Alpha Shorts: Indiana Water Works

Bree and the rover. Story by Jack Stewart. Artwork by Adam Archer. Copyright 2017.

“I have a secret to tell.”

Bree looked deep into the electrical well of her console. A holograph of the local lunar system was displayed brightly in phosphorescent blue. A small red dot flashed in the upper right corner. “Shush,” she said irritably. It was hot in the rover and she didn’t want to listen to Blue right now.

“It’s important,” Blue said in its quiet but insistent way.

“Dad, it’s hot,” Bree complained trying her best to ignore Blue, the A.I. from South Impact Control that monitored incoming ice asteroid impacts, “Can’t we turn on the air conditioning?”

AC costs money. We’re not out here to spend money, Bree thought a fraction of a second before her dad, hunched over the rover’s steering wheel like some mad coachmen from the 1800s replied, “AC costs money. We’re not out here to spend money. Besides, sweating is good for you.” Her oldest brother Avery, sitting shotgun, looked over his shoulder and silently laughed at her. She stuck her tongue out at him. He looked away and went back to tapping some archaic rhythm playing out in the headphones he wore on the rover’s dashboard. Probable some crappy Czech honky-tonk that was all the rage with his buddies.

Bree sighed feeling the sweat drip down the inside of her pressure suit and thought, Makes me slippery like a fish. If I don’t stop, I might drown, falling down.

“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the rover,” her second oldest brother, Kemp said sitting up and winking at her from the rear of the rover. He then leaned against the bulkhead and quickly fell back to sleep.

“It’s a simple message and I’m leaving out the whistles and bells,” Blue said again.

Bree was tempted to pull out her earpiece to silence the annoying A.I., but instead said, “Can you turn on the AC to our rover?”

“No. Sweating is good for you,” Blue replied, “But this might save your life and many others.”

This last got Bree’s attention. Even though she was just a teenager manning the impact tracking station, Bree knew how many things could kill you out here on the lunar surface.

“What do you have, Blue?”

“Impact Twenty-three is off its predicted trajectory.”

Impact 23 was the chunk of ice and rock Bree’s family and several dozen independent water companies were out here in the hot ass lunar day hoping to get a piece of. South Impact Control or SIC, was responsible for tracking the ice rocks coming in from the local belts, Oort cloud, and Kuiper regions. The people down there in the Cabeus dome on the south lunar pole could adjust the trajectory of the incoming objects remotely by firing rocket packages attached to the surface so that the massive balls of rock and ice would come down straight onto the lunar surface far away from inhabited or industrial domes with minimal splash and ejecta tossed out of the impact zone.

It was that ejecta that Bree, her family, and dozens of other retrieval teams were out here for. Minor water companies bid each year on sections around the impact zone, slices of lunar pie that the owners hoped the small fraction of the ice asteroids, water comets, or other chunks of frozen water-ice would land in following an impact. It may only be a small fraction of the incoming object, but even one millionth of a percent of a nearly four million metric ton ice asteroid translated into over three hundred and eighty-four liters of processed water-ice. And that translated into over sixteen million lunar credits. Not that all of the ejecta would fall in the leased area, but anything that did land in the owner’s slice was theirs to keep. Even though only a tiny fraction of the impact would fall into the surrounding grants, it was enough to keep Bree’s family and others in business making money off of the ice chunks they collected, processed and purified, then sold off to independent domes and settlements across the Moretus region.

Her father’s company, the Indiana Water Works, owned the lease on the section of ejecta zone they were currently sitting in, her father’s crew spread across the fifteen-degree wide grant he had bid and won three years ago.

And now Blue was telling her that it was off course. An off course object the size of Impact 23 depending on what angle it came in at, could mean disaster for any of the settlements that surrounded the polar region.

“Dad?”

“I’m not turning on the AC, Bree.”

“It’s not about the AC, Dad.”

“Can’t it wait, Bree? We have impact in less than five minutes.”

“The impact is off course.”

That caught everyone’s attention. Avery stopped his incessant tapping, her father quickly twisted around in his seat, and even Kemp sat up and opened his eyes. “What do you mean ‘off course,’ Bree?” he father asked knowing exactly what it could mean but needing to hear it again, to wrap his mind around a half a kilometer-wide falling rock and ice landing outside of the controlled impact zone.

“The uh…one of the AIs from SIC is telling me that Impact Twenty-three is off course.”

Her father turned to the rover’s dashboard and pulled up the latest trajectory data from SIC. He studied the image carefully, ran the impact calculations himself, then said “It looks good to me. Impact Twenty-three is coming straight down the pipe at ninety-degree angle. Who is talking to you?”

