The cooking area was empty, as it usually was after the rush from breakfast cleared out. I stared at the shelves where dishes from the morning meal were perfectly stowed. I had decided to play soccer this morning instead of coming down to eat. The exercise helped take some of the edge off and helped pass some of the time. Time crawled now until 1700, the hour when life at the colony now took on new meaning.
To my right, the food preparation equipment attached to the walls was spotlessly polished. Santiago always left the entire kitchen in pristine condition, ever since he had taken over most of the duties four years ago. The galley was only in full use for morning and evening meals with the bulk of the day providing a chance to drop by and get a snack alone. I now stood by myself next to the cabinets. The pre-packaged vitamin rich mixture known affectionately by the colonists as “slog” was stored in the shuttered cupboards next to the shelves and provided the best option right now since I had missed meal hour.
“Good old, dependable slog,” I muttered as I eyed the cabinet and then finally reached in to grab a pack. After twisting the cap loose, I devoured the contents and held the plain white packet high above me. “The breakfast of champions.” I turned back to face the dining area where there was a ghostly audience.
During breakfast and lunch times, the tables here were packed with colonists enjoying Santiago’s dishes. Santi was able to use the mixture of canned supplies and garden produce to create many good dishes. When Yuri had been cook, everyone said that some of his dishes rivaled those that they grew up with on Earth. Now with Santiago, it was just generally agreed that he did an effective job. After all, it had not been his original assignment when he had first arrived here. Although it seemed that everyone actually preferred Yuri’s dishes until his heart attack, no one spoke much of the dead around here so it really wasn’t a topic of conversation.
Wanting to poke my head in a cupboard to see if any fruit was leftover, I resisted the temptation and kept moving. Harvested food from the greenhouses was the best— the taste of a fresh strawberry, the tang of mint, a potato with a hint of sage when they were available made for the most delicious of meals here and reminded me of home.
Ignoring the urge to check the cupboard, I went over to one of the portholes in the dome shaped wall where the light poured in to nourish the planters of herbs that were basking in the less than powerful sun.
What exactly are you doing right now Adam, way out there wherever you are?
The red horizon offered no answers. Leaning down, my bony cheeks nearly touched the tops of the parsley that sprouted up to reach the sun.
I paused. It was against the rules to touch any of the plants. This was a precaution guarding against someone hoarding food, which was one of the strictest rules followed in the colony. Not since Raj had been caught taking peanut butter from an Arrival shipment before it was rationed had anyone taken more than their fill. Before that it was only when Ned had gone a little nutzo for a minute that someone broke the rules that really required consequences, until the most recent announcement.
Although it was forbidden, I reached out and gently stroked a long sprig of oregano. The feel of an actual plant in actual soil was a guilty pleasure.
“Detention Diya. Unauthorized oregano touching,” I said in a gruff voice.
Slowly, my hand navigated the leaves as it reached towards the soil. The feel of each individual leaf felt cool against my skin. Once reaching the bottom, my fingers rested above the top layer of the dirt. I didn’t press against the ground to avoid getting my hands dirty, which might mark me as guilty of breaking their stupid rule.
Kneeling down, I took this moment among the herbs in. To me, it was better here than in the greenhouse. The hydroponic system was amazing to behold, but there was something that reminded me of the feel of Earth.
God how I miss a real soccer field full of real grass…
My eyes peered out the window knowing that my chores could wait a little longer and that I still had almost eight hours until trying to contact Adam again. The waiting was becoming more unbearable each day with each passing hour though. I found it harder to focus on my daily jobs and chores.
I wonder if you’re thinking of me right now…
My mind filled with images of different possibilities of what exactly the mysterious teen might look like. He had quickly consumed my daydreams and brought new life to my stay at the colony taking on a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors in my mind— all of them making my heart beat faster. These last thirteen months held new promise.
Who exactly are you Adam?
As always, there was nothing but red desert beyond the transparent portal that provided a view of my world here. It had been a few days since the last big dust storm and the skies were perfectly clear now. This opening in the wall curved away from the complexes and provided a view of nothing but endless horizon that provided no answer back.
“Sending my best out there,” I reached out and placed a hand on the bubble. “Just reaching out across the sands…”
A long, thin finger tapped at the window as I looked outside at the dunes. The waves of sand were so close but so tantalizingly far away, almost appearing no more real than a painted picture.
“It’s time for me to take that second ride that I had been planning.”
The words were whispered to the bubble. The idea of asking him to meet me at the skiff was fraught with danger, but becoming more intriguing by the minute. I knew that I needed to meet him, no matter the danger. My finger traced the line made by the horizon between blue sky and red rock. It paused on the tip of a dune.
“That my friend would be the strangest date in the history of Mars…”
Pulling away from the window as I felt my face blush, I walked towards the doorway and pressed the button next to it to exit. The hatch slid open and I passed through the oval opening in the adjacent chamber.
In this room, the same silver metal used in construction of the complex created walls housing six identical bunks. It wasn’t my dorm, it was Generation Seven’s space— but all of the residences looked the same. While walking through, I saw the massive form of Gregory taking a nap there. Passing the bunks, I came to an exit tube. Here, I pressed the panel and the thick set of double doors that served as an emergency airlock opened. Beyond the doors was one of the connectors full of sunlight. Arriving at the far end of the tube, I pressed another button and another set of doors slid upward to reveal an opening into another shoebox shaped segment of the outpost. I made my way out and entered the room containing the fitness equipment.
Once inside the silver room, I opened the supply cabinet and grabbed the dry towel that hung on a peg to the right. I hadn’t checked the assignment board in the morning, but it seemed that more than half the colony must be out on missions because I had encountered so few people. I took the light blue towel over to the first bike and began to wipe the machine down. All residents were required to exercise daily so this room was often in use and required constant attention. I carefully ran the cloth along every feature knowing that dust could wreck havoc with the equipment and I did not want to have to deal with Harri for repairs if dust clogged one of the machines.
The exercise area had been expanded in the third year, known as Cycle Three. It now took up almost an entire modular unit by itself. Home Base had decided long ago that it was time to move beyond the crew doing sit-ups and pushups. For the colonists to build mental and physical stamina, something more than the one running treadmill was needed. That cycle’s supply had included the new exercise equipment and was viewed as an exceptionally good year for supplies.
Goose bumps prickled up as I brushed the second bike while I couldn’t shake the idea of meeting up with my mysterious caller. I shuffled over to the last exercise bike. Running the cloth along the edges of it, I wiped the entire machine clean. I looked over the cloth to see the few specks of dust and dirt that had accumulated on my palm. It did not seem in need of laundering, but instead could just be suctioned cleaned. After setting the cloth down at the black plastic base of the bike, I stood up and faced the view of the outside world. I strolled over to the hexagonal window and looked out at the iron rich land stretching as far as the eye could see. Always red. An older model of rover could be seen in the distance as it made its way back to the complexes. The crews were taking advantage of the good weather, with the summer months reaching as high as sixty degrees during the afternoon.
I put my hand on the long, thick window. Brown skin set against the bright red background.
And what would you make of me?
This question alternated with a wondering of my own. It was hard to believe that anyone could grow up here and it seemed impossible to imagine what Adam must be like.
What does growing up here do to you? Do you grow into a teenage robot?
Every time the idea surfaced, I pushed it out of my mind reminding myself that he was breaking rules— something that the robots here never did.
Glancing at my wrist, I could see that time had barely moved. I was still hours away from our next conversation. As I finished up my chores, I wondered what a plan to meet might look like despite knowing the dangers involved. It was time to take another joy ride into the desert.