Story ©2007 by The Angst Guy

Daria and associated characters are ©2007 MTV Networks




Feedback: Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is always appreciated. Please write to: The Angst Guy.

Synopsis: Astronaut Daria Morgendorffer takes one small step on the greatest voyage of her life—then discovers her ultimate destination is not the moon, but hell.

Author’s Notes: This story's title is taken from a line in Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem, “Ulysses.” The rest of the notes have been moved to the end to avoid giving away the story.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Echopapa for the inspiration, and to E. A Smith and smk for getting me to tighten up certain sections and fix errors.




“Magnificent desolation.”

— Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11, on the moon





Boulder field, Apollo 17


The journey to Grumpy was supposed to take eighty-five minutes at a top speed of just over eleven kilos an hour, in a more or less straight line. Daria Morgendorffer discovered that she could barely keep Francis moving at half that speed in every direction except toward her goal, thanks to the bumps, craters, and rocks littering the chaotic impact plain where Erebus had crash-landed barely three hours before. Pretending to drive over a radar-mapped three-dee simulation of the terrain back home had been one thing, but the reality of extreme all-terrain lunar driving was quite different under the merciless pressure of time. It hadn’t looked this bad on the maps, or even on the descent from lunar orbit. Twice she maneuvered around dust-covered boulders the size of factory buildings only to find her way blocked by deep craters or debris fields, forcing her to turn back and find a new route. Francis was airborne every few minutes from driving over shallow crater parapets, slamming back down on the lunar dust to bounce several times, fling Daria about in her restraints, and roll onward. The ubiquitous littler rocks—basketball sized, chaotically scattered and infinite in number—those were the worst. Trying to avoid them bordered on the futile, but they could flip the rover and pin her beneath it, tear off a wheel, or rip through the rover’s chassis and hardware.

The nerve-wracking journey was taking its toll. Her lower lip bled from hitting the padded inner rim of her helmet, and her legs and rear end were numb from the constant shocks transmitted through the rover’s frame. She consoled herself with the thought that at least she hadn’t yet killed herself. She was in no hurry to die on this dusty, jumbled wasteland. She hurried only to live.

She crossed over a ridge and another monstrous boulder came into view, more ancient ejecta from either Aristarchus or Herodotus, the gargantuan craters over the uneven horizon to the southeast. She swerved to avoid a jagged rock half a meter high, then drove down (falling/weightless/slam!) and up again (slam!/bounce/oof!) through a shallow crater half the size of a basketball court. The drive was reminiscent of a videogame, and she thought of it that way to stay calm and focused and separated from the reality that GAME OVER meant no replay and a very bad, very real finish. She already knew a great deal about that last part.

Slowing as she left the crater, she took a moment to survey the terrain ahead. The approaching boulder was two stories high and half a city block long, fractured all along its length. She guessed it was a relic of Aristarchus, blown out of lunar bedrock a half billion years ago to smash into pieces when it came down. Its dark gray sides had been worn smooth by ages of micrometeorite erosion, but she could see splashes of yellow, orange, and brown from volcanic spray. It loomed like the hulk of a torpedoed battleship on the ocean floor. Magnificent desolation, indeed.

She picked up speed again and guided the rover to the right around a deep, steep-sided crater. As she did, she glanced at the digital clock on Francis’s controls. Two hours and eleven minutes gone since she left the blasted remains of Erebus—way off schedule. No room for error, she thought, but it did no good to think it because error was everything, it was all this mad, doomed mission had become. She had long wished her parents were still alive to see her moment of glory, landing on the moon; now she felt it was probably better they weren’t. It was wrong to see your children die before you—but I’m not going to die yet, she quickly thought, not yet, too much to do before—

Francis the rover jumped as the right front wheel ran over a low rock she had missed because she was not paying attention. Her lower lip hit the inside of her helmet, her teeth again slicing into the wound, and she tasted blood. She ran her tongue over the injury and swallowed and said nothing, watching the way ahead as she should. Cursing only wasted her breath and shortened her life.

She slowed once more and came to a brief halt as she came over another ridge, a great ripple of rock formed when the asteroid that created Aristarchus slammed home. To her vast relief, she saw an open plain ahead, running past the great shattered boulder. The craters were scattered and debris was light. She could make up a little time on her way to Grumpy before her oxygen gave out. A fragment of a poem rose in her memory.



Tennyson—that was appropriate, except (as she endlessly reminded herself) she wasn’t going to die just yet. She tried to remember more of the poem, a favorite of hers in graduate school, then shook it off. It would only distract her. Maybe after she found Grumpy, then she could quote Tennyson all she wished.

Setting off slowly, she turned her gaze left to gauge her distance from Schröter’s Valley, just visible from the height of the ridge. The smooth lip of the chasm seemed remarkably close and had a deceptively gentle slope. It was in truth a quarter of a kilo away and steep enough to send her and Francis flying end over end to the bottom, half a kilo below, if she tried to negotiate it. Beyond the rim was the spectacle of the distant west wall of Schröter’s Valley and the smooth rolling highlands above it. The far end of the valley did not look like it was over ten kilos off, impossible to reach. It looked like you could hit it with a stone’s throw on any lazy afternoon.

Lacking any normal reference like trees or houses or fellow humans, Daria had learned the hard way that the moonscape entrapped the eye with fatal illusions. Kindly hills in the near distance were meteor-worn mountains ten thousand meters and more in height, a day’s travel away. The ground might subtly rise until the walker found himself on a sheer grade, in danger of losing his balance and falling. All the training on Earth could not prepare for the reality of this unfamiliar world, or for its stark and unbelievable beauty, majestic and barren and breathtaking and bleak all at once, crowned with the blackest of skies against which a billion lights of every color gleamed, and one blinding torch of a sun above all, and one too-small, too-distant Earth always hovering, waiting.

She rotated her head as she drove, feeling her neck vertebrae crack and pop. Her shoulders ached from her posture and the relentless tension, but that was expected. She was surprised to find that she was sweat-soaked from head to toe inside her suit. It’s only fear, she told herself, and fear is nothing to worry about. She took a long breath, held it, let it out, looked to the left again. The ancient lava valley was the only visible indicator that she was heading in the right direction to find Grumpy and the squat lander’s priceless hoard of oxygen and water tanks. On course so far.

“Watch the road,” she said aloud, looking forward again. Behind her fell two long pale clouds of powder thrown up by the rover’s rear tires. I should be close to the end now, she thought, feeling hopeful for the first time in hours. I’m a woman on a mission. I’ve got a fast car and a diaper and I’m not stopping for anything. She smiled, though the smile faded in moments. Nothing that had happened was really that funny. She made a mental note to tell her sister Quinn about that thought when she got home. She might even tell Quinn about it when she got to Grumpy and radioed back. She would have to talk to Mission Control first, of course, and there was much to tell, starting with the details of the disaster that had befallen her companions aboard Erebus.

She could already imagine the ‘net headlines Quinn and her family must be viewing: EREBUS EXPLODES ON LANDING, ASTRONAUTS FEARED DEAD, RESCUE MISSION DOUBTFUL. A rescue mission was certainly possible if the next lunar mission lifted off on schedule and the Meteor arrived in five days’ time. If Daria didn’t call back, however, she knew the mission would be scrubbed while the causes of the Erebus explosion were debated. Even if she did call back, they might not come for her. The dual mission hinged completely on the assurance of safety, and that assurance vanished when the fuel pump on one of the lander’s cryogenic tanks exploded and ripped open the crew habitat.

She remembered being thrown to the floor, wild chaos as the atmosphere blew out, then the stunning darkness and silence as she slowly got to her feet in her bulky spacesuit. The first thing she noticed when she found light was that the front of her white spacesuit was splattered with freeze-dried flecks and streaks of red. It was human blood. It wasn’t hers.

There was nothing she could do for the three other astronauts in the lander. One had been blasted into pieces, the other two killed by shrapnel slicing through their suits. The three were her partners and companions, professional risk-takers who tolerated the rookie mission specialist among them. She said a prayer over their bodies, then left them in the mangled crew habitat atop the vehicle as she climbed down a ladder on one of the lander’s four splayed legs. No means existed to ask Earth for advice with the lander’s power supply shut down. She was totally on her own.

Survival demanded that she next winch down and activate the rover: Francis, named for a talking mule in a few silly movies nearly a century earlier. Francis did not talk, though it had a terrific semi-AI computer. Unfortunately, the computer’s navigation program could not be downloaded while Erebus was powerless. Francis could be driven, if you only knew where to drive it. With the nav system down, Daria had to guess. She hated to guess.

