Planet X91 the mini series
In this series
Planet X91 the beginning
Planet X91 the new home
Planet X91 the underwater cave
Planet X91 the storm
Planet X91 the drought
Planet X91 the Fire
Planet X91 the plague
Planet X91 doorway to time
Planet X91 the new earth
Planet X91 alien amongst us
Planet X91 wayward asteroid
Planet X91 the unwelcome visitor
Planet X91 the Derelict
Planet X91 the hidden catacombs
Planet X91 descending into ID
Copyright Planet X91 the mini series 2016: Mark Stewart. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author. This story is fictitious and a product of the author’s imagination. Resemblance to any actual person living or dead is purely coincidental.
Shakespir edition license notes.
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Edited: Rosemary Cantala
Earth orbit departure date: 2177AD
Destination planet X188: center of the Orion belt.
Ship: USS Lock.
Payload: Five-hundred crew members.
Crew status: cryogenic freeze.
Goal: colonize planet X188.
Earth departure time: Five years three months thirteen days.
Orbit ETA: five years two months twelve hours
FIVE YEARS from earth’s orbit found the USS Lock almost halfway to their destination.
Overhead lights flickered on, highlighting five hundred cryogenic freezer tubes in a large rectangular shaped room an area the size of four house blocks. There were ten rows of the tubes side by side. Inside each tube, behind the frosted glass a single person lay frozen.
The frosted glass dome on top of one of the freezer tubes slid back. A metre tall cleaner robot near the tube didn’t look up at the noise. His job description; vacuum the entire ship.
Nothing else moved in the ghostly quiet.
A lone figure blinked. He stretched his arms up and slowly lifted himself from the deep freeze of cryogenic sleep. Stepping out of the unit his smile looked slightly crooked.
In silence, he moved about the area set aside for the crew. His footsteps were deliberate. He walked past several frozen women crew members, hesitating only long enough to give them a sideways glance before moving along the rows.
The buzz of the cleaner robot coming closer forced the man to stop. He watched it slide past. A red light on the side of the unit signaled it needed to get back to its magnetic compartment to recharge the batteries. In around twenty hours it would start its cleaning duties again.
The man walked on.
He changed direction, deciding to march towards the right-hand side of the ship designated for the children. The metal shutters protecting the portholes were closed. The figure didn’t slide one open to see the view.
The first freezer tube he stopped at contained a teenager. He unplugged the unit and wheeled it towards the shuttle bay.
The lone figure made three trips.
He picked out two boys, one twelve; the other sixteen. He knew the female was fifteen. Each person was allocated a number. Hers was 16494. The other two were 27459 and 18450 consecutive. He wheeled them into maintenance shuttle number one. He could have picked any one of the small twenty ships, but he didn’t want to waste time. The closest one would be suitable for what he needed. The man silently walked out of the air-lock, pushing a button to close the hatch. Wearing a satisfied smirk he walked back to his freezer unit, changed the date to correspond with the other five hundred freezer tubes then slipped back inside. He watched the frosted glass dome close. He closed his eyes and went back to a frozen sleep.
The USS Lock, the first ship of twenty vessels was on its maiden voyage. Two trips per ship each lasting twenty years were planned. The massive ship, cylindrical in shape, fifty metres high; forty metres wide was stocked full of everything the colonists needed to survive and set up a new home for the thousands who were to come.
Forward in the nose of the ship was the bridge. Twenty lights blink methodically on the dashboard. Five were red, seven were yellow; eight were green. What they represented, nobody except the pilot and navigator knew.
At the rear of the ship were the engines. Maintenance workers called the entire area the heart of the ship; a fifty billion dollar heart. If one of the five engines were to fail the ship might take longer to reach its goal. The five hundred men, women, and children will wake too early and might not see the new world.
The earth was fast turning into a planet with no future. Natural resources were almost exhausted. Every country was overpopulated by ten million people and the lawmen couldn’t control the crime. Something needed to be done or the human race could find themselves extinct as the dinosaurs.
The search for a new home began in earnest.
Professor Oakland an astronomer, discovered planet X188 in the exact center of the Orion’s belt by accident. After extensive analysis, he believed the planet to be perfect for a new colony. Traveling through space was an extremely risky idea. Ten years of cryogenic sleep would see the colony of brave eager humans in orbit above planet X188. What they might find when they landed could be a challenge of catastrophic proportions. At the time of their freezing, each colonist was thinking and hoping for a successful landing.
THE FIRST glass lid of the three freezer tubes which were placed in the maintenance shuttle slid open. An arm extended into the air. A young lad of sixteen blinked rapidly in the dull light. He rubbed his eyes and ran his fingers through his short blonde hair. He slowly sat, shaking off the effects of the frozen sleep.
The lid of the second freezer tube opened. Slightly amused at the sound it made the lad turned his head to watch the third lid slide open.
The sixteen-year-old male placed his feet on the metal floor. Eventually, he stood. His first tentative steps saw him walking across the metal floor to a black leather chair. Everything around him didn’t make sense. Thinking back to when the Captain of the USS Lock personally gave his group a guided tour of the ship, nothing seemed familiar. The shutter covering the viewport at arm’s length had been left open. He focused on the planet filling the entire glass panel.
The person from the second tube walked over. She flopped into the next available seat, pushing her black hair from her face. For a few seconds, she sat looking at the lad. Both teenagers wore the same expression; total puzzlement.
“You’re a girl,” commented the lad.
“I’m happy you can tell the difference.”
“I’m Clay Silver.” He reached out to shake the girl’s hand.
“I’m Florian Fawkes,” she replied.
“Good to meet you, Flo,” said Clay.
Instead of Florian shaking his hand she shook a fist at him. “My name is Florian. I don’t like being called Flo.”
“Feisty,” added Clay. “Have it your way. You can call me Clay.”
“Where are we? What are we doing in this shuttle?”
“I’ve no idea.”
“You were the first to wake, you should know the answers.”
“I was first by no more than thirty seconds,” advised Clay.
Florian leaned forward in her seat, focusing on the planet looming before them. It looked like a huge ball in space. “We’re close enough to see land and dark blue oceans.”
A third passenger dropped into the seat directly behind Clay. “The planet looks hostile.”
Clay and Florian turned to look at the sandy coloured haired lad.
He smiled, reaching out his hand. “I’m Josh Quinn, number 18450. I’m twelve-years-old.”
“Great,” grumbled Clay. “At sixteen, I don’t want to babysit a kid.”
“I don’t need anyone watching over me,” he replied.
“I turned fifteen when I entered the freezer tube. I don’t like your attitude,” jeered Florian shifting her attention back to Clay.
“Happy birthday,” sang Josh. “What’s the date?”
Clay looked at the console in front of him. He read the numbers on a small square monitor. “It’s been only five years since we broke earth’s orbit.”
“Unbelievable,” snarled Florian. “We’re only halfway to planet X188.”
“You two quit the bad attitude,” grumbled Josh. “To be exact we’re not halfway to our destination. By the way, if we don’t do something real quick we’re in serious trouble. The planet directly in front of us is getting larger.”
“You said a mouthful,” said Clay. He raised his eyebrows to cement the fact.
“I don’t want to land on the planet,’ growled Florian. “Locate the USS Lock and high tail it back.”
Josh pulled the instruction book from the back of the seat, commencing to read.
“Pull up,” squealed Florian. “Listen to what I’m telling you.”
“I would if I knew how to get the autopilot off,” argued Clay.
Josh dug his nose out of the small book.
“This is a maintenance shuttle. To be exact it’s ‘number one.”
“How do you know?” questioned Florian.
“I took the handbook from the pocket on the back of Clay’s seat. The number of this shuttle is on the console above your head.”
Florian snatched the book from Josh. “Are you trying to tell me you read a seventy-page book in ten seconds?”
“No, the book has sixty-one pages. I read it in thirty seconds.”
Florian sent him a distasteful look before turning her back on him.
“What can we do to get back into orbit and locate the USS Lock?” asked Clay.
“Impossible,” said Josh. “I’ve already told you this is a maintenance shuttle. It has no light speed capabilities. We’re low on fuel, there’s no navigation equipment and the computer is in charge.”
“We’re screwed,” squealed Florian.
“Maybe not,” replied Josh firmly.
Clay glanced over his shoulder. “You have ten seconds to explain before we hit the stratosphere.”
Josh pointed to the flight console. “We have four minutes of fuel; not enough to follow the USS Lock let alone stay in orbit. Our best option is to trust the computer in landing this shuttle. You said we’re on auto pilot. Punch up the short range scanner to see where our destination lies.”
Clay squeezed his hand past Florian’s and pushed a button on the flight console. A location came up on the small square monitor in front of him.
“The short range scanner shows the computer is going to make us land close to a large building.”
“Why?” Florian squealed.
“I don’t know.”
“How long before we land?”
“Four minutes, seven seconds,” answered Clay.
“We’re short by seven seconds. We’re going to crash,” stated Florian, her voice staying remarkably calm.
Josh cleared his throat, slowing his voice. “Computer, where did you get the orders from to take us to the destination you were programmed for?”
A metallic voice came through the speaker next to Josh’s ear. “Medical emergency.”
Florian and Clay said at the same time. “What medical emergency?”
“Three frozen humanoids were placed in the maintenance shuttle.”
“You took it upon yourself to decide on a medical emergency?” asked Clay.
“That explains why we’re here,” said Josh.
“What is the name of the person who programmed you to make shuttle number one leave the USS Lock?” asked Josh looking at the speaker.
“Unknown,” reported the metallic voice.
“A mystery,” hinted Florian.
Josh said firmly. “Computer, if the medical emergency is to be successful what is the reason why the humans were placed in a maintenance shuttle with limited fuel?”
“Computer, I need to see the flight records of maintenance shuttle number one?” ordered Josh.
The monitor in front of Clay went blank for a few seconds. When it lit a complete record containing the shuttle’s details came up.
“Records indicate shuttle number one was flown around the USS Lock for a final external inspection before departing the Earth’s orbit. The craft re-entered the airlock at 17:00 hours and supposedly re-fueled,” said Josh reading the report out loud.
“Somebody obviously forgot,” stated Florian.
“Or it could have been deliberate,” added Clay.
“It doesn’t matter now,” announced Josh. “We’re going down. There’s nothing we can do about it.” He continued. “Computer, send a mayday signal to the USS Lock.”
“Vital software is missing from the memory chip.”
The shuttle dipped and entered the stratosphere. It rocked slightly when pressure commenced to push against the hull. The computer quickly stabilized the shuttle. The nose dipped to fifteen degrees thrusting the three occupants forward.
“Buckle up,” yelled Clay.
Florian quickly reached for her harness. She managed to strap one shoulder down before the shuttle’s nose dipped again. Three and a half seconds later the craft dropped from orbit.
“The outside temperature is a warm 200 degrees,” reported Clay. “Hold onto something, this might be a rough ride. We’re almost out of fuel.”
“How long before we’re on fumes?” Florian quizzed.
“One minute three seconds.”
The shuttle bucked, rolled from side to side, threatening to invert. The craft skimmed the top of the clouds before dipping into the dense cloud bank. Water formed on the viewport. At five hundred feet above sea level, the shuttle burst out of the cloud, into the bright sunlight.
Josh said. “The manual I’ve just finished reading explains what steps to go through in a crash situation.”
“I’m open for suggestions,” said Clay.
Florian grabbed hold of the secondary joystick from the co pilot’s seat. “I hope you can fly a shuttle?”
“I’ve ten hours simulated,” admitted Clay.
“It’s more than I’ve done. I have only ever sat in the co-pilot’s seat, watching,” confessed Florian. “What about you?” she asked, glancing over her shoulder at Josh.
“I’m only twelve. I’ve been banned from stepping inside a shuttle.”
“For the record, I’m sixteen and a third,” said Clay.
Josh started to quote the steps from the manual on crash landing.
“Push the autopilot toggle switch to the off position. Its location is above your head and is marked ‘AP.’”
Clay looked up. He found the toggle switch. Flicking it to the off position he simultaneously grabbed hold of the joystick.
“Locate a soft landing site if possible,” said Josh quoting step two.
Clay and Florian lifted off their seat to view the landscape.
“Not looking good,” advised Clay. “Trees are the only things I see.”
“Trees fill my side of the viewport too,” reported Florian.
As if flipping to another page in his memory Josh momentarily paused. “If possible, hover and wait for the shuttle to flop onto the canopy of the forest.”
Clay glanced over his shoulder, sending him a doubtful look.
“Yeah I know what you’re thinking. It’s what the manual reads.”
Dead ahead the trees thinned. The large metal building came into view.
Florian clutched the arms of her chair in a death grip and pushed her back deeper into the seat. Her gaze was firmly glued on the console in front of her. “We have to land this bird. We’re almost out of fuel. Eighty seconds. Sixty seconds, of fuel, left.”
“What happened to the missing ten seconds?” asked Clay.
“No idea,” replied Florian.
“We’re using up too much fuel,” advised Josh. “Pull back on the joystick. You have to slow our travel.”
Clay pulled back on the joystick. The shuttle’s nose tilted upwards forcing the craft to slow. At a height of three hundred feet Josh barked out an order.
“Computer, deploy parachute.”
They heard a hissing sound then a pop. The shuttle seemed to stall in midair.
“Computer, cut engine.”
The engine quickly died. The visitors sat in ghostly silence. Above the shuttle, the parachute appeared to be fully inflated. The weight of the shuttle threatened to rip the material from the wires. Fifty feet above the canopy of the trees the shuttle finally started to drop, belly first.
“The building looks strange,” commented Florian, craning her neck to look out of the viewport.
“Forty feet to the trees,” called Josh.
“Hold on,” yelled Clay. “We’re about to scrape the trees.”
The shuttle dropped into the canopy. Leaves were thrown up above the shuttle’s roof. Tree branches cracked and broke, falling to the ground far below.
“I’m praying for a soft landing,” bellowed Clay.
“Let’s hope the miracle happens quickly. We’re seconds away from crashing through the thin top layer of the trees. Soon the trunks will be too thick and start to smash through the hull,” stated Josh.
“You’re a bearer of good news aren’t you?” snarled Clay.
“Computer, retract parachute,” ordered Josh.
A whirring noise could be heard above the splintering of the trees. The shuttle fell level like a lift in a building. More trees cracked. The thicker branches fell away. The shuttle’s descent slowed considerably. The approaching ground looked rock hard.
“Why did you retract the parachute?” questioned Florian. “We need it to slow our fall?”
“Trust me we might need the parachute in one piece sometime in the future.”
Total silence came next.
There was no movement, no fire, no explosion, nothing, only a deafening silence.
For a few minutes Clay, Florian, and Josh didn’t move a muscle. They dared not breathe. Eventually, someone needed to talk. Florian spoke first. Her three-word conversation came in a whisper.
“Is everyone okay?”
“I’m fine,” announced Josh.
“Me too,” added Clay.
Josh leaned forward to view their new world. His croaky voice gave away how he felt. “We’re still in the trees.”
Clay decided to be the first to stand. He stood holding onto the back of his seat for a few seconds before hesitantly walking to the side of the shuttle and pushing a small button on a panel. A small square metal plate slid down. He pressed his face against the porthole glass, trying to looking outside. He squinted in the sunlight. He counted several white clouds in the sky before focusing on the ground. “I reckon we’re about twenty feet off the ground.”
“Maybe we should take off so we can close in on the building,” suggested Florian.
“We can’t,” said Clay. “Even if we do get this bird in the air we have only seconds of fuel left. We’d barely clear the tree tops. At a guess, I reckon the tree branches will look like a web under the shuttle. I’d be surprised if we’re not wedged tight. Whether we like it or not, we’re stuck in the trees.”
“What happens if it gets windy?” quizzed Florian. “What if the tree branch we’re sitting on breaks? How do we live in a tree? How do we find food, water?”
Clay lifted his hand to stop her questions. She gave him dagger eyes.
“You have lots of questions. At this time, we have no answers. I’m sure if we thought about everything step by step we’d have too many questions to answer.”
“Okay genius what do we do first?”
Clay walked back to his chair. Sitting, he stared at the other two. He gave a shrug.
Florian began her endless list of things which needed to be done. She’d always been good at coming up with solutions to problems, itemizing the more important ones first, down to the incidental.
“First thing we should do is find out if the air is breathable.”
“Good thinking,” said Clay.
“What if it’s not?” asked Josh.
“Our life expectancy is about twelve hours,” reported Florian.
“Love the idea or hate it, we’re stuck on this planet. Each time we start up the computer we use power. I’ve made a rough estimate on how long it’ll be before we lose too much power to start the computer. Once it happens we’re on our own,” said Josh.
“How long?” asked Clay.
Josh cleared his throat. “Two and a half years. Not enough time for the USS Lock to arrive at planet X188, realize we’re missing, scan space, pick up on our mayday signal, provided we can send one, organize a rescue mission then find us. Summing up, chances of being rescued is remote at best. I agree with Florian, we need to find food, water, and if possible fuel or some means to extend the life of the computer. It’s inevitable no matter how hard we try to keep it going the computer will eventually fail. Either we’ll have no power or it will break down. At this moment, we are safe in this shuttle. For how long, who knows? I reckon our best option is the building directly ahead. It’s not more than two hundred and fifty metres away. After all, the computer did set it aside for this shuttle to land here for a medical emergency. If we’re lucky there’ll be someone who can help us get back to the USS Lock.”
“You’ve said a mouthful again,” admitted Clay.
Florian interrupted his speech. “All this is providing there is breathable air outside.”
Josh scrunched his nose. “Yes.”
“Other than opening the airlock is there another way to determine the air quality?” asked Florian.
“Not really,” said Clay.
“We can ask the computer,” said Josh. His voice reeked of confidence.
“It’ll use power,” said Florian. “There has to be another way?”
“If you know of something, by all means please share your idea. In my opinion, we have no other choice than to use the computer.”
Florian shook her head.
“I guess we have to agree on the computer idea,” mumbled Clay, not too convincingly.
“Here goes nothing,” mumbled Josh. “Computer is the air quality on this planet fit for humans to breathe for indefinite periods?”
For over ten seconds they waited for the answer.
Finally, Clay whispered. “Do you think the computer is broken or doesn’t understand the question?”
The answer came back in a metallic voice. “The oxygen level is perfect for humans to breathe for indefinite periods.”
Josh, Florian, and Clay screamed at the top of their lungs at the great news.
Clay walked to the center of the shuttle. “Finally, something has gone our way.”
“What are you up to now?” asked Florian.
“We might as well open the hatch to the outside world.”
The three gathered around, staring at the floor.
“Are you sure about this?” asked Florian.
“We don’t have much to lose,” said Clay.
“Only our lives,” whispered Florian.
“I trust the computer,” said Josh.
Clay reached up above his head, touching the small red button. “I’m too nervous to push the button.”
Florian reached up and pushed the button. It lit. The one-metre square hatch in the floor slid back, revealing the outer skin of the hull.
“I didn’t know the space between the inner hull and the outer shell is only one inch thick,” said Clay.
Florian reached above her head, pushing the button to its stop. A red light under the metal floor flashed. Three seconds later the outer hatch slid inside the cavity. A warm breeze blew in moving Florian’s long black hair upwards. The moment the internal and the external air pressures equalized her hair fell about her face.
“The air smells clean,” commented Josh, taking a deep breath.
Clay squatted, touching the leaf of a tree. He pulled at it, breaking it off. He walked over to the scanner situated at the side of the shuttle.
