Children of Mars

Star Gazing

Kara lay back on the red-green hillside just a kilometer outside the camp staring up at the Martian night sky, “I love watching the moon crossing.”

Marcel nodded his angular head, “Yes, every planet has its own unique features. The counter-revolutions of Phoebus and Deimos is certainly a rarity among habitable planets. The full tidal effects will make an interesting study.”

“Tidal effects? Marcel, I’m as much a scientist as you are, but don’t you ever take a break from observing data for aesthetic appeal? Look at that! Phoebus crossing from the West in front of Deimos traveling towards the West…look, there’s the shadow of both Phoebus and Mars on Deimos. Isn’t that beautiful?”

“It is fascinating, yes.  I don’t know if your human eyes can see it, but in the distance, just above the horizon line, there is a group of small lights, those are the fleet of ships coming from Earth. And that bright light orb below them is the Earth.”

“No, I can see the glow of the Earth, but I can’t see the fleet. I still can’t believe they are coming. The idea of human colonies on Mars is just, well, unbelievable. Especially when you consider that there will be colonies of aliens here as well.”

“Well, when I consider it, you are the aliens.”

“Ha Ha. I think you know what I meant, Marcel. We are looking at, not only the first colonies on Mars, not only the first off-world human colonies, but also the first time humans have shared a planet with non-earth based life. Trying to imagine how that is going to play out is mind boggling.”

“There have been groups of us living here for a few years now, Kara.”

“Yes, I know, I was here, too. But we are a small group of scientists, Human and Kentauran. We are about to see people of all walks of life, from both worlds, arrive.  I expect that will be a vastly different experience.”

“Indeed.”

Kara and Maurice lay quietly on the hillside for a while, watching the moons cross paths in the night sky. The wind blew across the fields of tall red-green grass before them causing it to lay down in the moonlight.  A small shape flew across their line of sight.

Kara bolted upright, her red hair fell across her face, “What the hell was that?”

“I believe you call them bats.”

“Bats? Holy Shit! That’s right. I completely forgot that Mickey was releasing the higher life forms we had in hibernation today. There’s going to be mammals and lizards and birds running all over the planet tomorrow. I can’t wait to see how that works out.”

Maurice stood up and stretched his wings, “Truly, my expectations are also high. It will be good to be able to hunt wild sea life again. I do not know how much longer I can eat packaged protein without losing my mind.”

Kara’s laugh echoed across the Martian landscape, intermingling with the first sounds of nocturnal animals on Mars.

——————————————————————————————-

Engine Trouble

“Chief?”

McNally peered out from beneath the labyrinth of metal and plastic, “Captain, just in time, could you hand me that c-wrench?”

Captain Archibald stepped into the middle of tool chaos and scanned about for a wrench, “I thought engineers had a reputation for neurotic neatness?”

“They do. I’m a mechanic. The wrench is by your left foot. No the metric one.”

The Captain picked up the wrench, crouched down, handing it to McNally, “Why do you have a non-metric wrench?”

“The term is English, and it belonged to my grandfather. But you didn’t come down here to talk about antique tools.”

“No, what can you tell me about the engine trouble? Is it serious? Or is the Commander panicking over a minor hiccup?”

“Oh, no sir, there are no minor hiccups. That’s the thing with the carbon-cycle engine, it shouldn’t have any issues, so when it does we are in real trouble.”

“Can you fix it?”

The Chief shrugged without looking up, “Don’t know sir, I haven’t figured out the cause yet.”

The Captain‘s voice dropped almost an entire octave, “Well what do you know, Chief?”

The sound of the wrench slipping and crashing against the floor reverberated about the engine room, “Ow, sonofa… shit, what? Oh, well, as you know, the filter system is supposed to intake the CO2 from the ships air, separate the two elements exothermically, expel the O2 into the ship for breathing and expel the Carbon gas into space every so often for additional thrust. In between separation and expulsion the pressure from the gases stored in the system is used to spin turbines that generate our electricity.”

“Yeah, a carbon-cycle engine, I know that already, what I meant was what do you know relating to our problem?”

“I was getting to that.  The cycle should be continuous and even. We always breathe out CO2 it always takes it in and separates it, the wheels operate in a near frictionless environment due to magnetic suspension, so there should be no hang ups, but something is causing it to mis-time.”

“And if nothing is done to realign it?”

“Too much pressure will build up and blow the engine apart. At which point we lose oxygen, and power, and then a few hours later we die of either suffocation or freezing to death, whichever comes first… you’ll have to ask the doc about that.”

Captain Archibald ran his hands through his rapidly thinning brown hair and then squeezed the now throbbing muscle on the back of his neck. “Isn’t there a pressure relief valve or something?”

“No. That’s what I’m doing right now, adding one on, but that’s only a stop-gap measure, sir. If we keep bleeding off pressure to prevent an explosion, we will also be siphoning off the pressure we need for propulsion and electricity and poisoning our air with CO2. Ultimately, we need to repair the problem or we wont make it to Mars alive.”

“Fuck!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Alright, how much time will the relief valve buy us?”

“Couple of weeks, give or take. Maybe longer if you can convince everyone to sleep a lot.”

“Fine. Get that done, then report to the Fore Cabin and we will talk about options. Do you need me to assign an assistant?”

“No, sir, I got this. I should be done in ‘bout 2 hours.”

“Very well Chief.” Kicking aside the scattered tools, the Captain walked out of the engine room.

Chief McNally continued to pry at the engine casing with the wrench.  He grabbed the shaft of the tool with both hands and twisted. The bolt gave way, the wrench flew out of his hands, skidding across the floor, and the cover fell open.  He peered inside the casing at the series of valves, tubes, and cogs viewable from this vantage point.

“Oh no”

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