November 03, 2005

NaNoWriMo Day 3

I am now up to 1789 words. Which means I am basically two days behind the pace.

I think I have completed my first chapter. I went through and added some text to what I had already written, so I am just posting the whole thing in the extended entry.

Glad to hear any feedback, positive or negative.

Chapter One
Home Under the Range

Jake Robinson ran.

At the age of seven mears, his paces already stretched at least five meters each when in a full run. Of course “run” is not quite the right word. Instead, he loped in the graceful awkwardness that all children of Earth display when moving quickly in the one-third Martian gravity.

Even when, as with Jake and his parents, the children of Earth were born on Mars.

Jake’s running boots echoed in a slap-back patter off the cavernous walls of basalt, as he retraced the billion-year old journey of a Martian lava flow. The path of this particular lava tube wound through a twenty-kilometer circuit, most of which his father had sealed and pressurized over the past ten mears.

Embedded in the Martian bedrock below and behind these walls was an ancient aquifer. An aquifer whose waters rained on the Martian surface when the oceans of Earth were just bringing forth their first complex organisms.

A little bit further, he thought.

Recently pressurized, the air in this part of the lava tube was cool, dry, and odorless, except for a faint hint of ozone. Jake coughed - his throat and mouth were dry and sticky. The omnipresent fines that found their way into everything on Mars always caught up with him halfway through his morning run.

He gulped a few swallows of water from his belt bottle and glanced at his wrist comp.


Twenty-seven minutes out. This was the point furthest from the elevator lobby that led back up to his family settlement, Prometheus station.

If I can just keep up the pace, this might be my best time yet, he thought.

Heading back toward his home, Jake began to remember the accident. His mom and sister. The anger came back. The guilt.

Just push it. Harder.

His loping pace increased by at least another meter per step. His jaw clenched.

Focus on the time.

As Jake ran up to the elevator door that led from this gigantic basement to his family’s settlement just on and under the Martian hill country, he took another glance at the wrist comp:


Best time yet. Twenty klicks in 52 minutes. Not bad for a kid.

He stepped into the elevator, punched the “M” button, and drained the remainder of the water from his bottle.

He considered the last few drops in the bottle. Water was his family’s business.

Well, water and the heat needed to extract it through the Martian permafrost.

And electricity. Where you had water and heat, you had electricity.

Jake rode the elevator the hundred meters or so up to the main level of the Prometheus complex. He stepped out into the main airlock that joined the five spokes of the gigantic underground wheel he called home.

“Jake, is that you?” asked his dad.

Who else would it be, he thought. “Yes, dad.”

Paul Robinson walked into the airlock. “What was your time today?”

“Fifty-two minutes, dad.”

“That’s fantastic, son! I hope you’re still planning to enter the race over in the Burroughs Burrow next month. Are you?”

Jake paused. “I don’t know dad.”

His dad’s face clouded over slightly.

“I’m just not sure I’m ready to do it.”

“That’s OK, son. Whenever you’re ready.”

Paul said, “And speaking of ready, you need to get ready to go out and check out the panels. For some reason our main heater is pulling some extra amps. Until we can get it diagnosed, we need to get every last bit of power from the panels to keep from dipping into our reserves.”

“Right, dad.”

Jake headed down the eastern spoke to his quarters for a quick shower and breakfast snack before he suited up to head outside.

Ever since the accident, Jake and his dad had maintained separate spaces in the facility. Except for the occasional meeting in the central hub, like what had just happened, and except for mealtimes in the galley, Jake rarely saw his dad in person.

They each had their jobs to do to keep the farm running and to keep themselves alive. And that left little time to spend together like a normal family, even if their family had still been “normal.”

The door to Jake’s room was decorated with some old-Earth-style yellow and black police tape: DO NOT CROSS – CRIME SCENE – DO NOT CROSS – CRIME SCENE. He pushed into his space and began his morning grooming routine.

Jake’s room looked like most any early teen’s on Earth would: a large ‘net monitor with keyboard and game controllers nearby, pictures of ‘net and game celebs, an unmade bed, and walls bedecked with NFL pennants (there was a Martian league that played American football, but there were only six cities on the planet with large enough enclosed spaces to accommodate the low-grav version of the game).

His room also contained some priceless artifacts from old Earth, heirlooms brought by his grandparents intentionally to keep as tangible reminders of the original home planet: a bureau, desk, and matching headboard all made of solid oak wood. It had cost his grandparents a tremendous sum of money to get them into Earth orbit, but Jake appreciated their solid presence. A reminder of his pioneer heritage.

An hour later, freshly clean and recently fed, Jake stepped out into the Martian morning. The sun shone weakly in a clear salmon sky. Jake walked along the geometric trails along the valley floor that traced the circle-and-spoke outline of the Prometheus farm. His boots crunched the frosty ground, occasionally stirring small puffs of powdery fines.

