LIVECASTING MY DESCENT INTO THE MARTIAN UNDERWORLD

Dantzel Cherry has recently sold stories to Cast of Wonders and Timeless Tales. We’re happy to welcome her back for her fifth appearance in Galaxy’s Edge.

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I maneuver around an outcropping of rocks in my trusty Rover, kicking up red dust into the pristine Martian canyon, and find the permafrost waiting for me in all its unexplored glory. On either side the cameras swivel, livecasting my every movement to the viewers back on Earth.

“This is a great shot,” I say into my comm, bringing Rover to a stop and manually focusing Camera A on my establishing shot. I give a thumbs-up and wide-mouthed grin at the camera. “This will look awesome back home.”

“Perfect, Sandeep,” our producer Sally says in my left earpiece. “Do you have any lines prepared? Because I can—”

“Not this again,” Commander Dosela says in my right earpiece. “Drive to the collection point on the map, get the soil sample, and get out. We aren’t ready to explore this riverbed in depth yet.”

“Who said ‘explore?'” I say. “I’m boosting our ratings. It’ll only take another minute.”

I roll forward a couple of inches.

Sally, of course, backs me up. “The HAB isn’t cutting it for the viewers.”

Commander Dosela ignores Sally’s reminder about our funding. “Adjust course, Sandeep. Move that giant space heater the hell off the permafrost.”

“I only need ten seconds!” Sally says. “Pan Camera A left for ten seconds, then zoom in and tighten your focus on the peaks.”

No. We’ll schedule a drone next week and capture all the footage your little hearts desire,” Dosela says in my right.

But Sally’s right. We need the human element. Man versus nature and all that. Exciting shots make for increased funding, whether Dosela admits it or not. I’m doing this for her own good.

I pause and twist my shoulders slightly—a better angle for the camera—and Rover’s boom zooms closer.

The ground under Rover groans.

“Are you sinking?” Dosela says. “Get—”

Another groan. Rover trembles.

I pull Rover into gear, but it’s too late. Mars has taken the wheel now.

“Sandeep? Repor—” Dosela cuts out on my right.

“The boom is out! Sandeep, tell us how you feel!” And then Sally’s voice shorts out.

My suit protects me from the initial blows, but it can’t protect my neck when Rover slams into a rock. I fly backward, cracking the windows. Metal screeches and crunches.

Another hard bounce.

A sharp pain lances my thigh.

The lights in Rover flicker through the dust.

I’ve stopped moving. I think.

My vision reels, my ears ring, and I’m distracted by the warm blood pooling in my suit from whatever is spiking my thigh.

I rip it out. Scream. Feel sick.

With clumsy gloved hands I pull supplies from the med kit and staunch the flow, but I probably sealed the suit leak wrong. Guess I’ll find out soon enough.

“Dosela? Sally?” I first whisper, then shout into my comm. “I’m ready to turn around now, Commander!”

Radio silence.

At the very least the receiver’s crushed. I’m alone down here.

Well, maybe. Most of the lights in Rover are working—most of the important ones anyway. And if the cam in my helmet is still working and being underground isn’t running interference with my video, then I might have a captive audience of one billion watch me bleed out in the remains of an underwater river on the Red Planet.

That’s enough motivation to spur me forward.

The dust has nearly settled. I grunt as I push Rover’s door open and hobble out, feeling weak.

“Dosela? Sally?”

Above me glows a dull red haze. Up the walls I climb, but the rocks crumble and down I slide. Up. And down again. I circle the hole, hoping for just one viable escape route. I take another run at a likely-looking spot and slip a few steps in.

I stand up, ready to admit defeat, but a lump catches my eye. I pull it closer.

Limestone? Really?

Fully awake from the adrenaline rush, I lug the precious rubble over to Rover for testing. I rest and inspect it while the test is running. The skeletal fragments twist and wrinkle in a way that the coral, foram, and molluscs back on Earth do not, but my trained eye understands what they are.

The test comes back positive for calcite and aragonite: unquestionable proof of life on Mars, and Rover and I are sitting in the middle of it.

“Dosela! Sally? Is anyone seeing this?”

I bask in my own glory for a moment. If my transmitter’s still running, everyone back home sees this and Sally’s weeping with joy over the ratings. Florence is plunked down at the terminal next to Dosela, capturing screen shot after screen shot of the hollow spaces where water once carved a path through the sediment with insistent vigor, and someone is running a side-by-side comparison of Martian limestone and Earth limestone for the viewers back home. If the transmitter’s still running, someone is shrieking “Life on Mars! Life on Mars!” at their TV screen, and everyone at NASA is gnashing their teeth that they didn’t get to this first.

But—oh hell, if the cameras are out? Then Sally’s prepping the rescue team’s on-screen eulogies for me even as they come searching for my body.

I’m cold. And tired. My foot is sticky with the pooling blood. I’m not sure which will kill me first: lack of blood or lack of oxygen.

“Dosela? Sally?”

I could probably attempt a couple more climbs before passing out, but I’m not going to fool myself, and anyway, I’m not leaving my limestone behind.

I make myself comfortable in Rover, and use the rest of the medical wrap to tie my limestone to my waist. If someone gets here in time, I can explain my discovery. If they don’t—well, they can’t miss this.

My vision’s too fuzzy to see properly now, but I’m not worried.

This is a great shot.

This will look awesome back home.

Copyright © 2018 by Dantzel Cherry