by R. Turchin
She rises as the first dim rays leak over the hills, splashing a shallow blue-grayness across the small room. In the beginning she would rush, accomplish as much a possible during the bright warmth of the day but she is resigned now. The hovering chill has worn her resolve. One day she thinks she will not survive the sunset and become one of the frozen brittle things outside.
She has stopped wondering why he brought them here to this frozen moon, this place where a day is only ten-old-earth hours long. He had dreams—turn this inhospitable moon into an attraction for adventuresome adrenaline-junky tourist. He designed habitats and games where contestants would race across the rugged terrain experiencing the portent of death lurking below the horizon. But Jacob underestimated the harshness of this moon and the malevolence of the universe. She was more pragmatic.
“The universe wants to kill you any way it can,” she told him but he had such energy and enthusiasm. He shrugged.
“We can beat this,” he would say and for a while she was caught up in his forward inertia. She followed the body in motion. It took all of her money, all of his and some they didn't have. They constructed the habitat and the autogardens. The gardens were platforms on hydraulic lifts buried ten meters down in the frozen soil. At sunrise the motors pushed it to the surface. The sun's intensity warmed the surface to livable comfort for exactly five hours, half of the moon's day. Four hours if you allowed for the rapid cooling at sunset and the slow increasing warmth as the sun rose over the horizon. The moon groaned and cracked like an old man as the temperatures cycled, sending tremors snaking through the ground and she feared it might break apart at any moment.
Together they grew fruits and vegetables for survival and he wasted precious handful of soil to plant some delicate red flowers to make her smile.
It was hard work. Five hours and everything froze. Jacob joked it was a balmy 73 degrees on the Kelvin scale. They dug. They built. They were a team and for a while she believed in his dream. And then he let the universe stab him in the back. Jacob's he thought he could bend the physics by sheer force of his indomitable will. He stayed outside seven minutes too long. She watched on the monitor as the line of black swept like a cleaving knife across the landscape. He was dead when his unbalanced body was caught taking a step toward the hatch. It fell over, shattered and became rubble on the ground.
She stared at the screen a long time, softly singing a litany of no's.
She was alone now, maintaining the machinery she knew little about, panicking at first when something failed but now only shrugging. She didn't give up, partly for Jacob and partly because she was the kind of woman who soldiered on no matter what the odds. In two hundred standard days, the supply ship would come but what would they find? Would she greet them with tea and vegetables from her garden or would they find the frozen woman who saw one too many sunsets?
Former professor of Electronic Engineering and Mechatronics. Stories published in 365 Tomorrows and poetry in a variety of magazines.
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