“What are you doing?” asked Florian.
“I’m going to have the computer analyze it.”
“Don’t waste the power. We know it’s a leaf.”
“I wanted to make sure it has the same composition as the leaves on Earth.” Clay went red in the face. “You’re right, I shouldn’t waste the power.”
“I vote we spread out searching for food and water,” said Florian.
“I agree,” echoed Josh. “I’m hungry.”
“What if there’s something dangerous waiting for us?” added Clay.
“Are you scared?” questioned Florian.
“No,” Clay snorted. “Think about it for a moment, if we’re attacked by anything and we’re hurt in any way what first aid equipment do we have to look after ourselves?”
“You have a valid point,” said Josh.
“I think we should make some sort of weapon, besides, by the looks of the sun we don’t have too many hours of daylight left. By the time we have a good solid plan thought up the sun will be gone. Not to mention we need to find a way to get down to the ground and back again,” said Florian. “The trees below the shuttle are a tangled mess.”
“You come up with an idea, I’ll be able to build it,” boasted Clay.
“What about my hunger?” Josh asked, rubbing his growling stomach.
“I have yet to think up an answer,” said Clay.
“I must admit I’m a little thirsty,” admitted Florian.
Josh stepped to the side of the shuttle. He stood in front of the large hatch, pushed the red button then the green. Both hatches slid away. He set to work studying the tree they were wedged in. Thick branches wide enough to walk along grew out from the main trunk. When they reached the shuttle they were broken from the landing and crisscrossed underneath the entire craft.
“I think it’s easy to see we’re safely wedged,” Josh advised.
Stepping onto a thick branch no wider than a standard diving board, he walked away from the shuttle towards the trunk. On the other side of the tree, he spied berries growing. He easily reached the clump, picked the large bunch and returned to the shuttle.
“Before you eat those we should scan them,” said Florian. She broke off a single berry and walked over to the scanner. She placed the berry on the glass slide, flicking the on switch.
The computer whirred to life. A narrow beam of white light flooded the top of the berry. When the light went out a metallic voice came over the speaker.
“The fruit is red in colour, white flesh on the inside; ten percent water, nutritious, full of vitamins and minerals to sustain human life.”
Josh placed a single thumb size berry in his mouth, biting it in half. “Tastes good.” He immediately reached for another.
The trio devoured the bunch of thirty berries in no time flat.
“The only thing missing is water,” said Clay, after swallowing the last berry.
“We can only survive three days without the fluid,” said Florian.
“The computer did say each berry contains ten percent water,” hinted Josh. He stepped up to a metal cupboard and started rummaging through the scant equipment. He soon found a tool box. He scooped out the few tools before walking back along the branch for more berries.
The trio looked comfortable seated in their leather seats looking out of the viewport watching the sky slowly turn dark. Thanks to the berries their stomachs were full and their thirst quenched.
“What a first day,” whispered Florian.
“It sure was,” replied Clay, looking sideways at her. “I’ve been thinking. The colonists on the USS Lock have no idea what happened. They won’t find out for five years. We could be dead by then.”
“In your opinion what do you think our chances are of surviving tomorrow let alone five to ten years?” asked Florian.
Clay shook his head. “I don’t want to even start to think about it.” He glanced over his shoulder at Josh. “He certainly is a genius. The way he can read so fast and understand what he’s read is amazing. I’m glad he’s asleep.”
“Why?” asked Florian.
“I don’t want you to take what I’m thinking the wrong way. Has it occurred to you us three might be the only humans on this planet.”
“Meaning?” asked Florian.
“If anything should happen to you the new colony of humans will be extinct in maybe forty years?”
Florian leaned closer to Clay. “Don’t take this the wrong way either.”
She closed her eyes and kissed Clay. The kiss lasted a long time. They didn’t know Josh took to watching from behind them.
Eventually, Josh spoke. “Get a room you two.”
Florian moved away. Clay frowned at being spied on.
“Go back to sleep,” whispered Clay.
Florian made her way to the other end of the shuttle. She sat on the floor staring at her feet, sobbing quietly. Clay walked up and sat next to her. He didn’t know what to say. Deciding not to talk he studied the hull. It seemed intact. White walls with a few cupboards. Small round lights of various colours flashed intermittently throughout the ship. The only thing missing is the amount of fuel onboard.
“I’m not ready to have babies,” whispered Florian, blunt. She looked up at Clay waiting for him to respond.
“Good, I’m not ready to be a father,” he replied focusing his attention on her.
“I love nothing more than planning things for the future. Mine was mapped out till the day I died.”
“What were your plans if you don’t mind me asking?” whispered Clay.
“I did have my eye on this bloke. He’s your age. His name’s Nick. He talked to me when we were lining up to enter the USS Lock. We swapped smiles. He asked me when we’ve settled on planet X188 could he get to know me. I said yes. He held my hand. Right before we were frozen I decided he’d be the one to see me into my old age. We’d marry in ten years, have five babies and live happily ever after. Of course, there’s more to my exact plan, but there’s no need to say it now.”
“Best laid out plans have a way of changing. They start out how you want and before you know it you have to re-plan.”
“What did you expect out of life?”
“I’m a kind of bloke who lives life as it comes.”
“It sounds disappointing,” said Florian.
“I don’t think so. It’s kind of exciting not knowing how your future will form. Go with the flow. See where the river takes you.”
“Careful on the river, your boat might tip if you hit turbulent water which in turn could see you drown.”
“I’d wing the moment. Which brings me to a thought I’ve been thinking about for the past hour.”
“And that is?”
“Why are we here? If you look logically at the question, why were the three of us picked? Out of five hundred colonists, our lucky number came up, why? What is it about us three? What connects us together? The facts are: We were placed in a shuttle and jettisoned into space? Josh is a genius. I’m not like him. I can make anything provided someone comes up with an idea. I guess it’s where you come in. You have great ideas. If you take our three abilities and place them together it’s possible whoever brought us three to this planet wants us to survive. I’m finding myself thinking, why?”
“I have no idea,” said Florian. “I’m devastated my future has no plan.”
“Make a new one,” Clay whispered.
“It’s easy for you to say.”
“Staying alive is a good plan,” said Clay.
“What are the details to see your idea stays intact?”
“Condense your long term goal into single days. You have a long life plan, sure. To fulfill it, plan to see the sunset at the end of each day.”
Florian looked at the scene outside the viewport. She nodded slowly. “I could that?”
Clay displayed an awkward grin, placing his hand on her knee. “Good for you.”
“What if Josh gets jealous of us in the future?”
“I guess we’ll have to work it out somehow.”
“What if there are animals out there in the forest?”
“We’ll have to deal with them too. Come on, let’s go back to the nose of the shuttle. I’m tired. We have a lot to do tomorrow.”
“Thanks for the chat. I’ll fall asleep making up a brand new plan. I’ll try my best to make a short-term one.”
Clay helped Florian to her feet, pushed the closed buttons of both airlocks and helped her back into the copilot’s seat.
The moment they finally settled down for some sleep fatigue quickly overpowered them. They fell asleep looking at the rising moon. The only difference between the moon orbiting the Earth and this one; there were actually two moons.
THE SUN shone through the viewport extra early. The wind brought a few dark clouds which dotted the horizon.
Clay opened his eyes. For a long time, he squinted in the sunlight, recalling what they went through the previous day. He looked across at Florian. She was curled into a ball and asleep on the co-pilot’s seat.
A small hand touched his shoulder. Josh whispered in his ear. “Whatever you do don’t move.”
Clay whispered a two-word reply. “Why not?”
“If you look directly out of the viewport you’ll see something you never want to see. The computer is filming it. Don’t make any sudden moves. Don’t talk too loud; don’t flinch.”
Clay slowly straightened his head. His eyes bulged at what he saw sitting on the nose of the shuttle. Florian stirred, opening her eyes. Clay reached out, clamping a hand over her mouth.
“Whatever you do, don’t scream,” whispered Josh.
Clay signaled for her to look out of the viewport. Florian moved her pupils sideways. Clay successfully muffled her scream.
The bird turned its head. In one slow movement, the creature extended its massive wings. Making a loud screech, it took flight.
Florian scrambled out of her seat. She ran screaming to the other end of the shuttle.
“What the hell is it?” questioned Clay. His gaze searched the sky hoping to see it again.
“I know what it is, I just can’t believe it,” said Josh. “The bird must be at least eight times larger than a pelican. Computer, analyze the recording. Give a quick summary.”
“The mammal is a prehistoric bird called the ‘Pterosaur.’ It has a wingspan of twenty feet. From the top of its head to its claws, a fully grown male can measure six feet. Its head is the same size as an adult human. It’s not uncommon to have a beak ten inches in length. Its claws are razor sharp, capable of easily slicing open its prey.”
“I don’t care what it is I want to go back to the USS Lock,” shouted Florian. “Make preparations to leave this place.” She glared at the two boys. “Now,” she yelled.
Clay and Josh ignored her screams. They were searching the sky and the trees around the shuttle for anything else moving.
“I don’t see anything,” whispered Josh.
“Me neither,” added Clay. He walked to the airlock, pushing the green button.
Florian sprinted at him “What are you doing? That thing might come back. If it gets in here we’re its breakfast.”
“I reckon we’re safe. I’m positive your screams will prevent it from returning.”
“I don’t care. The only action we can do is to stay locked in here till we’re rescued.”
Josh stared at Florian. “Get a grip. We’ll die of thirst in three days. Besides, I’m hungry for breakfast. The only thing we found so far is the berries.” He pointed to a branch less than thirty feet away. “The bunch of berries was enough for the three of us yesterday. We need those berries.”
“There’s another urgent matter,” said Clay. “We have to find a toilet.”
Florian paced the shuttle massaging her temples. The moment she stopped, she stared the boys.
“I know you guys are right. I have to face reality the USS Lock may never come back. I cried myself to sleep last night. This nightmare is so hard.”
“It’s okay,” said Clay, placing his arm over her shoulder. “I’m here to protect you.”
Florian cuddled into him. “I’m hoping there are no more animals out there, only people.”
“I’m hoping the same thing,” said Josh.
“Me too,” added Clay.
Florian straightened. She stopped sobbing and wiped her eyes. “Right, it looks as though it’s us or them. We can either surrender our lives right now or we fight to survive. I vote we survive.”
Clay nodded vigorously. “I vote yes.”
Josh said. “Unanimous. Three votes to none. We will survive.”
“I vote we all have a vote on everything we do from this moment forward. Each decision we make could impact on what happens in the future,” hinted Florian.
The boys yelled yes. They made a pact to watch each other’s back, never letting their guard down for a minute.
“Survival takes precedence over everything,” said Josh. Turning to Clay he added. “No matter what, out of the three of us Florian is the one who must survive. Without her, there will be no future generations to tell anyone who comes to rescue us we were even here.”
“Don’t talk like that,” scolded Florian. “I don’t want to lose you guys, ever.”
“It’ll be okay,” said Clay. “It’s good we found out about the giant bird before we left the shuttle. At least we’ll be prepared. Now for the first thing, we need to work out this morning.”
Josh and Florian watched him walk to the tail end of the shuttle.
“I thought we were going to vote on everything?” questioned Florian.
“We will. I think this decision will be wholeheartedly agreed on. It’s urgent we find a toilet.”
At the rear of the shuttle, Clay spied a small door situated next to the engine room. He reached out and opened the door. Inside he found a small toilet.
“It’s a good start for the day.” He sprinted in, shutting the door behind him.
Josh nodded. “Now the commotion has settled I’m busting too. It must have been the water in the berries.”
The moment the trio completed their first task of the day Clay walked to the small porthole to study the sky. Josh and Florian stepped next to him, looking out.
“I can see breakfast waiting,” advised Josh.
“What happens if the prehistoric bird comes back when you’re out there?” whispered Florian.
“I’ll have you two standing guard. The moment you spot it, whistle, I’ll be back inside the shuttle in seconds.”
“Provided we can give you enough warning,” said Clay, nervously.
“I’ll trust you.”
Josh marched to the small maintenance cupboard. Inside the narrow cavity, he found the toolbox he used the previous day and walked to the airlock.
“You might need two hands to grab hold of a branch if you slip,” warned Florian.
Clay slipped his leather belt off from around his waist, handing it over. Josh pushed the belt through the handle of the dark green plastic toolbox then connected the ends to form a loop, placed his arm through the hole and nestled the toolbox under his armpit.
“I’m off to get take away,” he said, jokingly.
“Make sure you’re not the one who is taken away,” warned Florian. “We really don’t know how many giant birds are out there.”
Josh studied the sky before stepping out of the airlock. He hesitantly completed his first step. He didn’t want to leave the safety of the shuttle, but someone needed to play the hero. He was hungry. He surmised the other two might be craving food too.
He finally let go of the shuttle, quickly walking to the main trunk of the giant tree. He easily skirted around to the other side by hugging the main trunk. He glanced over his shoulder. Not being able to see the shuttle un-nerved him. He needed to fight the panic slowly rising inside his brain. He coped by focusing his full attention on getting to the berries.
Several agonizing seconds ticked off before Florian called out.
“Josh, how are you going? Please say something.”
“I’m okay,” he called back. “I’ve studied the sky from this side of the tree. The only dangerous objects I’ve seen are clouds and tree branches full of leaves.”
Florian and Clay sighed heavily. They finally saw Josh making his way back to the shuttle carrying his tool box full of berries.
Five steps from the airlock Florian screamed, pointing to the sky. The giant bird dropped through the top of the trees, its wings brushing the leaves and branches.
Josh didn’t have to look over his shoulder to know the bird was closing fast. He sprinted for the closing hatch, managing to dive through before the giant bird started scratching the door using its razor sharp claws. Eventually, it gave up. Clattering along the roof it jumped back onto the nose of the shuttle. The three occupants ran to the viewport to study the bird up close.
“I think it’s looking for a place to nest,” suggested Josh.
“How can you tell?” whispered Florian.
“I read somewhere birds come back to the same place quite a few times before deciding where to build. The bird needs to feel safe.”
“There must be another?” whispered Florian.
“A male,” added Clay.
“Afraid so,” said Josh.
Clay spoke seriously. “We have to get rid of the bird.”
“If we make enough noise the bird might fly away, never to return,” whispered Florian.
Both boys sent her a blank stare.
“We have to permanently get rid of the bird,” hinted Josh.
“We don’t have the right to kill it,” growled Florian in a matter-of-fact voice. “I can’t allow it.”
“It’s the only way,” said Clay.
“If we don’t we’ll always be watching the sky,” explained Josh. “We need to get to the building this morning to see if there is anything useful we can use to help in our survival. If the bird is alive it will make our survival much harder.”
“We might even be able to send a signal to the USS Lock,” added Clay.
“I can see your point of view about allowing the bird to live,” admitted Florian.
“Then it’s settled,” said Clay, watching Florian start to slowly nod.
“After we make a few weapons we need a rope,” said Josh.
The three finished breakfast, stowing the remaining two bunches of berries back into the toolbox and placing the lot onto the fourth seat in the cockpit.
Clay said eagerly. “We need to search the shuttle for anything we can use to make weapons.”
The trio commenced their search. Every item they found was carefully scrutinized before being placed on the floor in the middle of the shuttle.
“Let’s see what we have,” quizzed Florian.
Clay squatted, sifting through the small heap.
“A good range of spanners, square metal patches, several sized bolts, a few small screws, washers, a couple of hammers, three hacksaw blades, a small welder and not much else.”
“What we need is a handheld laser,” hinted Florian.
“We’ve struck out on that idea,” said Josh. “You won’t be able to use any of the things we’ve found for an effective weapon.”
Clay turned to Florian. “You’re good at thinking up ideas. Any luck?”
“What we could use is a bow and arrow.”
“You’ve said it I’ll make it,” said Clay, walking off to find anything they may have missed. He came back carrying a roll of thin wire they left in the cupboard. “I can use this for the string. I can use a tree branch for the bow. The smaller branches will make good arrows.”
Florian looked impressed. “I take it your talent really is making anything from nothing?”
“Yes,” boasted Clay. “I’ll use a hacksaw blade to cut a branch.”
Josh saw Florian’s frantic expression. “Don’t worry. If the two of us keep an eye out for the bird, Clay will be okay.”
Josh and Florian followed Clay to the hatch. They studied the sky for a long time.
“All clear,” announced Florian.
“Go,” whispered Josh. He pushed the button on the side of the hull.
The hatch door slid open.
Before stepping outside Clay spied the perfect sized branch. He checked and rechecked the entire area. Making sure the other two were watching and with the safety of the shuttle no more than fifteen feet behind him, Clay slowly cut the branch off. He stripped the leaves. Holding the tree branches he scurried back to the safety of the shuttle. Two more trips saw him holding enough material for three bows and enough branches for twelve arrows.
Back inside the shuttle Clay quickly set to work. He wrapped the wire around one end of the branch which he set aside for the bow. At the exact place where the branch could bend without breaking, he knotted the wire. Using all his strength he pulled the wire tight. The wood bowed causing the wire to be piano wire tight.
“Now for the arrows,” announced Clay.
Josh set to work whittling the thin straight branches smooth. Florian did what she could. An hour of work saw the first weapon ready to be tested.
Clay opened the hatch, raised the bow to eye level and pulled the arrow back. He locked his elbow, letting the arrow fly towards the tree.
The arrow tore through the air. The sharpened point wedged into the middle of the tree trunk.
He faced the onlookers. “Perfect. Now to finish the rest of the arrows and make another two bows.”
The second and third bow and arrows were easier to make. In half an hour Florian and Josh both held a bow and ten arrows.
“I’ve got second thoughts about killing the bird,” confessed Josh. “After all, it’s a living creature.”
“Yes, it is,” said Florian. “Like us, it’s hungry for meat. If you won’t kill it, I will.”
“I agree with Florian,” said Clay. “It’s too dangerous to let it live.”
“Then it is agreed?” asked Florian.
“Unanimously,” said Josh.
“I think we should shoot the giant bird before we set out,” advised Florian.
“Judging by the position of the sun it’s nearly midday,” reported Josh. “To get to the building and return in the daylight we have to be leaving soon.”
Josh pushed the button and watched the hatch slide open. He climbed the rungs welded to the side of the shuttle and clambered onto the roof. He stood searching the sky. Florian came next, stepping onto the roof. Clay climbed the tree, breaking through the canopy. The view took his breath away. Stretching out to the horizon he could see the forest. To his left at the edge of his sight, he saw the sea. Behind him, he studied the round metal building. He could just make out its featureless flat roof. The surrounding area looked baron of life. A couple of questions entered his mind. ‘What kept the grass short? Why were there no trees in the area around the building?’
A large shadow crossed his face.
“Get ready,” Clay called through a cupped hand. “We have company.”
The prehistoric bird’s ear piercing screech drowned out the reply. The bird’s talons tore several branches away when it came through the trees, landing on the roof of the shuttle. It quickly hopped onto the nose in front of the viewport. Its massive head swung around. Its large black eyes bore into Josh and Florian. The bird thrust its head forward, screeching again. Its giant wings opened. Florian estimated them to be fifteen feet wide. She gulped when it jumped onto the roof of the shuttle and started clawing its way towards them.
Clay quickly climbed down from the top of the trees. By the time, he started up the rungs of the ladder the bird had already made it to the center of the shuttle. Clay stood behind the bird, studying its next meal. The creature’s head swayed back and forth. Its claws were fully extended, tapping against the metal hull. Clay stepped forward. Florian and Josh stepped back. The bird lowered its head, extending its wings to full width.
