A sci-fi story about a man marooned (alone?) on a desert moon.
It's all gray.
That was my first thought upon waking up. Another might have been more helpful, still another might have been more provocative. But that's really all that came to mind- the overwhelmingly disinteresting landscape, gray as ash and as full of life.
I was sprawled over the command console. As I pulled myself up and into a more comfortable sitting position, the blood which had congealed between my forehead and the tough acrylic of the computer cracked audibly.
That's what happened to me. How long have I been out? I'd been leaving the shuttle dock in the supply shuttle when, well whatever happened to The Promise had happened. The supply frigate for the new Gaia colony had exploded. No fire, no blinding flash, of course- though there probably was inside of her. Those flames had been choked as the craft split open. But we, and presumably every other supply shuttle and probe in the area, had been slammed by the debris of our mother ship.
Shit. My co-pilot- Simon, I think was his name. Or maybe Alex. He'd been in the hold, making sure that the livestock were harnessed securely. We'd been struck by something, and that meant that a hole had been torn in the shuttle. Seeing as I was still alive, it meant that we'd been struck in the cargo section. I looked back, to the lock separating the hold and the command module. Locked, sealed, airtight.
It was open when we departed- against regulations- and now it was locked. The computer must have done it, which it would only do in the case of an emergency landing, in which case it would also jettison the cargo hold.
I had not been fastened when we were hit, so I'd been sent flying in zero g around the cabin until I cracked my head on the command computer. Said computer had detected multiple hull breaches, and failing vital signs for both of the shuttle crew (if Simon/Alex had not been immediately dragged into the vacuum in the first place), performed a lockdown and landed me... here. Wherever this was. Alone.
It's just so gray
I couldn't get that thought out of my head. The landscape where the shuttle had come to rest was a bleak, sickly gray. The ground was cracked and colorless, a long dead lakebed, and the sky was a uniform body of clouds. There weren't any signs of lightning or impending thunderstorms either. I got the feeling that those clouds were perpetually pregnant, and never gave birth.
I called up atmospheric readouts for this planet- as well as the name and location of this planet. The results indicated that the pressure outside was livable, but the composition was too high in nitrogen for me to last more than a few minutes. According to the emergency landing path, I had been landed on what had been the nearest body at the time- a moon of Gaia called Trusoe. Unfortunately the computer also came back with a diagnostic stating that the communication mast was damaged, and could not establish a satellite link.
Very well, first things first.
I opened an overhead storage drawer and withdrew one of the two oxygen masks and attached tank. I would have a spare, it seemed. The oxygen tanks themselves were fantastic, with small filters on them that would scrub the surrounding atmosphere for breathable air and feed in into my tank, I could be outside nearly indefinitely. Which was a good thing, I had to venture out to check the hull of the shuttle at the very least. I may have to perform rather extensive repairs.
I didn't bother with the airlock, I crawled out through the access pane in the pilot's bubble, down the ladder, and set foot on the moon. The terrain didn't crunch under my boots as I expected it too. Despite the cracked appearance of an old lakebed, there was some moisture in the chunks of gray sand and dirt. Walking around the shuttle, there was no immediate sign of distress, aside from the missing cargo hold. The struts that had held the hold in place had angled outward to eject the hold, and by design were curved inward- rib-like- giving the whole craft the appearance of a skeletal monster, long dead.
The shuttle was shaped like the fuselage of a jetliner, but without the wings, and with a much broader underbody. In place of control surfaces, four oscillating engines were located down the hull, two close to the bow and two near the stern. The engines could rotate to almost any angle to control the shuttle (except completely sideways, which would scorch the hull). This allowed for the shuttle to enter an atmosphere without the use of heat shields or even a runway- what pilots called a "slow drop." The condition of these engines were what my escape from this vacant world depended on. Computer analysis could not adequately gauge structural integrity, only internal conditions, thus a spot-check was necessary- I couldn't risk firing the engines for fear of exposed fuel lines blowing them apart.
As I walked steadily around the shuttle, it quickly became apparent that the starboard engines would need quite a bit of work. They both had ragged scars running over their skin from debris and shrapnel, and indeed my later diagnostics would reveal that the computer had brought the ship down with the starboard thrusters firing only sporadically. The portside engines appeared mostly unmarred, a few quick patches could take care of their rather superficial injuries.
Looks like I have my work cut out for me.
I clambered back into the shuttle and put a flash frozen meal from life support into the small onboard oven. I felt a little woozy removing my breathe-mask, which was odd. Perhaps the filter was not running efficiently. No matter, I could always clean it out, and as a last resort use the spare mask. As I eat, I absent-mindedly pull up information on Trusoe from the ship's memory banks, mildly interested in frankly anything that could serve to make this dead world interesting.
God in heaven.
