Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Voychek stood at the edge of the crater, heavy boots slowly sinking into the dusty surface as he surveyed the damaged instrumentation balloon below. He could feel the wind whip frozen particles the size of grain pellets in torrents around him, the staccato beating against his suit muffled by the hardened exterior.

His suit was virtually impenetrable. The balloon, however, hadn’t done nearly as well.

Grunting, he half walked, half skied down the gradual slope of the crater wall, stopping when he reached the equipment pod. The meter plus wide spherical canister appeared to have clipped a sheer face as it fell, the top having been sliced off neatly, coming to rest a dozen metres away from the rest of the container and its battered contents.

Further still lay the harness that had attached the balloon to the equipment pack, now limp in the dust, the risers and lines splayed out, the burners torn off and the silver expanse of fabric fluttering limply in the solar wind, its skirt and lower panels shredded like so much swiss cheese.

Voychek walked to the canister lid and kicked down hard on one edge, the piece bouncing up into his waiting hand as though it were a skateboard and he a free-wheeling teenager.

He chuckled, dropping the shell back into the dust and again kicking hard at its edge, flipping it up into his hand.

From the command tower, his compatriots watched in puzzlement through long glasses.

“What the hell is he doing out there?” The balding Dominic scratched his head absently.

“Who knows, who cares. Not my problem until he brings that gear back in for me to fix.” Chase turned his back on the large observation panel and walked away.

Outside, Voychek threw the sliced off section of shell face down in the dust where the harness lay, then stood on it, wedging his boots between the cross-bracing and turning the toes out to grip the panel. Bending, he picked up the harness leads and flicked them, as one might coax a horse to action by snapping its reins.

The lead lines rippled outwards, lifting the tattered fabric out of the dust only momentarily.

Voychek snapped the lines again, then pulled back hard, the tension pulling a larger section of fabric into the inhospitable atmosphere where the whipping wind snatched at it. The increased pressure filled the section, pulling it further off the ground and taking up the slack in the risers and lines with considerable force.

Voychek tensed, heels pushed hard into the plate beneath him, holding steady in the shifting surface dust. Knees bent, arms straining he coaxed the battered balloon fabric higher off the ground until it cleared the crater lip and caught the full force of the wind whipping above it.

Voychek shot forward like a rocket, instinctively turning himself and angling the board so he was being pulled along sideways. Digging in at the last possible instant, he used his forward momentum to climb the side of the crater wall diagonally, and worried for several long seconds as he shot vertically out of the crater, high above the surface, still travelling forward at great speed before gravity brought him back down hard. He tucked into a crouch to take up the impact, then bounced back up to skim across the landscape throwing great plumes of dust out behind him.

From the observation deck, Dominic lowered his long glass and smiled.

“Don’t expect Voychek back anytime soon. Looks like before he salvages any of the equipment, he’s going to salvage what’s left of his afternoon.”

As Voychek raced towards the horizon Dominic added “He might be calling for a ride.”

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