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Excerpt For The Next Continent [Archive]


The evening meal was punctually observed. In fact, this was the only part of the schedule that was. Like clockwork, the five Chinese strictly adhered to the two-hour meal period, but there was no private time afterward. The five crew members never observed the scheduled start of the sleep period at 22:00. Instead of private time, they worked late into the night on facility repairs, harvesting the experiments in the White Tiger module and preparing for the next day’s tasks. Once, around 4:00 a.m., Sohya woke to use the toilet and heard the animated voices of Peng and Cui coming from the White Tiger module, audible over the round-the-clock basso profundo hum of fans that pervaded the base. It sounded more like an argument than a discussion.

And after every task was completed, there was communication with Beijing Flight Control. Cui had constantly checked his wearcom during that first day’s tour―not only to monitor the time, but to send text updates to Beijing. His refusal to do updates via voice link reflected his irritation with having to do it at all. This was not hard to understand. It was his duty to contact Control even when he visited the toilet.

Yet there were times when Cui set aside his usual dour mood. One evening after dinner, Ma suggested they watch a movie together, and Cui revealed another side to his personality.

The movie was not streamed from Earth. Ma had carried it with him on a memory card. It was not the kind of entertainment Beijing would have transmitted via one of their communications satellites; it was an erotic comedy from Hong Kong. Taé averted her face in confusion. Sohya was embarrassed for her, but Cui paid no attention. For a short time, he became a different person, exploding with laughter throughout the film. Still, the rest of the time he remained difficult to approach, while Commander Peng and Jiang were easy to deal with.

After several days, the reason for the irregular scheduling suddenly dawned on Sohya.

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