Finally, the winds had subsided long enough to step outside and leave my temporary shelter behind.
“Thank you,” I offered as I patted the closed door.
Still considerably gusty, I braced myself with each step as I made my way across the newly formed dunes. My footprints made fresh tracks as I still felt sore from my journey in the dead of night.
Ahead, my skiff seemed to have moved slightly in the storm and now was at more of an angle in the sand. Back at the colony, we called that type of weather a “shaker”— impossible not to be felt at some point in the night as it beat against the structures. They were still not as powerful as the most devastating storms to cross the planet, but big enough to cause damage.
Ahead, one entire side of my craft was covered in a perfect sheet of beige sand set against a backdrop of deep reds under grey. The scene was beautiful in many ways, and I paused to capture the image in my mind before setting down to the task of digging out. Later in the afternoon, there would be time to enter the image into my sketchbook but for now there was work to do.
Although my suit was perfectly insulated, I could sense the drop in temperature today with the cloud cover and looked up to the skies. It was not a good omen for the nights ahead. Kneeling down next to the craft in the sand drift, I used the metal top of the supply box to begin scratching away the piled debris burying the craft. I could not depend on rescue, but instead had to be prepared if forced to spend another night in the elements.
About thirty minutes into the work of digging out my skiff, the intercom system crackled and came to life as I knelt.
“Don’t do anything stupid.”
Pausing from my work, I let go of the sheet of metal serving as my shovel and let it sit stuck in the sand. I stood and turned to look out on the horizon with my hands planted on the grey suit. In the distance, a skiff approached against the background of grey.
“How about holding your hands up nice and high?”
I obliged by waving both of my gloved hands in the air and even did a little dance as the vehicle parked. My sore muscles regretted the action.
Today, she chose to park further away than usual. The skiff rested on the sands and the hatch opened as I watched her poke her helmeted head out.
“Congratulations I suppose. Not wanting to make things easier on me I see.”
“Just enjoying the weather out here,” I replied dryly as I make a sweeping motion with my arm towards the dunes.
“Last night was just the warm-up. Good luck tonight. I’m leaving you a little lighter on food today, you know, just in case it doesn’t get eaten. Don’t want to let good food go to waste.”
“So I guess you changed your mind about sending me back home…”
“My thoughts on that haven’t changed at all. I’m just hoping that the weather neatly wraps this up while the others are still mulling things over. For some, well, our current circumstances have made this decision… more interesting. You have no idea just how much things have changed for us here.”
“Want to share more about that?”
“No, not at all. Just under the slight chance that they do return you home. There’s nothing that you need to be privy to.”
She leaned back inside the skiff and then popped back the doorway out holding a bag. The sack and then an additional oxygen tank were dumped onto the ground.
“Why not just poison me and be done with it?”
“Don’t tempt me girl… But for now, I’ll let the elements gamble with you life. I have always been loyal to my comrades when examining the greater cause and I’m not going to take matters into my own hands.”
I have an advocate somewhere… and it isn’t Roy.
I didn’t want to press the issue any further. “Thanks,” I offered.
“Oh, don’t bother thanking me too much. I’m not going to undermine my comrades, but I do feel pretty confident on how fate will play out for you tonight.” She hopped back into her vehicle. “Looks like you had your hands full last night. Clever girl though, it appears that you patched yourself out of quite a jam.” The skiff lifted into the air. “Too bad, you would’ve been a good addition to this planet if you weren’t so damn selfish.”
As I watched the ship sail off, I gritted my teeth and bit my tongue. Minutes later, the desert was empty. I lifted my wrist and typed in the command to shut off communication and let it rip.
“IF I EVER HAVE THE CHANCE, I AM GOING TO PUNCH YOU SQUARE IN THE FACE,” I screamed as I kicked dirt in every direction.
After my minute long tantrum, I brushed myself off and flipped communications back on.
“What are you looking at?” I said to the mostly uncovered skiff that poked out from the sands.
The grains swirled near my feet as the day inched closer towards the night. The superstorm was on its way and nothing would stop its progress. My makeshift metal shovel was half buried a few yards away. I headed over and yanked it from the ground. Setting back to work, I freed the rest of the skiff from the clenches of the desert.
After dumping the last scoop, I stood up straight and heard my back crack as I admired my work. The beaten skiff looked like it had aged ten years in the last few days. Scratches covered the surface after nights of being sandblasted. The crafts were built like tanks and could withstand so much in order to protect us against the fierceness of the elements here but the truth was that night after night of battering was starting to take its toll.
I headed to the door and crawled inside to set to work at getting the system back online. Luckily, only a small glitch had shut things down and the repairs were relatively easy. I may have quit my studying at school, but I had spent lots of time over the last year pushing myself to learn as much as possible about life here and it now really paid off. Two minors patch jobs and the ship was whirring again.
“Now Ginny, I just need you to hold up another night,” I said as I gently patted the dashboard.
Staring at the communications device, I wondered if Adam had received my message. It seemed clear that he hadn’t been caught yet— the Coms Link would not have been able to resist the temptation to shut down all hope if she were able to crush my spirits. But nothing was mentioned so it seemed that tonight would offer another chance to try to get my message in a bottle to the shore.
Over the course of the next hour, I reinforced both ships as well as the lifeline cable between the two. Neither was that well protected— there were better places to have crashed then in this mostly open area. For the most part, the surrounding area was only composed of small dunes instead of large hills. There was nowhere better nearby to attempt to drag them.
Settling into the captain’s chair upon return, I looked out at the dark brown that met grey to create the horizon. Sand scattered and swirled in preparation for the impending storm.
Tonight, I would have to hope that I had done enough to ride out the monster that slowly crept across the planet towards my tiny, vulnerable sanctuary.