Thursday, September 8, 2011

Until The Cows Come Home

He swiveled his head up and down, and from side to side, feeding the visuals of the ravine and surrounding landscape into the onboard computer. Length, depth, distance. The measurements appeared on his helmet display, letting him know it was too far to jump safely across the jagged edges, and too far to hike past the ravine's border. He just didn't have enough methane gas left in his jets for either.

"Fuckers," he muttered under his breath, swearing at the techs who packed in too few supplies and laid in a flight plan that overshot the landing point by too many klicks. He was going to die here on this planet, amidst the rocks and dust, and above the ice that lay just beneath the surface. Enough ice to one day power a new base in a long string that would lead to the next solar system, and the next, and eventually past the known galaxy.

This was supposed to be his last trip. Scout Trooper Number Nine's last jump was supposed to be a sure thing. A jump that would leave him wealthy enough to retire to an extended life of luxury. He would finally be able to afford the green pastures he dreamed of, and be able to bequeath something other than the indentured service left to him by his own father.

"Fuckers!" He yelled, not caring how loudly he swore into the hot mic. At least a parsec away from the last base, it'd take more than three years for his comm to get to anyone who should be listening. Instead, they'd only hear his last words, his last breath, when they finally found his remains and viewed all the recordings from his mic and heads-up display, recorded until sunlight no longer provided auxiliary power to the Black Box and it's transmitter.

He stared across the ravine again, searching for an outcropping high enough that he might be able to land safely and then manually scrabble up the rocks on the other side. He needed to get across and then about two kilometers to the west, where his supply capsule should be. If the techs didn't screw that up either. He shook the bad thought from his head. The supply capsule would be there and he'd lock on to the capsule's homing beacon when he got within a klick. Then, he'd be home safe and sound once he finished the recon.

He took a deep breath, then moved the drill bit out of its housing and pushed it into the dust just below his feet. ST#9 would not fail this job. He would collect core samples. He would take readings. He would map the area and make sure the computer captured it all, no matter he didn't survive. This planet would kill him, but at least his heirs would get his payday. When the planet's sun left him in darkness, the computer would perform auto-shutdown of all electronics, saving the data in hard storage, and putting his dead body into stasis for the long cold dark of winter. The follow-up crew would find his suit and find the data, and then the company would execute his will.

He packaged up the ice core and returned the drill bit to its housing. While the computer ran the sampling program, he looked down into the depths of the ravine and drew a deep breath, wondering how it would feel when the air ran out, when his lungs sucked at the vacuum inside. He stared quite a long time, as an odd thought slowly bubbled up from the depths of his mind. He noticed how the angle of the sun, this late in the season, cast light about 14 meters down, and then the bowels of the ravine disappeared into black.

Perhaps, if he could find a ledge just above the dark, and use the remaining gas to land safely and fire off a beacon. His solar panels could collect enough sunlight to store into battery backups and then, as the light was eclipsed by the moons, the computer would run the stasis start-up program and put him gently into hypersleep. Yeah. Maybe he could survive this fool's errand after all. Or maybe not.

<word count: 704>


My Mother's Daughter said...

I want more. You sucked me in right away and then when I saw the cow I had no chance. More please. :-)

Anonymous said...

Your stories are getting better and better.
The problem is the seem more like random chapters from a book rather than a short story.
I'm ready for you to retire from the UC system and become a full time writer. Although Carla
probably isn't!


Parabolic Muse said...

Well, where the hell have *I* been?!

You know what--your narratives leave us wanting more, but...they are great on their own, too.