Whispers of Mars [Chapter 22]
Cecil didn’t dare go to the door, or even try to open it— the energy to do so wasn’t there to begin. Agrippa’s old bedding didn’t smell like anything in particular, but it was comforting nonetheless. With the light off, it was much darker than the shared quarters and the space down in Secundus. The troublesome old man was likely down there, taking care of the problems Cecil had caused, or the tasks he had stalled.
In the pitch blackness, Cecil couldn’t tell if he were awake or asleep. The bed platform was wider than anything he had grown used to, feeling as if it extended far off into the darkness.
Cecil imagined himself walking, climbing, forcing his tried legs to work. Neither the origin nor the destination was apparent, but he knew he had to continue. Each step seemed to take more energy, sapping what little his body had left. Before his muscles failed him, it was instead the lack of oxygen that brought him down. Each gasp of air fell short, just the passing of carbon dioxide in the closed space.
Cecil awoke gasping, covered in sweat. His eyes could penetrate the darkness just barely then. The sole light was the glow of the LED on the front of the computer terminal, waiting to be powered on. Cecil pushed himself up and dragged his fingers across the front of it, beneath the screen, to find the power button. It illuminated, displaying the hardware crawling through its boot-up sequence.
Augustus Agrippa read the name in the system, remains of the last time the terminal had been accessed. Cecil touched at the keyboard interface on the desk to erase the letters one by one to make room for his own credentials. The station’s computer accepted them and allowed him in.
The systems there on the station operated like those back on Earth but only carried the necessary information. Anything outside the local drives had to be requested from the agency and sent over radio waves at a snail’s pace, communication bandwidth and priority allowing.
Cecil navigated to the main database page, a sole search bar on a colorless page. Quaseem Saïd, he typed and allowed the keyword to worm its way out from the many documents and pages within the records.
Adventum Mission Crew Compliment and Manifest, was the first result. The words on the pages were blurry through Cecil’s eyes, but he leaned closed to focus the best he could, attempting to force the information into his brain.
Crew Captain, Niyas Cirillo.
Systems oversight, Quaseem Saïd.
Cecil scanned the page, but only found simple names and details of the ship and the cargo. He clicked back and searched further.
Mission Director’s Log [declassified]: Adventum Mission: Early Departure of The L’Espoire.
The Adventum Mission, after having descended to the surface of the planet on the lander L’Espoire, returned to the orbiter two months early under guidance of mission control.
Re: Summary of previous reports. Link to full reports below. Two weeks before current date, it was reported to mission control that the team’s systems overseer, Quaseem Saïd, became sick with a condition unable to be identified by the crew’s medical professional. The patient was quarantined to minimize possible transmission to other crew members. Saïd was said to already have been unstable and uncooperative.
One week before current date, during the crew’s sleeping hours, Saïd was said to have disappeared from the station with no word to the other members of the crew. Upon noticing his disappearance, the members of the crew attempted to track him down, but to no success. With the suits and external tanks carrying an amount of air able to sustain the average person for around six hours, it is safe to assume that Quaseem Saïd is permanently lost.
Current date, mission control has just given the go-ahead to allow the remaining crew to depart in the L’Espoir in the case that the unknown source of the sickness that caused Said to act irrationally is still active.
The unanticipated early departure and current orbit of our two planets will cause a delay in their return to us, but with the unused supplies from the surface, we expect that the crew will be able to be sustained.
The Board is currently considering how to report this sequence of events to the public, if at all. The final conundrum lies in introducing this unfortunate information to Mr. Saïd’s immediate family.
Cecil rubbed at his brow and blinked his strained eyes. His fingers dragged across the keyboard, attempting to decide how to dig deeper.
Niyas Cirillo, he typed next. A collection of log entries from the captain of the mission were on file, continuing for what seemed to be the extent of the time on the surface of the planet. Cecil sought through them to find those with the latest dates.
Crew Log 25,
We mapped the south rim of the crater today. The neighboring crater, the Altum, is said to be much younger, much less beaten down by the weather. From the rover, the view across it is quite magnificent.
Saïd cut himself shaving a couple of days ago, reported that he had a pimple that he didn’t feel. It was only a simple spot on his neck which required barely a bandage, but it has yet to heal. It still seems to seep and bleed. He believes he is good at hiding it. Diana has tried urging Saïd to let her look at it closer, but he is adamant. I shall talk to him.
Crew Log 26,
The shaving injury on Saïd’s neck seems to be getting worse. It had swollen, and it is only today that Diana has been allowed to look at it. Saïd seems frustrated with the whole situation. The doctor disinfected it and started him on a treatment of antibiotics.
Crew Log 27,
Saïd awoke complaining of a headache. Diana reports a fever as well, but he doesn’t seem concerned with it. I had him rest while we worked, despite his protests.
Crew Log 28
Saïd’s condition seems to be getting worse, but Diana hasn’t truly had a chance to examine him for worsening fever or neighboring symptoms of infection. He is very uncooperative. I have contacted mission control back at home for guidance. They have given me the allowance to do anything in my power to keep Saïd and the rest of us safe.
Crew Log 29,
Saïd is quiet, but clearly suffering. He seems to shiver and sweat endlessly. He won’t speak to us, but instead takes up his position of prayer the five requisite times a day. Is he praying for himself to be healed? I know he is a reasonable man, or at least was. If he were in his right mind, he would accept Diana’s aid. I can hear some mumbled words from him— are they prayers, or words of self-pity? He isn’t eating or drinking. I don’t know how long he can keep this us.
At the very least, Diana assures us we are not at risk for aerial transmission of whatever is plaguing him.
Crew Log 30,
Saïd collapsed today during one of his prayer sessions. He seems upset and anguished. but won’t voice any words. When he has his rare bursts of energy, he is very combative. While failing to medicate or sustain him, all we can currently attempt is to keep him comfortable in his bunk. Diana is taking it the worst, feeling unable to help him.
