Thanks for joining our crew again. The next installment is below the cut.
MASA spoke as Albert pulled Jim’s sleeve over the repair, “Did you think about the request?”
“Albert,” the voice was slow, patient, paternal, “consider.”
“Busy. No time to talk.”
“The repair is complete,” MASA said. Albert’s eyes flickered to the camera. They’d received no video communication, so he assumed debris destroyed the satellite. If MASA could see, they knew the crew’s condition.
Albert rubbed the back of his neck. “What am I supposed to do? Say?”
“Give them the option.”
“And when they refuse, this conversation is over?”
“Tell them it will ease the pain,” MASA said.
He tore the earbud out and stabbed a middle finger at the camera. He jabbed the door release; he would repair the faulty bulb later and help Omar now. He fetched pills and vials and carried discarded syringes and bags that contained more and more blood. Omar did not talk, except for the murmured reassurances to the other three. “This will ease the pain, help you sleep,” Omar said and slid a syringe into Hayes’s arm.
Albert reached out to rip it from Omar’s hand, but he stopped with his fingers on Hayes’s arm. He watched Hayes’s chest rise and fall. Hayes sighed.
“What was that?” Albert asked.
“Morphine.” He discarded the needle and looked at Albert. “Thank you for your help.”
Albert shrugged. He didn’t trust his voice to not betray his repulsion at the smells of piss and shit, burned flesh and pus.
“Can you send Jim to repair communication?” Omar asked. “I need to confer with MASA.”
“MASA said you spoke with them today.”
Omar’s dark eyebrows drew together. “I spoke to no one. The cockpit and our earbuds do not work.” He gestured at the line of headsets.
“Use mine.” He pulled it from his pocket and passed it to Omar. Omar pressed his fingers to the switch, sent a call, waited several minutes for a response, and tried again. “It worked in the robot bay,” Albert said. Omar frowned and paced around the robonauts.
He returned and handed the earbud to Albert as he shook his head. “Are you sure you heard them today?”
Albert flopped back in his chair. Omar was honest, sometimes too idealistic, but always honest. “I’ll check the dish,” he said.
If he ignored the pockmarked ground and the metallic dust covering the pod and the sulfuric cloud in the sky and why he had to wear a Hazmat space suit, it was peaceful to be outside working with Jim. It was, until his earbud chirped and MASA said, “Did Omar tell you about our conversation?”
Albert commanded Jim to repair the video feed (obviously the audio worked fine), then he turned toward the pod’s wall. “Not a word,” he said.
“He refuses to give them the option.”
Albert changed the subject, “There is no critical damage to the pod.”
“Can it launch?”
Albert gazed at the battered pod. It functioned on the ground, but a weak spot would be fatal during exit or reentry, should they get that far. Of course, starving on Mars would be fatal, too. “I’ll have Jim send you a report.”
Albert disconnected the call and finished his inspection. When he reached the front, Jim climbed down, and they entered the pod together.
Omar met Albert at the cabin door. “Is it done?” His hands shook. When was the last time he slept, Albert wondered.
“Yes,” Albert said.
“Should we launch tomorrow?”
Albert rested his head against the metal wall. “I’m waiting for feedback from MASA.”
“And we’ll vote as a crew.”
Albert looked at his folded hands. “I don’t think they can vote.”
“Wait and see,” Omar said and returned to monitoring Hayes.