Boulders

“Just follow the ridge of that crater around to the right for a while. But mind the boulders. They don’t slip often, but when they do they don’t give you any warning. Silent as starlight.” Hector had been backseat driving for three days, now. He only stopped talking long enough to keep drinking. If the life support systems of the habitats could stand up to punishment as well as Hector’s artificial Optimus Labs liver then they wouldn’t have to make these trips. The rover left a cloud of red dust behind it, and Cameron watched the particles in the monitors, letting his mind go blank. He was trying to be more Zen.

Hector took a pull from his canteen and dropped it to the deck. Another one down. He belched and dribbled brown liquid down his chin and swam out of his suspenders, letting them fall slackly at his sides. “Silent as starlight,” he slurred. “Them boulders roll around with intent, yes sir. Mind the boulders, Cam; they can slip.”

This was setting back Cameron’s mindfulness efforts. He didn’t want to be present, not here and now. He sighed loudly and pushed the rover harder. Get me out of this situation, he thought, but he didn’t know who he was addressing. Whoever it was, they must have been listening, because the rover lost traction over an ice patch and fishtailed.

Hector was useless, unable to process what was happening. “Follow the ridge,” he said.

Cameron pulled at the levers and tried to feel the rover’s motion through their vibrations, but he couldn’t pull them out of their spin. They were climbing the short crater ridge and not shedding enough speed to halt before going over the steep ledge on the other side. He threw levers and kicked at pedals like a pipe organ virtuoso. He was present. At last, as the ledge loomed before them, Cameron managed to pull the back end around. They slammed to a stop just meters from the edge, their glide impeded by a boulder.

The large rock tilted slowly and fell silently down into the crater.

“Mind the boulders, Cam. They sneak up on you, silent as—”

“Shut up, Hector. Be like a goddamned boulder.”

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