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At the Monitoring Station Alpha-7, Eb Ruide was looking lazily at logs on the big screen and surveillance images.

Nothing ever interesting happened on MARS. Eb used all caps in his head, to distinguish it from Mars, the real Mars. But it didn’t actually matter, they only knew about MARS (Mars Animated Realistic Simulation).

He hadn’t been there at the beginning, but he’d heard the stories — even if all were sworn to secrecy for the sake of the world’s peace keeping, they couldn’t help but gossip among themselves. Must have been fun back then… Not a day without trying to fix something in the simulation. The lab rats were always trying to expand their perimeter, and physical and physiological barriers had to be put in place for them to help improve the simulation.

They were more or less all willing subjects at the time, part of the big deception. Eb didn’t know how it changed, what made them start to believe in the illusion, and start to forget. He could only assume… many didn’t believe in the world as it was, and preferred to go back to a foregone settler era where every life counted, and you could measure yourself against the big expanse of unknown land, instead of living the comfortable torpor like he was, alone in his Monitoring Station, only virtually connected.

Since the Aurora, it had been a bit hectic there. Actually, a big solar flare had almost frozen their equipment, and despite all the precautions, some of it filtered through the simulation. Water had leaked too, which could have been a disaster, but interestingly, it had given some of them a purpose, and all in all, it didn’t become the dreaded event they all feared. Even if all the ins and outs and communications were filtered, you couldn’t rule out a blunder. Especially with the lack of gripping activity.

Something biped on his screen. A red button was suddenly lit. He’d never been trained to know what the red button meant. He had to refer it to his superior. Oh God, I hope she’ll be in a good mood… Since she started her special diet and had lost so much weight, Finnley Morgan was always a bit unpredictable and snappily dangerous.

The irony of the ever-calm and dulcet AI named Finnley after her in the simulation wasn’t lost on him…