The thought occurs that I should not continue foisting my "Goldberg Variations" on #fridayflash readers. There is a risk of annoying readers, not something any writer should do. I'll continue to have the debate with myself about this and, in the meantime, here is another in the series.
Ruth loaded the last transmission from her mother and pressed "Play". Her mother's voice sounded from the speakers.
"Lunar Launch Control, this is TS Zero Zero Five, Goldberg commanding."
Ruth drew her breath in sharply, as she had done every time before, when she saw her mother's drawn face, blood inexpertly cleansed from her right temple.
"Regret to inform result of last system mod/repair failed to meet success criteria."
Ruth shook her head watching her mother's mouth twist in wry humor.
"It was a bust, guys. Ruth, your system re-route nearly did it." Her mother shook her head. "But there was too much damage from the earlier explosion. The remaining couplings couldn't take the strain."
Her mother cleared her throat, flecks of blood appearing at the side of her mouth.
"We're implementing evac plan beta, with some modifications. We can fit almost all the survivors in the backup pod. Someone needs to stay behind — me."
Ruth closed her fists tight, feeling her fingernails digging into her palms.
"Don't listen to the Psych boys, OK? This isn't some 'captain has to go down with her ship' deal. I may be brave, but I'm not foolish."
Her mother paused for breath, clearly fighting pain.
"I have to manually trigger the main engine, what's left of it. That, and the thrusters, will kick the pod into a stable return trajectory. Just pick up my crew. Get them home, OK?"
Ruth looked away as her mother's report was interrupted by a bout of coughing. When she looked again, she could not believe how old her mother looked.
"This transmission will reach you in —" her mother looked away, at some dial or other, "— 78 minutes. By then TS Zero Zero Five will be well on the way to giving Titan a small crater."
Ruth lifted her hand to the screen just as her mother did the same.
"Ruth? Jenna's OK, banged up but OK. And I'm OK too." She smiled. "Just a little more banged up. When you, or your daughters, get to Titan, I'll be here."
Her mother's face resumed its normal controlled self.
"This is TS Zero Zero Five ending transmission. Telemetry will continue to be broadcast for as long as possible. Goldberg out."
Ruth froze the image on the screen. Short, dark hair, shot through with gray. Dark, wide-set eyes. Mouth firm. Almost a mirror-image of herself, these days.
"We'll be there, Mom. Jenna made it back. It took us a while, but we're coming back to Titan."
"Commander Goldberg." The intercom on her desk sounded. Ruth pressed the contact.
"Commander. We rendezvous with Titan within the hour."
"On my way. Goldberg out."