NOT what I’m supposed to be writing, but the Muse is on a roll… sigh…
Edward Graham looked back at his son Colin and Lisabet Sarnov as he got to the base of the ridge. Tonguing his radio he said, “This is one of the granite like upthrusts that cover the planet. Just don’t get too close to the base of the ridge, there are still rock falls occurring, and sharp edges on the rocks. I don’t want anyone puncturing their suits.”
Colin sighed saying nothing, being almost a teenager and having been on X439 for a year now, but Lisabet piped up, “Mr. Graham, is this part of the reason the company is mining this planet?”
Colin shook his head inside his helmet and idly kicked at the gravel in front of him. A brassy reddish yellow glint showed in the red glare from the sun, and he bent slowly because of the lighter gravity. Scrabbling in the gravel, he picked up the lumpy piece and a couple of clear looking stones that kinda glittered. “Dad, look what I found!” He hopped over to where Edward stood with Lisabet and opened his glove.
Edward chuckled. “Looks like you found a gold nugget and…those stones are probably Almandite, since they look clear in the sunlight.” Lisabet, small and redheaded, hopped in excitement and ended up three feet off the ground. Edward chuckled as he pulled her back down. “Gently young lady! Point six G is not the place to be jumping around! And your folks wouldn’t be happy if we had to put a flitter up to go retrieve you!”
Colin saw her turn red through her helmet as she kicked the gravel. “Yes, sir. I forgot.”
Edward smiled down at her. “Lisabet, you’re ten. You can and will learn. That is part of why—”
A shudder ran through the ground and Colin said, “Earthquake, Dad?”
“Maybe, but let’s head back. Lisabet, what’s your air supply reading?”
“Seventy PSI, sir.”
“Sixty-three.” He turned to Lisabet. “Here, you can have these as a memento of your first trip outside the hab!”
Lisabet clapped her hands and held them out. “Oh, thank you, Colin! I never had anybody other than Ma or Da give me anything!” She took them and carefully placed them in her pouch as they turned and walked toward the runabout sitting a hundred yards from the ridge.
As they got further back, a second set of shocks rippled through the ground and Edward said grimly, “We need to get back quickly. Colin make sure Lisabet is buckled in properly.”
“Yes, Dad.” What set dad off? That was his work voice. Colin looked around then up at the sky and saw a haze toward the habs. Did something… He sucked in a breath as his bowels cramped. No! Please deity no!
A half hour later, Edward parked the runabout next to the auxiliary hydroponics hab and ushered them into the break room. “I want you two to stay here. I need…to go check on some things. Colin, I need you to watch Lisabet for me, okay?”
Colin blew out a breath as he watched Edward open the weapons locker and attach a bead pistol to his suit. “I will, Dad.” Is he taking the pistol because he’s station security, or is he afraid of what he is going to find? There isn’t anything on any of the station comms channels, and there should be…
Uncharacteristically, Edward gave Colin a quick hug and whispered, “Make sure the recorders are running.” He quickly reattached his helmet, cycled out of the airlock, and disappeared around the ridge separating the aux lab from the main habs.
Colin walked back to the break room to see Lisabet looking around in wonder. “I didn’t know this even existed! Da never said anything. Can I look around?”
Colin sighed again. “Sure, just don’t touch anything. They keep this hydroponics lab separate just in case there is a problem with the main hydro plant.”
Lisabet cocked her head. “Your da is the hydroponics manager, no?”
Colin nodded. “Yes, dad is the chief of hydroponics for X439. He’s also backup station security as his secondary job.” Colin shrugged. “That’s mostly breaking up fights between the miners in the lounge between shifts. They drink too much!”
Lisabet nodded and wandered off as Colin sat at the comms panel. He brought up the lapel cam and audio from his dad’s suit on the monitor and stuck the comms earpiece in his ear as he watched the runabout approach the back side of the main habs a half hour later. There was a haze over the habs and he heard his dad mumbling something too soft to be picked up. When the cam swung around the side of the hab, it rocked to a stop as his dad all but screamed, “No! Oh deity, no.” The cam jerked again as the runabout sped up, bouncing over rocks and ridges then slide to a halt as his dad bolted from the runabout. “Gone, B, C, D, and main are just…gone,” he sobbed. “Maria!” The cam jolted down as he heard his father crying and praying.
