This is a story I first wrote about 5 or 6 years ago. Mostly untouched since then. A little rusty. Hope someone likes it.
Jesse kneeled next to the portable one piece oxygen generator, repositioned the catalyst for the eighth time within the preceeding thirty minutes. Once finished, he stood up with the pack in hand ready to hoist it onto his back, then took it off and set it aside, only to tear into it again.
Melony, his wife and Mars native along with his Earth born sister, Jackie, were sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee and nibbling at toast beneath the skylight revealing a rusty Martian skyline.
They peered compassionately into Jesse’s labroom as he worked heavily at his gear.
Shifting her gaze from Melony to Jesse and back to Melony, Jackie whispered, “How bad is it now?”
“It’s worse,” Melony complained. She pulled the coaster closer to her and sat her cup down. “Last night he checked the alarm … let’s just say I lost count after twenty. And this morning, he switched the computer on and off at least ten times. He said the settings didn’t seem right and if he rebooted, the system would run better. He’s less convinced every day.”
“Oh … I didn’t realize it was that bad.” Jackie squinted and dabbed at the corner of her mouth with a napkin. “Is it like this everyday?”
Melany nodded. “It’s so difficult to watch him. I feel so bad, and there’s nothing I can do to help. For nearly six months now, we’ve had to deal with this. He’s been completely out of Stabil for a month now.” She slammed her fists onto the table. “Those damned Terrasolus. If they don’t want to colonize other worlds why don’t they just stay on Earth and leave those of us who do alone?”
Jackie nodded in agreement. “Dan tells me that the Marsguard may soon reach an agreement with the Terrasolus. Maybe soon they’ll let at least one of the supply shuttles land.”
Melony’s eyes widened. “Really? That’s such good news. If he can keep it together just a little while longer, we’ll be OK. If he gets any worse, I’m afraid he may not be able to meet the Quota. I don’t know what he’d do without his work.”
Jess entered the kitchen wearing Mars atmospheric garment, his oxygen tubes draped over the front of his left shoulder. His dark hair dangled over his deep set eyes and weathered face. He blinked hard five times and then furiously rubbed his eyes.
“Okay, Hun,” he sighed, “I guess I’ll be on my way now.” He bent over and kissed his wife firmly on the lips and then glanced at his sister. “I’ll see you later, Jackie. If you’re still here when I get back.”
Jackie smiled at him and said, “Okay, Jesse. Take it easy.”
“I’ll call you between classes,” Melany called out as he left the living quarters and entered the gas exchanger module.
Descending from the hazy sky in his rotacar, Jesse looked out at the freshly dug land and gasped. He had removed far more of the Martian regolith than he had realized or had ever intended.
At testing site sector BE31, about 40 miles south of the Zephyria Plains Volcano there was supposed to have been twenty, two meter squared, one half meter deep sections of dug soil. What there was, however, was a continous levy of martian soil, totally upheaveled bordering the edges of a hole the size of a Terran city block.
Taken aback, he frowned, shook his head and said, “What a damned waste of time and resources. I should just stop while I’m ahead. Just move on. Not that hard to do. Why can’t I? Just do the required amount … a good representative sample and then stop. That’s it.”
At the landing pad, Jesse hopped out of the rotacar, his boots crunching through a few millimeters of the permafrost that surrounded the dig for hundreds of miles. From the storage trunk he retrieved his field equipment, which consisted of various spectrophotometers, field scopes, collection devises and microbial culture media and loaded them onto the remote Intellirove.
High above him, a circling 3D phrase that read “Must we destroy Mars, too?” projected from a distant location he could not directly see.
“Marskeepers,” he sighed. “I applaud their idealism, but their missing a little on the practical side. Don’t they realize that we have to get off Earth, sometime. And to do that, we must make other worlds more like Earth. Survival 101.”
After about three hours of digging, sampling, and culturing he sat down next to the hole and refreshed himself with water and a fieldbar. He scooped up a handful of Martian soil, crumbled it, and let it filter through his fingers.
“I wonder what it is?” he thought.
Most soil scientists don’t sample and test soil deeper than two feet on Mars, because that is where the bacteria and fungi had been seeded in hope that they could eventually add grassy plants.
Jesse, on the other hand, had the obsessive thought that the Terrasolus seeded the soil with terrestrial invertebrates from Earth, which he knew was nonsense since there still wasn’t enough atmospheric oxygen in the air or soil for them to survive. But, Jesse grew up on Earth and studied terrestrial vertebrate biology. He knew them well. He could not escape that transfixing thought, therefore he dug further, until a random sampling area was no longer much of a random area but a complete perimeter exposure. He hardly ever dug below two feet, but a few days ago he had done just that and a subsequent microscopic analysis of the material had revealed tiny spheroids about ten micrometers in diameter. Since, he’d been scooping away just past that two feet point on all areas he had formerly dug.
A rotacar beat its’ way through the air splaying Martian dust in its wake. It eased onto the sand next to his. The sun glared down on Jesse’s eyes as he squinted to try to make out who was traveling toward him. Jess noticed the red “Marsgaurd” logo against the green-blue background of the security vehicle.
To his surprise, his brother-in-law, Dan, climbed out of his rotacar and approached him.
Jesse stood up, shook the sand and soil from his pants and extended his hand. “Dan, I thought you weren’t coming with Jackie this time.”
Dan shook Jesse’s outstretched hand and replied, “Hey, Jesse. I wasn’t planning on it, but ah … something’s come up. Something that I need to check out personally.”
Dan nodded toward the East, “So, how long have they been airing their propaganda?”
“Well,” Jesse shrugged. “It used to be random out here but now it stays on any time someone is in the vicinity. I guess a motion detector must trip the power to the holograph projector. Maybe it’s infrared. I don’t know. It’ll go off soon. Legally they can’t air longer than one minute, once per hour per 100 miles. Anyway…” He crossed his arms and leaned against the field cart. “So, why are you here? Wait… wait… Has the terraform committee sent you here to check up on me?”
“No, Jesse,” Dan rebutted, shifting his weight in the sand. “Why would you say that? Wait…I haven’t said anything to anybody. Nobody outside the family should even know. You know that. We’ve done well at keeping that in the family. It’s nobody else’s damned business, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Well, something’s bothering you; what is it? Tell me what’s on your mind.”
“Look, Jesse. The Guard HQ has just found evidence that a few of the more extremist Terrasolus may have seeded damn near the whole planet with some kind of microscopic toxin. Apparently, it was incorporated with the last bacterial spray over fifty years ago. It was incorporated into a radioactive timing device. Once the target time occurs the toxins will be released. We don’t know what the toxin can do. We can only speculate. We’re trying to gather more information, and have assembled a think-tank to determine if anything can be done.”
Jess stood motionless, suspended in disbelief, then kicked a couple of pebbles into the hole he had just dug.
With his hands on his hips, he slowly turned away from Dan and hung his head low, straining to hold back tears of frustration. He knew this was major, yet his own battle crept in. How could he help in this time of need, in his ridiculous condition?
“Unbelievable,” he mumbled while turning to face Dan. “Well, I guess this supercedes my medication problem, huh?”
“We’re hoping that they didn’t go as far as that, and this is just a little scare and that’s it. Just keep a close watch for anything peculiar, OK? I have to get back to regional HQ, got a lot of people to talk to.”
Dan turned and began walking toward his rotacar, when Jesse ran up to him and gasping for breath said, “Wait, Dan. I have something to show you.”