Daria knew she was not cut from the same cloth as Peary, Henson, Shackleton, Amundson, or Scott. She was not like any of the titans who crewed the Apollo missions, or the iron-nerved demigods who flew the Vostoks and Mercuries. She was a short, slim brunette, forty-seven years old, with an attitude and a Ph.D. in a very specialized field of social psychology dealing with space colonies. She had come along to study crew interaction on a long-duration lunar geological mission, assigned to serve as prime gofer and guinea pig to all the other crew when she wasn’t recording and analyzing her own observations. By habit she was not the best of team players, but she was able to rein in her different-drummer attitude and snide commentary sufficiently to pass the psych/social exams for space flight. In her favor, she was comfortable in front of a camera and well known for her pointed remarks on political incompetence and hypocrisy. The space administration felt she might lend a memorable (and even, in a contrarian sort of way, positive) public face to its anonymous legion of spacefarers and support personnel.

No one would ever believe she was the mission’s sole survivor. Not even she believed it. She tried not to think about that as she drove, but it was difficult.

Erebus, she thought idly. She was coming abreast of the battleship boulder, perhaps a hundred meters to her right. The way was still clear except for a broad, shallow gully straight ahead. They could really have picked a better name for that spacecraft. Yes, it was a famous British exploration ship, I know all about it and the Terror—another great ship name—and their voyage around the Arctic, but to name a ship for the blackest place in hell, that can’t be good. I don’t care if this was a geological expedition and the Aristarchus Plateau is volcanic and there’s a Mount Erebus volcano in Antarctica. A passenger plane crashed there once, that’s just bad karma. And the Meteor—don’t even get me started. Famous German Atlantic research vessel, yes, but seriously, didn’t anybody ever think about this? I mean, they never painted a crack on a spaceship as a joke after Liberty Bell 7 sank, and they’ll never have a spaceship numbered “13” again after Apollo, or spacecraft named Challenger or Columbia. Astronauts are supposed to be such superstitious people, you would think someone would have—

She felt more than heard a very loud snap that ran the length of Francis and jolted her in her seat. She looked down in time to see the bottom of the wide gully over which she was driving fracture like thin ice. A rift opened up right under the rover’s front wheels, then the rift became a black crevasse into which spilled clouds of lunar dust, the front end of the rover, and her, strapped in tight and screaming all the way.



* * *



Aristarchus (center), Herodotus (lower right), Cobra Head (lower center), and Schröter’s Valley (down from Cobra Head), all seen from orbit; Apollo 15


Hey, amiga, she said in that so-familiar voice. I didn’t think you’d die in Nowheresville quite so soon.

She sat at a school desk in an otherwise empty high-school classroom. She had the same old red overshirt with rolled-up sleeves, the same black leggings and ash-gray boots, the same shoulder-length onyx bangs. Her right arm was hooked over the back of her seat, her head tilted to one side as she smiled.

Daria’s heart leapt. Jane!

Being Jane is what I do best, said her only friend, as if Daria had spoken aloud. Jane raised a scrap of lined notebook paper in her left hand and quoted from it: Nothing promotes learning better than a good stretch in solitary confinement. She peered over the scrap, an eyebrow raised. You remember when you gave that to me?

Yes, yes I do!

The desk and classroom vanished. Jane was standing very close to Daria now; they were outside among trees under a clear blue sky. Jane was dressed in a black lace gown with long sleeves. Her face was very pale. There are some mysteries that are just beyond our knowledge, she said. Why some of us go and why the rest stay. Is anyone really looking out for us? Until you see some pretty convincing evidence to the contrary, you think we're on our own.

I miss you, Jane, said Daria. She began to cry.

You know what’s bothering you? said Jane, seeming not to notice. You’re afraid that it’s true.

Please don’t leave me! Don’t leave me again!

I’ll be with my amiga, said the girl in black. She gave her best friend a bright red smile, then reached out with her open right hand and said, Daria.

Daria awoke with a start and saw the environmental monitoring lights around the inner edge of her helmet faceplate. All else was darkness. I’ve been crying, she thought, tasting blood. I was dreaming about—

She then remembered the fall and hastily shoved aside all other thoughts as she tried to get up. It was impossible to move. She panicked and struggled until she remembered she was strapped into the driver’s seat of the lunar rover. Streaks and speckles of light came through her faceplate; the outer sun visor was covered with dust. She wiped at the visor with a gloved hand, smearing the dust before removing some of it, then looked up toward the light and all around her. It took a few moments to figure out the aftermath of the crash.

The rover had broken through the fragile, sunken roof of an old lava tube. It hung suspended between the walls of the rift with Francis’s front end jammed firmly into one wall, half buried under fallen dust and rock. The rear of the long rover hung from the other wall, also heaped with dust; it was stuck almost two meters below the ledge where the lava tube’s ceiling had collapsed, bringing part of the rear wall down with it. The front of the wedged rover was over a meter below the rear, leaving Daria hanging forward in her seat harness. Sunlight gleamed along the top of the crevasse, with star-filled blackness above.

Her heart in her throat, Daria slowly turned in her seat to look over the left side of the rover, straight down. As she moved, the rover groaned and dust fell from it and disappeared into the darkness below. When her eyes adjusted, she saw that she was about four meters above the rock-strewn bottom of the lava tube—just high enough to tear her suit or destroy the environmental systems in her backpack if she fell, dying in seconds, or be injured and trapped forever if she lived. I have to get out of here, she thought. I have to be very careful. I have to climb out and get away from this place and keep going.

There was a fast-release latch on her safety harness, but she did not want to trigger it and fall out of the rover. With the greatest care, she again turned in her seat and hooked her right arm over the passenger seat beside her. (Why does this gesture seem so familiar? she wondered.) Looking back, she saw she could grab a framework bar over the rover’s rear-mounted engine, then pull the release latch. From there, she would have to climb up the back of the rover over the dust and rock that covered it, then climb a rough, broken, sharply inclined cliff to the surface—a distance as high as she was tall.

She dumbly stared at the rock wall until she remembered the toolkit behind the seats. A bit of mountaineering had been a part of her astronaut training. She looked down through the dusty visor and saw the toolkit’s locking bar, which she reached down and opened. Pulling on the lid in her position was clumsy at best, but she got it up and felt for the aluminum geology hammers. She pulled two out, one at a time, then fitted the adjustable cable loops on the handle ends around her wrists so she would not lose them if they slipped from her hands. Then she reached down and unsnapped the harness release with her left hand, her right hand gripping the rear engine bar.

From here it was a matter of staying alert to the shifting of the trapped rover as she got out of her seat. She managed to get to her feet and stand up on her seat cushion, then began to climb over the back of the seat onto the rubble-covered engine block. It was hard to keep her balance in the moonsuit even with one hand gripping the framework bar over the motor. She switched hands on the bar, got a hammer in her right hand, and looked up, surveying the climb. Footholds, I need footholds. Maybe I can hook the hammerheads into holes in the rock and pull myself up. I weigh only nine kilograms here, it ought to work. Oh, right, with the suit and everything, that’s . . . oh, the hell with it, just do it.

She edged closer to the wall, then reached over the debris pile on the back of the rover and began to tap at the rock. The work was agonizingly slow, and she feared every second that the rover would break loose from its precarious position and plunge with her to the bottom of the chasm. In time, however, she had brushed aside most of the debris and was standing on the rover’s engine, footholds ready for use. If she stretched upward with both arms, she could barely reach over the top of the cliff.

Looking down, she noted again how far she was from the bottom of the crevasse, tried to swallow with a dry throat, then carefully fitted her right moonsuit boot into the first foothold she had carved. The fit seemed secure enough to keep going. She reached up, hooked the right hammerhead into a space she had chiseled out in the cliff, then gently pulled herself up. She realized then she could not look down to see where the left foothold was; the lower edge of her helmet cut off the view. Trying not to panic, she felt around with her foot, located no such space, and briefly considered climbing back down to see where it was. No, keep going! she told herself, and tried again. The toehold was found at last, higher than where she had thought it was. Relieved, she stuck her foot in as far as she could, then looked up. She could almost see over the top of the crevasse. She reached up and began to tap out a hold for the left hammerhead, so she could pull up farther and work on her right foot again. In time this was done, too.

She paused to check some of the environmental readings inside her helmet, grateful that she didn’t need glasses anymore thanks to twenty-first century medical technology. She glanced down at her oxygen level indicator, but noticed that it was smeared over with a dried-out opaque substance. It took a second to figure it out. It was blood. She realized that the lower half of her face from her upper lip to her chin was coated with it; she had been so distracted and working so hard, she hadn’t noticed. I must have banged my lip again, she thought, but as she ran her tongue around her lips, she could tell she’d had a bloody nose, too. This is great. I look and feel like total crap. She groaned and tried again to read her oxygen level. It wasn’t possible not matter what she did.