To Clay, the bird was in position to swoop. He quickly placed the blunt end of the arrow against the bow wire and lifted the arrow to eye level. The body of the bird straightened. Its beak opened. Florian and Josh readied their bows. The bird thrust its head at the meal standing before it, inching closer. Florian and Josh stepped to the edge of the shuttle. Below them, the tangled mass of tree branches easily supported the shuttle’s entire weight. If any one of the branches snapped the shuttle might nose dive to the ground.
Florian took the first shot. Her arrow struck wide of the bird’s chest, wedging into its wing. The bird’s screech came as an angry loud cry. Clay let an arrow fly. It glanced off the bird’s head. It seemed to be dazed, yet it remained staring at its meal.
Florian hurriedly fired another arrow. It wedged in its side.
The bird quickly closed the gap.
Josh looked too scared to shoot his arrow.
Clay quietly came up behind the bird. He raised his second arrow to eye level. When he closed to four feet he fired. A mighty loud screech filled the air. Another arrow shot from Florian and one from Josh struck the bird’s chest. Clay fired the seventh arrow. The bird swayed, staggering sideways before dropping off the roof. The three sprinted to the side of the shuttle in time to see it plow head first onto the ground.
Florian hung her head, looking at her feet. “I thought it might have been party time, but I feel we have just sentenced a species to extinction.”
“Better it than us,” stated Josh.
“We have to remember we did it for us,” said Clay. “We might have to kill again for our safety. Come on, we have to climb down to the ground so we can get to the building. By the way, when I was above the trees I saw the sea.”
“Interesting indeed,” said Josh.
CLAY PUSHED the button so the internal roof could slide open. The trio reached up and pulled the parachute to the floor of the shuttle. A thin saw blade was used to hack the material into strips. Florian tied a knot along the entire length at two-foot intervals. The ropes from the parachute were carefully wound and wrapped about their waists.
“Okay, we’re ready to go,” reported Florian. “I still can’t understand why we needed to cut the parachute into lengths? I thought we might use the trees to climb down to the ground.”
Clay pointed to the last ten feet.
“Once we’re on the ground there’s no way we can reach the first branch. The parachute will act as a temporary ladder. In time, we can build a sturdy one. Today, we’ll have to climb the parachute. Besides, if we come across any animals we can easily climb up, retracting the parachute ladder to stay safe.”
Josh descended to the lowest branch first, followed by Florian. Clay came last. The trio stood on the thick branch waiting for Josh to tie the material around the branch.
“Who should be first to touch the ground?” mentioned Clay.
“Do we have to vote on everything?” asked Josh.
“Yes, I think we should,” said Florian. “I vote Josh.”
Clay backed her up.
“Why am I the lucky one?”
“You’re the monkey in this unit,” said Florian.
Josh raised an eyebrow at her. “What if there is an animal prowling around the forest floor?”
“We’ll signal you,” said Clay. “Besides, I’ll be right behind you.”
Josh hunched his shoulders, checked the area around the shuttle before climbing down, using the knots in the material for hand and footholds. The moment his foot touched the ground he turned in circles, surveying the forest.
Clay quickly climbed down. Holding his bow and arrow at the ready Josh signaled for Florian to come.
Both boys stood guard ready to fire an arrow at anything moving while Florian clambered down. In seconds, she stood next to the boys.
For a long time, the trio dared not move. They stood back to back listening to any sound. The only thing they heard was the breeze blowing through the trees. It seemed to whisper their names.
Florian saw movement high above their heads. Focusing her gaze into the trees, she watched a single leaf fall from thirty feet up till it landed on the ground.
“Let’s make a move,” whispered Clay, pointing away from the shuttle, deeper into the forest.
“There’s no point standing here,” added Florian. “If we want to reach the building we have to be brave and go.”
Cutting a narrow path through the forest the three castaways walked in single file, each scrutinizing the forest ahead, behind them, to the right and the left. Each picked up a short solid branch to use as a backup weapon. Josh left a trail in the ground by dragging his stick in the dirt so they could easily follow the trail, retracing their steps back to the shuttle, especially if they needed to sprint. There was no way they wanted to get lost.
A third of the way to the building Florian, Josh and Clay still heard and saw nothing moving in the forest. Even the breeze was gone. One positive thing about the quiet, another prehistoric bird hadn’t turned up. The ground felt slightly spongy thanks to the years or possibly decades of fallen leaves covering the forest floor. The filtered light seeping through the canopy made for an unsettling sight. The giant trees growing straight were at least one hundred feet tall. Few branches grew close to the ground providing a quick escape up a tree almost impossible.
At the halfway point Clay signaled a halt. They ducked under a giant tree which lay almost horizontal, fallen over from a long forgotten storm. The tree’s four-foot girth looked to be rotting. Florian swiped her hand along its surface and watched pieces of bark fall about her feet.
“What’s wrong?” asked Josh.
“Nothing I can tell. This seems too easy,” said Clay.
“I’d have to agree,” said Florian. “I’m having trouble stopping myself from thinking we’re walking into a trap.”
“I sure hope you’re wrong,” said Josh.
“What do you suggest?” asked Clay.
Florian was the first to inject her thoughts.
“The way I see it we have two options. Get to the building or go back to the shuttle. Going back will see us where we were before we climbed down from the tree. I think we should keep moving.”
The boys nodded. After careful examination of the forest ahead, Clay took the lead.
The teens moved on to the next tree. Its girth looked wide enough to hide behind if they were caught unawares.
A strong breeze sprung up causing the trees to drop some of their leaves. Just before they were about to walk on again they heard a dry leaf rustle. They trio froze in their tracks studying the ground and the trees. Two leaves fell onto Florian’s hair. She lifted her hand to swipe them away.
Clay’s forehead dripped sweat. Again a dry leaf rustled. Florian’s eyes were bulging. Clay felt amazed they didn’t fall out of their sockets.
The third time a leaf rustled the noise came from behind Florian. She whirled around expecting to find the male prehistoric bird coming at her. She faced her aggressor in stunned silence. A lizard the size of a skink sprinted about the leaves in the search for food.
The three stood exhaling their stress of the noise. Finally, Clay spoke on a sigh.
“We should be going.”
Josh took the lead this time. Clay outstretched his hand to take Florian’s. She refused the invitation.
“I guess you think I’m being paranoid over the slightest noise?”
“The thought never entered my mind,” replied Clay. “It’s good to be extra careful. This is our first excursion away from the shuttle. We don’t know what to expect.”
Florian relaxed the moment she saw his smile. She took hold of his hand. By the time they caught up to Josh they were almost at the clearing. Their confidence quickly grew. They squatted behind a large bush so they could study the land.
“The entire area is a perfectly rounded cleared site,” whispered Florian. “From this angle, it would have to measure at least five acres.”
Josh and Clay studied the entire area of open land and each blade of grass noting any movement.
“The grass appears short all over,” replied Josh. He leaned sideways, swiping up three stones.
Clay watched him toss the first stone near the middle of the clearing. They saw it bounce. He repeated the procedure to his left and to his right.
“The grass covering is the same thickness and the stones tell us the ground is firm,” reported Josh.
“I’m curious why there aren’t any trees,” queried Clay.
“At a guess I’m thinking along the line of whoever built the place cleared the forest for safety,” whispered Josh.
“I reckon the building is a spaceship,” Florian blurted.
Josh glanced at her before focusing back onto the building. For a long time, he studied the structure directly in front of them. When he finally looked sideways again at Florian he started nodding.
“I think you might be right.”
“I’ll have to agree with both of you,” said Clay.
Florian looked slowly around the area. “I have a strange feeling we’re being watched.”
“I don’t share your thoughts, however, we have to be brave enough to walk across the clearing and get inside so we can find out what’s in there,” mumbled Josh.
“What if we encounter more animals?” questioned Florian.
“We have our bow and arrows and a short sturdy tree branch each. If we’re extra quiet, watch our backs, we’ll be okay,” said Clay, trying to sound extra confident.
Josh gazed at the ship’s hull, studying every square inch. When he found what he was looking for he said.
“I believe I’ve found a hatch. Provided there’s power to the door it’ll be a snap to get in.”
“What if there’s no power and the animals turn up, we’ll have nowhere to run,” added Florian sounding slightly agitated.
“You have a valid point,” said Clay, scratching at his ear.
“I think only one of us should go,” suggested Florian, putting an idea forward.
“I think we should all go,” corrected Josh. “Each one of us can watch the other’s back.” He looked at Clay. “What do you think?”
“I believe both ideas are right, but I think we should stick together. I’m voting for safety in numbers.”
“Okay, I’ll agree with you two,” whispered Florian.
Looking towards the ship Josh pointed. “In my opinion, at this distance, the best place to enter the ship is through the airlock closest to us. I’d be surprised if the ship doesn’t have several to choose from.”
“Is your opinion from a professional point of view?” asked Clay.
“No, from an angle I hope I’m right,” answered Josh. “Besides, from here I can’t see any others.”
The three moved to the fringe of the clearing. They scoured the entire area time and again.
Josh pointed to a small rock half way to the ship.
“We should call the rock the point of no return,” he stated. “If we’re discovered by a dangerous animal this side of the rock we turn our backs on the ship and sprint back here. The other side of the rock we race for the ship.”
“Josh, I’m counting on you to get us inside the ship in seconds if we’re cornered,” said Clay.
“I’ll be ready,” he replied.
Half stooped, the trio ran across the open space one behind the other. Clay brought up the rear. Florian came second while Josh took the lead. The three held their bows cocked, ready to fire an arrow at the first sign of danger.
The moment they stepped over the rock at the halfway point Florian felt nervous. She couldn’t shake the idea something was definitely watching them. The closer they got to the ship the worse she felt. She was positive if they didn’t get inside quick, she’d vomit.
When they got to the ship they pushed their backs against the metal hull. Josh immediately commenced to work. While he studied the hatch trying to figure a way in, Florian stood guard. Clay looked over the wall of the ship.
The side they were leaning against appeared to be at least forty feet in each direction, at least twenty feet high and the width, too hard to imagine at such an early time.
‘The roof might make a good home,’ thought Clay, hearing a click.
Josh had discovered a small panel next to the door. He pushed the top right-hand corner, popping the cover open. Inside the panel, there were three buttons. He pushed what he hoped could be the entry button. No light flashed. He waited a few more seconds before pushing the next button.
Josh pushed the third button. From inside he heard a whine. At least five agonizing seconds ticked off before the hatch slid sideways, revealing the interior of the ship. Overhead lights blinked on, lighting a narrow corridor.
The three visitors quickly moved inside. Slowly, quietly they started down the corridor. More lights lit the way the deeper they walked.
The three didn’t want to talk, each one taking in the surrounds knowing and feeling the danger. Bow and arrows at the ready they looked inside the first room on their left.
There were rows of racks stretching from the floor to the roof full of equipment. Florian could hardly contain her excitement at the Christmas presents.
Quietly they moved on to the next room. The hatch slid open revealing a giant room which appeared to be at least 500 square metres full of vegetables. The countless plants were growing in water.
“This Hydroponic garden is about half the size of the one on the USS Lock,” whispered Josh. “There’s enough food in this room to feed us three times a day for years.”
Clay stepped back into the corridor to keep guard. Every few seconds he looked back into the room. Florian took off her shirt, placing the material on the floor. She wasted no time in picking fruit and vegetables, placing them on the material. Clay and Josh caught on, throwing their shirts onto the floor. The air felt moist and warm against their bare shoulders. The thermal singlets they were wearing always kept their body temperature relatively the same.
“How is all this possible?” whispered Florian.
“Somebody must have planted the crops,” said Clay, glancing back at the sunlight outside. “Let’s keep moving, hopefully, we’ll find him. The coast is clear. Bring the bounty.”
“The ship must have enough power to supply fresh water to the garden,” hinted Josh deep in thought. “Someone must be running the show, why else would there be food growing.”
Clay answered him cautiously. “This place has brought up more questions than answers.”
The moment they stepped out of the room the hatch closed automatically.
Florian led the way down the corridor. At the end, they were facing a hatch. Josh stepped up to the metal door to start finding a way in when the door opened. The trio stood gobsmacked at what they were seeing.
“This room looks like the bridge,” whispered Florian.
Marching through the doorway, Josh stepped up to the bouquet of monitors in the middle of the slightly elevated room.
“This equipment has taken me to heaven.” He moved to sit on a chair when he spied a dark stain covering the entire black leather surface. He followed the stain to the other side of the bridge where it vanished. “Interesting,” he whispered.
Clay didn’t squander any time and commenced to search the round shaped room. Except for the bridge in the middle, the room was barren. The moment he felt satisfied there was no animals he relaxed for a few minutes, joining the other two on the bridge.
“What’s the dark stain on the chair?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” replied Florian, scrunching her nose.
Josh moved his fingers at speed over the many buttons on the flat screen monitors. Different images popped up before being replaced by others.
“What are you doing?” questioned Clay.
Josh answered without looking at him.
“I’m trying to find a way of copying the entire information this ship holds on the discs I found on the shelf under the middle monitor. As for the chair, I’m working on the answer. I love working with computers. Hopefully, I’ll have the question answered over the stain on the chair in a minute.”
The answer came in a couple of seconds.
“Here it is. The Captain of this vessel left a video recorded message.”
An image of a man’s face appeared on the monitor directly in front of Josh. A mid to late fifty-year-old man looked to be in excruciating pain. The three explorers stood listening to the message.
“Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Bill Rowark. My title reads; I’m a priest. God bless you, where ever you’re from. Thank you for finding my recording. My ship, ‘The Piper,’ the planet and whatever life forms remain walking about belong to you. How did I get here, where am I now? These are questions I believe you might be asking yourself. I pray I’m in heaven. I don’t have much time to live so I’ll make my summary short. My ship’s stabilizer was damaged in a meteor shower. I scanned space. I found this planet to have air which could sustain me while I made repairs. Just before I entered the stratosphere a piece of meteorite struck the dome directly above your head. Oxygen was being sucked out into space at an alarming rate. Life support turned critical well before I entered the atmosphere. Believe it or not, the clearing around the ship was heavily treed before I landed. I didn’t have much of a choice. The ship came in hot. I just managed to set the ship down before I blacked out from the lack of oxygen. The moment I landed I hit the hatch switches. All the hatches sprung open, including the animal cages. They escaped. In the few days I spent trying to round them up I caught only a third. When I realized I was dying, I let them go. Thanks to ‘The Piper,’ I have been able to travel back and forward through time, collecting specimens, from prehistoric to modern 3012AD back on Earth. I discovered a new species of mushroom growing right here on this planet. I didn’t scan the fungi. I know I should have. I couldn’t wait, they looked delicious. I ate one raw. It tasted magnificent. The only trouble is they are poisonous to the human body. My goal was to collect a lot of species, a male and a female to populate another world. If you don’t find my body the animals dragged me away. Watch out for the Pterosaur birds they are extremely clever. Anyway, the dome above your head is too far gone to be fixed. If you can’t replace it I’m afraid the ship will never enter space again so I never bothered to fix the stabilizer. Thanks for listening to my final recording.”
“The Captain of the Piper signed off nearly twenty earth years ago,” reported Josh.
“I feel sorry for the man. To live through the crash only to be poisoned by a mushroom,” said Florian.
“What a horrible way to die,” said Clay, adding to her comment.
“At least he helped us survive by reporting about the poisonous mushrooms,” said Josh. He glanced about the bridge. “This ship might make a great home. Captain Rowark did say it’s ours.”
Clay nodded vigorously. “You might be right. There’s certainly more room in this ship than the shuttle.”
Josh tapped a series of buttons on a flat screen monitor to his left.
“I’ll see if I can start the internal cameras,” he said.
Florian saw a monitor light up. She set her gaze on the scene.
“Guys take a look at this,” she said pointing.
Clay and Josh gazed at the monitor.
“It’s not a good sign. If I’m looking at the monitor correctly the other side of the ship is full of large and small cages.”
“They’re all open exactly how Rowark reported,” whispered Florian.
“Is there a ledger on what animals were in the cages?” asked Clay.
“I’ll see if I can find out,” said Josh. He ran his fingers over the screen, tapping the glass at speed. A library full of animal species came up. “Eureka.”
Florian read the names of the animals. “Lions, tigers, snakes, lizards,” her voice trailed off into mumbles. “Guys this list is endless.”
Josh continued by reading the next animal on the list.
“Prehistoric bird, Pterosaur: Large wingspan, massive head, long beak with a crown on its head, excellent carnivorous killer, eats only fresh meat.”
Clay whispered, looking sideways at Josh. “Add razor sharp claws. Finish copying everything you can. I don’t want to be here any longer than we need to be.”
“Agreed,” whispered Florian, looking around nervously.
Josh tapped the monitors faster. He touched a small screen on his left. It lit. The schematic drawing of the ship came up. Josh spied a narrow slot directly below the monitor. He touched the edge. A disc three inches in diameter sitting in a black frame was ejected. The main menu came up on the screen. On the top of the menu list, he read the words. ‘Copy entire files.’ He touched the okay button. Almost immediately the disc was sucked back into the computer and the files started copying to disc.
Clay heard the computer whirr to life and stepped over.
“The copy disc will take two minutes twelve seconds,” announced Josh.
“Good going,” said Clay. “The moment it’s finished we’re out of here.”
Josh brought up the menu again and scrolled over the files. He stopped at the word homing beacon. It was highlighted and flashing.
“Is something wrong?” asked Florian.
“I believe the Captain pushed the button to activate the homing signal before he died. My guess is the USS Lock picked up the signal. The moment we were placed in the shuttle the computer took over, mounting a rescue.”
Florian picked up on the thought. “The computer must have decided we were the rescue party.”
“The idea does explain why we were delivered to this exact location,” said Josh.
“How we came to being inside the shuttle in the first place still holds a mystery?” added Clay.
“At least we know why we were sent here,” remarked Florian.
“I’m not one hundred percent positive I’m correct,” Josh stated.
Florian placed her arm over his shoulder. “Your hypothesis is good enough for me.”
Clay tapped Josh on the shoulder. “How’s the copying going?”
“Let’s wrap this adventure up. We’re moving out.” Clay led the way to the hatch. When the door slid open he stepped into the long narrow corridor.
Florian walked right behind him. She turned, whispering to Josh through a cupped hand.
“Come on, we’re going.”
“Coming,” he called back. The disc popped out. Josh snatched it from the black plastic frame and accidentally dropped it. When he bent to pick it up he spied a small handheld laser on the floor under the chair. He placed the disc inside his thermal singlet against his stomach. Holding the laser in his hand he ran for the closing hatch.
“You took your sweet time,” growled Florian.
“I apologize.” He picked up his bounty of food and swiped his bow from off the floor.
Slinging the bounty over each of their shoulders and the bow and arrow at the ready, Clay led the way down the long corridor to the outside. Florian walked in the middle, Josh came last. The three walked quietly, observing everything. Hoping not to encounter a lion, the three didn’t breathe too many times. At the room where the vegetables were growing Clay signaled they should stop. He silently walked to the outer door. He stood at the threshold studying the clearing and the trees.
Florian came up behind him, whispering in his ear. “What do you see?”
“Nothing, that’s what’s wrong,” he whispered back.
Josh crawled between the two. “After reading the animal list I think we’re just spooked. We can’t stay here all day. The sun is moving towards the ground. Soon it will be too dark to find our way back to the shuttle.”
