Lunar Voices (On the Solar Wind)
Haven’t watched you sun’s angle to grossly direction assess? She gave him a flurry of signs and then turned to accelerate right along the rover tracks.
Phulani looked behind him with difficulty at the receding hill. Grandfather stood there, waving his knobkierie, with Inja howling to the Earth.
Yes, he knew they had told him to expect visual distortions in this alien land.
Still, he waved. Sala kahle, grandfather.
His sense of time drifted away after that. Mostly he closed his eyes and felt ill with the swaying and jolting of the rover as it bounced over the ragged terrain. But every now and then he opened his eyes, sweat dried in cold patches on his cheeks, watching Mary steer with certain and assured conviction.
Relief shocked him as a dusty crevice open up in the bottom of a crater wall ahead of them. Someone must have seen them arrive. Mary manoeuvred the rover down the slope expertly, the buggy skidding to a dusty halt in the dark cavernous airlock. Behind them, a large dust-packed door ground closed, sealing out the toxic sun.
Lights flickered on around them.
They stopped and sat silently for a moment. Mary unhooked herself and swiveled round on her seat to reach across to Baines, slumped next to Phulani in his suit with its faded stars and stripes.
Phulani realised with relief that there was oxygen being pumped into the room and that he could hear again. On the other side of the dark room the airlock door blinked orange as the air pressure rose. Mary had twisted off Baines’s helmet and was busy unfastening her own. By the time Phulani had wrenched his helmet off, the airlock was blinking green and Mary was leaning back, smiling.
Baines was groggy but conscious. He was limp, but grinning in between ragged gasps.
Mary looked across at Phulani with a smile on her lips, helmet cradled in her lap, red hair frizzed madly, electrode bugs hanging off her scalp like electronic lice. His own helmet finally off, he took a deep breath of rich Base air and then vomited, with great embarrassment, deep into his helmet, closing his eyes with shame.
A woman’s voice crackled over the intercom: “I’m reading your rad exposure levels. You’re all going to be sick for a while. I think you’ll be okay, but I’m getting some sickbay beds ready.”
Phulani’s mind played for a moment on the word ‘think.’ There was no certainty in the woman’s voice or that word. Still, he hadn’t come almost four hundred thousand kilometres for either safety or certainty. He’d come here because of the call of the stars and he’d seen them and maybe heard and felt them burn deep inside him. (And perhaps much more besides?)
He opened his eyes, his head turned to face Mary.
She was signing: Talking is Baines.
He hadn’t heard anything, so he looked over to Baines in confusion. Despite waves of nausea and an acid burn in his throat, he still managed a grin.
Baines was giving them both a big thumbs-up with his hairy right fist.
Behind Baines, a shadowy old man bowed, with one hand on a panting dog.
Nick Wood is a South African clinical psychologist and writer who has published stories in Probe (South Africa), Interzone and Infinity Plus (UK), Escape Velocity (US), as well as the Newcon Press anthology Subterfuge. His story ‘Of Hearts and Monkeys’ will be out soon in PostScripts 22/23. He was Runner-Up in the 2009 International Aeon Award – ‘Bridges’ is due to be published in the Irish SF magazine Albedo One. Nick is currently pursuing an MA in SF and Fantasy through Middlesex University, London. Visit Nick’s website at http://nickwood.frogwrite.co.nz/.