A chill ran down her spine. If she couldn’t see her oxygen level, she had no idea how much air she had left to get to Grumpy. Her suit’s environmental systems could not be fully charged when she’d left Erebus, so she’d had about four hours of air left when she set out on the rover. Subtracting out her travel time (Damn it! I can’t turn around and see what the timer on Francis says about how long I’ve been gone!), she could have as little as one hour of air left. She did have an emergency supply she could activate, but that was good for only half an hour more.

I have to get the hell out of here! I have to get out! She fought with her panic, hanging on the cliff face, then closed her eyes and held her breath. I won’t let it get me. I won’t let it get to me. I’m going to make it. I won’t let myself fail. She took another deep breath, then slowly let it out. I am going to make it, she thought. I am. Let’s go.

A measure of tranquility passed through her. She knew she could do it.

That’s my amiga, said another voice inside her head.

Daria opened her eyes very wide. She remembered her dream now, every instant of it. “Jane?” she whispered in wonder and terror. She strained to hear a response.


Jane?” she repeated, her voice higher, louder.


It could not have been real. It could not have happened. Jane was dead. Her only friend had been killed in a two-car accident and had been buried many years ago, in the fall of the year Daria went away to college and left Jane behind in their old hometown of Lawndale. Jane was to have joined Daria in Boston that spring, but she’d had to drive her brother Trent and his band to a gig at a tavern an hour away from home. On the way, someone veered into her lane while passing another vehicle and hit the van she was driving head on. There had been no time to swerve or brake. It was over with in an instant. Both drivers died, the other one a sixteen-year-old boy with a learner’s permit.

Daria flew back for the funeral, too distraught to drive. Jane’s brother and the other band members had not been seriously injured. They stood with Daria in the front row of mourners at the funeral, four young men with bruises and bandages and broken arms, and Daria in the middle of them and completely unharmed, physically.

When I saw her in the casket, she could have been asleep. They had fixed up her face and she looked almost exactly like she had in life, like I last remembered seeing her, except she was so pale and did not move. She had such a beautiful black dress and beautiful hair and even had red lipstick on, and she was dead. I was crazed at the funeral, I must have been completely mad, I remember saying and doing such unearthly things, deranged with grief, my only friend lying still and cold in front of me, the life that she held inside of her gone, and I was alone again, alone forever. I remember it now. I’ve been trying to forget it for almost thirty years, but I remember her now. I remember you, Jane Lane.

She waited. No response.

She gradually became aware of her surroundings. Taking a short breath, she swallowed and reached up, sticking her left arm over the top of the chasm. She dug around with the long spiked back of the hammerhead until she found solid purchase on a half-buried rock, then raised her right foot and felt for another foothold. She found it, eased herself up, and now she was looking over the top. She reached and hooked the right hammerhead spike on the same buried rock and pulled as hard as she could, and a few long seconds later she was crawling on her stomach through the grimy lunar dust on horizontal ground, only her boots dangling over the precipice. She was free.

She could not move for a while because she was crying so hard, but in time she made herself stop and get up on her knees in the clumsy suit, then shove herself up to her feet. She carefully wiped at her faceplate and removed most of the dust, then brushed at her moonsuit, knocking dark powder from the colorful patches on her front: the blue NASA ball, the white Project Constellation patch, the Erebus mission insignia, her sewn name tag. When she felt steady on her feet, she looked back at the hole in the ground that had almost claimed her and marveled. She could not believe she was alive.

She could not believe who had awakened and saved her.

“Thank you, Jane,” she said aloud. “Thank you. Don’t leave me yet, please. Hang on with me for a while. Just a little while longer.” She remembered something else then, and dared to approach the crevasse and look down from near the edge. She could see Francis below her in the darkness, and the glowing lights on the control panel.

Two hours, fifty-eight minutes elapsed time since she’d left Erebus. She had one hour of oxygen left, not counting the emergency pack. She had to leave at once. Looking around, she dully noted a place where the shallow gully could be crossed with a running hop—assuming the other side was sound. She would have to chance it. Grumpy could not be far ahead.

And she might not make the journey alone.

She began to walk along the false gully to the place where she thought she could cross it. “I’ve missed you,” she whispered. “You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”



* * *



Astronaut running, Apollo 17


It is very difficult to run on the moon. Apollo astronauts discovered that the best way to move about at any speed was a sort of two-legged gallop, with both legs hitting the slippery lunar powder one-two, then kicking off for a short hop, and down again for another one-two, etc. This mode of travel is very effective in the moon’s low gravity. Daria had learned the “lunar lope” in a simulator on Earth, and it came naturally to her as she continued on foot, arms out to her sides to catch herself if she fell. The fallen rover, the lava rift, and the battleship-sized rock were far behind her.

“I can’t tell if you’re really there or if I’m just babbling to myself,” she said, thinking Jane might be listening but hating herself for being so naïve as to think it possible. “I guess you never knew how much I talk to myself when I’m alone. You were never around when I did. Ha, funny. It’s just that I can’t believe you’d really be here. I’m on the moon, I actually made it to the moon and I’ve survived so far despite everything, but I have this feeling that you’re here too, I think. I can’t tell. I’m not dreaming, so I must be going a little nuts, which I guess is to be expected under the circumstances. You said something to me in that dream about me needing proof of things, something like that. Yeah, that’s me. You know how I was, and I’m still like that. I got into it with Quinn one time, I think I told you about it, when she thought she had a guardian angel. Ha, wouldn’t that be funny, if—”

She stopped talking when the realization hit her. Her canter slowed.

“I mean,” she continued in an anxious tone, “it would be so strange if . . . if you were . . . oh, sorry, forget it. God, listen to me. I’m turning out like Quinn after all. Imagine me, forty-seven years old with a doctorate and working all day, never leaving my office except to go to the moon, never going on dates or having fun, work, work, work—imagine me with a guardian angel. I mean, if I had to have one, it would have to be you. Better you than Mom or Dad. No offense, folks, sorry.

“But Jane, if you were my . . . my guardian angel, you know, wouldn’t that be kind of funny? Well, not as funny as I thought, but maybe a little funny.” She slowed her pace, moving carefully through a boulder field. “I would be pretty happy if you were my angel, you know, even if I don’t believe in that. I mean, it would be crazy to see you again. It’s been years since . . . boy, I am just babbling away. Forty-seven and I don’t know when to shut up when I’m alone, and here I am, as alone as alone can get, no one else within three hundred eighty thousand kilometers. Really alone.”

She cleared her throat and tried to pick a new topic, one that was less disturbing. “I’ve been working on space colonies for the last couple decades, in case you’re listening,” she said in a conversational tone. “You won’t believe this, but I planned out how to build self-sustaining Martian cities. They’re trying to get budgeting for the bots to start building them, don’t know if it will happen or not, but at least I’m in the history books. At least this year. It’ll all disappear one day, like everything does, of course. Everything dies, doesn’t it? People die, stars die, galaxies die, what the hell. We all go. I don’t know why, it’s just the way it happens. I thought I was going to die when you did, but I didn’t. I don’t know how, but I kept going. I still have no idea how. Or why.”

Her eyes watered but she thought she could still handle it. She was crossing a hillside, rising above the landscape. “I never got over it. I hope it’s okay to tell you that. Nothing ever hurt me again like losing you. Nothing, and I mean nothing. Mom and Dad died, that was sad but I got past it, I could deal with that. I almost got married a couple times, had some big breakups with guys, made a fool of myself but good, but I got over it. In a way it was good for me, you know, because after I lost you I knew nothing would ever hurt me again, nothing like that. The three guys I landed on the moon with are dead, they were my friends and they’ve been dead only a few hours, and here I am, running along. I can deal with it. I can deal with anything now, after you. The secret was to not let anything close to me ever again, not like you were. No one’s ever gotten as close to me as you, not even Quinn. She’s about the closest, but it’s not the same. I won’t ever let that happen again.”

She slowed and came to a stop on top of the hill. She swiveled her head left and right, surveying the terrain. The great valley was still on her left. “Grumpy should be around here somewhere,” she murmured, squinting at the cratered plain ahead. “It has a flashing strobe beacon on top, and it came down on a hill like this one, so I should be able to see it before too long. It was about a kilo west of the valley close to Cobra Head. That’s the crater where Schröter’s Valley begins. Anyway, the last I heard, Grumpy was functioning. There’s a camera on it, too, so they’ll see me when I get there. My suit radio should work to communicate with it, so I can talk to Earth again. Oh, radio, right . . . I haven’t tried it for a while, but . . . wait a second.”

