Cold holds the void-full vacuum of the stratosphere above earth.  Between the crosshairs of the protective magnetic fields which links us to the mother that always looks to us, earth extends itself.  The warrior farther from the father and smaller than Gaia, sits jealous and fertile in the night.  We tend to believe that red indicates a form of heat, when the red planet actually runs quite bitter. The cold controlling it, freezing it dry, overwhelms the dense hyper-nutritious soil left untouched by life, as of three hundred years ago, it seems. Looking ahead across the plateaus and still lakes lay The Basins of Chryse Planitia, an expansive flatland.  In the west lay mountains, the close Tempes Terra, and to the left, in the east, Acidalia Planitia.  Between the two vastly different geological structures stands about a whole of itself, away under a cliff in the lake a multiple set of domes. Lined with white metal frame holding break-proof windows exposing its innards. Solar panels wave out like lashes, collecting dust. Despite consistent cleaning it is already being dusted by the air and a fast wind whistling from the north.  Either seen so brightly because of the clear skies, or hidden by the storms the domes stand green, grey and white.  Like eyes, they appear to watch the sun turn red.

Inside, workers perform their dharma both night and day, ranging in various hours.  Everything feels timed the same as on earth, despite the extra 37 hours. In numerology 3+7=10 ten meaning Capricorn the ruler of Saturn, Satan.  10 meaning 1, the root chakra, ruled by what?  RED!  SATURN!  But we are not on Saturn; they would be eaten by now. Human bodies, crushed in the gaseous pressurized orbit, stung by the air it encapsulates, draining us of our life with its hyper-nutritious state. We are not on Saturn. Like the devils the tornados through the planes of Mars play and fight with one another. People who’ve decided to come here participate in astronautics exploration, as well as scientists encapsulating a number of deep studies in botany, geology, medicinal, bacterial and viral studies, mathematics involving physics, as well as some interesting experiments with string theory. There’s even a forensics team, involved in potential dye from some of the rarest blue powders of this world. The hottest thing that this world has is being competed for by a small yet somehow prosperous fashion company and the three skin care lines that have made precedence.

Let’s not forget the endless amount of engineers and welders that have involved themselves in this world through fast training.  After all of this, there are over 1,347 general workers and 672 law enforcement and military staff divisions. The amount of metals and gasoline revenue being accumulated by the United States and Asia is beyond comprehension. Fast growing crops have developed impoverished and underdeveloped nations; beneficial nutrients from untouched soil derive from the bitter planet.

The domes were built much bigger than the amount of people that currently occupy them. Plans for new crew members to be added to the Mars Environment Mission Explorers Team Division 1.00 was prevalent in almost every day speech, “Division 1.02 is designated to set off soon” etc.  Socially speaking, this place has a fifty-fifty split in individuals, extroverts and introverts despite all these people displaying introverted behavior. This isn’t saying either one is wrong or right; the quality that truly changes someone is antisocial behavioral symptoms and/or lack of awareness, not realizing something is offensive, hurtful or mean.  Some one percenters are sociopathic here, crazy fools, turned on and off.  Meaning some are aware and others are unaware.

There is a Jamaican, French American woman, #298763 who works here at this place. Her name is Janet Kristen Ferrera. Janet got her nowhere so she goes by Kristen.  Kristen wakes up every sunrise at 5 a.m.  She works for a company called C.E. Cathedral Empress, to investigate the geological magnetic fields and radiation as well as spontaneous life formation. Hers is one of the most singled-out professions around. How much life could be around?  Despite her only being known by her general peers as a radiology specialist and botanist she is working on wavelengths in music to stimulate growth.  Expanding on certain notes she says, “Purr into the ground and heal.”  Just like a cat. Despite her experiments with already stimulated life she’s doing tremendously well alongside the Mars mineral nutrient focused botanists. They’ve finally been able to coordinate a partnership that will last a lifetime.  She had to complete the solo theory, valid or not; life can be stimulated through organic Martian forms. The partnership found itself successful within three years.  Kristen was left unamused by her ongoing journey with her project, becoming sidelined by new proposals and opportunities.

