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Mars by Stealth

 
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Acknowledgements

The way sound mixes with touch

They all knew the basics of driving the pressurised rover but Anna had the most experience with it so she was definitely on the team who had to walk back. On the flat the rover was easy, but on rough terrain it was a different story. It had articulated wheels to negotiate uneven ground. Managing the height of the wheels so it didn't tip over and making sure you didn't tear the belly out of it required a skilled driver. This was Anna. Choosing the two who walked with her was arbitrary so Stewart chose Victoria and Keith. Victoria knew if Stewart had an opportunity to give himself a break from being around her he would always take it.

Everyone took part in expanding and improving the ice camp so it could sustain the three who would not go on the long walk. The chainsaw did not need its oxygen bottle inside because there was oxygen in the air, but they were running out of LPG gas for it. Max got an idea. Max had an alternative method of excavation. For reasons only a chemist would understand if you pour molten metal into snow or a hole in ice you get a disproportionately large explosion. The idea was that they blast out most of the ice in this fashion and do the refinements with the chain saw.

Keith made a narrow slot sloping at forty-five degrees into the wall of ice with the saw. Max set up a long aluminium trough that would lead the molten metal to the hole. He ran his gas flame up and down the length of it to preheat it so the metal would not melt half way along its journey.

Max melted solder from his kit and carefully poured it into one end of the trough. Then he would drop everything and run for cover. About two heartbeats passed before one almighty explosion blasted a ton of ice out of the wall. This would often drive the slim trough into the opposite wall like a harpoon. He had to be quick to yank this hot spear out of the ice before it set like stone around it. It surprised Victoria how many times he found himself in this situation before he got himself a pair of gloves. That's our Max. Explosive excavation really was quite dangerous but Max was always very careful, mostly and always happy to do it. Victoria was sure it was because it gave him an excuse to keep saying, "Fire in the hold." It shook the whole ice block and Victoria could never resist looking up to see if the roof had held. The first few times they had always done it suited up. Even in a suit there is the impulse to try and cover your ears. It became so regular everyone got more relaxed about it.

Keith told Victoria about a French scientist who spent six months in a cave to study the human biological clock. He kept himself away from sunlight or anything that might tell him what time it was outside. When he felt the need to sleep he would make a call to the lab on a special phone to tell them he was going to bed. After six months his daily cycle of wake and sleep sat steadily at twenty-four and a half hours. At first Victoria thought Keith was pulling her leg but he assured her he could provide the historical records. Keith knew she would find this interesting because the length of a day on Mars is exactly twenty-four and a half hours.
"That's why you never feel tired in the morning here." He said.
But they weren't going to get much sleep tonight.

Victoria and Keith got a room to themselves to sleep in. After the long journey this privacy together was something quite exotic. There were no doors so they did their best to have sex in silence. Not so much for the consideration of the others as to savour the intimacy. Victoria actually preferred this. She loved the way it made it into a conspiratorial adventure.

They could only just make out each other's bodies in the faint hint of moonlight seeping through the ice. Their warm skin was so delicious in the cold air. Touch mixed with sound in such a different way than it did with sight. A delicate thing like the unexpected trickle of water on the walls became a substantial feature in this new environment.

The absence of conversation made it so much more primitive and immediate. They communicated perfectly. When you separated Keith from spoken language suddenly he became so much stronger. He was much more at home with is instincts than you could ever make him believe. He became a hunter for perfection. He pressed after perfection like it was an animal with cunning. If you rush it, it will always outrun you.

A delicious sense of play emerged from him. Even if the game changed he was so quick to adapt.
Victoria found herself being taken on a journey to places unknown but it never felt contrived. He was listening to her in a way that was impossible for him when words were involved. He listened and improvised. He was so quick but so steady and constant. And he was the boss.

At any other time he would never take full responsibility for anything. He always had to double check if a thing was okay with all concerned. They could never achieve this rapport in a domestic situation because there was no pressure. But this meant they could never relax. There always had to be a project. But here, in the night he managed to draw a creature out of her she never knew existed. Even when she tried to defy him he would not have it. But he was still listening and never took her anywhere she did not really want to go. He knew her before she knew herself.

Victoria relaxed down on him and they just breathed slowly in unison. She covered his face with kisses. He felt a tear splash on his cheek. She kissed it and it was gone.
 

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Copyright Peter Rasmussen 2001