Red Fever

Peter Morrison

Almost poetry, this study of experimental subjects under pressure.

Morning comes, and I have never slept in my life. A frustrated non-drama that sends me into the world like a kicking and screaming rebirth. Endless, restless nights haunting me. End of the world winds whipping against the bullet-proof glass of the modular apartments. Trapped by the environment again, like lab rats caged. She sleeps soundlessly in the large empty bed, while I toss and turn like a dying man on the too compact sofa. I roll over with surrender and dismay, rest feet on floor, elbows on knees, head in hands. Eyes closed, I breathe raggedly, rubbing hands against scalding stubble. Opening eyes with gravity's reluctance, I take in her too slim, too young form, spread in jigsaw contortions, blond fluff halo. Thin white t-shirt, nearly transparent, rucked across bare stomach. She wears a thong, disappearing into elusive and tantalising cracks. I shake my head, try to break thoughts back into shards, derail that train from perilous tracks, and fail. Life between my thighs, grows, rigid, threatening and dominant. My stomach leaps with fear, that she will wake, and find me sitting there, desolate and aroused. The last time we spoke we fought, she said she hated me. Like I need to encourage her disdain by letting her find me like this. Despite that I touch myself; unbendable thing, that unrelenting beast. I choke on my cry, slumping, hands thrown aside, and it stands there. I look at her lying there, and she moans and moves, but doesn't wake, and the beast goes deeper in me, and the thing called lust roars.

Men! Useless bastards, the lot of them.
Unsteady and precarious with denial I stumble to the door, the double layers that provide an air lock. Our suits hang there. I look out upon my internal struggle, a Martian surface scoured by the latest storm front, reflecting and causing the turmoil inside. These pioneer habitations, two half moons, a dense reliant community, become a series of isolation cells. I breathe the air of souring captivity. Red dust, like hell's very own fabric, lifted from Martian earth and turned to devil spirals. Between us the notion of a road, an accepted and shared concept between the members of the colony, it's just another fucking red strip of seared surface. The other crescent of apartments across the way, identical to this one. Three flats along, in opposite position from here another man stands, looking out as though into hell. We press our hands against this specially engineered glass, taunting each other, like mirror images that we will use to torture ourselves. I bet his partner still loves him; I bet he is still happy with his role in this great adventure. Great adventure, a conceptual kick to the head, and I slide to the floor, back against the hatch, bare hands and feet against the coarse, cheap pod floor covering.

Cabin fever induces madness, I recognise this fact, we recognise this fact; Martian fever is worse, the inherent idea of the alien. We were told about this fact in orientation, prepared in sequences of psychological tests and appraisals. Regardless, we step from familiar planetary territories into brave new worlds, with foolish confidence and self-assurance. Not until you are here, laid bare for the demonic influence, for the endless tests and appraisals, can you understand. Not until you find yourself constrained to quarters due to surface planetary environmental conditions can you understand. Confined again, till you feel you have spent more time trapped here than you ever did doing your job. Scientists, explorers, adventurers, and pioneers from the home planet searching for ways out of the horror of what we left behind. Only to find a new horror in front, we were not designed for this life-style, though the suggestion is that we will adapt. Rats in a cage, we are experimental subjects abused and prodded, tick boxes on checklists. When the storm dissipates, we will be put on the wheel once more, running to go nowhere through all the trick questions and character assassinations. Encouraged to inform on each other, all those questions, like being trapped with this bitch, waiting to find she betrayed me, wanting to strangle her, wanting to... I shake my head free of those thoughts again. Look at her sweet face - god - innocent and unknowing. Slight silent sighs escape me, slight silent voice, tainted by loneliness, bitch.

How the fuck can she sleep through this? There is a constant sound here, the sound of filters and processors; those back stage mechanics that keep us alive. Air filters and re-processors, recycle units capturing and regurgitating ancillary matter, food dispensers. All connected to the hub unit of each block, run by endless programs and systems. Blind, unspeaking sentience that controls everything we do in this place? You learn to filter those sounds out, but when the storm hits... we are on a new level, the kind of howling nightmare that triggers fever dreams and lyrical waxing. That batters you from sleep, bloody eyed and at the end of your tether. Full of hurt and bloody hate. I release my fists, stretch out the suddenly gathered tension from my knuckles. It lasts only a moment, before I clench again, violent desire demanding animal action - go on, lash out, express the emotion. No.

Enough. I drag myself to the shower cubicle. Start the water running hard. And I hurt myself. And hurt myself. Head against the smooth bare wall. Till I think my knees will give in, till I grunt, till I hurt no more. Hands against the wall, water washes everything away. If I focus on that sound, let it fill me, for a moment I can forget. For a moment. Sleeplessness hits me, tidal waves of exhaustion battering my merely human body. I drag myself back to the sofa. Too small for me, but I curl up as best I can, hug myself, close my eyes, and pray for sleep. Please, God, let me sleep through this hellish night, this relentless storm.

