Eleanor glanced at the computer readouts and sighed. All of the numbers were just making her headache worse.
She asked her good friend Becky Ellis to take over for her. Eleanor seemed to be catching something. Right now all she wanted to do was crawl in to bed and sleep. Unfortunately, however, that didn't seem very likely.
An unfamiliar man, holding a clipboard, approached her and asked, "Are you Eleanor Nicole Davis, the woman working on the Europa probe?"
He turned to Becky and said, "Then you must be Becky Young Ellis, also working on the probe?"
"Last time I checked."
He rolled his eyes slightly before continuing, "Right, well, come with me. Some of NASA's higher officials would like to talk with you about the probe."
Eleanor and Becky exchanged looks. The Europa probe had come back and had found no life on the surface. It was deemed unsuccessful, even though they had gotten some amazing images of the icy moon.
They followed the man into the eleporter. A second later they were at the top floor of the building, a little dizzy from the instantaneous travel.
Becky eyed the eleporter doors and said, "I still hate going on that thing. It makes me sick."
The man holding the clipboard ignored her and hurried down the long hall. Finally, he turned and said, "This is it, Mr. Clemens office. Keep in mind that what is discussed in there should remain in there till the designated time. Thank you." He then turned back around and disappeared in to the eleporter.
Elly and Becky now exchanged semi-alarmed looks. Becky tried to lighten the mood by saying, "We probably still have time to make a run for it. I hear Mexico's not too bad."
Elly smiled and knocked on the door. It flew open and they were dragged in by a firm handshake.
The middle-age man was absent-mindedly pumping their fists as he said distractedly, "Oh, hello! You must be Elly and Becky! Name's Ray Clemens, pleasures all mine. Come in, come in, we have much to discuss!"
Elly could see now that Ray Clemens was not the only occupant of the room. There was about a dozen other important looking men and women around the table. Each had a grim expression on their face. She was a bit intimidated by their proper work attire, too. Elly looked down at her baggy NASA shirt and old pair of pants. At least she remembered to order some nice shoes to wear. Elly could tell Becky was a bit worried too.
Mr. Clemens returned to his seat at the head of the table. He pressed a button and a life-like, 3-D scale model image of the familiar Europa moon probe, called Hades-13, appeared. He then said, "So, you ladies were the heads of the Hades-13 exploration probe?"
Becky replied, "Yes, sir. Elly was the top official, though." She pointed at Becky. Mr. Clemens didn't receive one of Becky's snippy remarks.
Clemens looked at Elly as if for conformation.
"Uh, yes, that's correct."
"Okay then. So the probe was classified as a Class-C failure?"
Elly winced slightly at the reminder, but said, "Yes, it returned to Earth safely, was able to get good images, but found no sign of life on Europa."
"Hmm." was his response as he exchanged looks with the other leaders.
One of the women said, "You should tell them, Ray. They should know."
"Sir?" asked Becky.
Clemens sighed and said, "Alright, I will. Well, you two know life was not found on the surface of Europa, even though the moon has a frozen form of water, which is a building block of life."
Elly and Becky nodded.
"And that was true. of the life was found in Europa's atmosphere."
Both of their eyes widened and Becky gasped.
Elly responded, shocked, "Oh wow. microscopic aliens, the first ever found! It's amazing! How could I have missed it when I went over the probe when it came back? We'll be famous, Becky!"
"Infamous is more like it, "Mr. Clemens mumbled, but no one heard him. He then said, "We believe that when the probe entered our atmosphere the organisms just, well, fell off."
"Wouldn't they have been washed off in the decontamination chamber up in space? No samples from the atmosphere were taken. All of the organisms would have been washed away without our knowledge."
Clemens cleared his throat, "Correct, that's proper procedure. Unfortunately it wasn't followed through. Since no life had been found we, uh, skipped decontamination."
"It's an expensive procedure, probably worth half of your yearly paycheck." Clemens said defensively.
"Yes, it was careless of us."
"So the things are just floating around. That's horrible! We could be breathing little aliens!" Becky shuddered.
"Miss, it's the year 2466. We've been breathing disgusting things for a long time now."
