No Stranger to Desert Places

by Karen Eisenbrey

“It’s going to be rough landing!” Captain Anderson shouted. “Hang on!”

Commander Ruby Ladd gripped her armrests. Surely they were coming in too low, too fast. But she trusted the Skipper. He’d rarely given her any reason not to. And now they were in the Gusev Crater, a long way from the base, but still—not bad. He hit the retro rockets, but they cut out soon after. The shuttle hit the ground, bounced, and slid across the rocky surface. So much for the landing gear.

Ruby had her harness unfastened as soon as they stopped moving. “Do you think she’ll explode?”

Anderson stared at her a moment, then laughed long and hard.

“What’s so funny?”

“There’s nothing left to explode,” he told her. “We’re completely out of fuel.”

“Then I guess we’d better start walking.”

Nielson was still strapped into the one remaining seat in the passenger area, where he’d been since they entered the atmosphere. The engineer had made a number of small repairs and adjustments during the short flight from Phobos. He was probably as responsible as Anderson for the relative success of the landing. Now he stared, wide-eyed and silent.

“Mr. Nielson?” Ruby shook his shoulder. When he didn’t respond, she knocked on his helmet, which got his attention. “Mr. Nielson, we’re going to have to walk the rest of the way. Come on, get up now.”

He nodded and unfastened the straps. He tried to stand but fell back into the seat. “I can’t, Boss. It’s too much gravity.”

“I know, we’re all weaker than we should be. We’ll get used to it, but we need to go now, while it’s light.”

Between them, she and Anderson got Nielson onto his feet. They stepped out onto the Martian surface, the unaccustomed pull of a planet’s gravity dragging them down. It was a calm, clear day. The flat, butterscotch-colored crater bottom stretched off in front of them, the Columbia Hills visible in the distance.

“See, this isn’t so bad,” she said. “We just head for those hills. How far would you say it is, Skipper?”

Anderson eyed the hills, then held up his hand to judge the angle. “Maybe ninety clicks.”

“OK. We have air, water, and food for three days. No problem.” They’d come so far, all the way from the Asteroid Belt in a tiny craft never meant to travel far from its mothership. Ninety kilometers sounded like nothing in comparison, except they’d be doing it on foot. But the rest of the crew was depending on them. So, no problem.

After two steps, Nielson fell again. Ruby wanted to join him. Mars’ gravity was only about a third of Earth’s, but it dragged at her so she could barely lift her feet. And she was probably in the best condition of the three. By force of will, she kept herself standing.

“Leave me with the ship,” Nielson begged. “I can’t walk that far.”

“I’m not leaving anyone alone,” Ruby replied. As Expedition Commander, she was responsible for his well-being, as well as those still on Phobos. “We promised the others we’d send help. Help is that way.” She pointed toward the hills. “We don’t have to go fast. We just have to keep moving.”

“What if a dust storm comes up?” he asked. “We won’t be able to see where we’re going.”

“We’ll hunker down together and wait it out. Conditions are good now, so let’s go. Skipper, you lead.”

Ruby fell in behind Nielson to make sure they didn’t lose him. She listened to his muttered swearing and complaints over the public channel for a few minutes before she cut in. “We can’t afford to waste air on unnecessary talk.”

He fell silent, though she assumed the complaints continued in his head. They trudged for fifteen minutes, covering a few hundred meters, then rested for five, then trudged another fifteen. During rest breaks, they sipped water and NutriGel through tubes threaded from the life support packs into their helmets. They needed all the strength they could get. She considered letting her companions sleep after the sun went down, but they still had so far to go. They could get by for a time without food and water, but when the air ran out, that would be it.

“Look, there’s a beacon on top of Husband Hill,” she said, pointing to the blinking light in the distance. “We just need to keep walking toward it.”

She took the lead and let Anderson follow Nielson. They continued their slow, steady pace all night. Ruby didn’t even want to think about the air temperature. The cold, thin air of Mars would steal their body heat even through their suits. All the more reason to keep moving, and to consume as many calories as possible.

This was the third visit to Mars for all three of them. The first time, five years ago, should have been a routine supply mission to the Columbia research base, but disaster struck late in the visit. They’d lost five shipmates—five good friends, including their commander—in a terrible, preventable accident. The tragedy had colored the second visit almost a year ago, though that one had turned out mercifully routine. Ruby never would have predicted she’d have to make her third visit to the base on foot, but at least no one was dead. Yet.

