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 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 smallish letters spelling out “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, Linda 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 in 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.”
“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 the 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 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.