Martin On Mars – Mining for Trouble – Day 24-25

I seriously needed a day off. My little stunt of crawling around on the dome like a bug cost me some downtime. The next day, I just lounged around a very fancy hotel room with my foot buried under a bag of ice and propped up on a cushy ottoman. My elbow is fine. When the emergency crews picked me up on the dome later, one of the medics took a look at it. This guy was a magician. He took my arm and moved it in a couple ways, then bent my elbow so my hand went up to my shoulder, and gave my wrist a quick twist. I felt it pop, and then abracadabra—no more pain! That guy should get a medal too.

Speaking of which, that’s why I’ve got an expensive room today. For my acts of stupidity and bravery, the Mayor of Hellas Basin has decided to give me the Lovell award, named after the Apollo thirteen mission commander. I’m plotting how I might be able to skip the public ceremony scheduled sometime next week.

I spent that day sitting on my ass, but I did keep busy. There was a lot more detective work to do now. Somebody blew up that dome. Broderick and his team have already been busy and on the scene. The explosion was caused by a rocket propelled explosive launched from one of the many parks. Video surveillance shows that the device was placed earlier by a man matching Baxter’s description. Later it was triggered remotely to explode against the dome wall. Security all across Mars has been ratcheted up, because Baxter declared war on the Martian government by attacking the capital.

Broderick said the explosive came from the mines. Specifically Mesopotamia. Not the ancient home of Sumerians. This Mesopotamia is a mineral rich region directly east of Hellas Planitia. The Martians have dug deep into the ground there to provide resources for their ongoing city construction. There still is no evidence that Baxter has any accomplices. He appears to be a lone wolf. And that means that he had to have recently been there or is still hanging around. I decided to go take a look. But not as Martin Coswell. I became my old undercover character, Ben Chase, for a few days and got a job in the mines.

So after a day to recoup and rest my swollen ankle, yesterday I took a train over to Mesopotamia. There aren’t any domes there just a bunch of holes in the ground, surrounded by a few maintenance buildings and garages for ground vehicles. There is a large column of smoke coming out of the ground from one of the holes. When I inquired, I was told that this is the ore refinery where the ore is smelted down.

I found my way to the human resources office inside a grubby underground building. There I met a grim faced man who looked at me with disapproval. The man was dressed in dirty coveralls, the dirt having the distinctive red tinge of the Martian topsoil.

“I’m sorry Mr. Chase, we just can’t hire you if you don’t have an ID.”

“And there’s no other…arrangement…that we could come to on that? I said in low voice, out of earshot of passersby. The desk of the man in the dusty clothing was nudged up against a common hallway, creating a makeshift checkin counter. The people walking by had tired faces, and similar dusty accoutrement.

“Possibly…” The man grinned splitting his lips back over grimy teeth. A gold eyetooth gleamed, out of place in the midst of the unkempt man’s mouth. “If you were to make a….let’s say a donation.”

I nodded. “Of course. I’d be happy to.” I reached into my pocket, but the man raised a cautionary hand and stopped me.

“Not here, friend. Too many eyes.” He tipped his head toward the side and I looked up where he’d indicated. A small back box was screwed to the wall, complete with winking red light and lens sticking out of it.

“I understand.” I considered the man and decided that he was appropriately corrupt. Thankfully, that was to my advantage.

“Here’s the form to fill out for employment.” Grimy-man pushed a tablet at me, and I set to work filling it out with as much false information as I could conjure up. My new name is Ben Chase: a name I often used as an alias back in my PI days on Earth. It’s as comfortable to me as an old shoe, and I slipped it on just as easily, complete with all of the old history that I’ve invented for him over the years of use.

I finished the application and pushed the tablet back across the gritty surface of the desk. The man smiled back at me disturbingly, revealing even more of his disgusting teeth. He took the tablet without looking at it. “Everything seems to be in order here, sir.” He said. “If you’ll just follow me back to the supply room, we can get you your gear so you’ll be ready for the morning crew.”

We squeezed through the small gap between the desk and the wall, and walked back into a dimly lit room covered with hardhats, canvas packs, and harnesses. The unpleasant man stuck out a calloused hand palm up in the universal gesture of pay-the-greedy-man-now. I placed a stack of plastic Martian bills on his hand. The man examined them and then wiggled the tips of his fingers that stuck out longer than the bills. I wasn’t playing that game.

“It’s all I’ve got,” I explained.

The man frowned. “I’m trying hard to do you a favor here, bud. But this isn’t quite enough to make me bend the rules for ya.”

“I’m out of work, remember?”

“Aye. That you are. Tell you what. Promise you’ll give me half your first week’s pay and we’ll call it even.”

I wasn’t going to be there more than a week anyway, and I wasn’t planning on giving this worm any more money at that time. So there was no reason at all to haggle over something that was never going to happen.