Bree cringed knowing what was coming. Blue was a tertiary A.I. who over the years, had become less and less reliable in predicting trajectories. SIC had pulled him from monitoring duties over and over again, but somehow he managed to get back online and bug all the trajectory watchers across the region like Bree. But he had never said that lives were in danger so Bree took a deep breath and said, “It’s Blue.”

“Ah, for Christ’s sake,” Avery said and went back to his tapping. Kemp snorted and resumed his napping while her father sighed.

“Blue is unreliable, honey chip,” he said. Bree hated it when he called her honey chip. It was his subtle way of saying she was still a kid. At fifteen she had been manning the trajectory watch station for over three years and still her father called her honey chip.

“I know Dad, but he has never said that lives were in danger.”

“You can’t trust him, Bree. Mute him and look at channel two. It shows a clean impact in just under four minutes.”

Bree heard Blue whisper in her ear, “SIC will fire a course correction in fifteen seconds. This will cause a little-known fault identified in Impact Twenty-three ten years ago to fracture and the impact trajectory to change by fifteen degrees.”

“Blue says SIC is about to make a trajectory correction,” Bree said.

Her father turned to her again. A course correction this late in the impact process was extremely rare and dangerous. He scowled then looked at the trajectory data. Ten seconds later, SIC announced a trajectory adjustment maneuver.

“See, Dad?”

Her father sighed, “Where does Blue think the impact  will be now?”

“Blue says the fault line has fractured changing the center of gravity of Impact Twenty-three. It will no longer land in the center of the impact zone but will hit at an oblique angle of fifteen to twenty degrees. Twenty percent of the ejecta will splash…” Bree said relaying the information Blue was telling her, then stopped, her already pale skin turning sheet white, “Directly into our zone.”

Her father turned toward Avery, “Get on the horn with SIC and find out what they’re saying.”

“Dad, we should warn the Paz and the other retrieval teams!” Bree said, panic filling her voice. Era Condi, the Paz station they had visited earlier in the day, would be directly in the path of the ejecta.

“Four minutes to impact,” Blue whispered in her ear.

“Warn the others, Blue!” Bree said feeling the panic rushing up inside her.

“They are not listening. You are the only one who has responded,” Blue replied.

“They are out of radio range,” Kemp said finally getting up from his bench and moving to stand behind Bree’s station.

“Then we can call them!”

Bree saw her father wince, “That’s expensive, Bree. And we don’t know for sure if Blue is right. What does SIC say, Avery?”

“SIC is saying the impact is coming down four by four.”

‘Four by four’ was SIC’s way of saying that everything was going according to their impact plan.

“Dad! We can get an independent reading from the Malapert Array!”

Bree’s dad winced again, “That’ll cost a fortune!”

Dad!” Bree yelled, “I’ll pay it out of my allowance!”

All three men looked at Bree with shock until finally her father spoke, “Your allowance? But, Bree, you’ll need that for college.”

“I know, Dad, but we have to find out!”

He father nodded and turned towards the communications console mumbling, “If you’re wrong, Blue, I’m going to erase every bit of your programming…” and called the Malapert Array.

The Malapert Array was a data collection facility located in the Malapert dome. It collected lunar geological information, space weather, solar activity, and other data about the lunar environment and sold it to buyers all across the lunar surface.

“Malapert Array, what can we do for you today?”

“I need a trajectory check on Impact 23.”

“That will be fifteen seconds on a primary array dish.”

“I know.”

“And will cost five thousand lunar credits.”

“Great Baby Lunar Jesus,” he said.

“Would you like to purchase the stated services?”

“Yes. Debit my account.”

“Done. Standby.” The four people in the rover waited nervously in the hot rover for the

Malapert Array to take its readings.

Nearly a full minute later, the operator came back on the line. “You need to get out of there. The impact ejecta is going to cover your entire region. Sending you a projection now.”

Bree ran back to her station followed by her father and brothers and watched as the projected ejecta zone appeared on her screen.

“Good lord,” her father whispered, “Call the Paz, our retrieval teams, and everyone else you can reach, Avery!” he said as he hustled up to the rover controls. “We’ll head west and try to get outside of the ejecta zone. Kemp, keep an eye out for any crater big enough to fit the rover in!” Kemp nodded and jumped into his station seat. “Bree! Time until impact?”

Bree looked into her well, let out a long breath, and said, “Thirty seconds.”

Seconds later on her console, she saw red lettering crawl across her screen followed by a high-pitched tone in her ear from SIC, “Warning! This is an impact warning. Persons in the following lunar grids must seek shelter immediately!” SIC proceeded to list the impacted areas and continued to blare out its warning counting down the time to impact.

“Dad!” Kemp yelled out, “To the left! Three hundred meters!”