They kept conversation to a minimum to conserve air, but Ruby gave Nielson an encouraging word whenever he lagged. The movement was enough to keep them awake, though Ruby often found herself half dreaming. She looked forward to a real bed at the end. When the sun rose, the weather was still calm, so they pressed on, Anderson leading again. It didn’t seem they had made much progress, but when she looked back, the wrecked shuttle was barely visible. There was no choice but to go on.

They plodded on at the same slow pace, and the view ahead hardly seemed to change. But Ruby had the sense that something was different—there were four of them, not three. Perhaps someone from the base had come to help! But when she looked around, she couldn’t see anyone else. Still, the feeling persisted of a fourth person walking near her, just out of view. At one point, she squawked in surprise as she felt a strong, encouraging hand on her shoulder.

Anderson spun to face her. “What is it? Are you all right?”

“Yes, I… just stumbled. I’ll be fine as long as I remember to pick up my feet.” They didn’t need to know she was losing it. This presence meant them no harm.

It had been years since Ruby believed in guardian angels or the help of a benevolent God. As a young teen, she had been drawn to church by her best friend’s promise of a youth basketball league, then stayed for the music, the ritual, the community, the comfort and uplift. But as an adult, she had seen too much loss and pointless suffering to hold onto her faith. Yet that imagined hand on her shoulder renewed her strength to continue this trek. The others were relying on her.

On the morning of the third day, they reached the base of the hills. Ruby allowed a longer rest break while they planned their route. Nielson sank to the ground. To judge by the snoring that came over the comm, he fell asleep instantly.

“We could go around and avoid a climb,” Anderson said.

“It’ll be a lot longer. I’m not sure we’ll make it. But if we go up and over this pass, we come down right by the entrance to the base. It’s not that steep.”

Between the two of them, they finally agreed the shorter route made more sense. The wind was starting to rise, and they didn’t want to get caught out in a dust storm so close to their goal. Ruby woke Nielson and they began to climb. It was much harder than it looked. When fit, she could have run up this slope, but now they did most of it on all fours with many stops. But after three grueling hours, they reached the top.

“We did it, friends,” Ruby said, and shook hands with her two visible companions. Their once-white suits were grubby with dust, but still intact, though Neilson’s mission patch hung by a few threads. “We’re almost there.”

The underground base was just below them. They started down on weak and shaking legs. They fell and slid more than they walked, but eventually reached the bottom. Anderson helped Nielson up from his latest fall.

“Boss! Something’s wrong. I think Nielson’s out of air!”

Nielson gasped but his tanks were empty. A quick glance at her HUD revealed that Ruby’s air supply, while low, was far from gone. But Nielson wasn’t in as good condition, or as experienced with how to ration air. All it took was a few extra moments of panic. She and Anderson draped his arms over their shoulders and supported him to the entrance. He moved his feet a little, but he wasn’t really walking.

Ruby radioed the base from the comm at the entrance. “Open the main airlock.”

“What are you doing out there? Everyone’s supposed to be inside. Don’t you know there’s a storm coming?”

“Then open up so we can be inside!”

After what seemed like forever, the doors slid open, and they dragged Nielson in. She hadn’t heard a gasp from him in a long time. As soon as the inner doors opened, they laid him on the floor and Ruby wrestled his helmet off. He was limp, his eyes closed and his lips blue. “No, no, no! Damn you, Nielson, don’t do this to me. Not now. Not after all this.” She yanked off her glove and felt his neck for a pulse. Weak, yes, but there. He jerked and sucked in a breath.

Ruby took off her own helmet. A passing intern stared at them. No wonder, if they all looked as bad as Nielson.

“Don’t just stand there!” Ruby snapped. “This man needs medical attention!”

“I… I…” The intern continued to stare.

Ruby let loose a string of profanity. “Help us! Now!” She slapped the floor for further emphasis.

That got his attention. He got on the comm, then hurried away, looking badly spooked.

Anderson fought a smile. “We don’t hear language like that from you too often, Boss.”

“Well, it’s Nielson, isn’t it? He taught me well.”

Soon a small vehicle hummed up with a pair of medics aboard. They hid their shock better than the intern, but not completely.

The driver, her curly red hair in a ponytail, stared at Ruby. “Aren’t you…?”

“Later,” Ruby said. “Take care of him first.”

“Of course.” They loaded Nielson onto a stretcher. “We’ll take him to the infirmary. What’s the problem?”

“His air ran out before we could get inside.”


“Nielson. Chip Nielson.”

“You’re… not base staff, obviously,” the other medic said. “How did you get here? No ships have landed recently.”