“Yeah, sure. If that’s what I gotta do to get a job.”

“Well you got one now, mister. Just hope you’re cut out for some hard work, cause that’s all we got around here. This ain’t no white collar kind o’ job here, that’s for sure.” He cackled and his laugh was just as unpleasant as the look of his ugly yellow-orange teeth.

I left this irritating man, and went looking for a place to stay for the week. The only room that I could find available was tiny, grubby, and run down. Not at all like the palace that I stayed in yesterday. The lights flicker and dim occasionally and must share a circuit with too many others. The air is stuffy, but doesn’t seem in danger of suffocating me. For that I can at least be thankful. I keep my canary near me by the bed, though, just in case. The canary is a Martian device that monitors O2 and CO2 levels. It will set off a godawful alarm if it finds anything out of tolerance. The expensive models scan for toxic compounds. I opted for that one. When something is trying to kill me, even if it’s the air I’m breathing, I want to know about it. Saving a few dollars won’t do me any good if I’m dead. The canary is staying silent and the little yellow box sits on the end table blinking a green light that’s supposed to give me a sense of calm. I’m anything but, tonight. Anyway, I’m beat, and I’ve got a long day of hard work ahead of me tomorrow.

Martin on Mars – Rescue Ranger – Day 23

Opening the hatch was a huge mistake. The air pressure inside was about a thousand times what it was outside. I went out with the hatch being the only thing I could hold onto. And the hatch swung out as if a large angry giant had just kicked the door. I realized the problem as soon as it happened, but i couldn’t let go. A three hundred foot drop to the floor of the dome greeted me below. All of this happened in the slow motion of such things that threaten your life in mere seconds. In a last-ditch effort to stay with the tram, I crooked my elbow through the hatch handle and hugged it tight.

The hatch swung on its hinges and slammed full force into the tram, sending the door bouncing back from whence it came. My head rung like a bell with the impact, but I somehow managed to hang on, even though my elbow felt like it had been dislocated. The large hatch was heading for a close again, and I was in its mouth. I did only what I could and put my legs out to stop it from crushing me. I sprang an ankle doing that.

So now, hanging far above the floor from the hatch with my good hand, my right arm dangling at my side, and my left ankle pulsing in pain and swelling larger every second, I considered my next brilliant move. Get to the E-seal. The only thing I had going for me was Martian gravity, and I was an Earthling. I climbed the hatch door and found that I could reach the rear of the tram which was now the top. I scrambled onto it and lay there for a minute breathing hard. I may only weigh about eighty pounds here, but I was wearing about another sixty in mars-suit, and breathing canned air. Not exactly optimum for olympic exertion.

The tram track above bolted into the curvature of the glass-alloy dome — a thick monorail about twelve inches by six, made of some light carbon fiber material. I stood up and grabbed it, hooking my fingers over the top edge. My right elbow was not at all happy with this, but I pushed that to the back of my mind. I was good at dealing with pain; I’d come back from the dead. Despite the wonders of nano-cell reconstruction, it hurts like hell. Pain is an old acquaintance. We aren’t friends by a long-shot, but we know how to deal with each other. It hurts me, and I grit my teeth a lot.

Hand-over-hand along the rail I went, dangling in nonexistent wind. Actually nonexistent air. Martian atmosphere is extremely thin. There is nothing to breathe out there except thin traces of carbon dioxide. That’s the stuff you breathe out, not in. And even if you could make use of it, you couldn’t get anything at that low of pressure. Your lungs would just bleed-out. Thinking about the lack of air kept me from thinking about my aching hands and fingers, and the sharp pain in my right elbow. I made good time at first, but slowed down.

I couldn’t do it anymore without a rest. So I swung my feet up and locked them around the rail. That gave my hands a break. It was cold as hell outside the suit, and the heat exchanger had no problem keeping the suit temperature down. Despite this, my suit was full of sweat. I could feel clothing sticking to me. The helmet kept trying to fog up on me, but some defroster device whisked it away before it became a problem. I clung to the rail like a spider, and looked up at the pale Martian sky.

Another five minutes of rest and then I went at it again. It took about twenty minutes to get to the jagged hole in the dome where the rail twisted outside into Mars. I climbed right out onto the dome and clung to the broken edge so I wouldn’t slide off. The dome had broken in big squares like safety glass. The edge wasn’t sharp, thankfully.

I made my way down to the E-Seal device, which was a box about a meter square. A red light blinked on a control panel on its side. I examined the panel for a moment. The readout described a communication error with the main computer. The severed wiring leading from the side of the box might have had something to do with that. I navigated the menu on the control and found a manual deploy. The simple computer warned me that I had about sixty seconds to remove myself from the vicinity.