Her button nose twitches as she wakes up this morning to the sound of her radio hissing softly, which starts to play “Raindrops” by Chopin.  Her window was small, and so was her room.  She has little money coming into this and has complained multiple times that her position there was very pertinent and she deserved better treatment.  The people who are able to pay for better living received it.  It wasn’t based on merit.  Not at her company at least.

There was a mean cough going around the domes, a small number of people catching it; however, only a few who are symptomatic.  It’s said that it travels so fast that three people caught it and immediately started having symptoms simultaneously.  It’s much more than a cough!  She got dressed and looked through her window, imagining her head out the window.  The only good thing about her room besides the fact that everything was pristine in functionality, like the bed coming in and out of the wall, was the view. The kitchen, big enough, has everything she could need. But the view!  The skyline turns blue, a heat wave way off into the horizon, dust sifting itself through the cracks of the orange light reflecting off the ground, drawing her till her face presses against the glass.

Brushed teeth, cleaned space, hair brushed, her coat as white as her teeth, she leaves. Her hair would usually be up but today she wore it down.  The hallways were long and almost treacherous during peak hours.  So many people either walked, taking the Mamtrak in the undergrounds.  Oh you didn’t know?  This place runs more than six feet deep if you know what I’m talking about.  Think of a giant jellyfish, or that thing about icebergs.  Spirals of spools rotating like the Guggenheim swirling down in the soil, 600 ft deep and counting. All the metals being extracted are purified in labs, then construction occurs in the empty caverns.  Some caverns are not fully closed off and, due to strange matter, radiation delays construction. Here’s where the so-called success for her theory began, despite people attempting to enter the caverns.  Two nights ago, Janet, I mean Kristen, was in charge of scanning the areas for radiation and yes, there’s a lot of it.  The matter looked like dirt but was shiny, kind of like kyanite. Others described it as a purple tourmaline.  It was neither. It’s a crystalline coating of basically water, like selenite. It’s contaminated, though. On this day, when Jan-Kristen was examining the area in an orange suit, top head mask on, she was kneeling, scraping a section just a little bit higher than her shoulder.  “It looks like witches broom,” she whispered.  Then she plucked out a diamond looking fragment from the wall.

“What do you see, Ferrera?”  A man twenty feet above her asked through the radio.

“This place, it’s . . .  like it’s covered in sugar. It looks like those pop rock giant crystals. It’s very strange. It’s one type of structure. I know it’s a crystalline structure and almost appears wet.”

“What is that that you picked up?”

“Oh, it’s a part of the wall that I’m going to be taking back for research. Item number 0001 of tunnel 167.”  She grabs from her bag a scanner gun, “Radiology Primary Scanning,”  She pointed the gun over it, the stone green light onto the inch wide and long crystal.  She scanned it. “Woah, it has a radiation of 10-85.”

Today, after recalling these memories she leaves her apartment and walks to the enormous cafe section of the domes.  She enters a large glass-covered room facing the rising sun. There aren’t that many people there at six thirty, one sitting fairly close to the entrance and one reading far into the corner covered by the shadow of a large indoor tree. She goes to the first small kiosk.  She gets on the line. It is almost like a classic food court.  It’s grey tin and has freshly heated food in the tins. Plantains, rice, eggs, bacon sausage, hot vegetables, peas, string beans, zucchini, etc., ice drinks. The real highlight between the tin, bright blue cement walls and white tile floor is worker #823179, red-headed chef and manager.  When he sees her he takes a deep breath in looking down, no longer drying his hands.  A big deep Scottish voice says, “Good morning, Kristen.”

She smiles. “Good morning.  You know you’re very loud.”

“I don’t care.  What would you like?”

“Eggs, vegetables… toast,”  she pauses as he grabs the container and fills it.  She looks up.

“Do you have a window in your room?”  he asks.  She remains silent.

“You let down your hair, yet everyday when the sand storms rage you hold your hair back.”

“That’s quite an observation.”

