Wednesday, August 29, 2012

100TWC - Day 33: Seeing Red

[ this is a companion piece to "Exploration" which immediate precedes it in the writing challenge - on Day 32 ]

Yevgeny Orlov stopped, unable to move, at the last rung. Twenty centimetres above the rust-red dust of the Martian surface, on the very brink of achieving his lifelong dream, Yevgeny froze. Inside his environment suit, a miracle of modern engineering designed to protect him from external extremes far beyond what he was likely to experience on Mars, a fan whirred into life, spurred to action by the suit's sensors which detected a considerable increase in humidity from the sweat which now stood out on Yevgeny's brow. The biomonitors reported his condition to the lander.

Doctor Singh's voice crackled into his ears. "Problem, Yev? Your stress levels just spiked like I have never seen."

He cleared his throat, which seemed to be reacting to the still-settling dust cloud the lander had thrown up, even though none of it could possibly have breached his seals.

"Give me moment," he managed. "This big event for me."
"For all of us, Orlov," Captain Hu broke in. "But Richards and Kowalski still need to get down here, so if you would be so kind as to get a move on, we can get on with our tasks."

He passed a gloved hand over his visor, wiping away the thin layer of dust that static had attracted, and looked out again at the dimly lit landscape. The sun, close to its zenith, shone pale and tiny in the ochre sky. Forcing his hands to unclamp themselves from the ladder, Yevgeny stepped at last onto his first new world.

He took a tentative step away from the lander, remembering to compensate for the less-than-half gravity compared with Earth that they had practised under during the months of training for this mission. Jan Kowalski appeared at the rim of the hatch above him.

"Look out below!" he yelled, launching himself out into the thin atmosphere, catching the ladder with one hand and sliding down it like a clown entering the ring. "Wheeee!" he shouted, causing Yevgeny to reach for his intercom volume adjuster. The engineer had no sense of occasion. He behaved like he'd just arrived on a day trip to the solar system's biggest playground.

Yevgeny turned his back on  Kowalski's childish antics and set off in the direction of Curiosity, which they had overflown during landing. He intended to retrieve the rover's data set before too much was overwritten, duplicating what their lander and the Red River still in orbit above them were already recording. If their last reports were accurate, there had been considerable seismic activity recently, completely at odds with everything they thought they knew about Mars' geology.

Captain Hu said something unintelligible. Yevgeny increased the gain on his intercom.

"Say again, Captain?"
"Don't waste too much time on your pet rover," Hu repeated. "We have a full schedule of tasks as it is, without wasting energy on an almost-dead probe."

Wasting energy? Didn't the man realise they wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the trailblazing, plucky little rover? The least Yevgeny could do was grab its data. By now he had emerged from the artificial dust cloud. He had a clearer view across the plain towards Mount Sharp, where the rover had completed its mission. Flicking controls on his arm console, he deployed the telephoto lenses mounted on his visor and panned the horizon.

After ten minutes scanning the entire crater wall in this quadrant, and checking back with Richards that this was definitely the direction from which they had made their final approach, Yevgeny had to admit: there was absolutely no sign of Curiosity.

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