Mars, January 18, 2035, 1000 QMT
The Mars Buggy bounced over another outcrop of rock that Quirinius missed as he tried to drive and study the High Rez map at the same time. From behind him, his sister, Lovecquis, protested for the tenth or eleventh time, “Keep your eyes out the window or you’ll bust an axle!”
Quirinius rolled his eyes and kept driving, but directed more attention towards the rusty red ground in front of the buggy as he accelerated slightly. “No problem, sister, I got my bearings now.”
In the back half of the compartment, Lovecquis was busy taking additional external readings and comparing them to a weather map from an up-link to Phobos Station. There was a front approaching, carrying with it a level 5 sand storm. It was still several hours out and they should be able to make it to Tharsis Station with more than an hour to spare, as long as Quirinius didn't wreck the buggy.
About ten seconds later, Quirinius wrecked the buggy. That was slightly unfair, though, since the buggy wrecked when it broke through a thin layer of hardened lava that covered a small lava pipe and had looked like solid ground until the buggy broke through. The buggy nosed into the hole and slammed to a stop as it’s front cab rammed into the floor of the lava tube. Both occupants automatically grabbed their helmets and locked the seals. Quirinius looked at a gage and said, “Yup, hull breach. Great.”
Lovecquis unbuckled her harness and gracefully swung down to straddle her brother as he dangled from his straps in the drivers seat. “Any broken bones?”
“No. I’m okay.”
“That’s only because I haven’t broken any yet..”
“Very funny.” reaching down, he grabbed the High Rez map and then propped himself up with his legs against the instrument panel, and undid his harness. “How’s the COMM?”
Lovecquis twisted around and looked at the COMM equipment. “It’s out, naturally.”
Quirinius looked at the map again, “Well, we can climb out and send for help with the E-COMM, or we can head for this cave.” he said, holding the map up for his sister to see. “You said there was a front headed out way?
“The storm front is about three hours out.”
“Not enough time for a pick-up, even.”
Lovecquis asked, “Where are we?” Quirinius pointed to a spot just to the south of the cave area. “That doesn't look too far. Besides, with the sand storm, the buggy will probably get buried..”
“That’s what I’m thinking.” said Quirinius. “You get the E-Packs out, I’ll pop the hatch.”
Lovecquis had to climb to reach the rear of the compartment to reach the yellow and black stripped pull handles, but managed to do so with ease in the light gravity of Mars. Pulling and twisting the handles at the same time, there was a faint double “thud”, and she pulled two cylindrical containers out of their storage bays. Each cylinder was about a foot and a half in diameter, and about a yard long. One had a decal on it that showed a pup-tent and the other had a decal that showed a picnic basket.
In the mean time, Quirinius tried the hatch. It was jammed. Looking around, he found a geology hammer that had come loose from the rear of the compartment, and used it to shatter the glass window of the hatch. Making sure there were no shards remaining in the port that might cut his EVA suit, he reached through, felt the external latch lever, and pulled. The hatch popped open slightly and thudded against a rock out crop. “Great. Door’s blocked.” he said.
Lovecquis looked down from where she was unlocking another canister and said, “Take out the canopy then.”
Quirinius shrugged and smiled. “Breaking things is my specialty.”
“No need to remind…” said Lovecquis as she pulled the last E-Pack loose. This one had a radio antenna logo, and in big red letters, “E-COMM”.
Quirinius had to hit the canopy several times with the hammer before it finally started to pop out of it’s frame. Grabbing hold of a convenient hand hold, he swung his feet and kicked the glass shell completely out of the frame. Letting go, he fell through the frame and landed with a slight bounce. Looking around he said, “Careful when you get down here, Vee-Vee. Lots of obsidian shards.”
“Heads up” said Lovecquis as she let the “pup tent” canister drop. Quirinius looked up and managed to catch the canister before it hit the cave floor. “Very funny. Let me say it again: Obsidian Shards. Not good for pressure tents.”
