Keeping a watchful eye on the MPS readings on the control panel, I could see that I was closing in on my goal. Twenty kilometers away something would poke its head above the desert sands. Although exhausted, excitement began to build in wondering what exactly I would encounter. Within an hour, I would see the design of Pangaea II.
In the meantime, I sat up straighter in my seat and could feel my backache from sitting in the same position throughout the night. I wrinkled my nose— I could actually smell myself and the stench was horrific.
I guess that’s what living in a box without showering will do. When I arrive there, Adam will run.
As I felt a string of goose bumps at the thought of my faceless friend, an unfamiliar voice cut across the speaker bringing an end to my solitary mission.
“Hello Diya,” the woman calmly stated over the speaker.
The corners of my mouth turned downwards at the sound of the icy voice. I had hoped to reach the other base without incident, but anticipated that once I grew near the other base that they might figure out my location. I was near enough to the complex that they must have found a way to identify me— perhaps using sensors from the nearby mining and research digs.
Or maybe my smell?
But the attempt at humor did not lighten the situation. My nerves were heightened and I felt the fear creep in as my gloves gripped the v-shaped wheel.
“Great to hear from you. I’ve been expecting your call. You must be their Roy,” I responded. At this point, I did not believe that they would seek to destroy the skiff or even have the means. Our bases weren’t exactly militarized, so that gave me somewhat of a sense of security from within the metal hull.
“I imagine that you have a lot of questions at this moment.”
I paused. I was trying to read this new player. The voice was sharp and measured. It was difficult without seeing her face.
“It is an extraordinary feat that you have accomplished— Francois wasn’t able to complete it. HB looks forward to speaking with you. I can assure that you will arrive safely.”
“I’ll look forward to the greeting. And then what will happen?”
“There will be much to discuss.”
“So are you the Pablo or the Roy?”
“I’m the Com Links at Pangaea II and I look forward to meeting you.”
“Oh, I’m sure. At this point, it is probably best to speak plainly. Although I appreciate your compliments, I have a strong feeling that you’re not going to throw your arms around me and give me a big kiss.”
A pause. “You just need to park your vehicle. I will be there in a few minutes and you’ll need to get inside. I will promise you safe transport to Pangaea II.”
“That’s an interesting proposal, but no thanks.”
“I don’t think that you’re thinking things through clearly dear. I am providing you with your best option...”
I scanned the horizon but saw nothing yet. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there is zero percent chance that I’ll be getting in your skiff.”
“Fair enough. You are correct that we are disappointed in you. You single-handedly have put both missions in jeopardy. Years of research have now been compromised and it is your fault. The two bases were meant to have no knowledge of each other— it was best for long-term survival here on Mars and you have ruined that with your naïveté. But I still can promise that you will arrive at Pangaea II safely if you listen to me, despite your poor decision making.” Her true feelings were beginning to seep into the conversation as her tone grew icier.
“I have a feeling that your plan includes knocking me out and throwing me in the back of your craft before locking me away in some cell. I’m not sure that I’m interested in that.”
“I would like to escort you in. And then you will be quietly returned to your own colony. We would prefer that you leave the tasers in the skiff. Nothing can be gained from their use at this point. You are alone and outgunned so to speak.”
“Sorry, I’m afraid that I just can’t do that,” I knew that this would not be acceptable to the new player. “Sorry about that, but I won’t need to catch a ride. Thanks anyway, but I’m going to drive on in myself and see how it goes.”
There was a long pause. “Oh Diya, Diya, Diya. I can’t say that I’m surprised. Roy said that you were a brat. You have not chosen wisely and you will get exactly what you deserve. I have survived here a long time and have encountered more challenges than you will ever know. And you can be assured that it will not be a child that brings about my demise,” her voice was laced with condescension as her inner feelings gushed forth. “You will…”
“Great to hear from you,” I said while flipping communications off for the time being. The sounds of music were a welcome replacement of the threatening Coms Link. Reaching towards the ignition, I turned on the skiff for what might be the last time and headed forward. There was no longer any reason to hide. I kept the throttle forward as the craft rolled onward. The journey had been long and I was exhausted. In some ways, the confines of a cell seemed welcoming at this point— although I knew better for the long term. Despite my fear, there was hope that still remained in my mind though… a small glimmer of hope that I could outmaneuver my opponent. But first, I had to find her.
Nearing the complex, the flat plains of this Martian landscape looked different then the area near my home. A sea of curvy dunes snaked amidst a stretch of hills of approximately the same size. It was at that moment of sailing among those dunes that the realization that I might never go back sunk in. In all of the scenarios in my mind if I didn’t reach the other complex, I couldn’t envision one where the Coms Link would return me to Pablo. No, it would be easier to tell Pangaea III that I had perished in some terrible tragedy than to return the wild card home. In this way, their research there would not be compromised. Life at Pangaea III would continue in its bubble, without me. This would be my new home for however long they permitted me to live if I failed to awake the colonists here to what was hidden only a hundred miles away.