“No one here is stupid.  Well, no there are stupid people here.  Just not in the classic way. Some people are slow and passive.  Others just do things so eagerly not understanding what they’re doing then fucking up.  You see what I’m saying?”

“I do, but what do you mean exactly?  Do you mean that I let my hair down because I could see the sun?”

“Yes.”  He lifts the spoon, indicating her decision.

“I can’t see the sun in the mornings, and do you recommend the fried rice?”

“Here, take a sample.”  He fills a tiny paper cup, hands it to her.

“Oh, thank you.”  She tries it.

“You know the only reason you see me so much is because you’re an early bird,”  he says.  She chews, looking up with a knowing face.

“Yeah, throw that rice in there!”

“You’re happier than usual, as well.”

He looks down spooning the rice fast into the container.  He places the full container on the plastic tray, looking up.

“You want anything else?”

“Yes, some toast, with avocado.”

“Nice . . . ”

“I actually do have a window in my room.  I could see that the sand cleared.”

Her almond shaped green eyes have a dazzling glimmer, looking down past the reflection of the sun on the glass.  He turns his back to her to put the toast in the toaster.

“How is your partner?”

“She’s still in recovery.”

“That disease is infecting only a few people; however, it’s been found in people without symptoms.  Those symptoms . . . ”

“I know, it’s gruesome.  She’s better, not well enough yet though.”

The toaster dinged. He finished spreading the butter and mashed avocado spread on the toast.

“You sure she’s okay though?  Drink?”

“I have a refillable bottle.”

“You know the fountains.”

“Yesterday I heard from her actually.  She’s saying she’s almost completely over the virus.  George, she’s actually passed it.  Immune now.”

“Really?”

“She’s returning to work in one or two more weeks just for processing.  She’s quarantined.”  She followed him to the cash register, which was just a scan pad.  She lifted her clear I.D. to the clear pad.  They both glowed blue then a faint green.

“You enjoy!”

“I will.  You seem lively yourself actually.”

“The sun, I’ve missed it.  It’s usually just shadows here with all the scratching clouds.  You ever see those weird thin streaks in the flesh of the glass on the angles of the dome where the ceiling and the wall would meet but it’s curved?”

“I understand what you’re saying and yes.”

“That’s how sharp the sand is.  We live upon the glory of war here.”

“That’s dark. I think we’re pretty good at what we do.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s a good place to be.”

“You regret it?”

“No, I’m going back soon.  In a few years.”

“That’s nice.”

“It’s going to take nine months to get back but I don’t care.”

“Well I’m going to eat.  See you later.”

“Of course.”  He smiles and sits down on a crate against the wall of the cashier side facing the windows.  Light crosses his face.  He closes his eyes and breathes, waiting.

After she gets her drink she sits down at the farthest end, closest to the window.  Watches and eats happily.  She’s been finding success here finally after so many years.

She has multiple colleagues.  The one she’d found the crystal with was her aviator technical exterior engineer, Bob.  Her botanist, lab-testing and forensics partner is that girl with the virus, #300603, Luna Gondolas.  She’s a young woman who is one of the most recent recruits of the M.E.M.E.T.  Kristen has been here almost nine years; Luna has been here for three.  She has dark hair and light caramel skin with a big pair of blue eyes.  An inch shorter than Kristen she stands proudly at 5’6”.  She’s half second-generation Mexican and half first-generation, of what, she’s not so sure.  Though there were difficulties coming from Mexico, her family grew fast after her great grandfather produced his own skin care line using the salt and ancient salves of his community.  With the help of his wife, he became a huge success and his family became wealthy.  Luna had no interest in her family business.  Her family turned against her for a short time when she’d revealed her true path, science.  This was after they’d said how they wanted her to help them spread the product overseas.  Her great speaking skills and persuasiveness and the fact that she was a family member was exactly what they felt they needed for their next steps to build up their franchise.  She secretly applied to colleges majoring in sciences.  Her family found out and attempted to stop her, but she had already been accepted to many colleges and had her sights and hopes on one of the colleges she’d been accepted to.  They shunned her for a month, yet later agreed to pay for her tuition. Despite not seeing some of her family in over five years, she carries out her life with incredible vigor, much like her great-grandfather. She’s even made the offer to experiment with creams, using her botany, and expand the products using Martian soil.  Now two weeks have gone by since Kristen had seen the sun.  She looks with great bags under her eyes at the microscope.  Her hair is much frizzier than her previous voluminous rich tight curls.

