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Thrilling Drive-By Stories

Commute-length fiction

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Burstein traced a gloved finger across the lunar map, the highlight bright green despite the harsh sunlight, from the lander site to a shadowed crater that might be the crater dead ahead. He couldn’t be sure. The direction of the sun was all wrong. The picture taken by the LOR. Not the view he had from the ground.

Burstein blanked the map readout on his suit sleevetop and raised his eyes to the nearby horizon. The crater was a steep, pitted, and treacherous slope. Go down there and he might be like an ant in an antlion funnel. NASA’s suits might be better than the Apollo suits sixty years ago, but they were still shit for climbing.

Nothing about this surface EVA had gone according to the AI’s carefully calculated agenda. The rover breaking down had not only stranded him kilometers away from the only ride home—it had also taken his communications with it since he needed the rover’s systems to boost his signal. The engineers that had made the power systems so that they couldn’t be serviced on the lunar service had gambled that it was the least likely system to fail and too dangerous for astronauts to repair. They’d gambled and he lost.

It wasn’t only the rover’s communications systems that Burstein missed. The rover also held the navigation systems. The static map on his sleevetop made him long for the proposed and never funded lunar GPS system. It should have been easy to follow the rover’s tracks, if the rover had used old-fashioned wheels instead of the weight-saving hover drive. The system kicked up lunar dust beneath the skirt and it all settled back down after the rover passed. Between that and the difficulties judging distance—no telling which way he’d gone for sure. Add to that the rugged terrain of the polar region?

Things weren’t going as he’d expected. First men to return to the Moon and he gets lost. “Rogers, you out there? Do you read?”

No signal. The suit was so damned helpful.

The short horizon was the problem. Elevation. That might help. Burstein’s gaze traced the rocky slope on the other side of the crater. Definitely off mission protocols, but it might get him the elevation he needed to reach Rogers in the lander.

Not knowing the distance back to the lander it was hard to calculate how high Burstein needed to go but his heart hammered in his chest, lunar dust coated his visor with static persistence, and he was pissed. If he fell one more dog damned time, sliding back down the slope, terrified of a suit breach, well, he’d kick the Man in the Moon in the balls if he got the chance.

“Rogers, damn it! Come in! Do you read?”

Static resolved into a voice. “Burstein. I read you. You’re overdue. Get back here.”

“I’m trying. Rover broke down. Complete power loss.”

“Repeat that. Did you say the rover broke down? You can’t count on anything these days, can you Burstein?”

Roger’s tone sounded bitter beneath a layer of false joviality. Burstein felt a chill that had nothing to do with his suit’s environmental systems.

“You have to come get me, Rogers. Triangulate my signal.”

“Negative. We’d miss the launch window. Mission Control already made the call and ordered me back inside when we couldn’t establish communications.”

Burstein shoved a hand across the dusty visor. “Shit, Rogers. They’ll know I’m okay now. They’re going to come up with a way to get me back!”

“Negative, Burstein. I rigged up a signal amplifier with the lander base systems. It’s not going through Mission Control. Sort of like sneaking around, isn’t it?”

The chill tightened its grips on Burstein’s heart. His mouth tasted tacky. Rogers knew.

“Nothing to say? That’s okay. I’ll pass on your regards to Anna. She always knew there was a chance that we might not return. And hey, no one forgets the first man to die on the Moon. Rogers out.”

Burstein tasted the lunar dust and smelled the burning stink of it in his nose.

Forty minutes later Burstein was lying against the slope, peering through a thin streak he’d manage to clear on the visor, as the ascent module traced a bright line up over the horizon on the first leg of its journey to return to Earth.

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This story is licensed by Ryan M. Williams under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.