Although I had no more answers about Francois’s message throughout the rest of the day, I had managed to complete all of my duties. As I made my way down the connector under the now cloudy sky, I could barely keep myself from running. Two miracles had occurred over the course of the day. The first was that apparently my trek to Francois’s skiff had still gone unnoticed. Since that trip, I had disposed of all traces of the visit and hoped that my tracks were invisible. The second was that I focused on gathering just enough samples in the afternoon to be productive without raising the attention of any of the others. This was no small feat being that all day I had more things to occupy my mind than I did if you totaled up everything that happened to me during the previous year that I had spent on this planet. And of course, miraculously 1700 did finally arrive.
“Hi Viktor,” I nodded politely to the muscular Ukrainian who passed through the tube to my left.
The blonde head atop of shoulders tipped in acknowledgement in place of a verbal response.
Keeping things moving, I didn’t encounter anyone else on the way to my dorm. I slid inside the door and headed to my storage compartment at my bunk. Grabbing the brown t-shirt wrapped around the communicator’s keeper, I bounded down from bed and into the bathroom. I sat with my back against the cool metal of the wall concealing the plumbing. I felt confident I would hear if anyone entered our home. My hands carefully unwrapped the tee as though it were Christmas morning. The bear hiding the cylindrical black device the size of a hand lay in the middle. After pulling it out, I clicked it on.
“Adam?” The time was 1700 exactly.
There was no response as my heart sank.
Did I dream the whole thing?
“Anybody out there?”
I clutched the unit in my hands on my lap as I sat cross-legged on the bathroom floor.
Come on Adam…
Seconds later just as my heart was about to explode, the voice spoke and broke the silence.
He hadn’t abandoned me. I leaned back and placed my palms on the floor, leaving the transmitter in my lap. A weight came off my chest as I beamed and my shoulders dropped, releasing their tension inside the black work suit that I still wore.
“It is great to hear you.”
“Thank you. It’s good to hear you as well.
I didn’t think that the owner of the voice was my mother’s age. He sounded younger— possibly just out of college.
“Great. For a moment today, I thought I dreamed the whole thing.”
Sitting on the floor, I kept grinning.
“I know exactly what you mean. For most of the day, I was trying to process the truth and just how unbelievable it was that Home Base had set up separate bases.”
“I’m just glad that you answered and are really out there.” A slightly awkward pause that I rushed to fill. “So what’s your story? How’s a nice guy like you end up on a planet like this?” I raised my hand and smacked my forehead as I rolled my eyes.
Corny Diya, I thought as I shook my head.
“The truth is that I’ve never been anywhere else in my life. I’ve been here on Mars for fourteen years.”
“Fourteen years?” I interrupted as I shuddered at the thought of it.
“Yes, fourteen years. I was born here.”
“You were born here?” I almost dropped the transmitter in shock at the realization of what this number also meant to me. “Are you serious?”
“Yes, I’m serious. I was born here. On Mars.”
“Wow. So you’ve only been here? For your whole life?”
“I have. For my whole life.”
“That’s… amazing.” I nestled the device tighter as though cupping my hands around it would keep this information secret. “You want to know something crazy?”
“Umm, yes?” The voice ventured.
“I just turned fourteen.”
My heart somersaulted as it sped up.
“You’re my age?”
“I am.” I leaned forward. “And I’m the only person under about forty over here at Pangaea III.”
“There are only adults here at Pangaea II other than me. I am the only adolescent.”
In the other room, the sound of the door sliding open interrupted the conversation. I flipped the switch and stood up while I clutched the device. The door was locked, so I would be undisturbed as I cleaned up the evidence of the call.
I nearly danced back and forth on my feet as I wrapped up the beacon in the tee shirt. I tried to picture what the teenager at Pangaea III looked like. My chest welled up with an emotion that was somewhere between elation and anxiety.
There’s someone out there. Someone like me.
I could only hope that I would as I tucked the beacon into the over the shoulder sling bag for gathering samples. Taking a deep breath, I readied myself.
“Mom, is that you?”
I slid open the door and stepped out determined not to allow my face to betray my secret as life on Mars became slightly less lonely.