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#1 2012-01-27 18:32:13

louis
Member
From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 4,704

Life on Mars Short Story Part 2

PART 2

The meeting had been a great success and now Sylvie is looking forward to meeting her friend Jasminder for lunch and a quick tour of the Zhou Lin Base General Store.

She follows the signs from the Base Leader’s office, passing silently moving robot cleaners, and meets Jasminder in the Base’s attractive Atrium Park - this is a leafy gravelled area not unlike the sort of small park one finds in Paris and other European cities. There is a beautiful fountain playing water over a carved sphere of rock, made to resemble Mars itself.  There are “ducks” moving about on the surface of the little pool of water that surrounds the fountain. Sadly, not real ducks – these are mechanical models, but they added a little variety to the scene. 

Jasminder is sat on a bench engrossed in her mini laptop story but she rushes over as soon as she spots Sylvie out of the corner of her eye. The two young women  then make their way to the Apollo Café, their favourite  meeting place.  They order salads and fries (getting  the points for that deducted on their Points Cards)  and then indulge in some serious gossiping about the Governor, work, boyfriends, the future, and clothes.

Jasminder joined the colony at about the same time as Sylvie and they met on the General Induction Course.  Jasminder is employed in the Scientific Division.  A geologist by training, she is helping manage the specimen collection and undertake detailed analysis of finds.  However, she thinks the boss of her Section, Sergei Andropov is a complete imbecile.  She entertains Sylvie with tales of his gaucheness and his dumb decisions.

After lunch there is just time for a quick look around the General Store.  It is actually Gold Base, at the western edge of the string of Bases, that has the largest store in the colony but the Zhou Lin store runs it a close second.   Sylvie wants to look at the clothes. She’s heard from another  friend that there have been some earth imports on display (included some beautifully embroidered jeans) – fantastically high points allocation of course but, nevertheless, it was worth checking out. Of course when they get there, there is nothing Earth-made to be seen, a not infrequent outcome of such shopping expeditions.

The Store Assistant explains. “It was more of an experiment than anything else. The guys on the Advisory and Representative Council have been pressuring the Governor for a long time now to agree to importing some good quality clothing.  They think it’s  essential to provide these sorts of goods on Mars if we’re ever going to get people to live here permanently.  Of course the Governor and his people saw it differently”.   Sylvie flushed slightly – after all she was one of the Governor’s people.  “Anyway the Lead on ARC got in contact with someone big in the Consortium  and arranged for some imports to be approved. But it wasn’t much. Once news got round it was all gone within a couple of Sols.  And of course the Governor’s livid and has told the Consortium that’s it – no more clothes. ”  The store assistant smiled. “So I’m afraid we’re back to normal stock.”

What was left on the racks didn’t look that brilliant: cotton teeshirts and slacks dyed various colours or linen tee shirts and skirts died various colours.  They weren’t cut with any style.  It was all very utilitarian.  Sylvie thought better of expending those  valuable points on them.

Jasminder and Sylvie part with a kiss on the cheek and a promise to meet again soon – perhaps for a game of tennis at the court over at Gold Base.  Sylvie’s work watch reminds her, as if she needs reminding, that she has a meeting with the Governor at 2.30.  Time to catch the shuttle back to Arthur Base.

However, rather than take the normal central walk, she decides to take the circular path around the edge of the dome.  This brings her alongside the Zhou Lin library, with its input  key collection.  She starts to browse – there are so many films and books on offer.  Although the use of paper in the Colony is generally frowned upon as an unjustified waste of resources, there are one or two old style film posters on display – a special dispensation no doubt to make people feel at home.   There is also an electronic poster board – an ultra  thin LCD display board – on one wall.  The images change every few seconds as new films are featured. 

Sylvie is tempted to stay but time is getting on. She mustn’t miss the next Shuttle back to Arthur Base.

****************************

Sylvie alights from the Shuttle and is about to walk through the portico into the Arthur Base dome, when a Security Guard approaches her pointing at the same time to a large stand up notice as he does so.  The notice read “Bio Hazard – Special Measures”

She didn’t have time to read the small print.  The Guard is polite but says quite firmly:

“I’m sorry Miss, but I’m going to have to ask you to remove the flower in your button hole. We’ve got a Bio Hazard Situation in Arthur Farm Zone. An unexplained crop failure.  Nothing organic’s going in or out – apart from people that is.” He smiles, pleased with his little joke.  “We’re going to have to ask you to place that in the special disposal bin over there.  Oh – and please, tread in the special disinfectant gel.”