“Hey Kristen,” Luna says.

“Hi Luna, are you feeling better?”  Kristen looks up from the microscope to see her place her workbag onto the hook by the door.

“I’m much better.  It was the most horrible thing I’ve gone through,” Luna said.

“I would think, based on what I heard.”  Kristen coughs, turning on her stool slightly to face her. Luna could see just half of her face.

“They’re finding out what it is.  So far we’re just told to keep clean and separate a little more.”

“I have no idea what the hell it was.  The doctors were conducting tests on me every day.”  Luna walks over to sign the clipboard over on the counter next to the sink.  She scribbles her name and writes in the time.

“Tests?”  Kristen looks back into the microscope and writes down her observations of what she’s been staring at through the scope.  Kristen’s head turns away.  She starts biting her lip with her eyes wide as she writes.

 

“Yup, it was the air that got to me.  It’s not a known virus.”

“The air?”  Kristen said slowly.

“It’s airborne.  There were only a couple people going through the same experience as me, but they’re not going to say anything to us.”  She walks over to Kristen and says, “Can I tell you something personal?”

“What?”  She turns, shaken a bit, her eyes a tad bloodshot. “Oh yes.”  She swallows, looking up quickly, putting in eye drops.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, just not a lot of sleep.  Or maybe- I’m not so sure.  Just-”

“Yes,” Luna whispers, “I’m scared enough to think we should evacuate.”

“I know.  The army has been all over the place.  I’ve never seen the S.P.S. (Space Patrol Squadrons) so active.”  She slouches. “You know that that takes years of planning for the station.  If it were an emergency evacuation, then maybe.  And anyways we have no say in what goes on in their business. But the thing is, I did hear, people were talking and I overheard that other people are beginning to register requests from other departments.  They all want to relocate back to earth.”

“Do you want to register as an individual or as a department?”  Luna says with bright eager eyes. “I think we should do it as a department; we have more of a say that way.  And you agree with me, right?”

“Of course.  I’m just. . .”  Kristen sighs.

“What is it?”  Luna leans, in placing her hand on Kristen’s back.  Kristen shivers and shrivels from the touch of her hand.  Luna quickly removes it.

“I don’t personally want to go back.  And who knows when we’ll come back.”  She bites her lip again.

“Oh.”  Luna looks down. “You know what?  Either way, it’s good for you.  One way, you get to stay in a place you’ve finally felt comfortable and at something close to a home.  Two, you can go back to earth and avoid something drastic that might be accumulating up here. And besides, you said we don’t have that much voice so how would it hurt to register for an emergency evacuation?”

“You’re right,” Kristen says, “couldn’t hurt.”

“Alright.”  Luna walks over to the computer and activates the holographic keyboard.  She finds the registering site.  Some time passes, the echo of the clock and a general silence.  There is a large bang close by that vibrates the iron walls.  Luna stops for a minute.  Kristen is already pretty sedentary.  Luna turns, “I’m just going to need you to write your name in.  I already got my information down.”

“Would you quit interrupting me!”  Kristen yells out of context.

“What? I-”

“I’m, I’m so sorry.  I don’t know where that came from.”

Why did I just say that?  Ugh, my head is pounding, she thinks to herself. “You know what, I think I just need to get some water.”

“It’s ok.” Luna is taken aback.  She didn’t mean to give her a frown and furrowed brow but it came out. Luna quickly goes to a different registering ballot online and signs herself in as an independent.

Kristen is walking down some of the internal hallways, decorated with multiple pipelines and wires. Her vision moves in and out of focus. She falls into another person in the hall who is walking too fast and forcefully pushes her into the pipes.

“Watch where you’re going!”

