Excerpts from the journals of Dr. Rita X. Mather
Mariner Colony 003
Revolution 28 (687 Earth Days/1.88 Julian Year)
Log No. 1097
Today should be a special day. We’ve officially lived here for one complete orbit around the sun — the first colonists to do so. I imagine there are celebratory news stories back home and champagne corks popping at mission control. Here, though, it’s the same as any other. Taking tests, doing laundry, trying not to squander the tiny moments of wonder and joy.
Kingsley is with the away team in the trenches again. They’ve spent weeks in the Valles Marineris, exploring and marking the network of canyons. The Melos Chasmas alone is four times deeper than Earth’s Grand Canyon. It’s a great yawn deep enough to cut through the mantle and echo heat from the core.
The weak gravitational field on this planet lets the atmosphere simply drift into space. What little atmosphere is left is concentrated near the calderas. It’s warm and surprisingly damp near the quartet of volcanoes. And dangerous. So, better to have him in the canyons than in the magma. He always comes back exhausted, coated in red dust and frustration, but at least he gets to explore. I haven’t taken one small step on the surface since before I was pregnant.
Stella is almost one in Earth years. She’s already walking on her own. She’s accustomed to the fruits of our limited greenhouse, our canned meats, and the disappointment of powdered milk. It won’t be long before she’ll be able to venture out in the little suit Kingsley’s constructed for her.
I hope I’ll survive to join her explorations.
She knows no other life than this.
I do... It’s starting to hurt.
How can I have changed so much when every day is the same? There’s a widening breach between me on Earth and me on Mars. When we moved here, I thought the twin moons were so romantic. Phobos and Deimos are now just chunks of rock to me, pulled into the gravity field randomly years ago. They’re stuck with this planet, not so different from us.
Stella sleeps through the night, or what we’ve scheduled to be our night, as a day here is as long as 24 days back home. I’m still awake, restless, waiting for Kingsley to return. I’m compelled to do something, anything myself while the colony is quiet. I tinker in the labs with fading optimism he’ll bring back any living organism at all.
The solitude, the strangeness, the seemingly endless days, I can tolerate. The things that will be the death of me are the diapers. Kingsley wouldn’t hear of bringing disposables with us. Seeing they were a great contribution to the floating garbage islands back home, I understood his resolve. Besides, there wasn’t room in the hold for 9,000 we’d need for Stella’s whole young tinkling life. But now I’ve washed the same dingy dozen cloths hundreds of times. There are water filtration and recycling systems from NASA that port the waste out of the colony. It doesn’t take an astrophysicist to use a washboard every stinking day. It takes a saint.
Damn. Stella’s waking up from her nap already…
Log No. 1098
They’ve done it! My God, they’ve found something! Something green!
After many months in the deep and thousands of miles, they’ve found something in the shallow depressions right near the colony. During his return approach, Kingsley reported the absence of the foul cloud of waste matter that usually hovers near the bay out-port. Upon inspection, a soft emerald-colored organism was found creeping among the shallows. We’ve isolated samples in the lab. I get to work!
Stella’s got a clean diaper and a fresh sippy cup, plus two spoons to drum on the top of a tomato paste can. I just hope to keep her entertained long enough to have one free hand for the microscope and the other for my notes…
It is organic. Its characteristics are a mixture of Earthen Chlorophyta and Brophyta. Like algaeic life, it lacks roots, stems, and leaves and is colored brightly green. Like mosses, it’s growing despite sufficient water here. Unlike both classifications, it is not autotrophic. That is, the organism is not making its own food. It’s feeding on something.
Against all procedure and convention, I’ve taken a nickel-size spot of the substance and placed it on my hand. Though I was certain I’d washed thoroughly, a speck of something must have remained on my skin from Stella’s last diaper change. The substance shimmied over my wrist. It was a feeling I haven’t had since childhood, similar passing my hand across the velvet ribbon of a party dress.
The substance was satiated and I was gently cleaned.
Just as I reached my discovery, Stella’s face went florid and she made an unmusical noise. I surreptitiously dumped the rest of the sample down the back of her diaper. The green stuff — for which I’ll need a proper name — busied over her backside until her two little moons were very, very clean.
I confess I cried from the relief. With the respite from the diaper washboard, I can survive another circle around the sun. Stella simply giggled.
The answers to our lives here are neither in the volcanic heights nor in the depths of any steep-sided depression. The answers are at the bottom.
Listen to Chasmata on The Story Coterie podcast.