The Present – Surface of Xinju
The Sun – Erica – beat down hotly on Laura’s face. To the east, and much smaller in the sky, shone her sister star Debra. It was going to take some time to get used to seeing two suns in the sky. The work was progressing well and Laura was already dreading the time when the task would be finished. Building a life on this planet was going to be an incredible adventure. Xinju was so pristine and untouched. Laura had not known until today just how beautiful nature could be. In fact, she realised now that she had never really seen nature in its truest raw form.
She was currently taking soil samples. Already she had some surface soil in small jars. Now she was using an instrument to take deeper samples by way of a bore hole. The science team would analyse what she collected in the labs back on the Endeavour.
Spearwood was busily collecting fruit samples from nearby trees. Everything had to be tested. On this new world there was no telling what plant life would be poisonous. Given the planet’s eco system the botanist seemed quite confident that fruits and vegetables of nutritional value would be abundant.
Toledo was creeping around the bushes looking for animals. Of all the specialities in her team, his was the one that seemed the least like true science to Laura. So far all the professor had discovered was some faeces samples. It seemed like a long way to travel to find some animal excrement.
All but one of the military guards that Bell had sent along had been sent in the second team to survey the other landing site. Laura ha allowed one soldier to remain with them for protection. So far there had been no apparent dangers but Laura was no fool. The guard – she couldn’t remember his name – kept wandering between the three scientists, looking across to the horizon and waving that gun of his about.
“ Isn’t there something constructive you could be doing?” Laura asked him. “I don’t like having that weapon in my face.”
“If something does attack us Doctor, you’ll be glad of it.”
“Why don’t you go and help Toledo hunt for wildlife?”
“He doesn’t want me too close. Thinks I’m gonna scare away the animals.”
“Well if he finds something maybe you could shoot us some dinner.”
“Was that a joke Doctor?”
Laura shrugged. “We are going to have to assess the edibility of any naive animals here.”
“Hopefully there will be something cow-link. I could really use a good steak.”
“What was your name again Soldier?”
“Well I’ve got it covered here Gardner. I’m nearly done with the soil samples. In a minute I’m going to check the water.”
“Okay, I know when I’m not wanted. I’ll see how Spearwood’s trees are treating him.”
Laura chuckled. “Well you’ve got the name for it.” She smiled. This soldier at least had a sense of humour. She pulled the instrument out of the ground and retrieved the sample. She placed all the jars into her bag and then located a large bottle for taking a water sample. The river was nearby. It was fast moving and crystal-clear. She didn’t anticipate any problems but everything needed to be checked.
Half way to the river she heard a scream. It wasn’t Spearwood or Toldeo so the voice had to belong to Gardner. Laura dropped the bottle in shock which quickly turned to frustration. Toledo would not be happy about the loud noise. He’d be very unlikely to find any animals now.
She ran in the direction of the scream and found Gardner clutching his right arm, his gun slung over his shoulder.
“Something bit me! It was like the slug from Hell.”
“How big was it?”
“About the size of a small cat.”
Laura looked at his face in surprise – wondering if he was pulling her leg.
“A slug the size of a cat. And where is this giant slug now?”
“I’m not kidding Doctor. It was big black and slimy. It had a large round mouth with lots of teeth like needles. It bit into my arm and it had quite a suck. I had to stab it with my knife to make it let go. As soon as it released I shook it off and then kicked it away. It went into those bushes over there.”
“You kicked it away? I don’t suppose I have to tell you what a stupid idea that was. If we can’t find the thing then we have no way to study it or analyse any poisons it might have injected.”
“I know Doctor. I acted on instinct. I wasn’t thinking.”
“That’s the whole problem with the military isn’t it.”
She looked at Gardner’s arm. It was a little red and swollen, and there were lots of little punctures around the wound.
She straightened up and called loudly, “Toledo, we need you.”
Ensign Sarah McDermott held the stick tightly, willing her plane to move faster. She’d met the Endeavour on its way and had refuelled quickly. Now re-stocked with oxygen, she was headed back to the asteroid field where she’d left the CAG.
“C’mon old boy,” she said to her aircraft. “We gotta get there faster. The boss needs us.”
She continued on for another ten minutes before the asteroid field came into view. Her deceleration was not as gradual as it had been on their original approach. She was in a hurry so she pushed it to the safe limits of her engine and inertial dampeners.
She could see Millwood’s plane. She activated her radio.
“Badger, this is Hornet. I’ve brought oxygen.”
There was no reply.
“Badger, this is Hornet. Please respond.”
“CAG, can you hear me?”
She flew directly past his plane, trying to peer into his cockpit, but there was not enough light to see anything.
“No, I can’t be too late.”
Sarah prepare to manoeuvre her plane into position so that she could link with Millwood’s, and bleed some oxygen off into his tank. As the air began to flow, she hoped desperately that she wasn’t trying to save a corpse.