A shooting star streaked through the clear mustard sky and burst apart, bombarding the plateau and the colony below with shrapnel. After a fragment with a bullet's velocity shattered a dish on the colony's communications tower, Arjun decided to climb the tower himself to repair the dish rather than pull construction drones away from their scheduled work.
He was glad to be out in the sunshine despite being encased in a suit. Tools in hand, he cursed in gangster's Hindi every blasted committee that had okayed the sky-scraping eyesore he was now forced to repair. They wanted something ostentatious, a spire to pin flags to, but it was a foolish, vulnerable design for a tower. Yet, spiking out of the centre of the complex, it was perfectly at one with the colony's oil-platform aesthetic: tubes and pipes and pre-fab cylinders welded together by the drills of drones.
Below, Kiran drove her buggy away, trailer in tow loaded with electrical-wire spindles and the spare parts Arjun didn't need. With reception down, she hadn't received the GCR and SEP simulation results for her next HeLa cell test, so she had volunteered to help him instead. But, if comms really would be down for —
Divots spit up around her: falling debris, pang-pang against the panelling of the colony. She looked up. Another meteor was pulling apart on entry. While she gawked, a blunt, airborne pebble struck her shoulder with the force of a cricket ball and knocked her halfway out the buggy's side; her palm braced her against the butterscotch earth.
A contrail split the sky, and soon a flash came outside her peripheral vision, sunrise-bright, glancing. Through her helmet and the gauze of atmosphere, she heard the explosion only faintly, as if it were embarrassed. Then the ground shook. She fell completely out of the buggy, landed shoulder to the ground, then hobbled and turned to the direction of the flash. A sandstorm spread from what she assumed was an impact crater, lost in smoke thick as village gossip, out of which ejecta rose up in arcs. The air burned, as did the desert soil. Dust blew across her helmet's visor and across the colony.
Victoria and Wilson radioed from the greenhouse in the Chinese half of the compound — concerned and seeking reassurance that they weren't suddenly alone.
"What happened?" said Wilson. "Turn your helmet-cams on, please. Other cameras are blind. Over."
"Another meteor fall," said Kiran into her headset, turning against the wind. "Distance: two k-plus at Heading 289. Dust is — "
An animated infographic of Arjun's vitals flashed suddenly in her HUD, red with panic. His pulse was wild, his BP plummeting. She looked up sixty feet to her husband in his space suit, harnessed midway along the frame of the tower. He was dangling limp beside the dish he'd been repairing.
"Arjun! Oh, God..."
She skipped to the base of the tower, found a strap and a magnet and a carabiner somewhere on herself or the tower or both, and climbed with an alpinist's ease, up and then around him. He was slumped backward, balanced at his hip, starfish limbs open to the sky. His helmet had split open. The side of his suit was pierced and torn, leaving only sticky red and burnt black visible. Dust flew in. His blood, smeared along his exposed skin, began to vaporize. Part of his face was shorn.
He was unresponsive. Kiran turned her headlamp on and grabbed his jaw to look down his throat: he was gurgling blood. Even if she had supplies to intubate him, he would quickly suffocate on the air's carbon dioxide and the impact's dust. And, thanks to her fat-fingered gloves, she had little fine motor control. She craned around the dish for grip, trying to figure out how to... She let go of the tower and leaned back into her harness. Her hands free, she could now fumble with the ties of her gloves and take them off, even if they would freeze. Worry about that later.
"What the hell is going on, Kiran?" said Victoria over the headset. "Turn your cameras on! Over."
Kiran flicked a switch on the side of her helmet to activate the stereoscopic cameras mounted there.
"Multiple puncture wounds, presuming from meteor fragments," Kiran said. "He's bleeding out."
"Shit," Victoria said.
"Come out here!" Kiran yelled, though she knew they could not simply run out of the airlock. Nor could she remove her gloves for fear her suit would decompress like his.
Arjun's heart-rate monitor in her HUD was flaring like desperate Morse, and its tone blared. In the cold air, his skin was turning stiff and ashen. She could not free his airway, or cut away his suit to find all the wounds or put pressure on them, or defibrillate his arresting heart.
The tone finally became one long, uninterrupted squeal. Still, she pressed her hands together on his torso. She had no leverage but started chest compressions anyway. Do not surrender.
After some minutes — she didn't know how many — she was too exhausted to continue. Her hands fell away from him and she hung there like he did.
Almost like him. He was different now.
She swiped the outside of her visor to dismiss the flat line and silence its tone, leaving a streak of blood that quickly caked dry. To keep from looking at it, she stared at the blank sky and listened to her breathing as if through a conch. Only listen to that.
She twisted to look below. Victoria and Wilson were at the foot of the tower. She had lost track of time, and hadn't even called the time of death.
They waved once. Kiran swallowed a breath and waved back.
"I... I need help to bring him down."
It was their fifty-sixth day on Mars.