Chapter 6: HOOCH

Daria watched as the last bucket of regolith was poured on top of the High Oxygen Outland Central Habitat or HOOCH for short. Why the base commander had not been willing to consider another name for these things Daria couldn't say. She had urged her to pick something else. First of all, it was an awkward name. Second, the word "hooch" had several historical meanings. One was a way of referring to alcohol – particularly cheap moonshine. The second was referring to a hut 75 years ago during the Vietnam War. She would have to check her linguistic database. Anyway, neither use was complementary.

Daria had come out here for both of her purposes here on Mars. Her first task was to weld parts of the frame of the hooch during final assembly. She was also here to record and interpret the event. As the colony librarian, historian, and archivist she needed to be here to both record the events and add her commentary. The first stimulated the mild arthritis in her back. The second stimulated her mind, which is what she truly cherished and why she had left the children and grandchildren for this five year adventure.

Tom came up and put his arm around Daria's shoulders. He stated, "I think this is a job well done! We have created this mini-habitat."

"Hooch," Daria corrected.

"Fine, hooch," Tom said. "We have created this hooch so that now we can explore farther away from the colony."

"How did the pressurization test go?" Daria asked.

Tom replied, "The hooch has held pressure for the last 12 hours while we covered it with regolith as a radiation shield. The power and fiber optic links with the colony are working. The electrical system, heat, well, water filtration, waste system, and air generator are all working as well."

Daria said in total deadpan, "Wow. A whole 113 sq m (1250 sq ft) just like home! What more could an explorer want?"

Tom exclaimed, "Think of Scott's expedition to the South Pole back on Earth. They lived in tents!"

Turning toward Tom Daria looked at her husband's still chiseled features, but graying hair. She again remarked in total deadpan, "They all died. I think our goal is not to do that."

Tom smiled. Looking down at Daria it struck him how beautiful his wife was – even behind the visor of a surface suit. Her oval face had added some lines, but they were not bad lines. The auburn hair he so loved had its gray streaks. Time had actually been good to both of them. The thought crossed his mind that even though their adventure on Mars meant living a rather spartan lifestyle for a few years it did not show in their faces.

"Stand over there," Daria said. "I want to do a 360 degree pan to get the context of our big red lump."

Tom moved away from his wife and struck a pose. He waived as she steadily panned her camera around the area. The hooch did look like a lump on the landscape. It was a dirt covered dome that was 12 m (40 ft) wide and high. The only things that distinguished its appearance were an airlock, a couple of tiny windows, and the markers for the buried power and fiber optic cables leading up to it. Walking around the structure Daria captured images of the wastewater recycling system, gas storage, and weather station.

Watching the video as she was taking it Daria noticed something that immediately gave her a rush of adrenaline. She touched her communication switch and went to all present plus the base. "Alert. Alert," Daria stated. "Possible dust storm spotted on the horizon coming this way. I am seeing lighting as well. Base. Why didn't you warn us?"

"Daria this is base. We just saw this storm kick up. However, it is gaining strength quickly. You and the team will need to shelter in place."

"This is Tom. All personnel grab food and sleeping gear out of the rovers and get in the hooch now. That is an order."

Daria added, "Tom, I am guessing we have 10 minutes tops before that storm gets here. It is moving faster and possibly accelerating."

"Roger. Everybody get moving. Get the gear and get in the hooch."

Daria kept her camera rolling. After all it was integrated into her helmet. She went and grabbed a food bag, her sleeping gear and Tom's and then headed for the airlock. Half of the group of 8 was already inside the hooch when Daria stepped into the airlock. She waited as the last 3 came in – including Tom. As they closed the outer door they could see dust just starting to blow past. The airlock cycled and they stepped inside. She took off her surface suit and placed it on one of the dozen suit hangers by the airlock. It was nice to be out of the suit.

Janice, operator of the front end loader and a planetary meteorologist, piped up saying, "Look at the video from the weather station. If I back it up you can see the storm approach. Look at the lightning it there! This looks like one of the strongest electrical storms we have seen here."

Daria thought, 'Yay. At least we have lighting rods.'

Janice went on, "Wow. We went from a clear day to a complete 'red out' in the space of just 3 minutes!"

One of the others asked Janice, "How long do you think this storm will last?"

Janice replied, "Hard to say. It could be hours or it could be days. We will simply have to wait and see. Wind speeds are already up to 250 kilometers per hour" (155 mph).

