Pendulum Ch. 17: Contact

The gravity on this planet was brutal, but not impossible in the short term. If they were to conduct research here, they’d have to take precautions, but for now, Adams had to live with what little equipment he had been able to take with him. The sky was tinted in yellow and red, similar to Earth during sunrise, only that noon would never come. Combined with Gliese’s slower rotation, a day here was longer, almost a week, and when it got dark, it would still be brighter than at home; only the closest star ever vanished. The twins further out weren’t as bright as Luna individually, but gave more light combined.
He checked his system’s notification. The analysis of the air was finished. It was breathable by humans, and there were no unambiguous pathogens to be found, but it teemed with life, anyway. Alien life, but nevertheless identifiable as mostly fungi and bacteria. Impossible to say what happened when a human breathed them in, and how effective their meds were against them, in case an infection happened and caused problems. Most of his more advanced equipment was also inside the Wisp, their mobile lab and housing. He checked, and kept checking, and the capsule’s replies came on time, but the content of those messages was concerning—it was twenty kilometres to the west, reported an ETA of about sixty minutes, no matter how often he tried. If the vehicle didn’t move, then the electronics should notice, but all status messages looked fine. He cut contact for now. Worst case, he’d have to walk twenty kilometres; abandoning it was not an option. For one, because their air reserves wouldn’t last forever, and then, without the gear inside, he couldn’t conduct his research, and the findings would determine whether he’d clear the place for colonists, restrict it to research teams, or set its status to quarantine-world.
This place had no trees, shrubs, or grass. The only flora he could see looked like fungi of various sizes. The ground covered with a brown living substance that could be lichen, or something completely different. Here and there, naked rock broke through the blanket. Close to his position, a small group of tall fungi reached for the sky. Over twenty metres high, with conic caps and sturdy stalks. He’d need to get closer to see more details. Zooming in didn’t do the trick in these lighting conditions. Was there fauna on this planet? So far, he had seen none. No insects or other forms he would be able to identify at a glance, certainly no mobiles of any sort. This rock in space was truly alien. Between the lingering sunrise and the complete lack of motion, the tough effects of the heightened gravity on the human body and the eerie silence, this world felt unreal. If they had to spend more time here, they had to meet up. Sooner or later, the environment would affect their mental health, too. Already, tension crept through his body. Restlessness, the expectation of danger just out of sight, combined with isolation. He just couldn’t imagine this to work out for them long-term. A coordinated colonisation crew wouldn’t have this problem. Even their small expedition would probably be fine, if they could just get together and experience human interaction, to keep their mind safe from the melancholy already sneaking up on him.
Another notification, again from his comm module. Adams opened it immediately, and the face of Lieutenant Murray appeared. He looked grim, an impression his greying eyebrows emphasised even more.
“Took a while to get in touch with you, Mr Adams.”
“What’s your status, Lieutenant?”
“No problems here. My team landed all in the same valley. They’re currently on the way to me. We’re a bit too far away for a march to your position, though.”
He could see that on the map overlay. Three green dots not too far apart, seven kilometres away. Speaking of distance—the Wisp still hadn’t moved. He opened another channel to retrieve a status report. All green, unchanged.
“Listen, we have a problem. Our expedition mobile is twenty kilometres in the opposite direction, west of here. That’s almost thirty kilometres for you and your marines, and I haven’t been able to find the doctor yet.”
“Dr Maon is with me. His landing was extremely rough, and his suit is damaged, but his injuries are already regenerating. He’ll be able to walk in about an hour.”
The situation was precarious. Their lifeline, the Wisp, was still too far away to just walk over, and their expedition spread out like this. He’d have to decide now.
“What kind of damage did his suit take?”
The lieutenant scowled. “It’s ripped open. He still has his helmet on and is breathing the air we brought, but the rest of the body is exposed to whatever bugs there may be. How big of a problem is that?”
Yeah, how big of a problem indeed?
“I can’t tell yet. Not enough data to make a proper judgement. It seems the Wisp is stuck in the field, and we will have to walk. This is the location of Lieutenant MacBreen. Please pick her up and bring her with you. She might need help.”
This was the only correct decision. Waiting was no option any longer, with the Wisp unable to come to their rescue. Thankfully, the druid was on their way.
“Understood. We’ll carry the doctor until he can move on his own again.”
Adams nodded and closed the connection. And for the first time on this planet, he saw movement; a light in the sky, flying at a fast speed high over the horizon. A meteor? Or something different?

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