Six million two hundred kilometers from home doesn’t sound like the ideal place to lament about not going to the lecture ‘How Acids React To A Base’ in her science class at secondary school, but here she is. Representing the entire civilian population of Planet Earth, Ellen Garth of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky bought one of the “Win A Trip To Mars” lottery tickets while on a trip to Louisville visiting the Museum of Modern Art, and dang if out of the millions sold across the country her number was drawn. How lucky can one girl be? At this very moment, luck wasn’t being a good friend.
Luck is relative, in any case. Luck inside the Planetary Base is far better for her compared to outside, where the other four space travellers are trapped. “Yeah, my bad,” she thought. She just wished they’d stop with all the banging and screaming. That is not at all helpful, and it’s just distracting her at the moment. She knows one thing, if they don’t calm down, they are going to use up whatever little oxygen they have left in their tanks. That would be unlucky as fuck.
The day her twin sister Sarah wanted to play hide and seek was just like this. “What were we then, maybe six years old?” she wondered. Ellen couldn’t remember the year. They might have been five. Either way, she wasn’t interested but said fine to get Sarah out of the room so she could finish watching her cartoons. It was about two hours before one of her parents decided it was too quiet and came to check on the girls.
“Where’s Sarah?” her mom asked.
“We’re playing hide and seek. Sarah’s hiding.”
“Why aren’t you seeking then?”
“I didn’t want to play.”
Ellen’s mom began running around the house, calling for Sarah to come out. It was fifteen minutes before she came running through the living room with Sarah limp in her arms, screaming at dad, “Get in the car, hurry up, we have to go to the emergency room NOW!” She sounded a lot like the people outside. They are far luckier than Sarah was, at least they aren’t locked in a cooler on the back porch.
Reminiscing isn’t solving the immediate problem, however. Ellen figures she better find a manual or something that helps. Surely there must be a chemistry book among all the reference manuals they have here. To think, she’s been here 4 months and hasn’t opened a single manual. Everyone else acted like it wasn’t her job. Most of the time, they sat her down in front of displays showing camera views of the surface of the planet and random images from the observatory telescope.
On her way to the book storage, she stopped at the airlock. Looking through the small window, she saw one helmeted face staring back in the window of the exterior door. Ellen thought of that famous painting. That one they used in a movie. “Who was that guy who painted that?” she wondered. Ellen figures she probably never even knew the artist’s name. The movie, though, was classic. “They should have a DVD player in here,” she mused. Oh well, just more of that Garth Family bad luck.
She looked at the face staring back from outside. Her shoulders lifted in a shrug, and her face twisted into the internationally recognized shape of someone saying, “What?” She raised her hands, palms up, for emphasis. “Seriously, screaming isn’t helping.” Then an epiphany came, she slapped her forehead, “SCREAM! The movie was SCREAM.” Who was the actress? Great cast in that movie. She’s seen it a million times. She’ll remember her name at three in the morning when no one cares any longer.
A chemical safety and procedure manual she found in the reference cabinet should be just the thing she needs. Opening it to the index, she has a look for the name of the chemicals on the bottles she tipped over and spilled on the control panel. She figures the problem started because that was when the screaming began, too. There are the names: HYDROCHLORIC ACID, pg 122, and NITRIC ACID, pg 247. The last one sounds like an excellent place to start. 247 was the number of the bus that picked her up in the morning for school.
She started reading:
Red fuming nitric acid (RFNA) is a storable oxidizer used as a rocket propellant. It consists of 84% nitric acid (HNO3), 13% dinitrogen tetroxide and 1–2% water. …
“Oh, good lord, rocket science,” she groaned. Maybe she should start with the other one. Turning to that page, she started reading:
Hydrochloric acid is the salt of hydronium ion, H3O+, and chloride. It is usually prepared by treating HCl with water. HCl + H2O -> H3O+ + Cl-. However, the speciation of hydrochloric acid is more complicated than…
“Not helping,” she said. She closed the book and went back to where she spilled the open chemical bottles. Maybe something underneath the control panel helps. When she opens the access panels, all she can see are a bunch of wire harnesses running here and there. One of them is loose, in any case. When she grabbed it, the whole thing fell apart. It looked like it had melted. Not all of it dissolved, just the ends of the wires that used to be something that looked like gold.
“That’s crazy,” she thought, “I’ve never seen gold melt like that before. Must be cheap gold.” She thought maybe they bought their gold online from China. Buying from China has always produced cheap imitations of things her precious friends were wearing. They let her join all the cliques regardless, that was good luck.
She pulled a couple of the other harness plugs to see if they were all gold. “Yeah, wow. Every little pin is gold. That’s crazy right there.” Ellen was fascinated that they would use gold for such a silly thing. Wires? Gold wires made no sense. “Oh well, what does make sense,” she thought.
Ellen figured she better put the chemical manual back in with the others. No one is going to blame her for getting them all mixed up and out of order. Heading back to the manual cabinet, she noticed the screaming had stopped from outside, that was a relief. The manual went right back on the shelf in the exact place it had been, and she locked the doors. Everything was back the way she found it.
Just below the manual cabinet was another storage bin. Ellen’s never looked in that one before. “No one minds,” she thought. When she opened it, her eyes got wide, and she nearly lost her breath. Now, this was certainly good luck. Right there was a DVD player and a whole bin full of DVDs. Why hadn’t they told her about this? “OMG, there’s SCREAM,” she cried.
She turned on the player and pushed in the disc. A pair of soundproof headphones hugging her ears muffled the last weak sounds of banging coming from the airlock. On a tiny screen, the movie began and the opening credits rolled.
“Courteney Cox, duh.”
**Note from JJ Hershey: The original story was a contest entry based on a writing prompt that centered on Mars and something Gold. There was no intended “back story” or “future” for that matter. Most can assume that Ms. Garth either was eventually rescued (which is what I had hoped for her) or died of starvation on the surface of Mars. Also, the chemistry is correct for the two substances indicated, and if someone were to Google them together you’d see, when mixed together, they melt gold.
Anyway, it was this story that made me wonder what it would be like for a set of twins, only the same in looks, to grow up in the tiny town of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky. This thought spawned the series “Adventures of the Garth Girls” which will be available soon.