“He has a valid point,” said Clay. “It’s safer to walk during daylight hours. Besides, we don’t know if there are any animals around here. It has been twenty years.”
“Yeah I know, but something is watching us. I can feel it,” said Florian.
Standing in the doorway the three kept up a silent vigil for the next five minutes. Disappointed, Clay finally stepped out into the sunshine. He looked back at the blank faces of the other two.
“Forget what you feel, we have to go.”
The moment Florian stepped outside she froze. “Did you hear the noise?”
Clay and Josh shook their heads.
Florian raised her bow to eye level, preparing to shoot an arrow.
“I heard something again,” she whispered.
Clay turned to face the trees in time to see a lamb emerge from the forest. A second and third lamb quickly came into view.
Florian dropped her bow and walked towards them. A deep throated growl made her freeze in mid-step. It came from the forest directly behind the lambs.
A lion leaped from behind a large bush. It pounced on the closest lamb. The attack lasted only seconds. The small animal didn’t know it died. Josh and Clay back stepped inside the doorway leaving Florian three large steps from the safety of the Piper, completely unprotected, totally frozen in fear. The lion glanced up at her. Its bloodied mouth opened, showing its razor sharp teeth. He discarded the dead lamb before walking towards Florian. Clay wrapped his arm around her waist, dragging her inside the corridor. The lion quickly picked up speed, the magnificent dull red mane on the back of its head swayed in the running movement. If the hatch wasn’t shut in time the lion could easily slip through the gap. Inside the ship, it’ll have a three-course meal. Clay raised his bow to eye level. He pulled back on the arrow, firing a hurried shot. The arrow went wide of the lion. The beast growled again. A lioness emerged from the forest. She spied the easy meal and started running towards the ship.
Clay raised his bow again. This time, the arrow landed short. The two animals were within seconds of the open hatch. Florian swept the shock from her mind, snatching her bow from off the floor. In one easy movement, she loaded an arrow and fired. The arrow struck the lioness in the foot. It growled but kept coming.
A condensed beam of light cut through the air. The first lion hit the dirt in full flight landing at the entrance to the hatch.
A second beam of light hit the lioness in the exact center of its head. It died where it fell.
Clay glanced back at Josh noting he still pointed the laser at the forest. Slowly he lowered the weapon before looking at Clay.
Florian said slowly, “Where did you get the laser from?”
“Somehow it had wedged itself under the seat on the bridge of the Piper. I read the instructions before pulling the trigger. I didn’t have time to find out if it actually worked. I’m glad it did.”
“Me too,” said Clay, exhaling his fear.
“Thanks for saving my life. If you didn’t find the weapon I’d be dead by now,” said Florian, her trembling slowly subsiding.
“I think the three of us would be dead,” added Clay. “Come on, I think we’ve had enough excitement for one day.”
“What about the lambs?” Florian asked.
“We’ll see to them tomorrow. Once we’re back in the safety of the shuttle, I’d like to propose a plan.”
THE TRIO jogged back to the shuttle. Josh tied the end of the parachute material around the bounty of food and with Florian in the lead they climbed. Safely off the ground and standing on the branch they carefully hoisted the bounty of food from the ground and carried the lot into the shuttle.
Josh pushed the button to close the hatch. They sat on the floor eating till they were full.
Eventually, Florian sat back against the wall. “I’ve eaten enough.”
Clay joined her while Josh finished off the rest. Breakfast was carefully set aside which consisted of tomatoes, zucchini, corn, several pods of peas, and an apple each. The feast will be worth waking up to in the morning.
“I’ve been scrutinizing the plan I thought up. Now we know the medical building is a spaceship, I’d like to put forward my idea,” announced Clay.
“Okay,” said Florian. “Let’s hear it.”
“I need both of you to have an open mind.”
Josh and Florian gave him their undivided attention.
“I know this shuttle is a safe place to live, but it’s only temporary. We can’t stay here indefinitely. If the wind picks up the shuttle might dislodge from the trees and crash to the ground. I also believe it might be a matter of time before one of us falls out of the tree. I don’t need to say the rest.”
“The shuttle is a bit cramped,” added Florian.
“Not to mention we have to climb down each day to walk to the other ship for food,” added Clay. “Now we know there are more dangerous animals out there it’ll be a matter of time before one of us gets hurt.”
“I didn’t think of that,” said Florian.
“I think there’s a more sustainable idea,” continued Clay. “I vote we find a fuel rod in the other ship, bring it back here, fly this shuttle and land it on the roof of the Piper so we can be closer to our food source. Once we’ve accomplished the move I think we should call the Piper our new home.”
Florian immediately tried to think of a way to add improvements on the plan.
Looking around the shuttle Josh nodded in agreement. “I love the idea. I vote yes.” He stared at Florian. “What about you? We need three yes votes.”
“I think we should consider a slight improvement.”
“I can’t see any way to improve the plan,” questioned Clay, sounding skeptical.
“Me neither,” said Josh.
“I vote we do what you two have already agreed on, but I think we should move the Piper towards the sea. Before you jump down my throat hear me out.”
The two boys closed their mouths, deciding to sit back and listen.
“The Piper is massive, great for privacy. It has plenty of food and room. However, long term we need more food and we need a water source. We have to find a river, maybe a small lagoon where we can have a bath, wash our clothes. We have to consider the real possibility we might never be rescued. I think we need to find ground somewhere which is flat so we can grow food. The clothes we are wearing will quickly wear out. Once it happens we have to find something to wear. If we find the lambs again we can shear their wool to make clothes. To do everything I’ve mentioned we can’t stay here in the forest. Judging by the clouds it must rain at same stage. If it didn’t there’d be no trees. Before you answer maybe we should sleep on it.”
Clay nodded. He walked to the viewport to look out at the fading late afternoon sky. He sprinted to the hatch, sliding it open. Climbing the rungs of the ladder to the roof he stood watching the clouds. Josh and Florian scrambled up to the roof to see what happened.
“It’s a beautiful sunset,” Clay confessed pointing.
The three watched the sun reach the horizon before dipping behind the black clouds. In a couple of minutes, it vanished and the stars came out.
The trio woke early. By five in the morning just as the sun appeared they’d almost finished breakfast.
Florian wasn’t in a good mood. She sat glaring at the boys. Not knowing what they decided made her more irritable. Eventually, she asked.
“Neither of you voted on my plan.”
Clay stopped eating to look at her. “I’ve been thinking about what you said most of the night.”
“What did you decide?”
“Your plan is gutsy. I vote yes.”
Josh stood. “I have to agree too. Long-term, the plan is a goer. I think we should get moving. Have you seen the sky this morning?”
Florian and Clay marched to the viewport. The cloudless sky of the previous day was a blanket of grey.
“It looks like it’s about to rain,” reported Florian, sounding excited.
“Come on, we have to get to the Piper and bring a fuel rod back.” Clay stopped in his tracks. “I propose we leave the shuttle behind.”
“We can’t leave it in the trees. The shuttle is too valuable,” said Josh. “You don’t know when or even how we might have to use it.”
“Okay, the vote is still unanimous,” said Clay, marching towards the door.
“Before we attempt anything maybe we should take a look at the disc I copied yesterday.”
Josh sat in the pilot’s chair. Leaning forward he pushed a button on the console. A small black frame ejected from the cradle. He placed the disc in the frame and sent it back into the computer.
The computer whirred. The monitor lit. Josh immediately typed in a series of questions on the keyless screen.
‘How many fuel rods are onboard the Piper?’
The answer came back in a cursory blink: ‘Ninety-five.’
‘Can the ship fly?’
‘Can it go into space?’
‘What does a stabilizer look like?’
A picture of a part the size of a medium sized suitcase came onto the screen. It resembled a black rectangular box. Three wires protruded out of the top.
‘Exactly where is the damaged stabilizer situated?’
‘Are there many spare parts on the ship?’
‘1,364 parts remain ready to be used. Ask for a specific item, a fetcher robot will locate it.’
The three castaways jumped for joy.
“Okay, it’s settled. Come on, moving day has arrived!” exclaimed Josh.
Florian, Josh, and Clay scrambled down the tree to the ground. Holding their bow and arrows at the ready and Josh’s hand laser pointing out in front, they started for the Piper.
The clearing came without incident. Florian saw four lambs eating the grass around the spaceship. They were wagging their long tails when she walked up to them.
Josh opened the hatch, herding them inside.
“Now for the fuel rods,” said Clay.
“Have you two forgotten about something?” questioned Josh.
Florian and Clay sent each other a blank stare. They faced Josh who took to studying the area.
“The lion and the lioness are gone.”
Clay immediately lifted his bow and arrow, ushering Josh and Florian into the Piper.
“Something big must have dragged the animals away,” whispered Florian, swallowing the lump in her throat.
“If they were eaten there’s something big loitering around the trees,” said Clay. “I certainly don’t want to see it.”
Josh closed the hatch. Before stepping away he gave the outside area one more look before turning his attention to the internal area of the ship.
The trio quietly walked down the long corridor. The bridge seemed more of a morgue than the lifeline of the ship. Overhead Lights blinked on the deeper they walked. On the bridge, Josh jumped in front of a monitor. He immediately started tapping on the keyboard.
‘Close all external hatches.’
Noise from around the ship could be heard when the many hatches, too numerous to count, closed.
“Let’s hope there’s nothing in this ship, except the lambs and us,” whispered Florian, looking slightly nervous.
Clay beckoned the other two to follow. “The engines are down the corridor behind us.”
The three walked across the bridge room. The hatch leading to the next corridor opened automatically. It seemed endless. Overhead lights slowly flickered on.
“Who wants to go first?” asked Florian.
Josh looked to be having an attack of nerves. Clay volunteered. He gulped before making a move. He deliberately chose to walk down the middle of the corridor. At about the twenty foot mark Florian began her walk. Josh counted to ten before entering the corridor. The three made sure they didn’t get any closer to the one in front. Every ten seconds Clay stopped to listen.
He heard nothing except silence.
Clay stopped at the first doorway and looked through the small square window no larger than a dinner plate situated at head height. Inside the room, he saw open cages. He checked the four corners of the room. Satisfied nothing dangerous lurked inside he walked on.
At the fourth doorway, Clay glanced through the same size window as the first. The room looked the same. An object in the corner stopped him from walking further along the corridor. He slowly swiveled his head, beckoning the other two to catch up. They were by his side in a second.
“There’s a snake inside the room,” whispered Clay.
Josh looked through the small window, followed by Florian.
“We have to get rid of it,” Clay advised.
“Why don’t we take it outside to set it free?” suggested Florian.
Josh spoke informatively. “It’s a tiger snake. Whoever gets bitten dies! Back on Earth, I’d say let it live. We’re alone on this planet. We can’t take the chance. We don’t have anti-venom.”
“Maybe there’s some locked in a cupboard?” said Clay.
“Do you want to take the chance?”
“Get rid of it,” jeered Florian, hardening her heart.
Josh quietly and slowly stepped into the room. Lifting the laser and aiming it at the curled lump he pulled the trigger. The narrow beam of light hit the snake in the head. The reptile convulsed before it died. Florian quickly searched the room for another. Fortunately, there were no more.
“What sort of person collects poisonous snakes?” questioned Clay.
“Rowark must have viewed himself as a zoo keeper,” answered Josh.
The trio made it to the end of the corridor. They were now facing a double closed hatch.
“According to the schematic diagram of the ship this has to be the engine room,” reported Josh.
Florian pressed the green button on the wall. The doors slid open revealing a massive clean room. Mounted at the far end were five engines. Each one looked to be the equivalent size of a normal single story house. They were strategically placed for maximum mobility. She surmised there must be a bouquet of smaller engines encompassing the whole ship for thruster control.
Josh let out a low whistle.
“Incredible,” whispered Clay. “The magnificent looking room takes your breath away.”
“Where do we start?” asked Florian. “I’m having doubts about the whole moving idea.”
“Don’t let the size of this room cloud your mind. Think of it as no larger than our shuttle,” hinted Josh.
“An almost impossible task,” answered Florian, noting the size of the room.
“Keep guard while I find the exact part which needs replacing.”
Josh walked over to a wall-mounted computer. Touching the screen, a menu came up. A few more taps and a small door covering a cupboard slowly slid upwards. Two green eyes stared at him. Josh aimed the laser directly at the eyes. His finger twitched on the trigger. The green eyes belonged to an object no more than two feet tall. Rolling along the floor on stainless steel rollers the figure beeped every three seconds.
“It’s a fetcher robot,” whispered Florian.
The three trailed the robot to a side hatch. The door lifted when it came close. The robot rolled across the threshold, entering the room. Rows of spare parts in racking filled the entire house size room. The robot stopped. It squared itself to the first row of shelving. Slowly the machine extended to fifteen feet tall. In one slick movement, it slipped two arms under a box the size of a small suitcase and started to shrink quickly back to normal size. The robot retraced its steps, placing the item in the middle of a yellow square on the floor before reversing into the cupboard.
“Fantastic little gem,” remarked Florian.
“I wonder if I searched for the fuel rod it will bring one back here?” questioned Josh.
He set to work, located the item on the computer and pressed ‘go’ on the screen.
The fetcher robot commenced to repeat its trip.
“Come on, by the time we finish installing the stabilizer unit the robot will have brought a fuel rod,” said Clay.
They marched to the right-hand side of the Piper.
Josh pointed to the ladder welded against the side of the engine.
“The location of the stabilizer should be somewhere up on top.” He squatted to give the unit a quick once over. “The spanner in the box must fit the four bolts around the base.” He shrugged. “The stainless steel cylinder seems easy enough to replace.”
“Try not to be too long,” said Florian. “I’ll be here standing guard waiting for the robot to return.”
The two boys climbed the ladder. Clay carried the box. They stepped off the ladder and onto the top of the engine. In the center, they spied a black metal box.
“It must contain the stabilizer unit,” reported Josh.
Clay walked across the metal roof of the engine first.
The moment the two boys disappeared Florian felt abandoned. She tried to play down the fear rising up on the inside of her. For several seconds, she drifted off into a daydream. They had set up house and were walking along a narrow path to a short waterfall where they could shower and take a swim in the shallow lagoon. The sound of the waves breaking on the beach made her stop to smell the fresh salty air.
A noise from a closing hatch and the robot’s return brought Florian away from her paradise thoughts she was daydreaming about. She grinned at the little fetcher robot before freezing in fear. Her peripheral vision spied movement off to her right. She faced the movement. A second four-foot long tiger snake was slithering directly towards her. Florian wanted to call out, but fear stifled her words. She spied the fetcher robot traveling towards her at full tilt. It crossed into the path of the snake. The reptile lashed out to strike. The robot casually placed the box onto the head of the snake. Its tail moved violently back and forth several times before falling limp onto the floor.
The robot made his way back to the cupboard and disappeared behind the closing door, leaving Florian alone staring at the snake’s tail.
Clay pulled the cover off the black box. He snatched up the spanner ready to start undoing the four bolts which held the stabilizer unit in place. They came out easily. Josh disconnected the three wires, pulling the unit out. Clay placed the new unit into the black box and tightened the nuts. Josh connected the wires, packed the old unit in the plastic box and fired up the computer pad on the new item. Four lights flashed yellow then green.
“We did it,” yelled Josh excited at their victory.
Both boys didn’t waste any more time. They sprinted over the rooftop and back down the ladder. They found Florian standing motionless staring at the tail of the snake.
The moment Clay’s feet touched the metal floor he ran over to give her a bear hug. “What happened?”
Florian closed her eyes, burying her head in his chest.
“I let my guard down. I allowed my mind to wander. I didn’t know the snake was in striking distance. The fetcher robot dropped the box on the snake’s head before it went back into the cupboard.” Florian started sobbing.
“It’s okay,” he said smoothly, wiping the tears from her face.
Josh pieced the explanation together. “The robot must double as a protector for the crew onboard the ship. Provided it’s fetching something they’re on guard duty.”
“I’ve heard rumours they used to make those sorts of robots. They became too unreliable,” reported Clay.
“Fortunately, our little friend in the cupboard is the exception,” said Josh.
“I’ll second the idea,” whispered Florian.
Clay readied himself to lift one end of the large metal box the fetcher robot brought back. Florian backed away ready to fire the hand laser at the snake. Clay slowly lifted the end of the box. Josh pulled the dead snake away, throwing it against the hull.
“What a heavy box,” groaned Clay, dropping it back onto the deck.
“It should be,” said Josh. “If the fuel rod is full it should weigh one hundred and fifty pounds.”
“You’re joking?” queried Florian.
“I wish,” Josh added.
Clay opened the box to examine the contents. Josh and Florian looked in.
“The glass casing on both tubes looks to be intact,” said Josh. He ran his fingers along the three-foot long glass cylinders packed in a heavy foam casing. “They’re both dry. It’s good, they aren’t leaking.”
“One glass tube is empty while the other looks to be full of wet sand,” commented Florian.
“It’s not sand,” Clay replied. “If the glass is broken the radioactive material inside will pollute the air. We’d be dead in five minutes.”
Josh pointed to the blackened ends. “The tubes from the engine connect to each end of both tubes so it can suck out the material. The anti-matter in the tube which looks empty mixes with, what you said, ‘the wet sand’ triggering a chain reaction inside the engine which in turn pushes the ship forward.”
“Thanks for the scientific analyses,” moaned Florian, giggling.
“You asked,” blurted Josh.
“If the box is so heavy, how on earth are we going to get the fuel rods back to the shuttle?” questioned Clay looking doubtful.
Florian quickly thought up an idea. “Save the trouble. I vote we leave the shuttle behind?”
Josh shook his head. “We can’t afford to. We might need the equipment.”
“He does have a point,” said Clay.
“It’ll be a massive task to get the fuel rods up the tree,” groaned Florian.
“Trust me it’ll be worth it,” said Josh.
Clay lifted his end of the box. “I’m ready, let’s get started.”
Josh heaved his end off the ground. Using his entire strength he needed to hold it up and walk backward at the same time. Florian ran ahead ready to shoot the laser at anything that moved.
Halfway along the corridor Josh and Clay switched ends. By the time they entered the bridge room, Josh was forced to put his end down and step away from the box.
“I’m done,” he croaked.
Florian took hold of the handle. Straightaway she began to shuffle. Again at the halfway point to the outside her and Clay swapped ends.
At the threshold of the doorway to the outside, they placed the long metal box down so they could rest.
“I’m exhausted,” said Florian.
“We all are,” added Clay. “If we’re ambushed now we won’t have the strength to run.”
“I didn’t think it would be this hard,” Josh admitted.
“Do you think it’s still a good idea taking the shuttle?” asked Clay, looking at Josh.
“I do, I just didn’t know I’d feel this exhausted.”
“At least the trip back here will be easy,” stated Florian looking at the positive side.
The boys looked at her through slits.
“We’ll be flying the shuttle back.”
Clay and Josh managed to drag their tired bodies to a standing position and take hold of a handle each.
“Onward,” whispered Josh.
Between the three of them which included swapping ends every sixty seconds, the trip back seemed quick.
Josh tied one end of the parachute around both handles of the box while Clay slowly climbed the parachute material to the first branch. Florian came next, followed by Josh.
“Okay,” said Clay after they’d rested for five minutes. “I’ll pull the box up. When the box is sitting on the branch I need both of you to keep it balanced. I’ll climb higher and haul the box to the next branch. We can repeat the sequence at each level.”
