Whispers of Mars [Chapter 11]

“Tsuchida? How are the simulations running?” Agrippa had borrowed the radio to contact his department back inside the main base. At the central chamber, the radio waves were just barely able to escape the confines of the thick rock. The other man’s voice was quiet and fuzzy coming through the speaker.

“Still running. We have one set of data to look at so far. Not much, to be honest. Over.”

“Understood. I’m… surveying the Secundus area directly. Likely won’t be back until late tomorrow. Keep up the good work. Over.”

Cecil was standing, watching Agrippa’s back when Martinez stepped up behind him from the second tunnel and the sleeping arrangements. “It’s not often I’ve seen you interacting with people from other departments.”

The hair on Cecil’s neck stood up and he jerked back before being able to answer. “Agrippa… has decided that.”

Martinez nodded slowly. “That’s right, it was this old guy who sought you out to come down here originally.”

“I think… he feels guilty… for that.”

“He seems to be caring, if not to a fault. I read the report filed by him after the accident. It doesn’t add up. At least from a perspective where he is the guilty party. You’ve followed plenty of commands and orders before, Ruiz.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you wouldn’t follow one that would unnecessarily put you or someone else in danger?”

“No, sir.”

Martinez crossed his arms. “Before we sealed up the rock here with the oyxfoam, it was dastardly hot here. I can understand the urge to remove your helmet, especially if there was a malfunction in your suit making it worse. If you were distracted by that, and the fact of seeing this place, I can understand why you might have felt like just… taking it off.”

Cecil nodded, but he couldn’t understand the words. “Yes, sir.”

Agrippa had finished with his transmission and was beginning to return to them, radio danging in his grasp. Martinez lowered his mouth beside Cecil’s ear. “Try to keep your head about you, viste? I need my brilliant man in good form.”

Agrippa returned to earshot, the radio stretched out in his hand. “Thank you, Martinez. Cecil, I’ve cleared it with command, being able to stay here for the night. But tomorrow afternoon, I must return to my duties and you have to continue your evaluations with Tulia.”

Cecil nodded. Martinez grabbed at the radio and strapped it to his belt. “Then you best out in your best work while you can, Ruiz.”

“If he’s feeling up to it,” Agrippa spoke up.

Martinez shifted back and tapped his foot. “If you knew Ruiz like we do, you would know he’s always up to doing work. You could say it feeds him. Speaking of which, you’re free to use any of the supplies, or ask for the tools you need.”

“Thank you, sir.” Cecil nodded, his eyes drawing a line up the tunnel and down to the pile of equipment waiting to be serviced or installed.

“We’re setting up the footprint where it should all end up,” The Argentinean nodded, waving his arm down the second tunnel. “In the coming days, we might even have some blasting. Fun times, shame you can’t be down here to set it off with us. It’s like your… what— Forth of July— back at home.”

Agrippa forced a smile. “It seems like we won’t be able to stick around, as you heard. But… as long as I’m here as well, feel free to ask for my help… on anything.”

Martinez shrugged. “We have all of the necessary readings and calculations from your team already, Agrippa. But thank you.”

Agrippa nodded. He caught Cecil staring out into the chamber. His eyes gleamed in the reflection from the pool, but the old man’s touch upon his shoulder pulled him out of the daze. “Cecil?”

“The turbine gears… right.”

Cecil’s eyes focused, and he turned back up the tunnel. The task assigned by Martinez earlier awaited him. Just smaller than one of the rovers that transported them around the surface of the planet, the piece of engineering had to have been transported down the long lava tube some time recently. The mechanism on the metal pallet was housed in a boxy casing, fitted with valves that transported gasses in and out of the turbine inside, beyond the countless bolts and panels holding everything together.

Cecil’s fingers traced the lines of the cold metal, vaguely reminiscent. The basic tools to work on it had been left by one of the engineers in a folding pouch. Cecil found a comfortable position on his knees before picking up the appropriate tool and working to undo the first of the covers.

He noticed Agrippa, arms held behind his back, standing to his rear. A quick glance back revealed his staring. “I’m not a bother to be here, am I?”

Cecil quietly shook his head and returned to work. “I… remember. I’ve worked on this before. Had it open. There is… something not right we found. One of the gears inside… it was from the manufacturing sample, but not the one with the material to spec. The company back on Earth confirmed it… found the appropriate piece they had lost and simply replaced.”