Tom commented, "It's a good thing that with the thin Martian atmosphere that wind speed doesn't translate into much force acting on the hooch. Total 'red out' is a concern. Well, we have 2 days of food at full ration. Bill and Emily come with me. We need to work out a plan to return to the colony if this thing lasts too long. Everybody else stow gear and supplies, then relax."

Daria climbed the stairs to the sleeping mezzanine. A couple of the crew had already turned in. A collective decision had been made to go on ¾ rations to extend their supplies just in case the storm lasted beyond tomorrow evening. This would give them an extra day without getting really hungry. When she got to a place near the others she rolled out her sleeping bag and Tom's. Lying there she stared at the top of the dome she had just helped build. It was hard to believe that she and Tom had already been here for two years. They were coming up on the half-way point and there was one more major construction project – the magnetic levitation launch system, aka mass driver. It was both an efficient way to launch packages into space and the way they would leave the surface when the time came.

Tom came and slipped into his sleeping bag. He rolled over and kissed Daria. Then he almost immediately fell asleep.

Daria took a few minutes and quietly dictated a short message to the kids and grandchildren. She told the program to add some of the video she had shot. After sending it off she too went to sleep.

After breakfast everyone gathered in the center of the hooch. Tom had a projection hanging in the air. A map was visible with a dot showing their current position and a star for the position of the colony. He looked at the group and stated, "The drivers met last night and we have developed a plan for returning to Aries. As you have all seen, there are a series of stakes set up along the route used by the power line and fiber optic communications line leading here. The purpose is to keep drivers from running over and cutting the lines. These stakes are spaced 1,000 meters (3,300 ft) apart. Some have even argued that they define the first road here on Mars." A series of blue dots appeared showing the position of each of the 100 stakes along the line to the hooch.

"Each stake has a head on it which is reflective to both visible light and radar. The plan is to travel 10 meters (33 ft) from the stakes on the opposite side from the lines. Each pair of stakes form a line. We will locate each stake with a radar 'ping' that will give us our position relative to the stake. At such a short distance the storm will not interfere with the radar. Each stake is in a known position, so we can calculate our position from that. We will simply make a series of straight line runs between stakes." The projection changed to show each of the 100 lines which defined the path they would take in the rovers.

"The dust storm will keep us out of communication with Aries until we are within just a few kilometers. This will be a very slow trip. We estimate our best speed as 10 km per hour (6.2 miles per hour). That means a trip of at least 10 hours. It could be as long as 15. We will wait until tomorrow morning to see if the storm passes. If not, then we will get going at first light."

"One other thing," Tom said. "We will be tethering the vehicles together. That way there will be communication between them and we will be able to monitor each other. We certainly don't want anyone getting lost due to a malfunction! The lead vehicle will handle steering and navigation. Are there any questions?"

Janice stood and asked, "Have you discussed this with leadership and meteorology?"

"Yes," Tom replied. "Leadership is on board with the plan. Meteorology is as well. They are not optimistic that this storm is going to dissipate soon. They are thinking that it will take a week or more to dissipate. It is the strongest they have seen since we started the colony."

With no additional questions Tom stated, "Today I suggest that you catch up on your reports and transmit them, since we have communications here. We will also start packing up at 2:00 pm. Tomorrow morning we should be taking only ourselves, our sleeping gear, the remaining food, and any trash with us. This place has a shower, so I suggest that you take one. Just don't make it too long. It takes a while to generate water for the next person. Janice, please be in charge of scheduling showers. Now everyone get to work!"

….

Daria rolled over in her sleeping bag and looked at Tom. In total deadpan she whispered, "So, this morning you are going to put your surface suit on and try to find the first rover, tether it to the hooch, find the second rover, tether it to the first rover, and then get back inside the hooch."

"That is basically the idea," Tom whispered back. "Then we can load everyone and everything in the rovers.

"Hope the carabiners hold," Daria quietly deadpanned. "After over 30 years of marriage I really don't want to lose you to a dust storm. It would be so unromantic. You know, 'Man turned into Giant Dustbunny' or something like that."

Tom looked at the love of his life and responded, "Tonight on Sick Sad World."

Daria snickered, "I still miss that show."

Tom rolled over and kissed her. Then the two went to sleep. Tomorrow would be a big day.