“Whatever you do make sure the box doesn’t fall out of the tree,” warned Josh. “There will be a massive explosion.”
They easily hauled the box to the first branch. Josh made sure it was secure before Clay climbed to the next branch.
Ten minutes of hauling helped to make the plan appear to be working perfectly. Only the short distance to the shuttle remained.
Clay called a rest stop.
“We can’t stop now,” said Josh. “We only have a few feet to go.”
“We can rest after the box is in the shuttle,” suggested Florian.
Clay gripped the handle at his end. Josh gripped the handle at the other end. Slowly they inched their way towards the shuttle door. Florian watched nervously from the shuttle doorway. Three feet from the hatch Clay placed his back foot too close to the edge of the branch, rolling his ankle. He tried desperately to stay upright. The box tipped. Florian lunged to his side. Just as he fell sideways Florian took hold of his shirt, throwing him at the shuttle. She placed her foot under the front edge of the box in an attempt to keep it balanced. Josh steadied his end by squatting, securing the box. Clay flew through the air. Losing height, he tried not to panic. He reached out and groped for the bottom rung of the ladder which leads to the roof of the shuttle. He used every ounce of strength he could conjure up to hang on. Hearing Florian groan he started to swing like a monkey. Clay’s muscles screamed for mercy as he climbed. His feet finally touched the bottom rung which helped him straighten. Only then did he see why Florian was moaning. She had saved their lives by placing her foot under the front edge of the box. Clay closed his eyes, praying no bones were broken.
“Help Florian to get back to the shuttle, I’ve steadied the box my end,” advised Josh.
Clay could tell Florian was trying desperately to be brave. By the time he reached her, tears were rolling down her cheeks. Hanging onto the branch above he yanked the handle of the box upwards. Florian pulled her foot out. Clay grabbed her around the waist. Together they hobbled to the shuttle doorway and dived through. Clay wanted to stay to console her. The fuel rods must have priority. He marched back and grabbed the handle of the box his end. The boys shuffled into the shuttle via the hatch, placed the metal box on the floor and stepped over to Florian.
Before studying her foot, Clay looked into her eyes.
“I’m so sorry you were hurt,” he said gently.
“It’s not your fault. We should have rested like you recommended. I thought if we left the box on the branch, it might fall.”
“You did a brave thing,” said Josh. “How does your foot feel?”
“It’s extra warm at the moment.”
“I recommend you leave your boot on,” said Clay. “On my seventh birthday, a horse stood on my foot. I wanted to take my shoe off. Both my parents ordered me to leave it on. They explained the shoe will stop the swelling.”
“It hurts,” sobbed Florian.
“I bet it does,” replied Clay. He placed his arm under her shoulder, helping her to stand. “Can you move your toes?”
Florian concentrated. “Barely,” she whispered, wincing at the pain.
“Good,” said Josh. “There’s a good chance no bones are broken.”
Clay carried Florian to the co-pilot’s chair and sat her down.
“We have to finish the job.”
“Can’t it wait five minutes?” she asked.
Josh brought handfuls of fruit and vegetables for lunch.
“I vote we have a rest.”
The trio ate what little they had in the way of fruit and shared the two remaining carrots.
Clay leaned in, kissing Florian on the forehead.
“I still feel bad about your foot.”
“It’s okay. The pain has gone.” She undid her shoe lace, gently pulled off her boot and carefully peeled her sock off. Her relief came on a heavy sigh. “My foot still looks intact.” She slowly wriggled her toes before feebly standing. “It’s a bit tender and the bruise might be delayed, but I think I’ll be fine.” She took a careful step followed by a second. By the time she walked back to her seat she seemed to be walking normally.
Josh studied the boot. “Your foot has come through unscathed. I’m sorry to say your boot didn’t. The top has a deep gouge in it. You’re one lucky girl.”
Florian reached up kissing Clay on the lips before turning her attention to Josh. He received the same loving treatment.
“Thanks guys for watching over me.”
The boys went bright red. Both would remember the feeling long after the memory of the effort to get the fuel rods on board the shuttle had faded.
“This is why we need to get out of the trees,” said Josh firmly. “One of us is bound to slip up eventually. Next time it happens one of us mightn’t be so lucky.”
“Even though attempting to get the fuel rods into the shuttle nearly proved disastrous, I believe taking the shuttle with us is the right thing,” added Florian, quickly.
Clay and Josh were still nodding when the trio crowded around the box. Clay opened the lid. For a long time, they stared at the glass tubes. Josh and Clay reached in, lifting the glass tube full of the wet sand material from the foam bed. They slowly walked to the engine compartment. Florian followed, carrying the empty rod under her arm.
Josh warmed the computer up by voice command. On the side of the engine, a long metal flap popped open. The tubes were lifted and carefully rolled onto the inner frame.
Josh cleared his throat. “Computer, load fuel rods.” He manually closed the long flap. Through the inspection window, he watched the rods slowly being moved into the center of the engine where they were stowed. Next, a needle size pipe came out of the front of the engine. It was inserted into the tube. A second needle sized pipe was inserted into the other end of the tube. The empty glass tube went through the same procedure.
Clay turned away from the window. Looking triumphant he reported.
“It looks like we’re ready to fly.”
The three walked to their seats, strapping themselves in.
“Okay, I’ll fire up the computer,” said Josh. He looked across at Clay. “The remainder of the flight is up to you.”
“I’ll try to navigate by sight,” said Florian. “I suggest you clear the trees, before doing a one hundred and eighty-degree turn.”
“Drive slow,” added Josh. He leaned forward, tapped away on the monitor and pushed ‘green’ for go.”
The shuttle’s engine began to vibrate. Clay gripped the joystick firmly. His shoulders were square and tight. He stared at the monitor in front of him. To engage the engines he pushed the blue button on top of the joystick.
The shuttle started to ascend.
Florian leaned sideways. “Don’t forget to breathe.”
Clay sent her a sharp nod. Sweat made his shirt damp.
Florian stared through the viewport. The trees thinned as the shuttle gained altitude. When they were completely clear of the trees Clay moved the joystick slightly to the left. The shuttle’s nose began to turn. The craft changed direction at a snail’s pace. Florian saw the sea way off in the distance. She also saw the grey clouds were quickly turning black. On the top of the mountains a blanket of fog made the summit disappear. Underneath the shuttle, the tops of the trees swayed from the wind. The weather looked to be rapidly deteriorating. The shuttle shuddered when the first strong gust of wind hit it side on. The shuttle rocked slightly. The computer quickly brought the ship back to level. Florian glanced sideways at Clay. He’d lost his handsome tanned face, replaced by concentration.
The shuttle shuddered again.
Clay clutched the joystick in a white-knuckled death grip.
The craft completed its one hundred and eighty-degree turn. Clay slowly moved the joystick back to center. For a long time, the craft hovered. Clay gently pushed the joystick slightly forward. It was a heart-stopping few seconds before the shuttle started to move towards the Piper.
An agonizing five minutes ticked off before the clearing came into view. Clay slowed the forward motion further. Eventually, the shuttle hovered directly over the top of the Piper. In the monitor, the massive craft looked like a giant metal plate. Slowly Clay pulled back on the joystick.
The shuttle descended.
At a height of five feet Clay slowed the shuttle’s descent. It took nearly a full minute to finally touchdown on the roof.
Josh commanded in a deep voice.
“Computer, stop engine; activate magnetic lock.”
The engine fell silent. The shuttle settled lower onto the roof. Clay exhaled. He let go of the joystick. He sat back in the seat, closed his eyes and massaged his hand.
Florian unclipped her seat belt. Stepping behind Clay, she massaged his shoulders.
“You have wonderful hands,” he whispered. “I feel as though I’ve run a marathon.”
“You did a great job,” admitted Josh.
“How did you know about the magnetic lock?” asked Florian looking directly at Josh.
He wore a proud expression on his face.
“The information is in the handbook.” He pulled the book from the back of his seat, handing it over.
Florian looked at it, scrunched her nose before dropping it onto her seat.
Josh winked, walking to the hatch. He bounded down the two stairs, stepped onto the roof of the Piper and jogged over to the dome. Squatting, he began to examine the glass dome.
“What is he doing?” asked Florian watching him through the viewport.
“I’ve no idea,” mumbled Clay. “Let’s go find out.”
They sprinted over to Josh in time to see him stand.
“What’s up?” asked Clay.
“I wanted to take a closer look at the dome. He pointed to the middle. “There’s a hole where the alleged meteorite struck. Judging by the cracks in the whole thing there’s no way this ship will ever enter space again.”
“Unless we can replace the dome?” queried Florian.
“Yes. If we could get our hands on a new one we’d be able to catch up to the USS Lock,” advised Josh slowly.
“We can still fly this ship in the atmosphere?” asked Clay.
“I don’t see why not. The only thing we have to do is not go too high or too fast.”
“In that case, I think we should prepare to depart the forest.”
“Sooner than later,” said Florian pointing at the sky. “There’s a storm on the way.”
THE TRIO fanned out, combing the rooftop, searching for a way in. Josh found a small cover not much larger than a person. He found a flat narrow panel five inches long and three inches wide adjacent to the almost invisible cover. Josh tapped the entire surface. It sprung open, revealing a button. He pushed it. A metal plate rose from the rooftop. Connected to the plate was a glass tube. It stopped when the tube extended to a length of six feet.
Josh whistled at Clay and Florian. He waited for them to start running towards him before stepping inside the glass tube. Almost immediately it descended into the spaceship.
“It’s a lift,” he yelled. “I’ll send it back.”
Clay was hugging Florian when the tube reappeared. Florian stepped into the tube.
Again it descended.
Clay paced the rooftop, waiting. Nightmarish thoughts flowed through his mind. They’d done so much in such a short amount of time he didn’t think about any new danger Florian might be in. Josh seemed like a nice boy. What did he know of him or for that matter what did he know of Florian? They could be brother and sister for all he knew. Worse still what if Josh tried to murder Florian when they were alone. He did seem eager to enter the Piper. Had it been a calculated move to leave him outside? What if Josh actually knew how the ship worked? What if he and Florian planned to leave the planet, expecting him to die after being swept off the roof? Clay was still entertaining the thought Josh might want Florian for himself when the lift came back. Clay sighed heavily as he stepped into the glass tube.
Inside the ship, in front of the bridge console, Florian and Josh were waiting. Clay stepped out of the tube giving them both a heartless stare.
“Is something wrong?” asked Florian, innocently.
“Nothing,” replied Clay.
“The way you were glaring at us I’d say you thought we might have deliberately left you outside?” questioned Josh.
“I was thinking crazy thoughts,” replied Clay. “Let’s drop the subject. We have to get underway.”
Josh shrugged and walked onto the bridge.
“While waiting for you two, I scanned the instructions on how to fly this ship. It’s similar to the shuttle. Clay, you did a marvelous job getting us here you shouldn’t have any trouble flying the Piper.”
“Right,” he replied.
Josh tapped a series of buttons on the keypad. The engines came to life.
“We’ll give them a minute to warm up. They haven’t been started in twenty years.”
“I don’t think we have the time to wait,” reported Florian. She positioned herself in front of a monitor, tapped up the menu and pressed the short range scanner. “The computer has picked up a band of wet weather closing in on the Piper.”
“Does the computer recommend another good landing site?” asked Clay, still slightly worried over his ugly thoughts.
Florian busied herself tapping in the relevant information. She gave the computer a few of her own ideas; ‘Freshwater, a pool of water, food, flat ground and the sea.’
“Yes,” she reported. “Enter the following course into the flight computer.”
“We don’t have time or the knowledge to figure out how to pre-flight the computer, we’ll have to fly manually,” suggested Josh. He pushed the hatch close button on the computer. Several bangs were heard throughout the ship.
“Okay, it sounds like we’re ready,” chirped Florian. “We have to fly towards the storm before making a ninety-degree turn to be on the correct flight path to a perfect destination.”
“Whose perfect destination, yours or the computers?” questioned Clay.
The other two looked sideways at each other. “I’m sure we don’t know what you’re talking about?” answered Florian, looking a little puzzled.
“I hope not.”
“Tell us what you’ve been thinking?” urged Josh, firmly.
“Later, we don’t have time. It’s starting to rain.”
“I think you should tell us,” said Florian.
“If we crash and die it will make no difference,” snarled Clay. Instead of positioning himself in front of the flight joystick he walked off the bridge.
By the time Florian and Josh cornered him near the elevator tube he was trembling uncontrollably.
“What’s wrong?” asked Florian.
“I can’t say.”
“The three of us made a pact to vote on everything. If what your thinking has anything to do with the safety of our short journey Josh and I have a right to know.”
“I can’t fly this ship.”
“Why not?” asked Josh.
“It’s too big.”
Clay could hear his voice starting to betray his fear by the stammer in his words.
“I can understand your fears. Think of the ship as if it were the shuttle. You didn’t have a problem flying here. Trust the computer, this baby practically flies itself. The only thing you have to do is move the joystick slightly in the direction you want the ship to go. Rowark fully automated the ship. It’s a one man operation. What’s changed?” asked Josh.
Clay opened his mouth to spill the news on what he’d been thinking, but forced it shut. He didn’t want to say.
Florian picked up on the vibe. Pushing her arm around his waist she looked directly into his eyes.
“Something far worse is bothering you.’
Clay felt his head starting to nod. He looked into her blue eyes. His hardened heart melted. Her beautiful round face was too much to ignore. He broke down.
“When you two came down the lift and left me alone on the rooftop, I was thinking crazy thoughts. It entered my mind you two might be brother and sister or planning to leave me on the roof when you took off into space or Josh, you were in fact, murdering Florian.”
“How could you even think those thoughts? I’d die to make sure Florian lived. I look upon you as a brother. I could never contemplate doing anything to jeopardize our lives. My ultimate goal is seeing the three of us rescued,” Josh stammered.
Florian didn’t wait for Clay to respond. She placed her hands behind his neck, reeling him in. He needed a long reassuring kiss and she felt determined to give it.
Josh returned to the bridge. He checked the weather. Florian, holding Clay’s hand, led him back to the flight controls.
Clay stood in front of the joystick. “Forget what I said. You’re right, we’re a team. We have to go.”
“The only thing we can do is our best,” stated Florian. “If something bad happens at least we know we tried.”
Knowing the conversation had come to a satisfactory end, Josh glued his gaze on the flight monitor. Florian focused on the navigation monitor in front of her.
“I’m ready,” admitted Clay, clutching the joystick.
“Do exactly like you did before.” Josh pushed the ignition button. “We have a five-second countdown, four, three seconds, two, one, ignition.”
The ship vibrated slightly when the engines surged. The lights on the bridge dimmed before failing completely blanketing the entire area in total darkness. Almost instantly the air smelt stagnant and felt claustrophobic.
Florian didn’t like the feeling. She started to panic. A scream erupted from her mouth.
“You can’t tell me this is a normal situation?”
Josh spoke calmly. “It probably isn’t. Don’t forget the engines haven’t been used in a long time. Give them a minute. I’m positive the power drain is only temporary.”
The slow drone of the engines turning over lasted for only fifteen seconds. The revs grew constant. The lights came back on, faint at first then as the seconds ticked off they brightened. In a couple of minutes, the engines were pulsating in normal range. The lights were back to full brightness.
The trio relaxed and manned the monitors in front of them. Clay forced his ugly thoughts from his mind. He alone must make sure the Piper arrived where they were going in one piece.
The ship lifted off. Dirt, grass, and twigs flew into the air. Some landed on the roof, spraying the shuttle’s viewport.
The Piper ascended ever so slow, no more than a few inches a second.
“I’m going to warm up the fifth engine,” said Josh.
“Do you think it’s a good idea?” asked Clay.
“I hope so. At any rate, the vibration will stop.”
Josh’s fingers swept the menu on a monitor. He scrolled down the page, highlighting the picture of the number five engine.
The fifth engine boomed to life. In seconds, it was brought up to speed by the computer.
The Piper’s vibrating stopped altogether, helping the ship to quickly gain height.
Clay appeared to be enjoying having control.
At one hundred and fifty feet above the ground, Florian looked at the boys.
“We’ve cleared the trees. Now move directly towards the storm. In exactly fifty-nine seconds, hover and change course ninety degrees. We’ll be traveling in a northeast direction.”
Clay gradually moved the joystick, swinging the ship around to Florian’s course. He forced the ship to rise to a height of nine hundred feet.
Seven minutes into the flight, twenty-three minutes to the destination, rain bombarded the ship. In seconds the wind increased ten fold, billowing close to two hundred kilometers per hour. The ship shuddered. The computer compensated for the wind. The trio heard a bang. The ship ducked and dived before leveling. Florian and Josh were knocked from their feet. A warning buzzer sounded on the flight monitor. A red light on a picture of another stabilizer began flashing.
“Number one engine has done a stabilizer,” yelled Clay.
Josh set to work sending the computer a message to have the fetcher robot go get another stabilizer. He looked at Clay.
“We have to go fix the unit,” he stated.
“No,” yelled Florian. “To fix it we have to set down on the ground. By the looks of the forest, there isn’t anywhere safe to land.”
Clay stared at the monitor which viewed the ground underneath the Piper. They were directly over the mountain peaks. “Florian is right. The area anywhere close to here is too steep. The only thing we can do is keep going.”
“If we don’t fix the stabilizer now we won’t be able to fly level to our destination and if we’re blown off course we might crash,” warned Josh.
“Okay. Make it fast,” moaned Clay.
“If you can hold the fort, I’ll go help?” said Florian.
“I’ll be right,” replied Clay. “I’ll try to hover above the storm. If we’re hit by too much rain, water might find a way through the crack in the dome and swamp the bridge.”
“It’s not a good thought,” said Florian
“The storm has given me an idea. Maybe we can use part of the shuttle to fix this ship?” said Clay.
“It’s worth investigating the idea,” answered Josh.
“Provided you don’t crash the Piper,” added Florian.
“I won’t,” said Clay. “Hurry with the stabilizer.”
Josh and Florian were tossed from wall to wall as they stumbled down the corridor towards the engines. Josh picked Florian up by the arm each time she fell.
Finally, they reached the hatch leading into the engine room. He pushed the button on the wall. The door slid open. The Piper dived again. Josh lost his balance stepping through the open doorway. Florian helped him up. They staggered across the massive room clinging to the vertical struts which helped form the frame of the ship. The fetcher robot entered the engine bay through a separate door carrying the stabilizer. Josh took it and was immediately thrown against the floor, spilling the stabilizer from the box. Florian dived to save it from crashing into the hull.
“Good catch,” called Josh, crawling over. “We have to hurry. The ship mightn’t be able to take too much more. If a computer chip fails Clay won’t be able to stop the Piper from heading for the ground.”
Josh and Florian crawled across the bucking floor. Josh grabbed the first rung of the ladder on the number one engine, looking over his shoulder at Florian.
Carrying the stabilizer up the ladder proved to be an almost impossible struggle for her.
“I’ll carry the unit to the top of the engine,” said Josh, taking the box from her.
The moment Florian stepped onto the roof she bit at her top lip. “How are we going to stop from being thrown over the edge of the engine?”
“We’ll have to manage.”
Florian copied Josh by crawling across the roof. The moment the ship tipped they lay flat, pushing their hands and feet hard against the roof of the engine. When the ship settled in a lull in the wind they hurriedly moved on. A few minutes of crawling saw the two hanging onto the stabilizer box in the exact center of the roof. Josh went straight to work.
“What do you want me to do?”
