Everything was in chaos. Looking at them, you could not tell, but everyone was in a panic. There had been nothing from Mars in so long. Yes, the dust storm was huge, but they should still get some sign of life from the crew. They had not sent any mail back to Earth in days, despite plenty of people reaching out to them. The systems indicated that things were fine, so why the radio silence?
Joon pondered this, wondering what happened to make Hana restrict communications. Had her twin succumbed to the psychological pressures without anyone recognizing the symptoms? Had she somehow missed the warning signs?
A ping caught her attention. A video had been sent. It was not from Hana but from Dr. Leslie Richardson. She opened it quickly.
The nuclear physicist looked disheveled with a shirt that did not quite fit anymore. Had she just woken up?
“There is something strange happening,” the blond woman started without preamble. “It is too quiet. There seems to be no one around. Not even Paul.” She sighed some. “Though he did leave a trail of dirt, so I have an idea where he went.”
Joon watched the woman on Mars and strained to catch any clues of what was happening on the distant planet.
“We’re not talking right now. That mostly means I am not speaking to him. He hasn’t said a word to me in nearly two weeks.”
Yes, there were a few worrying signs in the exobotanist, and they were monitoring him. Amelie had sent numerous reports and was very diligent in reporting his—and everyone else’s—psychological status as best she could, especially considering her own predicament.
Leslie sighed. “I fear that this is retribution…or retaliation against me. Due to Oliver’s accident and everything, people have been avoiding me. First they avoided their gaze as I walked past. Then they slowly stopped talking to me. Lately, they frequently manage to systematically find excuses to leave whatever room I’m in. I suppose now they’re just giving me even wider…berth.”
Joon struggled to see what Leslie was looking at, but infuriatingly, it was just off screen. Whatever it was, it kept Leslie’s attention, but she was staying silent on whatever worried her.
There was a muffled male voice. Joon could not quite make out what it was, but she assumed it was Leslie’s husband.
“Paul,” greeted Leslie, confirming Joon’s suspicion. “What are you doing? What…what happened?” The nuclear physicist stood went to her husband, knocking the camera enough so that both were in the frame.
“I fixed it.”
“You fixed what?” asked Leslie, echoing the question bouncing in Joon’s head.
“Everything,” smiled Paul. He seemed creepily happy. His wide smile was off-kilt. “I found a way to stop everyone from blaming you and to save the babies!” Paul grabbed his wife’s hand, but she recoiled from his touch.
“Paul…exactly how did you do that?”
The couple walked out of the room and out of view. Joon strained to see or hear anything. Just as she was about to skip through the video, there came a scream from somewhere off in the facility. Joon waited, but nothing else came immediately.
It was two full, agonizing minutes until a very bewildered Leslie slipped back into view. She approached the camera and stared into it with wide eyes.
“He just keeps saying they were using up too much energy,” she whispered. “He says they were stealing the energy his plants…his ‘babies’ needed.”
Her breath was ragged, and her voice uneven.
“I don’t know how this happened. I don’t….” She swallowed. “Don’t send anyone.”