Here is a link to today’s prompt. My offering is entitled “To Ray, With Love” because I wrote it in homage to Ray Bradbury, my number one favorite author…
McDunn thought he would cry. As he crested the small hill he could have sworn he’d taken a different direction; yet, once again, there it was: the husk of the Spirit rover. He looked at his watch again, to no avail; the Tag Heuer he had always been so proud of as he walked the streets of Los Angeles was useless here. He wondered why he had believed Clarisse when she told him it would be fun to come to Mars. Oh, sure–the flight up on the opulent (and very expensive) space ship had been fun. But the landing that could be described as just short of “crash” was anything but. He thought his advanced degree in astronomy would keep them on-track until the next ship arrived, but he felt himself slowly losing his bearings. He’d gone out just a couple days ago–or had it been three?–to look for the secondary landing location. He’d promised Clarisse and the others that he could find it, would find it, and leave a message for the captain and crew as to where the survivors of the passengers of “The Deep” were hiding out from the harsh Martian weather. It was winter there, and McDunn found it to be nothing like the brochures had suggested. As he walked past the debris field of the rover once again, he tried to concentrate on his mental draft of the complaint letter he planned to send to the travel agency; his mind continued to wander back to the fact that he’d already passed the rover site twice, which meant it had probably been closer to three days that he’d been out here. He looked at his watch again; some habits were hard to break.
In that moment he decided to turn left; he’d been circling to the right after he left the others because his fine training had him convinced that the location of the secondary landing area was to the left. It made sense that should he turn to the right, he would find his way back to Clarisse, Montag, and the others. As he changed direction he pondered what lie he would tell about not finding the secondary landing location. He wasn’t too worried, since he’d found a patch of area that appeared to be a landing space; he’d left the information about the group there as promised, but the brochures all said the secondary landing space was clearly marked: the area he had found had no signage, but rather it was marked by a stark little quonset hut. He’d gone in and found nothing that looked familiar, but the burnt sand outside suggested a regular schedule of take-offs and landings. He picked up his pace, assured that his response would sound convincing when he met up with the group.
McDunn shielded his eyes, despite the anti-reflective coating on his helmet; some habits, like watch-checking, were hard to break. He thought he’d seen the outcropping ahead about a half-hour ago and had stopped to hold his hand up to his forehead, just like he would when he looked up at the tops of tall buildings in the noonday sun back in Los Angeles. He never thought he would be so glad to see those grimy streets again, but had promised himself that when they got back he would go to Union Station, get down on the ground, and kiss it. Sure enough, he had finally found the camp; Mr. Granger was coming to meet him, so he steeled himself and prepared his dialogue. However, the look on Granger’s face said that he should prepare for perhaps a different conversation. Wide-eyed, Granger was running toward him–an unusual sight for a man his age. Breathless, he grabbed McDuff by the shoulders. “Where the hell have you been? We saw the rocket come down yesterday and it took off just after sunrise this morning! They left without us, man!”
Clarisse, Mrs. Granger, Dr. Beatty, Professor Montag and the spinster Ms. Faber had come out; those five, Granger, and McDuff were the only survivors. The men had put the women to work taking the supplies that were not damaged to the shelter they’d spotted while they took care of the bodies. Everyone’s facial expressions now looked like they did that day. McDuff looked around, trying to stay calm. “I don’t know what you’re talking about; I didn’t see any rocket. I found a landing space over there–” he pointed in the direction from which he’d just come, “–and left our location. The brochure says the rocket comes on Saturday, and that is tomorrow, so we’re good.”
Granger snorted; had he been standing on his native San Antonio soil, he might have spit on the ground. “We saw the Earth insignia on it, big and bright as day! And you probably didn’t see it because you were walking in the opposite direction. Anyway, you just proved that our ride left without us. You’re right: the rockets come on Saturday. Today is Sunday.”
Clarisse was quietly weeping and the other two women gathered her and walked her back to the shelter. McDunn felt himself coming unglued; if today was Sunday, that meant he’d been wandering for the better part of five days. “Are you sure today isn’t Friday?” he asked, wildly.
Dr. Beatty responded coldly. “It seems your Tag Heuer let you down, Mr. McDunn, as today is most certainly not Friday. However, I have a more pressing question for you.” He looked into the sky behind McDunn and pointed. “If our secondary ship left this morning, to whom have you provided our location information?”
McDunn turned and watched the strange ship slowly descend; he looked at his watch, wondering how long it would take them to come.