Guide Walk, Not Stay: a short story

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She didn't feel tired, but when she checked her readout and realized that she had been walking for twenty hours, she forced herself to stop. Sleeping was a problem. The solar arrays were designed to be detached from the suit for easy servicing, but had no provision to power the life-support while detached. Eventually she found a way to stretch the short cable out far enough to allow her to prop up the array next to her so she could lie down without disconnecting the power. She would have to be careful not to roll over.

That done, she found she couldn't sleep. After a time she lapsed into a fitful doze, dreaming not of the Moonshadow as she'd expected, but of her sister, Karen, who—in the dream—wasn't dead at all, but had only been playing a joke on her, pretending to die. She awoke disoriented, muscles aching, then suddenly remembered where she was. The Earth was a full handspan above the horizon. She got up, yawned, and jogged west across the gunpowder-grey sandscape. Her feet were tender where the boots rubbed. She varied her pace, changing from jogging to skipping to a kangaroo bounce.

It helped some; not enough. She could feel her feet starting to blister, but knew that there was no way to take off her boots to tend, or even examine, her feet. Karen had made her hike on blistered feet, and had had no patience with complaints or slacking off. She should have broken her boots in before the hike. In the one-sixth gee, at least the pain was bearable. Small craters she bounded over; larger ones she detoured around; larger ones yet she simply climbed across. West of Mare Smythii she entered a badlands and the terrain got bumpy.

She had to slow down. The downhill slopes were in full sun, but the crater bottoms and valleys were still in shadow. Her blisters broke, the pain a shrill and discordant singing in her boots. She bit her lip to keep herself from crying and continued on. Another few hundred kilometers and she was in Mare Spumans—"Sea of Froth"—and it was clear trekking again. Across Spumans, then into the north lobe of Fecundity and through to Tranquility. Somewhere around the sixth day of her trek she must have passed Tranquility Base; she carefully scanned for it on the horizon as she traveled but didn't see anything.

By her best guess she missed it by several hundred kilometers; she was already deviating toward the north, aiming for a pass just north of the crater Julius Caesar into Mare Vaporum to avoid the mountains. The ancient landing stage would have been too small to spot unless she'd almost walked right over it.

That's the way things always seem to turn out, eh, Sis? There was nobody to laugh at her witticism, so after a moment she laughed at it herself.

Wake up from confused dreams to black sky and motionless sunlight, yawn, and start walking before you're completely awake. Sip on the insipid warm water, trying not to think about what it's recycled from. Break, cleaning your solar arrays, your life, with exquisite care. Sleep again, the sun nailed to the sky in the same position it was in when you awoke. Next day do it all over.

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And again. The nutrition packs are low-residue, but every few days you must still squat for nature.

Your life support can't recycle solid waste, so you wait for the suit to desiccate the waste and then void the crumbly brown powder to vacuum. Your trail is marked by your powdery deposits, scarcely distinguishable from the dark lunar dust. Earth was high in the sky; she could no longer see it without craning her neck way back. When the Earth was directly overhead she stopped and celebrated, miming the opening of an invisible bottle of champagne to toast her imaginary traveling companions.

The sun was well above the horizon now. In six days of travel she had walked a quarter of the way around the moon. She passed well south of Copernicus, to stay as far out of the impact rubble as possible without crossing mountains.

The terrain was eerie, boulders as big as houses, as big as shuttle tanks. In places the footing was treacherous where the grainy regolith gave way to jumbles of rock, rays thrown out by the cataclysmic impact billions of years ago. She picked her way as best she could. She left her radio on and gave a running commentary as she moved. Coming up on a hill; think we should climb it or detour around? Nobody voiced an opinion. She contemplated the rocky hill. Likely an ancient volcanic bubble, although she hadn't realized that this region had once been active. The territory around it would be bad.

From the top she'd be able to study the terrain for a ways ahead. The climb could be tricky here, so stay close and watch where I place my feet. Don't take chances better slow and safe than fast and dead. Any questions? We'll take a fifteen minute break when we reach the top.

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Follow me. Past the rubble of Copernicus, Oceanus Procellarum was smooth as a golf course. Trish jogged across the sand with a smooth, even glide. Karen and Dutchman seemed to always be lagging behind or running up ahead out of sight. Silly dog still followed Karen around like a puppy, even though Trish was the one who fed him and refilled his water dish every day since Karen went away to college. The way Karen wouldn't stay close behind her annoyed Trish. Karen had promised to let her be the leader this time—but she kept her feelings to herself. Karen had called her a bratty little pest, and she was determined to show she could act like an adult.

Anyway, she was the one with the map. If Karen got lost, it would serve her right.

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She angled slightly north again to take advantage of the map's promise of smooth terrain. She looked around to see if Karen was there, and was surprised to see that the Earth was a gibbous ball low down on the horizon. Of course, Karen wasn't there. Karen had died years ago. Trish was alone in a spacesuit that itched and stank and chafed her skin nearly raw across the thighs. She should have broken it in better, but who would have expected she would want to go jogging in it? It was unfair how she had to wear a spacesuit and Karen didn't.

Karen got to do a lot of things that she didn't, but how come she didn't have to wear a spacesuit? Everybody had to wear a spacesuit. It was the rule. She turned to Karen to ask. Karen laughed bitterly. Squished like a bug and buried, remember? Oh, yes, that was right. Okay, then, if Karen was dead, then she didn't have to wear a spacesuit. It made perfect sense for a few more kilometers, and they jogged along together in companionable silence until Trish had a sudden thought.

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I'm a fig-newton of your overactive imagination. With a shock, Trish looked over her shoulder. Karen wasn't there. Karen had never been there. She stumbled and fell headlong, sliding in a spray of dust down the bowl of a crater.