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I’ve waited all my life to take this trip. Fought tooth and nail against the strongest fastest smartest men to earn my spot on the team and they still don’t respect me. It’s all fun and games when your shuttle’s taking off into that vast darkness that goes on forever, but after months of travel being the only woman on a craft headed through space becomes a real drag.
Porter’s the only one who gets me, though he underestimates my abilities. I’m all his and ready for the taking but the mission is all he can think about. Figures; the only guy I want is the one who doesn’t care.
“You up yet Vi?”
Great that’s Tom banging on my door, “Yeah, yeah, just finishing an entry.”
“Don’t know why you mess with that shit. We’ve got a job to do and diaries have nothing to do with it.”
“Piss off!” God I can’t stand that man. Why is he still bothering me?
“I can give you a journal entry, just one night and you’ll be begging for me all the time.”
Oh right, that’s why. I can’t believe this guy. I honestly want to tell him he can’t handle me, but we’ve been down that road before. Not fun. Sometimes I wanna take him up on the offer, hell I’m human too and it would be nice to just rub on someone. But once that door is open who knows what’ll happen.
I close my digital diary, not much space to stretch out so I decide to head out to the deck. Everybody’s there staring out into the endless night.
“What’s going on? Why’s everyone so worked up?” I ask.
Of course Porter has to answer me, “You know very well why. We’re nearly there.”
The ominous “Oh my” atmosphere is a bit dramatic for me. I mean what is it with men and space anyway? This trip is about exploring the new planet for me, there’s nothing like unlatching your helmet as you step onto a new surface unsure as to whether or not your eyeballs will pop out. So far so good, but one can dream.
Sure I love my job and it’s not that I have some death wish, but everyone here is running from something and I just want to find that last big thing. People back home are all dying: sick, starved, and overpopulated. I want nothing to do with that. If I’m gonna go, I wanna go out with a bang.
I can’t help but laugh at the guys around me. These fit strong manly men gaping at a new world. They look like oversized children.
“Something funny?” Chuck asks me all riled at my expression.
I can’t help myself, “Yeah, it’ll be hours before we’re there. You guys just gonna stand here with your tongues hanging out? We’ve got work to do.”
Captain Foster shakes his head and pulls me aside, “Give ‘em a moment, you know how this goes.”
I take my seat and start working on prepping my research. Paperwork sucks even in space, but it helps us keep our government funding so I can’t complain too much.
Not a minute in and of course Captain’s rubbing my shoulders. He means well and the man can command anything but I do not need special treatment just because I have boobs. He wants to massage the rest of the crew and I’ll be on board.
After an hour of writing about what we expect and how I will proceed once we land, I shake my hand and look up. Gazing onto the planet that holds so much for us, I find myself entranced in the same spell as the others.
Planet Huepto is quite a sight. It’s large gold and black surface is covered by sparkling clouds that will hopefully help our mission. Those clouds are possibly made of diamonds, thousands of little floating diamonds.
When I first heard of this mission I thought it was the dumbest thing I ever heard. Let’s travel across space to go nab jewels to sell to the rich back home. “Space diamond, gets your space diamonds!” I mean really? But the scientist in me wants to explore a planet whose clouds are made of such seemingly solid stones. I mean, just imagine what kind of world could lie beneath that atmosphere. The possibilities are endless.
“Careful, you’re starting to drool,” Chuck laughs at me as we near our borne.
I pack up my papers and head to my room for some peace. Wondering if we’ll even be able to land safely I sit down on my bunk and pull a picture of my brother from my bag. He should be here too. I guess that’s why I’ve been so distant; this trip has been the hardest. He always looked out for me, kept the men in line. But he got his last adventure good and gruesome the way he wanted.
“Do you have a minute?” I hear Porter knock on my door pulling me out of my thoughts.
“Sure,” I perk up hoping that he’ll finally make a move.
Unfortunately he’s holding his clipboard, head down as he enters. If I didn’t like him so much I wouldn’t even know what color his eyes are. But I’ve made it a point to glimpse that dark gaze whenever possible.
“Okay, Captain Foster is ready to take you down once we land.” He smiles slightly and then takes a deep breath slowly saying, “Based on diagnostics the atmosphere seems to be somewhat suitable for humans, but the air holds a lot of sulfur,” at this Porter locks his gaze on mine. “So I advise you to keep your helmet on.”
Yeah right, I keep the thought to myself and laugh, “Well at least we’ll be able to explore.”
“Violet, the surface is less stable than we thought. It is mainly ash, volcanic rock and lava down there. You won’t have much time in any one area due to the possibility of constant eruptions.”