“We walked.” She stared at him, and he seemed disinclined to ask more questions. The intern must have warned them about the foul-mouthed crazy woman. As they were about to leave, she had a thought. “Do you go near the superintendent’s office?”

“Yes, it’s on the way.”

“Take us there.” She climbed onto the little vehicle and motioned for Anderson to do likewise.

The driver opened her mouth, then closed it without saying anything and drove off. The ride seemed the height of luxury. Ruby was sorry it had to end so soon.

The little ambulance slowed outside Superintendent Rogers’ office. “Are you sure? Maybe we should take you to the infirmary, too.”

“Later,” Ruby said. “We have a job to do.”

They entered the office. A bored-looking young man at the reception desk wrinkled his nose as they approached but did not look up from his screen.

“Excuse me,” Ruby said. “I need to see Superintendent Rogers.”

“Name?” the assistant asked, still without looking up.

“Commander Ruby Ladd of the Endurance.”

His eyes snapped up and he stared. “But you’re… that’s… I…”

Superintendent Rogers sprang out of his office. “Commander Ladd? My God! And is that hairy creature Frank Anderson? You’re alive!”

Ruby managed a smile for him. “Apparently so. I need your help.”

“Anything! What can I do for you?”

Her knees buckled and she gripped the edge of the desk. “Let’s start with a seat and some solid food.”

“I can do that. Come in.”

They hobbled into his office. He seated them in comfortable armchairs and ordered sandwiches from the kitchen. He didn’t even mention the smell, though they both had to be extremely ripe.

“I can’t tell you how good it is to see you alive,” Rogers said. “With no communications for months, we feared the worst. Wesley James has been losing his mind.”

Ruby snorted. “I’ll bet. Anything that delays his dreams of colonization wouldn’t go over too well.”

Rogers cleared his throat. “Not to mention the loss of life and a good ship. Speaking of which…”

Before he could finish, the food arrived. He held whatever he was going to say and allowed Ruby and Anderson to eat undisturbed. They demolished the pile in minutes. PBJs had never tasted so good.

“As I was about to say, I don’t know how you managed to sneak up on us,” Rogers said. “I wasn’t even aware your ship had entered orbit, let alone landed.”

Endurance was destroyed in an asteroid collision in May.” Ruby swallowed hard. “We made our escape on the landing shuttle.”

“On the shuttle?”

“It was all we had. We crashed it on the other side of the crater and walked the rest of the way.”

“This is amazing!” Rogers shook his head in disbelief. “No one has heard from you in months; you were presumed dead. There was even a memorial service. Quite beautiful, really. You should see the recording.”

“But first, showers and clean clothes,” Ruby said.

“You should see Dr. Fairfax, too.”

Ruby nodded. “We just sent a man to the infirmary. Most of all, we need a ship.”

“The big staff transport comes in January. You can be my guests until then. I’m rotating out, so I’ll be leaving with you.”

“That’s good to know,” Ruby said. “But I mean a small ship, immediately. The rest of our party is camped at the emergency depot on Phobos.”

“The rest of your party? How many?”


Rogers did the math. “You two, your man in the infirmary, and nine more? Twelve—then you didn’t lose any?”

“No. Not a one. I didn’t lose a one.” And Ruby smiled, really smiled, for the first time in days.

“That’s good news,” Rogers said. “We have a shuttle that can pick them up, but the Aurora doesn’t get much use. It’ll take a day or so to get her ready.”

“My people need urgent medical care,” Ruby said. “One in particular has been seriously ill.”

“All right, I’ll have the maintenance crew start immediately. And let me see what we can do in the way of showers and clothes.”

Another vehicle drove them to the shower rooms, and someone from the laundry met them.

“Just leave your space gear; we’ll return it when it’s clean.” She distributed clean clothes and basic, 3D-printed shoes. The underwear and Anderson’s uniform were regulation blue. “I hope it’s all right,” she said of the beige technician’s uniform she held out for Ruby. “We don’t have an officer’s uniform in your size.”

“Clean is more important than color,” Ruby assured her.

The shower, though metered, was hot, wet, and reviving. It felt as close to heaven as Ruby could imagine at the moment. She got out and back in so she could have another five minutes. Afterward, she finally looked in a mirror. No wonder the people at the base had looked so horrified. The puffiness of zero gravity had masked the gauntness of her face. Her cheekbones jutted over hollows, and her eyes were sunken and dark. She had thought her hair was long and wild before, but wet and with gravity pulling it down, it drooped almost to her collar. At least it was clean now.

