Crossing Mercury

By Kevin J. Phyland

sfgenreFreeze. Cook. Suffocate.

From the cockpit of the motionless surface crawler these seem like the three most likely ways that Milton will meet his demise. Motor fried somehow and the satellite radio gone.

The operational forward floodlights illuminate the dead, sterile surface plain near Mercury's Lugus Planitia. Powdered gray-black rock and distant rills. The horizon is a darkness much too close to Milton, as the smaller radius of the planet foreshortens everything visible.

Only the stars are unchanging.

They stare sightlessly at him through the pre-dawn night.

The base is behind him, to the west, further back into the freezing darkness and well below that horizon. To the east is sunrise. Blistering heat and radiation when it reaches him. Death when the batteries in the crawler finally expire and the air conditioner gives up the ghost.

There would be no rosy glow to signify that the Sun is about to rise. The atmosphere is practically non-existent. That gives a fourth way to die — decompression. Milton considers it briefly but then mentally wipes it from the list.

But not indelibly. The fight with Olga seems a bit insignificant in light of his new predicament, and the niggling of an incipient hangover is starting to divert his attention.

His spacesuit holds about ten hours of air and is insulated for the cold, but is not rated anywhere near the blowtorch-like heat of the exposed sunlight.

And when the Sun rises it will be in the sky at this point for over sixty Earth days.

Milton thinks about this. The rotation of Mercury is slow and the circumference of the planet at this latitude, very close to the equator, is comparably small.

He does the math. On Earth at a height of two metres the horizon is about five kilometres away. On Mercury it's about sixty percent of that. Call it three kilometres. So by the time the Sun rises on his visor he'll have about three klicks until he's in full sunlight.

If he doesn't move. He idly rotates his lucky coin in his gloved hand.

Sunrise is approaching at about five klicks an hour and he can walk at perhaps three klicks an hour. The subterranean base is twenty kilometres west. It seems like a no-brainer. Walk back to base. The only fly in this ointment is that sunrise is not far off and he doesn't actually know how far.

He checks his suit radio. It's line-of-sight only, unlike the satellite radio in the crawler, but it seems to be working.

The choices are to sit in the crawler and roast or get hoofing it.

He heads off as fast as is safe, following the tracks of the crawler. Behind him the faint cone of zodiacal light hints at illumination below the eastern horizon. The brightness will dim his visor to opacity and the heat will broil him. He mentally upgrades his most likely cause of death to cooked.

The headlamp illuminates the rippling tread of the crawler's path as Milton trudges resolutely across the plain. He breaks up the walk into hundred-step sections, a distance roughly equivalent in metres. At these intervals he takes a small pull on the water tube and pauses to reassess his progress.

Without a way of telling how close sunrise is he can’t gauge his chances of making it back to base, and that uncertainty is an added and unwelcome drain on his diminishing resources.

After every ten sections he pauses and stretches for a minute or two then resumes his slow trek westward. It is about seven kilometres into the journey when the reassuring gurgle of the water in the tube gives way to a far more sinister hiss of air.

He draws his lucky silver dollar from the zipped pocket in his suit and looks at it. Highly polished and with Susan B. Anthony staring morosely from both obverse and reverse. Lucky he'd never been caught using it, he mused. It reflects his headlamp brilliantly enough to leave dark afterimages in his vision. The germ of an idea begins to tickle at the edges of his now sober brain.

It finally hits him. If he throws the coin up over his head high enough it might reflect the rising sun just below the horizon. This will give him a rough estimate of how long he has until it starts heating his suit and bathing him with direct radiation.

Flicking it with thumb and forefinger is out since he can’t flex his glove enough, so he just hurls it up into the inky blackness while trying to keep an eye on it against the background stars. It disappears from view, and after a second it flashes brilliantly once and falls back into the darkness of Mercury's shadow.

It is enough. It gives him at least two more hours and the base is just another four kilometres away by his reckoning. In another hour he can begin using the line-of-sight radio frequency and rouse a reception committee, who will be none too pleased with his unscheduled trip with the only working crawler at this time.

He considers what sort of story he can concoct to explain his madcap trip but decides that nothing he invents will be as believable as simply a drunken joyride. This will almost certainly get him in sizeable trouble, but not to the point that they’d consider the expense of shipping him back home — his body mass, if not his good sense, is too valuable as cargo at $100,000 a kilo.

Olga meets him at the airlock. “Enjoy your trip?” she asks, with no trace of humour.

Milton looks vaguely in her direction. “It had its moments,” he says. For a moment he regrets losing his lucky coin, but then realises that he probably doesn’t need it any more. It has done its job for him.

In one of the weird vagaries of Mercury's orbit, after the sun rises he sits and watches it sink backwards to the horizon and rise again.

He hopes it is a metaphor for his career.

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About The Author

Kevin J. Phyland

Kevin J. PhylandRetired after 33 years of teaching, Kevin now indulges his passions full-time: weather, reading and writing. His fiction usually embraces darker themes or the new weird, but lately he has gone back to more traditional old school SFF. He has set himself the task of reading every Stephen King novel, in order, and all of the recommended SF reading lists of Locus magazine for the last 35 years <>. His eyes hurt.


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AntiSF's Narration Team

timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <>.

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

You can read examples of Garry's fiction on his website <>

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pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

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She hosts the 'Off-Beet Poetry Slam' held bi-monthly in Katoomba,

And is a theatre reviewer for 2SER FM in Sydney.

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

She is the author of The Butterfly Stone (available now).

You can read more of her work on her blog Look for her on Facebook <> or Twitter: <@LaurienotLori>

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Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom — a visual arts practice with videographer Sean O'Keeffe.

(Photo by Jeremy Belinfante) 

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david whitaker 200David Whitaker is originally from the UK though has travelled around a bit and now resides in India. He has a degree in Journalism, however decided that as he’s always preferred making things up it should ultimately become a resource rather than a profession.

His stories, covering everything from sci-fi to philosophy, have been published across the globe and links to each can be found at <>

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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