Writer In Progress: Red Desert – Point of No Return, written by Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli
February 28, 2015 Leave a comment
This month I am pleased to bring you an excerpt from Italian author Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli. Her novel, RED DESERT – POINT OF NO RETURN, is the first book of her series and has recently been translated into English. She is also a best-selling author in Italy.
She chose this scene because, as she states…
“This scene better summarises what you can find in this story. There’s the marvel of the discovery but also the lethal danger of Mars, which can kill you any time, if you aren’t careful enough. And there’s also the mystery. Anna left Station Alpha at dawn and entered the Martian desert all alone. What happened? Where is she going? What secret is she hiding?
Finally there’s someone coming from her past, who may be the key to understand why she decided to go to live on Mars and never come back.”
Proceeding at maximum speed, my rover jerks as it hits a boulder. The terrain has become more rugged. I must slow down.
I move forward with caution, bringing the vehicle close to the cliff. But I avoid reaching its edge. I don’t know about the quality of the rock at that point and I have no idea if it will bear the weight. I stop, while keeping the engine on, to contemplate the wonder of the natural show that lies before my eyes. Even if it’s thought that water flowed on Mars in the past, which was demonstrated by the presence of dried up river beds scattered across its surface, this canyon system seems to have had a different origin. The fractures, created by seismic phenomena, have been modelled over millions of years by carbon dioxide escaping from underground at high speed, thus eroding them, just like the perpetual motion of water would do.
I pull out my camera and start taking some pictures. But since I’m fixed in this position, I soon run out of all possible framings. I’m tempted to put the suit on, get out and take a stroll. Then I realise that, since my departure, I haven’t checked my air time yet.
I switch off the engine. I don’t want to waste energy, other than the necessary one for life support and instrumentation. I free myself from the seatbelt and go to the back of the rover. The suit indicator is at 80% which means I don’t have ten hours, but only eight. It could be worse. If I get out for five minutes to take some pictures, it won’t make much difference.
Without wasting any more time I prepare, depressurise the vehicle, and step out to take a little stroll.
The view from my helmet isn’t actually much better than the one from the windshield. A weak wind lifts some dust with each step I take. I’ve already touched that thin sand more than once inside Station Alpha, but now I wonder how it would feel to lay on it under the sun. I check the temperature with the augmented reality with which the helmet is fitted. It projects a set of useful information before my eyes, as if they are part of the surrounding environment. It reads a little more than five degrees Celsius. It’s cold, but not so cold.
If only the atmosphere wasn’t so rarefied.
I give up my reveries. They are stealing precious seconds that I should use in a more rational way. Holding my camera, I walk toward the edge of the canyon, capturing many different images.
I hope the photographs are coming out well. It’s difficult to say from the small display on the back of the device. I’ve never been a great photographer. I can waste even the easiest snapshot. But the light is perfect now that the sun is high. The various layers of rock seem to shine by themselves. It’s almost incredible that so much beauty could be accidental.
I’m still bewitched by such a view when my foot slips on the terrain. Before I can counteract the loss of balance, I find myself supine; my back hits the breathing device and my head is thrown backwards, bending my neck. My helmet bumps into a stone and the rebounding effect runs all over my body, dazing me. The light becomes more and more intense, forcing me to close my eyes, and I have the impression of hearing remote music, rocking me softly.
My eyes snap open; I’m breathing heavily. I’m still lying on the ground. The sun is directly over me. I lift my right arm with caution, to check my suit indicators. Everything seems alright. There’s no pressure drop, but I have been reckless. I could have damaged it, and died in excruciating pain.
I think about Michelle for a moment. She tried to leave the station without her suit. Her body swelled up in the airlock, until her more superficial tissues exploded and spread themselves over the doorway. Her corpse blocked it. We had to use the exit on the other side of the station to move away what had remained of her, which had frozen in the meantime. We tried to clean, but her thickened blood had seeped in everywhere.
I still cannot believe she decided to kill herself that way. The thought that someone may have pushed her in there and activated the door to kill her hasn’t allowed me to have a decent sleep for many a long night. The fact I’m here now is in most part due to that doubt.
I try to breathe deeply and calm down. I must have lost consciousness, but only for a couple of minutes. I sit up with caution. My camera is tied to my suit with a lanyard. It seems undamaged. I pick myself up from the ground and head back to the rover.
No more strolling, for a while.
Once inside, I get rid of my equipment and I lie back in my seat. I start downloading the photographs, which are immediately displayed on the dashboard screen, and I activate the satellite connection. As I start the upload, a notification appears.
“Incoming message,” the cold voice of the computer recites.
At first I think Hassan is trying to contact me again, by using the satellite transmission, but then I read on the windshield augmented reality that it comes from Houston and was recorded five hours earlier. It’s mission control, attempting to persuade me to go back. I’m really curious to hear what they have thought up.
I turn on the video playback and the virtual screen is filled with a person’s face.
“Anna … hi. To tell the truth I’m not convinced that asking me to talk to you has been a clever idea. But I’m here now so I must try.”
In disbelief, I put a hand on my face. “Jan,” I whisper, while watching the image of the only man I have ever loved in all my life.
Where to find Rita online: