The comms crackle to life with an incoming call.
“Please to remove yourselves from your external shells.”
“Who are these chumps?” muses José.
“Who cares?” replies Beth. “Let’s just go around them.”
Careful piloting moves the ‘bug and puts them beyond the obstacles. It would seem the others are staying stationary merely watching them go.
“Who are those people?”
Beth gives José a look, like from a deep part in her soul. “You don’t want to know. They are from the Dark Section. Bad stuff happens there.” She looks forward to the road ahead. “Bad stuff….”
“But they didn’t try to stop us. Why come out here and do nothing?”
André leans forward. “It’s what’s called ‘a show of force’. They want us to know they’re watching, but they aren’t ready to make a move. Best watch our backs.”
“And our fronts, too.” Adds José.
As the ‘bug connects to the dock, it would appear a Martian sand storm may be forming on the horizon as the sun is going down. “Ah, back just in time. We have work to do, but first we need a drink – with the Chief Engineer.” Beth gestures to Chen. “Got a job for you, hot-shot.”
“You bet, Commander! I’m on it!”
“I’d like you to go see if The Trek Deck is ready and able to communicate with one of our orbit-capable Bounce Bugs. It’s been a while since they’ve been used. If anyone asks, just say you were told to do some ‘routine maintenance’. We’ll be in the Tiki Bar.”
“Base to Bounce Bug debug test, I’m on it.” He strides off with purpose.
Issac comments, “His enthusiasm is endearing.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” Beth puts her hands on her hips and smacks her lips. “I think it’s time we took a break, had a snack and arrange to meet the Chief Engineer. All in favor?” Every hand is raised. “That’s what I thought. We’d better get down to the dining room before someone drafts us to clean the air filters in Reactor Four.”
Later… In the Tiki Bar
“The reason I asked you here is because I’ve been getting reports of crew members who’ve been missing shifts and going on unauthorized EVA’s.” The Chief Engineer’s uniform is unusual in that it appears to be in impeccable shape. Not a thread out of place or a speck of dirt. No odd grime under his fingernails. A clean-shaven young-ish white man for whom the cares of life have yet to leave creases in his face. Even his blonde hair is perfect. One suspects not only that his shoes are un-scuffed but also there’s no holes in his underwear.
Beth thinks to herself, “I’m the one who called you…“
While the other members of the team huddle at the bar and chat with Marigold, the Chief Engineer shares a booth in the back with Beth and José. The seats appears to have been salvaged out of a vehicle that caught fire, and the table “borrowed” from the dining room, but on Mars you make it work with whatcha got.
Beth starts, “Preston…” The Chief Engineer puts up his hand and cants his head a bit to the left.
“Stop.” he says, “You will refer to me as Chief Engineer. Now proceed.”
Beth and José lay out the plan, leaving out a few details related to how they expect to then use the ship to return to Earth.
Chief Engineer puts his fingers together in the classic “steeple” formation. “You are telling me that you hope to bring another cargo ship from Earth? Don’t we already have one of those? And you want our engineering staff and valuable hardware to assist you.”
José brashly addresses that question, “And how’s it going with that cargo ship?”
“In truth so far we haven’t been able to get into it. It is in-advisable to simply turn a cutting torch onto an object containing an unknown amount of HiLOX fuel and an indeterminate amount of potentially hazardous materials inside.”
“Think of the opportunity,” suggests Beth “of bringing to Mars anything we can order off Amazon.”
He pauses for a moment, considering. “Could we get… chocolate covered pretzels?” Beth nods.
“I would be the hero of Bradbury Base.” He stares off into the far distance, his eyes seem to glaze over. “The Hero… What about Slim Jims? Cheez-its? 12-amp fuses?” Beth and José nod. The Chief, he’s sucking his teeth and thinking.
He stands and paces, pondering. “The risks are great! Send a man to Phobos for the first time in almost two years, against all odds! A dangerous, desperate bid to reconnect the communications with Earth, while at the same time re-uniting Bradbury Base.” Now he’s rubbing his hands together. “The man responsible for that would go down in … history…” He slowly lowers his fists to the table and considers the pair.
“I will take on this mission. I thought just coming to Mars would be the pinnacle of my career, how little did I know I was made for something greater? I declare The Preston Pence Phobos Project will move forward!” He’s shaking his fist in the air and one could almost see the stars swirling around his head.
Beth leans to José and whispers, “See what I mean about being a knob?“