Bree looked out the side window at the area Kemp was indicating hoping to see a nice, deep crater but instead saw nothing but the flat featureless lunar surface stretching away from her.

“I don’t see anything, Kemp!” her dad yelled out.

“To the left! Two hundred meters!”

Bree finally spotted what her brother was pointing too: a small ridge of basalt or maybe the rim of a buried ancient crate no more than three meters high running for a few meters before diving beneath the lunar basalt.

“That’s it?” her father said finally spotting the meager shelter, “It won’t cover the entire rover!”

“It’s the best we have! There is nothing deeper that we can reach before impact!”

“Dad, everybody’s has signaled in, including the Paz. They are locked down or heading to their shelters,” Avery said as his father jerked the controls of the rover to the left and headed for the dark brown ridge sticking out of the lunar surface.

“Helmets on! Make sure your strapped in tight!” her father said as he pulled alongside the ridge scraping the side of the rover in an effort to get as close to the rock as possible.

Bree winced as she heard the grinding of the rover against the outside rock. She snapped her clear helmet into place and pulled her seat straps as tight as she could thankful now that her father always made them wear their pressure suits when out on the surface whether they were in a rover or not. “Ten seconds to impact!”

She flipped on her monitor and found one of the local tracking stations that was broadcasting a live view of Impact 23. This camera was located in the Cabeus dome. The image looked as though Bree was looking up at the massive beast of rock and ice hanging above her but somehow growing larger as she watched. “Five seconds!”

“Good luck, Bree,” she heard Blue whisper in her ear.

Three…two…one…impact.

Four minutes and thirty seconds later, Bree felt a small vibration beneath her feet. Twenty-five kilometers away, four million metric tons of ice and rock of Impact 23 collided with the surface of the moon. Had it come down along its intended trajectory, the majority of the body would have remained within the impact zone while scattering small and mostly harmless chunks of ice and rock out into the adjacent retrieval zones. But it had come in at an angle and would be pushing up a wave front of lunar basalt in addition the rock and ice body of the asteroid. And that would be heading towards Bree and her family at nearly three hundred kilometers per hour.

“Wave front is traveling at two hundred and sixty-two kilometers per hour,” Blue whispered in her ear, “It will arrive at your location in thirty seconds.

“Shut up, Blue,” Bree replied through gritted teeth. Her hands ached from the death grip she had on the armrest of her chair. Blue shut up.

The vibration beneath her feet increased in intensity shaking the rover and rattling every piece of equipment not secured. Outside her window she could only see the face of the rock her father had put the rover up against. She craned forward but could only get a glimpse of a sliver of the black lunar sky. She then pressed a button on her control station. A monitor to her left came to life. A camera located on the top of the rover slowly spiraled up on the end of a long boom until it extended a full two meters above the rim of rock. The picture on the monitor showed the bright, clear surface of the moon stretching out to a horizon of deep black. Bree took the joystick and swiveled the camera around until it pointed east.

There a thin gray and black line had appeared rapidly expanding as it rushed towards Bree and her family.

“Fifteen seconds to impact,” Blue whispered.

The wave front from Impact 23 grew in height and width, the details becoming clear as it smashed its way across the surface. The vibration within the rover now shook open equipment compartments bouncing the rover up and down rattling Bree’s teeth. Bree could see the churning dust billowing towards her hiding the basalt, rock, and ice that would slam into the rover tearing it apart and smashing her family into bits. To the left and right of the wave, she could see smaller impacts throwing up lunar dust as they made fresh craters that were quickly swallowed up by the advancing wave of the primary impact.

“Three seconds to impact,” Blue said, “Hold on tight, Bree.”

Bree looked at the display and saw the wave front was still a good hundred meters away but then seemed to sprint at her. She closed her eyes and gripped the seat arms with everything she had.

“Impact,” Bree heard Blue say but then nothing else except the continuous roar of the wave front as it engulfed the rover.

Bree was jerked forward then slammed back as the wave grabbed the rover and tossed it away from the rim of rock rolling it along as though it were a toy. The monstrous sound of the blast was punctuated by the beating of the rocks and ice hurling against the rover enveloped Bree as the rover tumbled along the surface. The intensity of impacts against the metal hull of the machine increased. Bree opened her eyes and saw all around her control panels flicker and blink, as sparks rained down from electrical panels and smoke began to fill up the cabin. The rover was dying.

