan sighed, and moved closer to her; even now, he thought, as tired as she is, and she still feels tense and stiff.

“ you mind if I ask you something?”

“What?” she whispered, tracing the delicate lines on his palm with a finger.

“After everything you went through, and everything that you're still going to face, everything the doctor said...was it worth it?”

She was silent for a long time, and he began to wonder if she had fallen asleep, when she finally responded, “Yes. I think so. I'd do it again, if I had to.”

The weeks in the hospital passed slowly. Dejah found herself irritated by her body's need to rest, and the slowness of the recovery process.

The day before the Mars Heritage museum opening, one of the nurses brought her a wheel chair. “Please, Ms. Sorenson. Everyone wants to see the woman who brought back the Phoenix. No one pities you. We all just want to thank you.”

Reluctantly, Dejah allowed herself to be shown how to use the chair, and found that she was glad to have the ability to move around the building by herself.

The morning of the museum opening, Dejah asked Nathan to take her to the museum an hour early. He rented a personal transport, and strapped her wheelchair to the back of it. He carried Dejah from her room to the transport, and carefully settled her in the passenger seat before snapping her seat belt into place.

As he closed the door to go and check the wheel chair mounts, Dejah turned on her wrist comm, and called Charles Stroupe at the museum.

“Scout Sorenson!” he exclaimed when he picked up the call. “I hear that you've accepted our request to be our guest of honor at the opening ceremonies today. I hope you're not going against your doctor's orders or anything, but I have to say that I was thrilled to hear it!”

“Don't worry, the doctor says it's fine, I just have to be careful.” She tried to keep the bitter tone out of her voice. “I have a request, if you don't mind. I'm on my way up there now, and I was wondering if I could get a few minutes alone with the Phoenix before everything gets crazy.”

“Absolutely! I'll talk to security and have them get it all set up.”

“Ok, will they have my name on a list, or do I need to check with someone when I get there?”

He laughed. “Ms. Sorenson, yours is one of the most famous faces on Mars right now, and the most popular face at Mars Heritage. Just show up.”

Nathan pushed Dejah's chair into the room where the Phoenix was displayed, the room Dejah had visited on her previous trip to the Museum. The Lander was proudly displayed on top of the mound of dust, silhouetted against the changing sky.

“thanks,” she whispered to Nathan, squeezing his hand briefly. “Is it ok if I'm alone in here for a few minutes?”

“Of course,” he responded, and kissed her forehead before walking back into the hallway.

Dejah rolled her chair as close to the lander as she could, and looked at it for a long time.

“Well, one of us is looking a lot better than the last time we met,” she said, with a hint of a smile. “I'd come up there to say hi, but I'm trying to save my strength. There's something I have to do later, and I need to make sure that i'll be able to do it.”

She leaned back in the chair and examined the Phoenix in its new home. “I'm not sure if I like this better than where I found you. This is...incredible. Beautiful. It looks the way I've always pictured it. But there's no carbon frost, no wind, no...” she thought for a moment. “there's no Mars here.”

the lander stood silently, and she continued. “I guess this is alright. It really is lovely, and I'm sure you're better off being out of those conditions. Hell, we're both pretty well grounded now.” She gestured to the chair. “No more high flying for either of us old birds, huh? But at least we'll always remember. We'll always remember what it was like to fly.”

She reached down, and let some of the dust from the ground drift through her fingertips. “It's all ashes now, of course. But at least we can remember.'

The ceremonies opened outside, with the guests of honor and presenters seated in a row of chairs along the top of the wide staircase. Dejah looked out over the crowd, wondering how many there were. Surely there were more people here than lived in Bradbury Dome—where had they all come from?

There was a small podium just in front of the Viking 2 memorial, with a microphone and a small ramp that Dejah assumed had been added for her. She shifted uncomfortably in her wheelchair, and watched as a young man took the stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to celebrate with us today! My name, as most of you know, is Ares Atkinson, and I am very honored to be standing before you today. In a few moments, the museum, the first museum on Mars, will be open, and we can hardly wait to show it to you. But before we open the museum, there is someone I would like to introduce you to.”

