Wide Open Spaces

One of the goats ate my breather mask. The temperature outside rises when the pressure starts the spring drop; usually spring is a good time to go out and walk around. Even with the atmosphere project going well, so we are told, it’s -10 C. Tolerable, with warm clothing and some oxygen. By the time the temperature rises any more, the dpi will have dropped so low you can’t go out without a suit. I get restless. It’s nice to sit in the garden under our dome watching all our food and oxygen grow, but I put every blessed thing in there myself. Outside might be barren, suffocating, and unearthly cold, but it’sdifferent. 

I told Marcus not to leave the mask where they could get at it. He decided to put his tool bench out in the new enclosure because he said there was more room. That’s true, but there are also the goats. We put the animals out there because they run around and drop manure and that means a little less work conditioning the soil. Chickens are easy; put down their feed and a few worms from the vermicompost and they will stay interested. They won’t disturb a work bench full of things that are not chicken food. Goats, on the other hand, are curious and willful. They do not discriminate.

Worms eat our food scraps. Chickens eat the worms. We eat eggs and sometimes chickens. Plants feed us, the chickens, and the goats. The latter produce milk and meat. All the water, one way or another, goes into the garden. We all produce manure to feed the plants. Plants produce oxygen. And so on. There are tinier members of our little community, microbes and fungi, the health and numbers of which I monitor every day. I reclaim water from what the plants respire and pipes bring more from the far end of Noctis, but it’s so expensive. Carbon dioxide we compress from the thin atmosphere outside, and I watch the gas mix along with the plants and microbes. I tend the system carefully. We have an emergency tank like everyone else, but I hardly ever have to add oxygen.

I suspect Dejah Thoris because she is more stubborn than Molly Goat. They can both be a little hard to handle when I am trying to keep them away from something they want. I feed them what I cull from the garden, and when we get a patch of desert grass I will be able to let them browse on that. But they are not at all picky, and I don’t want them eating something I’d rather use myself. Like my breather mask.

Marcus keeps calling the garden a greenhouse, but it’s all one big structure: house, garden, animal pens, and all. Inside, it’s pleasant and warm. The walls are all made of the same material designed to absorb or convert energy while letting as little as possible escape. From the outside, it looks quite opaque. Marcus can be like that, and maybe I am being unfair. I don’t name the roosters because I know we will eat them, but when Yodel Esther Bock quit laying and we had to eat her because we weren’t getting enough protein, Marcus carried her off and did it where I couldn’t see. I did have to pluck the feathers off, but he was trying to be kind.

Eventually, our enclosure will meet up with our neighbors’ and we will have one big arcology where you can actually walk from one house to another without any equipment. My neighbors are not so far. If I wanted to visit them, I could. The pressure suit is awkward and takes a long time to put on, and I would have to be careful to go and come back during daylight so I wouldn’t freeze, but I could.

I wish we had not put our house so far away. Marcus says that being able to see our neighbors is close enough. He used to say that it was too close, but then the D’souzas put theirs ten kilometers away and completely out of sight, around the curve of the canyon. No one heard from them for a while and when someone went to check they found that Lita D’souza had opened all the locks, letting out the air and letting in the poisonous deep cold. They knew it was her because the rest of her family were in their beds, while she was next to the airlock on the floor, her hands folded across her chest. After that, Marcus quit telling me that we were too close.

I look after all the living things here, all of the animals, plants, microbes, me, and Marcus. I don’t know where Marcus thought food came from, before. He knows now. We also know where our water and air come from, every single molecule of it. I am very careful.

I saw all the same historical dramas he did, about glorious pioneers of the American West and Australia, some time a century or two before the sea level rise. Adventure, wide open spaces. We came here to be pioneers, and that’s what we are. Life where there was no life. It sounds like poetry, when you put it like that. It sounds good. There’s plenty of space here. You just can’t go out.