“I think they’re expecting you to say something, Captain.”
Archibald continued to stare out the window of the Fore Cabin at the red dot of Mars growing all too slowly against the infinite black vacuum, “Like what, ‘Have a good vote, we all die tomorrow’?”
Shelly bit her lip, rocked up on her toes, and clasped her hands behind her back, “I think… they were hoping for something more inspirational, sir.”
He turned to her, laughed, ‘I suppose your right. C’mon, let’s go form a doomed civilization.”
“Sounds like fun to me.”
Captain Davis Archibald and Commander Shelly Combs walked out of the Fore Cabin onto the metal walkway overlooking the Cafeteria that had been transformed into the Public Hall. A microphone had been attached to the railing for him. As he approached the rail, applause filled the room. His hands outstretched at his sides, he nodded his head slightly in gratitude, and motioned for quite.
“Thank you. I am honored by your support. I am honored by the trust you have shown in me as we have dealt with these engine problems that threaten us all. I am honored by your courage in the face of adversity, to continue preparing the way forward rather than meekly await the hand of cruel fate. I give you my word, as hard as you are willing to work, as much as you are willing to sacrifice, to extend and develop human civilization, I will give no less for you.
“Today you gather to take a step forward in pursuit of your dreams, to choose the very nature of your new society. Many heated debates have been held over the past few months as to how this should be decided. When all of this is done, I urge you to remember the lessons of this day; that we came here together, we decided together, and we live or die together.
“Let the future be decided here, today, by those with the courage to be here. God save us all.”
Unanimous silence erupted from the chamber. The entire population rose together and faced the Captain, hands at their sides. Again, he only nodded, then turned to his left and headed towards the aft section.
Commander Shelly stepped to the mic, “Alright folks, orderly lines, pick up a ballot, fill it out, the inspector will make sure there is only one ballot, drop it in the box, and then ink your thumb so you can’t vote a second time. Let’s keep this simple, the faster we vote, the faster we know.”
“McNally? You back here?”
“Cap? Under here.”
Archibald circled around the engine block to the starboard side of the room and knelt down, “Anything new?”
“Yeah… I reversed the polarity on the relays and everything is okay now.”
“No! That wasn’t even… that didn’t even make sen… I was being sarcastic, Cap… you know this engine is designed to keep us alive, didn’t you think it would be a good idea to study it?”
The Captain stared at McNally who knew full well there were only 15 humans who understood this hastily built engine and 10 of them were mechanics on these ships. “What do you have for me?”
“Well sir, the pressure has built up beyond the capacity of the bleed valve to compensate for, our CO2 levels are dangerously high already, so more bleed off would probably kill us anyway, and our latest attempt to fix the problem failed.”
“Explain to me, again, what you tried last night.”
“Because the problem stems from the expulsion systems being out of sync, we tried to ‘resync’ it. Since the motors are driven by a series of electo-magnets creating repulsion, we tried adding bar magnets to a few of them in order to shove the motor back into sync.”
“Sounds logical, I guess”
“Yeah, unfortunately, placing bar magnets inside a powerful magnetic filed is tricky. They got kicked out, rather forcefully.”
“Which is why we went from eventual doom to impending doom?”
McNally sighed and hung his head, “Yes, sir. The hull has now been weakened in multiple places, in areas where the gas pressure is building most directly.”
“Well, if it is just the expulsion system, can’t we turn off the motors and simply open a hatch and release the carbon into space?”
“Ummm….well, I suppose we could seal off the port decks 9 and 10, blow the emergency hatches, then open the maintenance hatches after disabling the security guards. We would lose significant propulsion and power generation.”
“But we will still have oxygen and some electricity?”
“Yeah. The problem is post separation. We could, actually, just leave it that way. The waste would continue to dump and the pressure and poison problems would be solved. We would also lose access to port decks 9 and 10…”
“Most of our propulsion is from the solar sails, right? So how much longer will this make the trip?”
“6 months. Maybe more due to the drag from the hatches being open.”
“So, 6 extras months and less comfort, or we die soon?”
“When you put it that way Cap…”
“How long till the hull gives way?”
“Okay, you have 20 hours to get this ready. I’ll fill in Commander Combs.”
“Yeah, Cap, I’m going to need a bunch of people to do this.”