“All in a day’s work,” why do I always talk like this around him? I feel so stupid.
Porter bends his nose back down to his clipboard and says “I of course will remain aboard to receive all your data and send it out as soon as it comes in.”
“Sounds good, can’t keep our benefactors waiting can we now?”
“No,” the slight chuckle is barely audible. “Well that’s it, we’ve got about another hour so be ready.”
“Great, can’t wait!” I pretend not to see him cringe at my eagerness to head out.
I take a few moments to myself before grabbing my things and going up to sit with the others as we prep to land. Damn it, the only seat left is next to Tom. I do my best to focus on the mission and ignore the ox next to me but he doesn’t make it easy.
Sometimes I wish I were afraid of flying. That would distract me, but our pilot Yi is the best I’ve ever flown with so I’m not worried.
“We’ve got a good clean opening, should be a routine landing,” he says surprised.
We all boo at this statement and he laughs.
Captain Foster shakes his head, “Everyone buckle up just in case.”
Every time I do this I imagine crashing, the ship spinning out of control or some alien race blasting at us until we nose dive to our death. I’ve envisioned this so many times that I’m often disappointed when we make it through.
As our vessel breaks into the atmosphere, the pressure changes and the ride gets a little bumpy. Yi’s drink is strapped onto the motherboard of his controls and doesn’t spill too much brown goo, so far so good. I always know we’re safe if that cups doesn’t empty.
For some reason Tom thinks this is his moment and puts his hand on my leg and rubs it. Why can’t I have a seat alone? Oh right, we’re in space. Every square inch of this ship costs more than I could make in a year.
This is my favorite part, no not when I tell one of the guys to keep his fucking hands to himself, but when my stomach starts doing flips. If anything were to go wrong as the smoky world envelops us it would be now.
I watch through the observation window as the dark grey sky clouds our view. Great, now I’ll never see the planet if we crash. Despite my disappointment, Yi’s on top of it and switches gears to slowly lay us down on the hot surface.
He runs a quick scan and Porter gives me an update, head down, reading more as usual. “I’ve determined that our calculations weren’t that far off. The atmosphere should be stable enough to breathe, though I’d keep my helmet on if I were you.”
Captain Foster rounds up our team: Tom, Chuck, him, and me. This’ll be interesting I can’t help laughing to myself.
After speaking with Porter for a moment he announces, “Alright, in no less than an hour the clouds will roll in. The computer does confirm that these clusters are made of the same components as diamonds back home. We’ll send out pods to collect our fair share then, but for now nobody else is to leave the ship.”
I can’t get suited up fast enough. Usually I hate wearing these protective layers, but I have a feeling about this mission. Chuck and Tom need help fastening their helmets, you’d think they’d have gotten it down by now but these guys are here for protection not so much brains.
Yi unlocks the hatch and we peer out onto the hazy new planet, night vision on.
“Hello Huepto,” I say as our Captain moves out.
Following behind him, I try to ignore Tom and Chuck conversing behind me. I stoop down to gather a land sample. From what I can tell most of the surface if volcanic rock, it’s everywhere.
The men are marveling at the nearest volcano smoking a few miles away. It is quite a sight and I have to remind myself of my duties to not get sidetracked as well.
I hate to ask Chuck for anything but he’s carrying my robotic drill shovel. “Sorry to make you work or anything but we need to drill.”
He just gives me a look and I shake my head as we set up.
Once in place I program the machine and we break the surface. Going down six inches deep, more hardened lava, twelve inches, same thing. Everything we had counted on is incorrect. The scientist in me has to keep going, I know there’s gotta be more to this. After six feet we find clay, golden clay. Jackpot!
“You’ve got twenty minutes Vi,” Captain says as I collect my samples.
Heeding these words Chuck disconnects the drill and we pack it up to move further on. Just as he’s is groaning about how there’s nothing worthwhile to see, I spot something. Zooming in with the controls of my helmet I turn off night vision and switch to open scan.
“Shut up!” I yell at Chuck, “Captain, over there.”
He hones in on my sight and sighs, “let’s go check it out.”
“What?” Tom asks hoping he’ll have to battle some strange unknown creature.
“Just a small mass of crystals,” Captain Foster says.
Tom’s disappointed, but he’s always had a droopy face so it doesn’t really matter.
The three other members of my team aren’t very eager but this is why I’m here; to study and learn about life on other planets. I kneel down before the small cluster and notice that these are not just minerals, they’re built more intricately. I take a sample and switch my helmet’s vision scanner to microscopic function, “Amazing!”
