Dancer flipped the arm rests down and eased back into the drivers seat. He stared out of the narrow viewfinder at the sheer rock face on his left, then across the open bushland to the right, randomly dotted with boulders of various sizes, probably dropped by some ancient, retreating glacier. The blue-purple sky was getting darker with every passing second; there was maybe thirty minutes of light left at most. Drawing in a long, deep breath and exhaling slowly, Dancer grabbed his datapad. He already knew his schedule, he’d checked it every day for the last week, but now that the work cycle was coming to an end, he enjoyed looking at it all the same. Eighty six days on world, four to go. He just had to deliver this last consignment and get the roller back to the depot, then he was off on the next shuttle to orbit, and from there, the next cruiser back to Earth for two months rest. But right now, he had other things to think about. Setting down the datapad, he looked out the viewport once again, trying to spot something, anything, that was remotely familiar. Yeah, something wasn’t right. Better wake Steffens thought Dancer, grabbing the internal comms mic and, as a mischievous smile crossed his lips, cranked up the volume level in the bunk module to maximum.
“Hey Steffens, rise and shine! Better get up here! we’ve got new orders from base. Come on Steffens, I need your eyes up here on the double!”
“Jesus Dancer, you trying to give me a heart attack back here?! I’m telling you, it wasn’t funny the last time and it sure as hell isn’t funny now! Anyway, I’ve still got three hours of my rest period left, what’s so important that…”
“Hey, like I said, orders from base. They sent us a nav update a while back and…”
“Yeah yeah, spare me the details. I’ll be right up.” Then, under his breath, “ Jackass.”
“Hey, I heard that!”
“Yeah yeah… turn the damn volume down you jack… ah forget it.”
Dancer switched off the mic, chuckling to himself. He knew he should probably stop messing with Steffens, he was bound to get him back one day. On the other hand, he was senior driver and outranked the new kid, so might as well have his fun while it lasted. Feeling satisfied with himself, Dancer had just settled down into the drivers seat once again when the roller hit something, probably one of the smaller boulders, and the vehicle bounced up in the air, coming down with a thump and almost throwing Dancer out of his seat. The auto-nav was programmed to avoid any objects large enough to cause damage to the roller, but this one must have been just outside of the parameters. Just about audible over the rumble of the engines and the crunch and grind of the huge, two hundred inch wheels, Dancer heard a loud bang and clatter from the bunk module, followed by a pained yelp from Steffens. He chuckled to himself again, bursting into uproarious laughter as the door to the bunk module opened to reveal a flustered looking Steffens, sweating and dribbling blood from a superficial head wound.
“Thanks for the heads up, genius! You knew I was up and about, least you could do is keep your eyes on the road! I mean… oh, just fuck you. Fuck you Dancer! You like that? Fuck you man!”
This only encouraged Dancer more, and it was several minutes before he managed to compose himself, by which time Steffens had settled down into the co-drivers seat.
“Ok Steffens, I’m sorry, playtime is over now, ok? Anyway, we got a problem up here I need you to take a look at. Can you keep an eye on the auto-nav readout while I try and get my bearings with the external cameras? I don’t really know how to explain it to you, but I just get the feeling that we aren’t where the nav-com says we are.”
“Yeah, no problem Dancer, but I’m telling you, I can’t deal with
any more of your crap today…”