Bree felt the rover jerk violently and heard a tremendous bang. Her head was slammed back against the seat rest as the rover twisted then felt another bang that drove her head into her front face shield. The faceplate splattered with blood as her nose impacted with the glass dazing her. The immense roaring grew higher in pitch and she heard the shrieking of metal tearing and the rover’s internal atmosphere escaping. Bree looked right and saw a long tear appear in the rover’s body, saw her father and brother being tossed like rag dolls but still strapped into their seats. Then the front of the rover seemed to lift up and away from her as the tear in the hull gave way and the rover split in half. The front half disappeared in a blink and Bree caught a glimpse of the churning dust and debris cloud as it swept into the remaining half of the rover. With the air of the rover gone Bree was suddenly surrounded by silence punctuated only by her sharp breaths. She could still feel the vibrations as the split rover tumbled along and objects slammed into the sides until suddenly the entire back of the rover was lifted up. For a moment, Bree experienced weightlessness. Then the body of the dead vehicle slammed back to the surface driving Bree’s head into the side of her helmet and into darkness.

Bree awoke surrounded by complete silence. For a moment, she thought her suit might be dead which meant soon she would be dead too. She held her breath listening for the sounds of her suit’s environmental system and let it out in a huge gasp as she heard the suit’s fan kick on. The control panel in front of her was completely black and the lights of the rover were out but she could see the light from the sun shining into the exposed interior of the machine and a wall of rock partially obscuring whatever was outside the rover.

“Blue, are you there?” she asked knowing the rover was dead but hoping maybe the radio was still functional.

Silence. Not even the buzz and static of a dead line. She slowly turned her head toward the aft of the rover and saw that Kemp was still strapped into his seat and, like Bree’s, the front of his faceplate was covered with blood. Bree pressed the status button on the left forearm of her suit. The display lit up showing her suit had full pressure and enough oxygen for ten hours. She sighed in relief and pressed the release on her safety harness. The belts unlatched as she slowly got to her feet.

Her body ached everywhere. She felt like her entire body was one big bruise especially where the straps had held her in her seat. She pressed as small red cross on her suit forearm and felt a sharp prick as the suit gave her a mild pain killer. She stood there surveying the wreckage as the pain faded to a mild ache.

The front opening of the rover had jammed into the wall of a crater at a crazy angle and the floor of the rover was a jumble of debris. She picked her way through the chaos and carefully made her way to back to her brother. There she pressed his suit status button and saw that Kemp’s suit was pressurized but had a small leak. Bree was able to immediately identify the source of the leak: Kemp’s faceplate had a spider web of cracks emanating from where his head had impacted against the suit’s helmet. She quickly pulled an emergency repair kit from one of the overhead compartments, pulled out a pressurized tube of sealant, and applied it liberally to the cracks in Kemp’s helmet. The clear foam flowed along the cracks of the glass creating a tight seal. Small bubbles popped out of the sealant’s surface letting Bree know she had found at least one of the leaks. The sealant quickly hardened and became transparent as it sealed the breach in the suit.
Bree waited for another ten seconds then checked Kemp’s suit status display. His pressure was now stable indicating that there were no other leaks in his suit. She then pressed his medical status display. The suit did a quick pulse of Kemp and informed Bree that he had a minor concussion but had suffered no other injury during the impact.

“Hey, kiddo,” Kemp said as his eyes slowly opened.

“Hey, big brother. Stay still, your suit says you have a concussion.”

Kemp looked around the dead rover his eyes lingering on the wide opening where the front half of the machine used to be, “Dad and Avery?”

“Haven’t gone out yet. I just came to a few minutes ago.”

Kemp pawed at his straps groaning with the pain of the concussion.

Bree put her hand on his chest and pushed him back, “You rest,” she said and pressed another series of commands on Kemp’s suit. “The suit just gave you a shot of painkiller. You’ll feel better in a minute. I’ll go look for Dad and Avery. As soon as you feel up to it, try to get power to the emergency radio.”

Kemp nodded gingerly leaning his head against the back of his helmet, “Be careful Bree. There are lots of jagged edges that can tear your suit. It’d be a shame to survive that impact just to be turned into lunar jerky.”

“I love you too,” she said and pressed her helmet gently against his. She pressed the emergency beacon switch then turned on her suit’s emergency broadcast radio. The steady beeping of the emergency beacon was loud and clear in her suit’s helmet. She changed to another channel. “I’ll be on channel six. Call me if you get the radio working.”

Kemp nodded then closed his eyes. Bree turned away from her brother and began picking her way towards the front of the rover carefully avoiding the many sharp metal edges of the debris cluttered floor. She reached opening of the rover and could see that it had been throw into a crater wall. The right edges of torn metal had burred themselves a half meter into the rock with the force of the impact but she still had plenty of room to exit the rover. She slowly slid past the torn edge of metal, then out of the machine completely and onto the wall of the crater outside.

