Page the Second


A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fade to Red

I climbed slowly down the ladder, bouncing a little at each step. The suit was ponderous, but I had worked out; I was ready for it, I hoped. First day on Mars. I wanted to stretch my arms and breathe deeply--which of course I couldn't.

As I hit the ground, I kicked up a little skiff of vermilion dust, which blew away in the stiff breeze. I tongued the suit com. "Starling here. Carbon dioxide--stable, nitrogen--up 23%, argon--stable, oxygen--down 3%. We have a stiff breeze coming from the north, which could kick up some serious iron oxide dust problems if we aren't careful. Out."

I was at Aeolis Mensae along with Lieutenant Jay Parker (who was taking an inordinate amount of time getting out here, by the way) and Ensign Sten Falco to study the tectonic signatures in the area. There were also research teams over near Olympus Mons and Valles Marineris.

After we were done here, our team would head over to Cydonia to see the 'giant face' and pyramids and check for water. I couldn't wait. It'd be like a vacation. Falco never stopped yakking about it. He was sure it was alien architecture. I wondered how he got past the hoard of psychs to come on this little shindig.

I started off across the rubble-strewn plain, wondering how long the landscape has looked exactly like this. On earth you'd expect to see differences nearly every day, even in 'wilderness areas'. There are always animals or water or humans or other things to disturb the lay of the land. Here--just the wind--the ever-present scouring, howling gale.

I tongued the com again. "Parker, when are you haulin' your carcass out here anyway? I've already got half a click on you, man."

No answer.

I was starting to get a little antsy. Parker was normally right on top of things. Today I had yet to raise him. I tongued the com again. "Falco, do you read me?"
"I read you, Starling."
"What's Parker up to? Why won't he answer his com?"
"Not sure. I'll go check. Out."
I wondered idly why Falco didn't just look down at his array to pinpoint Parker instead of hunting him down.

I stepped around a huge boulder and found myself at the lip of a vast canyon. Somehow on our readouts it hadn't looked so deep. I kicked a pebble off the edge. It plunged, little clouds of scarlet dust marking the places where it hit the cliff wall. How glad I was that I hadn't come out here in the dark.

I turned to go back, and there was Parker, standing there silently. He'd been at my back and I hadn't even seen him come.
I tongued my com. "Crud, Parker. You scared me spit-less! Where'd you come from? Haven't you heard me calling you?"

No answer.

His face had a strange calmness to it as he nudged me backwards off the cliff.

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