Of course Sylvie complies – she understands that the food supply was number one priority after heat, air and water: nothing must jeopardise the food source.  But all the same she is sad to see the flower go – Kim had given it to her yesterday and kissed her at the same time.

A message comes through on her work watch.  The meeting has been delayed by half an hour.  Another crisis for the Governor – perhaps he was having a row with the Consortium back on earth.  She decides to have a walk through the Arthur Base atrium, at the centre of which is a life-size statue of the imperious Vikram Ramastra, designer of the Arrival 1 rocket and lander which proved so successful in getting humans to Mars.  On Mars, you take every opportunity to enjoy the big atrium spaces.  There is a tendency to tip the head back and just inhale all that space. It makes for a pleasant change from the cramped living quarters. 

On the other side of the atrium, she comes across a group of new arrivals being given a guided induction tour, just as she was some 500 sols ago.  Although she thinks of them as new arrivals, they will probably have first arrived on the planet two or three months ago.  During the intervening period they will have been undergoing SCR (Special Care Regime) – intensive exercise (including in some cases the wearing of lead callipers) and a special course of drugs, designed to ensure individuals recover bone mass after the long space journey.  She remembers the mixed feelings of a new arrival: a crazy conglomeration of homesicknesses, light headedness, spiritual awakening, anxiety, hope and ambition.

Dressed in the regulation blue overalls of the new arrival, they listen intently to the guide:

“Through the main south facing window you can see the outline of the methane production plant where the ground is raised.  Most of it’s underground of course.  The methane produced is pumped through to high pressure  trench tanks – over there, you see? - where those metal vents are located.   From the tanks the methane is delivered to the combustion and boiler chamber, and drives the night turbine which, along with some other sources of energy, keeps the Base supplied with electrical power during the hours of darkness or during dust storms. Any questions?”

An earnest, bespectacled young man at the back of the group piped up:

“What’s the longest duration of a dust storm at Humanity?”

“Oh, well if you mean a class 10 storm, one that reduces insolation by more than 80%, I think the longest we’ve gone here is 64 sols. But of course, this location was chosen partly because of the infrequency of storms. Now, we’re going to take the lift to the Observation Post from which you can get a good look over the whole colony. Or most of it.”

Sylvie is tempted almost to join them.  She’d only been to the Observation Post twice during daylight and it could offer spectacular views, depending on light conditions.  But she really did have to get along to the Governor’s meeting.

As she walks along her mobile phone begins to chirrup. 

“Hi”.   It’s Kim her boyfriend calling from Beta Base Farm Zone.

“Hi precious.”

“Hi darling”.

“How’s it going,”

“Not bad. The meeting went well, but I nearly got arrested for wearing a flower.”

“Eh?”

“Yes – all your fault apparently!”

“Might have known!”

“I’ll explain later. How’s your day been?”

“Boring. Not a single problem with the hydroponics, the fertiliser feed or the air conditioning. That’s what I call a bad day! Someone knew what they were doing when they wrote the wheat production programme, more’s the pity.”

Sylvie laughs in appreciation.

“Right,” says Kim. “So what do you fancy doing this evening?  I’ve got access to an ATV. We could go for a spin over the starlit flats.”

“You’ve got access to an all terrain vehicle?”~

“Ha. You believed me. No one but no one gets access to those accept the exploration boys…”

“And girls.”

“And girls.”

“So if you’re not going to give me a spin in an ATV what are you going to tempt  me with…?”

“There’s the Arthur Base cinema.”

“Yawn.  We’ve been there too often.  Anyway I’m supposed to be at a lecture tonight at the Academy on Mars.  Remember?  My course on Microwave Energy Transfer.”

“But you’re not going. Please tell me you’re not going!”

“OK.  I don’t take too much persuading - not with that Prize Bore as lecturer.  One lecture missed isn’t a problem.”

“We could eat out.”

“I ate too much for lunch. Besides my points allocation is shot and yours isn’t much better.”

“How about a game of  badminton?”

“I’ll be finished after the gym. No way.”

“OK. It’s a key data film round your place with a bottle of wine.”

“Wine!”

“Oh - didn’t I tell you we’re running a side line in grapes…?”

“Isn’t it illegal?”

“Technically no. The Governor’s Order say it is illegal to import any alcohol into the colony. And farm zone workers are allowed to keep some produce.”

“OK it’s deal.  Now I’ve got to get to that meeting! Love you. Bye.”


***************************


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