The slight wind swayed the fields of wild grass in a hypnotizing motion as a solitary vehicle traversed across a lonely dirt road. Towering ahead of the solid blue pickup was a mountain sparse of vegetation from the thin air. Its exposed red rock contrasted with the spring colors of the valley below, and its rocky ledges differed from the smooth, winding path of the trickling stream that the road now followed.
The truck rolled along the majestic landscape as the lone driver took in the sights, admiring the planet’s beauty. She passed by a grove of pines clustered by the stream, and their sweet smell wafted through the truck’s open window, conjuring up past memories of peaceful solitude in the mountains. She slowed the vehicle to catch another whiff of the terpenes, then pressed on, eager to reach her final destination before sundown.
The truck bounced along the bumpy path and the driver glanced at the sun still hanging in the clear sky. There was plenty of time left before twilight. She considered turning back and stopping at the grove for a relaxing break under the trees, but thought the better of it. She was on a mission, and as pleasant as the scenery was, she was determined to see it through.
Rita hit the trails quite often, but this time, she was after something special. If she managed to catch it, it would be a moment to remember for sure. But first, she would have to make it to the top of the mountain before dark. Having run similar trails before, Rita was confident she could reach the peak in time, so long as nothing slowed her down. But she’d found Murphy to be an unforgiving teacher, so she kept an eye out for any unexpected peculiarities just in case.
The blue pickup continued through the rolling meadows, following the stream as though it were a trusted guide. Rita watched as she passed through patches of white and purple flowers to either side, noting their abundance. She looked down towards the stream bed and wondered at its history. It had likely been millions of years since water had last flowed through this ancient river bed, and she was delighted at the sight of flowing water once again.
Eventually, a bend in the trail brought her closer to the stream, and she brought the vehicle to a halt to gaze at the path. The sound of the flowing water was pleasant to the ear, but she gave a sigh at the sight of the crossing. The stream itself was rather shallow and should be easy enough to cross, but the recent rains had made things very muddy. Much of the silt had accumulated here, and Rita was worried she might become stuck.
Undeterred, she stepped on the accelerator and attempted to power through. She quickly made it through the first patch of mud and into the water itself, but she began to lose speed. The truck lost its momentum and became bogged in the sludge of the stream bed. Rita turned the wheel, attempting to escape the mud, but to no avail. She activated the vehicle’s differential lock and stepped on the accelerator again. For a moment, one of the wheels caught, and the vehicle leaped forward. Then, just as suddenly, it came to a stop in the middle of the stream. She was stuck.
Rita tried once more to escape unsuccessfully, then sighed. Again, she glanced at the sun hovering over the mountain. There was still time, and if she moved quickly, she could make it to the top. Flipping a switch in the center console, she popped open her door, water spilling into the cabin floor, and splashed down nearly waist deep into cold stream. She shivered for a moment, then began wading towards the nose of the trapped vehicle.
Rounding the front of the pickup, fighting against the small, steady current, she unclipped a hook from the bumper and pulled. The truck’s winch began to unwind, and Rita waded to the opposite shore with the cable in hand. Fortunate that there were plenty of pines on the far side, she picked one in line with her pickup and secured the cable around its base.
She stepped back and put her hands on her hips, pausing for moment to take in the sight. Her truck was half submerged in the stream, shaded by the long shadows of the pines as the sun drew closer to the distant mountain. The water gurgled around the obstruction and on down the river bed to shape the ancient valley, a persistent and powerful force given the time. The grass of the meadows in the background continued to sway in the wind, and the insects flittered through the air, occasionally dropping down to the water or into the trees.
As though interrupting the peaceful serenity of nature, Rita let her hands fall and stepped back into the stream with a loud splash. She took a sharp breath as the coldness bit at her feet, but she waded back to her truck and hopped back into the cab. She activated the winch and it began to slowly tug the vehicle through the mud. She stepped down on the pedal to help unstick the truck, and it began a slow crawl towards the pine on the opposite shore, the wheels spinning as they tried to grip the muddy stream bottom.
Then, with a sudden jerk, the vehicle gained traction and began to move forward. Rita pulled in the winch more quickly as the truck climbed onto the shore, then braked as she approached the anchoring tree. She popped back out of her truck, unhooked the cable, and wound back up the winch, glancing at her watch as she did. The delay hadn’t taken very long, and she was still on schedule to make it to the mountain top.
With the truck successfully freed from the stream, Rita once again began her trek along the dirt road, moving ever closer to the mountain before her. The fields of grass and shrubs rolled by the windows of the blue pickup. As she drew closer to her final destination, and the altitude slowly increased, the landscape began to change. The grass grew thinner, exposing the bare red rock beneath, and boulders became more prevalent along the path. The previously smooth and curvy path became rougher and filled with switchbacks as it climbed the large mountain.
The sun was close to setting now, and Rita continued along the dirt road in the shadow of the mountain, her headlights illuminating the path before her. She came to a sharp turn in the trail and, eager to reach the top now that it was so close, proceeded a bit too quickly. She came dangerously close to the trail’s edge, bordered by a steep, downward slope. The weight of the front wheel caused the eroding edge to crumble, and the vehicle canted as it nearly rolled off. Rita was jolted with fear; for a moment, she truly thought she had been about to roll down the mountain and, if she survived the fall, be left for dead alone in the wild. But she had let off the accelerator quickly enough, and the truck now tottered on two of its wheels. One of the front tires now hung over the edge while a rear tire was lifted clear of the trail, threatening to follow the rest of the vehicle downward.
Rita thanked her luck that she had been so fortunate. Putting the pickup in reverse, she slowly pressed down on the accelerator, careful not to let her own shifting weight push the vehicle over. The rear wheel still on the ground had enough traction to pull her back on the trail, and she made it to the safety of solid ground. She approached the remainder of the turn more carefully, weaving between the red rocks on one side and the trail edge on the other. She made it through without further incident and continued on, now approaching the crest of the peak.
The truck rolled up over the crest and into a large, flat clearing on the top of the mountain. Rita pulled the electric vehicle over to the side, lined up with a perfect view of the terrain and the glimmer of her home city in the distance. The air was thin, and Rita grabbed an oxygen mask to help her breath as she climbed out of the truck. By now, the sun had just set, and the first stars where beginning to gleam in the twilight. Standing beside her trusty blue steed, appreciative of the fact that it had pulled her through more than one sticky situation today, Rita took in the spectacular view and waited.
Finally, the moment for which she had been striving came. Far below the mountain there was a bright explosion of light, illuminating a small outpost a ways from the city. The bright light slowly lifted from the ground, reaching up towards the sky. It began to move faster and faster, until it became a shooting star moving in the wrong direction. The light arced up into the twilight to join the stars, and just before it faded in the distance, its path brought her eyes to another bright blue star in the evening sky.
Her gaze lingered on the pale blue dot as she wondered in amazement. “Earth,” she said aloud. “The cradle of humanity.” And one day, she would visit the planet which she had heard so much about. Despite the scenery she had grown to love in her homeland, the limited ecosystem of the newly terraformed Mars only had so much to offer. On Earth, there were lush forests with animals the size of humans, and oceans with odd-looking aquatic life. She would be able to experience it all if she could only get there. Whatever means would be necessary, she would find a way to get herself to Earth.