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Deployment to Mars

Elonis Luther’s lungs burned with each breath, sometimes sending him into fits of coughing. He checked the time on his dVice, and let out a quiet groan which he quickly stifled as he remembered where he was. Tent 514 was as dark as a cave, with hints of red lighting distantly erupting from overhead of essential life support equipment and the two large airlocks on either end. From his perch on top of a rickety aluminum bunk, Elonis rubbed the ever pervasive grit out of his eyes. The blue and white brightness of his dVice’s screen seared his retina for a moment and caused his eyes to water, further blurring his vision. After a moment he looked back and saw the 0706 detailed in the upper right corner significating his place in local time. At least it would have, but Elonis knew he had yet to change it over to Bradbury standard. With a few quick gestures he activated the automatic localization software and the clock now read 0000:00 in blinking unison. Elonis thought his software had malfunctioned briefly, until he noticed the rapidly dropping numbers, suspended just below, reading in minutes and seconds that he was just a little while into the timeslip. In fact, he realized with amusement, he probably had awoken just as this point on the Martian surface had entered into that witching hour, the 37 minutes and 22.663 seconds all clocks here stop, allowing for a more regular accounting of time. 24 hours and 37 odd minutes, a free 37 minutes each day he thought with dry humor, oh how much more he would get done now.

He laid his head back down on his pillow and listened to the machines keeping out the cold dry thin air, no wait, That’s not right, he thought, keeping IN the warmth and moisture emminating from every body jammed in this habitation tent. Their collective warmth fed the atmosphere, but wouldn’t be enough if the equipment designed to keep them all alive ever stopped working. Elonis wondered if it was the sound of these vents and generators, or the effect of the dry air on peoples lungs, that kept him from hearing any snoring at all from his new friends. Over the ambient sound he heard a cough to answer his previous one, comforting him that at least he wasn’t alone in his sensitivity to the ever present dust that coated everything. What followed was a relative silence that allowed him to recognize an odd pattern to the air systems. They sounded like rain. Actual rain was impossible of course, but the vibration of the white inflatable plastic tube, the width of a beach ball stretching down the length of the tent, was at just the right frequency to sound like the pitter-patter of rain drops in the dark of the berthing.

Suddenly he had to pee with a painful urgency that reminded him of the revelries of last afternoon in the recreation tent. Several drinks, and the hilarity of everyone’s wild billiards shots while playing pool in .38 gee, had kept him awake against the jet lag for several more hours than his body demanded of him, but not quite enough to shift him naturally into the new time zone. He fumbled for his boots in the dark, trying not to wake the person sleeping in the rack below him, and stumbled to the cramped toilets hygienically closed off from the berthing but still attached. The floor in the vestibule just before the lavatory was leaking warmth into the martian dirt and chilled his calfs which weren’t protected by his boots. Plastic walls, plastic floors, thin but supposedly tough, poured over with dirt, protected them from the radiation that a proper magnetosphere, like earth’s would have kept out. I’d hate to get cancer while taking a piss,he chuckled to himself.

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