Chapter Six: Shiver

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I stood against a back wall, alongside sixteen other employees at the NASA Space Center in Houston, Texas. We alternately caught our breaths and released them in slow, heavy streams as the anticipation in the room rose by the second. On the screens in front of us were several angles of the same monumental occasion.

The first human was about to step foot on Mars, and generations of rovers sent to the planet in the past had managed to make it in time to record it. Not to mention the cameras documenting the astronauts riding along on the Everest. There were four that were making the first expedition. Depending on what they found there would determine whether any others from the moon station, Relevance, would come down from Phobos or not.

As the Everest touched down, everyone in the room took a collective breath and held it. Agonizing seconds passed as the landing procedures were gone through. Then, at last, the ramp extended out and three past rovers caught the moment it hit red soil. At long last, the door slid out of the way and astronaut Adam Locklear was standing in the doorway, ready to take this fateful step.

Slowly, ever so slowly, he made his way down that ramp. Then, at the end, he bounded from it at once and planted both feet firmly on the dusky, red soil of Mars.

Everyone in the room shivered.

It wouldn't have been so noticeable—every eye was trained on the monitors, and no one was looking at anyone else—except that it all happened at once. In the same exact nanosecond. His feet hit solid ground, and every human body in the entire room shivered uncontrollably. And not slight, tiny shivers, but full-body shakes that traveled from the base of the spine to the skull.

Before Adam Locklear could say a single word, the entire world watched a shiver of his own shoot up his spine. It was such a sudden experience, he stumbled and almost fell.

At once, reality realigned as a chuckle traveled through the crowd. Pretending not to have noticed his own odd reaction or lack of grace, Adam repeated the line which all of NASA had written for him.

"At last, the hand of man has reached the red planet. The door to the universe is open."

It was a stupid, cheesy line and I was still ridiculously proud that I was part of it. Despite the fact that I had an FWC and was a member of the Wave Breakers, this was something I had accomplished. This was a life I had made for myself and I was just as proud of myself for this feat of science and skill as any other person in the room. For a moment, I was a normal person.

Then the moment was over and everyone was back to work in a hurry. I was no different as my immediate supervisor waved me over and passed me files to deliver to another analyst. For the rest of the time that Adam Locklear stood on Mars, I didn't get to see but a moment of it. And that only when it was announced that Simon Boyd was taking his first step on Mars. I grinned for a moment and got back to work.

Hours later, the astronauts had returned to Phobos and the mountain of data was barely scratched. Over the next few weeks almost every crew member in Relevance would make the trip to the red planet. They would take samples and study the terrain. And a different rover from a previous generation would trail along behind them like a puppy dog. All the while, those of us left in Houston would dig through and decipher what we could and talk them through how to get us the rest of the info we wanted. It was going to be a long time before any of them made it home.

"May!"

My head whipped around and I found Benjamin Court waving me over. Technically, he was the head bossman in the communications department, and talking to him was way above my pay grade. But he'd taken a liking to me. Mostly because I wasn't an idiot, I followed simple instructions, and when he told me off, I didn't sulk like a baby and adjusted my behavior accordingly. In short, I acted like an adult compared to a lot of the other people working under him. What he liked most about me, however, was that I was willing to take on the late shifts in order to keep up constant communication between Houston and Phobos. Tonight, of all nights, he would want someone on duty with the astronauts.

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