Card Challenge: Day 39
Card Day 39: A ladybug’s spots open to reveal a staircase, a periscope, an ant, and a tentacled creature. Other spots have locks visible, but remain closed.
Gloria imagined the recycled air pumping through her helmet smelled fresher as she gazed on the untouched landscape of Zultara. Pale orange sand dunes stretched as far as she could see beneath the deep blue of the sky. The sun, she imagined, was now warming her back, even if the climate control of the suit did not allow her to experience it. Then again, it was quite a few ticks below zero on the planet’s surface, so she took time to be grateful that the suit did not pass along that information either.
“Got the Beetle ready, Andre?” she asked, hearing the echo of her voice dimly over the comm unit.
“Locked, loaded, and juiced. Should get us to the dig site and back. Don’t you just love traveling in style with me?” came his chipper response. She heard the slight off-worlder accent in his words, a clip on the end of his syllables that she supposed came from a long time spent speaking through spotty comm channels.
“Dre, I spent seven months trapped in the cap with you, and I have one question.”
“Do you ever stop?”
He laughed, the sound crackling in and out in her ears, echoing around the helmet as if it bouncing around a cave. Gloria smiled, even if no one could see it through the reflective surface of her helmet. She had been lucky to get a great crew, and she was eager for the ride over to the dig with Andre. As cramped at the little two-seater could be, she at least had a traveling companions who she felt comfortable enough to sit knee to knee with.
Gloria turned from her vantage point and looked at the humped, oblong vehicle they depended on to traverse the sandy surface. It had a relatively boring, functional name—the All-Terrain Personnel Transportation Skimmer—but its awkward design with various tacked together plates earned it the name Beetle while it still rested in the cargo hold. She carefully stomped aboard and pulled the door down closed, hearing the hiss of the seal popping into place. Andre slid in beside her, keying on the driving dash. He keyed in the destination and the vehicle hummed to life, beginning to navigate the alien terrain. A green lit blinked and the panel emitted a little whistle. On cue, Gloria and Andre lifted off their helmets and breathed the stale air of the Beetle.
“Does your helmet stink? Mine is rank,” chattered Andre, wiping a bead of sweat from his light brown forehead.
Gloria laughed, shaking out the mane of unruly, frizzy brown hair that floated about the cabin in the reduced gravity. “That really sounds like something you need to get worked out, Andre. Mine smells like year old air, but that’s because it is.”
He shrugged his shoulders, rolling his head back with a series of snaps and pops. “The price we pay for discovering the universe.”
The two sat in companionable silence, broken by an occasional discussion of the bizarre world passing along outside their vehicle. The Beetle hummed and whirred over the terrain, traveling with bumps and jostles along the uncertain paths. Gloria sat in the formed plastic chair, trying to relax as much as the uncomfortable suit would allow, and eventually felt her eyes grow heavy.
She woke to Andre’s laugh, a ringing sound that sounded much friendlier and warmer when it had the open air to bounce about it. Groggily she pushed herself up in the seat, blinking quickly to shake away the sleep. “What’s going on?” she mumbled, the words dribbling from her still sleeping mouth.
“You snore like a mineral crusher going full force, Glor. I’ve never heard a woman go like that! I guess it’s a good thing our cabins are sound proof, or else we’d all be crazy from sleep deprivation.”
She sat up and glared at him, wiping away the drool from her mouth with the back of her hand. “Nicely done, Dre. Now you’re never going to get to spend the night in my cabin,” she said with an exaggerated waggle of her eyebrows. The smirk in her eyes told the rest of the story, and he redoubled his laughter.
“Then I’ll regret this moment till the day I die. We’re here, though,” he said, gesturing to the panel in front of him that showed their dot on top of the tiny flag marker. “Time to stop seducing me and get to work!”
They clambered out of the Beetle, both a bit stiff from the two hour ride across the dunes. Gloria stretched, trying to get rid of the tension sitting squarely behind her shoulder blades. “Got the digger?” she yelled over her shoulder. Andre was half buried in the back hatch, pulling out various drills and imaging devices.
“Yeah, in here somewhere. Found the camera for under surface recon,” he said, tossing a thin, snake-like cord her way. “You run that once we get into the undercrust ocean.”
“This isn’t my first rodeo. I think I can figure it out.” She wished he could see the smile behind her words, because his silence made her worry he had misunderstood her. Fortunately, he came into view, holding the corer over his head like a championship trophy.
“Success!” His shout of triumph was loud enough to cause a squeal of feedback in her helmet, and his laughter trailed after it. She could not have asked for a more optimistic, upbeat person to keep her motivated on such a long trip.
Andre moved over to the spot, checking the readings with the radar unit on his wrist. Once he found a spot they could break through, he set to work stretching and bracing the misleadingly delicate device. After a few moments, it spun into life, throwing sand up around it as it diligently pushed downward.
Gloria sank to the ground beside the Beetle, running the sand through her gloved hands. The tactile sensors transferred the slightly slimy, viscous quality of the sand to her palm as it dribbled slowly to the ground. She wondered what the sand was made of, and mentally noted that as a question for Danica later. Andre flopped onto the ground next to her after a moment, glancing over his shoulder to look at the energy gauge on the side of the Beetle.
“What?” she asked, quickly sitting up and turning in panic to look at the panel.
“We’re down to seven weeks battery power. Think we can make it back?” He made a comical picture, his giant gloved hands pressed exaggeratedly against the round surface of his helmet. Gloria gave him a good natured slap.
The sun trekked over head as they watched the machine making its steady progress. Occasionally, Andre rose and unkinked the line or navigated around a particularly nasty rock in the way. They chatted, discussing their lives growing up, the family they left behind, their plans for the nice hunk of change sitting in their respective ban accounts. Finally, it was Gloria’s turn.
“You know, I need to train you how to use the camera and then I can just kick back and relax on these outings. Not even sure why they need two of us anyway,” she said with a short bark of a laugh.
“Starscape Policy 89×4: No unit shall travers alien surface or atmosphere without accompaniment by a fellow unit. In event of catastrophic emergency, such a policy can be lifted to facilitate retrieval and rescue.” He saluted stiffly at the end, and she rolled her eyes, an invisible gesture he somehow managed to understand.
Shaking her head, she turned back to the data readout, tracking the progress of the camera through the tunnel he created until it finally burst through into murky, blue water. “Got hydro. Now, let’s see what we’ve got going on.” The camera swam through the water, trading one view of blue for another filled with its own bubbles. Shadowy stone formations peaked through from the bottom, and she carefully guided it deeper.
“We’re lucky we got a good reading on a place we could break through. I’d hate to have wasted all this time and not find anything to harvest.”
“Mhm,” she said, distracted. Her eyes tried to pierce through the gloom and displaced dust from the tunnel. Suddenly, she froze. “Andre,” she said, waving him over. He hustled towards her, huddling close to see the tiny screen. There before both of them was a creature beyond imagining. It was iridescent, wings radiating off of a cylindrical body and pushing it through the water. It moved gracefully, the tiniest of current following behind it.
“Is it-?” Andre’s voice caught in his mouth,
“It’s alive. We finally did it. No water harvest here, we’ve got a sanctuary.”
“And we’ve got the biggest breakthrough in human history!” He gave a short leap, thrusting his fist into the air with a yelp of joy.
Gloria smiled, laughing at his display and at the miracle spinning across the screen in front of hr. She thumbed on the recorder, cataloguing history. “I love this job.”
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.