After finishing chores, I returned to my dorm room and stood to survey our tiny living quarters. Looking around the plain, grey metal walls with the occasional window, I thought back to my old room back home on Earth.
Just one poster. Even the stupid one of the kitten on a limb saying ‘hang in there’… anything to liven things up here.
But of course, my parents thought it best to keep our space plain. Sighing, I walked over to my bed and climbed up to the top bunk. There, I began to focus on a more exciting idea. It was time to plot out what my little proposed joyride might look like. I leaned over and opened up my storage cubby as I felt my nerves bubbling up inside. Reaching in, I fished around and then pulled out my prized possession, my sketchbook with the black cardboard cover. It had been a while since I had taken the time to sit and draw and it felt good to pull my old friend out of hiding.
“I’m back, with an idea that you’re going to try to talk me out of, but you’ll have to trust me. This is something I need.”
As I withdrew the spiral bound journal, it slipped out of my hands. Hitting the floor, it bounced and the pages fluttered. I stared at the notebook that lay sprawled open unveiling a secret.
What is that?
There, on the ground below, it appeared that there was handwriting on some of the pages… handwriting that wasn’t mine.
Nervously, I climbed down the ladder to the floor below. I bent down and picked up my notebook. In front of my face was a small picture that I had not drawn in the top corner of the page. There were horses with what looked like armed soldiers on them heading into war. Below the images, there were lines of poetry.
I looked around. Of course, I was alone and there were no cameras in private residences yet. At least, I hoped this to be true. On my mother’s bunk, I pulled my knees up and placed my sketchbook carefully on them to shield the drawing just in case. My heart throbbed and rattled against my chest as I read the words underneath the sketch.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
I read the passage over a second time, holding the page close to the tip of my tan nose. Scanning the rest of the paper, I saw nothing else and then flipped to the next page. There was another picture; this one was a stick figure on a circle. Under it was written, Pangaea III. In the center of the circle, there was something written in tiny lettering. The answer is in Sector VII.
Taking a deep gulp, I dared to flip to the next page. Once again, there was the same message. It was repeated four times in a row.
The answer is in Sector VII.
The answer is in Sector VII.
The answer is in Sector VII.
The answer is in Sector VII.
Flipping through the rest of the sketchbook, I saw no other signs of messages. These appeared to be the only three pages that had been left for me to discover.
Questions rained down and bombarded me as I tried to process the information. Sliding off her mother’s bunk, I climbed up the steel rungs back to the top. Once there, I shut the book and put it to the side on top of my perfectly made sheets stretched across my bed. I knew who did this and knew that I should be furious with Francois for violating a private space. For some reason, he had somehow gained access and entered my room, and been through my belongings. He had seen pictures and sketches of mine that previously had only been seen by my family. This kind of voyeurism seldom took place in the complexes where the colonists followed both the written and unwritten laws. Francois had taken a risk and chosen to violate those laws.
I looked at my most prized possession. The black cover hid the secret messages within. Sector VII.
The area that was forbidden to all colonists. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I picked the book up one more time and leafed through it.
“I don’t understand...”
I flipped to the first message and reread the lines of the poem again. Squinting, I studied the image of the figures alongside.
“Why would you leave this for me?”
I put the sketchbook aside and shook my head.
The guy was crazy.
Pulling out my tablet, I looked up the ominous lines of the poem on the device. Reading the entire work that I now recognized as Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade”, I didn’t feel better about the message.
We’re the ones riding into the valley of death…
“Why did you leave here Francois? Where were you going?” I whispered in a soft voice that was barely audible.
I turned my head towards the window. Outside, the sun shined brightly on the red dunes. Miles beyond the safe periphery of Pangaea III lay Sector VII.
He was crazy Diya.
I nodded to myself. “He probably left messages all over the complex, just trying to spread discourse.” I spoke softly into empty room.
There were many unknowns, but there was one thing I knew for certain: I wasn’t going to report this finding to anyone right now. I tucked my sketchbook back in its hiding place.
“What else did you do while here?” I muttered.
And then, I decided to dig a little deeper in my possessions to search for an answer to one of the many questions. I pulled out all of my clothes one by one, placing everything on my bed. Once my pair of jeans came out of storage, I saw the answer. There, tucked in the back corner was a small, grey stuffed bear. I pulled out the toy that was no bigger than my hand. I stared at the fuzzy stowaway and noticed the haphazard seams around the neck. My pulse surged at the confirmation that the bear hid something within its tattered frame.
“Sorry buddy,” I said while tearing the head off. Gripping the body in my left hand, I leaned over the neck and peered at the black metal item wedged in the stuffing.
Quickly, I looked up and glanced around the room before finishing the sentence. No one was here of course and I remained alone. My hands trembled and the bear shook slightly in my grip. Looking down, I couldn’t believe the secret held in my hands. I swallowed as I felt a rush of excitement as I hid the device clenched between my fingers inside the bears stuffing.
It was the emergency beacon and communication device from Francois’s skiff.
I pulled a t-shirt out and wrapped up the broken bear hiding the metal device. The mummified bear was then shoved back amongst my clothes. After closing the storage, I pushed myself off the top bunk and landed my feet with a thud below. The excitement ran through my spine and out to the tips of my fingers and toes. Not Roy, not Pablo, not even my parents knew what I now knew. There was no need to skim randomly over the Martian sands on a random joyride, I knew exactly where to go now. Francois was out in Sector VII and I had the map to all of the answers.
I got off my bed and headed out the door. I paused at a circular window before the door as I approached the exit. The red terrain outside was marked with tire tracks from the rovers.
“I’m going to do it...”
I headed towards the fitness room as wanted to skip as I exited out the swished door that receded into the wall. I would complete my assignments and keep up appearances of being the model colonist. Walking through the connector, I passed Simone and nodded politely. Adrenaline was pumping through my body and my mind whirled at the prospect of the journey that I was about to undertake.
Arriving at the room filled with mats, bikes, and steppers, I pulled the cloth out from the top drawer of the cabinet and began to wipe down the row of machines. As I did, I walked through the plan from the beginning to the end again— this time fleshing out the specifics that required my attention.
As I worked, I presented the appearance of completing my chores on the outside, but on the inside, I was carefully planning out the steps that were needed to take to leave Pangaea III behind on a true adventure. The first step would begin with readying the few supplies that it was best to bring on the trip. Next, I would need to take a moment to activate the beacon and plot out my course. Hopefully, the distance would be within range for an immediate trip. And then, I would set out in my skiff and disassemble my tracking beacon.
Tomorrow. I could set out tomorrow.
Wiping the machines, no one watching on video would suspect that I was plotting my trek to the forbidden sector to learn what secrets Pablo and Roy were hiding.
I’m leaving tomorrow if I can.
I turned to look at the brilliant blue sky meeting the brown waves below. The excitement in me grew stronger with each passing minute.
I will not sit here and let the puppeteers pull all the strings.
The rising dunes ahead provided no more than a few hundred feet of a view in any one direction. A strange mix of curiosity and worry filled me as I turned from the window and headed down the passageway knowing that I had a destination in mind for my trip in my skiff.