“Only millions of miles away, though. A piece like this must be special order.”

“One of a kind…” Cecil mumbled, separating the first painted panel from the body of the machine. As the inner mechanisms revealed themselves, Cecil couldn’t help but sit back on his legs. “There are… no directions… but only one way… they fit together. By design.”

“Of course. But you have the tools and materials for machining what you need for it, right?”

“We… did. We… have it. But to… take it apart… reassemble it…” Cecil breathed hollowly, looking down at the panel in his hands.

“If there is anyone who can do it, it is you, Cecil.”

Cecil tapped the tool against the frame in frustration. “It is… possible. But… I don’t know it. I… did know it. In the past. No, I should know this. This task was mine and mine alone. It… should have been completed.”

Agrippa shifted, his feet scraping against the hardened foam. “We all have to know a lot of things. But even I can’t just survive on my knowledge alone. It’s the charts and databases and the updates from the agency and their people… even the others in my department. Is there no schematic, Cecil?”

He shook his head. “A schematic is… only theoretical. There is nothing practical about a schematic—“ his voice rose. “Engineers don’t understand what it is like to have your hands on something real. I knew… at one point I knew what I needed to do here. To get this apart, to fix it and get it back together.

“It will come back to you,” Agrippa replied slowly, reaching down for Cecil’s back.

The hair on Cecil’s neck bristled. “You don’t understand, Agrippa. Nothing has been the same… since the accident.”

“Your memory, that is? In what way?”

Cecil sat back and rested his arms on his thighs. “It began with… my mother.”

“Yes.” Agrippa insisted. “Tell me about your mother.”

“There is nothing to say. I… can’t remember her. It was only when I heard… about her passing… that only the smallest fragments of her returned to me.”

“Maria. That’s what her name was, isn’t that right?”

Cecil’s head perked up. “How do you know that?”

“Just listen. I’m trying to help. The mind isn’t… it isn’t just made up of independent thoughts. Everything is interconnected. Let’s rebuild those connections.”

“Maria—“ Cecil repeated shortly, his lips impacting on each other. “The… her name… as well. The same as my mother’s. Who told you her name?”

“Does that matter?” The older man pressed on calmly. “Maybe it was you, have you forgotten?”

“I… remember… the message I received, and then… I told Markus. But not you.”

“Yes, so Markus told me then.” Agrippa nodded.

“No, no, no!” Cecil rattled his fist on the floor, the opposite hand on the back of his neck. “The nurse… I heard her name… the same name. I knew it then. I remember the name belonged to someone else… Maria. Maria. I asked… that woman in medbay about it. She ignored it, pushed it off. She knew.”

“A coincidence.”

“Why are you lying to me, Agrippa?”

The older man snuffled. “Fine. When I looked into your file, to find out more about your Prosopagnosia, I found the message waiting for you as well, the one about her passing. But I knew it wasn’t a good time to tell you directly. I hoped you would be distracted enough to ignore accessing your files, but…”

Cecil pulled the ratchet off the ground and tossed it into the edge of the opened machine. “Why must you try to yank at me like I’m a puppet on your strings?”

“Like I’ve said, Cecil, to help you,” Agrippa answered, his voice rising slightly.

Cecil jerked up and went to the nearest wall, placing his arm and head against it, taking sharp breaths. “What’s… wrong with me… Agrippa?”

“Not something that is going to be solved in one swift motion. It’s not just your prosopagnosia as we thought.”

Cecil shook his head, face still hidden.

“Your memory failing isn’t something to take lightly. Do you remember what I said before?”

“You’ve said… a lot of things.”

Agrippa marched towards Cecil and planted his back to the rock wall. “You’re not wrong. I believe it was… any time you remember something, you’re simply recalling the last time you remembered it. Memory is strange like that. At what point were your recollections stolen from you? When your mind convinced you to remove your helmet down here? Perhaps during the trauma of the accident, or when you were sedated and put into the coma when we got you back to the station?”

“I couldn’t… answer that.”

“No, and neither could I. Perhaps that is something that Tulia could answer better. Or help to get out of you.” The older man crossed his arms and stood. “You will promise me that you try your best to open up to her when we meet with her next?”

“I will… try.”

“Good. I will leave you to this and see if I can’t get to Martinez.”

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