Part 3: Talon - Chapter 14

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The hills seemed no closer than they had been an hour ago.

Geranium longed to sit down, take her shoes off and empty them of sand, but she hesitated to suggest it as Linda seemed in such a foul mood.

Her shoes were totally inadequate for tramping across a desert, but then when she'd woken up that morning it hadn't been on the agenda. Fine grit had worked its way down under her soles where it scrunched uncomfortably. A thin breeze whipped orange sand around her legs, dispensing more of it into her shoes with each gust. She hooked a finger into the right leg hole of her knickers and felt grit on her backside. The stuff was everywhere.

It was hard to breathe, too, out here in the open desert when doing any sort of exertion. The air was alpine thin, but breathable, and the cold penetrated sharply. The expensive skirt and jacket combination she'd worn to the slave market wasn't practical for trekking across the Martian desert either.

Each time she raised her gaze from the Linda's footprints, all she could see was a line of low bare hills. At one point they skirted around a hydroponics farm and a weather station, but there seemed to be little else out here.

It occurred to her that she'd seen little of the real Mars. In the first few days she'd visited a few places of interest: Mons Olympus, the Valles Marineris, the North Polar Cap. The tourist traps, crowded, noisy, catering to Elites who thought Martian ways quaint. Visiting those places by hologram would have been just as meaningful. But since she'd settled in Albany not much exploring had been done. The transformation from eager tourist to dull local had happened in a remarkably short time. Perhaps when this present mess was over she should go somewhere else. Venus perhaps.

'Can we stop for a moment?'

Linda glanced back at her almost as if she was surprised to still see her there.

'What's wrong?'

Geranium stood on one foot and pointed at her other shoe. 'I've got a stone.'

'All right.'

The girl sat down and started to remove her shoes. Linda watched for a moment, then also sat down and took out a water bottle from her pack. She had a sip and handed it to Geranium.

'Don't have too much, there's still a way to go. Then you can drink as much as you like.'

Geranium held her shoe upside down and slapped it. There was a lot of sand in them. She did the same to her other shoe. The cold wind blew up her skirt, ballooning the dark blue material out like a tent.

'Where are we going anyway?'

Linda pointed at the line of hills. 'There's a water factory up there where we can hide out.'

Geranium was sick of this whole adventure. Nothing but the clothes she wore and her fone, and now Linda had suggested they tramp across kilometres of desert looking for somewhere to hide. That shouldn't be in anyone's plans. And what about poor Sarti? Was she lying dead somewhere? Her gut tightened at the memory of the look Sarti had given her when ordered into the hotel.

I should have gone myself. I wanted to.

But there had been Helots there, waiting...

She put her shoes back on and hoped Linda didn't suggest they start again immediately. But even the older woman was sucking in as much air as she could. The cold wind showed they were low enough topographically for there to be enough air, but out in the open desert on Mars hypoxia could still a problem, especially when doing hard physical activity. Once, on Earth, the family had visited Mt Everest and stayed at the Base Camp Hotel. The air pressure here, low down on terraformed Mars, was about the same.

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