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Card Challenge: Day 66

Card Day 66: An anchor in the sand with blue background behind.

The sandy landscape stretching before her had once been the bed of magnificent sea. That had, of course, been years upon years ago, and there was nothing of the sun baked landscape to suggest the previous role. Yvonne looked around, marveling at the endless expanse. This had once been her home, she thought with a dull feeling of nostalgia. Of course, it had never been her actual home, but this was where her parents’ parents had sprung from, escaping to the stars. Being back here was, in a sense, a homecoming, even if she had never laid eyes on such a mass before.

In fact, she was amazed at the feeling of land under her feet. It was strange to feel natural gravity holding her to the planet, the stability of miles and miles of solid earth beneath her feet. Sure, this spun just as her space station home had, but there was something different given the magnitude of this place.

However, she had not been sent here to appreciate the landscape, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Yvonne was certain she could sit and do so for the entire span of her assignment, but that would also ensure her notification of termination. Still, there was part of her that felt it might be worth it just to take in the landscape.

The skiff lifted behind her—the sand was not stable enough to make a permanent landing zone—and she heard the pilot’s voice through her ear piece. “Be back in a week for you, Terra Team. Stay safe.” She imagined the craft wiggled a wing in farewell before it headed back to the station sitting high in orbit. There were other teams dotting the planet, but it still felt so lonely being dropped onto the surface of the dead planet. Yvonne briefly wondered if her other team members felt the same, but they all seemed absorbed by their tasks. She was the newbie, the one earthstruck in her first moments. The veterans mulled about, seemingly unimpressed.

The leader, a middle-aged woman with already silvered hair, clapped Yvonne on the shoulder. “Got to get moving to the exploration site. We want to be there by dark so we can spend tomorrow descending.” Captain Morrison lifted one of the survival packs, pushing it into Yvonne’s hands. The older woman’s eyes, warm and sharp, met Yvonne’s for a moment and smiled in recognition. “It is impressive, your first time. Just wait until sunset.” With a parting pat on the shoulder, she moved along to the other team members, readying them for the trek.

The skiff had gotten close, but some places were not stable enough for even a brief landing. Not only was there the instability of the sand, but geologic changes meant some areas were too volatile to risk landing and taking off. Nevertheless, the drop off point had been only a couple hours hike from the site of the descent. And there would be no descending before tonight. The climb down would take long enough that it was best tackled in a fresh day.

Yvonne shouldered her pack and tried to get used to the hefty weight of gravity on her body. It did not help that her pack added another good twenty pounds of necessary gear. Still, she did her best to smile and press on, not wanting to be the weak link in such an esteemed team. The walk, however, served to reinforce her outsider feelings. Everyone else had travelled together before, exploring various landmarks and cultural sites. There were inside jokes, close companionships, and then Yvonne, standing on the outside as the eager new recruit.

She knew some ridiculed her, and the flight over had its fair share of hazing. This aversion as nothing new to Yvonne who had spent her childhood as a social outsider, but it was unexpected. She had always imagined that once she got into these respected academic realms, no one would ridicule her for her intellectual interests or social oddities. Yet she had merely changed one social group for another. The upside was this one seemed like it might just open up to her, if she gave it enough time.

The silence of the trek did not bother her too much, since she was still eagerly taking in the world around her. The sky was so blue, and the land stretched out endless before her. About midway through, a water canteen came winding back through the travelling group.

“Thirsty?” asked Mr. Carlton, pushing the jug towards her. She grabbed it eagerly, surprised by her own thirst.

“Thanks, I hadn’t even realized how thirsty I’ve gotten.”

Mr. Carlton laughed. “My first trip, I did not eat for the first two days because I was so amazed by everything. I was in the Amazon, and everything was amazing. Trust me, I don’t suggest that. I got to spend the next two days at camp, trying to recuperate while Dr. Melwin—an old battle ax of a man—scolded me. Don’t make my mistakes.” He twisted off the cap and Yvonne drank greedily, enjoying the refreshment. Then, she took up her role and passed it along back through the line to the smiling faces.

When it came time to camp, she was a touch sorrowful that the pilgrimage was at an end. Still, the journey was just beginning. Tonight, they camped on the lip of the deepest point on the now empty Earth. Tomorrow, they would descend into the belly of the best, uncovering treasures that had been locked away from human exploration.

The captain had been right, Sunset was amazing, and Yvonne let the beauty wash over her. She understood why these trips were so addictive. It was a drug she could get used to.

_

“Congratulations on a successful descent, team,” smiled Captain Morrison, her hair damp and plastered to her forehead. It had been a hot day, even though it was cooler down here in the shade. The darkness was deepening, suggesting the sun was setting on the surface. “I don’t have to tell you all that this is the opportunity of a lifetime. If nothing else, we’re sure to see some crazy stuff down here. So, orders for tonight are to rest up. We’re up early tomorrow to start exploration.”