“What?” the others ask.
“This is not a crystal but an organism. This solid rocklike structure has veins like a plant and seems to be alive.
“Great,” Tom sarcastically smirks at me.
“Don’t you realize what this means?”
As Tom and Chuck stare at me blankly, Captain Foster tries to gain their interest, “That there may be other life forms here somewhere.”
At this they lighten up a little. But as we head back, they also look around in excitement. Why do they always want to act like we’re in some crazy horror film, I can’t believe these guys.
As we gain sight of the ship I stop.
“What’s wrong?” the Captain asks. I shoot him a look and he shakes his head, “Right this again.”
As I unhook my helmet Chuck laughs, “I thought you were passed this?”
I slowly raise the heavy apparatus from my head and take a calm, deep, breath.
Tom leans in. His eyes begin to bulge as I start gasping and shaking, my body jerks and seems to give up just before I fall to the ground and…start laughing so hard that Chuck and Captain Foster join in.
I stand up, brush myself off and grab my bag of materials. Tom yells at me and I just smile, “Oh come on even you need to laugh sometimes, lighten up.”
We board the spaceship and I can’t wait to rid myself of my suit. I happily prance to the pilot’s deck to Porter and Yi. Yi’s alright, but Porter always gives me the most attention when I have samples for him so now’s my time to shine.
He examines what I’ve brought eyeing everything like a kid in a candy store. I try to focus on my job but it’s hard not to melt a little at his expression. When I pull out the living crystal he seems ready to burst.
Carefully holding the vial containing the sample he scans it and then we wait with baited breath.
“The computer sure is taking a long time, you sure everything’s running okay?” I can’t help but ask.
Porter stoically stares at the screen, “There’s a lot of info to sort through, give it some time.
We hold still watching the compiling signal. Ten minutes pass and I’m thinking the signal was lost. Just when I’m ready to get a tech, the answer that we’ve been waiting for pops up: “New Species Found”.
Yi walks up and shakes Porter’s hand while I can’t help but stare at the response in awe.
“Are you alright?” Porter asks.
“Yeah more than alright, we just discovered a new form of life!”
Porter gets to work running through the makeup and components of our find just as the clouds roll in.
Yi moves into the pilot’s chair and consults the ships analysis on the sparkling clouds. It doesn’t take him long to quickly march up to the Captain and say something in a low tone. They head over to the controls and I start to feel uneasy. Shouldn’t they be dancing a jig? This is their cash cow. Clouds made of shiny baubles ready for the picking, “Oh Happy Day” and all that crap.
Captain Foster has Yi send out an alert and everyone files in around me. Clearly something’s wrong. We all look at him as he begins.
“Our systems have computed the unimaginable; our diamond clouds seem to be alive.”
I try not to whisper with the others around me and hold steady focusing on the bushy bearded face of my Captain.
“We do not know much about the beings, but they are moving in on us rapidly and seem to flock like birds. Chuck? Tom?” he eyes at our two best officers, “I need your men ready, but let’s not be hasty. Who knows how this will go?”
Only a few seconds after these words register, a faint high pitched humming noise grows louder as the sky becomes illuminated with innumerable flashing lights. The entire deck is filled with this glittering brightness blinding us all.
My eyes feel as if someone’s taken a hot poker to them. Many of us stumble onto each other groping around in this whiteness. Yi loses his cool over spilling his coffee and I know something’s not right.
Someone grabs my boob and says, “Found Violet!”
“Shut up Tom!” I can’t help but instinctively shout as he pulls me to him. Seriously, now is not the time. I knee him just as the ship begins to rock.
I’m knocked over and freeze to the ground as the sound of clinking metal echoes again and again. It sounds like one of those old school machine guns they used before lasers were approved. My grandpa still has one back home.
“Alright men!” Chuck and Tom seem to have had enough. They charge their guns and use the scope’s night vision to see.
“Holy shit!” is all I hear from Chuck before my body is attacked by hundreds of small sharp objects. I try to fight them off but they are so small and there are so many that my reflexes are thrown off. The pain is surging from every point of my skin as I twitch and cry out with the rest of the crew.
The screams of everyone cursing and dying fills my ears, my head, all of my senses somehow. Some are wailing about loved ones or life. I scream out “I love you Porter!” just as I hear him shout, “I love you Yi!”
There is only time for my one last thought. Damn it, why are all the good ones married or gay?
|The Dreaming Fire|
|Louisville's Silent Guardians|