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Episode 6.0: Summit
Mischenko staggered to his knees and immediately wished he hadn’t. Everything spun. Off-world, up and down were relative. On Earth, they're fixed. It was going to take a while for his brain to learn that.
“Start slow, big fella,” Anna counseled her new-fallen friend.
“Oh, God, what’s that smell?” Mischenko gagged, moving on to a new sensory conundrum.
“That’s life, all of it. This world is dinner table, toilet and respirator, all at the same time. Enjoy,” Donovin exclaimed, defiantly sucking in as much life aroma as he could before choking.
Mikhail continued his inquisitorial battery. “Where are we again?”
“Apparently, they used to call this place ‘Jacksonville’; the northeast corner of the Florida peninsula,” Donovin was happy to explain.
“How do you know this was Jacksonville, Vin?” Mischenko continued to press.
“Coordinates were one clue. Oh, and that,” Donovin answered as he pointed to an adjacent building nearest the inner shore.
It wasn’t quite as tall as the tower they were on. Dimensional letters marched along the upper curve of the structure, spelling out “Jacksonville Landing.” This building’s glass was still mostly intact except in places where vegetation burst through, creating cool, green lava flows meandering down the surface. As they looked more closely, it appeared to have the multi-function of living space, commercial-industrial areas and vertical farming, all above the flood.
“Doesn’t that look strangely like … ?” Mikhail began.
“Yeah, Marius Landing in Marius Hills colony. The original habitat building. Weird.” Donovin agreed.
Mikhail wore the squint of a man in deep thought. “Well, if this is Jacksonville, the Helios can’t be far to the south of here, like 50 kilometers.”
“Always mission-focused-Mikky. Relax a minute. Get your feet underneath you. Breathe the living air like Vin over there. You are alive on Earth now,” Anna couldn’t help but preach.
“Don’t know why you think it’s funny to call me ‘Mikky.’ And I don’t know why you don’t think it’s strange we haven’t heard from Menendez or the Bronco,” Mikhail flared.
Donovin offered to increase the peace. “We did hear from Liu and she gave coordinates for the Helios. Apparently, she got a visual, so she’s probably closer than we are.”
“So, if suit-to-suit comms work, then why can’t we raise the Bronco and why can’t we hail Liu or Menendez?” Mikhail wondered.
“Our suits and helmets work on near-field protocols. But to communicate with helmets far away, the signal has to bounce off the orbiter or a comm satellite,” Anna inserted, carefully avoiding the morbid explanation.
“And the atmosphere or, more specifically, the magnetosphere isn’t allowing the signal to get up there,” Mikhail added, remembering what had happened on the Lariat before the drop.
“Then how did Liu’s message get to us?” Donovin asked.
“I think there are windows of alignment when the comms can get through and then they close,” Mikhail asserted. “Since we can’t communicate with Liu or the Bronco, we just head toward the Helios,” he concluded, not really offering a vote.
“Sounds fine, boss man. We’re gonna miss not having our gear, though,” Anna advised, thinking about the possible locations of the lander and its remaining gear, which included a comm laser and food for the crew.
“We’re gonna miss not having gravity. If we’re leaving, we have to go down there,” Donovin sighed, looking down the inner shaft of the ancient building and its staircase into darkness within.
“Well, we weigh a ton, we’ve never descended stairs in full gravity, this building is probably more danger than shelter … and my helmet has puke in it,” Mischenko enumerated cheerlessly.
“Hey, why can’t we use our thrusters to get down?” he asked with fresh enthusiasm.
“Sure … the way our tech is working? Sorry, but we’re a three-legged stool now. I can’t let you die as much as I’d like to see how high you’d bounce. Maybe one of them can give you a ride.” Donovin pointed down at a ring of large, brown-feathered birds circling the tower they stood on. He thought they might be eagles, even though he’d never seen one. Then he decided they weren’t.
“Better start walk … ” Anna was interrupted by a tickle on her nose. She noticed a white flake land on Donovin’s head. He flinched.
“What the hell is that, white volcanic ash?” Mikhail screamed in disbelief.
“No, man. It’s snow!” Donovin laughed.
The three stood atop the abandoned city and stared in wonder at this magical, new sky.
To be continued Nov. 13!