Lovecquis didn't say anything more, but didn't drop the other two canisters, but handed them down so that her brother wouldn't’t drop them. Quirinius set them aside and as Lovecquis lowered herself through the canopy frame, and stopped. “What about the samples?”
“Olympus Mons has been there for over three billion years, it will still be there a week or two from now..” said Quirinius as he picked up two of the canisters. His sister dropped to the ground and picked up the E-COMM canister. “Besides, after the storm, and after we get a recovery team out here, the samples will still be in the buggy. They’re safe where they are.”
“I was thinking I could do some more study on some of them while we sit out the storm.”
“knock yourself out..” said Quirinius. Looking up he started to climb up the side of the buggy. Only the front half of the buggy was stuck in the hole, so it only took a few minutes for the two siblings to climb out. Once on the surface, Quirinius pointed to a low rise with several outflow gullies starting about half way down the slope. “There’s the caves.“ he said.
Vee-Vee looked where her brother was pointing. “Easy hike.“ Then she opened the E-COMM canister by pulling a rip cord and stepping back. The canister split open and a pair of solar panels unfolded, an antenna telescoped upwards and a display panel lit up. The solar panels aligned themselves of servo controlled gimbals to catch the most sun light possible. Lovecquis pushed in the suit COMM frequency on the “local receiver” section of the touch screen, and then entered the Tharsis emergency frequency into the “Transmit” section. “Tharsis Station, Tharsis station, this is Vee-Vee and Old Dog. We have a problem. Over.”
There was a brief silence then, “Tharsis Station to EXP 12, we hear you loud and clear, and have a fix….. Advise you take shelter. Sand storm front, ETA two hours and we would need three and a half hours to get there. EXP 17 has our Hopper tied up over a thousand clicks west of your position, but I’ll have them drop what they’re doing and head your way as soon as the sand storm is over. Copy?”
“Copy Tharsis. What’s the estimated duration, over.”
There was a brief silence, “It’s too soon to tell. Current estimates are two days to a week. Have you picked a secured location to hunker down, over.”
“Affirmative. Old Dog found a cave opening on grid section Gamma 15, map 5549. Over.
A second of silence, “Got it. Sending info to EXP 17. Need anything else, over.”
“Nope. Just another day in the neighborhood. Out.”
Vee-Vee tapped the “shutdown” tab on the screen, and the E-COMM refolded itself in reverse order of how it had opened, including drawing the rip cord back into it’s stowed position.
“Quit calling me ‘Old Dog’. I’m only a year older than you.”
“Sorry. Old habit. Would you prefer your other old nick name, ‘Piggy‘?”
Quirinius shook his head, “Little sisters: There ought to be a ‘return’ policy at the hospitals…” he said to nobody in particular. Picking up the food and shelter canisters and slinging them over his shoulders, he continued, “Let’s get moving.” and started to walk off.
“A little more to the left…” said Vee-Vee.
Quirinius stopped. Looked at the caves which he had started walking towards. “More to the left? I’m heading straight for the caves.”
Vee-Vee had picked up the E-COMM canister and Quirinius noticed she also carried a geology sample collection kit. “Yes, but to the left is a small crater. I figured as long as we were in the neighborhood, I’d grab a few samples.”
Quirinius shook his head again, and said, “Sure, why not….” and started walking towards a low rise to the left which marked the rim of the crater.
Less than ten minutes later, Quirinius sat on the food canister and idly looked at pebbles as Vee-Vee was “Ooohhhhh-ing” and “Aaaahhhh-ing” over similar pebbles that had apparently been blown out of the crater when it was formed. He also kept an eye on the north west horizon, watching a ruddy reddish wall of dust grow larger and larger. Finally, he could not stand it any more. “Vee-Vee, although I don’t share your love or rocks and things found in the ground, I do appreciate that love of rocks and things found in the ground, but I think it is time for us to haul rear ends into the caves.”
