Thad had been in that cave for so long that his dreads were soggy and his brown face was covered by a wooly beard. And–---he reeked.
It wasn't like Kelly smelled much better, but at least she dipped herself in one of Rana's red rivers once in a while and took measures to shave her tan legs.
"I've built it!" Thad shouted, jumping up and down like a mad man. "I've built it! We're going to get off this", expletive, "planet!" His body sweat with joy.
Kelly looked up at the twin suns of Rana and sighed.
"Sure Thad, tell me anything." She sat up looked down at the rocket ship. God, I wish I'd landed here alone, she thought.
"Aren't you tired of this place? Nothing but red--red stones, red plants, red dirty red water, red everything! Even the air looks red sometime! God, I feel like I'm living in a pool of blood."
She nodded. "I know. Everywhere we've been even smells like blood. Doesn't it smell kind of sweet, though? Like a nosebleed?"
"You're sick." He looked back at the disc with fiendish eyes. "This little piece of firmware is going to end our month of exile." He kissed it. "To think that we nearly got stranded down here because the Company wanted to skimp on parts. We'll beat our SOS back to Earth. I'm sure of it." He waved at the air. "And I'll be rid of these little red things."
She shook her head. "Relax, Thad. All of our testing said these little red microbes are harmless, except for their addictive qualities. Since we don't know the side effects of withdrawal from them, I think we should wait until Earth gets out signal. It'll only be a couple months before the signal gets back home."
He gritted his teeth. "Why wait? Besides, it's hard to relax when everything looks like this!"
"Oh hush! Can't you just adapt and thank God we're alive? You don't hear about people who live in snow being bothered by a white landscape, do you?" She smiled. "Besides, the red is kind of peaceful."
Thad stomped. "You're crazy if you think I'm going to stay here. This disc is our ticket home!" I'm going down to the ship to see if it will work. You coming?"
Kelly shook her head. "No, Thad, you go. If it works, just start up the ship. Ok?"
Thad staggered downhill, regained his stride and finally skipped to the entrance of the rocket ship. After a few glances around the ship, he put his palm on the console for admittance.
He placed the hand-made disc, formatted it, downloaded the needed software and had the ship turned back on in no time. His heart jumped as the lights came on--his eyes felt comforted by the white lights various colors of the ship–something, anything other than red.
He fired the engines. The diagnostic programs showed no leakage from their diamondium-covered engine. He checked through a list of diagnostic programs: still enough food, water and oxygen to replicated for a voyage back to Sol space. Yes! All he needed was to try a few extra flights and he was out of there.
He entered the command to close the entrance. The door shut. He typed in the command to pump out the planet's red air, replacing it with an Earth's nitrogen/oxygen ratio. And that's when it started: the coughing.
He coughed, coughed, coughed–wheezed and wheezed–hacking, drool, mucus creeping from the corners of his mouth. His body cramped up.
"Heeeeehhhhhh! Heeeh! Com-pu-ter o-pen door!"
The voice recognition program spoke in a soft, female voice. "I'm sorry, but your command was not recognized. Please try again."
"Com-puter. Open the d-d-duhhh!"
"I'm sorry, sir, but I do not recognize your voice imprint. Please try again."
"Com-huh-hhhhhh!!!" He banged his head on the console as fell to his hands and knees, which made for a double dizziness.
"Please make your selection, after you enter your clearance code. If you'd like to have more heat, press one. To open the entrance, press two. For food replication of nutritious food, press three. For replication of non-nutritious edibles, press four. For—"
The door opened. Kelly came in, holding her breath. She reached down, grabbed Thad and pulled him out the ship. As soon as she laid him on the ground, she gasped for air.
Thad sat up as soon as he recovered. "Kelly, check to see if there is a malfunction in the air replicators."
"The air replicators are fine. The problem's us."
"The microbes are addictive. That attack you had was your respiratory system going through withdrawal. We have to spend time weaning ourselves off the microbes if we wanted to fly off Rana. That could take months. Years."
Thad's eyes teared. A desperate grimace came to his face. "It's better to just–wait here. We can warn people not to land without suits on, I guess. Why didn't the scanners pick this up?"
"The air IS breathable. This is just–well, an unknown, that's all."
Thad stared at the ground. After a long, mournful silence, he finally looked up at Kelly. She sat down beside him and held his hand. He pulled her closer.
"I'm sorry for being so difficult. I must have been a pain to live with. Can you forgive me?"
She leaned her head on his shoulder. He put his arm around her as she nuzzled her head against his neck. "It's ok, Thad. It's ok."
The suns started to set. "Oh well," he said as he marveled at the small, yellow suns and the blue and violet twilight sky, "at least the suns are not red."