by Christopher W Gamsby
X joined me mining for the last several months and we collected and sold enough materials to need only 10,000 more credits to complete repairs on my planet jumper. X and I spent all day mining ores and minerals to sell at a galactic terminal. We finished the day on a small gold deposit in the middle of the desert floor when my final storage cube filled and my visor flashed 'inventory full'. I turned to X who stared into the distance thinking about, well I don't really know what a Krovax thinks about.
X jerked from his daydream, uncrossed his legs and sat up from leaning against a small boulder. He rose from the ground. He started leaving but then bent back over to retrieve his multi-tool and lazily strolled in my direction.
“Where do you think we'll go first? Once we leave Perfection.”
I pressed buttons on my visor to locate my ship.
“I believe we'll head straight for the Barren Archipelago.”
X shuddered at the mention of a water-filled planet.
“Why there? Why not the Lonely Darkness?”
I chuckled at X's reluctance.
“Are you really that scared of water?”
The 4 diodes on X's visor flashed red for a second and then returned to normal.
“Don't you understand what happens if I fall in the water?” Blue and red diodes flashed “I could become corrupted!”
The scan results for my ship returned and it was 2 hours away. I couldn't believe how far we've traveled and neither could X. We hurried as we headed for the ship but the sun began setting within minutes. We sprinted toward the ship as daylight waned and darkness crept all around us. I clicked three buttons on my multi-tool and a headlamp illuminated the path before us. We sprinted along the base of nearby mountains. After skirting the mountains for another 20 minutes we passed a rocky outcrop and a creature sat staring at us.
Four husky legs held the creature's slender long body almost 2 meters off the ground. The animal turned to face me and its eyes shined a burnt orange hue when my headlamp illuminated its face. Whiskers flanked a small flattened V shaped nose centered on the creature's snout. Two rows of pointed fangs lined the inside of the animal's mouth. Shadows of two curved horns danced on the ground behind the monster. Reptilian scales covered the trunk's upper half and a fine, smooth-looking fur covered the creature's stomach, legs and head. Bone spikes protruded from its back.
The creature howled a high pitch whine and raised a medium length reptilian tail as we crossed paths. X and I stopped at the aggressive gesture. We eyed each other in silent contemplation and gazed the animal for a split second before we turned and fled. We not only moved away from the beast, but also away from the ship. We passed mountain walls until we ducked inside a natural gap between two mountains. I panted and caught my breath as X calculated the odds of finding safety and mentally tested the best route to the ship. As I relaxed from the sudden surprise, I noticed a blinking blue bar on my visor's heads up display.
The blue bar was down to 75%. The blue bar symbolized that the crisp night air was cold enough to damage my exosuit. I still had 20 minutes until my exosuit's thermal layer was damaged enough that my fragile biological body might be hurt. I waved to X who was in his own world thinking about different possible outcomes.
“We need to hurry X.”
X gave a confused nod.
“My thermal layer, it's almost gone, when it does.....”
The blue bar was down to 70%. X's visor flashed a series of yellow bleeps, which showed concern. He motioned to pass through the mountains and I trailed behind him. The cold made my joints harden. Pushing my legs and arms to move became an agonizing and futile feeling endeavor.
The blue bar was down to 66%. We reached just outside of the natural valley and entered a ravine that passed through the desert floor. We traveled toward my ship, but due to the ravine's high walls, we couldn't know how much progress we made. I constantly checked my visor for assurances that we traveled the correct direction.
The blue bar was down to 50%. We continued through the ravine and the ship was still 40 minutes away. Our only options were to either find shelter or continue on. The ship was too far but walking through the open made us risk running into the horned cat. We walked though the ravine's floor and kicked up dust and pebbles with every step. Even in my headlamp's light, I occasionally tripped and stumbled across fist sized rocks. A rustling came from long reeds just outside the left hand side of the ravine. A high pitched whining came from both sides of the ravine overhead. I turned off my headlamp and we continued toward the ship.
The blue bar was down to 25%. My legs and arms were dirty from catching myself after tripping over rocks and the constant falling hurt my shoulder and wrists. I pushed a few buttons into my multi-tool and a pulse shot out and surveyed the local terrain. My visor read the ship was still 20 minutes ahead, but there was an unknown signal coming from 10 minutes to the left. Whines continued around the outer ravine, circling the ditch. X crawled to the top of the ravine and surveyed the plane between the beacon and ravine. He waved me up to join.
