Evelyn shed her hazmat suit and stepped from the rover’s isolation chamber. She immediately noticed the faraway look on Oliver’s face.
“Something wrong?” she asked.
He shook his head before checking their robotic decontamination vessel’s control panel. “It’s nothing. Dawn was three minutes ago. Makes me feel nostalgic.”
“Now there’s an alien concept in our screwed-up world. At night, it’s almost dark, but the sky still has an orange glow. In the daytime, it gets somewhat brighter and a great deal hotter, but we never see the sun.”
She watched the Gamma decontamination team leader approach the isolation chamber where he’d don his hazmat suit. For the next four hours, he’d trudge through the hostile environment, babysitting the robots manipulating the black maws sucking up the toxic dust covering the barren ground. She’d drive the rover, constantly watching for hazards looming from the glooming.
She checked the controls as she waited for him to emerge from the isolation chamber. He appeared, giving her the thumbs up. She turned the lumbering rover in a broad arc and headed toward Contamination Station Gamma, her temporary home with Oliver and ten other conscripts.
Seven months venturing out every night from midnight to eight a.m. and lumbering for four hours at five kilometres per hour, only to turn and trundle back to the station for another four hours. Two hundred and thirteen days taken from her young life, and another one hundred and fifty-two to go before she could return to the domed ecosphere she called home.
The industrious robots sucked up the dust in a one-hundred-metre-wide swath. One hundred metres times forty kilometres times three rovers times two shifts yielded twenty-four square kilometres decontaminated per night. During her year of servitude, they’d cover eight thousand square kilometres after allowing for time they’d spend repositioning the station—twenty-five percent of the single valley they’d been assigned.
She saw nothing but the hopelessness of their task, while Oliver dreamed of the first morning he’d see the sun rise over the eastern horizon.