Hot and Cold

On the second anniversary of her relocation, Janice ripped out the air temperature regulator from the closet of her domicile and, with a strangled yell, threw it out the airlock into the rust-colored dirt. When ZymoCo sent her a replacement, she threw that one out the airlock as well.

She blamed them; ZymoCo. The World Overpopulation Solution Committee had contracted with them to design and build the colony domiciles which now dotted the Martian surface. To be fair, ZymoCo hadn’t screwed everything up; as a matter of fact, Janice had been rather impressed with the house when she first arrived. It had been built with all the modern luxuries, came equipped with its own self-sufficient oxygen, water, and energy systems, and, most importantly to Janice, it was large – five rooms, not counting the connecting greenhouse. That was a full four rooms more than she was used to having, the block of nine hundred people she had called home back on Earth allowing no one to have more than one.

The first year was heaven. Janice passed the time reading, conducting the daily experiments as instructed, walking the strange landscape in her state-of-the-art space suit, and generally enjoying the silence and solitude her new home offered.

The second year was when things became consistently unbearable. She was lying in bed one night, trying to get to sleep, and having no luck with it. Janice began daydreaming about Earth, indulging in some nostalgia. It would be January there. Snow would be piling high against her apartment window. That’s when the idea struck her. She always did love sleeping in the cold winter air, snuggled tight between her blankets; she used to leave the window open at night to get the room good and frosty. If she could just find a way to turn down the temperature, sleep would surely come.

The air temperature regulator sat in the bottom corner of her closet. Janice crouched down and flipped open the cover of small green box.

The unit had no buttons.

It had no buttons, no dials, no switches – in one of her later moments of desperation, Janice even tried giving it verbal commands, just in case it was, for some reason, voice activated.

It was not.

The unit consisted of nothing more than a small, back-lit screen, which informed her that the temperature was being regulated at 19.5 degrees Celsius. There was a small smiley face in the corner of the screen.

Apparently, ZymoCo designers had conducted copious trials on Earth, and had determined that 19.5 degrees was the optimal temperature for human health and comfort. They did provide heavy blankets and sweaters in case this temperature was a little chilly for some and a small fan in case it was slightly to warm for others. But that was it. There was no way to turn down the heat.

Slowly, Janice became obsessed with the idea of cold air. She would stand in front of the food storage unit and breathe in the frosty oxygen like a drug. She tried sleeping without any clothes on; sleeping on the floor; sleeping by the airlock door, which sometimes creaked ominously during the night.

Janice had hated winter in the past. Now she missed it bitterly. She missed the sting of freezing air as she breathed it into her lungs; she missed the tingly sensation of goosebumps forming on her arms; she missed seeing carbon dioxide hang in the air in front of her lips; and she missed the unique smell that cold air held, like sheets washed in scentless soap.

She didn’t know if it was the lack of sleep, or the solitude, or a strange mania brought on by homesickness; but on the second anniversary of her relocation to Mars, Janice got the crowbar from her tool kit, ripped the air temperature regulator out of her closet, and threw it into the rust-colored dirt with a strangled yell. That night the temperatures dropped well below -50 degrees Celsius. If it wasn’t for the extremely well crafted insulation with which her domicile was stuffed, Janice would have frozen to death. As it was, she had her first decent night’s sleep in a year, shivering underneath mounds of blankets, the taste of cold air like melted sugar on her tongue.

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Published by rsjeffrey

Robin Jeffrey was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming to a psychologist and a librarian, giving her a love of literature and a consuming interest in the inner workings of people’s minds.

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