The blue bar was down to 20%. I joined X at the ravine's lip and we looked around the reeds, tall grass and cacti. Reeds and tall grass grew in swaths all around where we laid. An occasional light breeze blew the grass out of place, but there was no sign of a creature. A shadow briefly moved near a tall red cactus but it disappeared before we could make out the obscured object. A stone shone near a medium green cactus, but X and I weren't willing to approach one of those treacherous sentinel communication pillars. A few more minutes passed and nothing stirred or warned us of any danger.
The blue bar was at 15%. I found my feet and raised from the dirt. I snuck towards the foreign beacon. My visor blurred with a slight red haze to show the extent of my exosuits damage and the neural sensors shot pain throughout my limbs. I passed through the stalks of grass and they swooshed back and forth as I pushed the foliage aside. I continued through the grass but jerked to a stop at the sound of something approaching from behind. I pushed myself through the pain, fear, and locked up joints and faced my stalker. X stopped in the bush behind me, looked around. He motioned for me to continue, and I complied once I snapped back to my senses.
The blue bar was at 10%. The sharp pains turned to a constant dull burning. The suit's neural sensors were punishing me to make me return to safety, but I couldn't. We continued down the desert floor in the open air, completely naked and exposed to any watchers. The grass near the ravine rustled. Long whines called from the grass and we lowered ourselves to make us harder to see and continued toward the marker on my heads up display. A cry answered the quieter ones from the grass. I looked around and focused on a point near the giant red cactus to our right. We bolted from the cries but a large horned creature bound from behind the cactus and followed us.
The blue bar was at 5%. The burning intensified and my visor pulsed red. The suit simulated the feeling of cracked burning sores covering my body and pain shot through my mind with every step. We pushed over a hillock and slid down the loose dirt into a valley. The creature bound over the hillock's apex as we reached the slope's bottom. We found the beacon's source and raced toward shelter, hoping to not only make it without being mauled, but also we hoped to find we could actually access the shelter. We ran on and the creature bound behind us, gaining ground with every step. Just before the shelter, X tripped on small iron rocks covered in lichen which were hidden by the darkness.
The blue bar was at 3%. My mind blurred and I felt nauseous, my whole field of view sunk into a darker crimson. The pain in my body stopped, which was terrifying. The creature pounced at X and I stepped between him and the animal. I readied my multi-tool by changing it from the mining beam to a shotgun blast of laser beams. The beams could rip through the beast, but ending a life could anger the other animals or sentinels. I'd likely die from exposure if I had to fight off the sentinels before entering the shelter. The creature landed 2 yards in front of X and gnawed on the lichen covered iron rocks. The creature's sharp teeth scraped and crushed the rocks. I lowered my multi-tool and walked to the horned cat. I punched in a command and retrieved a chunk of raw iron from a containment cell. I gave it to the animal and it cooed.
The blue bar was at 2%. I lost my balance and quietly fell forward. The pain was gone and the exosuit released endorphins to ease my passing. The world was calm and peaceful. Everything was going to be alright as soon as I hit the ground and rested. X grabbed my shoulder and I came to my senses. I rushed to the scientific drop pod and jumped inside through the particle barrier. X waited outside and observed the animal. It walked in circles yelping and cooing. The animal laid on the ground and rolled on its back. A group of smaller animals breached the hillock and ran towards their mother. They arrived at X and he removed several small chunks of iron and fed them to the kittens. The kittens cooed and joined their mother on the ground. The creatures jumped and played around X.
The thermal layer of my exosuit began self-repair protocols. Nanobots fueled by my suit's power supply fixed the cracks and splinters formed by excess cold. After 5 minutes the suit repairs were half completed. I was jealous of X because he played with the strange creatures outside of the drop pod and I could only watch. I felt silly for worrying about the creatures because the only meat eating predators on Perfection were little crab-like scavengers. I'm sure X felt the same way, but I didn't want to even broach the topic, since I'd have to admit how foolhardy we were.
My suit's repairs finished and I stepped outside of the pod. The family of creatures scurried away when we didn't give them any iron. X and I continued on to the ship. We arrived to my mostly repaired ship and took off. The ground pulled away as we entered the lower atmosphere and blasted forward at 2000 AU. I brought X to his family's trading post. I returned to homestead to spend the evening playing a bored game with my parents. X listed our recently acquired goods on the galactic terminal the next morning and we inched closer to our goal.