She dressed and stepped into the shoes. The fit was poor, but they would do for now. She made her slow way to the infirmary, but she couldn’t keep her hands out of her hair. It kept falling into her eyes and tickling her neck.

“Need a haircut?” She turned toward the voice. A woman with green eyes and curly red hair greeted her with a smile. “The chair’s free. And I’d consider it an honor, Commander.” She gestured toward the doorway behind her. “I’m Lucy, by the way.”

Ruby shook her hand. “Do I know you?”

“No, but I know you.”

“News travels fast.”

“You better believe it does! There are only thirty of us, and nothing much really happens here.” Lucy grinned. “Also, I gave you a ride to Rogers’s office.”

“Thanks for that. So which is your side gig?” Ruby asked.

“I already had my cosmetology license when I came out,” Lucy said. “I’m working on EMT certification while I’m here.”

“A woman after my own heart. Get in touch when you get back to Earth if you need a job.” Ruby sighed. “It’s been ages since someone else cut my hair. Sure, let’s do it.” She followed the stylist into the one-chair salon, squeezed between the infirmary and the chapel.

Lucy ran her fingers through Ruby’s damp hair with professional interest. “It’s not really that long. When did you last cut it?”

“I have no idea,” Ruby replied, and dropped into the chair. “April, maybe?”

Lucy fastened a cape over her and got out a comb. “I’m here from 1100 to 1300 every day. Some days, nobody wants a haircut, and then others, I’ll have five in a row! The rest of the time, I’m an aide in the infirmary. I guess I’m just a people person! I always liked to…”

The shower had been stimulating, but Lucy’s pleasant chatter lulled Ruby. She closed her eyes and listened without much attention until the voice faded. It was dark, but she had to keep going. She crawled up the slope toward the pass. She was bringing oxygen to the man at the top. One of her people. Without it, he’d die.

Ruby jerked awake.

“There, all done,” Lucy said. “What do you think?”

Ruby tried to calm her racing heart as she examined her new look. The skeletal face was still a shock. Her hair was longer than her usual buzzcut, but she was grateful enough for the nap that she didn’t complain.

“I look like a girl!”

“The word you’re looking for is woman,” Lucy corrected. “Is it all right?”

“I’m not complaining,” Ruby said. She ran her fingers through the new ’do. “I haven’t worn bangs since I was twelve, but they cover the worry lines. This is good.” She ran her fingers through it, fluffing it up. “It’s wavier than I remembered. And the color…” Although it was still mostly chestnut, a substantial amount had turned gray. She looked like she’d aged twenty years.

“Do you want to dye it, too?” Lucy asked.

“No. I earned this. I’ll keep it.”

By the time she got to the infirmary, Dr. Fairfax had finished examining Anderson and was ready for her. She pronounced them undernourished and significantly weakened, but otherwise in good health.

“How far did you say you walked?” she asked Ruby.

“About ninety kilometers. But we took over fifty hours to do it.”

“In your condition, you shouldn’t have been able to walk one kilometer!”

Ruby smiled. “We had no other choice.”

“There’s no medical reason to keep you here,” Dr. Fairfax said. “But you need to sleep.” She called the administrative office about rooms. “Do you mind sharing for one night? They’re painting some of the dorms and there won’t be two singles available until tomorrow, but there’s a double that’s open now.”

“I don’t mind sharing. Do you, Skipper?”

“Not at all. To tell the truth, I’m not sure I want to be alone. At least, not until everyone is safe.”

“I’m with you on that,” Ruby said. “We’ll take the double for now.”

Dr. Fairfax called for a driver to deliver them to their room. Once there, Ruby plugged her comm into the charger and recorded a message to her bosses back on Earth to let them know of the expedition’s failure and her people’s miraculous survival. Twenty minutes later, she received a response—as close to immediate as possible. They were, to say the least, surprised.

Meanwhile, Anderson shaved off his beard and combed his hair before he placed a live call home. “How do I look?”

“You look alive, Skipper. It’s enough.”

She left the room to give Anderson his privacy and returned to the infirmary.

Nielson lifted a weak hand in greeting. “Hello, Boss.”

“Mr. Nielson, I’m glad to see you conscious again. How do you feel?”

“Like I damn near died and didn’t.”

“I’m sorry I had to put you through that.”

He shook his head. “I probably would’ve really died if you’d left me with the shuttle like I asked.”

She smiled. “I let the suits back home know that news of our demise was premature.”