Vee-Vee looked up from a particularly interesting rock about the size of a basket ball which was formed out of layers of volcanic ash, but had a single layer of carbonate through the middle. Then she noticed the approaching dust storm. “Sorry, I lost track of time.” she said. Pointing at the small boulder, she said, “Stay put. I want to talk to you later.” The rock agreed with a silent and unmoving nod of obedience, much like any other proper rock would do. Gathering up the sample bags she had already filled and sealed, she stuffed them in the geology kit. Walking over to where she had set the E-COMM canister, she picked it up and followed her older brother.
Another twenty minutes or so brought them to the cave entrances. It would have taken longer, but Quirinius kept reminding Vee-Vee of the sand storm. Caves were “blow” caves, formed when sub surface brine warmed enough for the carbon dioxide to flash boil and blow out of the side of the hill. The carbon dioxide would boil off, leaving a slurry of sand and watery and foaming slush to roll down the slope forming channels that narrowed and faded into the lowlands. Even as far back as 2006, Mars researchers knew that some of the blows were recent, as in forming in real time, yet in the five years that humans had set up outposts on the red planet, nobody had been able to catch one in action. As they had worked their way up the hill, Vee-Vee had wanted to stop and collect more samples, but Quirinius kept control and kept reminding her that the rocks would still be there after the sand storm, even if they would be covered with a little more dust.
The two stood in the opening of the cave they picked and used the helmet lights to study the caves walls. “Pretty smooth walls.” said Quirinius.
“The Blows usually carry a lot of rock and grit, so the slush flow tends to polish the walls.” said Vee-Vee. Looking back at the opening, she watched as wisps of dust started appearing. “The front will be here soon. Looks like about twenty minutes out.”
“How far back do you think we need to set up the tent?”
“As far back as possible.” said Vee-Vee.
Quirinius picked up the tent canister and started walking deeper into the cave as Vee-Vee watched the dust wisps and an occasional dust devil form and drift by with increasing speed and frequency. It was almost hypnotic, like watching snow fall. Her near trance was broken when her brother called her, “I planted the tent as far back as I could. A little too far back, I think…”
Turning, she saw his helmet light in the depths of the cave, and taking one last look at the growing sand storm, she turned and quick stepped toward the light. When she got to the tent, she stopped, looked at Quirinius, then back at the tent. “I’d say that’s too far back.”
The tent was basically an inflatable double walled micro-fiber balloon with an air lock on one end, and a compressor and re-breather/oxygen generator at the other. It’s general shape was a ten foot diameter by fifteen foot long cylinder. When deployed, the walls inflated, creating the shell, and two flaps in the front also inflated so that the doors to the lock were formed by two flaps of fabric with a molecular coating that fused to form an air tight seal, yet could still be separated by simply pushing through. This particular ten foot diameter tent was wedged into a nine foot diameter cave.
A gust of wind at the front of the cave blew in a spray of sand and small pebbles, which due to the thin air, continued to fly to the back of the cave. The “plinking” and ‘pinging” of the sand and pebbles sent Vee-Vee and her brother scrambling into the tent with the E-COM and Picnic canisters in tow, and of course, Vee-Vee’s geology sample kit.
The inside of the tent was high tech, and designed to keep anyone that had to use it as an emergency shelter entertained for weeks, if needed. One wall incorporated two chromatofiber wide screen video displays with a micro library of over two thousand full length vids stored in a dual output micro player the size of a postage stamp. The remotes were the size of a little finger, and besides controlling the video entertainment, controlled everything else too, like lights and temperature. Built in fold down inflatable beds lined the opposite side, with two end to end about one foot off the floor, and three feet above them, two more so the tent could sleep up to twelve people in three rotating sleep shifts. The far end, opposite the air lock, was a toilet area, which used several miniature water and solid waste processing units to continuously recycle water, and compress and dry out solid waste for future recycling once the happy campers were rescued. (This was a standard on all versions of the off Earth emergency shelters, since it was much cheaper to recycle the solid waste than to transport fertilizer from Earth to either Lunar or Martian outposts. That was only common sense.)
