Here is a comment on the UK General Election. I promise there won’t be many more between now and 8th June.
Strong & Stable
I have been an avid follower of general elections since 1966, or possibly 1964 (I recall Harold Wilson edging to victory). Sometimes I have been dismayed at the result, a few times pleased, but this year I am dreading the result as it seems a victory for Theresa May is more than just likely but a certainty. Her repeated refrain of “strong and stable” I find sickening. For her, strong seems to mean belligerent and the ability to ignore all doubt and concern at her actions. I’m not sure we want a strong leader like that. Someone who considers themselves strong can continue on a misguided course because they have bludgeoned the opposition into ineffectiveness. Stable government is another questionable entity. Portugal and Spain had stable government from the 1930s to the 1980s, Russia from the 1920s to 1990 and now again under Putin. Erdogan wants to give Turkey stable government – his own. A government that does not have to worry about the opposition can do what it likes. It is interesting how dictators soon want to change their country’s constitution to make their own power more “stable”. Putin did it in Russia, Erdogan is doing it in Turkey and Trump has already complained that the USA constitution should be changed to allow him to do what he wants.
It seems to me that May’s decision to seek re-election (or election in her case) with apparently little consultation with her colleagues is one sign of a megalomaniac. It took Maggie Thatcher about 8 years to achieve the staring eyes of the power-crazed despot. Tony Blair took about 6. May has managed it in 9 months.
So, yes, I am scared, wary, despondent and for the first time in my life not particularly interested in the minutiae of this election.
Right onto the main business – writing. Jasmine is busy with her case that will be recounted in Molly’s Boudoir (Jasmine Frame 4), so here is another of my short stories. This one is SF about Mars which I wrote before I saw The Martian or read the book it is based on.
Hello Houston, Marsbase, Sally Armstrong speaking. We have a bit of a problem.
I don’t know why I’m sending this. You can’t do anything to help and you probably can’t even hear me since the main antenna went down. I’m patching this through the Yinghuo and hope the ground to orbit link can punch through the sandstorm. That’s the problem you see, this effing dust cloud. If we’d had warning of it blowing in then Mei and Svetlana, sorry, Commander Ying and Mission Specialist Leonova, wouldn’t have set off in the rover. But without the geostationary satellite we’re blind whenever Yinghuo is over the horizon and only see a short distance when it’s up. How many times have we regretted the failure of that satellite? But you’ve heard all that before.
Fact is Mei and Svetlana had no warning. They got one message through when the storm hit. They said the dust was getting into their motors and they’d lost power. Damned dust. Of course we knew it would be a nuisance. A billion years of rubbing together has made the particles so small that they get through the finest filter. The air’s thin and the force of the wind is puny, but it blows the dust into every nook and cranny. Mei and Svetlana will have to sit still and hope that when the storm has passed they can get the motors running again. I don’t hold out much hope though because they’re already on the spares after their first trip. They’ll probably have to walk back. I just hope the dust hasn’t got into their air supply.
I didn’t feel lonely on my own until the storm started. I think we’ve proved those psych tests were correct, the ones that showed that an all-female crew would get on better than an all-male or mixed team. Even when the time-lag got so that conversations with you guys back home became impossible, the three of us have chatted constantly. Now the com is silent and I’m feeling that I’m on my own for the first time; on my own, with a whole barren planet beyond the airlock.
Unless it blows over soon the main antenna may not be our only problem. If the dust gets into our power system I’m stuffed. The dust cloud has cut our solar power generation to zero so I’m relying on the batteries but they can only keep the heaters and air supply going for two or three days and the storm could easily last that long. If we’re without power the mission profile says we get back in the lander and blast off to rendezvous with the Yinghuo. I can’t think of doing that and leaving Mei and Svetlana behind.
It’s all due to this dust. Even when you go through the scrubber you still bring the stuff into the base with you. It sticks to everything and that’s just the start of the problem. Your eyes and throat are sore because it’s so abrasive and it eats away at plastics. Thing is we knew all this before we arrived; the mission was designed with the dust in mind, but nothing the engineers thought of has solved the problems. Just as well that we’re only supposed to be here a couple of weeks. We always knew it was a political stunt really, a demonstration of Sino-Russo-American friendship. Ha! Nine months in a steel can, 2 weeks on the surface and another nine months shut up inside again. That’s the equivalent of two pregnancies – what they used to call a confinement. Perhaps that’s what makes us women the most suited to long missions.
Mind you, I grabbed the chance to book a place on the mission. I’ve wanted to come to Mars since I was a kid in the 20s. Then it was all doom and gloom about global warming and no country was thinking about manned space missions. Things have changed a bit since then haven’t they. I discovered all the old reports of the moon landings in the 1970s and it’s been my ambition to go further ever since. Svetlana and Mei were the same.
