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LOST

Never accuse Samantha and the crew on Mars of having a deficit of courage. They descended into a mysterious passageway with no guarantee of ever being seen again, all in the search for two stowaways.

The danger was real, and averted only because Samantha realized that whenever liquid recedes, it tends to return with a vengeance. Fortunately they were swept to safety, instead of into the bowels of the planet.

Only after all the human crew was safe and back at the base did Samantha break down at the loss of the dodos. After all the trouble they’ve caused she genuinely grieved for them. However, that may have been too soon.

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DOWN THE HATCH
Once the dodos were in their spacesuits Luis used his rover’s backhoe extension to lower them into the hole. As Ming’s camera had shown, it was a sloping artificial passageway with smooth walls for about fifty feet, and then became roughly carved from the Martian soil for an unknown distance. The dodos were sent to investigate, and return immediately.
That was before they found a round door that appeared the scan them and open in response. A rush of air signaled a vast difference in temperature, which was confirmed when they saw liquid water flowing through an artificial channel.
The dodos’ transmission signal was beginning to degrade when they saw a figure approaching them from the far reaches of the tunnel. The closer it got, the more video and audio were lost until contact vanished entirely.
And that’s all we know. Samantha faced a major command decision, which was to follow them down there. We’ll soon see how wise that was.

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FOOTSTEPS
We’ve known for months that something was active on Mars. In fact, we changed our landing site for the express purpose of investigating it. However, we didn’t realize that it might have hostile designs on us (although the evidence was there if we’d only realized it, going back to the projectile that damaged one of the ship’s solar panels while under construction).
The threat level went up when Jenny found footprints just outside the base walls. They were diamond-shaped, and their maker appeared to be frightened away by Leonardo’s artwork. They vanished from where they came; under a fragile substance designed to resemble one of the rocks littering the Martian landscape.
Samantha kept Dave from falling through it, and after Ming’s camera revealed an artificially constructed tunnel it was decided to send the dodos in.
They wanted to be the center of attention, and now they’ll get their chance.

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GETTING DEFENSIVE
As I mentioned last week, we didn’t anticipate encountering a hostile force on Mars so we really have few options for protecting ourselves. Samantha is having everyone sleep in shifts, but that doesn’t exactly help repel anything that we’re awake for. Better than being caught totally unawares, I guess.
Up here in the orbiter there’s nothing we can do except stay hidden behind Phobos. At least the ground crew can give us a head’s up when a projectile is coming since they’re monitoring the seismic activity that precedes it.
As I mentioned on March 25, it was Leonardo who actually took a proactive step when he painted a scary face on one of the retractable solar panels. It made for a nice Halloween decoration, but odds are very low of it actually scaring away something.
Then again…

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PROJECTILE
This is a voyage of discovery, and we just discovered that something on Mars doesn’t want us here.
While Ming’s camera was investigating the deep hole on Mars, rumbling was heard and felt from the underground. Just in time, the crew realized the true purpose of the grooves on the walls, and they all piled onto Luis’s rover. He took it at top speed behind the debris pile, where they were sheltered from the resulting blast. A projectile of some sort was launched toward our orbiter, but fortunately it harmlessly crashed upon Phobos.
This changes everything, of course. However, we’re powerless to do anything about it. We have no weapons or even defensive protections. When we left last January we all assumed we were heading toward a dead planet.
As Luis points out, activity doesn’t mean life. True, but whether we’re dealing with a living being or artifacts of a long gone civilization, we’re still a target of something malevolent.

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DEBRIS PILE
Mars is a dangerous place; we knew that when we agreed to make this voyage. A significant number of mankind’s efforts to send robotic surveyors have crashed on its surface. What we didn’t know until months ago was that something has been collecting the wreckage into a pile.
Our landing site was changed so that Samantha, Luis, Jenny and Ming could investigate the twisted hunks of metal and plastic. They examined it closely, but all they could do was confirm that it was indeed of Earth origin. If Martians have fingerprints, they didn’t leave any for us to find on it.
There were no tracks around the site, except those made by Luis’ rover. (It’s possible that the junk arrived by air.) For those who think it’s only purpose is to lure us here, nothing’s been disproven.

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EXPLORATION
Samantha finished her first examination of the Martian soil that Luis dug up in the farming section of the base, seeking proof of life. She hoped to find genetic material of any kind but came up…inconclusive. In that regard she was no more successful than all of humanity’s other probes.
All that means is that eons of cosmic radiation might have blasted away any evidence of Martian life on or just below the surface. Further down, however, it might be waiting for us. So, the next logical step is to investigate the hole that was spotted months ago and caused us to alter our landing site.
Dave and Maria are going to stay behind (with the baby, of course!) while Samantha, Luis, Ming and Jenny investigate. The dodos will remain on the base, too, since this mission will just be for recon. Their starring role will be the follow-up, and will depend on what’s at the bottom of the hole.
We’ll also get a close look at the nearby pile of Earth wreckage. For insurance purposes. That was a joke.

FIRST ASSIGNMENTS

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The entire population of Earth is expecting the crew on the surface of Mars to immediately head outside and begin searching for little green men. They’ll get around to that (grin), but first there’s a ton of stuff to do just to keep everyone alive.
Mars is, quite simply, a hostile alien environment, and the crew is stuck there until the spring of 2020. There’s a ton of details in simply creating an Earth ecology within the walls of the base. Protecting themselves from cosmic rays is just the start. There’s also the matter of recycling air, water and nutrients.
Solar energy provides the power, keeping the temperature at 75˚ F. Everyone has assignments that are listed on the daily schedule; about ten hours a day. (Samantha and Dave have other duties, of course, although the others also tend to Baby Maria as need arises.)
I’m receiving the data they upload, and I’m making sure nothing falls through the cracks. Speaking of cracks, the two ecosystems, inside and outside, have to remain completely separate. That’s for everybody’s safety; Earth’s and Mars’.

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BABY MARIA
Samantha’s pregnancy had gone completely smoothly right up until the finish line when her baby found herself coming down the birth canal looking up instead of down. That resulted in her getting stuck for almost an hour. Finally, Maria ordered Jenny to create two forceps on the 3D printer that Luis had set up. (The forceps were already in the system under the Medical Equipment folder.)
Maria deftly used them to turn the baby around, and she came out soon after. The first human born someplace other than Earth.
Let’s let that sink in.
Dave and Samantha were so grateful to Maria for being there, especially since it meant Maria would be separated from her son Leonardo for over a year. In honor of her selflessness, they named the baby Maria Argus Hamper. (No hyphen; Argus is her middle name.)
As I write this she is one week old in Earth time and doing fine. Samantha is making the command decisions as the crew on the surface prepares to explore Mars.

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LABOR PAINS
When the lander departed the Fastrack One spacecraft we all knew that Samantha was close to going into labor. However, we didn’t know that it would begin during the descent.
Dave performed brilliantly, navigating the lander safely to touchdown. It was the accomplishment of a lifetime, and one that could not have been done by a program. It took his awesome skills to put human life on Mars.
(Oh, yeah. Dodo life, too.)
Once the crew ran down the checklist to determine that all systems were functional, Samantha announced that her baby was on its way. The activation of the medical unit was immediately moved up in priority.
The internal environmental readings were soon normal, and the crew shed their spacesuits before getting Samantha under Maria’s care. Luis, meanwhile, got the rest of the base up and online. We’re waiting breathlessly for updates.
Interesting day.