(c) 2012 Sue L Dawes
‘The battery’s fine.’
Sandra Armstrong’s voice was confident, powering through speakers in the control room of Apollo 22.
‘Shit,’ her Commander responded, ’and the drive shaft?’
‘You reading the LRV manual?’ Sandra laughed, picturing Commander Brown tapping the keyboard on the flight deck with her painted nails, looking for answers, always as far away from machinery as she could manage.
Hell, Sandra thought as she bent down to get a closer look at the lunar buggy, she would rather be looking under bonnets and testing samples than trying to keep the all-woman crew from scratching each others’ eyes out.
‘Moon dust in the sprockets?’ Commander Brown teased.
Sandra chuckled, running a gloved hand along the aluminium A-frame. It made her forget for a moment why she was here with her tool kit, instead of safe inside the shuttle walls.
‘No damage to the body,’ she reported, smoothing cumbersome gloves over the titanium chevrons that studded the wheels. ‘All in good order,’ she added.
At that point Sandra wanted to scratch her head, but it was cased in a plastic bubble, keeping the moon’s atmosphere out and her oxygen in, so she couldn’t. She couldn’t find any reason why the buggy had been abandoned so suddenly, or where their pilot was.
Sandra stood up, clutching onto the handle bars. She couldn’t get used to gravity after months in a weightless state, like a helium balloon suddenly pricked.
She looked up at the black sky above. Maybe that was what had happened to Claire, their pilot?
Her attention returned to the buggy and the barren, dusty landscape. There was nowhere to hide, no footprints or strands of fibre trapped in bushes to indicate where Claire might have gone. She understood what Buzz Aldrin meant all those years ago about the moons magnificent desolation.
‘Going to try and start her,’ Sandra said. ‘See if it’s the electrics.’
‘Roger,’ Commander Brown replied. ‘Or should that be Regina?’
Another chuckle from Sandra as she climbed into the buggy, reaching her gloved hand down to strip the wires from the T-shaped controller. It was then she noticed the black stain under the Perspex floor, the type of pooling shadow that normally signalled an oil leak, except this buggy was battery powered and had no fuel to spill.
Sandra twisted the wires together and choked the buggy into action. She reversed until the liquid was fully exposed, dismounting with the same bloated-awkwardness, pulling a test tube from her tool-kit, and scraping a sample of the black stain into it.
For a second she thought she saw the sample move; a squirming black maggot under glass, but when she looked again she realised her helmet was filthy and her eyes tired. She needed to return to a normal atmosphere, well, normal for her anyway.
‘On route,’ she informed Commander Brown.
Sandra drove back to the shuttle, guided by the directional gyro and on-board odometer, this morning’s tracks already swallowed by lunar dust.
Sandra felt relief as the lunar module docked and the hatchway to the command module opened. Before she could remove her helmet, though, Sandra had to scan the sample taken from moon’s surface. She keyed in the lab password, amused as always that the government felt it needed one, that little green men with superior technology might be interested in their research.
She put the vial into the scanner and then relaxed into the zero gravity, letting herself float to the top of the shuttle wall, then pushing herself down again, a game of tennis in which she was the ball.
The results came through, fed through to the flight deck simultaneously.
Type O blood. DNA of humanoid, crew member Claire Parker. Bacteria unknown.
Sandra stared at the screen. Bacteria? What did that mean? Was Claire injured, waiting to be rescued? Did she have an infection?
Sandra magnified the sample; saw thousands of tiny microbes squirming in thick red liquid. They grew, consuming their liquid suspension, turning the black of starless nights.
Sandra refreshed the results, couldn’t get a grip on what she was seeing. The results were immediate:
Any trace of Claire had disappeared from the sample, consumed.
The isolation alarm sounded and the lab door clicked shut.
Sandra’s last discovery was life on the moon.
Sue L Dawes lives in Colchester, Essex, with her husband and two children. She finds writing flash fiction is a great way to get focused, and particularly enjoys writing crime, sci-fi, horror and mystical realism (any genre that frees her imagination). When family life allows, and she is not writing, Sue can either be found daydreaming on her allotment, or at the local railway station, where she runs ‘Off the Rails’, an adoption scheme which showcases local art and literature (http://offtherailswivenhoe.blogspot.com).