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When There’s No Man Around

Sandrust!” Lucy Stargos said exasperatedly as she kicked the unfeeling machine for the third time. Neither her ejaculat

ion nor her kick did any good, however. The sand tractor still refused to start.

Outside the insulated tractor dome, the Martian night pressed in with cold fixedness and the stars stared down unabashed, the Martian atmosphere being too thin to work up so much as a legitimate twinkle. Phobos and Deimos were both up, doing their feeble part to illuminate the night Marsscape. And in front of the tractor rose the seven-meter crater wall that the vehicle had stalled on while trying to climb it.

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.

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