She raised a hand and tapped a button spot on the front rim of her helmet. Inside her helmet on the right, the monitor light for the communications system came on. It was amber. “Crap,” she grumbled. “There’s still some kind of problem with it, I can’t tell what. It hasn’t worked right since the explosion. I thought it was because Erebus’s radio went out, but now I think it got damaged with everything else. Maybe something hit my suit. Well, some lunar satellites might be picking up my transmissions and sending them to Earth anyway. NASA said that might be possible in an emergency. I’ll keep talking, just in case. They’re going to think some pretty strange things about me, but that’s okay. They do anyway. I don’t care. Just kidding, Earth! Ah, what the hell. Sorry.”

Setting off down the long, gentle slope, she continued moving to the southeast toward Cobra Head. She still could not read her oxygen-level monitor. The rough terrain lessened except for scattered rocks and craters. Highlands were visible on the horizon ahead of her.

“‘I cannot rest from travel,’ she quoted at last, breathing deeper from exertion. “‘I will drink / Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed / Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those / That loved me, and alone.’ Ah, boy, that alone part, that’s been hard. I never did tell you that I loved you. That wasn’t something I thought I had to talk about. Didn’t want to be redundant. People always take it the wrong way when you say ‘love.’ You can’t really say that without someone thinking . . . oh, I don’t care what they think. I should have told you that I cared about you. I always felt bad about that, I should have told you I cared about you, but I figured you already knew. Not that I was always so great at showing it. I don’t have to go into all that again, but you know. It’s bothered me ever since you left. I should have said something, I should have.”

She stopped loping and began a slow, tired walk. She realized she was panting and automatically turned her head to the right to get a drink from a plastic tube. The water was stale, but welcome.

“I love you, Jane,” she said when she finished. “Sorry it took so long to say that. I love you.” She shook her head violently to stop from crying again. “You know what I really hate?” she began loudly. “The stupid names they gave everything on this mission. That’s something I plan to fix when I get back home. It’s stupid enough they named the spacecraft after a place in hell and the rover after a talking mule, then they had to name our geological supply lander after a cartoon dwarf—I mean, it’s enough to drive you crazy. What is it with people, they have to give stupid names to everything? Sorry if anyone is listening to me back at Mission Control, I’m having a bad day. I keep thinking my dead friend might be alive again and everyone else on the mission is dead because the fuel pump over cryo tank four blew up, but . . . sorry, don’t listen to me. Maybe you aren’t listening to me. I give up.”

Without thinking, she put a gloved hand to her helmet and came to a stop, wobbling on her feet. “What the hell am I doing?” she said. “I’m sweating bullets and I’m tired and I don’t know how much air I have left, everyone else who got to the moon with me is dead, I crashed Francis in a big way a few minutes ago, my radio doesn’t seem to be working and I’m just freakin’ worn out.” She closed her eyes and hung her head. “This has been such a goddamn lousy day. I can’t take it anymore.”

When you put it that way, you make it sound bad.

“I know,” said Daria, her eyes still closed. “It really sounds awful, doesn’t it?” She abruptly screwed up her face and burst into tears.

How’s Little Miss Spiritual Crisis today?

“Not very good!” Daria bawled. “Not good at all!”

Do you think a familiar face might cheer you up?


Open your eyes.

Half-stifling her sobs, Daria slowly did. She looked out through her dust-smeared faceplate at the rock-strewn plain before her. “Where are you?” she gasped, looking around.

Close your eyes.

Daria did—and jumped. Jane was there in her mind’s eye, as real as life, red shirt and all. “Ohmigod!” Daria shrieked. “Oh! Oh!”

Didn’t mean to get you cranked up again, amiga, said Jane with a look of concern.

“It’s okay!” Daria wept. “I don’t care!”

Fine, then. Jane crossed her arms and relaxed, leaning against the darkness behind her. So, what did you miss most about me? It was my joie de vivre, wasn't it?

“Yes! Yes, it was! Everything!”

Thought so. Okay, while I do appreciate the love notes and the ego inflation, I have a quote I need to pass along.

Daria nodded her head rapidly, eyes still closed. “Okay!” she gasped.

Jane struck a dramatic pose as she raised her head, put a hand over her heart, and spoke. “How dull it is to pause, to make an end, / To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!”

Daria coughed. “Tennyson,” she said, sniffling. “‘Ulysses.’ I didn’t know you knew that.”

Her best friend snorted in amusement and resumed her relaxed pose. Look, I’m trying to give you a clue. Open your eyes and get moving. Go find that dopey lander you keep harping about.

“Oh. Okay. Wait!”

Jane leaned closer. What?

“I don’t want you to go away!”

The girl in Daria’s mind sighed and put her hands on her hips. I’m not going anywhere, amiga. I’ve already told you that. I’ll be with you.

“You keep coming and going! How do I know you’ll stay with me?”

Look . . . it kind of depends on you, you know.


You have to be more receptive. You waste all your time demanding proof, and then when you get it you ask for more proof. Just kind of roll with it, okay? Let things happen and stop worrying about it.

“Uh, okay. I can . . . I’ll try to do that. I will do it. I will.”

All right. Chin up, eyelids up, let's go.

Daria blinked and opened her eyes. She was still on the moon, near the foot of the small hill she had descended. When she closed her eyes again, there was only darkness. Jane was gone. “Jane!” she shouted. “JANE!”

Calm down! I’m still here, said that voice inside her head. You’ve been touched by an angel.

Daria was giddy with relief. “I know,” she mumbled, blinking back more tears. “Thanks.”

Hmm, I rather expected something more pointedly sarcastic from you than that, but there’s plenty of time. You’ll improve.

It would have been nice to wipe her runny nose, but Daria settled for sniffing and clearing her throat. “I meant to say,” she said, “‘Touch me and I’ll sue.’”

Much better. Keep working on it. Now, move it.

“All right.” Daria began to walk, then broke into a half-hearted lope. “Just don’t leave me.”

Oh, right, as if I really had anywhere else to go.

After a moment, Daria laughed. She was lost and alone on the moon and feeling better than she had in ages.



* * *



Deep crater, Apollo 15


Would it disturb you if I talk while you're galumphing around? asked Jane as Daria trotted around the rim of a rock-filled crater.

“No, God, no, of course not. Talk, please, talk all you want.”

Thank you. You’re fond of Tennyson these days, I take it.

“Uh . . . yeah.”

And fond of that one poem in particular, “Ulysses,” not to be confused with the Joyce thing, which I never read.

“Yeah, me neither. I kind of got into it in college. I don’t know why. I was thinking about the space program then for some reason.”

Planning to leave Earth for good?

“I said that sometimes just to be sarcastic, but . . . I just . . . got into it.”

Mmm. Yeah, I could see that. “Tis not too late to seek a newer world. / Push off, and sitting well in order smite / The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds / To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths / Of all the western stars, until I die.” Something like that, you mean?

“Yeah. That was it. I guess maybe you were right, I did kind of think about leaving Earth for good, back then. Ironic now, but I didn’t mean like this. With you gone, there wasn’t . . . eh, whatever. Doesn’t matter.” She paused and licked her swollen lips. “Can I ask you something?”

Sure, as long as it isn’t about sex. There isn’t any in the afterlife. Jane’s voice lowered as she grumbled, Damn it.

Daria’s smirk faded as she spoke. “Why . . . why’d you come back?”

Why’d I come back? Heh. I believe someone wanted me back.

It was hard to concentrate on lunar loping. Daria found herself making very small hops through the gray dust instead of big ones. “But I’ve wanted you back for years,” she said. “I mean, I’ve really wanted you every since . . . since the—”

I know, I know. The truth is, I’m back because you wanted me back badly enough for me to return. Really, that’s it. It sounds lame, but there it is.

“But how, then? I don’t get it. What . . . I’m sorry, I was going to ask, ‘What kept you?’ I don’t want to make you mad at me, but I’m such a mess right now. God, I don’t know what I’m saying.”

I get the picture. Look, let’s talk about the “what kept me” thing later, okay? I won’t lie to you about anything, I promise, but this can wait. I’m back again and I’ll stay with you as long as you need me around. Unless I find something else to do, or you start whining. Enjoy the moment.

“I do need you.” Daria was walking again but hardly aware of where she was going. “I never told you that, I think. I do need you.” She swallowed and made herself say it. “I love you, Jane. I always did.”

Jane’s voice was soft. I know. And I love you, too, but you’re getting all emotional on me and losing track of your priorities. You’re as bad as Trent, except he wouldn’t get emotional, he’d go to sleep and lose track of things. And stop looking at your feet, you’re starting to walk in circles. Raise your head and move a little faster. Turn left, then go straight. That’s better. Keep looking around, find Sneezy, and get off this damn planet.

