Author : Suzanne Borchers
She walked past the shelter’s only window—a 6-inch square with 6-inch thick glass. She focused on the gray metallic wall in front of her, refusing to even glance at the window with its hazy view of volcanic rock.
A 2-inch by 3-inch photo on a small, pink paper heart hung in solitary seclusion. She could close her eyes and see it. A grinning geologist encased in astronaut garb held his helmet in one hand and hoisted a piece of large obsidian covered with moss in the other. His eyes crinkled at the photographer with both celebration and love.
Sarah’s eyes blurred as she looked inward to see the scene.
Sam was on the team of scientists working to grow vegetation on the barren planet. This was vital for the community’s life. Their rations would run out before another supply ship would arrive.
Sam and his team had tried various schemes to encourage plant growth in the limited oxygen atmosphere. They drilled holes into the rocks, planting seeds in various types of crushed lava and growth mediums. They tried direct sun and indirect sun with no success even in the oxygenated lab.
But finally the day came when Sam went out into the abyss and brought back the moss covered rock. Eureka! Sarah snapped the photo with a long outdated camera. The soft-focused Sam stood in perpetual happiness. Sarah found paper, mounted the photo, and christened it with a kiss. Then she kissed Sam, again and again. They would be able to wait the years needed for the supply ship, together with their hoped-for children.
The day came that Sam and his team didn’t return with produce from their greenhouse laboratory. When the scientists hadn’t returned the next day, Sarah armed herself with rationed oxygen-supplement, bags of dried food, and containers of shelter-produced water. She placed them in the pack attached to her atmosphere suit. Sarah exchanged looks of hope and despair with the others. The children played demon-dragon, laughing until one noticed his mother crying. Then all went silent.
Sarah stepped out of the double airlock onto the rocky ground. It was morning. The red sun shone bleakly, rising above the extinct volcano before her, washing the gray sky with streaks of scarlet.
The weight of the pack became progressively unbearable, as she struggled to climb the volcano’s rugged slope. Her eyes squeezed shut with effort.
Finally she felt the rock shift downward to the lab with its vegetation experiment so vital to their survival. As she climbed down the slope, she prayed that Sam and the others would be safe.
The laboratory lay before her.
She ran to the door, pushed the airlock button, entered.
The airlock closed behind her without a sound.
Her hand shook as she pressed the second airlock button. The door silently whizzed open.
She stepped inside.
A large rock lay under a ragged hole in the ceiling. The red sun cast shadows on the motionless bodies below. Their suits hung on the wall.
Sarah ran to Sam, scooping him up in her arms, cradling him and rocking him like her lost child. “Sam.” His limp arms dangled while his eyes stared up at nothing.
She forced herself to look away from her husband to the brown, shriveling vegetables, and then to the thirty scattered bodies.
The broken families waited.
They had the right to know.
Their numbers had been cut in half; fewer people to feed with the remaining rations until the supply ship came.
They would survive.
But at what cost?