The crater they were in was a few hundred meters wide with shallow walls that rose another ten meters above her. Scattered across the floor of the crater were bits of debris from the rover, black chucks of rock, and a handful of other bits of blueish debris that Bree could not identify.

She walked over to a small chunk the size of her fist, bent down and picked it up. Water-ice. Bree stood there stunned, marveling at what she had in her hand. She was holding a chuck of water-ice. And judging from the heft of it, there was nearly a kilogram of it. Normally, this would have thrilled Bree and her family. She was holding almost forty-three thousand lunar credits worth of water or nearly two years of her allowance. Bree looked around the floor of the crater and spotted dozens more of the water-ice chunks. She looked behind her at the crumpled wreck of the rover and dropped the one she held in her hand. All of this wealth around her meant nothing unless she could find her father and Avery.

She walked around to the side of the wreck and pulled open a hatch on the rear of the vehicle. Inside were emergency supplies. She strapped on packages of medical gear, extra oxygen, water, and batteries for her suit. Then she grabbed the end of a long black cable. On the end of it was a small emitter dish. She pulled the dish connected to the black cable out behind her and set it down. She then opened up another compartment and pulled out several stacks of black metal rectangles. She walked several meters from the back half of the rover and set the stack of rectangles on the floor of the crater. She leaned down and pressed a button and the stacks began to unfold themselves revealing them to be solar panels. As the section of the emergency solar array unfolded, she went back to the rover and pulled out several more until she had deployed all six solar arrays. She hooked them together, then attached a cable from the last section to a pug within the now empty compartment. She watched as the arrays began pulling in energy from the sunlight and the flow of electricity increased. If the electrical lines from the batteries had not been severed, Kemp would have power for the radio. She picked up the tiny emitter dish pulling its cable along behind her as she scrambled up the side of the crater and reached the rim. Now if Kemp could get the emergency power online and the radio working, he could broadcast much farther than he could at the bottom of the crater. Bree set up the small antenna dish then looked around her.

The nearly flat landscape looked like it had been scrapped by a giant rake from horizon to horizon with channels emanating from far to the south where the impact had occurred. Some of the channels were only a meter or so deep while others looked like small canyons. Where a few of these channels ended, she could see a large chunk of rock.

Bree looked to the south and saw a few puffs kick up from the scared lunar surface. Debris from the impact was still falling. She looked up fearfully knowing she’d never see anything falling from above before it hit her but imagined just the same seeing a large chunk from Impact 23 hurtling toward her. Another, larger impact broke the lunar surface a kilometer to the west churning up debris and creating another crater. A second later Bree felt the vibration of the impact through the soles of her boots.

She shook off her fear. It didn’t matter that rock and ice was still falling from the sky. There was nowhere to hide or take shelter from it and she needed to find her father and Avery. She looked north along the path of the grooves created by the debris and shock wave of Impact 23 and began walking. She listened to the radio as she scanned her surroundings searching for the front half of the rover. All she could hear was the steady stream of static from the sun’s endless broadcast punctuated by the squeals of radio burst from solar flares. She flipped from channel to channel hoping for another human voice, something to let her know that she wasn’t out here all alone. Normally the radio channels would be filled with the sounds of SIC updates, automated lunar weather broadcasts, the friendly chitchat of surface workers nearby talking with their peers, or if nothing else, an emergency tone that would be interrupted by a mechanical voice indicating that an emergency was in progress and giving the listener information about what to do. But now? Nothing but the whispers of the sun.

Around her the gray, brown, and black soil marred by the impact stretched to the horizon. No sign of any other human was evident: No rovers, no surface buggies, no lone domes broke the black horizon. Maybe the front of her rover was buried under a mountain of rock and ice. Or maybe it had been torn apart so thoroughly that she would not be able to recognize it amongst all the debris on the ground.

Bree pushed her dark thoughts away and focused on searching for the wreckage. Her family would either be alive or not. There was no use worrying about what might have happened. The only important thing now was to find them. She continued to walk north looking in every medium and midsized crater hoping the front of the rover had been throw into one like the aft section she had been in. But so far, each had been empty. She had been walking nearly an hour when she spotted a large hill up ahead of her. She wrinkled her brow and pulled up a local map on her wrist pad. There were no ridges or small mountains in this area that she knew of and the map proved it. What she was seeing was a massive chunk of Impact 23. A glint of sunlight from the base of it caught her eye like sunlight shinning off a piece of metal.

