Part Two: Opportunity
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral
Time and Date: July 7th, 2003 1:18 UTC
Landing Site: Eagle Crater
Time and Date: January 25th, 2004 UTC
“The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself.”
Ursula K. Le Guin
A flat stretch of rubble sandwiched between dunes led to a hill about a hundred meters away.
“That? Oh, that’s giant pile of dirt number two seventy-two,” I turned to the empty space next to me in the front half of the skiff and gestured to the hill on my right. Looking back to the scenery before us as the vehicle sailed forward, I pointed to the mound ahead. “Why yes, it is located next to hill of dirt number two seventy-one.”
I paused and nodded for the invisible passenger to see.
“Yeah, I know— who wouldn’t be excited about tomorrow’s view of sand pile two seventy-three? Really glad that you could make it out today to Sector IV with me today,” I batted my eyelashes as I turned back to my imaginary guest. “I’ve been waiting for so long for you to ask me out, and well, when you wanted to come out with me today… while, I was very excited.” I faced forward again watching the sands before the skiff. “So, I was thinking maybe after we collect today’s samples, we could go catch a movie or something, you know if you’re not busy…”
“Skiff Five, report in,” a man’s voice cut through the daydream as his words echoed throughout the metal walls of the craft.
Leaning forward, I slapped the blue intercom button on the control panel with my palm. The dashboard was full of the gauges and monitors that I had learned to deftly navigate in training before coming and during the nine-month journey here on the simulator. Above the climate system readout, was the yellow smiley face sticker that still persisted since placing it there a few months ago. It was surprising that Roy hadn’t scratched it off in his efforts to make everything as uniform as possible, but he apparently didn’t care to check out my skiff very often.
Both of my hands relaxed on the black plastic of the steering wheel. “Five here.”
Liu responded, “Huh, that’s weird.”
“What’s weird?” I answered as I kept the vehicle aimed towards the area designated for research today in Sector IV.
“Your tracking system.” He paused, “For a minute, it seemed to go offline. Have you been moving this whole time?”
“I have. What’s it read now?”
“I have you moving again, but for just a few seconds your signal stopped moving. And then it jumped forward.”
The vehicle slowed to a stop as I braked. As much as I joked about the hills out there, I did truly love being outside and didn’t really want to head back any earlier than necessary. “Liu, I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“You’re going to need to go take a look at the tracker out back.”
Sitting up, I flipped the mask on my helmet over my face as the suit came to life. Waiting until notified that my air supply was ready, I then grabbed the repair kit from the floor to my left. I punched the release button. The hatch slowly rose and then I stepped out onto the soil. The sun overhead warmed the surface of my suit and brought a smile to my face.
I walked around to the rear and knelt down next to the skiff that had settled on its rubbery base on the sand. Sure enough, a bolt had come loose from the small metal attachment the size of a pencil-case attachment an inch above the skiff’s lander. I opened the kit and grabbed a wrench as well as a replacement part.
“Bolt came loose. Taking care of it now.”
“Great,” he replied.
I reached out and replaced the missing pin.
A little bolt comes loose and all of sudden, they have no idea where I am, I thought as I shook my head. That’s a good way to get a kid killed out here.
I froze in the middle of working on twisting the wrench.
They had no idea where I was.
A new thought had entered my brain, one that consumed the idea of danger and instead spit out opportunity. I lifted my head up and looked out at the sandy horizon.
A person could go off grid… if they wanted. It wouldn’t be that hard.
I returned my attention to the task at hand. Quickly, I finished the job and stood up to look out at the wavy dunes.
Don’t be stupid Diya, I thought as I walked back to the skiff. You could get yourself killed.
“All good. Ready to go here.”
I neared the door and pressed the panel to open the door. As I stepped inside, I took one last look at the forbidding landscape and couldn’t help but continue to wonder about the dangerous, but interesting idea of not being under the watchful eyes of the adults.
The skiff floated into the garage and came to a stop at its parking space. I flipped the switch off and the engine was quiet. The vehicle lowered to the ground on the soft foam landing pad. I took off my helmet and then pressed a button as the hatch slid open. Stepping out into the bay, I stretched to full height.
“Hey Liu,” I called to the pair of legs extended out from under a rover to my left.
Liu slid out with his back on the hover pad. He looked up while clutching the drill. “How was it today Dee?”
“Another beautiful day in paradise. I took a dip after working on my tan.”
The man with the pencil thin mustache under a tiny nose stared and then responded with a delayed smile. “I’ll take a look at your system to make sure that it’s ready to go tomorrow.”
“Thanks,” I offered as he slid back under and I made my way to the end of the cargo bay. I pushed the panel to open the secondary airlock and then passed into a connector linking to the main part of the complex.
I passed through the connector and headed into the galley. There, a handful of colonists were gathering for lunch at the tables. A few lifted their heads and took notice of me, but then tucked their faces back down returning to their own conversations or tablets at their tables.
I strolled up to the counter and grabbed one of the ready-made sandwiches for lunch. Accustomed to the silent treatment, I brought my tray over to an empty table and sat down. I looked out across the room at the other colonists who paid no attention to me.
What were you all like when you were my age?
I stared at Brian who sat alone and carefully ate his sandwich with one hand while clutching his tablet with another. He pecked at it like a pigeon.
Were you once like me or did this place make you who you are now?
My eyes flitted to look over at Anai talking to Desi at a table to the right. I imagined the conversation they were having— it had to be about the weather, the equipment, or the research. Those were the topics of ninety-nine percent of the conversations that didn’t involve my parents. We seldom heard lively debates or impassioned speeches or declarations of love, or even arguments heated in anger.
“The weather was great today,” I muttered in a high-pitched voice while holding the sandwich up to hide the movement of my lips.
“It was a spectacular day for research,” I responded to myself in a lower, deeper voice.
Always the same, predictable colonists.
I took a bite and chewed as I watched the pair at the table. No wonder they cancelled the feed to Earth after Firstpost. This would be the most boring show of all time.
“The soil in Sector V was especially dirtlike today,” I said under my breath in the squeaky voice while watching Anai and Desi.
“You don’t say… Well let me tell you about the soil sample I saw today,” I answered myself in the other voice. “We must simply meet again to consume nutritional value and further discuss this engaging topic…”
A fit of laughter nearly caused me to choke on my sandwich. I looked around, but of course no one was paining attention to the only teen in town. I returned to eating and creating my own back stories for the others.
Standing up after finishing eating, I took one last look to survey the scene. No one looked any different today than any other day. It had been less than a week since Pablo’s announcement that our rights had at least temporarily been altered.
You stupid robots don’t even care about anything. I shook my head and grabbed the brown tray below me to set it in the tub.
Leaving the galley after cleaning up my things, I could feel the whimsy of my own jokes leaving and an irritation towards the colony building.
I won’t become like them.
I turned towards the workout room knowing that it would be good to exercise to get rid of some of this mounting frustration towards the robots that made up our community. Maybe taking a long simulated bike ride through the Alps as a vacation to get away from this place would be just the thing.
I entered and slid onto one of the bike after grabbing a VR helmet.
“French Alps,” I whispered and flipped the visor down to cover my eyes.
The darkness gave way to large, snow covered mountains beyond the road ahead of me. I began to pedal slowly at first before building to a steady speed as I tried to push my questions about Francois out of my mind but one thought remained in the forefront of my brain. A thought about a very different type of journey that I knew I wanted to take, not in the virtual world but out in the dunes beyond.
I’m going to take my skiff out in the desert on my own and they’ll never know…