Abe stood on the highest ledge atop the butte and regarded the exposed rock layers across the canyon. It had been a long time since he’d really stopped to look at them. A long time. A lot had happened.
If you’d never been to 42 Orions B—no one could agree on a suitable permanent name, last they’d heard—you’d be forgiven for thinking you were still on Earth. The pale blue hues under the clear starry sky could be confused for an evening in the American Southwest. But if you waited, you’d find that the blue-drenched canyons never took on the pinks and reds and golds of sunrise. The planet wasn’t quite tidally locked, but nearly so, and blue was the only color the host star shined.
Today, the Antenor hovered silently between Abe and the stars. Its incredible bulk was impressive enough to draw his eyes away from the canyons’ splendor. Although, Abe had other reasons to fixate on it.
The sounds of crunching gravel alerted him to Zayden’s approach, even before the bouncing beam of his flashlight came into view.
“There you are!” he said. “God, I’ve been looking everywhere.”
Abe held up a hand. “Don’t point that thing in my eyes.” He despised Zayden’s infantile attachment to that flashlight. His eyes would never adjust as long as he relied on it.
“Sorry,” he said, and lowered the beam to his own feet like he was standing in a light-puddle. “What’s the plan?”
“Yeah. What are we gonna tell them?”
“Why should we have to tell anyone anything?” It was a serious question, but he was intentionally pushing Zayden’s buttons.
“Abe, they’re going to figure out that the comms are out. How do we—”
“They knew the comms were out months ago; who are you kidding?”
Zayden’s body contorted with checked agitation. “Sure. Fine. But what are we going to do? They’ll send a team any minute now. Oh my God, I can’t go to prison, Abe. We’re so fucked!”
“Come here, Zee.” Abe opened his arms comfortingly, and Zayden shuffled over. “It’s okay. You’re not going to go to prison. Listen; here’s what we’re going to do. We just need a fall guy—someone to pin it on who isn’t around to say otherwise. We’ll say we’ve been marooned here and tell them how they’re all heroes for rescuing us.”
“A fall guy? You think that could work?”
“Sure it’ll work!”
“What, like a bandit ship or something?”
Abe patted Zayden on the back and chuckled from deep in his belly. “No, no. I had someone else in mind.” He waited for Zayden’s eyes to widen with recognition—it took a beat—and then shoved him off the butte. The acceleration due to gravity on 42 Orions B felt Earth normal, but had been measured to be about a tenth of a meter per second squared faster. It meant Zayden would be spared an extra split-second of terror before he hit the ground. The little flashlight tumbled through the darkness and finally went out for good as it exploded on the canyon floor far below. Abe spat off the cliff and then started to make his way back to the station proper. He had preparations to make before the inspection team arrived.
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Silvia Pasqualetto, used with permission.