Colin sat stunned as he realized D was the hydroponics and where they lived, which meant his mother was dead. Is everybody dead but us? What happened? Momma! Tears rolled down his face as he put his head down on the console and cried for his mother.
“Meteorite, had to be, maybe two, angled in from the west,” jerked Colin’s head up as he heard his father say that. “Damn, them for not giving us the warning sats we requested!” The cam panned down to a crater where the main hab had been, then spun in a circle. The next thing he heard was, “Maybe. A might have…gotta go look.” Edward Graham hopped over to the blast doors for the A module and ran his hand over them. “Still sealed. Airlock…maybe there are survivors. Please, deity!”
The cam hopped back to the runabout, then around the far side of the A module and slid to a stop in front of the airlock. Colin saw the hatch open, and heard his dad said, “There’s pressure. Thank deity there is pressure!” He saw a hand come up and press the equalization panel, then heard the ding as the pressure equalized. The inner hatch opened, and he saw emergency lights glowing as his dad stepped through. “Air’s good, helmet coming off.”
Colin watched as his dad went down the main hallway, checking room after room, then finally yelling, “Anybody here? Survivors speak up! Anybody?”
“Down here! A twelve!”
Edward moved quickly down to the break room in the A module and swung through the door. Colin saw two rough-looking men standing and a blonde woman sitting in a chair with a blank look on her face. “How many survivors?”
“Just us six,” the larger red-haired man said with a lilt. “You and who else?”
Colin heard his dad pause for a second and say, “Just me. I was…out checking the comms tower at the spaceport.” Colin cocked his head at the tone his dad used. What…is there something wrong? Dad rarely uses that tone of voice unless something’s wrong.
The man said, “How long for the next ship? We just got here two weeks ago.”
Edward said, “Two months, give or take. It takes that long for the mines to produce enough refined product to make it worth their time to stop, and that’s also when we get a resupply.”
“Anybody else make it,” the man asked.
Colin sensed his dad shifting as the camera panned a bit. “Not that I can find. The…meteorite hit at an angle that seemed to be centered on C and D modules. The crater is about ten feet across. This is the only module that isn’t blown out.”
The red-haired man shook his head. “Pity. Two months, eh? No comms, no hydro? Only E-rats?”
“No comms, the comm center was in the main hab, and it’s just gone.” Colin saw the cam start to pan as his dad turned and the next thing he heard was a thud and a gasp from his dad as the cam went down and blanked out as it met the decking.
But the audio still worked, and he heard, “Yeah, real pity. Too bad there is only enough food for us. Hector, get rid of the body, then go see if you can get in any other modules and scarf up any e-rats you can find, along with any booze.”
“Will do, Mac. It’ll take me a while.”
“And gimme that pistol.”
Colin saw red on the cam lens as they rolled his dad over, and a third blurry face appeared as they took the pistol off his suit. A grunt sounded as the cam shifted wildly, and somebody laughed. “At least at point six, it’s easy to haul him off.”
They killed daddy! They…killed him! How… Colin jumped when he heard a noise behind him and snapped around to see Lisabet standing there with her eyes wide and her hands over her mouth, as tears rolled down her face. “My…my ma and da are dead aren’t they,” she whispered.
Colin gulped, straightened, and stood up. He walked over to her and held out his arms. “I’m afraid so, Lisabet. We…are the only survivors.”
She sniffed and murmured, “What about those men and the woman I saw on the…screen?”
Colin looked back at the monitor and bit his lip. “We…can’t let them know we’re alive.”
“Why not? They could…”
Colin held her at arm’s length. “No! They just killed my daddy over the food! They would kill us, too!” Tears rolled down his face as he went on, “They are miners. I don’t know who the woman is, I’ve never seen her. And…dad never mentioned that we survived. I…he…there was something that he didn’t like about them.”
“What are we going to do,” Lisabet wailed.
Colin sniffed and wiped his eyes. “Survive. It’ll be two months until the resupply ship gets here. We’ve got plenty of food and water. And we can monitor the spaceport antenna for a call.”
“Can’t we call somebody,” Lisabet asked.
