Nedra looked up at the pale sky which now had a tint of yellow. “Oh drat, not another storm!”
She wasn’t talking to anyone in particular, and if asked would deny that she was talking to herself. The conversation continued. “Another interruption and I wanted to get back to the city by early next week.”
She looked at the readings on her drill and hit the switch. It whirred into action pulling up a long thin core of earth. She packed it into a sample bag, tagged it and loaded it into her rover. The process took nearly a half hour. By the time she looked up at the sky again, the horizon looked a dirty mustard yellow and the canopy overhead was now a darker version of the mustard. She dug through the back of the rover and pulled out a heavy jump suit and jacket, which she donned quickly. She strapped an oxygen tank to her back and finished the ensemble with the connecting facemask.
Nedra continued to mumble as she packed the last of her equipment and turned on the GPS for a reading to the nearest shelter. A small one was about 20 minutes away; but the larger more accommodating shelter was about an hour away. She looked out the window at the clouds again and guessed the storm was at least two hours distant. She doubled checked her fuel level and sat a few minutes contemplating the simple decision; an hour and she would be among people again and have nearly all the luxuries of home; or twenty minutes and she would be done. On nearly any other day Nedra would have chosen the large and comfortable shelter, but she had been out seven days straight and was exhausted. She looked at the sky again, she had been caught out in one of these gas storms several times and decided she couldn’t stomach one as tired as she was. She turned the rover north toward the small shelter noted on the GPS.
She drove through the two air locks and then the decontamination room. The readings were low and the door to the shelter opened within a few minutes. Nedra immediately picked up the checklist and began the routine to be followed by the first arrival at a shelter. She turned on the cameras and checked the screens, all were operational. She checked the generator, and then the backup generator; readings were good. By the time she was half way down the list, she skipped to the food list and checked those supplies, helping herself to a power bar as she worked. This small shelter would hold six to ten people comfortably, more if necessary. The area was remote and she doubted there would be many who would opt for this one over the more easterly No. 609 since it had a permanent staff, real food, and real beds.
The checks had taken less than a half hour and she could now relax. She looked at the screens and was surprised how quickly the sky had turned. The storm was here already. She heard a buss on the com unit and tried to tune out the static. She began a radar sweep of the area searching for a vehicle; and spotted one north. If it was a rover, it would arrive at the shelter in ten to fifteen minutes at normal speed. Finally a voice came through.
“Having difficulty, instruments not clear; anyone out there?”
Nedra checked the lights that provided a visual of the shelter and turned up the homing signal.
A static message came over, “got ya, how far away?”
“I have you on radar; you ought to be in visual in a few minutes. Do you need me to come for you?”
“Negative, just got worried; rover’s acting up and I needed to know my options.”
Nedra watched as the blip approached the shelter. She was relieved she wouldn’t have to do a rescue; they were always so much paper work. She opened the outer hatch, then returned to the com when she saw the blinking light indicating an incoming message. It was the usual request to report occupants to begin the process of accounting for all personnel in the field. She typed in her name and number then flicked the com to the decontamination room.
“Hey I need to report in, who are you?”
The response came back muffled, “Kell Stephens, Lt. Kell Stephens.”
Nedra grinned as she typed the information onto the com.
A quick response asked for a confirmation.
Nedra checked her spelling and typed it in again. She glanced at the decom room; the readings were high, but clearing. She frowned; it must be bad out there already. She had made the right decision; otherwise she would have been caught in another gas storm.
The audio came on and asked to speak to Lt. Stephens.
Nedra replied, “he is in decom.; will not be clear for about ten more minutes.”
The computer requested Nedra’s passwords and id; she complied. Then she was told to turn the interior cameras on and transmit to headquarters. Lt. Stephens was out of his area and further, a Lt. Stephens had reported in to shelter no. 543; where he should be. Nedra cleared the screen and quickly asked for instructions.
An instant later, the door to the decom room opened and out walked the handsome Kell Stephens she knew so well.
“Kell, is it really you!”
“Nedra, now this is a pleasant coincidence.”
In a moment he was holding her in a tight embrace.
Nedra pushed him away and started to speak.
Kell, grabbed her again and tried to kiss her resisting mouth.
She quietly mouthed the words “camera is on.”
Kell looked puzzled and quickly pushed her into the restroom where there would be no cameras, although the sound would be on.
“He whispered, “what’s up?”
Nedra whispered back about the check in, and that a Lt. Kell Stephens had checked in to station 543; and they were on a red alert. Even as bad as the storm was, someone would be here in an hour or less.
“What is happening Kell, who might that be, since you are here?”
“Can’t tell you here, no time Nedra, but it looks like I’ve gotten too close to happenings in high places. I am going to have to leave, quickly. With our little scene out there you may not be safe. You will need to come with me.”
“Out there in a gas storm, on purpose?”
“Do you trust me?”
They went back into the main communications room and Kell sat at the main console. He began typing in codes and within a few minutes the entire system went dark.
“What did you do to it?”
I had a virus I have been saving for a rainy day; it won’t hold them out for long. We will take a rescue pod. Grab some food and extra oxygen tanks. Suit up, and we will get out of here as fast as we can.