She pulled in a sharp breath of excitement and increased her pace moving as quickly as she could toward the reflecting light. As she neared the hill, it became clear that she had been correct. This was no natural lunar feature but a huge piece of Impact 23. She reached a small rise in the lunar landscape and pulled out a set of binoculars from the side pouch of her suit. She placed the oversized eyepiece to the surface of her helmet and scanned the base of the newly created hill in front of her. She was still a few kilometers away as she focused her binoculars on the jutting hill. She moved the glasses down the sharp edges of the fragment toward the base carefully searching for the wreckage of the rover.
The glint of sunlight on metal caught her eye again. There! At the very bottom, wedge against the rock, the front end of the rover! She quickly put her binoculars away and began loping across the surface as fast as she could all the while watching the rover grow ever so slowly in size as she used all her lunar surface excursion tricks to speed across the ground. She tried her suit-to-suit radio calling for her father or Avery and was met by silence.
They could be unconscious, she thought, or their suits damaged.

Her panic grew as the silence stretched out. Finally, she skidded to a stop when she reached the wreck. For a moment she stood still, looking at the heavily damaged machine, afraid of what she might find inside. She steeled herself and approached the ragged edges of the back of the rover. The walls of the rover had buckled in nearly a foot with the impact against the mountain of rock that had stopped it. The floor was a jumble of wreckage that kept Bree from getting through. She careful began pulling out the boxes, loose equipment, and junk setting it outside the rover. She slowly made her way deeper into the machine until she could see sunlight coming in through the front of the rover. There she could see her father and brother still secured in their chairs but completely still.

“Dad! Avery!” she called into her suits radio, “Can you hear me?” She tore at the debris in front of her headless of the jagged edges as she struggled to reach her family. “Dad! Avery! Can you hear me?” She paused for a fraction of a second as she heard a break in the static.

“Bree?” her father whispered.

“Dad! I’m right here! I’ll be there in just a minute!” she cried back feeling the tears running down her face. She yanked out the last bits of the scattered equipment between her and her father’s seat and crawled up beside him. “Dad, are you OK?” she said frantically scanning his suit for tears. Her father’s helmet had nearly shattered with the force of the impact of his face against the glass and like her and Kemp’s was splattered with now drying blood. His face was badly bruised and his eyes were swollen shut. She spotted several ragged tears in his suit and pulled out a tube of sealant from her kit applying it liberally to every hole and split she could find. Then she sprayed his helmet sealing any breaks in his visor. She pressed his suits status button and saw that her father had lost over ninety percent of the air in his suit. He had maybe an hour of oxygen left but at least the pressure was stabilized as the suit replenished his oxygen. She watched the pressure indicator nervously, fearful that there were tears she couldn’t see. After a minute, the pressure stabilized indicating the suit was intact. She checked his medical monitor and saw he had suffered six broken ribs, partial decompression, fractures to his face and skull, but no cuts or lacerations and no internal bleeding.

Bree let out a sign of relief and gently hugged him. His suit had given him a shot of painkiller while she had worked and now he leaned back against his seat. “What a ride,” he said.

Bree then turned to Avery. Much like his father’s suit, he had multiple tears and cuts. Bree sealed them up using tube after tube of sealant, sealed his faceplate, then checked his status bar. Avery was in much worse shape. His suit had lost nearly all of its oxygen. He had at most thirty minutes of air. She hooked on of her few emergency air bottles to an inlet port and turned opened the valve. She watched as the suits pressure rose, then checked his medical readout. Avery was unconscious, both of his arms broken and he was bleeding from a deep cut on his lower left leg as well as suffering a concussion, and fractured facial bones.

After she had stabilized his suit, she wrapped a compression cord around his knee just above the bloody tear in the leg of his suit. She pulled the cord tight until the medical indicator on Avery’s suit told her that the bleeding had stopped. She put a clamp down on the compression cord locking it in place then sat down between the two men and wept. Her family was alive. They had survived and now all they had to do was wait for rescue.
A few minutes later she got her tears under control and flipped over to the emergency channel. Still no one was talking but she could hear the steady beeping of the beacon she had activated from the rear of the rover. She then flipped back to channel six and heard Kemp’s voice.

“Hey, dorksita? You out there?”

“Yeah, Kemp. I’m here,” she said letting out a small laugh.

“I got the radio working.”

“You don’t say?”

“Yeah, yeah. M.O.T.O. right?”

Master of the obvious. “Yeah, right.”

“Did you find Dad and Avery?”

“I’m with them now. Dad’s OK but Avery is in bad shape. We need a pickup. Is anybody out there?”

“Nothing but me and you, little sis. We wouldn’t even have that if you hadn’t connected the emergency solar panels. Do you need me out there?”

“I’m nearly three klicks to your north. Stay with the radio and let anyone you get a hold of know where here.”

“Three klicks!”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, honey chip,” her father said placing a gloved hand on her shoulder.

“Hi Dad.” To Kemp she said, “Hey Kemp, Dad’s talking to me. I’ll call you back.”

