Lunar Escape - Part 16
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“We’re an hour out according to the map,” he said to Emily as the two of them sat back in the buggy after what he hoped was their final airpack swap.
She leaned forward to study the map display. “But it’s rough terrain between here and there.”
“I’ll be careful,” Lucas said as he sped forward, picking his way between debris ejected from an ancient meteor strike. The impact had scattered boulders bigger than the buggy across the ground, the biggest creating ominous shadows reminiscent of gaping mouths—waiting to consume them.
Although he did his best to stay in the light, the shadows were unavoidable. As he crossed in and out of the bright light, his suit alarms started going off—the suit’s climate control couldn’t keep up with the heat differential.
Doing his best to push the annoying sounds out of his mind while keeping focus on the ground ahead, he kept the buggy moving at a steady pace. They better be welcome at EN-994. The sooner he was off the buggy and out of his suit, the better. His mind continued to mull over his situation as they passed out of the debris field and onto an open plane of mare.
“What’s that?” Emily pointed to a flash on the horizon.
Something ahead reflected the sunlight. Lucas stopped the buggy. Is it EN-994?Were they close enough to it yet?
He glanced at the buggy’s map—there was no way the science outpost could be in view. He stared at the object. It took a moment for him to realize what it was, then his mouth went dry.
“Oh, crap!” He rushed into the shadow of the last boulder. “It’s a rover.”
In a single motion, he unbuckled his seatbelt and jumped out. The impact of his boots kicked up a billowing cloud of dust. He glanced back the way they’d come. The dust trail from their buggy hadn’t settled yet—an arrow leading anyone right to their hiding spot. The dust kicked up from his boots wouldn’t matter.
Staying tight against the boulder’s face, he advanced to get a view of the other vehicle. Maybe they hadn’t seen them? Maybe it was just a supply run going to the outpost? In his heart he knew neither option was true.
“Did they spot us?” Emily asked as she walked up beside him, her dust plume merging with his.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s hard to believe them being out here is a coincidence.”
On the horizon, the glinting metal changed course. Now heading in their direction, the shape resolved into an enclosed rover. It looked decades newer than their buggy—it also had a faster top speed.
“What do we do?”
Lucas turned to Emily. Her wide eyes glinted through the faceplate of her helmet.
“We run,” he said, trying to sound surer of his plan than he felt. “We can lose them in the boulder field.”
With Emily on his tail, Lucas sprinted back to their buggy. After buckling himself back in, he accelerated and turned towards where the boulders were densest. Emily grabbed onto the roll bar with both hands. She wasn’t wearing her seatbelt.
“Buckle up,” he said before swerving around the back of the nearest boulder. As they turned, he spotted a glint of metal out of the corner of his eye—the other rover was gaining. Then the blackness of the boulder’s shadow engulfed them.
Emily shifted in her seat, twisting her torso towards him. “We need go faster!” She still wasn’t buckled in.
“Shit! Emily, you need to strap yourself in!”
He swerved again as a smaller boulder came into view. A moment later, they burst back out into the bright sunlight. Turning, he headed for a field of smaller boulders—each about twice the size of their buggy and they would just fit into the gaps between them. He didn’t slow down.
As they got close, the dark shapes started reminding him of scattered pawns from a chessboard. The buggy bounced over the terrain and past one with the crown of a rook. Following a zig-zag pattern, he plunged deeper into the forest of stone.
“They won’t fit in here,” he said, slowing to a much more reasonable pace. After a sharp turn around the next boulder, he stopped the buggy and turned off every light—if all the other rover had were visual sensors, they’d be invisible. Were they safe? He didn’t know. “How far are we to EN-994?”
“Let me check.” Emily hunched over the map console. When she turned it on, the faint green glow it emitted highlighted her face. “19.3 km.”
Lucas took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “What’s the terrain like between here and there?”
Lucas opened his eyes and checked the air gauge on his tank. He had three hours of air remaining and they had no more spares. It was an hour drive to the outpost. He tried calculating if it would be better to wait where they were for an hour, or perhaps an hour and a half, or would it be better to go now. The weight of running out of air versus getting captured hung heavy on him.
Emily put a hand on his forearm. “What are we going to do?”
“Maybe they thought we passed right through the boulder field,” he said.
