Fiction Fragment Friday
This weeks story is a continuation of my first manned Mars mission holiday series. In each story I have explored the main character dealing with being away from his family on a holiday. Since the Easter story they have landed on Mars and are no longer in transit. While I might someday write a full novel about this mission these stories are much more point in time focused. If you are interested in seeing the complete story of this mission please let me know and I might add it to my project list.
I have greatly enjoyed writing this series and developing the characters. I believe that I have built a much larger world from these characters even though the stories have been very focused.
For my previous Mars mission stories:
“Daddy, daddy, look at me.” I stared at the video screen watching my daughter spin around in the yard holding a sparkler in each hand. Her giggling was infectious and brought an instant smile to my face. The loud fireworks still scare her, but the pretty ones like sparklers bring her so much joy. In the background my son was holding a giant sword shaped sparkler high in the air. Even with the haziness that comes from recording sparks at night I could see just how much fun they were having. When her sparklers went out my little girl ran up to the screen. “I miss you daddy, but mommy got me a puppy so I’m ok for now. Come home real soon though. Ok, bye.” She blew a kiss and ran off to her next adventure. I closed the message and set my tablet down. It is always easier to record my reply if I give myself some time to think about it.
As I lay on my bunk smiling, I felt a strong vibration run through the habitat. The sensation was followed by blaring alarms. While these are not good things anywhere, they are especially troubling in an enclosed habitat on the surface of Mars. As I frantically accessed the central computer to check the alarms I tried to remind myself of all the safety measures. The habitat was constructed in a ring so even if we lost one of the modules we could still get to all the remaining ones. Between each module was a connector module that provided life support to the modules on either side so even if one failed the modules on either side would still get air and pressure from their remaining connector. The 3D printed regolith shell that covered the habitat could easily be repaired by the robots that built it before we got here. My fellow crew-mates and our supplies however could not be replaced.
My tablet showed a pressure alarm coming from the living quarters. That module contained our kitchen, tables, and lounge area so I was mildly relieved because that would be the easiest module to repair. Something in the back of my head though just told me that it wasn’t empty.
Commander Norton was in the connector module frustratingly poking at her own tablet. She looked up at me and I couldn’t miss the momentary relief that crossed her face. “Reid, oh thank goodness. He welded the door shut.”
“It’s Jamison. He snapped.”
I had been trying to get through to our pilot since Easter, but he kept us all at a distance. The stress was getting to him, but instead of getting closer like the rest of us he had withdrawn further into himself. We had hoped that once we landed and started our scientific endeavors that he would be able to refocus. That had not happened, and he didn’t seem to be making any progress on his assignments. Even so I never imaged anything like this.
“What do you need me to do?”
She pointed to the suit port on the third side of the connection module. “He shut the cameras down. I need eyes on what is happening in there.”
I slid into the space suit and started closing it up. Instead of the standard airlocks our habitat had suit ports. The suits themselves always remained outside the habitat. You slid into them from behind and then sealed yourself in and sealed the port behind you. When you came back you would back up to the port and reconnect the suit crawling out from behind. It wasn’t exactly the easiest way to get into and out of a suit, but it kept us from having to decontaminate the suits after each walk. In a matter of moments, I was in the suit, sealed, and walking on the surface of Mars between the habitat and the shell that protected us from radiation.
“Ok, Commander I have a visual. Looks like he’s drunk. I’m seeing fire and sparks in there and he punctured the habitat a few times with a knife. It’s leaking air.” I caught myself staring at the sparks and thinking about the sparklers my daughter had been holding. I physically shook my head to force myself to focus. The holes were leaking fast, but thankfully the habitat was designed for leaks instead of bursting. We didn’t have unlimited air though so the longer it leaked the more danger we were going to be in. “I can patch it from out here, but that won’t fix the Jamison problem.”
The very annoyed voice of an angry engineer came over the line. “I’m working on that problem from the other side of the living quarters. Cutting through the half ass welding job he did now. Got Doc Samuels over here with me.”
“I’m working on the external patches now. He doesn’t look too happy about it.”
“I’m almost through this door. Just keep him distracted.”
“Yes ma’am.” I made myself as big as possible in the transparent part of the habitat that served as a window. He was waving the knife at me and screaming so he didn’t notice the hatch to the habitat swing open. I watched as mission specialist Susan Foster charged through the door and tackled Jamison. I could see his knife slide into her side as they fell. Doctor Samuels rushed in behind and stabbed him in the neck with some sort of needle. I patched the holes as quickly as I could, but I felt helpless as the three struggled and Fosters blood started to coat the floor. I just kept repeating in my own head to focus on the mission and trust my crew mates. That is hard to do when every instinct is telling you to get inside and help. I had a job to do though and stayed as focused as I could. By the time I was done the living quarters were empty.
It felt like the process of connecting the suit to the habitat and climbing out of it took far longer than it actually did. In my rush I stumbled and hit my shoulder against one of the environmental racks. After a few moments of cussing, I started rushing though the habitat towards the infirmary. Rushing is rather difficult with the lesser gravity of Mars, but by now I had started to adjust.
The infirmary was in a chaotic state. Commander Norton was tying Jamison to a chair while Doctor Samuels was operating on mission specialist Foster. “What can I do to help?”
The commander looked up at me, “We got this, go start a damage assessment in the living quarters and make sure the fire is completely out.”
“Yes ma’am.” I looked over at the operating table. “Is she going to be ok?”
Doctor Samuels answered without even looking up. “He didn’t hit anything major thankfully. She’ll recover here, but the gforces when we leave the planet are going to be very risky.”
I nodded and headed toward the living quarters. As bad as this was it could have been so much worse and almost was. I wondered how the commander would report this back to our superiors. This mission had been a rally call and a source of pride for the United States and now one of our own had almost single handedly ended it on the 4th of July. Many of our scientific projects were going to have to be scrapped and the return trip just got exponentially more dangerous. As I walked down the hall of the habitat, I couldn’t help but wonder if we could actually recover from this blow.