Evolution – Chapter 27
The deserts blew away at a cold misty wind above them. There was very little sound, just the coldness that suggested the coming calamity. As the red mix of ice and rock moved freely in the tornado, it split in half the already damaged tower and the echoes of all those who died within it was brief and got washed into the blistering waves of air.
And then silence – should anyone have passed by it would have seemed that the ruins of the tower were from a time long passed and in no way anyone would have guessed they were built just recently and have been standing for only a few weeks. The resourcefulness of those who put in the time was admirable and now, with their work crumbled, they would have no other choice but to start again.
Fario looked at the sight of the broken tower as his hands were instinctively tying the safety belt to cover the hole in his suit. A piece of iron alloy pushed by the tornado hit him so close it almost severed his leg off. Luckily he was able to move away in the last second and only get his suit touched. His training must have kicked in. That was also responsible for that fact the he so effectively could take care of his suit now when he was more scared than ever.
As soon as the safety belt was attached it chemically integrated into his suit and he received a notification in his HUD display. He was safe again, for now. The wind washed almost anything and vanished in an instant, almost as if it was being controlled by an intelligent being. All that was left now was the broken tower and the troubling sound that his steps made when he stepped on the cracked ice left behind.
After he got his bearings a bit, he immediately started walking towards the tower. His steps were getting heavier with their cracking sound, but soon he was sprung awake by the communication coming through after the blizzard settled and transmissions were coming back online.
“… spond with your status” – and then four clear beeps.
He immediately recognized the automated message, set on repeat «To all tech-teams please respond with you status» and the four beeps were meant to be the first sound that should go through and be picked up in case of a communication loss and reestablish. Fario hated it. It reminded him of the fact that he had to respond starting with his key code so that the computer can automatically sort his voice and send it to the appropriate surveillance team.
However, the mechanical voice repeating the message over and over was a big help for him to forget what he had just witnessed. And it also drained out the sound of his crackling steps which, after such huge waves of air was simply a reminder of the silence bestowed upon the dead bodies. Any thought that someone must be worried about him had disappeared long ago. Everyone back at base was so worried about the operation and there have been so many tragedies that some lost officer was way low on their list. After a while it felt that the computer was the only thing that actually cared. Continuously asking for an answer, like a careful comrade. He smiled at the thought and continued walking.
It took a full hour to get to the tower. There wasn’t much left. He was glad it took so long to get there; he didn’t want to face another line-up of almost dead people and watch their lives fade away from their eyes while he was powerless to help them. Or even worse, have them watch him as he completely ignored the last moments of their life while he went searching for what he was sent to find. It usually made things easier. That way he could pretend it was just him and the computer. He bent and cried over enough heads already.
But not this time. Now everyone was already dead, most weren’t even there – the hurricane must have thrown their bodies so far they were to never be found. Those left were already frozen and covered with dust, ice and rubble. That made the picture a bit more bearable at least.
And then a terrible thought got over him. Why was he sent? He’s only salvaging the research from destroyed structures, but this time he was almost there while the tower was still standing. Maybe the communication with the tower had been cut off for more than a day prior to the disaster. That usually meant the tower is gone, so it was a safe assumption. That must be it – they wouldn’t send him on a wild goose chase in this part of the expansion for no good reason. He imagined what the leaders would say if he would ask why they did not send a support team to save the tower instead of assuming that it has already been destroyed. They would probably argue with him about the scarcity of resources and crew. That was something he was not looking forward to.
Bum! Bum! – The noise came from one of the tower walls. At first he thought that the horrors started again, but his training calmed him again. He must have been hearing things. It’s not wise to let thoughts take over you. He envied the computer, continuously repeating the message with nothing impending him at all.
Then the noise repeated. He walked to the wall and noticed that the entrance to the next room was sealed. So the environmental controls could still be working. Or they could be failing and the only thing the people inside could do it knocking desperately on the door. Oh! He encountered that too before. And was not looking forward to it.
He turned back trying to be heartless and continued his search. Then the hiss of depressurization hit his ears shortly followed by the quick screech of the door. The computer went silent in his ears.
