The Spirit of Mars excerpt

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“Put down that wrench!”

Wyatt Finch repressed a sigh and turned slowly. In the low gravity of Mars, he had learned, it was best to do everything slowly. He recognized the voice of Amy Wingfoot, the psychologist charged with supervising the mental health of the other forty-nine inhabitants of Mars Station Beta.

Finch pulled at the front of his navy-blue overalls with a clenched fist, an involuntary gesture. Then he noticed Wingfoot looking at the fist and relaxed it. She would pick up signs of tension and aggression.

Bully for her, thought Wyatt.  I’ve got both right now.

“How can I help, Ms Wingfoot?” She wore the green tunic and trousers that represented medical personnel on the station.  It was tight in all the right places but he tried not to think about that. She was out of his league.

“What were you doing?” she asked. Her brown eyes watchful and her full lips sternly compressed.

“I was adjusting the wheel of this airlock. Someone reported a fault.” All airlocks in the station usually opened and closed electronically but there was an old-fashioned metal wheel for manual override in emergencies.

“It looked like you were opening it.”

“No. I’m neither a saboteur nor a lunatic and I prefer air to vacuum. I turned the wheel anti-clockwise slightly to get better access to one bolt. That spoke was in my way.” He pointed to one of the metal bars connecting the wheel hub to the outer circle.

“You seemed distracted.” She was still alert but her tone had softened.

“Distracted,” he confirmed, “but not crazy.” He scratched at his blond hair. “I can’t believe you’re hassling me about this, doc. We’re all jumpy with the news from Earth but” – he spread his arms in a gesture of helplessness – “can’t a man look distracted when his son is arriving on the next shuttle?”

She managed a smile. “Yes, I heard about Ricky. A boy genius, isn’t he?”

“Sixteen now,” replied Wyatt. “Old enough to work here.” Mars Station Beta was mostly adults but there were a few children. Families were not excluded, despite the potential danger of their situation. Wyatt wasn’t sure about that given the unknown fate of Mars Station Alpha, but Ricky was old enough to make up his own mind.

Amy Wingfoot looked at her watch, then at the airlock. “Do you have time to finish that before the shuttle arrives?”

“Just about.”

“Get to it.”

“Will you report this?”

She shook her head. “No. As the only psychologist here, I’m under pressure too, waiting for someone to crack. I make mistakes. It’s like sitting on a time bomb.”

“I know how that feels.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You do?”

“I worked in bomb disposal during the Age of Terrorism that preceded World War III.”

“I’ll mark you down as least likely to give under pressure then.” She smiled. “Good luck with your son.”

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