I considered this. Would it be better to be inside the dome or outside? I couldn’t make it too far on the rail in thirty seconds, and my monkey-swinging muscles were just about shot. It’d be better to be outside on the dome where I could just sit tight until someone came and got me. So I triggered the deployment, and scurried back outside on the dome. I crawled away from the edge of the hole carefully. I didn’t want to slip and start sliding down the glass. I was a little down from the top center of the dome, so I made my way as fast as I could for the apex. I got about halfway there when the dome shook underneath me.

I spread myself flat and made myself as big as I could against the surface to maximize contact. It worked and I stayed pretty much put, with just a little sliding. I was there on the dome and intact. I sat up and looked down at the hole. It was completely filled with a large orange balloon about fifty feet in diameter, and seemed to be doing the job, a giant cork in the bottle.

I lay back and sighed. I’d done it. I’m sure someone is going to explain how unnecessary it was for me to risk my life and fix their dome. How Martians would have come to the rescue and gotten to it eventually. But I had twelve passengers in a tram that needed rescue, and we had wounded. And besides, I’m a fixer. I can’t see something broken and do nothing.

Martin on Mars – Hell in Hellas Basin – Day 22

I had five injured persons, a bunch of scared people, and not much air left. We had to do something quickly. Our wrist bands had network connection, but data wasn’t flowing. Which told me that everyone in Hellas Basin trying to communicate at once and the system was overloaded. I could already feel the air in the tram getting stuffy. Lots of fear equals lots of breathing. We needed a solution in short order.

There was one thing I knew about Martian architecture. Three “R”’s. They may have let the comm system get overloaded, but air was a high priority item. Inside the dome, every building had its own self contained pressurized system and supply of oxygen. Also, I could already see people down below rushing around in mars suits to and fro. There had to be suit locker locations in the dome.

I examined the tram car. The walls were glass alloy. The Floor, now it was a wall, was the same. But the ceiling, now another wall, was made of metal panels. And sure enough, one of them in the middle was labeled in red with “emergency”.

“Open up that emergency panel.” I pointed at the panel.

The four guys standing on the handrails above us had a hard time getting to the panel because of the orientation of the tram car. After a few minutes they figured out a way. Two of them on opposite sides of the car leaned up against against each other, and a third climbed up them and popped the panel open. It swung down and clanged against another panel. Inside, we could see the gleaming white of Mars suits.

I don’t mind telling you, I was mightily relieved. I’d rather die from a bullet, or an explosion. Sucking on vacuum or suffocating on carbon dioxide is a special kind of hell that I never want to visit again.

There were fifteen suits in the locker and twelve of us. Thank God our tour guide hadn’t overbooked the maximum recommended tram capacity. We got the suits on the wounded first. I even stuffed our poor fallen passenger, the short dead guy, into one. It was the best way to keep us all from looking at his pallid blue skin. I figured it would cut down on the panic some. Linda groaned as we got her into her suit. She was still very groggy. I hoped that the good air from the suit would help revive her. Next we took turns climbing the hand rails to let the others get into their suits on the only available floor space. Moxie generators on the back of the suits convert Martian C02 to oxygen, which got mixed with a canister of nitrogen. The nitrogen is rebreathed. The oxygen gets replenished as long as the suit has battery power.

Linda sat up and I heard her voice on the suit channel, ask, “What happened?”

“There was an explosion and now there’s a big hole in the side of the dome.”

Linda struggled to stand, but I put a gloved hand on the arm of her white suit. “Just stay put until you get a little more stabilized.”

She nodded and looked out the glass at the hole in the dome in the distance. “The E-seal didn’t deploy.”

“Emergency seal?”

“Yes, the dome is divided into sections. Each section has an E-Seal device. It’s like a large inflatable that blows up and drifts into the hole. The explosion must have damaged it. It doesn’t look like it fired.”

I looked out at the dome where the jagged hole opened out into the orange Martian sky. The explosion had ripped a chunk of the tram rail right outside with glass alloy of the dome. Looking carefully at the undamaged areas of the dome I could see little boxes attached at large intervals to the inner surface.

“Those little boxes there on the inside of the dome. That what you’re talking about?”

“Yes, the E-seals are inside of those.”

“So what good are they if the seal protecting section gets blown out?”

“Then an adjacent seal is supposed to deploy.”

“Definitely didn’t.” I said. “It might be hours before they can get to it, and we’ve got wounded. Is there an emergency exit on this tram?”

“Behind the suit locker is a hatch,” she said. I didn’t know Linda for less than a day now, but her face looked really tired to me.

“You close your eyes and get some rest. I’m gonna see if I can do something about our situation.”

My mom used to tell me sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing. I was never very good at listening to her advice. A quick climb up the handrails and a boost from one of my fellow passengers got me into the suit locker. I pushed the three remaining suits to the side and found the handle for the hatch release in the back.

“All the air is going to swoosh out of here. So stay in your suits until I come back and get you.”

Then I pulled the hatch lever and immediately regretted it.

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