“Officer Fario-34, please respond. I know you’re there.” – That just felt silly. Of course the computer in his suit can send and receive messages with the main computer. So they knew that at least his suit functioned. Or, by reading his life signs that he’s alive and well. Once again he felt a pinch in the heart for the illogical need to say his key code whenever he connected back. So what was so important that they had to contact him directly? – His lips moved without his will.
“Fario-34 reporting in.”
“We have reports that there are survivors of the S-779 Tower. Do not engage. I repeat, do not engage, a rescue party is on the way”
A rescue party? For this girl?
As he was looking towards the opened door, he saw a young girl, with just a cloth, walking towards him. She did not seem to be freezing, or feel any effects of the atmosphere there. Her look was not frightened, which really worried him. A child in this environment witnessing what she must have witnessed should be terrified, yet she shown nothing of a kind. Instead, her glassy eyes looked at him with sadness and an obvious shame. Then she spoke in clear voice, almost like an adult.
“I’m sorry to appear like this. There are no clothes left and you were not about to come after me no matter what I did or said.” – As she noticed his discomfort, she immediately realized the cause and changed her attitude. Started trembling. “I’m freezing. And it’s so hard to breathe. Could you at least come in with me and keep me warm?”
Fario did not move. He wanted to help her so badly but he had received an order not to engage. Actually, not that he thought about it, there was no «This is an order» said. It was more like a suggestion. And what was he going to do? Leave the girl in the poor cold? So he moved towards her.
Another message came in, almost feeling his thoughts: “Fario-34, I repeat, do not engage! That is an order!” He smirked at the sound of that. And how exactly are they going to know? I’ll just talk to the arrival party, and even if they turn me in, what will they do?
He reached down beyond some rubble and got a weird coat. The girl looked at him with disbelief. He smiled and dressed the coat himself. The suit automatically attached to it just as it had previously with the safety belt.
“Let’s go in” – He said.
As soon as they walked in, he took of the coat and gave it to her. In just a few seconds, it had become from frozen-solid to a nice room temperature feel.
“Thank you!” – Said the girl. “I thought you’ll leave me alone for a second.”
“I’ve done that too many times. Maybe it’s time for me to remember how to be kind to someone.”
The room they’ve entered had no piece of furniture, but felt extremely solid, like a vault. Freezing though. His suit would keep him warm, but he did not know what to do about her. She seemed quite happy with the coat, so he let her be.
“Did you send the distress call?” – He asked.
“Not that I know of. What distress call.”
“Well, HQ let me know they have confirmed survivors. I imagined you must have sent something to them, so I was going to ask how you did that. There is no station here.”
“There could be a mechanism to automatically send a signal when the door opens…”
He shrugged. He did not tell her that at the exact moment of the door opening that’s when he was contacted. It seemed too much to be a coincidence and his training took over again. She saw his suspicious look and change of posture, so she continued:
“I was not here usually. I ended up here when the storm began. The room was thrown out of the structure together with the wall. I remember hitting on the walls in that insanity. I exited the room and entered back more than a dozen times. Then I just felt that to keep myself warm my best bet was to stay inside and quit opening the door. That is, until you came…”
“Nothing works in this room. Heat is gone. All the remaining power seems to be used on a minimum of electricity to work the door and keep this dim light on.”
“Exactly. All systems will eventually become manual and in the end turn off completely. I doubt that long range communications are still operable, even if there is such a system connected to the opening of the door.”
“Then it must be someone else.”
That was a pleasant thought for Fario. He might have not actually disobeyed any order. Maybe the survivors he wasn’t supposed to engage were others. He may still be safe.
“Shouldn’t we go and try to find them?” – She asked. “I’m feeling better now; we can’t just live them…”
“Oh, easy there dear! You just got a bit worm for the coat I gave you and you want to play cowboy. What makes you think we can even help them? Seems to me that we can barely help you!”
“I’m sorry. You are right. We should kill the lights to keep as much energy as possible.”
“Are the vocal commands still functional?”
“Yes, the computer recognizes them.”
“Lights!” – He spoke quickly and clearly. The room went completely dark and his sigh was heard as he sat down next to the wall. Since she was really close to him, she just laid down beside him.
“How long have you been on Mars?”