It hasn’t been a disappointment. How could I live without seeing the Martian dawn. First there is the bright red haze on the horizon while the sky overhead is still black and the stars are shining. Then this small but fiercely intense Sun climbs above the crimson crags. I’ve discovered so many shades of red since I’ve been here. I think our eyes have adjusted to the monochromatic scenery and found variations which we didn’t see when we arrived.
Damn. It’s got quieter all of a sudden. The white noise of the dust hitting the dome is still there but something is missing. The air pumps have shut down. It’s a closed system with no interface with the Martian atmosphere but, as I say, this dust gets everywhere. Time to strip the pumps down, again. The bearings last for no time once the dust gets into them. There’s enough air in the dome and the lander for a couple of days, especially with just me breathing, but if I don’t get the pumps working again it’s another reason for aborting the mission. Damn this dust.
I thought Mei and Svetlana were the lucky ones as they get to do the expeditions, but leaving the base for more than an hour or so is really uncomfortable. You’ve guessed it – the dust. It gets inside the pressure suits and collects in the creases and seams. It irritates like, well, a speck of dust in an oyster. After their first trip they couldn’t wait to strip the suits off. Their skin was blotchy with allergic reaction and they were covered in tiny scratches where the creases had been. They’re like tattoos because the dust gets beneath the skin. Mei looked like an old Ming vase with tiny cracks in her porcelain skin. They weren’t happy about going on this second trip but you guys insisted. You had to have some scientific data didn’t you, to make this trip more than just a propaganda exercise, and we have to feed the Net’s demand for pictures and sensational discoveries.
Life. That’s the big one isn’t it, what everyone back on Earth is hoping for. Well I think people’s hopes have been built out of nothing. Even if Mei and Svetlana do make it to that strange outcrop of not-so-red rock, I don’t think it will be the hiding place of Martian life. You weren’t really convinced either, were you, but it keeps interest in the mission alive. Now we’ve secured our future on Earth there is less interest in escaping to other worlds. Only people like us want to get out, spread our wings, see places no-one has seen before; with our own eyes not robot cameras. Who knows Yinghuo 11 may be the first and last mission to bring real people to Mars. We’ve certainly proved that it will be pretty impossible to live here.
I’d better go and look over those air pumps. Want them working for when Mei and Svetlana get back. If anyone is listening, Sally Armstrong signing off.
Hi Houston, Sally Armstrong here. I’m in the lander, setting up the launch countdown. That’s if the dust hasn’t buggered up the systems like it did in the dome. Still no sign of Mei and Svetlana. The storm blew over yesterday after two whole days. They had to make it back by now because they only had air for three days. I’m trying to save power and air so that I can wait till the last moment before blasting off but it’s getting cold and my chest is starting to hurt. If only I’d been able to get those pumps going again, or the solar cells.
I went outside after the storm. It was against protocol with the other two still away, but I had to try. The effing dust had etched the panels so that they were opaque and corroded the connectors. No hope of getting any power. While I was wasting time trying to fix the main antenna a seam went on the dome. Dust particles burnt through the seal. The internal pressure just ripped the skin open. If I’d been inside I wouldn’t have had a hope of getting my helmet on. So I cheated death and have been sitting here since.
It’s strange the other two seats being empty. I keep on looking to my right and left and expecting Mei and Svetlana to be there. I reckon I’ve got another three or four of hours of air which means I have to fire the engines in the next two to rendezvous with the Yinghuo.
Half of me knows they’re dead but the other half is still waiting and hoping they’ll appear over the ridge and we’ll all be together again. I don’t want to leave. It’s not having to sit in that can for another nine months – I really wanted to explore this place. It’s barren and lifeless and, yes, the dust is a bugger, but it’s new. When I pick up a pebble in my hand, okay, I can’t actually touch it, but I can turn it over, feel its texture, its weight, and know that no one has picked up a piece of Martian rock before but us three. We have that in common.
I don’t want to go home on my own. Not sure if I can.
The launch sequence has started. At least the screen is telling me it has. Come on Mei, Svetlana, I don’t want to go without you.
We’re into the final minute. Houston, if you receive this and something happens to me I want you to know it’s been worth it. I know I speak for Mei and Svetlana, too. They’re dead now, I’m certain. The dust got them, the bloody dust. Now I’m relying on the launch systems working.
We wouldn’t have missed this trip for anything. Now Mei Ying and Svetlana Leonova, you will be out there forever, Mars is yours now. I love you.