The winds howled and shook the skiff as I remain wrapped up in the emergency blanket to provide an extra layer of warmth as the inhospitable landscape outside reached lower temperatures. Laying on the mat on the floor, I could hear the scratching and clawing by Mars attempting to get in and wreck havoc. These unsettling noises drowned out the humming sounds of my skiff’s machinery attempting to keep me safely cocooned inside.
I lay on my back and remained in my suit knowing that at any moment, the craft’s systems could give way to the outside forces at work.
“Come on Ginny,” I reached out and stroked the floor of my newly named companion. My hand gave a gentle set of pats. “You’ve come so far, you’ve got a couple more nights in you.” I patted her one last time and hoped for the best.
She offered nothing in return other than the hum of the systems at work as the skiff continued to shimmy from the force of the winds.
Tonight’s storm was strong. It wasn’t the full force of one that could annihilate a craft, but it was strong enough as the winds lashed against the sides of the vehicle. There were certainly worse storms to come, ones that I likely couldn’t survive.
After sleeping for five hours, I had been jarred awake by the sounds of the sand blasting against the metal and had yet to return to sleep. Now my eyelids started to grow heavier once until I once again slipped away to sleep.
The alarm sounded and my eyes flashed open in fear. The beeping sound disrupted the whipping and moaning sounds of nature. The buzzer blared as I sat up and tried to take stock of my surroundings. Groggily, I looked around and tried to get a reading on the control panel. Then, I saw the blinking red light. The climate system was malfunctioning and would soon fail, leaving this skiff inhospitable even in a suit. The temperature was dropping inside my skiff as something had been jarred loose.
Surveying the systems, it was impossible to determine the cause, which meant that repair wasn’t an option. I would have to abandon my sinking ship. Flipping my mask down, I steeled myself for the journey that I would have to make in the frozen desert in the dark.
“You can do this, you can do this, you can do this,” I repeated to myself as I crawled towards the back exit with the alarm filling my ears. Glancing down within my helmet, I saw that my suit had a full complement of oxygen.
I reached for the exit button and grabbed hold of the metal bar to the left with my other hand.
As soon as the hatch opened, I was met with a full blast of sand and wind. My vision went blank as the debris scratched at my helmet and beat against my suit. Crawling forward, I stepped out and grabbed hold of the rope that I had set up for such an emergency. Before leaving, I punched the botton to seal up my ship and protect the innards against the raging storm.
Holding onto the rope knowing that my life depended on it, I took a step forward into the darkness. My body shook as brute force winds beat against me. The suit’s climate system would shield me from the freezing temperatures for only so long before giving way. Slowly, I trudged step by step across the desert clutching the lifeline to the other ship. Using all of my strength, I held firm on the line as my boots gravity adjusters held me to the planet. More than once, I had to kneel down to prevent being knocked off balance and knowing that if separated from the rope I would never find it again.
Counting each step in the sand, I plodded forward in what seemed like an eternity to cross this chasm between the two ships.
I had practiced it during the day. My suit still registered 55% of my oxygen supply but I didn’t bother to do the math to calculate the minutes spent outside so far. I just hoped that I had enough time
At step one-hundred, panic set in as I gripped the rope and knew that time was running out. It shouldn’t be taking so long but the conditions were nothing like the steps taking in daylight. Instead of giving in to the crushing fear and hopelessness closing in, I trudged onward knowing that the rope was still connected. I would not allow myself to be swallowed up in the darkness by the winds in the dead of night.
“Please, please, please,” I called out to the red planet as I held tight with one hand while thrusting the other forward and grasping hold of the shaking cord. With each new grip, I took a step in the sands. Exhaustion was beginning to set in as my legs quivered with each step and my quads screamed in agony trying to steady themselves. My hands and biceps ached. My suit now registered 27%.
It was then that I noticed that the cord’s trajectory had changed and now led upward out of the sand. The end was near as the ship had to be only a few feet away. Carefully, I completed the journey and finally reached out to meet the metal hull of the other skiff. The rope was tied directly next to the latch. As soon as I found the level, I pulled. As the door opened, I crawled inside and quickly shut the hatch behind me. I turned over and thrust a hand upward to press the power on.
The systems whirred to live as the hatch closed me off from the exterior, sealing off the howling wind and blasting sands.
Sprawling out on the floor, I wanted to cry but no tears came out as I lay on the smooth metal surface. Slowly, I pulled myself up to the cockpit and dragged myself into the seat. My suit was still expending extra oxygen and energy after having been exposed to the frigid temperatures for so long as it worked to stabilize.
“Please, please, please little ship… don’t fail me.”
I sat and stared out at the darkness and flickering sand. Muscles I never knew that I had shrieked in agony as I slumped in the chair. The humming of machinery now could be heard in the background of the winds. The dashboard was lit and showed all systems were stable.
Reaching down to the toolbox, I strained to flip it open. From within, I grabbed the emergency blanket and managed to wiggle inside. Tipping the captain’s chair back, I looked up at the ceiling.
My eyes grew heavy and I fell asleep.