Ask the Next Question: stories + images inspired by Theodore Sturgeon - Sarah Eberhardt
You Are the Future
It was the fourth lunar evacuation drill in a month and Kira was getting annoyed. Amid alarms and flashing emergency lights, she dragged a complaining Ellie out of the mess hall and into an airlock. “I’m sick of them running these stupid drills. By the time we’re done, lunch will be over, and low-gee makes me hungry.”
“Have an apple.” Kira tossed a dried apple slice at her best friend, who caught it in her mouth and chewed busily, which kept her quiet. Kira wrenched open a locker and started pulling on her gear. She was checking her air supply when a slurping sound made her look up. Ellie was wriggling into her own vac suit with a protein tube between her teeth. “You’re not supposed to eat during evac. Did you check your battery?”
Ellie spat the empty tube into the recycler with pinpoint accuracy and pulled on her helmet. “You gave me an apple. And yes, I checked my stupid battery. I’m eighteen, not eight.”
Kira sealed her own helmet and chinned the radio. “Just don’t puke when we’re out there. Open airlock.”
Ellie bounced out the open door and turned a few handsprings, boots kicking up puffs of lunar dust. Kira followed her out and then paused, fiddling with her heads-up display; trying to fix the static on the edges. The radio clicked. “I checked us in,” Ellie’s voice came, slightly breathless. “Stop trying to fix your gear, they always give interns the old stuff here.” Her voice deepened. “You are the future of lunar sciences,” she droned in an uncanny imitation of their earth-side advisor. “I trust you will take full advantage of your internships.” She snorted. “Half the joints froze up on my work gloves yesterday when I was trying to do satellite work on Luna station.”
“Interns have been getting old gear since the dawn of time.” Kira flipped slowly through her comm settings, a cold feeling of dread collecting in her belly. “Ellie, stop prancing around and check your comms.”
There was a short silence, and then Ellie went still. “Satellites are down. Hundreds of them. And the space stations. Even Luna Station. That’s impossible.”
Kira looked up. Earth was peeping over the horizon, deceptively peaceful. She had a fierce yearning to be back home, sand between her toes, ocean washing around her ankles. As if from far away, she heard Ellie yelp. “Another couple satellites just went dark.”
“Must be EMP blasts.” This was an older voice: Alex, a skinny grad student made anonymous in his vac suit, moving towards them in the loose-kneed jog of low-gee. “I can’t reach anyone back home. Now get inside.” He shoved her shoulder.
There was something in his tone… “Why so fast?” demanded Ellie.
Alex might have been smart, but he didn’t have much of a poker face, and his attention was focused over Kira’s shoulder. She turned. A Luna Station escape pod was plummeting toward them.
“They’re running dark, they haven’t responded to my hails.” Alex made a grab for her, voice tight with fear and anger. “It could be a trick. I’m your boss, get inside.”
“Of course they’re running dark, EMP would have knocked out the transponder. They’ll be lucky if they have any air.” Ellie’s voice was suddenly calm. “Shanti, you reading me? Get the medics and start up sick bay.”
Kira winced as the pod slammed down heavily just a few dozen meters away. “Don’t,” said Alex, as Ellie started toward it. He sounded almost pleading. The pod’s hatch opened and a figure spilled out into the dust, arms moving weakly. Ellie crouched beside the fallen man, then leaned into the pod, helping someone else.
Kira reached the pod a second later and looked down at the young man who lay half-propped against it, blood freckling his pale cheeks from a cut over one eye. “Don’t trust them,” Alex was still saying over the radio.
“We’re not trusting them.” Kira knelt beside the young man. “They’re trusting us.”
SARAH EBERHARDT was born and raised on a farm in New Jersey, where she spent her formative years surrounded by animals and books. She graduated college with a bachelor's in biology and just one credit short of a minor in creative writing, much to her annoyance. She spent her twenties working in various biology jobs and writing scraps of stories during microscope breaks and in the back of field research trucks. After eight years in Hawaii she is back on the east coast, readjusting to weather that involves temperatures below seventy degrees. When not playing with her dog or binge-watching sci-fi movies with her husband, she can be found trying to thin out her library in an effort to rescue her beleaguered bookshelves. Works by Robin McKinley, Neil Gaiman, and Terry Pratchett have diplomatic immunity, as do any books of poetry. Things are not looking good for the bookshelves. Hellhound Hunt is her first published novel.