The standard facts were there- the moon had an unfriendly atmosphere, no life-signs, was made of cast-off debris from a meteor strike on Gaia in eons past... And then my stomach turned. Trusoe had a twenty-two day orbit around Gaia, eleven days in the sun; eleven days in the dark. When this moon travelled to the dark side, temperature dropped drastically. Worse, the log indicated, it rained for this period. Freezing nitrogen. I had crashed here eight days into the day-cycle. In less than three days I would either freeze to death or have my shuttle ripped to shreds by falling chunks of ice and liquid nitrogen. Then I would freeze to death. I wolfed down the rest of my meal and jammed the mask on, caring not for the dirty filter. I had to get off of Trusoe. Fast.
No time to waste.
I ordered the small utility crane in the storage compartment that ran along the spine of the ship to begin unloading the stored spare parts, then I crawled back onto the surface of the planet, eyeing the now sinister clouds warily.
As I watched the crane stack the sheet metal and wielding materials, I got a funny feeling. I got an itch behind my nose, the hairs standing up on the back of my neck, and the animal instinct that tells you that you're being watched. Ridiculous. No life-signs. I turned about, scanning the horizon. Nothing of course, I was being paranoid. But the feeling would not depart, and I soon grew too uncomfortable standing there, so I walked about to the other side of my skeletal craft to examine the damage to the engines again, while warily gazing through the rips of the cargo hold to make sure nothing showed on the endlessly featureless horizon. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. I was being insane.
I began to fancy I could hear something over the pulsing of the small crane as it went about its automated task. A wailing of sorts, rather far off- and my curiosity quickly got the best of me. I shut the crane off, and the wailing disappeared. I was, of course, imagining things.
The crane reactivated at my command. This time it was noticeable, the wailing was coming from the crane and it was growing louder and louder- with a twang like a bowstring the crane buckled, and then snapped off at its arm, the entire apparatus crashing to the ground with its load of hand tools. With a cry I leapt backward and tripped over my feet onto the lakebed.
As I rolled over to pull myself up I saw it.
In the distance.
Just on the horizon. A silhouette, a shadow, of someone- or something.
I was on my feet in moments, stumbling for the cockpit and looking back the whole time. There was a handgun in the command unit. It was an ancient ballistic piece, no energy cells or plasma dischargers, though it did have a small stun battery mounted below the barrel. It might be unnecessary, but I couldn't shake that watched feeling I had earlier. Grabbing it, I took off towards the figure.
I judged it to be a mile or so off, I could easily reach it within ten minutes. Could this be another shuttle survivor? Did The Promise manage to crash-land on the surface? I'd know soon enough, and either way it could mean I would have an easier times with repairs.
I'd been running for about four or five minutes when something strange happened. The form, which displayed no movement or anymore life than the surrounding environment simply melted away. It was as if the solitary figure had been sucked into the dead lake. I slowed to a stop. I had adequate water, plenty of food and oxygen- I was sure I wasn't hallucinating. There had been something there. I was positive.
Perplexed, I began walking back to the shuttle, looking back every few steps even though the shadow did not reappear. I resolved to push the matter from my mind. The crane had unloaded sufficient materials before breaking to allow me to make at least rudimentary repairs. Whatever that had appeared on the horizon had no way to sneak up on me in the endless daylight and my shuttle could be easily sealed while I rested. I was both safe and confident I could finish my work in time.
These happy thoughts continued only until I reached the shuttle.
What the hell?
I was not alone. Someone had smeared my shuttle with soil from the lakebed, and then pressed their hands onto it, leaving greasy and muddy handprints all over the hull, the repair materials, the ladder to the cockpit, and the access hatch to the pilot's bubble. The hatch. I hadn't locked it.
I drew my weapon, turning on the stun battery and routing the trigger to it. Bullets flying in the command unit would set my repairs back. I pulled slowly up the ladder, and then with a burst of speed pulled open the hatch and surveyed the cabin at gunpoint. Empty. I swung in and double checked. Utterly lifeless. I opened the life-support hatch to check in the small living quarters. Likewise, life-support was deserted. With the cargo hold missing, there was nowhere else to go from here, so whoever had broken in had subsequently left.
Unnerved, I walked back to the hatch and sealed in. I'd had enough work for a while, and my head was killing me. I needed some rest. Removing my breath-mask, I once again felt very dizzy. I decided to try the other mask after I'd had some sleep. As I laid down on the small cot in life-support I noticed that my co-pilot had left his travel-bag on the kitchenette counter. Wondering vaguely what his name had been, I feel asleep.
"You know, when this husk goes behind Gaia, you'll feel the moisture in your lungs freeze and crystallize moments before you die. All your body's energy will divert to protecting your brain. So the rest of your body will die first, and then your brain will die last. Funny, isn't it? You'll die alone, and then you'll die alone."
I jolted awake. The speaker was my co-pilot, sitting calmly on the kitchenette counter. He was still wearing the dull-white flight helmet and jumpsuit he'd been wearing on take-off, and appeared unharmed, despite being cut-loose in an atmosphere-less cargo capsule that had been struck repeatedly by debris.
"My name is Alex."
"My name is Simon."
"What are you talking about? How are you even-"
"Shut the fuck up."
I was still dizzy, and felt like things were spiraling out of control. Simon/Alex was dead. He'd been cut loose from the shuttle. He couldn't have survived. He couldn't have.