“You can disconnect the wire plug from the old stabilizer and connect the new one.”
Florian felt the ship beginning to tilt. She clung to the lid. Josh lost his hand hold, skidding across the roof towards the side. If he slipped over the edge he’d fall ten feet to the metal floor. Josh pushed his toes and fingers against the metal roof. He groaned from the effort. When the ship slowly drew back to level he ran back to Florian. He found her connecting the wires to the new stabilizer and he quickly undid the four bolts holding the old unit. Florian lifted the stabilizer out; Josh placed the new one in the box. In a race against time, they started to bolt the new unit into place. The bolts were finger tight when both Florian and Josh were thrown across the rooftop. To their horror, they fell over the side.
The ship dipped again. This time, the computer couldn’t compensate. The Piper was heading for the ground.
The Piper cleared a mountain peak by only inches. It skimmed a treed valley before Clay managed to pull the ship out of the nose dive. On the viewer, he spied the sea directly ahead. Whitecaps on the crest of the turbulent water looked inhospitable. For the first time, lightning lit the sky. Clay felt like he was on the verge of panicking. He needed to slow the speed of the ship. He didn’t want to crash into the ocean or be hit by lightning.
Clay did his utmost best to keep the ship level. His arms were tiring when the ship nosedived again. He lost count how many times he needed to correct the Piper.
The ship entered another down draft, dropping to fifty feet above the ground before the computer took over. Slowly the ship ascended back to one hundred feet. Hail peppered the ship. The wind howled, slamming into the hull. Finally, the Piper reached the location Florian reported. The site did look perfect. Clay placed the joystick into neutral. He used his entire strength to fight the storm to keep it in place. The ship was finally under control for the first time in ten minutes when one of the engines faultered, starving for fuel. It was the first sign the ship had used up a fuel rod. It would be a few seconds before the engine injected the next rod and came back to one hundred percent; a lifetime when he was manually fighting a storm with a blown stabilizer. His thoughts drifted to Florian and Josh. The ship bucked and dived. He prayed they were okay and close to finishing the job they set out to do. If the new stabilizer wasn’t in position soon their landing might be a nightmare. It would be a miracle if they survived.
The starving engine fired. Clay managed to gain some height, fighting the joystick the whole time. Water dripped down his shirt. Clay saw the solid black rain cloud approaching. The wind created an illusion the rain was falling sideways. He braced himself for the onslaught.
Florian hung onto the edge of the rooftop by her forearms. She made slow progress in getting back onto the roof of the engine.
The moment the ship leveled Josh clambered back onto the roof, grabbed Florian by her wrists, arched his back and dragged her to safety.
“I want you down the ladder. I’ll go finish tightening the bolts then press the button to get the stabilizer online.”
“I’m coming,” she answered.
Florian shadowed Josh back to the black box. Kneeling, she commenced to tighten the bolts.
Josh finished using the spanner and handed it to Florian. The moment she said done he pushed the start button on the side of the stabilizer. A light came on. In seconds, the computer stabilized the ship.
The Piper finally hovered level.
Running back to the ladder Florian and Josh descended to the floor and sprinted towards the bridge so they could stand next to Clay.
Florian took up her position as chief navigator.
“Good job,” she whispered. “We’re close.”
“Welcome back. How long before we’re at the exact location?” Clay groaned.
“Tell me anything to keep me going.”
Clay gritted his teeth, mentally urging himself to hang on.
The ship finally hovered over the flat land. The grassed area looked perfect. Water flowed along a river which came to an abrupt end at a waterfall. The coastline lay twenty feet further on. Wild grass grew out of the sand dunes.
The ship descended to fifty feet above sea level.
Florian reported the wind speed.
“The gusts are eighty miles an hour and falling. They’re now sixty, fifty, forty miles per hour.” She looked across at Clay. “Go now. I think the wind is about to increase.”
A heart-stopping fifty feet to the ground seemed to take an eternity. Clay, Florian, and Josh held their breath.
Florian called out the distance to the grass.
“Forty feet and falling: Thirty feet, twenty-eight feet, nineteen feet.”
The wind increased in strength, buffeting the ship. Clay held the joystick in a concrete grip. The new stabilizer kept working perfectly.
“Twelve feet,” reported Florian. “Eight feet: two feet.”
The three travelers heard a slight scraping noise when the ship finally touched the ground. Josh cut the engines. The large ship settled into the wind-swept grass covered plateau.
For a long time, the three travelers savored the eerie silence, each one to his or her, own thoughts; their minds working overtime at what the future may bring. They prayed one day for a chance they might be rescued. Josh stood back from the monitors, looking at the other two. Florian stepped towards Clay.
“Congratulations.” She punched him in the arm. “And you said you couldn’t fly the Piper. You did a great job.”
Clay looked at her through exhausted eyes. She needed to prise his fingers from the joystick. Florian craned her neck, kissing him on the lips.
Josh stepped over, slapping him on the shoulder. “Well done.”
“Thanks,” whispered Clay. “I couldn’t have done it without you two. I was getting worried at the reason why you were taking so long.”
“There were a few anxious moments,” admitted Josh.
“The three of us make a great team,” chirped Florian. She leaned over, giving Josh a hero’s kiss. “Let’s go out in the rain to see our new home.”
The trio marched down the long corridor. At the hull, Clay pushed the button. The hatch slid sideways. The storm was gone. The sea breeze felt warm. The rain looked to be slowing to a drizzle. In minutes, the sun would be out. The boys allowed Florian to step outside first. They laughed at her antics, happy in themselves to be alive. Florian lifted her arms, walked in circles, yelling.
“Welcome to our new home.”
THE NEW HOME
FLORIAN TURNED in slow circles feeling the rain on her face. Josh and Clay looked at each other before rushing out of the spaceship to join in on the fun. The trio couldn’t remember the last time they ran around in the rain. It certainly was the first time on this planet.
Their jubilation would be short-lived.
The three castaways were about to discover the first secret hidden deep inside the Piper. The spaceship they adopted for their own; the one they knew will keep them safe at night.
The shape of the Piper is round. Certainly from the air, she didn’t appear large. However, the interior of the ship seemed massive. The kids didn’t know something was always watching their every move.
Could the ship actually be haunted?
“The rain feels great,” yelled Clay, over the noise of the thunder clap which settled directly above their heads.
The wind created by the storm front quickly abated leaving the humidity high. Still Florian, Josh, and Clay ran around. The ankle length grass sloshed under their feet. The waves dumping on the sand at the beach sounded inviting.
“It sure feels good to be wet,” giggled Florian.
Josh felt reluctant to share in the extended rain dance, opting instead to stand at the entrance of the Piper watching the antics of the other two.
Half an hour of running in the rain saw the sun come out. Florian and Clay flopped onto the grass covered ground. Florian lay prone on the wet green grass looking up at the sky. Clay lay beside her, watching her through lust filled eyes. He wanted to cradle her in his arms, press his lips against hers. He started to lean forward but decided to leave well enough alone.
Josh stepped away from the hull of the Piper to study their new home.
“Relax,” called Clay, watching him walk off. “After our arrival on this planet, killing the prehistoric bird, discovering the medical facility we crashed landed near actually turned out to be a spaceship and now flying the ship here to this piece of paradise near the beach, we deserve a rest.”
“I think we should make sure the area is safe before we can totally relax,” replied Josh.
Clay lifted himself so he could lean on his elbows. “I feel this place is safe. We can see the beach, the mountains and the grassland on the other side of the ship. We can see anything coming for a good three to five minutes. Relax, unwind. I’m tired.”
Florian jumped to her feet. Looking around she gave the area a three hundred and sixty-degree cursory glance. “I can’t see a thing wrong.”
“Anything could be hiding in the grass,” hinted Josh.
“There’s nothing around. We left the dangerous animals back in the forest,” growled Clay.
“They’ve been wondering this planet for twenty years. I’m sure by now they’d have multiplied,” said Josh.
Florian placed her hands firmly on her hips. “Don’t put a dampener on everything we’ve achieved.”
“I’m not. I’m saying if Clay and I aren’t careful you might die. There you go I’ve said it.”
“Any one of us could die at any time,” added Florian. “One bad decision over something could spell the end. It doesn’t mean we can’t grab a few hours of a well-deserved rest.”
“I’ll feel happier after we’ve explored every square inch of this place,” insisted Josh. “Maybe we can build a few fences which will help to defend our new home?”
Clay jumped to his feet. He raced over poking him in the ribs. “Josh, the trouble is you’re too clever for your own good. So much intelligence locked inside your head is keeping you scared. Be more like me. Let the river current take you where it will. Enjoy each day as it comes. Florian is making short life goals instead of long ones. You should do the same.”
Josh marched back inside the massive ship leaving Clay and Florian alone. Clay placed his arm over her shoulder the moment she wandered over. He surrendered to his youthful urges. He leaned in for a kiss. To him, Florian looked gorgeous. Her long black hair cascading over her shoulders, the colour of her skin, her thin red lips were too hard to resist.
Florian pushed him away. “You’re trying to stir up trouble.”
“You want Josh to understand you’ve claimed me?”
“I didn’t expect you to say it quite so blunt. Anyway, he’s too young to have a girlfriend.”
“We’ve discussed this predicament before. I’ve already stated I’m not ready to get involved with either of you boys.”
“I know you have,” said Clay. “It’s not my fault you’re easy on the eyes. I certainly can’t stop the growing feelings I have towards you. I find myself attracted to you in more ways than one.”
“Is it because I’m the only girl on the planet?”
“No, at least I don’t think so.”
Clay not only wanted her he needed to kiss and love her. They were young. Chances of a successful rescue seemed impossible. From the moment they first met, he felt her natural beauty start to cloud his mind. Take priority over everything else. They’d come a long way together in such a short time. The human race needed to find another planet to colonize. He wanted to do his part. His thoughts fell on Josh. The genius boy has brains. Surely she wouldn’t pick him for the simple reason he was younger than her. He sighed to force the idea of a competition from his mind. He needed to stay focused on making sure Florian remained safe at all times. If they were never rescued he wanted to make sure their small colony survived and expanded. Promoting himself to the leader of the trio made him feel suddenly important.
Florian kissed Clay on the cheek before running off towards the narrow river which cut through the grassland. The mountain peaks in the background towered over the grass covered plateau while the sea on the other side of the ship sparkled in the sunshine.
The storm had blown away making the river look deep. It flowed at speed to the sea. Thirty feet from the Piper’s hatch water dived over a rock wall. The short waterfall sounded amazing as it landed in a long narrow rock pool which appeared to be no more than four feet deep. Fifty feet of water separated both ends of the pool. The water flowed over the top of the natural occurring wall at the far end before winding its way to the sea eighty feet from the edge of the ship’s hull.
Clay decided Josh needed to take care of himself and started walking after Florian. Already she had reached the river.
The pair sat on the grass paddling their feet in the water. Patting each other on the back at having escaped the forest and landing safely at the beach, they now seemed to be having a plentiful amount of fresh running water and flat land to grow food.
Florian’s breathing slowed. Clay relaxed too. He commenced to reflect over the many years to come and the excitement they’d miss out on when the USS Lock and the other colonists landed on planet X188. He focused his thoughts on the idea they may never be rescued. Soon Florian must choose one of the boys. He knew he couldn’t share her. In a few years, Josh will look at Florian differently. He might even take to fighting him for Florian’s affection.
Clay inched his way closer to Florian. He narrowed the gap till he could easily touch her hand. He stared at her closed eyes. Her wet black hair shining in the warm sunlight excited him. Her skin looked to have darkened a shade or two since they arrived. He reached out, placing his hand gently on hers. Florian opened her blue eyes, looking at him.
“I think we should go find Josh,” insisted Florian, pulling her hand away.
“I reckon we should stay right here so we can get to know one another more personally.”
“We’ve talked about this onboard the shuttle when we landed,” jeered Florian. She jumped to her feet, hovering over Clay. “I don’t want either of you boys. We have a lot of work ahead of us just to ensure our survival. Besides, Josh is right, we have to make sure this area is safe so we can move around without fearing we might be ambushed by a dangerous animal.”
“I can’t see any danger,” growled Clay.
“How can you, the only thing you’ve done since we landed is looked at me?”
Florian began to walk back to the Piper. She glanced over her shoulder to see if Clay decided to follow. The moment he saw her looking he jumped to his feet. He ran to catch up.
In silence, the two walked back to the ship.
“I like you a lot,” said Florian, eventually.
“I like you too.”
“I don’t want what the three of us have to be ruined.”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on Clay, you know what I’m talking about. If we start a relationship Josh will be left out. If I commit to him, you’ll miss out. If you see it from my point of view you’ll know I have the hardest job.”
Clay wore a sterile expression. He stopped walking, tugging at Florian’s shoulder making her look at him. At first, Florian looked at her feet. When she lifted her gaze she stared directly into his hazel eyes.
“I don’t want to choose which one of you boys will be left out. I’m hoping a rescue party will be here before I have to choose a mate.”
Clay didn’t answer her. He couldn’t. Everything she said, he agreed on. He hung his head, looking at the four divots in the grass near his feet. Instead of calling out to show her what he found he watched Florian walk back to the ship by herself. They were young, too young for love, however, something needed to be done. Even though he told Florian to make short life goals he laid awake at night thinking. ‘What if they were never rescued? Someone must be alive in case a ship from the colony came searching.’ He sensed danger could be everywhere, watching their every move. He felt a cold shiver run down his spine at the thought it might only be a matter of time before they discovered another dangerous animal. If they weren’t prepared to fight to survive they’d be dragged off and eaten. If he let his guard down Florian might the first to die. If it were to happen the life-span of their small colony will be very limited.
Clay studied the Piper. The ship resembled a metal mountain looming before him. He sighed before commencing to walk again. Florian was correct they had too much to do before they could deem the area safe to move around in. He felt overwhelmed by the workload. It made him feel defeated. Clay quickly decided he already hated the planet.
Clay stepped through the gap in the partly opened hatch. Slowly he walked towards the bridge.
“The ship seems to get larger each time we enter it,” he said, making a two-bit conversation the moment he stepped onto the bridge.
“I’d have to agree. If you compare the exterior of the ship to the interior the area on the inside it seems larger,” Florian replied
Josh stepped onto the bridge carrying what remained of an apple. He didn’t look happy.
“What’s up?” Florian asked when he joined them on the bridge.
“If I asked you the same thing I know you’d say nothing,” replied Josh, answering his own question.
“Clay and I have been discussing the size of the ship.”
Josh snorted, turned his back and walked off towards the massive hydroponic vegetable garden. Florian and Clay followed. They were in time to see Josh step up to a tomato plant which looked the same size as a house.
Florian stepped to his side. “You’re the genius one amongst us, any ideas on why the ship looks a lot smaller from the outside compared to the inside?”
“I haven’t noticed.”
“Why the foul mood?” questioned Clay.
“Nothing,” replied Josh, walking off to find a bunch of ripe grapes.
“Something’s bothering you,” called Florian. “I think we need to have a good talk.”
“There’s nothing to discuss.”
Florian shadowed Josh as he walked around the massive room picking fruit. “Whatever you’re thinking Clay and I have a right to know?”
Josh glared at her before growling. “I want to be by myself for a while. If you won’t leave, I will.”
“I knew you were thinking something. Tell me what it is?”
“Skip it.” Josh sprinted out of the room and along the corridor towards the bridge.
“What’s got him so wild up?” jeered Clay.
“I’ve no idea.” Florian walked over to a grape vine growing out of control, she broke off a bunch of grapes and started munching.
Clay walked over. He quickly copied her move.
Florian froze dropping the bunch of grapes she held the moment she saw movement behind Clay’s shoulder. At first, it seemed to be a dull glow. One second she saw it, the next it vanished.
“What’s wrong?” asked Clay staring at Florian’s wide eyes. She looked to be on the verge of being panic-stricken. Half turning towards the hatch he asked the question again.
“I thought I saw something,” she croaked through quivering lips.
“I’m not sure. One second it stood at the hatch the next it vanished.”
“I don’t see anything,” commented Clay, casually shrugging his shoulder.
“Your only trouble is you have a one track mind.”
“My thoughts are mine.”
“You are constantly thinking about loving me.”
“What do you expect?”
“I expect the three of us to work as a team. The moment we let our guard down one of us might die.”
“I’m a sixteen year-old-teenager. You’re a fifteen year-old-young lady. I have love on my mind.”
“Josh is twelve,” stated Florian.
“He’s too young for you.”
“I didn’t know you boys were competing against each other. I insist you to stop thinking about me as a love machine.”
Clay turned his back and walked off leaving Florian alone. She marched up behind him before stepping into his path, forcing him to stop.
“I owe you an apology,” said Clay. “You’re right. I have to stay focused on our survival.”
“I see where you’re coming from. I’m flattered. Though I have to admit I don’t have to compete with any other girls.”
“Comparing you to other girls I’ve seen your beauty easily outshines all of them,” he confessed.
“Thank you for the compliment. Maybe one day when we know we’re safe and if we aren’t rescued I might have to choose between you boys. Till then we have a lot to do.”
“You’re right; the first thing we need to do is make this entire area safe. To help achieve the goal we have to capture a few horses then make a pen to put, them in.”
“Are you telling me you’ve seen horses?”
“Not exactly,” replied Clay. “I’ve discovered what I believe are their hoof prints close to the Piper.”
“What great news.” Florian’s eyes bulged. She lifted her hands, tugging on Clay’s collar. Her whispered words came when she exhaled. “I did see something before. I saw it again. I don’t know what to make of it. Something other than us three is on this ship.” She looked over Clay’s shoulder at the hatch which led into the corridor. Again a dull white glow lit the doorway. “If you turn your head quickly you’ll see it.”
Clay whirled around, facing the hatch. “I thought I did see a white glow. It’s gone now.”
“Go check it out,” whispered Florian nervously.
Reluctantly Clay walked to the hatch. He looked out into the corridor in both directions. He shook his head before refocusing on Florian. “It might have been Josh playing a practical joke. He’s got you all riled up by pretending to be upset over something so he can suck you in.”
Florian didn’t look at him. She seemed to be frozen to the floor. Slowly she lifted her hand and pointed to the white glow in the far corner of the room where a miniature apple tree grew. “Clay,” she managed to whisper. “The reason why you didn’t see anything in the corridor is because it’s in here. Don’t move, just look. Behind the flowering apple tree, about a metre off the floor is what I saw. It’s moving along the back wall.”
Clay slowly walked back to Florian. His eyes were glued on the dull white glow floating about the room. He reached out swiping a wooden stake from out of the framework which held up a tomato plant. The object he stared at looked oval in shape; about three feet long by a foot wide. He quietly stepped next to Florian, slipping his arm around her waist. “Come on we have to get out of here.”
“And go where?”
“To the bridge,” whispered Clay.
“I’m not going further into the ship, I want to get outside.”
The object slowly floated about the grape vines before floating towards the hatch. Several moments later the thing disappeared.
“Maybe Josh found a new toy in which he can project his image?” hinted Clay.
“I don’t care what it is, it has to go,” snarled Florian. “Did you get a good look at the so-called ghost?”
“No it never got any clearer,” said Clay. “Maybe it’s the ghost of Josh.”
“Be serious,” snorted Florian. “It couldn’t have been Josh. He’s still alive. Besides, it didn’t look like him.”
“What do you think it looked like?”
“The ghost resembled a short grey cropped middle-aged man, who is balding on top. He wore grey trousers and black shoes on his feet.”
