In the Shadow of the Sun
"Mother of Russia, doesn't the sun ever set around here?"
Gerado Landi remained silent, not knowing whether his co-worker's question was rhetorical or not. If it was…well, no shit, the sun moved in strange ways on Mercury and with the planet being at its perihelion, the wackiness factor had gone up by an astronomical unit. If it wasn't a rhetorical question however, then he had to wonder who was the greater fool-Sergei the fool, or ArmaDyne for sending him.
"Hey, you ever notice it?" the man asked as Gerado continued his readings of the crater he was standing at the edge of. "Has the sun ever actually set while you were on this rock?"
"Sets about once a year," Gerado grunted, his eyes on the chemical detection device's feedback. "Not that much different from Venus really."
Unbelievable. Completely unbelievable.
"Unbelievable" wasn't a welcome word for a scientist, or at least in the sense that something remained unbelievable after demonstrating it. Less than a century ago, who would have believed that there'd be colonies on the moon and Mars, or scientific outposts on Venus and Mercury? Who would have believed that there were already plans for an extra-solar mission set for 2097? Growing up in drought-stricken Pakistan, Gerado wouldn't have believed that in his adult life he'd be standing on the surface of an alien world, operating a CDD that via an extendable cable, was taking chemical readings of the frozen water in the crater below, hundreds of metres in depth.
Gerado swore in Urdu. That, at least, wasn't unbelievable.
"Something wrong?" Sergei asked, walking over to his superior.
"Only this," Gerado answered, tapping the CDD. "It isn't reading anything."
Gerado shook his head, or shook it as best as his heavy spacesuit would allow. "Doubt it. Had similar problems on Venus. These devices aren't meant to operate at these kinds of temperatures."
Nor were human beings for that matter, but at least they were equipped with spacesuits designed for the intense heat. Working on Mercury over the past few months had proven to be a breeze compared to the hell of the Sol system's second planet-he was still wearing platinum with what looked like a giant refrigerator strapped on his back, but at least he didn't have to worry about the pressure. What he did have to worry about however, was his report to ArmaDyne that the equipment he'd been given wasn't worth a damn, and while he appreciated wearing something that would protect him from being incinerated, he needed the same protection for his equipment as well.
"Come on," Gerado said, gesturing to the rover parked nearby. "Let's go."
Sergei followed him, picking up his own equipment. The kid was a newbie, but at least he knew how to follow orders.
"Strange," the young man commented. "You wouldn't expect this to be so light."
"Gravity can be a kind mistress sometimes," Gerado murmured. "You could probably jump down that hole if you wanted and not suffer a single injury."
"And yet the sun's always overhead. That, at least, makes this worse than Earth, no?"
Back to the sun again. Gerado supposed it was understandable-the damn thing practically took up the entire horizon and had done so ever since the kid had arrived. Apparently ArmaDyne was becoming more and more willing to send people with the minimal amount of training to the system's first planet, because one way or another, he hadn't been made aware that he'd arrived during the planet's perihelion period-the point where Mercury rotated so fast that the sun practically froze in the sky before moving on.
"So…" Sergei began as he mounted the rover. "How long will it take for the new equipment you need?"
"Some time. Probably better just to wait for the sun to set so the equipment actually works."
That seemed to give the novice pause in his words, but it gave Gerado time to think. Mercury and Earth were on the same side of the sun right now, but not in alignment…if it came to sending a message, it would take roughly five to six minutes for ArmaDyne to receive it, a few hours to reach a decision and six to seven more minutes to get a response. And assuming they decided to launch immediately, it would take about twenty to thirty days, depending on the class of starship being used.
Better part of a month then. And at the length of Mercury's year…
ArmaDyne wouldn't be coming, Gerado reflected. They'd simply tell them to sit tight and wait for the temperature to drop. Half a year of doing nothing, but at least that was a Mercurian year rather than a Terran one. And in that year, as he glanced at Sergei's polarized visor, he supposed he'd have time to get to know the people of Hermes Base better.
"So…" Gerado began. "What brought you to Mercury?"
"Ah, well, you know," the young man answered awkwardly. "Apply for a job, pass the physicals, prove I can follow orders…next thing I know I'm flying through space and landing here."
"So this is your first assignment?"
It figured, the older scientist reflected. Interest in the moon and Mars was practical-colonization, resources, the kind of things people wanting a better life were interested in. Interest in Venus was scientific-study a runaway greenhouse effect on the planet of "beauty" would help chart the course of the next few centuries of climatic hell on Earth. Interest on Mercury, while scientific as well, was the type of science that was an academic indulgence. There was little talk of colonization, and what little scientific interest existed was directed towards its pockets of ice water found in its deepest craters. Interest to see how viable it would be for human use and whether micro-organisms existed.
And if there are, what then? Gerado reflected as he crested the top of one crater to see the even larger crater that Hermes Base resided in. People will stop asking "are we alone?" People will say "oh look, water, let's move to Mercury?" Please…
As he headed for the modular buildings, Gerado gave one last look at the sun. Always shining, ever so brightly.
Yet on the innermost of the Sol system's planets, he felt very much left in the dark.