Yvonne needed little encouragement to wind down for the night. After the descent, her arms ached. Even lifting the spoon to her mouth during dinner caused ripples of aches to flood through her body.

“The trip to the site is always the worst part,” said Dr. Abelard, rubbing her own shoulders in sympathy. She settled in beside Yvonne on the nearby rocks, stirring her own dinner. “I have an herbal cream that I put on my shoulders after a day like that. I can give you some if you’d like?”

Yvonne was taken aback by the kindness, having expected even more hazing. She opened her mouth, but lacked the words to respond. People weren’t her specialty, even if that was what she was seeking most from this trip.

Dr. Abelard laughed, a ringing sound among the silent walls. “Don’t tell me we’ve scared you off already. Trust me, the flight down here was all just formality. You’re on the team, you’re family. Loosen up.” She nudged her with her elbow, giving Yvonne a quick wink.

“Does it work?” Yvonne asked, trying to ease into the conversation.

The other woman shrugged. “I think so. Then again, it may all be in my mind. But if it makes it so my body stops screaming, I figure it’s worth it. I’ll drop it by your sleep roll later.” Yvonne and Dr. Abelard sat and ate, passing the time in quiet chitchat. Small talk was not Yvonne’s specialty, but Dr. Abelard seem incredibly skilled in the art, pulling Yvonne through the motions.

Still, there was little that was as refreshing to Yvonne as the thin layer of cotton bedding in her survival roll once she turned in for the night. The darkness was deep and thick, a bit unsettling to someone use to constant emergency lighting and ambient light from station halls or electronic monitors, and so she was relieved when a light came bobbing towards her.

Dr. Abelard was in the lead, Ms. Caldwell tagging along. The two women seemed to have a friendship that stretched far back, and they were whispering quietly as they walked. Once they reached Yvonne’s tent, they paused and knocked on the door.

“Come on in,” squeaked Yvonne, grateful for the light and company as the two women swept in confidently.

“I always bring some extra in case someone wants to try,” said Dr. Abelard, handing Yvonne a small tube of ointment. “Just a little before you go to sleep, and you’ll wake up feeling like a new woman.”

Ms. Caldwell interjected, almost as if the words burst forth from her lips unsummoned. “Julie told me that this was your first on-world trip. I knew you were new to the team, but not the whole planet!”

Yvonne felt blood rush into her cheek, once again labelled as outsider. Ms. Caldwell seemed to recognize her discomfort and rushed to right the wrong.

“I mean, it must be tough. My first time, I was so homesick. And I could not stand the dark. Wed not have dark like this on the station!” Dr. Abelard was nodding along with Ms. Caldwell, both women smiling knowingly. “I’ve gotten a bit more used to it, and thought this might help you. I mean, if you’re having trouble going to sleep.” She held out a small sphere and gently nudged it with her thumb. A dull, pale blue glow pulsed from the sphere, granting a modicum of light. The darkness, previously so suffocating, receded just a bit, and the women sat in soft light.

As much as she was comforted by the sphere, propriety took over. “That’s so nice, but I can’t. It wouldn’t—“

“Nonsense. We need you sharp for the exploration tomorrow, and that mean sleeping comfortably. You can give it back to me at the end of the trip.”

Yvonne tried again. “No, really, I c—“

“Listen, I’m more stubborn than you, and you’re young enough to be my daughter. I’d want someone to do this for my daughter if she were all alone. I’m leaving it here. Goodnight.” Ms. Caldwell set the sphere by Yvonne’s bedroll, and the two women disappeared back into the evening, continuing on their way. She had to admit, her tent did seem much more comfortable with the soft light. Soon, she was asleep, a smile on her face.

_

The next morning, she was woken by the sudden, rough shaking of Dr. Pollard. H grinned at her from behind his spectacles. “I was beginning to think you were going to miss the first day. You know I did that on our last trip, and they never let me live that down. Trust me, you don’t want that!”

Yvonne smiled self-consciously as she disentangled herself from her bed. His flashlight was aimed for her eyes, and she blink quickly, hoping he would understand. He looked away, granting her relief. “Thanks, Dr. Pollard. I’ll be there in a minute.”

He spun back around with the flashlight, and she was blinded again. “You can call me Tim, Yvonne. No need for formality down here.”

She smiled as he left, her tent swaying shut behind him. As she got up to join the others, there was an extra spring in her step. For once, she felt the scrutiny and interpersonal discomfort fade. It took a moment for Yvonne to identify the feeling. Acceptance, she realized.

Feeling at ease in her own skin, reliant on her skills and experiences, and brought into the fold by her kind companions,  Yvonne was ready to dive in and learn something really important on this trip of discovery.


Creative Commons License
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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