“We have fifteen minutes before landing,” Grace says.
I blink, and then look out a window. I see a large orange sphere, topped off with white clouds, and with a few red spots here and there. It’s slowly getting larger.
“Guide me to the exit hatch,” I say.
She turns and walks left. I follow her.
We turn into a large corridor. Most of the students are already standing around and chatting.
“I think I’m gonna disappear now,” Grace says, and then vanishes.
I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn around. I’m met with the face of a smiling young man, with some pretty nice hair. It’s deep purple and messed up, but that just adds to his charm.
“Hey, heard you’re the new guy. Dan, right?” He says.
His tone reminds me of a jerk. I don’t let it show.
“Uh… yeah. Why do you ask?”
He smiles lopsidedly.
“Because. I think you’re the perfect guy to partner up with.”
I raise an eyebrow.
“Cool…? I don’t really know you.”
“Didn’t expect you to. I’m Evert and,” He leans forward. “I’m just as versatile as you are.” He winks at me.
I look at him.
“Prove that out there.” I nod slightly towards the hatch.
“You got it.” He walks past me and pats me on my shoulder as he does so.
A flare of annoyance rises up in me. I push it down. I think,
Whether he’s good or not, is something I can only find out by watching him in action. Till then, stay neutral.
I smile and walk into the crowd. A guy turns to look at me. I keep my eyes pointed forward.
He doesn’t do anything.
I lean against a wall, as the minutes pass by. Everyone’s arrived, and pretty much all of them are talking to each other. Lizandra stays out of my line of sight by hiding behind her friends.
Really? The heck am I, a monster?
Finally, a voice rings out.
“Students, this is your first excursion.” A synthetic voice, somewhat like that of a normal person, but slightly off speaks. “You will be scouring this planet to search for the ship that crashed here, and will then work together to rebuild it. We will not provide any information about the ship. A drone will be accompanying you in case of emergency, and to record your performance. You may also request for a global map from the drone. This ship will depart immediately once all students are out. Good luck.”
The hatch slides open, revealing a vast rocky terrain, with the air glimmering over the ground. There is a small cloud of dust around the ship. A rush of hot dry air enters, along with the dust. An extra membrane over my eyes protects it, so I keep them open, while the majority of the others shut their eyes immediately.
I pinch my nose shut while keeping my mouth closed. Six or seven others do the same; the rest go into coughing fits. Evert’s not one of them.
So he’s not all talk.
I push fellow students aside, making my way to the front. There, I come face to face with a lanky teenager, who is furiously snorting. I pull my head back, not wanting to come in contact with the goo dripping off his fingers.
I walk out of the ship.
I take a deep breath.
The air is dry and scratches at my throat. My skin is itchy from the dust and heat. The heat is uncomfortable.
I hate this. Why couldn’t they have chosen a better planet?
A whizzing noise sounds above me. My skin feels cool, and I look up to see metal. Brown metal.
I lean back until I see the end of the drone. It has four silver disks on the bottom-Anti-grav panels, and two thrusters on the rear end. At least, two thrusters that I can see.
I turn back and see most of the students out of the ship. A couple of them are walking towards me, a couple of them are forming their own groups, and a few just look confused.
Evert speaks up, loud.
A prism slides out of the bottom side of the drone. It clicks and stops. The next moment, a blue hologram of the planet is floating in the air, slowly turning. On the bottom left-to me that is, is a small indigo circle.
I’m closest in vicinity to the hologram, so I gesture with my arms.
The sphere stops spinning. It then slowly turns, the blue dot facing me. Then it spins around abruptly, and faintly I see the figure of Evert through it.
“Sorry,” He says, not sounding apologetic in the least. “Got to let everyone else see it too.”
I don’t say anything-I simply walk around the sphere and stand alongside him. He glances at me but doesn’t say anything. He turns back to the sphere, and gestures.
The sphere increases in size and parts of it vanish as it goes past the original sphere’s length. A small speck hovers in mid-air, and to the right of it are the mountains I had seen earlier.
“So,” A girl speaks up. Her voice is slightly high pitched. “That’s us?”
“I guess,” Another girl says.
“How the fuck are we supposed to find this ship again?” A guy says. His tone is rough, and many of his syllables almost blend together.
I keep my eyes focused on the hologram in front of us and open my mouth to speak-
“Looks for signs of a crash.” But I’m beat to it by the lanky kid. “Moreover, ships are made of weird materials, and those materials make for weird phenomena. The most common material in ships is Redfrak, used to reinforce their structure. They can handle large degrees of stress, hence why they’re used. On the other hand, Redfrak also tends to vibrate when it has been inactive for more than a decade or so. In a barren planet like this, that usually means large cracks like,” He lifts his hand and touches a part of the sphere. “Here.”
“Inactive? How the fuck can a metal be active in the first place?” Can’t-talk-properly says.
Lanky guy sighs.
“Inactive as in it hasn’t been fed energy. Slight of tongue,” He says.
“So we just head there?” High-pitched voice speaks.
“No,” I say, finally able to say my piece. I shake my head as eyes turn towards me. “Not yet. First, we need to find out where else the ship could’ve ended up.”
Lanky guy nods, whereas most of the others look confused. I recall that lanky kid is one of the anti-social kids. Evert has a cool smile on his face. Another surge of annoyance rises up in me, but I just as quickly push it down.
A girl raises her hand sheepishly.
I nod towards her.
“…Where else? It can be in two places at… once?”
I shake my head.
“The… um, crack he mentioned is only one of the possibilities where the ship could’ve ended up. The crack could be entirely natural as well, and we’d waste time exploring it. Or, the ship could’ve even broken apart as it crashed. Worst case scenario-but that’s why I’m betting on it.”
“You mean we have to scour the entire planet looking for teeny-weenie pieces of it?” He says.
I glare at him. Lanky guy sighs.
“No, we don’t. Just this part of the planet,” I gesture to the part of the sphere enclosed by the indigo circle. “And ships are built to take a hit, so don’t worry about it breaking into ‘teeny-weenie’ pieces. At most, we’d have to find fifteen pieces.”
“Fifteen?” The guy says, horrified.
“Yes. Fucking, yes.”
“Realistic. Did you expect this to be easy?”
“Well, yes, it’s just a damn excursion-”
The ground rumbles, and I stagger. Others stagger as well, and I nearly crash into a guy. I catch myself in time.
“Was that a tectonic shift?” High-pitched-voice says.
I turn to her. She has puckered lips, and her skin is already turning pink. Her eyes are softly glowing white.
“Maybe. I don’t have enough information, nor the sensors to be sure.”
“It is,” Lanky guy says.
I turn and see him crouching, a hand deep in the dirt. He pulls it free and pats off the dust on it, accomplishing absolutely nothing in the process.
“I have the sensors.” He says.
I access my short-term memory, find a repetition of him saying that, run it through my processors to search for micro-expressions that indicate he’s lying. I don’t find any. Still not going to trust him that easy, I scan him with my optic implant.
I spot several high-quality implants in him. It’s like he’s pumped full of tritinate.
I nod at him.
“Can you send me the data?” I ask.
I get a ping. My firewalls go comb through the code to look for viruses. None.
I open it. For a minute or so, I’m fixed in that spot, my brows furrowed as I think.
My eyes widen.
“Something’s tunneling underneath us.”