Colin shook his head. “No, the main comm center was in the main hab area. It’s…gone.”
Two weeks later, Colin was collecting produce from the hydroponics when he heard a scream and a popping noise. Dropping the basket, he scrambled through the lock and hopped toward the break room. As he rounded the corner he heard a male voice growl, “You little bit…”
Sliding through the door, he saw a man slumping forward and Lisabet standing at the comm panel, a needle pistol in her hands. “What happened?” Lisabet swung the pistol toward him, and Colin jumped to the side, then took it gently from her hands. Reracking it, he flipped the man over and saw that he was dead with a hole in the center of his chest. “Lisabet! What happened?”
She looked up at him with a blank stare. “He…I don’t know. I didn’t hear him come in. I…he said, something about having fun and started to…reach for me. I jumped and grabbed the pistol and…” Tears rolled down her face, as she turned pale. “I killed him, didn’t I?”
Colin nodded. “It was you or him. He must be one of the miners. I wonder…” Colin flipped to the external cams and saw the runabout sitting in front of the airlock. Blowing out a breath, he said, “I’ve got to move him and the runabout.”
Lisabet slumped in the chair in front of the comm panel and sobbed as Colin smelled something rank, and quickly put the man’s helmet back on, then dragged him out of the break room. Slipping down the passage, he went into the storage room he’d been sleeping in and put on his suit, carrying his helmet under his arm, he came back in, startling Lisabet. “I’ve got to get rid of him and the runabout. There’s a sandpit on the other side of the first ridge. I’ll go leave him there. Dad got stuck there once, and they had to bring a track from the spaceport to pull him out.” Cocking his head, he said, “If I take the needler, it’ll look like he committed suicide.”
Lisabet jumped up. “You can’t leave me,” she screamed.
“I’ll be back soon. I’m only—”
“No! They might come back! I wanna go with you!”
Colin pinched his nose. “Lisabet, I’m going to have to walk a mile or so back here. You’ll be—”
“No! I going with you!” She jumped up and started pulling on her suit as Colin shook his head.
“Okay, fine. I’ll drag the body down to the airlock while you get dressed.” He pulled the needle gun out of the rack, safed it, and set it on the console. “Bring the needler when you come.”
By the time Colin had the body stuffed in the airlock, Lisabet was standing outside with her helmet on and the needler held carefully in her hand. Colin put his helmet on and touched his helmet to hers. “How much air?”
“And I’ve got sixty. That will be enough. All your telltales green?”
“All green. Are you green?”
“I’m green too. Let’s go. No talking on the radio in case the bad guys are listening.” She nodded, and he closed the hatch and cycled them out. He put the body in the front seat, buckled it in, and checked Lisabet before he started back, careful to stay on the hardpan and rocks. A mile and a half later, he came around the second ridgeline and saw the sandpit off to his left. Stopping the runabout, he got out and walked around to Lisabet. Touching her helmet, he said, “Get out and wait here. I’ll go get this thing stuck and move him over to the driver’s seat, then put the pistol in his hand.” He saw her nod and waited until she was clear before driving a couple of hundred yards further toward the main hab before he turned around and came back angling toward the sandpit. He drove in as deeply as he could until the wheels started spinning fruitlessly.
Lisabet watched him shift the man over to the driver’s seat, then take the safety off and put the pistol in the man’s right glove. It dropped to the sand, and Colin left it, then hopped as high as he could, taking two hops to clear the sand. Touching helmets, he said, “Now we walk back.”
Lisabet said, “Hold my hand?” Colin held her hand the entire half hour it took to walk back to the hab.
Once they got in the airlock, Colin propped the inner hatch open. “Now nobody can get in.”
Lisabet sniffed and said, “Good!”
Later than night, Colin was awakened by a small voice saying, “Colin, I’m scared. Can I…sleep in here with you?”
He groaned and slid over. “Okay. You can have that half.” The next morning, he went to roll over and realized Lisabet was curled into his back. Slipping out of the blanket, he looked down at her. What is she thinking? She’s ten years old, and killed a man. How does that not bother her? The need to relieve himself swept that thought from his mind as he stumbled down to the fresher.
(C) JL Curtis 2023 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
This one is looking like a novella…