“Maybe.” Emily’s tone was sceptical. “They aren’t going to give up.”
“If we wait too long, we’ll risk running out of air before we get there.” Lucas stared down at the map display and wished it showed him the position of the other rover. They could be anywhere from around the next boulder to half-way back to their hideout.
“I know.” She squeezed his arm. “We need to make a run for it.”
Lucas nodded. Making a run for EN-994 was the best bad option.
After accelerating to their max speed in the shadows, Lucas swerved out into the bright sunlight. Ahead, the mare spread out to the horizon and the other rover wasn’t in sight. They might make it. He set a course following the track on their map. In one hour, they would be there. Lucas allowed himself to relax—they still had a long way to go, but for the first time since spotting the other rover he felt optimistic.
A crater opened out in front of them, forcing Lucas to divert their course north.
“That’s not on the map,” said Emily, bent over as far as her suit and airpack would allow.
Lucas gazed down into the crater—it was a long way down and it would take them a long time to go around. It was a good thing they had a couple of hours of extra air.
Without warning, a drone buzzed the buggy.
Lucas ducked. “Crap.” He spotted the robotic flying machine just before it dipped out of view into the crater. “That was an old military model.”
“Does it have guns?” Emily stood in her seat. She swivelled around, trying to see it.
“Ash said the Insurgents don’t want to hurt us.”
Lucas edged closer to the crater’s edge with the hope it would shave a little time off their trip.
Still standing on her seat, Emily stomped a foot. “I can’t have my mind wiped!”
With a jerk, the buggy shifted towards the crater edge.
“Shit!” Lucas tried to swerve the controls away from the edge, but it was no use. They continued to slip sideways.
Up ahead, the rubble edge tumbled down in a wave coming their way. A breath caught in his throat as he realized what was happening. As if on cue, the crater edge beneath them collapsed, before Lucas could give Emily warning.
The buggy shuddered then fell. In the cascade of descending rubble, Lucas threw up his arms to protect his visor. The buggy tumbled end over end. Rocks pummelled him from all sides. The vibrations resonated through his suit and head.
Stars, rock, stars, rock...
As quickly as the motion started, it stopped. Lucas’ momentum came to a jarring halt, knocking the wind out of him. Gasping for air, he focused on his current predicament. His upper body swung from side to side as he tried to figure out where he was.
Above him, a light grey surface stretched out. Below was both bright and black. He swallowed as he tried to make sense of things.
He realized the main part of the buggy sat upside down and he was still strapped into it—only the seatbelt and roll bars kept him from being crushed as the vehicle rolled down the crater’s slope.
He tried the buggy’s power, it wouldn’t turn on. Next he checked the air in his suit—he’d lost over half of what he’d had only a few minutes ago. Somewhere his suit had a leak.
His stomached rolled as he pictured his breathable air escaping. With one hand, he released his seatbelt and fell, helmet first, onto the ground. The weight of the airpack toppled him onto his left side, out of the buggy.
With an awkward wiggle, he made it up to his knees. From a side pocket, he removed the suit’s patch kit.
“Emily,” he transmitted as he opened the kit.
She didn’t respond.
“Emily,” he repeated.
The radio remained silent. He hoped the problem was his helmet's transmitter, as he pushed himself up to standing. Debris from the smashed buggy spread out all around him. He turned until his eyes fixated on a burnt orange scrap of fabric ten metres away.
He staggered over and picked it up—it was a hand-sized piece of a space suit, and it wasn’t his. “Emily,” he shouted, even though he knew he wouldn’t be heard. Then he saw her, half-buried under the rubble.
As he approached, he fell to his knees at her side. A rip along the shoulder seam of her suit exposed her bare skin beneath. He was too late, there was nothing he could do for her. A tear welled up in his eye. Even though he hadn’t liked her, she still didn’t deserve to die here.
“I’ll check in on your mom,” he said, looking down at her still face.
“Lucas,” a male voice transmitted over the radio.
He jumped to his feet and turned. The other rover had arrived without him seeing it—it was now parked next to the wrecked buggy. Three people in suits had exited through the rover’s airlock and were approaching him.
For a moment, he thought he should run—but he was running low on air and where would he run to? The only way back to Camila was through surrendering. He raised both hands and waited.