American Science Fiction Contemporary

Living on Mars wasn’t so bad. Wearing an oxygen tank and a mask every time you stepped outside was a chore, but you got used to it. Most of the day-to-day stuff stayed the same as Earth, you get up, you go to work, come home, visit with family and friends, fool around with hobbies, watch TV—of course, the family was a long way away and there were no TV stations on the planet, yet, but we had a huge collection of movies on our hard-drives and we could get the nightly news from Earth, just a little later. The only really tough thing about it was the dang Lull. I still have a hard time understanding it, why it happens, at the same moment every night, lasting for exactly the same amount of time every night—but, of course, it turns out it’s not the exact same amount of time and that’s what seems to have the big-shots worried. It’s not like it’s going to end tomorrow, but it seems inevitable. My first night, several weeks ago, my first experience with the Lull was still a vivid memory. We had landed on the planet about noon local time, spent most of that first afternoon just getting settled into our quarters, had a pretty good supper, were just sitting at the table chit-chatting, when the Commander looked at his watch, looked up and said, “OK, everybody to bed!” Everyone jumped up, ran towards the sleeping quarters, as I just sat and watched. Suddenly, one of the supervisors grabbed my shoulder, “You heard the boss, get to your bunk, don’t stall, don’t ask questions. Grab your guys, get ‘em all in bed, pull the covers up and don’t move. We’ll explain it all tomorrow.”

I did as I was told, but it seemed beyond strange. I glanced at my digital watch, it said 8:55PM. I headed to my bunk but just as I got to the edge of the bed, I blacked out. I awoke hours later, it seemed. I was on the floor next to my bed, still dressed, the sun was coming through the window. It had to be hours since I blacked out. I quickly checked my watch and it said 8:56PM---one minute later than the last time I checked it. I sat on the bed for a minute, started hearing sounds of people moving about and decide to head out . . . and find out what the heck was going on.

The Commander saw me step into the break room and with a big smile on his face asked, “Well Sarge, how’d your first Lull go?”

I stared at him for a second or two before I spoke, “I’ve heard about the Lulls, Sir, but don’t really quite understand what’s going on.”

He laughed, “Well, here’s the short version. Here, have a seat.” He pulled a chair out for me and sat down right next to me. “No one truly knows what’s causing it. All we know is there’s this thing about Mars. It’s not exactly loaded on its Axis like Earth. You know the Earth makes a complete turn every 24 hours, give or take a minute or two. So, we have nights and days. Our time is fundamentally based on that revolution, you know, 12 hours of day, 12 hours of night, of course it varies with the seasons, but you know I mean. Now, Mars on the other hand takes about 30 hours to make a revolution, but right in the middle of its revolution, it just stops---and time stops with it. And, for about 6 hours, nothing happens. And, when I say “nothing” I mean nothing. We have tried to stay awake, alert. We’ve set up video gear and audio recorders to see what happens while we’re “out” so to speak. The equipment shuts down at the same time. The only way we have a sense of when it happens or how long it lasts is the breakdown in communications with the Space Station.”

I didn’t know what to say, I stammered, “That, that’s the craziest thing I ever heard of. Time stops?”

“That’s the only way to describe it. We kind of have a handle on it, knowing when it’s gonna start, how long it’s going to last, though those numbers are starting to vary a little. We figured out a way for the Space Station to make sure we’re up and about when it’s over each day and we just work around it. We still have a lot of questions—like first and foremost, does our heart stop and then start back up, or maybe it just slows way down? But, from where we are today, it’s just impossible for us to watch and examine anything during the Lull. Anyway, we work around it, and here’s the schedule---it varies just a tad from day to day, so we have time to prepare,” he handed me a bundle of paper. “I want everyone in their bunks when it happens, no running machines, not driving service vehicles, nothing---when it hits. So, one of the first things I need from you and your team is a schedule, start and stop times daily so you and your folks stay safe. Any questions?”

“No, Sir, I think you’ve given me enough to get me going. I’ll gather my team and get things headed in the right direction.” I realized I was smiling and felt good about that---I think truly I was frightened by this Lull thing, but I didn’t want the Commander to know that. 

My team, four more enlisted Air Force troops, were waiting for me in a meeting room just across the chow hall. We talked about it, I told them what the Commander told me, and listened to them worry and complain, and laugh a little. We agreed our six-week assignment wouldn’t be over fast enough.

We acknowledged that our work schedules would be unusual, probably work ten hours, take a lunch break mid-way, and then shut down completely in time to eat and safely get into bed. One of the guys asked, “Can I at least read a book? I mean, I might drop the book on my face if I’m lying in bed but. . . I don’t want to just lie there and wait until it hits me. And, really, does time really stop? Is that possible?”

“I don’t know if that’s really what happens---I think the planet keeps moving in its orbit around the sun, it’s just the revolution on its axis that stops. At least that’s the way I understand it, something about the planet being lopsided---way heavier on one side. I don’t know. Right now, we just have to adapt and get our project done and head home, right?” I threw that out there and waited for a response. They all agreed and we got to work---conscious that we had to watch the clock. And, ready for the next Lull.

March 25, 2024 01:32

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Marek Sunda
15:22 Apr 01, 2024

I think the idea of the Lull is a fun one. Maybe it would function better in a different setting? Just wondering. Maybe it's just the astronomy course lectures in me talking O:-)


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J. D. Lair
14:45 Mar 31, 2024

Love the concept! Would be a trip to experience lol


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