On the view screen, an impossible amount of green hurtled toward us. Beside me, Rock’s face was grim in the flickering light. The internal force field cushioned me in my chair as our pod spun out of control.
I closed my eyes just as we hit. As we slammed into the planet, the force bubble malfunctioned, and hurled me to the floor.
Smoke woke me. Jets of foam doused little fires eating the edges of the pod. I lay on the grass, my legs still inside, and in front of me the pod was broken open like an eggshell. Through the smoke and the jagged edges of the wrecked pod, a broad valley scattered with bluish evergreen trees spread out at the foot of high craggy mountains.
Rock crawled over to me. “Are you all right, Devlin?”
I gasped, nodded, not trusting myself to speak. He put my arm under his shoulder, and helped carry me away from the burning wreck.
Our foray into the unknown sector of space hadn’t gone exactly as we’d planned. The only one who knew we were out here was my sister Vega, who I’d been rooming with since graduation a month ago. We’d been looking for adventure, but crash-landing on an unknown planet hadn’t really been in our plans.
“Are we still in the Blue M Group?” Rock said, helping me to my feet, his face clouded with dust, a scrape across his cheek.
“I think so,” I managed. “I mean, that’s the last thing I saw on the scanner, right before that meteor hit us.”
The pod was a smashed black beetle, its guts spilling out onto the surface of the planet. We probably couldn’t repair it. It’d be a miracle if we could repair the com system.
“Why don’t you see if you can repair the com,” said Rock. “I’ll keep a lookout.”
“For what? We’re on the Rim—there’s no one out here.”
“You never know.” He took his pistol out of his jacket. “At least I’ve still got my gun.” He trudged to the edge of the clearing and stood, gun raised, looking down the valley into the trees.
In the sky floated two medium-sized moons, a third small jagged one tagging behind them. We’d gone on this trip to escape civilization, and find something fresh and new and different.
We’d found a planet that perhaps no human had ever stepped on. And maybe we’d die here. If I didn’t get the com repaired, that is.
I stepped under the overhang of the ship’s hull. On the console, I found the com center and punched the screen. Nothing. I fiddled with it for a little while, but I was no tech. Ships were supposed to pretty much fly themselves, and usually posed no problems. If they did, there was usually someone around to help. Unless you were on a backwater planet light years from any Central world.
“Rock,” I said. Despite myself, panic tinged my voice.
He walked back toward me. “Yeah?”
“I don’t know if I can repair this. I mean, I’m the artist, remember?”
“Don’t look at me. If it was weapons, I could fix it, but don’t hold your breath, Dev.”
He sat down behind the console and punched some buttons, but in a moment he looked like he was ready to punch the whole thing to smithereens.
He stood up, shaking his head. “No, it’s all Greek to me.”
“Hm. Well, maybe there is something here after all. It wouldn’t hurt to look.”
“It’s a big planet.”
“We’d better get started then.” I led the way up through the pines, into the mountains.
The air was clear and crisp, and smelled of evergreen. We’d taken a rather non-kosher route, unapproved by Central. My sister hadn’t liked our idea, but she didn’t want me to get in trouble by telling anyone. “Besides, you needed to let off a bit of steam after graduation—you were driving me crazy. Maybe now you’ll get it out of your system so I can live in peace.”
Gotta love Vega. She’s always so sympathetic.
We trudged up the mountain an hour or so. Birds trilled in the trees. The sound of water roared somewhere ahead, growing louder.
Around a grove of pines we met a cliff jutting out over a long drop. Rock stepped to the edge of it, his boots perched on the rim.
From the cliff on the other side, a waterfall tumbled hundreds of feet into misty depths.
“Whoa,” I whispered.
“Yeah,” said Rock, awe in his voice. “Wonder what it’s doing here.”
“What do you mean?” I said. “It’s water falling out of a rock.”
“No—that.” Rock pointed with his gun hand. Above the waterfall perched a house. Low and earth-toned, it was meant to blend in, but there was no mistaking it was made by human hands.
Or, perhaps, alien, though humans hadn’t encountered aliens, except for ancient ruins, even after spreading through a fourth of the galaxy.
My heart leaped. “They must have a com system.”
Rock nodded. “But we’d better be careful. You stay here; I’ll do some recon.”
“Are you kidding? I’m going with you.”
“I can go faster alone.”
“Right, Mr. Commando. You didn’t have much more training than I did.” He glared at me. It was a sore point with him; he’d wanted to be in the Corps, but he was from the Rim so he’d had to stay out of the military.
He disappeared through the trees; I tried to follow him, but he soon lost me. Great.
I backtracked a little; it didn’t look like this side of the cliff connected with the waterfall side.
But finally I scrambled up a ledge and pulled myself up to the ridge.
The trees grew denser ahead of me. I heard voices, and peered around the edge of a tree to see a small clearing up ahead.
On the ground, Rock lay, mouth bleeding. A man aimed his gun down at him, two others surrounding him.
A cold muzzle touched the back of my neck.
“Don’t make any trouble,” said an icy voice. “Unless you want to end up like your friend there.” He shoved the gun against my neck, and I had no choice but to walk forward. They dragged Rock to his feet and marched us toward the house.