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Shadows on the Moon (Alphabetic 20)

Atypical shadows on the moon’s surface were the first hints of something unexpected in the second extra-solar system mankind had reached. By the time the images of those anomalies had been analysed and inflated by the media, the first manned mission to its surface was underway. Complications dogged their journey, from equipment failures to broken bones.

Despite all the problems the eight man crew achieved orbit only one day behind schedule. Each man had his face pressed up to a porthole to get the best view of the lunar landscape. For Charlie, captain and leader of the expedition the sight of the moon’s uneven surface gave him an unaccountable tightness in his chest, but as it matched the usual tension in his stomach just before a mission he dismissed the feeling.

Gel sprayed into the gap between man and machine, filling the exotic armoured spacesuits to pressurised perfection. High-fiving and joking, Charlie, Alex and Samuel climbed into the orbital shuttle and prepared for their lunar expedition. In between the release of the docking clamps and the shuttle sliding free something went wrong. Just as the three men began to fall towards the surface their ship exploded – that image of the shuttle falling away to the moon was the last thing mission control saw.

Knowing that they were going to die on the moon was a secondary concern for the three astronauts. Light from the explosion had briefly blinded them and its force sent their shuttle into a dangerous spin. Maintaining their even approach was vital and they had almost regained it when they hit the ground. No one was hurt; their cushioned armour protected them and had drawn out their lives. One hundred days had been the target length of their mission – there, and back: they would surely be dead by the time help arrived.

Petulance gets you nowhere in space and so the trio of stranded astronauts were determined to do something useful for the three days worth of air which they had left. Quickly, but without haste Samuel established their location and found they were only slightly off target. Riding high with each step they strode across the barren landscape. Soon they reached the area of unusual shadows which had inspired their disastrous journey.

The ground sloped sharply upwards and the rock thrust out in strange conical structures. “Unless the termites got here first, someone made these,” commented Charlie. Virtues in space include calmness and reason – both of which were forgotten when Alex started screaming. When Charlie had idly joked about termites he had no idea how accurate he was. Xenobiologists from home would find the creatures fascinating, but as they gnawed their way through the spacemen’s armour they were terrifying. Yellow gel leaked and mingled into the dripping blood as the alien insects dragged the men into their nests.

Zooming in from space, only the abandoned shuttle and the bloody trails gave any indication of how badly the previous expedition had ended.

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