He grinned back at her. “How’d they take that?”

“Apparently we were big heroes when we were dead, and now we’re bigger heroes because we’re not dead.” She rolled her eyes. “They want to give us a parade.”

“We’re not heroes, Boss. We’re survivors, is all.”

“I know that, Nielson.”

“Except for you. You are the biggest goddamned hero I ever met. You saved all our lives.”

Ruby didn’t feel like much of a hero as she returned to the dormitory on dragging feet. Besides her nap during the haircut, she had been awake for most of three days and didn’t have much left, now that the adrenaline had worn off. Anderson was already in his bed, and she crawled into hers quietly so as not to wake him. It felt strange to lie down in a real bed, but in a good way. She was so tired she could have slept anywhere.

“Hey, Boss,” Anderson murmured. He rolled over to face her.

“I thought you were asleep.”

“Almost. I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“About what?” she asked.

“We really did something, didn’t we?”

“You won’t get any argument from me.”

He rolled onto his back with his hands behind his head. “And not just you and me these last couple of days, but all of us. It feels like the most real thing I was ever part of.”

She knew what he meant, though it was difficult to put into words. It was so far beyond the ordinary, as far as space travel beyond life on Earth. “We’ll never top it. At least, I hope not. But I know I’ll never forget any of it. We cut through the surface, to the heart and soul of things.”

“That almost sounds like God talk, Boss.”

“Does it?” Even a few days ago, the remark might have drawn an angry response. He’d known her long enough to know when she lost her faith, and why. But now…

“Can I tell you something spooky?” he asked.

“Go ahead.” She arranged herself comfortably to listen.

“When we were walking yesterday, sometimes I felt like there were… four of us.”

Her spine prickled. “Really?”

“I never saw anybody. I figured it must be a hallucination, but…”

She took a deep breath and expelled it slowly. “I felt it, too.” She rolled onto her back and tried to be the voice of reason. “We were both pretty exhausted. The mind can play tricks sometimes.”

“Yes. But it seemed really… solid.”

“I know.” She recalled that comforting hand on her shoulder. She could have done with more hallucinations like that on this trip.

“Who do you suppose it was?” he asked.

“Whoever it was, they were no stranger to desert places. Or to grief.”

“More God talk?” Anderson chuckled softly. “Has the lost lamb returned to the fold after all this time?”

“More like… the Shepherd came and got me.”

“You’re a pretty good shepherd yourself, but I think that’s how we kept going,” Anderson said. “We had help. We’ve had help the whole time.”

She considered that. One miracle after another, and a lot of hard work and suffering. “It’s not quite over yet. I won’t feel easy until everyone is here with us.”

“True. But that hardly seems like any kind of challenge, now.”


When Ruby surfaced from sleep, it wasn’t the next day, but the one after that. After a shower, she felt almost completely human again. A substantial meal completed the process—though it was almost noon, the breakfast buffet in the dining hall was still open. The better news was that the shuttle Aurora was ready to pick up her people from Phobos.

She and Anderson got back into their newly cleaned spacesuits and boarded the shuttle with a pilot, a navigator, and a pair of medical technicians.

As they flew over the crater, Ruby saw a tractor towing the crashed shuttle back toward the base.

“I can’t believe you traveled all the way from the Asteroid Belt in that,” the pilot said.

“You do what you have to,” Anderson said. “I’ll bet it’s a tight fit docking this ship at the Phobos depot. How many times have you done it?”

The pilot glanced around. “Never; why would I? Your group is the first to use it. But how hard can it be?”

“This should be fun,” Anderson whispered to Ruby.

When they got close and the pilot saw the narrow opening, he paled. They orbited several times, and Ruby began to worry they would run out of fuel before he was satisfied with the approach. At last, the pilot turned to the Skipper. “Captain Anderson, I’m going to let you have the honor of docking.”

The Skipper smiled. “Thank you.” They changed seats. Anderson got on the comm. “Endurance party, this is the shuttle Aurora from Columbia Base. Come in, please. Over.”

Mission Specialist Curley’s bearded face appeared on the screen. He grinned at first, but then his face fell. “We’re glad to see you, Aurora. We sort of hoped our own people would come for us.”

“What?” Anderson stared at Curley, a baffled look on his face.

“We thought the Boss would come for us, or anyway, Captain Anderson. That’s all.”

“Dr. Curley, who do you think I am?” Anderson exploded.

Ruby moved the camera to point at her. “Dr. Curley, put Mr. Wild on, please.”