“Give my love to Dad and Avery and call me soon.”

“Will do.”

“We’re OK?” her father asked. The swelling had gone down and his eyes were open.

“Yeah. Avery is stable but we need a pickup.”

“Nothing on the suit radio?” he said slowly unbuckling his seat straps and turning toward the back of the rover. “The back of the rover seems to be missing.”

“It’s about three clicks to the south. That’s where Kemp and I ended up.”

“Kemp?”

“He’s good. Just a lot of bruising and a mild concussion. He got the radio up and running and the beacon is broadcasting. Help will be here soon.”

Her father switched on his suit radio, “Kemp you there?”

“I’m here, Dad.”

“You OK?”

“Just a bit bruised. Nothing damaged but my head and, like you always say, I don’t use that very much so all in all, everything is OK.”

“What about the rest of the crew?” The retrieval crews had been ordered west and east to try to get out of the impact zone.

“Nothing yet. I’ll call you if I hear from them.”

“Well done to both of you. Call me as soon as you hear something. Bree, help me out of this thing,” he said pointing around the wreckage around him. “At least the insurance will cover this. What a way for the old girl to go.”

Bree helped her father get out of his seat and maneuvered their way to the back of the rover. Out on the surface, her father sat down and looked around.

“I’ve never seen the foot print of a recent impact.”

“Neither have I,” Bree said sitting down in the gray dust next to him.

“Ha, ha.” He looked back at his broken and mangled rover. “Well, the important thing is that we survived.”

“Will they let us keep all the water-ice in our section? Bree asked.

“What water-ice?” her father asked.

“All those little chunks scattered around us.”

Her father looked around the equipment Bree had thrown from the rover and spotted what he was looking for. He picked up the small black box, flipped a switch and swung it back and forth in front of him. “Sweet Baby Lunar Jesus,” he whispered.

“What is it?”

“It’s all around us, water-ice, it’s…” he trailed off as he swung his spectrometer towards the vast chunk of rock that had stopped the rover’s tumble across the surface. “A whole mountain of it?”

Bree stood up and looked to where her father was pointing the spectrometer. She glanced at the indicator. It was flashing a blue light rapidly. She took the meter form her father’s hand and looked at the readout: water-ice. The meter was telling her the entire mountain of rock in front of her wasn’t rock at all, but a mountain of water ice. Several million kilograms of water-ice.

“Bree,” he father said still staring up at the towering mass of ice, “Get a flag. We need to tag this monster.

A flag was a metal pole nearly a meter-long painted bright red. Water scavengers would place the rod into a chunk of water-ice to claim it. Once imbedded into the ice, the rod would broadcast a signal to the local communications network registering the claim with the federal water authority and SIC letting everyone know that it belonged to whoever had tagged it.

Bree quickly made her way to a compartment near the front of the rover and opened it up. Inside were dozens of flags. She grabbed one and handed it to her father. He stood there looking up at the mountain of water-ice unable to believe what his eyes were telling him.

“I’m unconscious, right? And this is all a dream. I’ll wake up in the rover or in a hospital and none of this will have been real.”

“It’s real, Dad. Plant the flag,” Bree said moving his hand holding the flag to the edge of the water-ice.

He lifted it up and planted it firmly into the surface of the chunk. The flag immediately lit up and began broadcasting his registration information. A small green indicator light blinked on then became solid letting him know that his registration was complete. It was theirs, the entire mountain of water ice, was all theirs.

Bree stepped back with her father as he scanned the immediate surrounding, “There’s more! Look, Bree! It’s everywhere!”

Bree looked all around the area surrounding the rover. Now that he immediate crisis had past, Bree could see chunks of the water ice everywhere, some nearly as big as the one her father had just claimed.

“We need to start flagging this!” he father said then stumbled as he moved back toward the rover.”

“You need to sit down until rescue comes,” Bree said helping her father to sit on the lunar dust.

“But, Bree! Look at all of that.”

“It’s no good to us if you’re dead.”

Her father sighed. She was right, but all that money just sitting there waiting to be picked up. Soon SIC would be back on line and they would declare a state of emergency. All flagging and retrieval operations would be suspended and the independent companies like his would be barred from claiming any of the water-ice in their section. But maybe…

“Bree, you can flag them!”

“I can’t flag them Dad. I’m just a impact tracking operator.”

Bree’s father thought for a moment, then tapped a few commands into he suits wrist pad,

“Corporate log, May 15, 2321, Chief Execute Officer Johnathan Jindra Taylor, Indiana Water Works. Verify.”

His suit whispered in his ear, “Identity verified.”

