Ashes to Ashes (Flash Fiction)

Ashes to Ashes

By Alexandra Erin


The dust gets in everything.

Every day, we shovel the dunes away from the sides of the domes, clear the paths between them. We spend a full sixty minutes in the airlock, standing under the suction hoses and beating ourselves with our gloved hands, but still it gets in. It clings to the treads of our boots and hides in the joints of our suits until we enter the habitat, then makes a break for it.

We find it coating the inside of the windows as well as the outside, clinging to the our computer screen and tablets, forming a fuzzy coating on the blades of the ventilator fans. The air tastes of dust. The only time the smell of it isn’t in our noses is when we’re outside, wading through it and breathing canned air.

Minute particles slip through the pores in the air filters until enough of them get together at the inopportune moment and the whole thing clogs. They say the damn things are specially engineered for the environment on Mithras-III. We’re supposed to replace them annually, and they have an extended safety tolerance of two and a half years, but we’ve been through three in the four months I’ve been here.

Mission Command says we have to be more careful in the future, but in the future the dust will still be here. I’m not so sure about us.

The electrical system has started developing faults. One board will short out, and then another. When we take the cover off, there’s the dust. We’ve opened up black box systems that were hermetically sealed back on earth and found the dust has wormed its way in, playing merry hob with delicate microcircuitry. At first it was just messing it up, but the last one we cracked looked like it was being rewired.

Did you know that household dust is mostly organic matter? Jones tells me this at least three times a day. She’s gone a bit strange, which is saying something, considering the situation. Some of it’s mites but most of it’s hair and skin. We live among floating graveyards of our own decaying detritus.

The dust on Mithras-III isn’t organic. It’s more like silt than dust, really. We haven’t discovered any organic compounds in it, or anywhere else on the planet. There’s not enough carbon in the atmosphere or soil to support life, the surveys said, but maybe they should have said organic life. What would be the equivalent of skin flakes and hair bits and mites for silicon based life?

It’ll be a very important discovery, if anyone ever believes us and if the extraction ship reaches us on time.

Yesterday, a window cracked in Habitat B.

The dust got in everywhere.