Dark outside, the storm still rages, dust particles whipping around. Lashing our building with their fine composition. Fall asleep exhausted - sleep all day - wake up exhausted. For three days now I have done nothing. Why do I ache so much? This confinement becomes frustrating and dizzying. Living on edge, little tensions become exaggerated. The waiting is difficult. Like that night before we took off, drawn out endlessly till it grows hollow. I tug my t-shirt down, it's rolled up while I slept. I sit there, dazed, legs half crossed, and shoulder slumped. Tired. I'm in our bed. Alone again. Alone since we fought, things got out of hand so quickly. Look at him. Naked on the sofa. My man. My bear. Look at the size of him - his chest, those arms. I want to leap on him. Wrap myself around him. I want to hold him to me. Look at him. I hug myself.

So quick with his shouting. Pig headed bastard. Doesn't he know I just want him to hold me? Doesn't he know how hard it is to be trapped in here waiting? I get so mad at everything; I end up telling him I hate him. It makes me want to hit him. Kill him in his sleep. But I don't even have a knife. Food comes from the hatch, ready to eat with a spoon. You would almost think that was a deliberate move? Are those management bastards playing with us? Are cameras recording everything even now? Did they know it would be this bad? They told us it would be this bad. Did we listen to them? Did we understand when they said it would be difficult, that it would be like this? I want to brush my hand through his hair, and to beat him to death with a spoon. I laugh, hold myself against a cold wave, against foolishness.

I throw myself out of bed; a clambering, graceless child. With my skinny limbs, no wonder he doesn't find me attractive, there is nothing of me. I pad across the floor, quietly. Standing over him, too big for this makeshift bed, but he refused to share with me, or I with him, one of the two. Reaching out, hesitating, finger tips so close, close enough to touch. Look at his face, fierce and scowling. Look at him, he plans to kill me in my sleep. Look at him, naked and vulnerable now. Cupping himself, what is that about? Is it comforting? Is it sexual? I don't know. I crouch beside him, mimicking him. Puff my cheeks out - ook. Look at you, barely evolved past the gorilla. How I want you. Sink to my knees, emptied out by thoughts of sex. Emptied out by hunger, by that barren empty void inside. If it had teeth it would eat you, man! I would eat you alive! Close my eyes and breathe. Ache. A second pulsing organ in my body, a sense of life. Breathe deeper, breathe to fight the feeling.

I stand, straighten and stretch. Can I touch the ceiling of the pod? I brush it lightly, such a tiny place for two people to live in. No wonder we are bouncing off each other. I pad to the toilet, stalking silently. Don't want to wake him, make him mad. A hole in the floor, to squat over, underwear poised round my knees. Welcome to the future, welcome to the hole in the ground, the luxury of being the first and the finest. Pissing into a tank beneath the floor contents flushing into the recycling system. Yum. Tug the tiny pair of knickers back on, for all the difference they make. He still won't touch me.

In a gesture of design cunning, the food/drink dispenser is beside the shower/toilet facility. Don't think of the cyclical nature of the system, I come out and push the button for coffee. Men! Shitting where they eat! Wasn't that rule one in the survival guide? When did whatever optimum tick box that is responsible for that choice outweigh the basic rules of survival. I taste the coffee - it still tastes bitter, still tastes wrong. I take a mouthful of denial. And just drink the stuff. Men! Useless bastards, the lot of them.

I walk back to the sofa. Standing over him, I feel a hundred feet tall, towering over him. I consider pouring the coffee over him. But it's not even hot enough to cause a memorable burn. And it might taste like shit, but it is the only option we have. I shrug, and take another mouthful. Close my eyes and think mechanical thoughts about mechanical actions, and how I want to do those mechanical things. Bastard. So I shrug and stroll over to the bed. I grab the blanket; one of those absurd new fabrics designed especially for life on Mars, and drag it behind me. Drag it to the air lock, lots of glass, specially engineered, rocket ship seals round it to keep it all in place and intact, designed to resist the storm outside at its worst. I hunker down, place the coffee in front of me, and wrap the blanket round myself. Not that it's cold, these pods are maintained at a comfortable level by the hub. It's a comfort thing, to feel as though I am held, encompassed. I cup the coffee in my hands, and settle down to watch the storm. Hypnotised and fascinated by the patterns of the dust. The chaotic flow of turbulent streams. Such vivid, violent reds, even at night; the place seems alive, transformed and wondrous. One moment everything is gone, consumed by dust. The next there are patches of clarity, the identical block across the road visible. There are lights on in some windows others are dark. Two blocks, 25 flats in each, each built to hold a couple. We are the first 100 people on Mars, and it pulses with a startling violence.

© Peter Morrison 2008 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 09:44 Wed 12 Nov 2008
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