“I do hereby promote Sabrina Carmen Taylor to Retrieval Technician class one…” he stated and caught a dirty look form Bree, “Fine. Retrieval Technician Class Two entitled to all the rights and privileges therein. Confirm.”

The computer within the suit responded, “Confirmed. Sabrina Carmen Taylor has been promoted to Retrieval Technician Class two.”

An RT Class Two! Bree thought, that meant that she got a five percent bonus for every piece of water-ice she flagged!

“Bree, grab the scooter and go! Flag everything you can before SIC can declares a state of emergency! Go! And stay in radio contact.”

Bree on the lunar bike. Story by Jack Stewart. Artwork by Adam Archer. Copyright 2017.

Bree squealed like the teenage girl that she was, gingerly hugger her father, and quickly opened up another compartment of the crushed rover as her father gingerly crawled back inside to check on Avery.

She pulled out an electric powered motorcycle and unfolded the unit leaning it against the side of the rover. She then grabbed four fuel cells and strapped them to the sides of the bike. Thinking for a moment, then then grabbed a quick charge solar array hooking it to the back of the bike, then strapped on as many flags as the bike could carry. She was ready.

She grabbed the bike by the handlebars, checked the battery indicator. It told her that she had over an hour of charge in it. She then threw her leg over the machine, pointed it toward the nearest large chunk of water-ice, and gunned it.

She was off! The electric bike kicked out a small rooster tail of dust and she jerked forward and cruised along the surface at a steady fifty kilometers per hour. The irregular block of water-ice she was heading for was large, not as big as the one her father had just flagged, but larger than anything she had ever seen on previous operations. She reached the side of the chunk, pushed down the kickstand with her foot, grabbed a flag and walked up to the edge of the hunk. She looked at it for just a moment seeing deep into the blue and white ice covered in the think black dust. She plated her flag and waited for it to recognize the signal from her suit identifying her as an authorized retrieval technical then register her first claim with the SIC database.

The flag’s indicator light first fleshed red, then green, then became a solid green as it successfully registered her first claim. Bree was now an official retrieval technician! She jumped on the bike and headed off for the next big chunk just to the north of her shooting across the gray and brown lunar surface on the bike. She flagged it then moved on circling farther and farther away from the rover wreck hitting every sizable chunk within a kilometer before she had to head back, grab more flags, and switch out the fuel cell before she was off again.

Bree would refill her oxygen and water every time she returned to the rover and check on her father and brother. Her father was monitoring the radio with Kemp, watching Bree’s signal on a tracking station monitor he had gotten running, and keeping track of Avery’s vital signs. So far, no one was broadcasting on the radio and Avery was resting comfortably still strapped the rover’s shotgun seat.

Fully loaded and satisfied her family was OK, Bree shot out into the lunar countryside flagging more and more water-ice chunks unit all the big ones in range were flagged. Then she began working the medium sized ones before running out of those, then working the smaller claims until she had exhausted those as well. She still had many flags left in the rover so she began collecting up any water-ice chunk that was a few kilograms or more and piling them up. When she had enough to hold up a flag, she would plant it and move on to create another pile.

Bree tagging water-ice! Story by Jack Stewart. Artwork by Adam Archer. Copyright 2017.

Four solid hours later, Bree was exhausted and covered in sweat. The fan in her suit had been working at maximum rate to keep her cool but just couldn’t keep up. She dropped another large boulder of water ice on the pile before her. She planted her last flag, watched it register her claim, then sat down heavily on the ice boulder and drank as much water as she could suck from the mouthpiece within her suit. Satisfied, she let out a long sigh and looked at the field of flags all around her, each one shown a solid green light indicating her claims had been registered and verified.

On her suit radio, she listed to her father and Kemp talking to each other. Kemp had gotten in contact with the other company retrieval crews. All of them had gotten out of the impact zone and as soon as the immediate danger had passed, been flagging everything they could before SIC came back online. He had also called in an emergency pickup from the Shoemaker Search and Rescue company located at the nearby Shoemaker-Levy dome. They were inbound and would be here within the hour. It would be expensive having SL SAR pick them up and bring them back to the S-L dome, but who cared? They were all now rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Bree stood up feeling the aches and pains from their tumble in the rover and the fatigue from the last hours weighing her down. She straddled the bike for one last time, her tailbone registering its disapproval of having to sit on the narrow seat gain, and headed back to the rover.

There she crawled into the rover with her father and Avery and laid down in a clear space on the floor. As she did, she heard SIC begin broadcasting an emergency announcement signal followed by the declaration of an emergency. All retrieval activities were hereby suspended.

Bree laughed and whispered, “Better late than never.”

“You got it honey chip,” her father said. Bree would have been annoyed by her father calling her that but she was already asleep dreaming of their future beyond the ice fields of the moon.