He tried three different coffee cups before he found one that was still warm. Unintentionally cold coffee is pretty damn sobering at least they leave him alone at night. His swivel chair squeaked softly as he did a 360. The control room was an utter mess, so many departments sub department and sub sub departments had set up temporary residencies. Each table had an insect like power strip beneath it breathing life into idling desktops. His timer went off and he looked back at the screen before him. Pulling his glasses off his forehead he squinted hard at white\grey expanse of Mars through the Rover’s on board cams. Of course it was coming with a pretty might delay, the landscape moved by at a brisk 20mph as the rover made smaller and smaller circles searching the landscape. The world watched eagerly, he updated the 3 twitter accounts with the current sightings:
Internal: “Whole lot of the same thing. #LifeOnMars #IsBoring #NASA”
External: “#LifeOnMars #MarsRover continuing the search, look for another update in fifteen minutes.”
Private: “Can you believe they’d trust me with this shit? #LifeOnMars bahaha?! yeah right, but keep the OT coming NASA”
With updates sent he forwarded some screenshots and the last 5 minutes of video up to the brass. He set the 10 minute timer and threw his feet up. The chairs seemed designed to advise against sleep. If he leaned just right he could rest his head on the console next to him. His Timex lit up, 3:30am. He may or may not have dozed off but it was only for a moment before his phone vibrated. It was her again, “Hey stranger, still remember my face?” Her voice was tired.
“Babe, you don’t have to keep doing this. It could be weeks.”
“Shut up, you Mars boy. Did you find him yet?”
“Nah, but I’m hoping he’s a she. Maybe martian ladies aren’t as crazy?”
“Watch it. I know where you live and where you sleep. Well at least where you used to sleep. The bed is weird without you Kurt. The dogs don’t understand where to sleep and its cold. Come home.”
“You know I want to. This is a huge opportunity for me.”
“How do you know it’ll actually pay off though? Before you saw it they hardly gave you any notice.”
“Well obviously, why do we have this conversation every 15 minutes? I am the only human alive that has seen extraterrestrial life live. I mean this is huge Janell, I was interviewed by CNN today? I mean me, Kurt Radiens on the news, famous. Its crazy right?”
“Its been three weeks, I’m about to give up on it.”
“On life on mars?”
“On waiting for you.” She hung up.
Damn he hated when she did that, she was probably right. This isn’t exactly in his job description. At first it was cool, he dug the fame and felt like a child seeing an amusement park in full operation after only seeing them abandoned and left for nature. What was once haunting and mysterious is now thriving with purpose. He never imagined how busy the place got during business hours. He had been cleaning this floor for almost a decade. His mop bucket and supplies still lay by the door where he threw them aside three weeks ago. He picked them up and started throwing away some of the trash that had gathered around his desk. It felt good to go through the motions, he always likes to contemplate while doing repetitive tasks. Cleaning was good thinking work he would tell you if you inquired. The timer went off, he took a look at the screen, still nothing. His tweet updates were sent along with file uploads for the Lieutenant.
Internal: “Kurt here, I’m going home. #LifeOnMars isn’t my responsibility. Cheers. See ya tmrw”
External: “Well folks, I’ve been watching since I made the discovery whatever the silhouette was it gone.
Private: “Its time to get back to the day job kids. I’m tired and the better half has had enough. Not to mention I haven’t seen my bed in weeks.”
He began rolling the mop bucket out the door, taking care to steer it unnaturally to the left a bit to account for the bad wheel. He smiled. He stopped and went back to the monitor he had been glued to for so long. Mars was grey and boring still. He squeezed his eyes tight and opened them again taking in the whole screen for the last time. There had to be an intern that wasn’t also tasked with cleaning to handle this. Everyone plays their part after all. The sky of Mars blended with the sand and the cliffs a lone figure was moving towards the camera. He rubbed his eyes hard and blinked rapidly. Holy shit this is it, this is it! Before he could make anything out his phone rang.
“Babe its back!” he answered blindly.
“Kurt. Have you left the office yet?”
“Just locking up, I need to get back to normal ya know?”
“Oh don’t attempt to apologize. Go look at the screen.”
“I’m looking at it no–”
“I’m sorry we had to string you along like this. The media was all over you we didn’t know what to do. Want NASA to put your kids through college Kurt, want to stop working today?”
In the screen stood Lieutenant Graves talking on his iPhone and waving at the camera, behind him Kurt could make out a few other folks.
“The set is downstairs on C3, want to come down and check it out?”
“Kurt are you still there?”
“No, he’s gone send a team to his house, he’s running”
Internal: “Fuck you for lying to the world! #NothingOnMars”
External “#NASA lied the Mars Rover set is on floor C3 here in #Tampa #LifeOnMars #FakeLanding RT I fear for my life”
Private: “Janell, run. Call Eric tell him to get the go bags and two tickets to anywhere but the states.”
Private:”You were right about all of this. The Mars landing is a lie.”