My spoon pushed the oatmeal back and forth across my bowl as I continued to play back the conversation from last night. Sitting alone at the table, I was the last of the colonists at breakfast. Today, my schedule allowed some free time that would take forever to pass until I could curl up on my bathroom floor to talk to my mystery friend again.
For the rest of the colonists, most days were now spent being trained as part of a new research team that was investigating crop rotations. My inclusion in this assignment had not been a surprise because my parents had advocated for me to work outside during the training on Earth. The last few weeks had consisted of a slow process over time of being introduced to gathering samples, examining samples, and accompanying teams on a different set of outside missions.
From the beginning here, my parents had fought to push to expose me to the outside world and continued to ensure that I was out of the complex for most of work. Every day, I was thankful that I hadn’t been selected for working in the mechanic’s bay, medical, or upkeep— none of it appealed to me as much as my parents’ research. My schedule was set on a series of rotations and today was a lighter load than usual. Although I usually read or headed to the fitness area when I had free time, today I was consumed by my own thoughts and struggling to make it out from breakfast. I keep replaying that voice over and over in my head as I tapped the spoon lightly to the bowl.
Where are you right now Adam and what are you doing over at Pangaea II?
Getting up, I deposited my bowl and spoon in the dishware tub to head back to my room. Looking outside the dining room window, I saw the skiffs and rovers surrounding the compound. Beyond them, were the hills that hid Sector VII in the distance, which hid both the path to Adam and the skiff that had connected our two colonies.
What exactly happened to you Francois? How’d you end up out there? Did you know about Adam too?
I tried to think back on those few conversations I had with the Canadian as I continued to stare out the window. He spoke about his love of winter and studying at Oxford. He was a geologist who had like so many others seen this commitment as the scientific opportunity of a lifetime. The conversations between the two of us were always pleasant enough, but I wouldn’t have called him a friend. He at times had been kinder to me than the others, but was an introvert who came off as a little strange.
And why on Mars would you leave messages for unimportant little me?
Moving on and passing through the door, I longed for 1700 to come sooner.
“Who exactly were you?” I whispered to myself.
It was important to learn whatever Francois had uncovered, leading him to head off into Sector VII. I closed my eyes and pictured him from a few weeks ago as I walked.
He had talked about soccer and how he missed kicking the ball around. And right before he left for good, he had talked about his dog that he had left behind.
What exactly did he know about the other colony and when did he learn it?
I opened my eyes and shook my head as I continued on my way through the connector towards my dorm.
“Yeah, wouldn’t want to make things too easy by just keeping a journal that explained things. That would be what a normal, sane person would’ve done,” I muttered while I dropped my head and strands of black hair brushed against my shoulders. Once again, I check the time. I was still eight hours away from trying again on the transmitter.
Arriving back in my room, I decided to revisit the notes from Francois to pass the time. It had been a while since I had read that first set of clues that set everything in motion. I climbed up to the top bed and pulled out the sketchbook. Opening it up to his writing, I looked carefully at the pages. And then, something struck me as odd about the poem.
“What’s this?” I leaned in closer to examine the marks. There in the poem was another clue. There were small lines underscoring certain letters in the poem.
Feeling the electricity surge through me, I grabbed my tablet and opened to a map of Mars. Scanning the various craters and plains, I searched for the name but the search at first came up empty. Wondering if perhaps the letters were instead an anagram or even if I was mistaken, I studied and rearranged them. Then I saw it during the second sweep. There in plain letters was the answer. Arrivallie wasn’t a place; it was two words.
I set the tablet down.
I replayed the morning in the cafeteria when Pablo and Ray gathered us all together. I had known it then of course, this was just a confirmation of everything I had felt and thought then.
The word rebounded in my thoughts as I sat holding the book of sketches.
“I knew you were liars, but what exactly was the lie… And how did you know before they announced anything?”
Those were two of the many questions to ponder over the next few hours as I sat on my bunk waiting for it to be 1700.