A couple of times he has spoken up clearly, asking to be let go. If we can help it, we won’t let it happen. I’m in contact once again with Mission Control to consider our options.
Crew Log 31,
Saïd is gone, as is one of our suits. Somehow none of us awoke to his departing last night through the airlock. The suits are not easily put on and sealed by one’s self, certainly not by someone in his condition. If I had to guess, one of the others aided him. Nobody is coming clean. I have my suspicions, but I shouldn’t, or rather, can’t say it. They were clearly acting in what they imagined to be everyone’s best interests.
The others have been out, attempting to track his footsteps. There are so many of our own around the site, it is nearly impossible to tell where he may have gone off to. As I write this, I imagine the air in his tank has already expired. Perhaps this is what he wanted, to allow us an escape for him and his end.
Crew log 35
Mission control is granting us return. They say they can’t risk one of us falling sick to the same thing that afflicted Saïd. It also stands to reason that if anything of his expertise needed fixing, we would find ourselves in our own pool of trouble.
Crew log 37,
My final report on the surface. It has been fascinating, educational, challenging, and above all, like no other experience. We cleaned up and left Saïd’s things on his bunk. I hope he found peace.
We are departing in the L’Espoir in just over two hours. Goodbye, Mars.
Cecil’s eyes burned in the glow of the screen. He sat back and rubbed at his face. “Saïd…”
His shoulders tensed. His stomach held the weight of the words of the previous mission’s captain. He stood and leaned into the door, pushing all his weight against it, even knowing it wouldn’t budge. He rolled back and pushed himself face-down into the covers of the bed and squeezed the back of his head, hoping to quiet the thoughts that refused to stop crawling about his mind like thousands of tiny ants.
The knock came to the door, then opened without waiting for Cecil’s answer. “Are you awake, Ruiz?”
The light from the hall, albeit dim, burned his eyes. The thin silhouette and the voice belonged to Tulia. The woman flicked on the light of the room. “Up with you, I’ve put aside up this time for your evaluation, and I know you have nothing better to do.”
Cecil rubbed at his face, rife with lines from the wrinkled pillow. He faced the light and the piercing gaze of the spindly woman. The reading from the night before returned to him. “I… know what’s going on.”
Tulia pulled the chair from the computer terminal around in front of the door. “Please, if you knew that, we wouldn’t have to be at this impasse. I’d like to start building a profile on your current condition. In that way, we can determine what sort of spectrum you’re on and if there is a pattern to… the things you’re experiencing.”
Cecil leaned down on the edge of the bed, holding his face in his hands. “No. No, no, no. I know what’s affecting me. I read about it— look here, at the screen. Let me get it on for you.”
“Cecil,” Tulia spoke lowly.
“I’m… I’m sick… with something.”
“Cecil,” She said again, this time with more force.
“This has happened to someone else, I can tell you—“
“No,” The spindly woman stomped her foot, bringing Cecil’s eyes up to her level. “What we don’t need right now is your self-diagnosis, stirring up your confirmation biases. I have orders from the agency to collect as much information on your condition and seek a rehabilitation process. Do you understand that?”
“But—“ he said weakly.
“Do. You. Understand?”
Tulia pursed her lips in a pleased manner and sat back, sitting her tablet on her lap. She readied her fingers to begin typing on the screen. “Good. Let’s start from the top. How long have you been hallucinating… hearing a voice that is not your normal internal dialogue?”
Cecil sat forward, his hand grasped tight, and his eyes trying to focus on anything but her face. “Since… the accident.”
“Two weeks and… a few days, then,” She typed a few words with intermittent pauses. “Since the trauma of it, then, I must assume. And… what do you think of the voices? How do you perceive them?”
“Just… a voice. Mostly calling my name. But—“
“A voice you know?”
“I’ve explained this before.”
“It’s for the record. Answer the question.”
“My… mother’s voice. But not always. No, not hers.”
“Someone else’s, then?”
“It doesn’t belong to anyone I believe I’ve met before. There was a time… when I swore it belonged to her, but… I don’t remember her voice in the first place.”
“A result of your prosopagnosia, perhaps? Not recognizing a once familiar voice?”
“I was always told… always saw it as just for people’s faces.”
Tulia nodded, slowing her note-taking for a moment. “Yes, but we must recognize the possibility of your mental state declining for a multitude of reasons. The trauma being one of them, of course. Now, when you experience the voice… calling you to do… something out of the ordinary, something that may put you in danger, are you able to experience yourself doing so? Does your ego… your conscious mind… remain intact then?”
Cecil grasped hard at his knees and shot up straight. “No more!” He grumbled, holding his head. “I’ve answered enough of your questions. I have the answer. It’s in there— the computer.”
“I’m not done, Mr. Ruiz,” Tulia glared.
“Quaseem Saïd,” Cecil shouted, slapping his hand on the edge of the desk. “The man that disappeared from the Adventum mission.”
“Calm yourself, Mr. Ruiz. Anyone with a medical or administrative role knows of what happened back then. What you’re trying to do is find connections where they do not exist. You have been thoroughly looked over by our medical staff.”
Cecil forced himself up and tried to shove the mounted screen of the workstation around. “No, the captain’s logs. The ones where he told about the change in Saïd’s condition, his temperament.”
“Ruiz, please have a seat.”
Cecil jerked back and leaned forward heavily, resting one arm on Tulia’s shoulder. “You are not listening, and refusing to help me.”
The spindly woman forced herself up, kicking at Cecil’s shin. “You will release me. I will remind you that you are to be confined here until you can prove yourself to be in a stable state. We shall attempt this again, Mr. Ruiz. Good day.”