Inside the dome, Lucy paced about as best she could. There wasn’t much room for pacing, despite the fact that Martian sand tractors were made to be self-contained units, complete with heating, lighting, and food and water dispensers. They had to be—the Martian climate was quite inhospitable to human endurance. A person with an oxygen mask and an electrically heated suit could survive outside in a Martian night for maybe an hour or more, but the Marsmen had developed a phobia of the “Outside.” No Marsman would leave a tractor dome except under the direst of emergencies.
Lucy was beginning to consider this a dire emergency. She had a vision of how her father would react. He would tower five meters above her head, perched regally upon his Olympus of parental authority. “Well, young lady, what have you got to say for yourself?” The lightning of divine wrath would flash from his eyes and small beadlets of thunder would drop from his brow. He would glower a small marsquake at her, and when she didn’t say anything he would continue, “I was against letting you have the tractor in the first place. Your mother talked me into it. Personally, I don’t think a girl your age should be allowed to go outside the city at night. Especially just to visit that boyfriend of yours. From now on, I smite you with the curse that you’re not to go driving unless there’s somebody responsible along with you. Understand?” And the specter departed in a flourish of hautboys.
“It’s all your fault,” Lucy said to the tractor. “What have you got against me, anyhow?”
The tractor merely sat there and politely refused to comment.
“Look, I’ve got to get back to Syrtis in an hour, or Daddy’ll kill me. Come on, now, be a nice tractor and start.” She pressed the ignition button again. The motor whirred encouragingly. “Come on, baby,” she coaxed it. “Come on.” The motor coughed, turned over—and died.
“Darn you!” she screamed at the machine. “Why don’t you cooperate?”
The tractor, perhaps unable to think of an excuse, did not answer.
It wouldn’t be so bad, Lucy mused, if this had happened on the main road. There was lots of traffic there, and she would easily have been able to find someone to help her. But she had forgotten all about so trivial a thing as time when she was with Jerry, until she’d realized that it was much too late to get home by the time her father had insisted on. “Don’t worry,” Jerry had said, and the wise patience of the gods had beamed through his Adonis-like face. Then he had presented her with two stone tablets, and inscribed in the living rock were the laws of the Universe. “There is an ancient, secret path that’ll get you back in half the time,” he went on. “Of course, it’s a little bit out of the way....”