Elly worriedly inquired, "Are there any obvious side affects to the organisms presence. I'd be eaten up with guilt if there were!"
Clemens smiled at the irony of her words, "Funny you should mention that, Mrs. Davis." He tapped another button and another 3-D image appeared. A globe replaced the probe's image. The quality of the ozone layer was shown from around the world. "This is the ozone layer a month ago, not bad after we started the atmosphere renewal project. This," He pressed another button, "Is the ozone now."
Elly brought her hands to her mouth, "Dear God, it's been eaten away!"
Clemens nodded grimly and said, "A bit like a ball of Swiss cheese, don't you think? We believe the organisms from Europa did this. All available space stations have been sent up. The scientists here in Houston have been working on making Mars habitable. We've begun to melt the ice caps for the water and are introducing a proper atmosphere. We've sent up resources, like plants and animals up already. The mass evacuation notices are going out today, declaring that we have a week before the atmosphere is completely gone. Eight and a half billion people need to get off this planet. I suggest you ladies start planning."
Six Days Later:
It was freezing. The temperatures had plummeted after the second day of warning. Tomorrow, June 6, 2466, the planet would be inhabitable. Most of the remaining life on the planet had already died in a mass extinction. Thankfully many of them were already shipped of on the Noah-28.
Elly was heading to the terminal for the space station. She looked at the ticket she was provided, Station 4C. Becky was on a different one, 2D.
There were about 53,125,000 people on board of the 16 stations, but it would be all right for the 3 months it would take to finish the preparation of Mars.
When Elly did arrive at the station she saw she had gotten a room about as big as her linen closet from her old apartment in Houston. The bathroom was down the hall and the cafeteria was in another sector. People would do her laundry for her as long as the proper identification slips were sown in.
A small entertainment room was also provided. It had millions of books and song on disc. It was also equipped with a video communicator to the other stations. This room is where Elly would probably spend most of her time.
She settled into her chair and relaxed best she could as she downloaded her favorite book into her mind.
Two Months Later:
Elly maneuvered around the rubbish deposited outside the door. For some strange reason, garbage and clothes pick up had stopped. She had heard rumors that the heads of the two divisions had nervous breakdowns from trying to organize the mass pick up. The effect was that the entire station smelled a . After all, people had to rewear clothes and trash was just thrown into the corridors.
Plus, tensions between neighbors were increasing. Fights between people from countries at war were happening every day. The problems from Earth were following them to Mars. Tomorrow they would finally arrive, after all the waiting.
Elly reached the entertainment room and sat in one of the chairs. She did nothing but sit and think, mostly about her friend Becky.
Becky was gone. An asteroid from the belt separating the inner solar system from the outer solar system hit her station. Fifty-three million, one hundred twenty-five thousand people were all gone in less than three minutes. Two weeks ago it happened yet it still hurt Elly to think of it.
She wanted just to get to Mars to start her life again. She would most likely work for the space program again.
Elly began to watch the digital clock mounted onto the wall and started counting the hours till the finally reached their new home.
A Year Later:
Life had gotten better. Tensions decreased after arriving and a monument was dedicated to those who died on the space station that failed to make it. People relaxed around each other and cultures bonded. Unfortunately, the merging of the cultures took away some of society's diversity and uniqueness. It was an unexpected and somewhat regretful side effect to peace, at least in Elly's mind.
She did luck out in getting a home. It over looked one of Mars's many canyons and valleys, which were now filled with water. A benefit from using the ice cap water was there would be no worries on its quality, though it did have a pinkish tinge from the planets red soil.
Elly grabbed her hat as she headed outside. They needed to wear them because that atmosphere was still thin. It was a bit colder on Mars, too, but Elly was adjusting.
Elly had gotten her job at the Space Program. It was called M.S.R.F., Mars Space and Research Facility, instead of NASA because there were no definitive nations.
Life had begun to move on.
Elly left her home and headed for the nearest public porter.
The sky above rumbled and the red clouds above released their pink- tinted rain.
Elly began to hum as she raced to the porter and thought to herself that it really was time to move past the end.