“Twelve billion dollars to shovel dirt.”
“And finding the first Martian fossil? Priceless! Wouldn’t want to give that honor to Rover Two, now would we Commander Martin?”
Tony Martin has a PhD in astrobiology from Cambridge and one of the worst attitudes in the space program. “Come on Bruce, you know life does not exist anywhere else but on Earth. The principle of mediocrity is a principle in bullshit and I wish your great grandfather hadn’t killed himself on a mission to save the world from nuclear armageddon so I could say it to his face.”
Bruce Sagan isn’t one to get upset, he has been dealing with the rep of his progeny since his time in the Navy flying the old F-35s in combat missions over Egypt.
This is an old debate, one they have been having since they shared an apartment in Houston during their NASA induction training.
He keys his mic in response, but says nothing in return.
Tony knows how he feels.
The case for the Rare Earth model of the universe is strong, the strongest evidence being no life off-planet has ever been discovered. Maybe none ever will be. Bruce just can’t make sense of it though. He leans back in the pilot chair and lays his EVO helmet between his feet on the floor of the rover and takes in the scenery around him.
Barren red rock and dust, framed with a red cloudy sky dotted with a tiny sliver of light thrown from the star ninety-two million miles away.
He could have stayed home in New Mexico and gotten a better view, but it’s what exists beyond this rusty rouge, the trillions of stars, the billions and billions of galaxies and planetary bodies, the mysteries, the things that people either write off or never take time to understand. It just doesn’t make sense that on Mars-expedition/72, a person can say that’s it, there is nothing else out there and be so sure.
But that might be the philosophy that wins the day.
Congress might pull the budget for future missions.
The catastrophe of the Europa mission might have sealed the deal.
Nine explorers just gone. No sign they ever even made it to the icy Jovian moon. Some fingers are still crossed, but not many.
Bruce pulls his eyes off the overcast sky and his mind away from subjects he can do nothing about and looks for Commander Martin.
The electric monitoring shovel is laying on the ground. The tether attached to the rover now lies next to the shovel and not connected to Commander Martin.
Sagan sits up, eyeing the ground. He can see his colleague’s footprints and the small hole he was working with to get a reading on the area but no Martin. It is like he just up and disappeared.
The old pilot keys the mic and holds it to his lips. His heart beating hard against his ribs. “Commander Martin, report please.”
He releases the button and his ears pick up static then silence.
“Commander Martin, report, over.”
More static. Then alternating silence. It comes in bursts.
Long long short
Long long long
An old navy pilot can read Morse code in his sleep, but he does not know how to take this message: GO HOME.
A cold shiver cascades down his spine.
Bruce switches to the command channel. He keys the mic, “Command, Rover One reporting, come in, over.” Bruce tries to remain calm, but his bladder wants to empty itself into his EVO suit. He scans the horizon cursing the deep dusty fog.
“Rover One, this is Command, over.”
“I’ve lost visual on Commander Martin, over.”
“Rover One, Commander Martin? Rover One please repeat. Who is Commander Martin?”