Boundary Riders

13 05 2007

Unto The Horizon (3-4)

“…short straw went to Mierhof, who periodically unclogged the stabilisers on the KOVTAR. It was hot inside the suit, but the gravity kept the dust to a minimum. With the outpost nearing completion and the first supply ship since planetfall arriving within three months, these were tough but exciting times for those anchored here, in this lonely part of the galaxy.”

Sze Leng guided the KOVTAR across the regolith. It was approaching noon in Fram’s dangerous summer, where the planet intersected its own orbit and was crossing the Lagrange point that marked the center of rotation for the binary. Alpha A was rising ahead, while B was slowly dipping below the horizon behind the KOVTAR. The ring system was a fuzzy line that bisected the twin stars.

Amundsen was high in the ruddy sky, a misshapen lump of rock tearing itself apart. The moon was like an iceberg, cracking and splitting amidst a icepack of its own making. The light from Alpha A was partially eclipsed by chunks of Amundsen, but these chunks were counter-lit by Alpha B. The other two moons were in conjunction below the horizon.

Sze Leng walked the KOVTAR up the slope of a crater. The regolith crunched under the walker’s footpads. The lip of the crater was almost indistinguishable from the incline; this was an old impact site, maybe five million years old, the crest and ejecta lines worn smooth and dusty by the wind. She paused the KOVTAR at the lip, the gears whinnying to a stop. There was a momentary grind of dust in the ankle actuators.

Shadow had pooled in the basin of the crater, where the light of neither star, suspended above opposite horizons, could reach. Sze Leng saw how large the crater was, easily a kilometer across, though not the largest on Fram’s ugly surface.

Sze Leng dismounted, climbing down the KOVTAR’s long legs. She looked back the way she had come, toward base camp – so far, two small habitat domes and the skeleton of a hydroponics dome – and the hulk of the colony pod around which the Outpost was clustered. There was a line of footprints in the regolith, crisp and distinct, glistening white at the edges where the dust had been churned up and the layer of methane ice, inches below the surface, revealed.

She shivered, in spite of her environment suit. She looked back into the crater. There was vegetation, of a sort, down there: a type of basic, hardy, alien grass which grew in the shade of Fram’s craters where the only scraps of hydrogen on the planet pooled during the winters.

szelengsmall.jpg

Sze Leng left the KOVTAR at the lip of the crater, and slowly worked her way down…

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