“Walkabout One to Command. You hearing me James?”
“I hear you, Heather.”
“Command, please repeat. I’m sure Mission Control didn’t receive that improperly formatted communiqué.”
James looked out the viewport at Heather standing defiantly on the Martian surface. He cleared his throat and replied. “Walkabout One, this is Command. I read you five by five.”
“Acknowledged, Command. There appears to be something blocking the airlock. Can you confirm?”
“Wait one, Walkabout One. I’ll see if I can get a good look at whatever it is.”
Heather made her way towards the lander. The odd thing covering the hatch looked strangely familiar, but she was too far away to process what her eyes were seeing.
“Walkabout One, please switch to channel seven.”
“Acknowledged, Command. Switching to channel seven.”
Heather’s eyes focused on the portion of her visor that read out her statistics. She flipped her index finger up as if she was using a touchscreen. The sensors in her visor and glove interpreted those and incremented the channel.
“Command, this is Walkabout One on channel seven.”
James cut her off and he spoke frantically. “Forget that regulation crap. It’s just you and me. Mission Control can’t download this until the mission‘s over.”
“James?” Concern crept into her voice. “What’s got you worked up?”
“Holy crap! There’s an arthropod attached to the hull!”
“Like a bug or something?”
“Yeah a god damned insect.”
Heather squinted at the landing craft and her visor magnified the image. “It looks like a scorpion, but without those pincher things or a tail.”
“It’s creepy is what it is. Should we tell Mission Control?”
Heather clicked her tongue while she thought, a habit she tried to rid herself of for years. “Let’s not get hasty. We don’t wanna make fools of ourselves.”
James grunted. “I’ll check it out from the hanger bay. Keep the line open.”
As James made his way toward the hatch, Heather moved closer to the lander.
“Uhh… It’s dissolving the hull.” James screamed over the comm. “What the he-“
Heather closed her eyes a fraction of a second before the explosion. She didn’t want to witness the loss of the lander. She knew her suit would record the event.
When she opened her eyes, the lander was obliterated. She was acutely aware of a large piece of shrapnel penetrating her visor. She had to cross her eyes to bring the hunk of metal into focus. She sat down and waited for what she knew would come next.
* * *
“Miss Klantor, as mission leader you are responsible for the loss of the Mars lander and two virtual reality augments.”
“There will be a formal inquiry. You and your team will repurpose the Ceres lander. This better not happen again.”
Heather turned and walked out of the office. She would go back to Mars. Without the data storage device hanging from a chain around her neck, Mission Control would never know she had made contact with an extraterrestrial life form.