There were also privacy drapes, nano-fiber blankets, inflatable chairs and a fold down inflatable dining table. In short, the shelters contained all the amenities needed to make an emergency shelter a home, executed in such a way that those that had need of one could do so, and keep themselves occupied in such a way that would prevent two or more people, cooped up for weeks on end, from killing each other.
Quirinius checked a small glowing panel next to the airlock, “Full pressure.” Reaching up he unlocked his helmet and with a slight hiss, broke the seal. “Ah! Fresh canned air!” His sister followed suit, and after removing her helmet, shook her braids out.
“Well, what’s for dinner?” she asked.
Quirinius executed a slight bow, “Uno momento, Senorita..”, pulling the rip cord of the picnic canister, the top popped open, and Quirinius pulled out a five liter bottle of water, which he set down, then started pulling out small individual meal packs, each about the size of a deck of cards. “We have a wide selection. Fried chicken wafers with mashed potatoes, carrots and an apple pie biscuit. Or, would you prefer a Sloppy-Joe with fries? And then there’s the salmon steak with baked potato, asparagus and peas with a cherry tart? Ah, this is mine, Bar-b-cued pork chop, with stuffing, mashed ‘taters, gravy, corn and rice pudding!…”
“Who cares, at this point..” said Lovecquis, as she reached in and grabbed a meal pack. Looking at the box, she read, “Liver and onions, spinach, dirty rice and dill pickle. Who thought that one up?”
“Weirdness is one to the things that the shrinks figured would stop anyone cooped up in here from going ‘Bozo-the-Clown‘, and walking out the air lock without a suit.”
“Frankly, if there’s too much ‘weird’, I think that would make someone want to walk out the air lock without a suit. Oh well. I don’t suppose there’s a chili-dog with tater tots in there..?”
“I’m sure there is, but you have to dig for it. But I’m not picky.”
The wind still howled on the eerie high pitched way that Martian wind howled, and along with that, the near constant hiss and thump of sand and pebbles flying into the cave and impacting on the material of the tent. Quirinius sat on his bunk and watched “Master of Disguise” for about the fifteenth time. Behind the privacy curtain that divided the tent into two rooms, Lovecquis watched the last part of “The Princess Bride”, and was sifting through a menu in the lower left corner for the next movie she wanted to watch. Finally, she settled on the controversial 2012 remake of “2001: A space Odyssey”, which she had never seen, much less knew about. Curious, she read the synopsis. It was controversial in two ways. How stupid was it to remake a move that was 11 years behind the times, and not even close to the reality of the times? The second was turning the HAL-9000 into a female android sex slave that developed an AI personality, which then proceeded to kill the crew in a manner that would have had Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick spinning in their graves so fast that their collective gyroscopic effects would, depending upon their relative alignment, stop the rotation of the Earth and cause massive devastation as continents ripped themselves apart under the stress. And, of course, they changed the ending so that the AI female sex slave androids’ motive was to ‘get it on’ with the alien artifact, which was no longer manifest as a monolith with 1 by 4 by 9 ratio dimensions, but shaped more like a twenty foot tall pickle, and thusly, create the “Star Child”.
Vee-Vee was delighted to find that she could “delete” movies from the menu.
Finally, she settled on a bio-pic based upon the life of “Floppy, The Hip-Hop Banjo Clown.”
“… You must learn the Disguisey way…” drifted through the tent as Quirinius made his way through the tent towards the toilet area. Vee-vee looked up from examining one of the rock samples. “Aren't’t you tired of that by now? How many times can you listen to Dana Carvy do that fake Italian accent?”
Quirinius shrugged. “I busted the remote.”
Vee-Vee shook her head. “My brother.” and went back to studying her rocks.
The sound of the wind was dying down. The hiss of sand and thump of pebbles was also dropping off. Quirinius had managed to repair the remote to his screen, and was now watching the 2012 remake of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Apparently, the “delete” feature only worked for each respective screen. At the rear of the tent, the compressor and re-breather/oxygen generator was pumping out huge levels of heat. In the cave behind the tent (And, just in case anyone forgot, the tent was ten feet in diameter, yet the cave was only nine feet in diameter), the walls were out gassing carbon dioxide, a touch of methane, and also (due to some odd Martian chemical reactions between the various compounds in the soil, the methane, and traces of water), oxygen. And the pressure was building.
