Lunar Voices (On the Solar Wind)
Phulani could tell from the faint vibration in his suit that Baines had started the engine again. “We’re done, let’s go,” Baines’s voice crackled curtly and Phulani winced. Mary at least would only see flickering hands on her visor screen from the translation software. She’d had a lifetime of silence, born and raised proudly Deaf. Her parents refusing her cochlea implants at birth, she’d told him on the Spaceplane over, with not a hint of regret.
‘I can handle this silence,’ Phulani thought, ‘but why are you in such a rush, Officer Baines?’
He glanced up at the pinnacles of the crater walls, trying to spot the solar panel arrays in almost constant sunlight that powered the Base and maybe one day would provide clean energy to help save a crowded, heated Earth…but all he could see were grey walls and broken cliff faces, arching up and around to the nearby curved horizon…
His eyes swung to look at the Earth, a blue-green marble, hanging low on the horizon, beautiful, breath catching, a magnet for his eyes.
Then they were trundling out in the glare of sunlight again and a torrent of words burst in with the glare and the heat: “…Rover Five, come in, come in, please, this is urgent, Five, please reply…”
“Five here,” Baines said.
“Five, return to Base now! There’s an S.P.E. heading your way.”
“Shit!” said Baines and Phulani jumped. “How long?”
“We spotted it just over five minutes ago and it’s big, X-class maybe.”
“On our way,” said Baines, and Phulani felt the buggy shudder as it ground into maximum speed. He was grateful for the seatbelts as the rover began to bounce and buck over smaller rocks hidden in the lunar dust.
Mary palmed a button on her suit to communicate her thoughts and hands flickered up on his visor: Good news not.
Vomit rose in his stomach, he quelled it with force of will, having heard it was possible to choke to death in spacesuits. “What’s an S.P.E.?”
“Solar Particle Event,” said Baines, “Not a good idea to be outdoors to watch one.”
Phulani checked his visor clock. Shackleton’s shadow had been their furthest stop. They were just over three hours away from Base, perhaps two at top speed. There was a sharp and stale stench in his nose. It took him moments to realise it was his own sweat.
“Stay calm, we’ll miss the worst of the storm,” said Baines and Phulani remembered that Baines had both their vital signs up in his visor’s LED display.
Hands flickered across his peripheral view: Fifteen minutes for the first SCRs maybe.
He didn’t want to know what an S.C.R. was. Trust an engineer to assume everyone spoke in acronyms.
“The worst of it’s still at least two hours away,” barked Baines, “We should make it back before then.”
Phulani was glad he couldn’t see Baines’s bio readings, if the bite in his voice was anything to go by. It was the longest two hours he’d ever known and it was all he could do to stop himself throwing up.
But then it became even longer.
The buggy ground to a sudden halt, almost throwing Phulani forward against Baines. He bounced slowly in his seat against the tethering safety straps.
Baines unhitched himself and turned to face them. Mary was busy with a display in front of her, gloved fingers poking at flickering dials.
“I’m finding it hard to breathe,” he said, “Someone else needs to drive.”
“What’s wrong, Baines? What can I do?” Phulani unbuckled himself and stood up unsteadily in his seat.
“There’s something wrong with both my primary and backup OPS air supply on my PLSS,” gasped Baines tersely, “I think…” A burst of static tore Baines’s remaining words apart. Numbers and signs scrambled momentarily on Phulani’s visor display before blinking and disappearing, all he could hear was a faint hiss in his ears.