The morning air was grey with fog. Grey like the tap water bubbles she was swirling in her glass before downing it like a shot. Jamie’s head was pounding from the tequila last night. Her friends had dared her for the first two. The next four were her own idea. “Boring.” “Basic.” “Grown up.” One shot for each tease that had hit too close to home.
Most of her sorority sisters had graduated with lucrative MRS degrees. Their lives were a whirlwind of social events, fundraisers, parties and vacations. Everyone had dispersed to exciting new lives after graduation in Miami, in New York, in Los Angeles… and for Jamie, in Cleveland. Last night was their five year House Reunion. As the pounding in her head began to subside, Jamie wondered just what she was doing with her life. She grabbed her coat and headed out into the cold.
Her job at the Glenn Research center was not what she’d hoped. When she had been little, NASA had represented freedom. Stories of starships, aliens, and space princesses had populated her dreams. She’d watched every documentary she could find on the Moon landing and the Apollo missions. In high school she won science fairs. In college she shone in internships and hosted watch parties whenever the Mars Rover’s latest footage was released. Graduating with honors, everyone told her she was going to change the world, and the day she got her letter of acceptance to NASA’s Pathways program seemed the first, joyous, logical step on that path. Now, facing the end of her contract and with no renewal in sight, Jamie felt the path had only existed in her imagination. Four years at NASA had been filled with budget cuts and stalled progress. No one cared about reaching the stars anymore.
She made her way to work automatically, weaving in and out of traffic, opening doors, closing doors, making coffee, settling into her lab. It was water samples today. Curiosity had finally uploaded images of the fluid taken from the crater. It should have felt more exciting, but the shine of the discovery had worn off when the news cycle shifted again. Jamie logged into her desktop and clicked the first of about 300 images which had been received over night. The coffee was bitter. Line by line the image came into view.
That can’t be right. Jamie squinted at the screen. “Don! Did you mess with my files last night?”
Jamie looked over at her lab mate. Don was hunched over his own computer. He looked like he hadn’t gone home in weeks. Papers covered in figures poured over the edges of his desk.
“Sorry. I was busy messing with your mom last night. Booya!”
But Jamie wasn’t listening anymore. The lines on the screen were… odd. Organic matter—even microscopic matter—was soft and rounded. This picture showed objects with jagged edges protruding from a central mass. Something had to be off with the camera. Jamie made a note, “Potential camera malfunction,” and loaded the second picture. Same thing. Clicking through the batch, she heaved a sigh. It was all corrupted.
“Don, can you send an email upstairs and tell them they need to re-calibrate the camera? This is all junk.”
Don looked up from his equations. “Check your monitor. There was a system reboot last night. Everything was manually calibrated yesterday.”
Jamie checked all the settings. It was all correct. Jamie blinked at the screen uncertain of what to do next.
Screw water. There are robots on Mars.
Public domain title image elements provided by Wikimedia Commons. Image compositing by Brianna Hafer.