“Are you sure you saw a ghost, maybe it’s the grapes you ate?”
“It’s not the grapes. Besides, you saw the dull light.”
“I did see something. I’m positive it wasn’t a ghost.”
“If it’s not a ghost explain what you saw?” questioned Florian.
“Maybe it is Captain Rowark’s ghost,” hinted Clay. Smirking, he walked towards the door.
“Where do you think you’re going?” whispered Florian.
“To find your so-called ghost.” He stopped to look back at Florian. “Are you coming?”
“I’m not venturing out of this room.”
Shrugging a shoulder, Clay stepped out into the corridor.
“Do you see anything?” called Florian.
Florian slowly made her way over. Tentatively she glanced left then right along the corridor. “I tell you I saw a ghost.”
“It’s gone now. When we get back to the bridge I’ll quiz Josh.”
“I’ve already told you I’m not going anywhere.”
Clay took Florian by the hand and led her to the middle of the hydroponic garden. He made her sit on the floor before he squatted so he could look directly into her eyes.
“To prove to you there’s nothing out there you stay here, I’ll take another look.”
Clay marched towards the hatch. He signaled for Florian to stay quiet. Slowly he squatted so he could look out of the doorway in both directions. Eventually, he stood and walked back to where Florian decided to take refuge behind a large zucchini plant. “I didn’t see anything,” he reported.
“Thanks for taking a look.”
“It’s only natural we’re on edge over everything which has happened in the last couple of days.”
Florian didn’t have a chance to nod before the dull light reappeared in the doorway. She couldn’t conjure up enough will power to scream. Instead, she stood staring at the ghostly image.
Clay watched her eyes start to bulge. Resisting the urge to whirl around he whispered. “Is the dull light back?”
Florian managed to give a brief nod.
Slowly he turned to face the doorway. By the time he saw it the object vanished.
“Did you see it?” asked Florian, whispering.
“I did. I just couldn’t understand what I saw, it disappeared too quickly.”
“Maybe it’s an entity trying to scare us,” Florian hinted.
“I’ve never seen an entity,” advised Clay. “I don’t even know what an entity is.”
“It’s an alien life form.”
“If you’re right it probably sees us as the aliens.”
“I recommend we hide to see if it comes back,” urged Florian.
The two squatted behind the massive zucchini plant, waiting to see if the ghost reappeared.
They didn’t have to wait long.
The pair witnessed the dull light quickly form into the torso of a man. It floated into the room three feet off the metal floor. To stop from screaming Florian clamped both hands over her mouth. Clay half squatted not knowing what to say or do. Should they run or stay and watch? If they ran the strange semi-transparent creature could easily meet them at the doorway to the room cutting off their escape. The creature unknowingly forced them to stay hidden.
From their hiding placed Florian and Clay watched the dull glow form into a creature. It floated about the room. It didn’t seem to have a second thought over who might be watching.
Florian whispered. “The creature seems to be searching for something. The way it’s moving about the room it seems to have a purpose.”
“I’m wondering what might happen if I confront the creature?”
“Don’t do it,” replied Florian. “It might turn aggressive.”
“It looks harmless.”
“Don’t go anywhere near it. We’re on a planet we know little about. It might be like a scout sent to flush out any potential victim. Get them to relax before striking.”
Clay shook his head. “You’ve watched too many old movies. The former Hollywood of the last century did a great job at scaring people when they watched a science fiction movie. I’ve seen a few too. They’re quite amusing.”
“I hear what you’re saying; I still don’t want you to go. It might be too dangerous?”
“There’s only one way to find out.”
The moment the creature moved away, Clay stepped from their hiding place. “Hey you,” he called.
The creature turned to face Clay. It didn’t float off or come closer. The stalemate seemed locked. For the first time, Clay studied the Entity. Except being semi transparent the creature didn’t look threatening. Many questions entered Clay’s mind; starting with how it survived. Where did it come from? Where does it go?
“What do you want?” called Clay.
The creature gave no reply. It remained in a hover pattern, staring at Clay.
“Do you understand me?”
The creature moved slowly towards the hatch. Clay intercepted it by stepping into its path.
“Stop where you are,” he yelled.
The creature didn’t deviate from its path. Clay could do nothing to stop it from going through the hatch.
Clay lifted his wooden stake ready to fight the creature when it came close. He stood his ground hoping the creature might back off. Amazingly the creature kept coming. At arm’s length Clay swung a baseball batter’s swing at the creature. He watched the stake pass through the creature’s torso unhindered sending Clay into a fast tight spin which allowed the creature to sail through the hatch and down the corridor towards the bridge.
Florian sprinted across the floor to where Clay lay in a crumpled pile of limbs.
“Are you okay?”
Clay slowly got to his feet looking slightly dazed. “I’m fine. What in the world happened? The creature didn’t seem to recognize my existence. My fast baseball swing should’ve stopped it.”
“I saw the wooden stake go through the creature. It didn’t hesitate moving, through you. The thing took off towards the bridge.”
“I lost the battle,” confessed Clay. “We’ll follow it. I want another shot at the ghost.”
Still dizzy from turning in tight circles, Clay followed Florian through the doorway and staggered along the corridor. In the distance, they saw it pass through the closed hatch which led onto the bridge.
Florian reached the hatch first. A few seconds before Clay arrived she pressed the open button. The hatch quickly slid sideways. Her jaw fell open seeing Josh, feet on the dashboard of the Piper, talking to the creature.
“What’s this?” asked Clay, glaring at Josh.
“Why are you carrying a stick?”
“I’ve come to fight the ghost again,” said Clay, lifting the stick to shoulder height.
“Come over. I want to introduce you.”
“You want us to talk to a ghost?” questioned Florian.
“This is not a ghost. The image is a computer projection in the shape of a person.”
“It’s a hologram?” questioned Florian.
“He sure is,” replied Josh. “What do you think of Henry, the ships’ doctor?”
“He’s the ship’s doctor?”
Clay walked over to Henry who in turn faced him. “He’s a good hologram.”
“He’s a top of the range model, quite expensive for a medical hologram.”
Florian ventured over. Walking laps around Henry, she sighed. “He’s truly amazing.”
“Thank you,” said Henry. “Do you feel well? Your cheeks look slightly flushed? Allow me to take your vitals.” He swept his hand from one side of Florian’s face to the other. “You have an elevated heart rate. The rest of your vitals are in normal range for a female who is fifteen-years-old. Take my advice you need to sit. Relax by taking slow deep breaths.”
“I’ll be fine, thank you.”
“Do I have your permission to add you to my patient list?”
“Yes thank you.”
“Please state your name.”
“Miss Florian Fawkes.”
Josh stepped off the slightly elevated bridge to join Clay and Florian. “I’ve commenced uploading our names and ages to Henry. He’ll have our complete medical history in a few minutes.”
“Thank you,” spat Clay. “Shouldn’t you have asked permission first?”
“What’s the big deal? We’re the only ones on this rock of a planet. Besides, the three of us don’t have a medical history which is worth fighting over. The three of us are in perfect physical shape. It’s why we were accepted to help colonize Planet X188 situated deep in Orion’s belt.”
“I know where we were supposed to end up,” snarled Clay.
“It’s not my fault so don’t blame me,” yelled Josh.
Florian stepped between the boys. “Knock it off the both of you. We’ve already decided if we are to stay alive on this planet till a rescue ship comes we have to work together. There will be no more fighting. Josh, you’ve been acting weird for the past hour. I think you should tell us what’s on your mind.”
Josh walked back to the closest monitor on the bridge. He sat in the black leather seat, starting to tap away at the keyboard. When he finished tapping he placed his hands behind his head and leaned back into the seat.
“Why the smug expression?” asked Florian.
“You have Clay; he has you. I have no one. Now I’ve discovered the medical hologram I have someone to talk to. Before you think I’ve gone funny take a look at Henry.”
Florian and Clay faced the hologram. “I don’t see anything different.”
“Keep watching,” insisted Josh, tapping on the glass keyboard.
Henry suddenly vanished. In its place, a figure of a woman materialized. She stood at least six foot tall on long slender legs which were covered by a black leather mini skirt. Her long red hair traveled halfway down her back. On her feet, Josh gave the hologram high heels to walk in.
“She’s slightly more pleasant on the eyes,” confessed Josh. “Her name is Henrietta. At the push of a button, I can change the colour of her hair or change the language she uses.”
“I take it you didn’t like Henry’s looks?” questioned Clay.
“He’s not my ideal hologram. Henrietta is a more pleasing model.”
“Good for you,” growled Florian.
“Ask Henrietta anything,” insisted Josh. “She knows the answer.”
“Who asked you to materialize?” questioned Florian, looking directly at the hologram.
“I can tell by your records you are a young woman who is fanatical about planning ahead.”
“Just answer the question.”
“I have been programmed to check up on Captain Rowark every twenty-four hours. He has informed me he’s not feeling well. He has an elevated heart rate, unexplained sweats, vomiting, weakness of the joints and limbs.”
“What is his diagnosis?”
Henrietta swiveled her head. “You’re Clay Silver. You’re a sixteen year-old-male. Your IQ is one hundred and sixteen.”
“Thanks for the summary.”
“You are welcome.”
“Polite little thing isn’t she?” said Florian.
“Florian Fawkes at fifteen, you have an IQ of one hundred and thirty-two. Henrietta focused her attention on the third member of the group. “You are twelve-years-old. Your name is Josh Quinn. Your IQ is one hundred and seventy-two.”
“I didn’t know you were recorded so high,” confessed Florian. “Impressive.”
“It didn’t get me anywhere.”
“You helped save the three of us,” stated Florian.
“Big deal,” whimpered Josh.
“To me, it is a big deal.”
Josh walked off towards the glass lift. He stepped into the tube and pressed the up button.
Josh Quinn has an elevated heart rate,” reported Henrietta. “He has something on his mind.”
“Before I run after Josh you need to answer my question,” growled Florian.
“I can’t answer due to the fact it is of a personal nature. You are not his immediate family.”
“What’s the date of the Captain’s last exact diagnosis?” asked Clay.
“Twenty years and three days ago,” reported Henrietta. “Have you seen him?”
“Captain Rowark died,” said Florian, walking off towards the lift.
“We are his adoptive family,” suggested Clay.
Henrietta fell silent for exactly two seconds to compute what Clay said. “Captain Rowark has been poisoned by eating mushrooms. I only just completed scanning the food when he finished eating two mushrooms. I recommended he shouldn’t eat them raw they are poisonous to the human body.”
“So far everything we’ve learned about Rowark tallies,” admitted Clay.
“I’ll go speak to Josh. I think he needs someone real to talk to,” hinted Florian.
She marched over to the glass tube and waited for it to arrive. Clay strolled over followed by Henrietta.
“Florian you need to relax. Your heart rate is still slightly elevated.”
“I don’t doubt it,” she replied, stepping into the lift. She waved at the hologram before disappearing up to the roof of the Piper.
FLORIAN STEPPED out onto the roof of the Piper. For a few brief seconds, she squinted in the bright sunlight. Unable to see Josh she focused on the hatch to the maintenance shuttle number one. A warm feeling flowed through Florian as she thought about how Clay navigated the shuttle out of the trees to a perfect landing on top of the Piper.
Florian walked across the roof and climbed through the hatch. She found Josh staring at a monitor on the dashboard. She flopped into the seat next to him, looking out of the viewport. From her seat, she could see the ocean. The water sparkled in the sunshine. The sand dunes leading to the water were undulating and covered in wild grass. A few small birds flew overhead searching for food. Swiveling her head slightly to the left she spied the waterfall and the small pool directly underneath.
“What are you doing here?” growled Josh.
“I’ve come to find out what you’re doing.”
“I want t to be left alone for a while.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea. It’s too dangerous.”
Josh glared at Florian. “Why do you care?”
“I care a lot. I don’t want any of us to die.”
“You have Clay. He’ll protect you.”
“What about you. I need you to protect me too.”
“You don’t need me.”
“We need each other. We’re a team of three.”
“You’ve said it correctly. We’re a team of three. I’m the odd one out. Teaming up with Henrietta I have someone.”
“Don’t talk rubbish. You can’t love a hologram.”
“You have a lifetime mate. I have no one,” Josh whispered.
“I think you should start confessing everything you’ve been thinking about?”
“I want to keep my thoughts to myself.”
“I believe you should tell me. Too many secrets could hinder the survival of this colony.”
Josh snorted. “Your idea of a colony is made up of two males and one female. We don’t represent a colony of any significance.”
“In my world it does. We are three special people.”
“How do you figure?”
“We’re still alive.”
“Barely,” said Josh.
“The three of us working as a team will see our backs to this planet one day.”
“There’s your three again. You two will pair off one day, have babies so we can populate this un-named world and I’ll miss out on love. I’m twelve-years-old. I have a long way to go. This planet is almost half way to the original destination, planet X188 where I could’ve found the love of a girl amongst the colonists. Now it will never happen. I think you should leave.”
“I’m not leaving when you look so miserable.”
“I don’t have a chance. I think I’ll go and jump off the cliff on the other side of the river so you two can do what you want.” Josh stood. “If you won’t leave, I will.”
Florian grabbed him on the arm. “If anything should ever happen to Clay and you weren’t here I’d be alone.”
“So you want me to stick around hoping Clay has an accident so I can have a shot.” He pulled free of Florian’s hand. Glaring at her, he walked off.
Florian sat looking out of the glass viewport quietly sobbing. To try to put the conversation behind her she studied the aerial view of the area through blurred vision. Deep down she knew Josh might be correct in what he’d stated. “Clever kid,” she whispered. “Maybe I should just keep to myself.”
Quiet footsteps walked through the hatch doorway. For a long time, the figure stood listening to the quiet sobs of the young woman. Slowly the figure walked the length of the shuttle. Standing directly behind her he went to touch her on the shoulder. He hesitated before dropping his arm.
“I apologize for acting childish.”
Florian jumped a little at the voice breaking into her dilemma .She turned around to focus on Josh. She stood so she could see him at eye level. “It’s not my intention to choose between you and Clay. It’s a horrible impossible choice. I live in hope we’ll be rescued.”
“I do too. If it were to happen every one of our problems will be solved.”
Florian stared at Josh. “I don’t want to choose. See it from my point of view how hard it will be to make a choice.”
“I heard you whisper the sentence.”
“What sentence?” Florian quizzed. “I should be by myself forever?”
“Yes. Personally, I don’t want you to do something so drastic. The three of us will lose out. I‘ve decided to put my energy into getting us off this rock. If we make it back to the colony the three of us will win.”
“What happens if we don’t make it back?”
“You and Clay are about the same age. It’s logical you two should pair up. The only problem I face is I don’t think I can ever trust myself.”
“I don’t understand.”
“What happens if Clay is in a life or death situation and I’m the only one who can save him?”
“Don’t talk nonsense. Of course, you’d save him.”
“Are you sure?”
Florian leaned forward. “Yes. I have to add he’d do the same thing for you.”
“Anyway whatever happens I’ll be trying my best to work out a way to get us home,” stated Josh.
“If anyone can, it’s you,” said Florian.
“I think we should go find Clay”
Florian quickly studied the interior of the shuttle to make sure Clay wasn’t sneaking up on them. She reached out, taking hold of Josh’s shoulders. She tilted her head slightly to the left. Before she thought too much of what she planned her lips were touching Josh’s. For a long time, they kissed. Both kissed each other. Eventually, they back stepped.
Florian said seriously. “How do you know for certain I’d pick Clay over you?”
FLORIAN DESCENDED into the Piper first. Wearing a cheeky grin she walked up to Clay.
“Are you okay? Where’s Josh? Is he okay?”
“Fine, fine and fine,” answered Florian.
Before she could even start to explain what happened, the tubular lift descended again. The moment the lift reached the floor of the Piper, Josh joined Florian and Clay on the bridge.
“Where have you been?” asked Clay.
“I decided I needed to be alone for half an hour.”
Florian winked at the two boys before running off to the outside hatch leaving them to talk to Henrietta. The boys saw Florian step into the sunshine and run off towards the waterfall.
“Tell me why you wanted to be alone?” asked Clay.
“Skip the whole idea.”
“I think I have a right to know.”
“I don’t want to say.”
Clay slowly shook his head. “Okay, have it your way. Getting back to my question about the size of the Piper; she seems larger on the inside than the outside.”
“This ship has a lot of secrets,” hinted Josh. “I’m beginning to scroll through its memory. You’re right, the inside area of the ship does seem larger than the outside. If we measure the distance from one side of the ship to the other through the center we can use a mathematical formula to find out the exact perimeter of the outside hull.”
“Or we could physical measure the top,” taunted Clay.
“I’d prefer the mathematical approach.”
“What if we make a mistake in measuring?”
“I don’t make mistakes,” snorted Josh.
“I tell you what we should do, you measure the size of the ship your way, I’ll measure the ship my way,” jeered Clay.
The boys shook hands to seal the deal.
“The first part we can do together,” said Clay. “The only thing we need is a unit of measure.”
“I’m sure The Piper will have a tape measure. I’ll ask the fetcher robot to find one,” hinted Josh.
He walked over to the console on the bridge, tapped out a command on the keyboard which made the little fetcher robot scoot off to find the object. By the time the two boys reached the storeroom the half metre tall robot returned carrying a thirty-metre tape measure. Clay swiped it from the robot. He stood watching the machine scoot off back into his holding pen.
The boys rode the lift to the roof of the Piper. The moment they found the exact center of the ship Clay removed his shirt, rolling it into a ball and placing it on the mark. Clay gave one end of the measuring tape to Josh. He took the other end and walked to the edge of the ship. The boys worked as a team. In minutes, they completed measuring the width of the ship.
“Twenty feet across the girth,” reported Clay.
“It’s easy to say the interior of the Piper is vastly more than twenty feet across, even though we haven’t measured it yet,” said Josh.
They descended into the belly of the Piper again and set to work measuring the width.
“Forget the mathematical solution,” insisted Josh. “This is unbelievable. Using the center of the bridge for a reference point already the long corridor to the outside hatch where Florian exited is well over ninety feet. We have to measure the distance to the other side of the ship, which looks to be at least the same again.”
Clay squatted to study the measuring tape. The markings on the tape blurred slightly a moment before the distance from the outer hatch to the bridge appeared to be further away. “This ship seems to be growing slightly every few minutes.”
Josh and Clay re-measured the distance from the outside hatch to the bridge. Again the distance increased by a fraction of an inch.
“Okay genius, explain it.”
“I think we should physically measure the outside roof again,” whispered Josh.
The boys sprinted over to the glass tubular lift, ascended to the roof to re-measure the Piper.
“We have the same result. The ship is supposed to be twenty feet across,” said Josh.
The boys raced back to the bridge to re-measure the corridor.
“This ship has grown another sixteenth of an inch,” reported Josh.
“It’s not possible,” said Clay.
“It is. This ship certainly has a few undiscovered secrets. I remember reading about an experimental ship a few years back. The physical appearance from the outside stayed the same while the internal size kept growing. I wonder if the Piper happens to be the ship I read about. In any case, it’s possible this ship could have a never ending internal area.”
“Are you trying to tell me this ship is alive?”
“It has to be. There’s no other explanation,” said Josh. “Think about it for a minute. Why is each of the engines the size of a small house? The fetcher robot, the space inside this ship, all those rooms and empty cages; surely Rowark would’ve run out of room if the ship didn’t have the ability to grow.”
