The Spirit Lingers by Stuart Atkinson

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SUMMARY: Can a Mars rover leave more than wheel tracks on the red Planet..? (Note: if you want to see the image this story was inspired by, go to: http://www.zip.com.au/~gjn/MERSFX/Images/solset.jpg )

THE SPIRIT LINGERS...

"Are we there yet?" Lauren asked slightly huffily - from her seat at the back of the cramped field rover. Surrounded by ageing specimen boxes, scuffed crates and tattered webbing she felt like a sardine in a can.

"Almost... another five minutes or so..." replied a voice from upfront as the rover juddered on its way, each bounce and shake accompanied by yet more cracks and bangs, as the various pieces of equipment stuffed into the rover's payload bay settled into new arrangements. "It'll be worth the wait, I promise..."

Lauren wasn't so sure. They'd been driving for three hours now, and she had no idea where they were, because, unusually, and annoyingly, she'd been shooed out of the passenger seat and banished to the rear compartment where, without any windows to gaze out of, she was completely lost; no scenery to stare out at, no sky to gaze up into, nothing. All she'd had to keep her busy was her faded, battered-looking copy of "Roving Mars", an antique original left to her by...

No. No point dredging up those sad memories. This was meant to be a fun day out.

Hmmm. Some fun day out squished into a tiny space in the back of a rover on a mad mystery tour

The rover was slowing.

"We're here," she heard a cheerful male voice call out to her from upfront, "time to suit up..."

At last! Lauren put down her book, scrambled to her feet grimacing as her knees popped back into place and stretched luxuriously. Now, where was her helmet..?



Standing in the airlock door twenty minutes later, Lauren looked out at the ruddy landscape around her, and realised she still had no idea where they were. On the ground beneath her, at the end of the lowered ramp, stood her parents, twin white snowmen on the orange and red ground of Mars. Standing as usual - so close together their hips were almost touching, they were looking up at her intently.

"Now, listen, Lauren..." she heard her mother say in her Serious Voice. "I want you to come down here, slowly, but and this is very important don't look behind you, okay?"

What?

"Is the rover on fire or something?" she asked, suddenly worried. Is that why they'd stopped so suddenly?

"No, nothing like that!" laughed her father. "It's just.... Well... if you look behind you it will ruin the surprise, that's all."

Surprise?

"Just trust us, okay?" asked her mother, gently. "Look around if you want, but you'll spoil something we've wanted to do for you for well, for a long time."

Lauren smiled. They were always spoiling her, doing silly little things to try and make her smile, make her feel like she really was their daughter and not

"Okay, whatever..." she sighed melodramatically, and started to clomp her way down the metal ramp towards her parents who both gave her a flourished thumbs up sign in thanks for her co-operation.

As she always had done, Lauren paused at the edge of the ramp. Okay... I'm going to step off the LEM now... In slow motion she lifted her foot and lowered it into the martian dust...That's one small step for man

"...ONE GIANT LEAP FOR MANKIND!!" her parents shouted simultaneously, knowing exactly what she was doing.

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