Just as the tears were about to build up, I noticed something outside. On the horizon, I caught the first glimpse of my adversary as she approached. The showdown was now drawing near and I felt a shiver pass through my body. The sadness that had started to build was replaced with adrenaline. The metal reflection in the distance shimmered. As I rolled forward, the mass that was my opponent in the upcoming joust began to take shape. The familiar outline of another skiff floating over the sand faced me. The vehicle was headed straight towards me. I reached over and flipped the communication system back on.
“I’m assuming that is you.”
“Correct. I now have a visual on your craft.”
“So now what? Are you going to ram me? Is that your plan? Good plan, we both crash and maybe die in the desert…”
“That could be the plan, if you force me to ram you. I would prefer not to damage crafts but I cannot allow you to reach the colony,” the venom was clear in her voice. “I will disable your craft at all costs. If HB had outfitted us with the weapons to destroy your skiff, I would have already done so. You will not reach the complex in your skiff, I promise you that.”
This unsettled me. I had miscalculated just how much they were willing to sacrifice, even her very life.
My hope to outmaneuver the other craft waned. Bringing my skiff to a stop, I examined my options as it floated about the simmering orange sands of dawn. If the Coms Link was willing to torpedo me, then it would likely be me end. The woman would just call the base and send for another craft if hers was inoperable. It appeared that I would have to outmaneuver her in a tired, battered craft in order to survive. I pressed the throttle forward again and hoped for the best. On the horizon, the silver metal frame of the advancing enemy came into full view. The other vehicle looked no different than from my own— there were no weapons protruding from it. It seemed that she would indeed be willing to wreck both crafts to prevent me from reaching the base.
“Listen, you don’t have to do this. It’s crazy. We’re on the same team on a planet millions of miles away from Home Base. Think of the waste in resources.”
“You are a foolish, foolish little girl. I will batter you until your skiff can no longer function— yours is weighed down with your extra equipment. I stripped mine in preparation. After the crash, you will be dragged like a bag of garbage into my skiff and driven to Pangaea II. You will be stuffed unconscious in a sack and dragged to a cell next to my room where no one will hear from you for the rest of your life. Your parents will think that you perished in the desert. I’ll take care to rebuild both hover skiffs in the weeks ahead. This is the fate that you have chosen.”
I paused my ship and got up to put on my full suit in case of a breach. Looking ahead, my nemesis was now only a few hundred meters away. Like a matador, I would have to try and dodge the oncoming bull. Bracing for impact, I steered the skiff directly towards my opponent. The two crafts were facing each other head on in a deadly game of chicken.
The distance closed to fifty, forty, thirty, twenty, ten… and then I made my best guess as to which way to turn. I pulled hard on the wheel and veered right at the last moment in hopes that we would miss one another.
Feeling the full force of the crash as I was yanked against my seatbelt, I immediately knew that I had guessed wrong. The collision sent my craft spinning and bumping against the rocky ground below. After several seconds, my skiff came to a rest on a pile of sand and stones. Shaking the cobwebs out of my head, I wanted to vomit. I took a deep breath and then looked up through the windshield to the world outside. The other craft had met a similar fate and was grounded several feet away. Taking a quick look around the control panel, I took stock in the systems and it seemed as though there had not been a breach in the hull. Although shaken, I appeared to escape from the crash without an injury. Trying the lift controls, I attempted to get the craft to respond but to no avail. I was stranded in the desert— this skiff had been put out of commission and would not be going anywhere until I made repairs. I sank back into my seat.
“You’ll regret for making me damage both crafts, I promise you that for however much longer you live.” The voice hissed into the intercom and then continued. “They told me that you were an insolent child. And now, you’ll have to pay for your errors in judgment.”
I felt my shoulders drop as hope was slowly fading. After traversing so much distance between the two colonies, I would come up just short. Looking at the other skiff angled into the sand, I felt my anger growing and the tears returned to well up. The first drop ran down my face with the knowledge that my actions would lead to a life of imprisonment.
I won’t meet Adam.
I had failed.
I won’t see my parents again.
The endless miles of red desert spotted with mountains and shifting sands sat silently behind the broken skiff holding the Coms Link from Pangaea II. The grey vehicle lay tilted awkwardly and still.
Silence filled the interior of my skiff as I still leaned back against the seat. Closing my eyes, a few last tears escaped and ran down my cheek as I wondered what would happen next. Then, I sat up and unbuckled my safety strap and set to work on seeing if repairs were possible.