Another typical morning on Mars, he thought.

Jake was inspecting each of the kilometer-long arms of the sprawling solar farm. He keyed his in-helmet phone: “Dad? We need to let the spiders out. The panels on axis C are looking a bit dusty this morning.”

“Will do, son,” came the reply from his dad. “Thanks for telling me. When you’re done with the rest of your walk-around, get back in here pronto. I’ve got a surprise for you.”

“’Right, dad. I’ll be back inside in about an hour.”

A, B, and C axes done, he thought. Only D, E, and F to go.

As Jake continued around and began to inspect the fourth arm of the massive hybrid-thermal-electric solar collector, he glanced over at the C axis, noting the small army of spider-shaped robotic cleaners already dusting off the panels.

Most farmers have their bots do this automatically, he thought, with a hint of resentment that his dad made him physically walk around. Not only that, but they monitored the status of the panels remotely.

His dad had explained that spiders were not cheap, and that the less they were used, the longer they would last. If Jake didn’t like that, he could always consider dusting the panels manually.

His dad also didn’t trust the remote monitors to get it right, and wanted a real person to investigate them personally. Despite (or perhaps because of) his utter dependence on technology to keep him alive, Jake’s dad seemed to distrust it.

His mom used to inspect the panels, and she would sometimes bring Jake and his little sister along. But that was before the accident…

Don’t go there, he thought angrily.

The thought of dusting more than 18,000 square meters by hand kept Jake from complaining too much about his dad’s odd choice of chores. In fact, Jake normally looked forward to the chance to walk around his family’s station early in the morning. It gave him time to think about things.

As Jake moved around the end of the D axis and examined the E axis, he noted some more buildup along the panels, the likely result of the dust devils that frequented this valley.

“Dad, if you’ve got some spare spiders, send them down the E arm, too. Or retask the C-axis spiders to tackle this as soon as they’re done over there,” said Jake over his helmet comm.

“OK, son. Thanks,” replied Paul.

Each spider measured about 10 centimeters in diameter. The robots skittered on six legs (shouldn’t they be called beetles? thought Jake) across the solar panels. Each spider used what was essentially a fine whisk broom to sweep the rusty dust accumulation from the panels.

Jake thought hopefully that the cleaning would account for the missing amps his dad had mentioned earlier in the day. However, based on his experience with these panels, Jake strongly suspected that the power draw came from the heater end, not from obscured solar panels. That likely meant a trip into town to get some parts. And a trip into town would be a great break from the daily routine.

Jake hiked the final kilometer of the F axis back towards the main airlock. As he moved along, he continued to scrutinize the solar panels that gave the farm electricity and heated the abundant groundwater locked beneath the surface of the valley.

With so much area absorbing and reflecting the sun, Prometheus station also radiated some heat back into the surrounding valley. Similar installations all across the face of Mars were doing their small part to create global warming on the red planet, hoping eventually to make it minimally Earthlike.

The grand entrance to the family homestead was just a little ways ahead now.

Jake looked forward to his seventh birthday next month. On Earth, he would have just turned 13, and instead of walking around in a softsuit in sub-freezing temperatures, he would likely be riding his bike in a green neighborhood. It was hard not to think about Earth. Most of the programming that played on his phone and the family vid-wall came from Earth.

Jake punched the security code to enter the main airlock, set back beneath a classical Greek portico. His granddad had joked that the life savings he would have kept in a bank were tied up in the farm, so he wanted the front door of his farm to look like a bank.

Inside the airlock, a fan blew the bulk of the fines from Jake’s softsuit out the front door. Once the door was sealed and the lock pressurized, a brief but high-pressure shower of water issued from the ceiling and removed any remaining fines, washing them into a floor drain. Jake proceeded to the adjoining suit locker room, and got back into his basic indoor work clothes.

He pulled out his vid phone to check for any new messages from his ‘net pals. One new message from Al had arrived, but nothing more. He saved it for later, and headed off in search of his dad “pronto” to find out what his big surprise was.

Chapter Two
The Surprise

Posted by JohnL at November 3, 2005 11:47 PM | TrackBack

Hang in there! The trick is to write something every day, and if you have to put in a placeholder or reminder to come back and finish a scene, that's ok, just plug away and keep progressing.

Yeah, like I have a clue. But it's what I'm doing.

Posted by: Ted at November 6, 2005 12:31 PM

Ted, thanks for the encouragement. I'm seriously stalled. I can't disengage the "editor" in my head. I am trying to do some more pre-writing and plotting, which always helps my words flow more easily. If I have an idea where I'm going, it's pretty easy for me to get there.

Unless we start living on Martian time (with an extra half hour a day) I probably won't catch up, but I'll hang in there for a while longer.

Posted by: JohnL at November 7, 2005 11:16 PM
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