Daria did as she was encouraged. She was entering a stretch of relatively even ground, with small rocks and shallow craters. She glanced up and saw the tiny blue and white disk of Earth. She could cover it with her thumb at arm’s length. “Can you see what I see?” she asked.

Only when your eyes are open. I love that view of Earth. Actually, I see pretty much anything you do. I have some limitations in this form. I hear you when you talk, but reading your thoughts is a little difficult. Not impossible, just difficult. Hope you don’t mind, but I can’t really avoid it. Oh, and don’t jump off a cliff and expect me to catch you. I can’t do that. I’m not that kind of spirit or whatever. I’m more like an interested observer—a very interested observer. Just wanted to key you in to the important stuff early on.

“Okay. I’m happy having you back anywhere in any shape.”

If I’d been reincarnated as a naked mole rat in your underwear, you might have been less enthusiastic. Oh, and speaking purely as an interested observer, you’re still not making good headway here looking for Mister Grumpy Care Bear from Space. Have you tried singing to make the time go by? When I was with the Girl Scouts, we had this hiking song about this freak named John Jacob

“I remember,” Daria interrupted with a grin. “You told me about that when we went on that field trip into the mountains and got lost in the snow.”

Yeah. And Mister DeMartino fell of a cliff and we almost froze to death.

“Good times.”

Nothing but the best.

“Um . . . what’s it like?”

What’s what like?

“Being . . . being like you are.”

What’s it like being dead? You can say “dead.” Mmm, it’s okay. Guess I wasn’t the survivor I always said I was. Or maybe I am, now that I think of it.

Daria had a sudden picture of Jane sitting up on her elbows in her coffin, face pale and eyes closed, talking to her. She shoved the unsettling image aside with difficulty. “Okay. So, what’s it like for you now?”

Mmm . . . it’s kind of like being in high school again.

Daria laughed until she had a coughing fit. “Sorry,” she said at last, recovering. “As Trent would say, good one.”

Made you laugh. No, it’s . . . I don’t know how to explain it. There aren’t words for it. Pearly gates, no. Angels with haloes and big wings, no. Harps, no, thank goodness. No demons, either, which might have been sort of cool. All I can say is, it’s different. To be honest, I don’t remember much of it until we got connected again. Beats me.

“Is it better or worse than being alive?”

Well . . . just different. If I can think of any better adjectives, I’ll pass them along. Jane’s voice lowered as if she were talking to herself. Verisimilitudinous? Nah, that’s not right.

“So,” said Daria, “life sucks and then you die, and that kind of sucks, too?”

Now, that’s my amiga talking. I guess this state of being doesn’t really suck so much as it’s just, I dunno, different. It is what it is. “Though / We are not now that strength which in old days / Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are. . . .”

“I love that poem.”

Despite our teachers’ best efforts to make us hate all literature, we triumphed at last.

Daria nodded, lost in memory. “High school was god-awful, wasn’t it?”

Dreadful. Miserable. And as you know, misery loves company.

A smile tugged at Daria’s bruised mouth. “That was the whole basis of our friendship, sharing our common misery.”

Daria could almost see Jane smile. This is making me want to sing few bars of “Close to You.” No, couldn’t do that, too cruel. How about a chorus of “Freakin’ Friends”?

“You remember a lot,” said Daria, walking—not loping—past a line of small ejecta craters. “You say a lot of things I remember you saying, long ago.”

Well, that’s how it works.

“How what works?”

Being in this form, inside your head. In a way, I feel like I’m living off you, all your memories of me, stuff we said and did when we were together. That doesn’t mean I’m not really here, or I don’t remember anything, or I’m some kind of alien psychic parasite, which now that I think of it would be sort of cool. I forgot my point. Wait. Oh, what I mean is, we have a history, and that comes up a lot when I try to talk to you. I suppose it’s better than floating in space above you, saying your name over and over again in a creepy voice.

“I think you said something like that once, too.”

Then you get the idea. It’s like trying to get an annoying song out of your head, only it isn’t annoying. Crap, I don’t think I made that very clear.

“I got it.” Daria tried to gallop again, but quickly switched back to a walk. “I’m pooped,” she sighed heavily. “This damn moonsuit doesn’t bend a lot where you want it to, and it wears me out moving around like this. Wish I still had Francis. Stupid lava canyons.”

You sure you don’t want to sing?

“I can’t sing and focus on moving at the same time. I can’t even sing, more to the point, and God only knows how much air I have left. I shouldn’t even be talking, but I don’t care.”

You say “God” an awful lot for someone who claims to be agnostic.

“Yeah, well, sue me.” She exhaled, walking without thinking about it. “Jane?”


“If . . . if . . . something happened . . . what I mean is, if I died, would—”

Whoa. Halt. Stop. I think I know where you’re going with this, and that’s a—no, I shouldn’t say it’s a dead end, that’s the worst pun ever, but it is. Don’t go there.

Daria came to a winding lava channel as wide as a driveway and one meter deep. She stopped near the edge. “Then tell me. I want to know.”

Find the lander first, amiga. We’ll discuss the afterlife later over pizza, back on Earth. You’re buying, by the way.

“If something happened to me, would I be with you, Jane? Would we be together?”

A heavy sigh. Daria . . . you told me once that life sucks no matter what, so don't be fooled by location changes. Right?

Daria nodded.

Listen to yourself for once.

“We’re not talking about life here,” said Daria in a flat tone.

Exactly, and what I have isn’t a life, Daria. It’s not even a half-life. Enjoy what you have. I don’t have all the answers, and you don’t need to rush into this. Go with the flow.

Tension crept into Daria’s voice. “How are you so sure that’s what I’m thinking about?”

Daria, I’m literally inside your head! I know what you’re thinking. Don’t even think about pulling the plug on yourself to join me!

Daria felt her self-control slip away. “All I want to know is, will I be with you if I die? You can tell me that much. I really want to know!”

I don’t know, and I don’t want to talk about it! Why are you even asking me about this?

“Because I’m sick of being alone. I’m sick of living without you!” Daria’s voice began to rise. “It isn’t worth it! It hasn’t been worth it for almost thirty goddamn years! I keep on waking up and going to work and coming back to my apartment and going to sleep and doing nothing else every day like a mindless soulless robot, all by myself, and I’m sick of it!”

How can you say that after all the great things you’ve done in your life? Daria!

“I was so goddamn mad when you died!” Daria screamed in her helmet. She was stood by the edge of the lava gully, but she no longer knew where she was in relation to the lander and no longer cared. “I was so goddamn mad, I almost hated you! I hated you for leaving me! I could have killed you! How dare you die and leave me there alone! I was waiting for you, do you hear me? We were going to go to college together and then you went and died, and I wish I had killed myself instead of hanging on to this worthless life like I have! I hate it! I hate every bloody minute of it! I wish I were dead like you! I really do! I wish I were dead!

It is hard to sink to one’s knees in a moonsuit. Daria tried it and fell forward on her hands, then sank face-down into the soft gray dust and lay there. “I quit,” she said, looking into blackness. “I totally give up. I can’t do this any more. It isn’t worth it.”

There was a short silence.


Lava rille, Apollo 15


Shallow graves for shallow people, eh, amiga?

“Go away. You’re just a hallucination. I should have guessed the truth long ago.”

I’ve been called a lot of things before, but that’s a new one. Hallucination, hmmm.

“I don’t care.”

What tipped you off? My mermaid tail? My head twisting around and around and around? My pink taffeta dress?

“You didn’t say anything about my glasses.”

Your glasses? Oh.

“I’m not wearing any, and you never said a word about it. You used to tell me how my glasses were so important to my persona, how they were symbolic of me and I didn’t have to apologize for it, and the one time I tried going without them, you kept asking me where they were. If you were real, you’d know I wasn’t wearing glasses, and you’d ask, but you didn’t. Go away.”

There was a long pause. I see, said Jane at last. Hallucinations don’t notice it when you don’t wear your glasses because you had your eyes done with lasers when you turned twenty, right. Of course, I don't wear glasses, so from my point of view it's all theoretical. Got it.

“You knew I had my eyes done because I knew it first. You’re nothing but a hallucination. If you hadn’t been, you would have asked about my glasses.”

Or I could have read your mind like I said I could and found out that way. In any event, why would I give a damn about your glasses when I can see the inner you and know you as you really are? Isn’t that a lot better than just looking at the surface you? Think about it. What good is the surface you when you’re perfectly capable of alienating people with your personality alone?

Daria grimaced. “Thanks for your insight.”

Hey, that’s what I'm here for.

“Just go away. I’m having auditory and visual hallucinations spinning off from my past memories, brought on by severe stress, exhaustion, and sensory deprivation. Whatever. I quit.”

