Clear from the home planet, they unstrapped and set to preparing the shuttle for its arrival in lunar orbit. Their flight would be the fastest manned journey to the moon yet achieved, a little less than eight hours.
Anthea was in her berth changing into a pair of coveralls when calamity hit. Her shoulder was driven into a bulkhead, sending darts of pain shooting down her spine. The shuttle lurched like a fly slapped away by a giant hand.
The craft trembled and the lights went dark. Alarms blared ship wide as the battery backups fired up. Anthea fought to push her weightless body from the tiny cabin toward the cockpit. Her pain was down to an ache, and she was fairly sure nothing was broken.
She arrived as the shaking subsided to find heavy steel shutters locked down over the viewports. The computers were down. Every camera and viewscreen was down. They were effectively blind.
Fangen fought to reboot the systems while Khan and Chidlow triaged the damage to the ship. The manual readouts Anthea had insisted the install on her propulsion systems showed no damage. Whether they were still on course was another matter.
Another readout showed a potential leak in the cargo bay, but it wasn’t critical. They had no plans to pressurize the bay, and they could likely repair it in orbit around the moon if necessary.
Bonell came forward, his brow creased in anger. “Coombe’s dead,” he announced. “Broken neck. Hibbert and MacKey are taking care of his body.”
“Sorry to hear that, Major,” Khan said. “I don’t know what hit us, but it could’ve been worse. I think we’re lucky the shuttle’s in one piece.”
Chidlow looked over to see Anthea rubbing her shoulder. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Anthea answered, “I think so. Slammed my shoulder pretty hard back there.”
“Have MacKey take a look at it later,” Bonell said. “She’s a better than average medic.”
“Anyone seen Barzelay?” Khan asked.
“Here,” the little man’s voice came from the cockpit door.
“Okay, that’s everyone accounted for,” Chidlow said. “I want everyone strapped in until we get an idea about what happened. Let’s see if we can avoid any more losses. Major, tell your crew to get up here as soon as they can.”
Bonell nodded and floated out. Anthea and the other crew members stopped themselves into chairs at their stations. Barzelay took a chair near the cockpit door.
“Any idea what hit us?” Anthea asked.
“Felt like an asteroid,” Khan said, “but it couldn’t have been.”
“Because anything much larger than a loaf of bread would have killed us.”
“Hey,” Fangen said, “I think I’ve got the systems back up. Let’s see if I can get those shutters open.”
A crisp snap echoed from inside the bulkheads. The steel shutters disappeared into the fuselage with a whirr to reveal the stars and their destination, the moon.
It was barren.
Viewscreens glowed to life around the cockpit, offering readouts, status updates, and camera views inside and outside the shuttle. Anthea’s heart jumped at the prospect of the moon’s reversion. Maybe Jin and the Lunar Base were back as well.
She looked over as the rear camera came into focus on screen. “Oh, God!” she whispered.
Khan caught her murmured plea. “What’s wrong?”
When she didn’t answer, the others swiveled around to see her pointing soundlessly at the viewscreen.
The Earth was barren too.