After finishing An Austen Ensemble, I was ready to venture back into the world of speculative fiction. I love carriages, phaetons, barouches, curricles, tumbrils, and farm wagons, and all the details that go along with historical novels, but I was more than ready to MAKE SOME STUFF UP by the time I was done.
So… Thus came about my near-future story on an underground Martian base (as I blow a kiss to Elon Musk!) which takes place on a single terrible day in the lives of two astronauts.
I just got the book back from my wonderful editor, Gabriella West over at Edit for Indies, so I am just whipping it into shape before publication. I am also learning how to use Adobe InDesign for covers, because writing a novel for NaNoWriMo this month was not enough. (I peer dubiously at the schedule written on my hand… Was this the plan?)
Anyway, cover and blurb to follow soon! But here’s an excerpt while I get things ready.
Thanks for reading,
Best Martian Playlist
Tenacity Base, Tharsis Montes, Mars
“You should allow yourself to rest,” the AI assistant said, “as the vehicle is in crawl mode. You can close your eyes. Caleb is taking a surface walk to the solar array.”
Miranda half-reclined on the driver’s seat of one of the huge rovers, her feet propped on the locked steering wheel, her head tilted back. She stared at the line between the foil sheeting that partly coated the Martian tunnel and the raw rock beyond, her eyelids heavy. A few feet further and the tunnel disappeared into blackness. She tapped her tablet and spoke to the AI, Ero, through a painful yawn. “Shouldn’t I use the time he’s gone? You said you had a list of options…”
“Steps may be necessary today, but you’ll need to be rested. Shall I begin another album? I can make suggestions based on your profile.” Ero was originally one of Amazon’s proprietary personalities, so he was always trying to get them to try new music or binge-watch new series.
“No, just play the mix I listened to last night.” Miranda felt her shoulders ease and she relaxed for real, getting as comfortable as possible in the bucket chair as she sipped citrus-flavored water out of the tube in her suit. Her position would be ridiculously uncomfortable on Earth, but in the low Martian gravity, it was workable.
The tunnel was twenty feet tall; that was the current calibration on the digger machine that had gone through this tunnel first. And the walls, though still lined from the teeth of that machine, were relatively smooth, half-melted from the high heat that was used to fuse rock and dust into firm walls.
If the caves were natural, they’d be considered quite beautiful. Parts of the rock seemed to hang in long, vertical folds like the finest drapery on a Michelangelo statue.
The thick layers of magnetic foil sealed themselves to the magnetic crust of Mars and crinkled faintly as soft wheels pushed them into place. She could hear it in the pause between one of her songs and the next.
The rock wasn’t perfectly smooth, and the aluminum sheeting wasn’t shiny like kitchen foil, but Miranda could make out the wavy image of her own red and white insulated suit reflected back from the roof of the tunnel. Her reflection was surrounded by that of the huge maroon construction rover, which she affectionately called Ironman.
Miranda felt a sneeze coming and wiggled her nose futilely before sneezing three times in succession. She tried to point her face down to avoid splatter on her faceplate, but having just reclined, she didn’t entirely make it. Ugh…
Miranda released the double-locking ring at her neck with guilty pleasure, rotating it counterclockwise, and gratefully removed her helmet. These suits were streamlined, vastly improved from the first bulky EMU suits early astronauts wore, but a mask was still a mask.
Her hair was in a ratty ponytail, sweaty, and she used her hand to flick a little water from the reservoir tube over her face. She rubbed it over her forehead and cheeks with her gloved hand. Relief. Without the connection to the helmet, the purified air blew from an open valve past her neck. She used the tablet to shut off the suit and preserve its store of liquid oxygen.
With a low rumble, Ironman jolted sideways like a crab, repositioning further down the tunnel. Its spotlights illuminated the front and back rollers applying the foil sheeting up the walls and across the ceiling. Its flat center held the cylinders of aluminum foil like colossal rolls of metallic wrapping paper, and a large robotic arm slotted the next roll into place while magnetic clamps unwound a new section.
“You shouldn’t have your helmet off,” Caleb called down the tunnel.
Miranda flinched. As he came into the lights from Ironman, she saw he was suited in neon green, one of the upper-surface suits which were easier to spot on satellite or in the dark. “Shouldn’t you be at the array?”
“No. Ero just had me servicing tanks in the basin this afternoon.” He came down the tunnel like a lightning bug in the dim glow of her machine, his walk the weirdly bouncy one that they’d grown used to in Mars’s light gravity. His reflection bounced along with him on floor and ceiling as though he were skating on ice.
Miranda gripped the steering wheel, wondering why Caleb would lie, or if she truly was just going crazy.
With her helmet off, she couldn’t ask Ero, but even as she thought the question, her tablet lit up. A brief message from Ero read, “I apologize. I did not realize he chose to ignore the array assignment. Drones are recharging.”
Yeah, Ero would have told her if he knew Caleb was coming her way. She wished she could hit the gas on Ironman and drive away. Or maybe drive right over Caleb. “Do you need something?”
“Yeah. I need you to put your helmet on.”
Miranda used a rag to wipe her face shield before putting the helmet back on.
“Thanks,” Caleb said. “Ero’s telling me there are three new messages, but he won’t display them until you’re there.”