Whatever. Bet you a hundred bucks I can get you up in less than five minutes.

“You lose. Go to hell.”

That’s funny to hear you say that, amiga, and you’ll soon find out why. I heard you talking about the pump that blew up on your spaceship. I bet NASA would like to know about that. Might save some lives on future missions if you went to the Grumpster and told them.

“Screw ‘em.”

By the way, what is it with the lame spaceship names? You were going on about that, too, and for whatever it’s worth, you’re right. They suck.


I like Erebus, though. That’s a good one. Know why I like it?


Because Erebus is hell, Daria. It’s the darkest, blackest, most awful place in hell. Think about it. Where do you think you really are now?

Daria thought about it. It began to come together in a way she had never thought of before. “I’m in hell,” she finally said in a low voice.

That’s right, you are. Your spaceship blew up, everyone’s dead but you, you’re running out of air, and you’re talking to your dead best friend, so you’re either insane or in hell, which is about the same either way, isn’t it? You’re in hell. And guess what?

Daria tensed. She didn’t know where this was going, and she was more than a little frightened of the possibilities. “What?” she asked in a too-high voice.

What happened to Ulysses, Daria? In that poem, tell me what happened to Ulysses.


Oh, get the hell up off your damn face and look at me!

Daria lifted her head. A pair of ash-gray boots stood on the lunar soil before her. She craned her neck and looked upward as far as she could in the spacesuit.

Get up! said Jane angrily, looking down at her. Her fists were balled and planted on her hips. Get up, damn it!

After a shocked moment, Daria got to her feet. She wiped off her helmet visor again to see Jane better, clearing some of it and smearing the rest.

Jane maintained her fierce look a moment longer, then relaxed and stuck out her right hand, palm up. I win. You owe me a hundred smackeroos. Knew I could make you get up.

Daria stared. She felt like she ought to laugh, but she couldn’t.

Cat got your tongue? asked Jane, lowering her hand.

“No,” said Daria in a small voice. “it’s just . . . I wasn’t expecting . . . uh, hi.”

Hi. Jane’s mouth twisted to one side. Okay, so now I am looking at you. You look great without glasses. A little gray in the hair, a little wrinkled around the eyes, but still great. I figured you would. Your teensy weensy pores look really cute today, too.

Daria blinked at her teenage friend, dead for almost thirty years, who stood without harm in her street clothes in the dust on the airless, lifeless, radiation-blasted moon.

Don’t try this at home, said Jane, as if she’d read Daria’s thoughts. I'm a fully trained and licensed hallucination. I make it look easy, but don’t be fooled. She straightened and looked solemn. One teensy problem, though, she said, holding up an index finger to make her point.

“What?” asked Daria in a breathless voice.

I wasn’t kidding about the hell part.

Daria slowly shook her head. “What? You’re saying that—”

Daria, said Jane patiently, what happened to Ulysses?

“He . . . you mean, in The Odyssey?”

In the poem by Tennyson.

“Oh, he, ah, he was getting old, and he decided to abandon his kingdom and his home and family so he could get on a ship with some guys and sail off to explore the world again, and—”

Yes, and after that, what happened? Tennyson borrowed his Ulysses from another poem, didn’t he? An older one?

“Uh, yeah. He—” A look of confusion came over Daria’s face “—he took it from Dante’s Divine Comedy, the part—”

The part about the Inferno, right. What happened to Ulysses in Dante’s story?

Daria gave Jane an incredulous look. “Why in the world are you asking me this?”

Work with me here. This is important. What happened to Ulysses?

“He—” Daria’s voice grew higher “—he said that he sailed a long distance west with his crew, trying to reach the ends of the earth, then a storm came up and his ship sank after he reached a mysterious mountain. He drowned and—” Her voice faded “—went to hell.”

You got it. Ulysses was burning alive in the Eighth Circle of the Inferno, in practically the worst part of hell. The outside daytime temperature here on the moon right now is hot enough to fry you like a charcoaled steak except that you have a spacesuit on. Does this comparison sound interesting?

“Y-y-y-” Daria lost her voice. White-faced, she stepped back. “Are you saying the moon is like hell, or that it is hell?”

In a not-so-funny kind of way, it is hell. It’s your hell, the very lowest pit of your life. And in a very strange and curious way, this world is also like Dante’s Inferno because there is a way out of this hell, like there was a way out of the Inferno, and I’m going to play Virgil and guide you along that way out, and that’s all there is to it. You’re going to dial NASA on the Grumpy-phone and get your ass on the first space taxi out. It’ll take a few days, sure, and I’m sorry you didn’t bring a change of undies, but you’re going home, and I don’t want to hear any more crap out of you about it! ¿Comprende?

Stunned, Daria swallowed and nodded.

Good, said Jane, relaxing with her arms crossed. I’m glad that worked, because if it didn’t, I was going to sing children’s songs nonstop, until you crawled to Grumpy with your last breath to make me stop. And that would be bad.

“I’m sorry,” said Daria after a moment. She drew a breath and let it out, exhausted. “It’s just been such a lousy day. It’s been a lousy life, too, it really has.”

Jane nodded in sympathy. I can imagine. We’re together again, though. Let’s not screw around with fate and mess this up, okay?

“Okay.” Daria looked up at Jane—and she gasped. Her gaze went over Jane’s left shoulder to something in the distance.

It was a tiny flickering light on a distant hill.

A crooked smile appeared on Jane’s red lips. See anything interesting? she asked, looking only at Daria’s face.

“Grumpy!” Daria whispered in surprise.

I’m not anymore, thank you, said Jane, still smiling. Shall we go call for a cab and get a refill on your oxygen?

Daria stared at the distant flashes, then straightened. “‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,’” she quoted.

Good enough for me, said Jane. She motioned for Daria to accompany her. Let’s hurry.



* * *



The Sun, Apollo 17


Daria ran the two-legged gallop toward Grumpy’s flashing signal for seeming ages, but the light throughout always seemed to be just as far off as when she first saw it. She cursed the moonscape’s illusion of nearness; it was like running with the Red Queen in Looking-Glass Land and getting nowhere. Grumpy couldn’t be too far off if she could see its light, and she knew she had been close to it when Francis crashed, but the final stretch was unbearable. She stumbled crossing an old shallow crater and barely regained her balance. She was tiring rapidly. Too rapidly.

Careful there! Jane called to her in a worried tone. Slow down! Don’t fall, amiga! She jogged at Daria’s side. Her boots left no prints in the lunar powder.

“I’m trying!” gasped Daria.

Breathe through your nose, like I told you in gym back in school. How’re you doing?

“Getting . . . tired . . . so hot . . .”

Do your lungs feel like they’re burning? Is it getting hard to breathe in there?

Daria nodded, unable to speak. Spots swam before her eyes. Disoriented, she slowed even more, her limbs turning into lead weights.

You’re running out of oxygen! Jane shouted in panic. Do something! Hurry!

It was hypercapnia, Daria remembered; she was breathing her own carbon dioxide and little else. Her oxygen supply had given out a minute or two earlier. Heart thumping and lungs struggling for air, Daria skidded to a clumsy stop. Her consciousness wavered as she reached down along her right leg for a flap-covered pocket. Ripping the flap open, she stuck her hand inside just as she lost her balance and fell over on her side. Her gloved fingers curved around a pull-cord handle in the pocket and she jerked hard on the lanyard. A hissing was audible in her helmet. Moments later, her burning lungs were filled with a cold, refreshing breeze. She rolled on her back and breathed deeply, exhausted. She had the vague idea that someone was yelling at her. She looked up and tried to focus her eyes.

Get up! Jane stood over her, a look of terror on her face. Get up, damn it!

Daria felt someone grip her right hand and pull. She took the hint and tried to get up, though the person holding on to her was weak and soon let go. She had almost gotten to her feet again when her head cleared and the significance of what had happened struck home. Startled, she looked down but saw nothing on her right glove. Something in her glove must have caused that odd sensation, she thought, aware that a relieved Jane stood very close to her. It had to have been some problem with her glove, it had to be. It couldn’t have been anything else like—no, that was impossible, just impossible.

Come ON! Jane shouted. She jabbed a finger at the supply lander. Daria thought she could almost hear Jane’s voice in her ears instead of just inside her head, but she shook it off. She set out this time at a steady canter with the half hour of air left to her. To her pleasant surprise, she was making noticeable headway toward Grumpy; the lander got visibly closer and details on the robotic spacecraft appeared. It was a huge four-legged vehicle wrapped in gold and silver foil for thermal insulation, with four long solar panels stretching from its top like great golden helicopter wings. Larger than Erebus, the misnamed Grumpy was packed with every imaginable sort of cargo item to supply a long-duration mission by a handful of Earthly visitors. It stood at an angle on a slight incline, only a score of meters from a moderate-sized boulder it had conveniently missed on its way down.