He cleared his throat, and continued. “It had been said that Mars had become safe, not much different than the lunar colonies, or Terra itself. Now, no true Aresian likes to hear that kind of talk, but it was a little difficult to deny these claims. After all, most of us now live in domed cities, able to walk about with little thought of our breathing, something that our predecessors had to be constantly mindful of. Even our greatest exploration companies had settled into doing mostly geological work, and it was said that the golden age of adventure on Mars was over.”

He paused, and the crowd was silent, waiting to hear the denial of these claims.

“Well, a few weeks ago, it was conclusively demonstrated that the spirit of adventure, that burning flame of desire for new knowledge, new sights, new horizons—this spirit was still alive and well in the heart of Aresians! Because one young woman not only took it upon herself to prepare and lead a mission to recover the last Terran probe that lay out on the frozen sands, but refused to turn back, even when everything told her that she should. She left her rigs and crew when they were stalled by a storm, abandoned her own rover when it refused to run, and finally destroyed her own hab tent when it held her back, arriving at the site of the Phoenix Lander with nothing more than a basic survival pack and her exploration suit!”

As he spoke, the crowd began to applaud, and then to cheer; by the time he paused for breath, the audience was in an uproar, shouting and waving at the stage.

“I tell you today that the spirit of adventure, of courage and sheer stubborness that landed us here on these red hills so many years ago—it has not left us, and as long as we have these shining examples before it, it never will! I give you, Dandelion Corporation Scout Dejah Sorenson, the woman who brought the Phoenix home!”

The applause was deafening; it echoed off the stone of the museum, and seemed to bounce off the distant roof of the Dome as well.

Dejah looked at Nathan, seated beside her, and gave a slight, almost secretive smile. Then she grabbed the arm rests of the chair, and pushed herself upward. As she stood, Nathan tried to grab her hand, but she shook her head. “I need to do it this way,” she whispered. Her steps were hesitant, but in a few moments, she was standing at the podium, clutching the sides for support. A sweat broke out on her forehead, but she held her head high.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid that I do not have the Atkinson way with words. I don't have anything fancy to say. But ever since I first set out to bring back the Phoenix, and especially after I came back, it seems like everyone wants to know, why? Why bring back the Phoenix? Why go to such lengths for a bit of history that's as much Terran as Aresian.”

She paused, and looked over the crowd. There have to be at least twenty thousand people here, she thought.

“You know, when I found the Phoenix, it was almost a disappointment. Even though I'd been through hundreds of scenarios, training for how to recover the Phoenix in any state of collapse, I didn't really expect it to look like that. I thought of myself striding confidently over the red dust hills during a purple sunset, and coming across the lander, still standing tall, the way it looks in all of the pictures that we see. Of course, it wasn't like that. It was the middle of the night, I was almost delirious with cold and exhaustion, and the Phoenix didn't look much better than I did. It was hard to take at first, that shock of reality. But in the end, I decided something. I liked it better that way. The Phoenix was broken down because she was really out there on Mars, experiencing the full force of this beautiful deadly world. She was broken because we, the human race, had dared to send her to do something amazing, and that was a beautiful thing in its own right.”

Dejah cleared her throat, and felt her knees beginning to go weak. She spoke a little faster.

“So when you go into the museum today, enjoy it. Appreciate it. Understand the effort it took to get us here. When you see the Phoenix standing tall in there, remember two things: reality requires being broken, and some things are always worth doing, even if you are torn apart in the process. Remember the Phoenix, and live like a true Aresian. Thank you.”

She almost fell backwards into the chair, and felt like she might fall asleep right there, but the slow crescendo of applause reached the stage, and she heard her name being shouted over and over again.

Ares Atkinson took the podium and spoke again, but Dejah didn't hear most of it, just enough to understand that he was extending thanks to the other corporations, scientists, and donors who had made the museum possible. Soon, a large red ribbon over the doors of the museum was cut, and the crowd began to file inside.

Nathan leaned over to Dejah as the rest of the honored guests were ushered out of their seats, and into the front of the museum line. “Do you want to fight the crowds? You seem pretty tired.”

She shook her head. “No, I think that was just about all that I've got left in me. Let's just go back to the hospital.”

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