Sunrise over the Playa
Joaquim Souza stared out across the Playa. Rocks, dust, a few random sparkles of pre-sunrise dancing on the horizon. Home sweet home.
He drew a breath and stepped onto the trail. Another long day at work. Dropped the longboard with his left hand, shouldered the pack he was carrying with his right.
The board bounced deck-down in the dust. Flipped it with a gentle boot kick. Shards of approaching dawn glared off the foam metal in its trucks as it began to roll. Balloon tires bounded upright this time, settling into the dust before the man’s full weight made them flex. Joaquim was gliding on his way.
No breeze, no sound, hardly anyone else sharing this particular sunrise, not within several kilometers. Far from camp.
The regolith, however, had other notions.
A trifling of tiny stone — hardly big enough to matter, if Joaquim had bothered to take an electric buggy instead. Contemptible, inscrutable in its intent, it jumped into the spray of dust at just the angle needed to jam the longboard’s trucks.
Zigged when he should have zagged, then tumbled headlong. Tucking left shoulder, rolling to protect his face and the precious cargo in his pack. Endo into the dust! A first of many today, no doubt.
Brushing off dust, Joaquim kicked at the trail, hoping in vein to knock that errant tiny stone far aside. Turning back, he gasped at the dawn breaking on the mountains far across the Playa floor. The spectacle made him feel small and overwhelmed: compared to its brilliance, he was just a speck clinging to some dust on a small rock.
Mustering his composure, standing tall in the dawn, motions swept into Resh. “The important thing is not to forget.” Performing all four L.V.X. signs in sequence: Osiris Slain, Isis Mourning, Typhon, then Osiris Risen. Focus of the conscious mind on the center of our solar system:
Thee who art Ra in Thy strength, who travellest over the Heavens in Thy bark at the Uprising of the Sun.
Then with a kickflip he was back on the board, heading back down the trail. Joaquim could kick with great long strides like those of a cross-country skier, gliding with a well-timed toe-push to accelerate. Gliding through a still morning, the quietest time of the day. A vaguely Burner-ish experience, taken to the extreme. Performing the stations, over and over in sequence from dawn, to noon, to sunset, to midnight. While boarding. The cycle of his days.
Minutes down the trail, a familiar voice broke through his meditation. “Lucky day! Lightcraft disabled near your vicinity in Engelhardt. No transponder signal, but we have a location from the last broadcast.”
Coordinates flashed on his wrist, 5.6°N 159.5°W over a fragment of map — not far off the trail ahead. “Sure thing, Zoom. Will check in a few…” Muttered reluctantly into the mic.
Longboarding onward through Resh and regolith, in the LQ08 quadrangle. Now off to recover some injured cargo drone. Among other things. One more task added to an already long-lish list of morning chores.
Balloon wheels rumbled over the dense pack of the trail. Joaquim shifted the weight of his pack to adjust. More toward the left, balancing on the board as he picked up speed. Veering off toward the crash site, he tracked the location on his wrist. Minutes ahead, then mere meters. Something began to flicker behind a cropping of rock — not far off the left side of the trail.
He stopped to adjust the range on his binoculars, centering on the flickers. A side thruster still pulsed from the edges of the cargo drone, making it spin in fits. Little flickers of propellent blasted aimlessly into the ultra-fine gray dust.
One side panel seemed to have smashed on the rocks. Probably the fate of its transponder. Meanwhile, other precious cargo spilled over the regolith: tubes filled with dense carbon, diammonium phosphate, more seeds. Building blocks of life, out there rolling in the vacuum, sun, and dust. The DAP having been placed discretely into cigarettes to enhance nicotine, added to matches to prevent their afterglow. Both cultural artifacts now lost to a forgotten culture. Hopefully this recovery would have little to do with either burning or afterglow.
Bounding up to the crash site, he approached the last few meters cautiously, careful to avoid the thruster spray. Using one end of his longboard as a fulcrum, Joaquim knocked the drone’s control panel open, cautiously, between spins and propellent blasts. Once opened, he reached frantically for its emergency cutoff button, fumbling among a jumble of smashed metal and twisty wires. “The beautiful shiny red button … the jolly, candy-like button?” Tearing out wires, bending metal. “Could he hold out, folks?” Careful not to tear his glove. Hopping to keep pace with the drone still skidding in circles. “Would it erase all of History to press that magic little button, alone out here on the Playa with only a dying drone as a witness?”
On the next spin, Joaquim kicked at an exposed cutoff button with his boot, nearly getting burned by the thruster. “Sign of Fire,” he grumbled. Kicked a second time, much harder, and the drone gave up its ghost. “Much too close enough, my friend.” Dust settled, sunrise glimmered off the spilled cargo tubes.
“Hey Zoom, got my hands full out here,” Joaquim glanced across the crash site. “Half dozen tubes open, disabled Lightcraft.” He paused a moment to estimate his round-trip. “Fly another out to my current coordinates. Will rendezvous on the way back, I’ll bring out a waldo.”
Joaquim saw the flash of transport schedule updating, watched it scroll by — sparkles on his wrist. Performing the stations as he was out boarding. The cycle of his working days on the Playa.