“It does seem you might be right. It could explain the reason why the hydroponic garden is so massive.”
“We have to tell Florian the news,” said Josh.
The boys walked down the long corridor. Stepping into the sun Clay stopped to study the area.
“What’s up?” asked Josh.
“I can feel we’re being watched.”
“I don’t think so. We’re alone.”
“I’ll catch you up at the river,” hinted Clay. “I want to take a look around. I’ll carry a hand laser in case I’m right.”
“Don’t be too long.”
The boys parted company.
Clay slipped back into the Piper, entering the room where the hydroponic garden grew. He swiped the hand laser from off the small shelf next to the door and ran out into the sunshine. Slowly he walked about the large grassed area. A three-minute walk from the Piper he climbed up the side of a sand hill. He stood on the crest looking down at what he thought might have been watching him.
“Horses!” he whispered. “There have to be at least thirty horses grazing on the grass. If we can catch a few we could break them in and ride around the area. It beats walking.”
Slowly backing away from the small herd, Clay finally made it to the river. He followed it to the waterfall where he found Josh leaning over the edge looking down into the pool. Clay ran up the side of the hill, hovering over Josh, his shadow crossing his face. “What are you up to?”
“Nothing important,” snarled Josh, moving away from the edge of the twenty-foot drop. “Next time don’t sneak around.”
Clay leaned over the edge of the waterfall to see what Josh was looking at. “I can see why you didn’t hear me coming.”
Josh grabbed Clay on the shoulder, pulling him away. Clay glared at his opponent before staring at Florian swimming naked in the crystal clear water, mesmerized by her skin colour and the long black hair trailing from her head.
Josh curled his fingers into a tight ball, jabbing Clay in the arm. Clay retaliated by pushing him. As he stepped back waiting for Josh to take another swing at him, his right heel dug into loose gravel, sending it scooting across the ground. The moment his left foot came down to secure his weight the loose gravel under his foot made him lose balance, toppling him head first over the side of the waterfall. In desperation, Clay groped for the rocky outcrop. His fingers latched onto what he thought might be a solid rock. To his horror small rough pebbles broke away, plummeting into the water. Florian saw the splashes the pieces of rock made. Looking up, she screamed. Clay managed to lift his left hand to take hold of another small outcrop when his feet swung through the air under the ledge. He winced at the pain of holding on.
Josh dropped to the ground. Holding onto a clump of wild grass to anchor his weight, he reached down taking hold of Clay’s flight collar to help steady him.
“Let me fall, it’s what you want.”
“I’m not going to let you fall,” spat Josh, grinding his teeth.
Clay looked down into the water. He saw Florian’s fingers touching the side of the pool. He also saw what appeared to be a black fin. Almost instantly he could feel his blood boiling. The stress made his head start to pound. He knew in a single heartbeat he needed to make a decision whether to jump and wrestle the creature he knew nothing about or watch Florian die. He vowed his carelessness over her safety will never happen again.
Ignoring the excruciating pain in his shoulder Clay lifted his free hand and reached for the hand laser in his side pocket. Taking careful aim he heard Josh yell not to shoot. He saw Florian glance over her shoulder at the creature. Clay heard her scream again. The noise sent the muscles in his back into spasms. Aiming the laser at the creature he knew Florian needed to quickly climb out of the pool if she wanted to get to safety. The medium sized black shape definitely appeared to be swimming straight for her. Could it jump through the air? Was it dangerous or did it want to just say hello? Clay didn’t want to wait to find out. His finger squeezed the trigger of the laser to the point of firing. He knew the consequences if he missed.
The black shape closed to within six feet of Florian’s legs. Clay couldn’t wait any longer.
A blinding narrow beam of light shot through the air and pierced the water. The black mass convulsed from being hit in the head. It rolled over, floating to the surface. A silver streak ran down the middle of its underbelly. Its dark lifeless eyes rolled back on themselves. It had opened its mouth for one last bite. Its four rows of razor sharp teeth looked small. The creature’s exoskeleton seemed crab like. The moment it floated to the surface its outer layer changed colour, from black to red.
Florian quickly dressed. She glared at the boys before looking at the creature. She felt sad they might have caused a precious species to be extinct. She scanned the pool and her surrounds looking for its mate. Failing to see another, she walked uphill to where the boys were.
Clay managed to finally get a strong foothold. Pushing the laser back into his pocket, Josh helped to haul Clay back over the top of the ledge.
For a long moment, the boys glared at each other. Clay moved first. He leaned in, hugging Josh who returned the favour.
“Thanks for saving Florian,” said Josh. “I apologize for losing control.”
“You’re growing up.”
By the time Florian reached the plateau at the top of the waterfall the boys were laughing. When they saw the anger written on her red face, both boys quickly fell silent.
“What’s the meaning of watching me take a swim?” she yelled.
“It’s my fault,” confessed Josh. “I should’ve respected your privacy.”
“You’re right, you should’ve,” yelled Florian. “Both of you should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Both boys hung their heads at the same time. Florian walked up to Josh, punching him in the shoulder. She did the same to Clay. “Did you two have a good gawk?”
“It won’t happen again,” admitted Josh.
“It better not.”
Both boys shook their heads.
Florian chuckled on a sigh. “I guess I should’ve expected it. Now I’m over my embarrassment I need to thank you for killing the black creature.”
“From up here it resembles a shark,” said Clay, rubbing his shoulder.
“It can’t be. Sharks don’t look like that creature. It looks more like a crab with a shark fin,” Florian reported.
“The animal must’ve been prehistoric. This is another planet. Who knows what’s out there.” Josh pointed to the sea. “At a guess, I’d say the small shark-like creature wandered into the pool from a tunnel which leads from the sea. It became trapped after forgetting how to get out. To make the pool safe to swim in we have to anchor a grate across the entrance to the tunnel. It will ensure us there’ll be no more surprises.”
“I’d like to help, but my shoulder has nearly been pulled out of its socket,” said Clay. “I’m hoping in a few days it’ll be okay.”
“It serves you right,” snarled Florian.
“I’m embarrassed enough,” replied Clay, his face glowing red.
“Me too,” admitted Josh, turning to look at the Piper.
“Okay, I’ll forgive this once. I think we should get back to the Piper so the Doctor can take a look at your shoulder,” suggested Florian, eyeballing Clay.
“The way it’s feeling at the moment I’m in a lot of pain so I’m not sure how a hologram can help.”
The trio started to walk back to the Piper when Josh gave the pool one last look. He stood at the overhang staring at the water.
“What are you doing?” questioned Florian, half turning around.
Clay placed his hand gently inside his flight suit to help keep his arm still while he walked back up the hill. He stood behind Josh staring at the pool. “I don’t see anything wrong.”
“You have to stand right at the edge.”
Florian high-tailed it back up the hill to join in on the bird’s eye view of the pool.
Josh looked over his shoulder at Clay. “Come closer.”
“I’m fine right here. I can see the pool and the sea.”
Florian back stepped away from the edge to stand next to Clay. “The pool looks the same to me. Don’t you want to take a look?”
“Why not? Don’t you trust Josh or me? You’re not thinking one of us will push you over the edge?”
“No,” replied Clay quickly. “I’m scared of heights.”
“You are not. You’re scared we’ll push you?” taunted Florian.
“No I’m not.”
Josh gave the other two a serious look. “We don’t have time to argue the point. The shark like creature isn’t where it died.”
Clay bravely stepped closer. Keeping an eye on Florian and Josh he leaned towards the edge. If he saw Josh or Florian move a muscle he planned to step back extra fast. “Where’s the animal?”
“I told you it’s missing,” stated Josh.
“You told me it’s not where it died,” jeered Clay. “It probably floated to the other side of the pool or it might have been taken by a prehistoric Pterosaur bird?” He couldn’t tell his voice sounded full of panic.
“Maybe it didn’t die?” hinted Josh.
Clay stepped back from the edge the moment he heard Josh’s words. Surely it died. It certainly looked dead. He remembered the laser beam left a black scorched mark in the middle of the creature’s forehead.
Florian quickly made up her mind the boys were playing tricks on her. Frowning, she stepped right to the edge of the low cliff face, looking down into the water. Josh took a step so he could stand next to her. Before Florian could react Josh spied a dark shape hugging the rocks. A small shrub flattened not more than twenty feet from Florian’s feet. He outstretched his arm swiping her away from the edge. She stumbled backward, landing on her ass. She was just about to yell when Josh raced at her, pulling her across the rocky ground to the only piece of grass. The squared area of green grass measured twenty feet by twenty feet.
“Look at what’s coming up over the top of the cliff,” whispered Josh nervously.
Clay glanced over his shoulder at the creature from the pool. He sprinted over to the grass. Pulling his laser out of his pocket, he again lined up the creature and prepared to shoot.
Florian, Josh, and Clay stood shoulder to shoulder in the middle of the grass area watching the semi-transparent shape climbing over the top of the cliff face. For a moment, it stood almost camouflaged against the blue sky. Slowly the colours on its exoskeleton changed from almost invisible back to black. Its fin in the middle of its back stiffened.
Clay pulled the trigger of the laser. The narrow beam of light hit the creature’s forehead. Instead of dropping to the ground dead, it focused on Florian before walking towards her. Josh spied a few small rocks behind him. He scooped them up into his hand.
“Shoot it again,” screamed Florian.
Clay aimed the laser and fired again. The beam of light hit the creature on the right leg.
“The laser can’t penetrate the creature’s exoskeleton,” said Josh. He glanced at the power gauge on the top of the weapon. “You have one more shot before the laser will be of no use. The gauge is already in the red. It needs recharging.”
“How long will it take?” questioned Florian.
“Ten to fifteen minutes.”
“We don’t have two minutes,” yelled Clay.
He fired at the ground in front of the creature hoping to scare it away. The creature looked unruffled. Its deliberate steps never faltered. Clay held the laser in a death grip hoping if he waited until the last second the power might be restored enough to bore a hole in the creature’s outer armor. If he was wrong he’d sacrifice himself to save the other two.
“Run,” he croaked. “I’ll stand and fight. Hopefully, I’ll be able to give you enough time to get back to the Piper.”
Florian stared at him through bulging eyes. When she reached out to snatch the laser out of his hand she couldn’t prize it from his fingers. “We’re not going to leave you behind,” she whispered.
“Get back to the Piper now,” yelled Clay.
The distance from the edge of the grass to the creature measured no more than three metres when Josh pitched his first rock, hitting the animal in the nose. Its speed never waned.
He received the same result when he pitched a second and third rock.
At the edge of the grass the animal stopped, glaring at the three aliens before it.
Florian, Josh, and Clay were slowly walking backward. Florian glanced at the Piper. They could make a run for it. She felt confident they’d make it. Not knowing how fast the creature could actually move frightened her. It seemed slow. She looked directly into its black eyes, wondering.
“Why are you here?” it asked.
The voice of the creature sounded deep, confident.
“You can talk?” questioned Florian.
“I didn’t know what language you used. I needed to wait to hear your words before I spoke.”
“You should be dead,” insisted Clay.
“You missed,” hinted the creature.
“I know I didn’t miss. How come you’re still alive?”
“There is much you need to learn about life on this planet.”
“What’s your name? I’m Florian. Josh is standing on my left, holding a few rocks. Clay is on my right. He’s holding a hand laser.”
“It’s a crude implement. Where I’m from its classification is a toy. Our offspring uses something similar in play.”
“Are you trying to tell me hand lasers are a toy?” questioned Florian.
“Yes. Though yours is slightly stronger than the ones we use; you get the same result.”
“Amazing,” said Josh.
“To answer your question, I don’t have a name.”
“I thought everyone has a name?” questioned Josh.
“Only the species known to us as humans give themselves a name.”
“How can anyone tell you apart?” questioned Florian.
“In the short amount of time I have left, most of your questions will remain unanswered.”
“Come, sit on the grass so we can have a good talk,” insisted Josh.
“Impossible. The grass will kill me.”
“Is it the reason why you were in the water?”
“I decided to hide when you jumped into the water. I kind of hoped you didn’t see me. When you left the pool my plans were to walk back to the sea and vanish off this island.”
Josh pushed his hand in the air. “Are you trying to tell us we are on an island?”
The creature nodded slowly. “I told you there are many things you have yet to learn about this planet.”
“What else can you tell us?” quizzed Clay.
The creature backed away from the trio. “If I were you I’d leave this planet. The inhabitants of this planet aren’t friendly. In about ten days they will be landing in the cove where your ship is. I’ll give you a friendly warning. Don’t get caught.”
“What happens if they catch us?” questioned Florian.
“They love to eat. They are always hungry.”
“Where are your family, friends?” asked Clay.
“They were eaten by the inhabitants of this planet when they landed at the cove.” The creature focused on Florian. “Their blood filled the pool you were swimming in. Don’t look so shocked. You needn’t be concerned about the liquid in the rock pool. There is a tunnel which brings fresh sea water into the pool every two hours. The liquid is one hundred percent salt water.”
“How can we defeat the inhabitants of this planet?” asked Josh.
“You can’t. It’s time for me to leave.”
“Stay, help us fight.”
“I’m old. My life has been a good one. I’m off to another island where I’ll be safe. I have twelve hours remaining before I die.”
“How can you predict when you’re going to die?” asked Florian.
“My brain tells me. It’s time for me to go. Don’t forget my warning.”
The creature turned its back on the trio and walked back towards the cliff top. Slowly its wings came out of its side. Instead of flapping them so it could fly they folded under the creatures legs. He stepped into the exact middle of the black material. Silently the creature levitated off the ground. In seconds, it disappeared. A ribbon of white light looked to be the only thing remaining.
Using her finger Florian managed to trace the light to the horizon before it too vanished.
“Interesting creature,” whispered Josh.
“I’d say he was extremely weird,” said Clay.
“I’m thinking along the lines the creature flew at light speed,” hinted Josh.
“You’re always thinking aren’t you?” sniffed Florian.
“Yes, I am. Light speed from a standing start. It didn’t even have a machine.”
“Didn’t either of you hear its warning?” quizzed Florian. “We have ten days to leave this place or face whatever has got the creature scared.” She shuddered. “I don’t fancy being eaten.”
“He’s telling a bedtime story to scare us,” jeered Clay.
“He did a good job,” said Florian.
“Maybe we can create some weapons just in case he’s telling us the truth,” urged Josh. “Or we can take the shuttle and fly it into the clouds to hide.”
“Or we can relax believing the story is a sham,” added Clay.
“Maybe we should get back to the Piper to talk about what to do?” suggested Florian.
“We could always use the shuttle to take a look around the area. If this place is an island the creature’s warning might be more believable,” stated Clay.
“The craft is too large. It could be seen by the Indigenous aliens if in fact he happened to be telling the truth,” reported Josh.
“Surely the creature didn’t lie,” argued Florian.
“How can we believe a word it spoke? We don’t know anything about it,” snorted Clay.
“I’ll tell you my idea after we have the doctor on the Piper take a look at Clay’s shoulder,” said Florian.
The trio quickly walked back to the Piper, being mindful of their surroundings. Using his one good arm Clay pushed the power depleted laser out in front. He looked more than ready to use it.
At the halfway point Josh sprinted ahead. He entered the Piper and ran to the bridge. He sat in the leather seat punching the keyboard requesting the Doctor to appear. By the time Clay and Florian arrived Doc. Henry materialized.
“Place the patient on the chair,” ordered Henry.
“What happened to Henrietta?” asked Florian.
“I think Henry looks more professional.”
Clay dropped onto the seat, facing Henry. The doctor waved a hand over his shoulder several times. “I have made a full diagnosis of the inflamed shoulder. The muscle has been torn slightly. In time, it will be good as new. Place shoulder in a sling for a rest. In a few days start to exercise the muscle to make it strong again.”
At the last of Henry’s report, he vanished.
“Good news,” said Josh.
“Yeah great,” replied Clay. “It’s exactly what I don’t need at the moment, a sore shoulder.”
“A couple of days rest will see you fit again,” said Florian. “Before we met at the waterfall I spied a herd of horses. If we capture them they’ll make plowing the grassland easier.”
“All our future plans are providing we survive the landing of the inhabitants,” admitted Josh.
Clay stood, rolling his eyes. “This is exactly what I’ve feared since we landed on this planet. If one of us is hurt it threatens our survival. What will happen if my shoulder takes weeks or even months to heal? We can’t afford the time. If I’d been hurt building something it’s different; this accident could have been prevented. We might have even been set back in our survival rating. What if winter is just around the corner and we’re not prepared all due to the fact I have a sore shoulder?”
Josh stepped forward. Reaching out he placed his hand on Clay’s shoulder. “Sorry for acting the way I did. You’re right, us three have to work more skillfully than a well-oiled machine. I certainly don’t want to see Florian or you hurt in any way.”
“Forget it. I’m actually feeling fine. My shoulder’s feeling a lot better. Fortunately, I didn’t sustain a serious injury. In fact, my shoulder feels good again.”
Clay moved his shoulder; slowly at first before stretching his arm over his head. In a brave move, he took up a prone position and commenced doing pushups. After counting off twenty-five, he jumped to his feet, smiling.
“How is it possible you’re shoulder’s okay?” asked Florian. “You didn’t fake the whole thing?”
“I have no idea. I didn’t fake the soreness. I actually think it’s stronger than before.”
Josh stared at Clay, deep in thought.
“What’s up genius boy?” taunted Clay. “Having trouble working out why I can do twenty-five pushups?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Bet you couldn’t do five?”
“Probably not,” replied Josh slowly. “Two things have happened here. You either faked the sore shoulder or something amazing has happened.”
Clay shoved a fist in his face. “I didn’t fake it.”
“Doc. Henry, I have a question?” called Josh.
In seconds, Henry’s hologram materialized. “Is there a medical emergency?”
“I’m not sure,” confessed Josh.
“Please be more explicit by including all the relevant medical facts so I can make a proper informed diagnosis.”
“I’m at peak fitness,” stated Clay, starting to do star jumps.
Henry faced Clay. “There hasn’t been enough time for your shoulder to heal from the bruising. I have already advised you should remain relaxed. Your shoulder needs to be placed in a sling for no less than three days.”
“Forget the sling. I’ll prove my shoulder is perfect again.” Clay completed another ten pushups before jumping up, staring at Henry. “What do you say now? What’s your medical response to my shoulder?”
“I have no answers.”
“Is it possible Clay faked the shoulder injury?”
Clay twisted his head slightly, glaring at Josh. “Genius I’m not a liar?”
“I’m not implying anything. I’m trying to understand the discrepancy.”
“If you will stop arguing over trivial matters I believe I can settle the argument,” stated Henry.
Florian, Josh, and Clay faced the hologram, waiting for the verdict.
“My scan of the Deltoid muscle and shoulder joint showed Clay didn’t fake the injury. The muscle has sustained micro tears. If the damage had been any worse the muscle might have needed surgery due to the fact it might have fallen away from the bone.”
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After crashing on planet X91 with no food or water, Florian, Josh, and Clay must learn how to survive. Sending a distress signal to the USS Lock as it streaks through deep space at light speed seems impossible. Their shuttle they were in doesnâ€™t have light speed capabilities so catching up to the main ship is out of the question. No matter which way you look at it, they are stuck on planet X91. Many adventures await them, from discovering a spaceship and the reason behind why itâ€™s haunted, to trying to fight cannibal aliens, the Crenox. The reason they were placed in a shuttle in the first place is a baffling mystery. As Josh says: why only them?