There it is! Daria judged that she would reach her goal in less than a minute. I made it! I MADE IT!

WE made it! Jane happily corrected, and as she ran she clapped Daria on the back.

Even in her euphoria, Daria felt the sudden, painless slap—a slap that went right through her spacesuit to her bare skin. Daria flinched in shock and looked at Jane. Jane turned to look at her in the same instant as if she knew what had happened. The two slowed down and came to a sudden stop facing each other, two arm’s lengths apart.

“You touched me!” Daria gasped, her skin prickling with horror. Panting hard, she raised a gloved hand and pointed at Jane. “You’re dead! . . . You died . . . in . . . a car wreck . . . but you just . . . you touched me! . . . How can . . . you . . . do that?”

Jane ran her hands through her silken black bangs but did not answer. She did not look away.

“That can’t happen!” Daria said, regaining her breath. “You can’t touch me! That’s impossible, but I felt you when . . . how . . . I don’t . . .”

She raised her right hand, fingers spread, and took a hesitant step forward. Jane tensed but did not back away. She kept her blue eyes locked on Daria as her friend approached, reached out, and





Daria jerked her hand away. “You’re turning real!” she shouted. “That—that’s impossible! I thought you were a ghost or an angel, a dream come true, but how—how did you—I must be going—” She inhaled sharply, her eyes widening. “Dream come true. Oh, no. God, no. That dream, first I had the dream about you, and then I heard you, the auditory—and then the visual, seeing you in my head and then for real, and then the tactile, the touching, and then—that’s—that’s the progression of—that’s—” She swallowed “—that’s how . . . . how that pill—” She couldn’t go on.

The light in Jane’s blue eyes faded. Her face fell. “I know,” she said quietly. Her Jane’s voice came to Daria’s ears as if no spacesuit were there to block it. Jane was becoming more real by the second—impossibly real, too real to believe no matter what the proof.

Daria’s mouth fell open. “The pill,” she said, thunderstruck. She remembered it now. How could she have forgotten?

“The pill,” Jane agreed. Her face was stone. “I can’t lie to you, because you won’t lie to yourself. I couldn’t tell you before now.”

Daria stared at her friend. It made sense, everything did. “I remember,” she whispered. “What happened, all of it.”

She was thrown to the cabin floor of the Erebus with great force, a deafening bang ringing in her ears. Lights flickered and died; around her howled a mad wind that raged chaos as the cabin’s atmosphere blew out. The hurricane dragged her rolling into a wall—then it ended as suddenly as it had begun. All was darkness and silence. She lay wedged against a supply cabinet with a torn-away locker door lying on her faceplate. Pushing the door away, she felt around in the dark and caught hold of the edge of the panel above her, using it to pull herself to her feet. When she felt able, she shuffled around a corner of the crew cabin and saw dazzling unfiltered sunlight where no light was supposed to be. It came through a gaping ragged-edged hole two meters wide behind the lander pilot’s side of the forward half of the cabin. She had not yet seen the shredded bodies of the other three crewmen, still tangled in their harnesses in the command center.

She looked down at herself instead, and the first thing she noticed in the light was that the front of her white spacesuit was splattered with freeze-dried flecks and streaks of red. It was human blood.

She thought for a moment that it was her blood, and in that moment of terror she reacted.

“I thought I was dying,” Daria said, half to Jane and half to herself. “I panicked and took the pill. I got it from someone years ago, a guy I dated who worked in experimental psychopharmacology. He gave it to me though he shouldn’t have, and it was illegal but I hid it in my belongings for the flight. I put it in my helmet in the pill dispenser so I could get to it if I wanted it. When I saw all that blood on me, I got the pill out with my tongue and swallowed it, but then I realized I wasn’t going to die. My spacesuit was intact. The blood was from the others, it was their blood splattered across me and the cabin, everywhere. I didn’t notice anything was different after I took the pill, so I thought maybe it had gone inert over the years, and I forgot about it and got out of the ship, and then—”

“Then I appeared,” said Jane. A tear slid down her cheek and fell into the dust of the moon. It looked perfectly real, but it vanished in the dust and left no trace. “You couldn’t have remembered it until now anyway. The pill’s effects must be starting to wear off. Awareness of the hallucination as such is the first sign.” She lifted her chin. “I wish that—” she began, but wisely stopped and shook her head.

It was the pill’s doing all along. Daria reeled from the blow. A powerful hallucinogen intended only for hospice use, it granted the user the one thing he or she wanted most to experience. The idea had been only fantasy until it was made real by the godlike medical technology of the twenty-first century. It was psychologically addictive in the severest way, so only the dying were permitted it.

I have my heart’s desire, thought Daria. I wanted to see Jane again before I died, and here she is. I got my last wish—almost.

“I told you,” said Jane. Tears ran down her face. “I told you I was here only because you wanted me badly enough. I couldn’t tell you then how it came about because I had to get you here first, so you had a chance to live. The real Jane would have wanted that. I never denied that I was a hallucination. I just couldn’t tell you everything. I did what Jane would do, as you knew her.”

The unreal Jane took a step closer. Daria did not back up. “‘Nothing promotes learning better than a good stretch in solitary confinement,’” she again quoted. “One last learning, then, while there’s time. What I was telling you about Ulysses had another point. Do you know why Ulysses was in hell?”

Daria shook her head slowly. “I don’t understand.”

“I think you do. I know everything you do, being a part of you. Come on.”

For a moment Daria looked away from Jane at the rolling landscape and black sky, then turned back to her friend. “The Eighth Circle,” she said.

“Yes,” said Jane softly. “That was where those who committed fraud and deceit were punished. It was damnation for small-time fraud, a hell for hypocrites, thieves, flatterers, and charlatans. Ulysses deceived others with his tricks in the Trojan War, and for that was punished.” Jane took another step closer. Her cheeks were wet, but she wasn’t crying now. “The moon really is your hell, Daria. It’s your personal Eighth Circle, because in taking the pill you deceived yourself in creating me. You knew I would not be real, I wouldn’t be the Jane you knew, but you took the pill anyway. You are where you should be—but your deception was small and hurt only you. You don’t have to be here forever. There is forgiveness for that, and a way out. You can go home and live again, as Jane would have wanted. You should go home.”

“I should have died with her,” said Daria in a rough voice. She, not Jane, was crying now. “I should have stayed back from college and died with her in that crash. I did die when she died. I’ve been walking around dead for thirty years, unburied and rotting away, and I’m finally right where I should be, at the bottom of hell. You’re dead right there. I am home.”

“You’re—” Jane stopped herself again in visible frustration. “You won’t listen,” she said at last. “I won’t be here much longer anyway. Your old boyfriend warned you that the effects of the pill would wear off much faster than it took for them to appear. You can go to the lander and save yourself from this wasteland. Jane would have wanted you to.”

Daria bit her lip. When at last she spoke, she said only, “Jane isn’t here, though, is she?”

Jane looked down at the gray ground and made no answer.

Daria turned to look at the lander, then started toward it at a slow pace, empty of life and feeling. She did not look back as she went.


Footprint, Apollo 11


About a hundred meters from Grumpy, she noticed movement and spotted a long white box, mounted over one landing leg, rotating in her direction. The end of the long box that came around to face her was glossy black: a television camera lens. Hello, Earth, she thought. They must have spotted me. There’s that five or six second lag from the time the camera sees me do something to the time the camera responds to what I’ve done, like panning to follow my movements, so I’d best move slowly.

She continued on her way. When she reached the massive lander, she stared up at the camera, knowing that back on Earth the control personnel must be frantic at seeing her, wondering what had happened to the other crewmen. I must look terrible, she thought. Blood and dust all over me, they must know something bad happened. I owe them the full story, for the others’ sake and for their families, and for those who come after. I owe them. “Death closes all: but something ere the end, / Some work of noble note, may yet be done. . . .” This must be it.

“Do you read me?” she said, trying to activate the radio in the suit. The amber warning light remained on. She heard no response in her ears. “Houston, do you read me? Houston?” She sighed and shook her head. There was still another way to communicate.

Daria examined the lander, then walked over to a gold-foil cover on the base and carefully peeled it back. Beneath it was a handle, which she pulled. A wide door slid open. Before her were numerous labeled drawers and doors. She selected one and opened it, taking out a scribble pad and stylus. The pad was a thin, hard sheet of material on which she could write anything, then erase it instantly with the touch of a button. She resealed the door and foil cover, then carried the two items around to the camera looking down at her. There she lowered her head and began a message.

