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Earth hung directly above the horizon as they crossed out of the shadow of a crater wall. The polar blues and greens contrasted with the equatorial browns and yellows. The coastline of Greenland where Camila waited for him was visible—he needed to keep focused a little longer. He’d be on his way home soon.
Since they left the insurgent facility five hours ago, their trip had remained uneventful—but he needed to stay vigilant. He changed course and headed towards the crater’s far wall where the slope appeared gentlest.
“We’ll check on our oxygen levels at the top,” he said without looking at Emily. “Perhaps then you could take a driving shift?”
“I’m not sure I can drive this thing.” She sounded distracted.
Lucas let out a long exhale. He was doing all this work to get Emily home, and she wasn’t willing to drive for even a few hours. He ground his teeth together to keep from lashing out—getting into a fight wouldn’t improve their situation.
“Once we’re out of the crater, there’s a mare plateau that extends over 100 km. It’s flat, so a perfect place to practice.” He tried to make his voice sound chipper, as though they were on a fun outing.
“Okay.” Her words sounded more like a question than agreement.
A lengthy silence dragged out between them. The ill-fitting space suit he wore had begun digging into him, first at his shoulders, then his armpits. He squirmed in the seat, but that didn’t help. What he needed was a distraction and conversation was his only option.
“Why were you trying to get that cube?” he asked keeping his eyes on the terrain ahead.
“I’m part of a project studying a cube like it dug up on Earth centuries ago,” she said. “Another was found on Europa, but that one was lost. We don’t know how many of them there might be.”
Lucas nodded, keeping his focus on the horizon.
“We think it’s an alien artifact,” she continued. “Examining a cube from a known exo-solar-system asteroid might have given us insights into the object’s origin and purpose.”
A flash of the fire from his vision surfaced in his mind—the thought of losing Camila. Lucas swallowed. What did it all mean? He opened his mouth to ask her about what he’d seen when he touched it but stopped. Even though she’d become more friendly, her loyalties still didn’t lie with him.
“Can you tell me about the one found on Earth?” he asked instead.
Emily shifted in her seat, turning her torso towards him. “I’ve never seen the actual thing, just scans. I understand that people who touch it get visions and often lose their minds. It’s worse than the side effects of mind wipes.” She made a clicking sound, as she twisted her shoulders to stare straight at him. “Did you touch the one on the asteroid?”
Lucas cleared his throat and glanced down at the rover’s controls. “Um, no….”
“Oooo, you did!” In a flash, Emily’s entire demeanour changed, her sullen edge replaced by the curiosity of a kid opening a present. “You were wearing gloves, so the effects would have been dulled. But you would have had the visions. What did you see?”
Lucas said nothing as a memory of the ring of a spaceship crashed down in his head. He took a deep breath and focused on the terrain ahead.
“What did you see?” She leaned towards him and put a gloved hand on his forearm. “Your first-hand knowledge could save my career.”
“We have a long way to go before you can worry about your career again.”
As though she didn’t hear him, she rubbed the palms of her gloves together and grinned. “Tell me everything.”
“Emily...” The buggy bounced and stopped, cutting his words off. “Damn it!” He unbuckled himself and stepped out.
He backed away, trying to figure out why they’d stopped. The buggy appeared to be fine. He walked around the front and examined Emily’s side. No problems jumped out at him. He walked around the back of the trailer and his heart sank.
The jagged ends of the axle stuck out from the back—the last axle had snapped. He crouched down to get a better view.
Emily got out. “What is it?”
“We have to change our plans.” Lucas sat on the lunar surface, staring at the broken axle. There was no way he could fix it. Even if he had welding equipment—which he didn’t—no weld would hold the axle together long enough to get to Green Acres. What he needed was a new axle, and he didn’t have one.
Emily knelt beside him, her eyes fixed on the axle. “Can we leave the trailer?”
“If we’re going to make it out here.” He gestured to their surroundings. “We need the gear in the trailer.”
“Shit.” She sat beside him, launching a plume of dust into the air. “Now what?”
Lucas let out a long exhale, keeping his eyes fixed on the sheared piece of mental. There was one place they could make it to—but it was also the first place the insurgents would look if they figured out Lucas and Emily left their hideout.
“We cram as many airpacks as we can into our buggy and abandon the trailer,” he said as he decided. “EN-994 should be only 7 hours away.”
“But you said the insurgents would assume we’d go there.” A whiny undertone returned to Emily’s voice.
“Yeah. It’s not a great option, but the only one we have unless we try to sneak back into their facility.”
Her eyes went wide at the suggestion. She licked her lips and said, “They’ll catch us for sure if we return.”
“Right.” Lucas awkwardly pushed himself up to his feet. The weight of the airpack made him clumsy even in reduced gravity.
He walked around to the hitch and tried to pull the pin. After trying to force it with his gloved hands, he gave up and resorted to an expertly placed kick to separate the buggy from the trailer it was never meant to pull. Out of the trailer, they took two extra airpacks each and strapped them to the back seats.
Lucas sat in the driver’s seat and pulled up the electronic map. He re-plotted their course to the Science Station EN-994.