“Fuck you!”  Kristen says very loudly, falling to her side a bit.  I need something for this headache. She puts her hands on her face and begins to trudge to the nearest bathroom.  As she makes it there, her eyes feel this hot sensation.  She stumbles over to a white medication box glued to the wall and pulls her card to the sensor and takes out a bottle of pills.  Pain killers.  What the hell is going on with me?  Control yourself!  She leans on the sink counter and drops her head to drink water. Suddenly seeing herself in the mirror she notices someone behind her: her grandmother.

“Granny!”  She turns around to see no one there. “What the?  Where are you!” she screams.

“Would you shut the hell up!”

A woman comes out from one of the stalls.

“Sorry,” Kristen says.  The woman doesn’t seem to exit the stall.  Kristen doesn’t hear the door close as the woman stands there staring at the back of her head.  After a moment of meditation, Kristen looks up to see the eye of the woman staring at her through the mirror with the water running.  Kristen looks back and the woman banshee screams and lunges for her loose hair.

“AHHHHH!”  Kristen yells.  Help me Granny.

Luna is almost finished with the request form.  Kristen’s head is thrown against the marble sink.  Luna needs to date it.  Kristen’s head is struck a second time against the thick countertop.  Luna signs it.  Kristen shrieks and turns, forgetting about her hair and grabs that bitch’s shoulders and throws the stump of the woman at the mirror, breaking it.  She burns and seizes violently, laying on the sink, shaking and screaming with mirror shards in her forehead, eyes, chest and legs. Kristen takes her by the throat and punches her head under the automatic faucet, waterboarding her to death.

Luna is shaking as she sits there, nervous about the application.  She gets up and begins walking to the door Kristen walked out of ten minutes ago. Luna lands her hands on her last piece of work.  She goes to the back to check her plants.  She is close enough to see the luscious growth. A slow scream breaks out, crescendoing in the distance.  She walks out and goes closer to the door to the hall.  She cautiously shuffles forward and notices she was close enough to see Kristen’s paperwork.  She walks even closer to the packet of pages. It’s just scribbled letters placed on the line but make no sense.  A few alchemical symbols. Uranus. She looks down into the microscope.  Nothing but light.  Kristen was looking at nothing.

Someone screams again. Batting her eyes and breathing heavy she makes the stark realization that it was too late.  The hollering escalates as she steps backwards. She notices a shadow through the window in the door, only to see a man crookedly looking at her. His eyes are bleeding. She runs to the door she came through, back to the plants and tools.  She manually punches in a code and it locks the door.  She sees the man run through the door.  She falls to the ground and squats against the wall with the window just above her head.  Tears fall down her cheeks as she holds her mouth closed.  She trembles in fear and takes out from inside her shirt a necklace that has the cross on it.  She kisses it and begins to whisper a prayer, “Dear God, bless my soul for I have sinned.  Give me strength to survive.  Give me strength.  Show me the way!” The cross slowly turns to face her left.  She scurries to the left hand corner of the room.

“I KNOW WHERE YOU ARE!” the man yells. Luna’s tears pour down her cheeks even faster. She clenches the cross till her knuckles turn white.  A banging sound rings the room.  The cross turns again facing forward.

He was truly gray, black veins tracing up his neck to his nose.  His eyes bloodshot and pupils almost fully dilated, he laughs.  He leans back far against the metal table facing the window of the room, then launches his head straight into the cracked glass, “I KNOW WHERE YOU ARE!”

“Ah!  God protect me!”  She quickly realizes what it’s doing.  She takes one of the metal containers with the sharper edges.  She sees that he is breaking through the glass as he continues to slam his head against the window.  He takes one last blow and his head pushes through the broken pieces of glass digging into his skin.  She pounds his head in with the metal box, denting both the box and his already softened skull. He hangs limply, and looks human again.  She drops the box, her hands and coat splattered with a tad of blood.  She ties her hair up and thinks, where are the escape pods?

Since she’s in the east end she needs to make her way to the center where the escape pods are.

“Hello?  Is anyone else out there?”  Someone comes on the intercom.

“The outbreak has reached a startling peak.  Luna, it’s Jerry.  I know you’ll make it.  There are two pods left that can only fit five people.  If you’re a survivor we’re deploying in fifteen minutes.  Hurry, please.”

She runs to an intercom on the wall. “Jerry! Jerry it’s Luna. I’m coming!  I’m in the east wing.”  Taking her finger off the intercom, relief draining her of heat, she takes down the standing metal shelves with only tools, pushes it down and bends off the leg to make a long metal pipe.  It’s bent and sharply turned at the top.  She unlocks the door and runs out ready for anything.  A group of thirteen individuals wearing business suits sit surrounding an oval table with one man, George, standing at its head.  On Gaia they watch Luna run into the gas that’s been filling the east wing on the screen.  She makes it halfway through, till the video goes static and the television cuts out.

“Any survivors?” Christian asks.  It’s been three days since.

“Yes, but not sure on the count,” an Air Force captain says.

“This is how they plan to kill us?”  Mrs. Wallance says.

“We have to reach a point of balance.  We have to at least agree on . . . ”  Christian says this with his hands held together, elbows on the table.

“Who here wants to die?”  A young man raises his hand.

“By the hands of assholes who have nothing to do with us.  They’re here to listen and steal.  This is galactic theft.  I don’t . . . ”  He looks down to a pile of papers in front of him.  The young man looks back up, saying nothing.

“Death should not be feared,” an old man sitting beside him says, facing him.

“Fuck off,” the young man says.

“We’re going to have to say something, anything, to prepare people, everyone, for the worst,” Wallance, the woman in a painfully gray dress suit, says softly.

“The population cannot take heed of this invasion,” a man standing up in a painfully gray room says.

“The insurance money will drag us down and we’ll have no manpower to create safe havens without it,”  a man in glasses, an accountant, says, sitting closest to the man standing at the foot of the long black oval table, with the remote in front of him.

“You think we have time for that?  Forget insurance, stock markets plummet, you know how people panic.  This thing is different, it hits differently.  So easily transmittable that you don’t even know you have it.  It’s like herpes!”

“However, unlike herpes, those who have symptoms aren’t the unlucky ones, George!”

“Yes,” George says.

“We’re the unlucky ones!” says the young man.

“Like hell!  This isn’t a fucking game.  People are going to die!  The future of us, as people!  God knows what will become of us,” Wallance says pushing her chair back.

The other members of the meeting remain silent.

Wallance continues, “If we don’t inform everyone then we’re all going to die!  Every single fucking one of us.”

“Sit the fuck down, Wallance!” George yells at her.

Everyone has an ugly look painted upon their faces.  Some are red and others are pale but Wallance is crying.

“Yelling does not prevent us all from dying,” the accountant says to George.

“Do you realize the proportion of this!?  Do you!

Wallance breathes, “All of humanity is at stake here from something none of us can prevent nor destroy.  We need to take into account everything possible, to take responsibility for ourselves.  These are godless times, unless we tell everyone the truth.”

“She is right you know,” the old man says.  “If the population is informed it’ll give them more time to think about how the fuck they’re all going to die . . . There is a chance that earth could recover from this.”

Wallance says, “We just need a plan.”

“The new vaccines were being tested up there! The people who can help us won’t be here in nine months to a whole year, depending on the capsules.”

“Do they have enough food?” a woman sitting near the screen says.

“Yes, yes they do.  Our space travel is no less than pristine.  The food is nutritious enough, however not flavorful.  Sometimes you get some chocolate or tea you know.”  The captain says this in a slow smooth tone.

“Oh God shut up!” the young man says.

“Watch it,” says the captain.

“I don’t think you hear how long it takes you to say two words!” says the young man.

“In what, a thousand years?”

Another member’s voice quakes. Some laugh. Wallance stands there, unamused.  George stares at the screen.  Someone opens the doors behind him.  A young woman peeks in wearing a pants suit and a nametag and says, “The escape pods are calling.  We have connection.”

Leila H. Mannel’s story, “Prologue, Nutrition” won second prize in the Eighth Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. Leila is a sophomore majoring in Sound Design for Film at SVA.