The night was sultry

Posted: August 26, 2012 in fiction
Tags: , ,

Neil Fellows felt pain in his hands and forearms as he pushed the outer Armstrong Gate closed. He had stayed out too long and even the four layers of insulation, shielding, and life support paraphernalia of their suits could not protect for the length of time he loved to stay outside the bunker.

The gate connected, latched, and sealed off the Martian winter with a whimper of a sound. The atmosphere was too thin to make as much noise as one expected. But the physical jarring was not hampered by lack of atmosphere and the impact sent searing jolts of pain up his arms and seemingly directly into his eyes.

Neil paused just long enough to let the pain subside before proceeding down the slope towards the next gate, the garage, and eventually the underground bunker they called “home”. This entrance was the first entrance made into their bunker and was carved wide enough to bring the vehicles inside for safety and maintenance. Neil was the only one on the team who still used it for non-vehicular excursions because it was more challenging to use. But he couldn’t help it. He loved the name. Armstrong Gate. It was strong, powerful, and so emotive. Especially for Neil since it was a connection to his namesake, Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on another world. And here Neil Fellows was following in his footsteps on Mars.

He followed the driveway down into the dimly light tunnel to the next gate already warming up with the activity now that he was out of the direct cold. This large chamber was still cold since it was neither heated nor pressurized but it was a good deal better than the surface right now. Neil operated the man-sized pressure chamber door when he reached the end of the drive. The second door and chamber was large enough for some of their vehicles but required more resources. Resources that were very, very precious since they maintained life on a planet that would take their lives in an instant.

The effort and the impact of the door caused less pain this time. With a hum and a swoosh the atmosphere returned to the chamber and Neil smiled like always with the return of definite sounds instead of faint echoes of sounds that one experienced outside in the Martian atmosphere. The sounds were even more completed as he opened his mask and turned off the breathing machine, closing his eyes and again smiling as another sense returned: the smell of Mars.

When Neil was outside he never knew he was missing these senses. There was too much glory in being on Mars, too much data to collect with his eyes that he never noticed that nose and ears were removed from him. There was always that transition period of suiting up and waiting to step out. But that all energetic anticipation of stepping out onto the surface again that Neil didn’t mind the short-lived muteness and lack of olfactory sensations of the suit.

The smell of Mars. Here in the garage behind the two doors and the airlock of the Armstrong Gate it was the strongest. The garage and the whole bunker was dug underground to protect them from the solar radiation. Earth had a massive atmosphere to filter and protect but Mars was thin and exposed so living underground was the best alternative. In the garage the walls and floor were pure bedrock and martian soil and the smell was uniquely Martian.

Neil walked passed their exploratory vehicles and various other machinery to the doors that lead into their living and common quarters. They were also carved out of rock and so the smell of Mars was there with them in this space where they lived, and worked, and played, and ate, and it soon became just a smell of people. Not quite Mars, but Martians. Something a little different.

Neil entered through the strong doors and into definitely warmer living quarters. He paused in the “mud room” and removed the layers of the suit and hanging them up, connecting them up to recharge, shedding thirty pounds in a few minutes. Still chilled, he left his balaclava pulled up over his ears and head and walked down the hall into the large common area passing by the humidifier that kept all their skins from cracking and bleeding. That was another thing he loved about staying outside so long. Neil found he really appreciated the comfort of their living space– the heat, the air, the moisture control. Little things that could be taken for granted until one was deprived of them.

A sudden very distinctive earthly smell hit him like a wall as stepped into the common room. He saw most of the group gathered in the corner watching the video screen, laughing, talking, and eating. It was warm, it was inviting.

“The night was wet and hot, hot and wet, wet and hot; that’s humid. The night was humid.”

Neil stopped at the back of the room smelling the air. This was something else besides the reintroduction of his deprived sense. What was that smell? It was an earthly smell? It had been so long.

“Hey, Neil- you’re late for movie night!” Anitoly shouted to him, waving him forward.

The others turned around, smiling and beckoning him forward. “We almost don’t have any popcorn left!”

Popcorn. Neil smiled as he removed his balaclava and started forward to the group. That was the earthly smell. Popcorn.

“The night was sultry” said Mrs. Lift.

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