When I woke up this morning I felt like a new man. I guess that acetazolamide did the trick for me. All the unnecessary exhaustion I felt yesterday is gone. Broderick was his usual stolid self and we had breakfast together in the small hotel that catered to crossers over. The breakfast consisted of ham-like meat product and what tasted like real eggs. Not that best I’ve ever had, but it sure went down good with that coffee after the rough day before. I’d thought that part was unpleasant. What lay ahead was worse.
After breakfasting we headed for another dreaded airlock. Only this time we were fitted with facemasks, ones that inserted oxygen tubes directly into our nostrils and cover your nose in a plastic triangle. This is a design based on equipment used to scale Mount Everest on Earth, and works well between twenty thousand and twenty-eight thousand feet. The advantage of this tech is that your vision isn’t impaired by peering though a mask or helmet. Pure Oxygen is trickled into your nose a little at a time to supplement the air you take in from the environment. Of course on Mars this device is enhanced with a computer and skin patch sensor that measures your blood oxygen levels continuously and adjusts the flow based on the results.
I felt a little trepidation about walking into this last airlock, and definitely found the nose hose to be irritating. We sat in the lock for the next two hours as our ears popped several times. I took the time to read a little more about the lava tubes of Mars.
Solar panel tracks are printed down above ground to power the miles of light emitting diode arrays mounted down the top center of every lava tube. These arrays are tuned to the perfect light spectrums needed for each crop grown. The air is warmed from the waste heat of the pebble fission reactors and keep the temperatures for each crop in the desired range for maximum growth. This biological engine achieves so many things for the Martians: scrubbing the air of C02 naturally, providing Oxygen for the colony, food, clothing, textiles, and animal food. There are other sections that are used for raising animals, processing soil, returning manure and compost to replenish what is depleted during the crop growth. Chickens, pigs, rabbits, goats, and yes, even fish. Some of the vertical shafts have been blocked off and filled with water to farm tilapia. But the most unusual and the most plentiful is said to be silkworms. Not only do they help fertilize the plants, but they are a great source of protein. This gave me a bit of a stomach ache thinking about the “ham-like” breakfast that we’d had.
A green light on the wall lit and was accompanied by a buzz. We walked out of the airlock and I could feel the oxygen hissing coldly into my nostrils. But the air was warm and the light was bright like the sun. I could feel the moisture in the air and I could taste the greenery in it. I couldn’t smell it though, because my nose was currently plugged with plastic. The view was breathtaking. A long rock tunnel coated with a grey-white sealant about a hundred and fifty feet high and maybe a little wider stretched on out of sight with nothing but greenery on the floor. We were currently standing in a field of soy bean plants, but I could see further down that the foliage changed every so often and that many different crops existed down here. It was beautiful, peaceful, and very solitary. I didn’t see one person other than myself or Broderick.
We spent the rest of the day making our way to the Harvard Tube control station. When we got there Broderick inquired about the whereabouts of Roger Kurst. We spoke to a man who’d reported seeing him after coming through the airlock. All I could think about was getting the hose out of my nose. I was relieved to find out once we found quarters for the night that the rooms had enriched oxygen and you could ditch the mask.
I feel less cranky now, but I’m beat. Kurst better not give us too much trouble finding him tomorrow, or I’m liable to be a little annoyed with him for putting us through all this trouble just to talk to him.