Author: Hillary Lyon

The window cracked, then broke, allowing a tendril of dust to slither in, covering everything in its narrow path with a fine coating. We wiped it up, patched the oval window with a metal plate soldered in place. Reassuring each other it was repaired, we crawled into our bunks and slept.

When we woke, console lights across our pod blinked weakly under a thin blanket of red dust. Overhead, the skylight leaked a fine shower, and the dust poured down, swirling in the currents of the air conditioner, spreading far and wide across our prefabricated unit. It took us hours to clean up.

The dust was everywhere, filling crevices between keys on keyboards, gluing gears, piling up in empty cups and test tubes, shaping tiny pyramids in every corner imaginable. We ourselves weren’t immune: it gathered in our ears, eyes, noses, mouths. Eating, all foodstuffs now carried grit crunching between our teeth. Showers turned the dust to a sticky red muck, which slid down our bodies, clotted the drain at our feet. This created yet another pressing job; we couldn’t allow the red mud to clog our pipes.

Constant clean up was exhausting, distracting us from our real work. Entire days devoted to patching and cleaning, disposing and sanitizing. Searching, searching for new cracks, inside and out—sometimes finding, often not. The dust continued to find its way in.

Even our EVA suits weren’t immune. Stored in sealed closets, somehow the red dust fingered its way in. Coarse minuscule crystals were sharp enough to tear tiny holes in the fabric, rendering the protective gear useless. We patched the suits as best we could. For two team members, that wasn’t good enough. Going outside the pod on recon and repair, we lost them.

Fine as baby powder—just as sweet smelling—the red dust rose in every aspect of our existence, until we were smothering in its soft avalanche. We who remained, gave in, gave up.

When the next expedition landed, they quickly located our pod. Inside, shin deep in red dust, the new crew prowled and poked until they found us, buried beneath a thick layer of powder. Our jumpsuits worn away, our flesh abraded to nothing. Our skulls, polished by the dust and now gleaming like crystals, flashed like unheeded warning beacons beneath the side-lights of the new crew’s helmets—as the red dust continued its inexorable rise.