The Stolen Moon
When the largest of the planet’s three moons finally slid free of the horizon, everyone on the research team looked up in awe.
“I don’t think that moon always belonged to this planet,” Senior Geologist Shayna Darris said.
“The hell are you mumbling about?” Mission Commander Jason Haze snapped, barely glancing up from putting together a portable security turret. “Get back to work, all of you. It’s going to be dark soon.”
“Take a chill pill, Commander,” one of the mechanics shot back. “There’s nothing hiding in the dark. Sit back and enjoy the moonrise.”
“Surely you see it too,” Darris said, nodding toward the massive red moon, its face dominated by a circular impact crater.
“See what? It’s a moon, for Star Mother’s sakes! The system surveys say it’s always been there.”
“2B6V is tidally locked. If it’s always been there, how did it get that impact crater?”
Haze shrugged in annoyance. “I dunno. Maybe it collided with the planet at some point.”
Poorly suppressed laughter bubbled up from the surrounding research team as the group continued about their tasks.
“The hell’s so funny?” Haze demanded.
“So 2B6V and this planet just bumped uglies and then decided to call it quits?” one of the navigators drawled. “Did you skip planetary physics or something?”
“I majored in weapons systems,” Haze growled. “Planetary physics are the reason we employ smartasses like you.”
“Think about it,” Darris pressed. “The moon is tidally locked. It always shows the same face to the planet. Yet somehow there’s a huge impact crater facing us.”
“This is pointless,” Haze grated.
“They taught you about trajectories in your weapons systems classes, yes?” the Chief Navigator asked. “What path would have been taken by the object that created that crater?”
“Think about the shape of the impact and what it tells you about the angle of approach,” Darris prompted. “Think about where this planet is in regards to that approach.”
The entire camp went silent, several dozen engineers, technicians, and field researchers collectively holding their breath for the explosion. Over the course of the mission, the volatility of Haze’s temper had become legendary. It was rivaled only by his lack of understanding of basic scientific concepts.
Slowly Haze rose to his feet. “That is it,” he said softly. Bodies tensed as he reached for his sidearm, the nearest engineers preparing to tackle him if he moved to draw it. But instead the officer spun on his heel and marched off toward the rear of their landing craft.
“The hell was that?” someone asked in the ensuing stunned silence.
“I think we all just witnessed our dear leader snap,” the Chief Engineer quipped.
The group returned to their tasks, their jovial mood somewhat subdued. The giant moon slid higher into the sky, filling the surrounding plain with its spectral glow.
“Did– did that sound like a gunshot to you?” one of the engineers said to his companion.
“Kind of muffled for a gunshot,” the other engineer replied skeptically.
“Where’s Haze?” Darris asked, standing up from the sleep pod she’d been constructing.
Portable lights in hand, several crew members traced their leader’s tracks around the back of the lander. The footprints continued down a gentle slope and into a narrow depression that ran between weathered ridges of stone. After several twists and turns, the canyon ended at a jagged wall. The commander’s body sat slumped in the sand at its base, the back of his head splattered across the grey stone.
The stolen moon continued on its stately course across the sky, unmoved.
—Flash Fiction: The Stolen Moon © 2018 by Leland Lydecker