EREBUS BLEW UP AFTER LANDING, she wrote with thick strokes. FUEL PUMP C-TANK-4 TORE CABIN OPEN. She hesitated before adding: THE OTHERS ARE DEAD. She then turned the pad around and held it up to the camera. She waited ten seconds, then lowered the pad and erased it. MY RADIO IS DAMAGED, she penned next. RAISE/LOWER CAMERA IF YOU CAN READ THIS.

She held it up and began to count off the seconds to herself. When she reached nine, the camera bobbed up and down twice. Good. Mission Control was on the ball. She tried not to imagine what was happening at that moment in the huge mission center. It had to be pandemonium.

She lowered the pad and thought hard about what she had to say next. She looked to one side and saw Jane standing where she had left her, looking back with a serene expression as if at peace. She’s not even real, Daria thought angrily, but Jane did look very real standing there. The pill’s effects had not yet left her system. Daria made herself turn away. She raised the pad and stared at it.

I could go home. She’s right, hallucination or not. I could go home, if they came to get me.

But every second for hours and days to come, I’m going to want to see Jane again. Withdrawal will be horrific. I could still make it, there’s a chance I could still come through it intact, but I’d have to tell them what I’ve done, first. I’d have to tell them now so they’d know what they were getting into by trying to rescue me, that I could be insane when they got here, or dead from suicide, or, just maybe, still okay.

And they face their own risks, too. I don’t know why that fuel pump blew, and they don’t know, either. It could happen again. It’s human nature to want to save lives, but instead die trying.

Not much of a choice, really. I just have to be stronger than they are, to save them from dying to save me. I’m already dead. That’s what this is really about. Or maybe it isn’t, but I can deceive myself and say it is. That’s almost as good.

She took a deep breath, then slowly began to write: URGENT YOU CHECK ALL FUEL PUMPS ON METEOR FOR DEFECTS. SCRUB NEXT MISSION. The pad went up, came down, was erased, was recreated, and came back up. AM LEAVING DEPOT INTACT FOR FUTURE CREWS. WILL NOT USE SUPPLIES. Hesitating, she then cleared the pad and wrote: DO NOT ATTEMPT RESCUE. When she finished, she held the pad to the camera lens once more and counted to ten. She was lowering her arms when the camera began to move left and right, over and over. It was shaking its head. No.

They did mean to rescue her. They would come as fast as they could, the odds be damned. She knew it. She would have to tell them what she’d done, how she had betrayed her chances of survival, reveal herself for a fool to everyone on Earth. She had made a fool of herself so many times before, she thought, once more surely wouldn’t hurt.

But she couldn’t. Not this time. Even in hell she had a little of her pride left. She decided to keep it.

That’s what this was really about. She realized that, and was content.

She watched the camera a few seconds longer, then shook her own head in response. No. She looked down, wrote on the pad, then held it up. DO NOT ATTEMPT RESCUE! When the pad came down, she erased it, paused a long moment, then wrote: I LOVE YOU, QUINN. GOODBYE. Thirty seconds she held it up as she wept, then lowered the pad and dropped it in the dust of the moon, face up so its last message was visible. She raised a hand to the camera, saluted, then turned away and walked off in the direction she had come. She knew without looking that the camera was following her every move, the mission controllers screaming at her image on their screens to come back. She wondered if Quinn had seen her message and understood her decision. Somehow she knew Quinn would, even if no one else ever did.

The real Jane would have understood, too.

The other Jane waited on the long slope down, her hands resting on her hips.

“Hi,” said Daria when she came up.

“Yo,” Jane replied. “So, what now?”

“I could use a hug, if there’s time,” Daria mumbled.

“Even if I’m not real?”

“Yes. Please.”

“Your wish is my command,” said Jane. She stepped forward and suddenly pressed Daria to her in a bear hug. Daria felt and saw and heard her friend as perfectly as if Jane were really there and nothing else in the universe was real at all.

“I missed you,” Daria whispered into Jane’s warm red shirt. She smelled Jane’s body and heard her breathing and felt her heart beating. She closed her eyes and they held each other in silence until Daria felt the illusion begin to slip away.

Time to go, amiga, said Jane in Daria’s mind, her voice fading rapidly.

“Goodbye,” said Daria, hanging on.


Daria opened her eyes. She had her arms out as if hugging someone, but no one was there.

No one at all.

After a long moment she let her arms fall to her sides. It took a couple of minutes to pull herself together sufficiently to think about what she should do next. Her nerves were jumping, her body already craving another fix of the hallucinogen, but there was none to be had. It didn’t matter, she knew; death from asphyxiation would occur before the craving got any worse. She would be spared that much, even in the Inferno.

I can’t stay here, she reflected. I can’t let them see me when I die. I don’t want to be a body in the background like all those dead climbers on Mount Everest, frozen like the damned in the bottom of Hades. I have to get out of sight of the camera so they don’t always see me and think about me and feel bad about it. If this is my hell, then I should keep it to myself, and explore it while I still can.

A fragment of an ancient poem surfaced in her memory: To this the short remaining watch, that yet / Our senses have to wake, refuse not proof / Of the unpeopled world. . . .

The words of Ulysses to his men before they died, by way of Dante. I should take his advice and refuse not proof of this world, she decided. There’s still time for learning. Maybe I’ll even see a gas eruption from Aristarchus, who knows. I guess Erebus was a good name for that ship after all.

She took a step to follow her footsteps back the way she’d come, but instead stopped and looked to the east. The deep crater known as Cobra Head was only a kilo away. If she hurried, she might make it there before her emergency air was gone. She would see something new, gain proof, learn and believe. Turning, she took a step eastward and made herself keep going, swiftly picking up her two-legged canter. It felt good to run like that. She was close to the end and had no fear.

As she went, she wondered if the illusory Jane had been right, that a way existed out of this Inferno into Paradise. If there was, it could only be through death. Perhaps then she would see the real Jane, but she didn’t know. There was no proof she would, and without it she believed in nothing. She did not worry about it for long. The proof would present itself at the proper time, and not before.

She headed off across the great gray plain of the Eighth Circle, through the dead and their ghosts, at home at last in her loneliness.


NASA Project Constellation







Author’s Notes II:In June 1998, while Daria and Jane were serving as hosts for MTV’s “Top 10 Animated Videos Countdown,” Jane asked, “In the next season of Daria, can we go to the moon?” And now they have. So to speak.

The photographs are from NASA Apollo missions. Placing the cursor over each one (using Internet Explorer) reveals what the picture is of, and on which mission it was taken.

This science-fiction tale was cannibalized from an unpublished story in my computer files, the original title being “Malebolge.” Certain elements of the plot were inspired by a 1965 science-fiction novel called The Pilgrim Project, by Hank Searls (later filmed as Countdown), and by John W. Campbell, Jr.’s novel of lunar disaster and survival, The Moon Is Hell! (1951). Also providing inspiration were Echopapa’s fanfic, “Daria and Jane Go to the Moon” (he was getting them there before I did, I know) and a PPMB discussion about whether Daria could become a scientist. Echopapa’s fanfic is on PPMB is here, and the discussion about whether Daria could ever become a scientist is here.

Much of what Jane says throughout the story consists of lines slightly modified from her actual quotes in various Daria episodes (e.g., “Daria!” “Groped by an Angel,” Is It Fall Yet?) and other sources, too numerous to list, such as the Daria’s Inferno PC game. The scrap of paper from which Jane quotes early on appeared in The Daria Diaries.

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s magnificent poem, “Ulysses,” appears on the Internet at here. The words of Dante’s Ulysses from the Inferno of The Divine Comedy come from Canto XXVI of a version translated by the Rev. Henry Francis Cary, published in 1819 but found on the Internet here.

Other inspiration came from a long fascination I’ve had with the Aristarchus region of the Moon, which is supposed by some to be actively volcanic. Curiously, NASA sponsored a conference in the summer of 1967 at the University of California at Santa Cruz to discuss missions for Project Apollo, and one recommended mission was a dual launch of Saturn Vs, one spacecraft with a crew and the other being a modified lunar lander full of supplies and scientific equipment, on a six-day expedition to the Aristarchus area. The goal was to investigate Cobra Head, the odd crater at the head of the great lunar rille called Schröter’s Valley. More information on this mission—which of course forms the basis for this story—is given in the online NASA publication, Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of Apollo Lunar Exploration Missions, by W. David Compton (Special Publication 4214 in the NASA History Series, 1989). The specific reference is here.

Finally, I was greatly helped by the magnificent volume of Apollo photographs by Michael Light, Full Moon, which put me there as nothing else could. I hope you enjoyed it.


Earthrise, Apollo 8



Original: 04/21/07, modified 05/14/07, 05/21/07, 08/21/07