“Take whoever you need, ask for volunteers for the dangerous stuff. Use my name.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.” From his postion on the floor, half beneath engine, Chief McNally saluted the back of his Captain rushing towards the Fore Deck.
Kara sat in front of a set of beakers watching fungi grow. Her fingers rested idly on the keyboard of the computer to her left. Eyes completely unfocused, her mind wandered across the landscape of Mars as she contemplated where she would like to build a home. “…a small waterfall across red rocks would be nice…”
“What’s that?” Mickey looked at her sideways from the autoclave as he removed freshly sterilized Petri dishes.
A slight smile crept across his face, “You were saying about waterfalls?”
“Oh, uh, nothing, I was just, uh..”
“No I was working, thinking out loud, you just misheard.” Kara began to tap at her keyboard and stare at the blank computer screen intently.
Mickey wandered over, “Ah, I see. So, what are working on there? Oh my, that is an interesting GUI.” He grinned at her.
“Fuck off Mickey.”
“Your wish is my command, my silver tongued lady.” Bowing extravagantly, he took the Petri dishes and sauntered out of the room.
Kara returned to her beakers, sighed, “Alone on a planet with only 2 human males, and not a man worth fucking.”
“Maybe you should consider other options.”
Kara spun around to find Marcel standing in the doorway. Her hands attempted to hide her face from the sting of embarrassment, without much success.
Marcel laughed, “I do believe you are almost as red as I am. You humans are like the anti-chameleons, you change colors to expose yourselves.”
Doing her best to recover her dignity, Kara sat up straight and turned to face the desk again. Wagging her left index finger over her shoulder, she scolded him, “Very funny, haha. You know you shouldn’t sneak up on people.”
“Sneak up? I flew up to your door and there you were bemoaning your lack of carnal pleasure. I just offered some friendly advice.”
“Really,” She spun back around, eyes wide, half smile upon her face, “Look elsewhere? Where, the Kentauran camp?” Marcel said nothing. His wings fluttered slightly, a reaction Kara had come to recognize as laughter or smiling. Her eyes narrowed, her mind began to wander again, “Is that even possible?”
“We are mammals.”
Kara ceased to be embarrassed, this was the first item of biological data the Kentaurans had ever let slip. She turned her body to face him directly, “Really? Mammals? Not something similar to mammals, but actual mammalia? Live birth, mammary glands…do you reproduce the same way we do? ”
Now it was Marcel’s turn to become embarrassed. He started to hop from foot to foot, his wings began to circle around the front of his body, “I think we may be getting more personal than is necessary.”
“Personal? You were just talking to me about interspecies sex! Did you think I was going to just drop my pants and say, ‘Yeah give me some giant man-bat cock’? I have a few questions. Starting with, do you have a giant man-bat cock?”
“This was a mistake, I was only attempting humor, I am sorry.” Marcel turned to take off through the doorway.
“Don’t leave! I’m sorry if I were too forward, but why wont you answer any questions about yourselves?”
“Knowing a species’ biology, means knowing a species’ weakness. And let’s face it humans are not peaceful people.”
“I wont tell anyone something that could hurt you. Marcel.”
“No, not on purpose. But did you mean to tell me about your sex life when I walked in here? Look, this is all academic, I came here to tell you that the Queen’s Regent has ordered us to plant the Kentauran flag at the site where our primary colony is going to be.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means all of the Kentaurans currently on Mars have to move to the new site in order to make our claim to the territory and begin preparing for the arrival of settlers.”
“When are the settlers coming?”
“3 months, the first wave arrives.”
“3 months? But that’s before the first human colonists arrive.”
“So? Its not as if we are going to take all the good land. In fact you can’t use the land we want.”
“Where are you going to be?”
“We will be around the volcano, Olympus Mons. The geothermal heat will be necessary if we are to survive on a planet this far from its yellow star. The location is too hot for you to live on a daily basis. So it should work out well for everyone.”
“And what about the lab?”
“There will still be cooperative projects between our peoples, I would hope.”
“Yes, I would hope.” Kara sat down at her desk and stared into the screen again, her mind drifting off to less pleasant imaginations than before.
“I will see you again before we leave, Kara.” The Marcel lept through the door, extended his long, dark wings, and launched himself into the ruddy sky with two powerful beats.