Dr. Curley’s jaw dropped open. “Boss!”

First Officer Wild took his place. “I told them you might come today.”

“All well, Mr. Wild?”

“All well, Boss.”

She moved the camera to point at Anderson again and turned her face away from the others in the cockpit so they wouldn’t see her tears. All well.


As soon as they got back to Columbia Base, the new arrivals were whisked away to the infirmary. Most of them couldn’t even walk off the shuttle. Ruby wanted to hurry after them, but she was still weak herself. By the time she shuffled to the infirmary, they had been taken to the exam area. A nurse stopped her when she tried to enter.

“Sorry, Commander, that area’s off limits.”

“But are they all right? I know some of them need immediate care, and—”

He smiled and laid a hand on her shoulder. “OK, Mother Hen, calm down. We’ll take good care of your brood. Most of them just need rest, feeding, and physical therapy.”

Ruby bristled a little at the “mother hen” comment until she saw how well it fit. “It’s hard to turn off the worry.”

“I understand. You did well, but we’ll take it from here.” He glanced at the clock. “It’s late. Have you eaten?”

“No, not yet. Not since breakfast.”

“Go have dinner, then get some sleep. We’ll see you tomorrow. Dr. Fairfax left instructions that once they’re out of the exam room, you should have full access to your people, at any hour. I think she’s a little in awe.”

It was difficult to turn away, though it helped to meet Anderson at the door. He’d been even slower to catch up.

“We can’t see anyone right now, Skipper. Let’s get out of these suits, find something to eat, and hit the sack.”

They returned to their shared room to change, turned backs the only concession to modesty. The borrowed uniform was in better shape than any of Ruby’s own clothes, so she put that back on. She opened her duffel, retrieved from Phobos, and lifted out her boots. They’d lost some of their shine, but they were still in excellent shape. She pulled them on, relishing the comfort of footwear that actually fit.

By the time they got there, the dining hall was about to close, but the servers seemed happy to provide for the visiting celebrities. Ruby still marveled at the taste of real food. She began to feel better.

Superintendent Rogers found them there and sat with them. “Now that your whole party is here, it seems more appropriate for you two to have separate quarters. The VIP suite is ready for you, Commander.”

Ruby didn’t mind sharing, but he was probably right, if only for appearance’s sake. And he seemed to feel he was doing her an honor. After supper, she bade Anderson goodnight and went to her new room—small, unadorned, a single bed, a single chair. She sank onto the bed. This was an honor, a treat, a luxury. She gazed at that quiet, empty room and couldn’t bear to be alone.

Don’t be such a baby,
she chastised herself. Everyone is safe and you’ll see them tomorrow. Don’t fall apart now.

She didn’t want to do anything, even sleep. But there was something… She folded her hands and tried to pray. It had never been easy, even when she still had some faith. Her mind had always wandered to plans and to-do lists.

Tears came before words. All she could think of was all that had gone wrong, all that could have gone wrong and didn’t, all that was now past. The tears flowed, tears of grief and relief, longing and release. The hardship was at an end. So was the expedition. But everyone was safe.

All well, Boss. All well.

Ruby whispered the only words needed. “Thank you.”

Karen Eisenbrey (she/her) lives in Seattle, WA, where she leads a quiet, orderly life and invents stories to make up for it. Karen writes fantasy and science fiction novels, as well as short fiction and the occasional poem or song if it insists. Published books include the Daughter of Magic fantasy trilogy: Daughter of Magic, Wizard Girl, and Death’s Midwife; and the St. Rage garage-rock/superhero series: The Gospel According to St. Rage; Barbara and the Rage Brigade; and Far from Normal (co-written with LeeAnn McLennan). Most recently, Ego & Endurance was released by Not A Pipe Publishing in May 2023. Karen shares her life with her husband, two young adult sons, and four feline ghosts. Find her online at, on Facebook @KarenEisenbreyWriter, and on Twitter @KarenEisenbrey.

“No Stranger to Desert Places” is an excerpt from Ego & Endurance, which was inspired by Ernest Shackleton’s failed Imperial Transantarctic Expedition (1914-17) plus a placard at an exhibit on Mars exploration noting that Antarctica is an analog site for Mars. The excerpt was specifically inspired by Shackleton’s experience as he led a small crew in a daring voyage to seek rescue for the larger expedition party.

“No Stranger to Desert Places” by Karen Eisenbrey. © 2023 by Karen Eisenbrey. Excerpted from Ego & Endurance (Not A Pipe Publishing, 2023).
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