Pod 125, Hebrus Valles, Mars
Ting bip bip bip. Ting bip bip bip. Ting bip bip bip.
The buzzer beeps relentlessly until I point my index finger at the red, flashing square. It takes quite a bit of finesse because it’s located right in the middle of the Pointer Box over the door. Smart move, there’s no way you’d be able to turn it off unless you were fully awake.
The switch-off starts the predictable morning routine in motion. I stretch myself up on the bed…A loose term really, it’s more like a flat-packed coffin. The only difference is that it’s made of white recycled plastic and it doesn’t have a lid. Just shelves which jut out when pressed into service. Every inch perfectly utilized, like Ikea on steroids.
I aim my finger at the Morning icon on the Pointer Box. Someone must have had a bizarre sense of humour coming up with that one. A sun, for God’s sake. When do I ever see the sun? It doesn’t matter that are there no windows in my crypt, it’s the same all over Hebrus Colony. Well, actually I tell a lie. If you leave the confines of Pod 125, the sun still shines. That’s what the Workers say, anyway. They always seem upbeat, even when they are walking around in those Buzz Lightyear suits. Funny how some Earth jokes still survive here on Mars.
The morning shelf springs into action. A dozen multi-coloured pills aimed at making my life here tenable and bearable. Anti-this, anti-that. Pills to combat radiation exposure, dehydration, vitamin deficiency. The best are the Xanax. Imagine I needed a prescription for them on Earth. Those were happy days, but I didn’t know it then.
Day 730. Assemble for breakfast. Important announcement pending.
That’s about two years Earth time. One-year Mars time. Maybe the Relief Ship has arrived at last? That’s all anyone has been talking about the last few days. It’s weird that our days are almost the same as Earth days, but our years seem to go on forever. I just want to see the sunshine, even at second hand. I hope that Mike’s podcast will arrive today. My wrist wrap heartbeat monitor light flashes on and I begin my correction breathing.
As soon as the light stops flashing, I head down to the assembly area, pointing my finger to open the doors to the oxygen secure corridors. Sort of like fire doors on Earth, just with a different threat. And you didn’t need implanted cyber nails at home.
Number 25. Timothy Long. Pass.
The assembly area is the same as every day. Waiting for Godot. Funny the snippets of Earth that still cling to your brain. Perhaps there is hope today.? We drink our bran mix-ups, grateful that the water extraction system still works. Who would have thought that we would find enough briny Mars water to convert into something usable?
All eyes are on the Special Announcement icon over the food service bar, all ears are primed. There is little discussion, we are each lost in silent longing. Jacob breaks the impasse.
“Do you think it’s today? “
I want to believe that it’s possible.
“They don’t usually say special announcements unless it’s something positive.”
“I hope you’re right. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”
“I know, Jacob. Let’s see what happens.”
As we finish our food, the Special Announcement icon flickers into life.
A hushed silence echoes around the room. Dreams ready to live or die. Not least mine.
Unfortunately, Rover Relief has had to abandon its’ mission and return to Earth. The sandstorm approaching from equatorial Mars had made landing too dangerous. It is hoped that that the next relief mission will be successful and we appreciate your endurance in these challenging times.
Jacob looks at me, his brown eyes misting. Two more years to wait. For some pains, even Xanax isn’t a cure.
“All I wanted was to see if Rebecca got her Explorer Science Degree, the one that means she could follow me out here. I love her, Timothy. My life is worthless without her.”
“I’m sorry, Jacob. I don’t even know what to say.”
And the truth is exactly that. Sometimes, there are no words. My wishes seem unimportant in comparison to Jacob’s. I just wanted to know that the sun, our sun, still rose somewhere on the horizon. I remember laughing when Mike had suggested the podcast. He was my space training supervisor, a great guy, but a bit of nerd. Why would I want pictures of the sun, isn’t it always there? I know better now.
The rest of the day passes in robotic oblivion. We do all the usual stuff, those of us who are non-workers. Time in the gym, the pool, the walking treadmill. We watch the Workers return from their outside missions, exhausted but brimming with real-life energy. I would gladly swap my cosseted existence for a glimpse of their sun, but that is not how this hive works.
At last, the bedtime siren sounds and I know that another day has ended. They don’t need an icon for that, it’s a universal call for all non-workers. I watch Jacob walk with slumped shoulders to his exit on platform two. Mine is nearer, platform one, but they all look identical except for the numbers. I point my finger at the thick metal door and enter the walkway to my sleeping quarters. The grey galley corridor is lit by ceiling tubes and it’s easy to retrace my morning journey in reverse. Not to mention that I’ve walked this route 1460 times.
Number 25. Timothy Long. Pass.
Alone in my room, I allow the tears to flow. With trembling hands, I open my diary. The one Mike encouraged me to pack instead of a book. Day 730 lies blankly teasing me to write. But I have no words. Or even numbers. A memory seeps in to fill the vacuum. My mother singing. I can’t remember when exactly, I know I hadn’t started school yet.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine….”
I ignore the bleeping wrist wrap and start drawing with childhood abandon. My mother. Me. And the biggest, brightest, silliest looking sun you could ever imagine. I hope no one checks my diary, or they’ll surely double my pills.
I wrote this piece of fiction as a response to a prompt in Pauline Clooney‘s creative writing course. We were meant to write about somewhere we had never visited before, so I took a bit of leeway with this.
Yay! Starting to work on my January targets…The Christmas fog seems to be lifting at last.