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“Professor, does this look right to you?” Devins asked me, inspecting our oxygen levels. I came up behind her and saw her concern. Our air supply was fluctuating rapidly, being at full percent one second and 10% lower the next second, then back up again.
“Have the animals’ behaviors been abnormal at all?” I asked.
“Actually, yes. They’re physically still healthy, but they keep running around aimlessly.” She pointed toward the tree line. “See? The deer, the rabbits, the bears… They’re all scrambling near the water source, not even paying attention to each other.”
The poor creatures looked desperate. Did they know something we didn’t?
“Keep watching. Call me if our oxygen dips below 70%. I’m going to check with True.” I left her with her worried eyes, and bolted for the control room. “Truett- status update.”
He was reclining in his chair, a spoon hanging out of his mouth. Upon my entrance, his feet slammed to the ground and he yanked the silver from his tongue.
“Oh, hi Professor. Sorry. I was taking my lunch break. Let me do a run-through real quick,” he mumbled, gaining his bearings on his computer screens again.
“This could be an urgent situation. Please take your job seriously, or we will send you back to Earth.” His fingers typed a little faster at that. His readouts shone across the screen, displaying weather conditions, communication records with mission control, and our overall system statistics. My eyes scanned the screens, looking for anything of concern. A tiny red light flashed in screen three.
“What’s screen three monitoring?” I asked. His gaze shifted and he instantly tensed up.
“The sun…” He pulled up a live feed of the star. A few little tails were sprouting up from its surface.
“How long ago did that happen?” My voice was rushed and monotone now.
“Judging by their size, maybe three minutes,” he replied.
“How much time does that leave us?”
“Probably eight minutes.” He was already pushing the alarm.
“Call mission control. I’ll start emergency procedures.” The red flashing light now grew to fill the whole room and the sirens kicked in, alerting the rest of our base. I shoved my way out of the room and ran down the hall. True came over the intercom:
“We have a red alert situation at the Mars Eco-base. Solar flares will disrupt our power system within approximately seven minutes. Begin emergency protocols.”
My crew jumped into action, attending to their specific duties at the station. I headed back to the chamber where Devins was monitoring the animal behaviors.
“Well, the lights and sirens aren’t calming them down much,” she said glumly, eyeing the creatures through the glass. “And the oxygen levels are at 70 now. That goes for us as well.”
“Mission control was alerted, but even if they can possibly send a rescue craft in time, there will be no way to fit all of them in one trip.” I pressed my forehead against the enclosure, trying not to imagine several years and millions of dollars and dozens of creatures going down in one solar storm. And it was all for nothing. I made a mental note to focus more on solar trends than improbable hypotheses.
The whole reason we began this project was to monitor health patterns in an artificial environment. I wanted my team to bring about the first non-Earthly birth. Our research had at least brought different species to survive on another planet, but no baby had been born yet. Maybe my thesis was impossible.
“What do we do?” Devins questioned, defeated.
“Our escape pod will hold the crew. If we hear nothing from Houston in the next five minutes, we abandon ship, so to speak.” I hated myself for even saying those words, but what choice did I have? “There’s no point in standing here waiting for a miracle. Let’s help load the pod, just in case.”
Devins turned to follow me, but halted momentarily. “I’ll catch up with you in a minute, Professor. I think I left my reports in the enclosure during my walkabout this morning.” I nodded to her and found Truett setting up the pod for launch at the loading deck. The rest of the crew was loading the important research and equipment on board.
“Any word from Mission Control?” I asked, already aware of the answer. Truett shook his head without taking his eyes off the control pad. At his touch, the pod revved to life. He spoke over the speakers again:
“Mars Eco-base, we have approximately two and a half minutes until the flares reach the planet, cutting off all power. Wrap up your job and head to the escape pod ASAP.”
The crew came flooding in, carrying their last handful of items. I began counting heads, and came up one short. Devins.
“True, hold off as long as you can. Devins is back at the enclosure!” I ran as fast as possible back to the eco gate and found the glass door wide open. “Devins!” My eyes darted all around, but the lights were starting to fade and the trees were thick enough as it is. I kept calling and calling, running as far out as possible without losing sight of the door.
“Forget your reports! We have 60 seconds!” My heart rate raced to an incalculable speed and I was about to completely lose hope when I saw her silhouette rush toward me from the shadows. I grabbed her coat and ran back toward the pod.
We dashed through the threshold and Truett closed the door behind us. Within seconds he had lifted us from the deck and into the atmosphere. I tried to catch my breath as I looked out the window and saw the lights of our station go dim. My legs collapsed under me and I hid my face in the ground.
“Professor?” Devins breathed heavily. I turned to look at her and discovered a baby rabbit cradled in her arms.