Vee-Vee was just finishing up the cataloging of one of the last specimens of rock samples, when she felt a vibration. It seemed like the whole tent had vibrated. “Quirinius, what are you doing?”
“Nothing… Just watching a movie.”
“Did you feels something like a tremor, just now?”
“Umm, no. Well, sort of.” The privacy curtain parted and Quirinius poked his head into Vee-Vees’ space. “Sort of a vibration?”
Then it happened again, and the two felt the tent lurch in the direction of the cave opening.
Quirinius slapped his head, “Of course! Quick, get into your EVA suit!”
“Just do it!”
Vee-Vee knew one thing about Quirinius: He had an almost instinctive way of knowing when something bad was about to happen. Unfortunately, that didn't’t always apply when he was driving Mars Buggies. Moving as fast as she could, she pulled on her suit, and doing a quick check to check her suits O-2 levels, clamped on her helmet. Just then, the tent lurched again, knocking both of them off their feet. Quirinius got to his feet and grabbed his sisters arm, and said, “back of the tent, move!”
Not that Vee-Vee had to put much effort into it, since her brother was pretty much dragging her along anyway. The tent lurched again, and helped them to reach the back of the tent. “What’s going on?”
“The generator’s putting out heat in the back of the cave…”
Suddenly, it dawned on Vee-Vee what was happening. “Shouldn’t we be trying to get out of here instead?”
“Too late….” said Quirinius.
There was a flutter, then a lurch, then the two found themselves slammed onto the back wall of the tent. That wasn’t a particular problem, since it was in effect, an air cushion, yet the two still were firmly plastered against the wall.
Outside the cave mouth, a rumble could be heard in the thin Martian air, and suddenly, a day-glow green ten by fifteen foot cylinder shot out of the moth of the cave, quite literally like a cork out of a bottle of wine, since the tent was followed by a mix of water ice slush, carbon dioxide, and sand in a foaming mix that sloshed down the older gully. The tent landed about 100 yards from the opening of the cave, bounced a few times, roll for a bit, then hit the rim of the small crater, teetered, then rolled into the depression.
Inside, The two checked each others suit indicators and for broken bones or cracked visors.
“Talk about your fierce winds!” said Vee-Vee.
“Yeah. I think we made Mars pass a little gas…”
The tent rocked slightly, since there was still a bit of wind from the front, but it was lessening by the minute. In an hour, the two heard nothing from outside. Quirinius pushed through the inner air lock door, waited for it to reseal, then pressed through the outer lock. The sky was a bright red, it was early morning. He COMMed his sister, “Bring out the E-COMM, I wanna go home.”
Vee-Vee appeared within seconds, set up the E-COMM unit, called Tharsis Station, and was told the “Hopper” was on it’s way.
The two waited, and in just a little more than an hour, Quirinius saw a black speck low on the horizon, “Hopper ahoy!” In ten minuets, the hopper grew from a speck, to a blotch, to a oddly shaped contraption of thrust modules, instrument platforms and fuel tanks, until finally, it was the most beautiful ship the two had ever seen in their lives. As the ship touched down, a cargo pod hatch opened, and a figure leaned out and waived. “Busted the trolley, eh, Piggy?”
“Things were running too smooth the last couple of months, so I figured you needed something to do, Big Head!” Quirinius called back.
“Yeah, well, just wait until yo’ mamma hears about this…” the older man chuckled. Then he looked out over the shallow valley, and saw Vee-Vee poking at a rock. “Young lady, we have two more teams to pick up…”
Vee-Vee picked up the basket ball sized rock, and said, “That’s a good rock, nice rock. You stayed exactly where I told you to stay…”
“I’m coming! Nice rock. Don’t worry, I won’t let the bad man hurt you…”
(Constructive criticism welcome)
"I reject your reality, and substitute my own!" Adam Savage, Mythbusters