Chris has written more than 200 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.
An Arrow for an Olive Branch
Dr. Ruth Billings and her pilot, Joe Spencer, analyzed a boulder, about the size of a pickup truck, perched on the rim of Erlanger crater near the lunar north pole. The sun flirted with the horizon at a severe, permanent angle that sent long shadows of the man and woman over the brink, into the perpetual darkness.
On July 21, 2025, a month before their thirty-six-hour voyage, NASA had conducted an impact experiment by driving a two-ton booster deep into Erlanger like an eight ball in the corner pocket. The result was a plume of debris that soared forty kilometers into the lunar sky. The agency had remotely analyzed the rising fragments but wanted a visual assessment of larger pieces that would have landed at the crater's edge.
Ruth struck the boulder with her rock hammer, once, twice, three times. A piece the size of a teacup saucer drifted to her feet with a coating of fine gray dust that clung to the outer surface as it did the entire boulder. She retrieved the sample and turned it over in her palm. Pure ice crystals glinted in the light of the sun like tiny stars for the first time since their formation.
Ruth's face beamed with pride at being among the first to identify a source of recoverable water on the moon. Joe saw her smile freeze like the ice she held in her gloved hand. She gazed into the sun. Her green eyes widened. The bright reflection on her visor dimmed as darkness engulfed the entire moonscape. Joe turned, and the two stood motionless for precious seconds, overcome by mesmerized fear.
The Lunar North Pole and Erlanger Crater.
The object, silhouetted against the backdrop of the sun, bore down on them while Ruth fumbled to respond to an incoming communication from NASA.
"Dr. Billings,” said David Martin, the executive director, “An object showed up on our detection systems about five minutes ago. I realize how impossible that sounds. Can you describe what you're seeing?"
"This is no asteroid or comet; it has to be a spacecraft. It's going too slow. Too round. We have to take cover, it's coming in low, right at us!"
Ruth and Joe scrambled over the rim of the crater. The conical wall created a steep grade. About forty feet down, they both found foot and hand holds which they hoped would anchor them while they waited.
The front of the sphere shot out over their heads. Seconds later, the the bottom curvature struck the rim. Debris drifted out over the crater. Chunks of rock fell toward Ruth and Joe going six times slower than on Earth, so they were able to dodge the large, threatening pieces.
Sound does not travel through the vacuum of space, but the waves flowed through rock to the pair clinging to the crater's wall. Their arms, legs, and suits transmitted the vibrations to their ears and radio microphones which, in turn, translated them into the deafening shriek of metal dragging across rock.
Ruth craned her neck to look over her shoulder. Half the spacecraft had already cleared the opposite side of the crater as the back of the sphere flashed over their heads. The entire ordeal had occurred in less than half a minute. With fatigued arms and legs, they struggled up to the rim and peeked over the jagged edge. Seeing no more surprises on the horizon, they climbed out and watched the spacecraft travel low over the moon's surface, the blue Earth visible over the top arch.
"Were they trying to run us down or is that thing completely out of control?" Ruth rubbed her aching arms.
"I don't know, Dr. Billings, but it looks like its next target is Earth."
"Damnit, why was there no warning?" President of the United States, Alec Golden rose from behind his desk in the Oval Office. “What have we been able to see through our telescopes?”
"Sir, it is a metallic sphere about ten miles in diameter,” said National Security Advisor, Mike Romsky.
The President strode around the perimeter of the room, then crossed to the center. He stared down at the Presidential Seal, embossed on the carpet, and spoke without looking up. "Has there been any direct communication?"
"Does it look like they will attempt to enter our atmosphere?"
"Dr. Martin, at NASA, says that according to its current trajectory and slow speed of twelve hundred miles per hour, it will pass by in about eight days, barely missing us."
"They bounced off the Moon! Is it possible the spacecraft is in trouble?"
“That was Dr. Martin’s conclusion.”
"Let’s keep trying to communicate. Have all branches of the military ready with whatever they've got, but no one is to act without my authorization.”
"Yes, sir. I'll let the Chairman know immediately."
President Golden walked Romsky out of his office and stopped at his secretary's desk.
"Janet, please get Dr. Richard Smith at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore on the phone."
"Of course, Mr. President. Will there be anything else?"
"Yes, another one of those energy drinks."
"Sir, you've already had two."
"This one will be the last for the day, I promise. But first, the call, please.”
The Oval Office
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 13, 2017:
Linda, welcome. Thanks for taking time to find your way to part one. I hope you enjoy the story.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 13, 2017:
I noticed this story after you had published Part Six, so I've got some catching up to do. It looks like it's going to be an interesting tale!
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 02, 2017:
MizBejabbers, I think you made the right decision to back up to part one before reading part three. I do not take one read, one comment for granted. I appreciate the time and effort you are putting fort reading this story.
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 02, 2017:
Peg, thanks for reading today. I'm glad you liked the part about the transfer of sound waves. I hoped it wasn't pedantic. I am excited to share this story.
Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on November 02, 2017:
Chris, I happened to see your 3rd installment and decided to go back and look up the other two before I got involved in no. 3. So glad I did. You hit the ground running on this one. I'll save more comments for later.
Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on October 31, 2017:
Part one and it's packed with action and mystery in the vacuum of outer space. You've done a great job conveying the soundless aspect of space and your description of the scraping noise was awesome. I like this story already. Onward!
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 25, 2017:
Patricia, Thanks for reading. I do appeciate your visit and comment. I'll be posting this story once each week, so be sure to keep an eye out for the next segment.
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on October 25, 2017:
You got my attention. Hoping to get back to read more...
Angels are on the way to you this morning ps
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 24, 2017:
Mr. Dierker, nice to see you. I'm glad you are enjoying the story so far. And I am so pleased you are watching the details of the science as well. The moon has gravity. It is about 16.6% that of Earth. The Rock Ruth held would have fallen at the rate of 1.6m/s².
Thanks for stopping by for part one.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on October 24, 2017:
Marvelous. I can't wait for more so hurry up! It brought back the memory of your earlier writing. I am glad my brain still works that way.
I think POTUS is cool here. Let us help if we can. Was that Reagan who said "trust but verify"?
I think I do not understand Lunar gravity. Why did her chip of rock fall instead of float?