It’s enjoyable enough to write essay-style stuff here, but I do miss when I used to actually write fiction. So, in a new feature here, I’m going to write monthly entries on a continuing story. Now, this isn’t quite the way I usually write: no outlines, no character studies; in fact, I really know virtually nothing about this story other than what I’ve written already. So, you’ll learn it at the same time I do. Also, I’m not spending much time on editing, so quality may be, let’s say variable. So, without further ado: a bit of ongoing storytelling, in the sci-fi genre.
The road’s white cut stretched to the horizon in both directions, flat and straight as if to defy any curve the packed sun-browned soil might throw up. But the road’s gentle left-hand turn had been enough to spread this glittering metal in a cone, a wheel here, a wheel there, in a sharp triangle from the black scorch of the rover’s impact. Midafternoon sun in the cloudless blue sky made the debris too bright to look at, or all but the dark bits of the tires and console and bodies. The one in light blue-gray overalls pulled his cap’s bill down to cover his squint.
“That’s a mess.” said the one in light brown that almost disappeared into the endless terrain. His cap was already down to touch his ears, and dust caked in the sweat on his arms below his rolled-up sleeves made him even more a match for the terrain.
“Yep.” said the one in light blue-gray, holding out his hand for the water bottle. “And what’s that track running from right to left there?” The outstretched hand pointed to the track as he spoke.
“Well, that was here when we got here, Lieutenant. So we don’t figure they hit anything going along it, you know what I mean?” The one in blue nodded; he knew, or as much as anyone else. The young mining colony, and young mining colonists, were untroubled by the ancient tracks that ran across most of the mapped surface of the planet, zig-zagging every klick or less to dodge some long-absent obstacle.
“When I was an Ensign on Owen’s World, you know what we had? These little pyramids of rock all over. About waist-high, stacked ever so perfect, and a metal rod in the middle of each one. The damndest thing. And you know what they were?” asked the Lieutenant in blue-gray.
“Guess I don’t, sir.” Replied the one in brown, wiping his brow with the arm that held the water bottle, as the Lieutenant had brought his hands to his waist to talk.
“Absolutely nothing. Never did anything, not in a hundred and fifty years. They were just there.”
“Ain’t that something.”
“Ain’t it.” This time he took the water bottle.
“I figure these tracks are the same. Don’t go nowhere. Not anymore, anyway. Anyway, I’m sorry to bother you about this, but the Prefect said to call you, so I did. It’s just too fast, and the bump, and that’s it.”
“Spread his load of ore all over the horizon, didn’t he.”
“Yes he did.”
“Gonna be an empty seat at Ruby’s tonight, won’t there.”
“No, ain’t but the three families that came here last year, and of course old Mrs. Hawkshaw, still says her husband and son’ll be back any day, if you want to count that. And that ain’t him.”
“Kim, esquire, deceased.”
“That’s about it.”
“So there’s no-one to tell.”
“Not except for someone waiting to upgrade their claim. If his was any good. Can’t say I remember.”
“Well, thanks, Elon. Tell the Prefect I’ll mention the lost rover in my next report. Maybe the late-year supply ship will bring a replacement.”
“Much obliged.” It could’ve been for the rover, or because the Lieutenant handed him back the water bottle. They walked back to the Lieutenant’s shuttle. As they climbed, the packed-dirt road became nothing but a too-straight white line in the brown soil, cutting to the horizon, then splitting into a Y and beyond that a grid, as first one and then two lakes emerged as the horizon grew. And the line of the ancient track juked willy-nilly except to miss the foothills on the left; to the right, five such lines came together, a star radiating out in some forgotten intersection. Beyond were the mesas, steep peaks cut off at the top; and finally the mountains, topped with a sparse snow.