He pushed with his foot and rose into the air, soaring over the boulder before landing gently on the far side, his boots kicking up a cloud of dust that seemed to hang in the thin atmosphere, suspended like a sculpture in his wake. He launched himself again, the dust drifting back down to mask his footprints.
If he came back this way tomorrow, there would be no signs of his passing. The landscape would be as pristine as it was in front of him now.
He smiled within his suit’s helmet, and tilted his head up to the sun. It looked yellow through the visor’s tint, the landscape a perfect image frozen in sepia.
He bounded on, parallel with the fissure to his right. The geologists spoke of slow subterranean movements, but they did not consider these a statistical concern, and this time his intuition agreed.
Not like on Stadue, where the reports looked fine, yet he felt the prickling at the back of his neck, growing until it was a constant reminder that something was off.
Thankfully, they’d listened to his intuition, and once again he saved the company money and time. They left the planet eighteen months into the project, and two weeks before an earthquake destroyed the whole base.
He had no such prickling here, and the stats looked perfect—atmosphere just right for efficient terraforming, solid bedrock, no indigenous species of any kind. As things stood, the second wave would arrive in ten months, and within a decade location HR451 on S89/P4/St1 would be a thriving community.
The fissure would run with water, flowing into a lake, with beaches where families could relax, or where fish could be reared. The dusty soil beneath his feet would become a luscious field, or maybe a forest. There might be animals grazing and crops growing. Within a lifetime, the place would echo with the sounds of life and work.
He pulled himself to a stop, the sun reflecting off the now-visible arc of the geodesic. In a couple of minutes, he’d be back at the base. He’d enter the airlock, make for his cabin, shower and change. Then he’d boot up the system and give his report. Everything was running smoothly. His intuition told him nothing was amiss.
After a couple more months of the same reports, the first ‘official’ colonists would settle, and the company would move him on to a new rock, where he would once again don his suit, breathe air from a tank, and explore the magnificent wilderness. He would once again tell his superiors that this, too, would make an ideal home for an ever-expanding population.
He sighed, and walked on, no longer leaping. His boots felt heavy now, and his skin started to itch from the heat.
In the airlock, an icy coolness rush poured over him as he removed the helmet and peeled off the suit. Standing in shorts and a tee, both items drenched and clinging to his skin, he dropped the protective clothing in the bucket and opened the inner door.
“Hey, Peterson! Good walk?”
Why was Simony always so cheerful? He’d never seen her without that grin. And did she have to stand so close?
“Not bad. Need to make my report.” He headed past, sliding against the wall to avoid contact.
“Right. See you later?” She’d taken a step after him, and had her hand out, her fingers practically touching his arm.
“Lots to write up.”
“Sure. Okay. Maybe some other time?”
Her voice rose in pitch, almost like she was pleading. But if she said anything else, it was lost as he walked across the communal area, into the cabins.
He stripped off his garments as he stood under the cold shower, shivering the claustrophobia from his mind. He air-dried, then shrugged on a robe and fired up the system connection at his desk.
When the prompt appeared on the screen, he gave his tag and entered the report database. It was already populated with data—time, atmospheric conditions, the exact route he’d taken, and so on.
Feeling lightheaded, he sat, coughed, and began.
“Today’s circuit commenced at sunrise, and there was a chill in the air to begin. However, the atmosphere soon warmed, and the stroll was pleasant.”
He paused, biting his lower lip. He had to be careful how he worded this.
“I observed nothing untoward, but felt an uneasiness when my route brought me close to the fissure. It was only a mild feeling, but I would be remiss in my duties if I did not investigate further. I am almost sure it is nothing—possibly I over-exerted myself, and the sensation was a side-effect of tiredness.”
He worried that this line sounded too light, and so he deepened his voice, striving for more seriousness.
“And so I request an extended exploration. I wish to take a buggy, fitted for a three-night stay, and follow the fissure to the edge of our current mapped area. Once there, I will make a more detailed assessment.
The ‘data received’ icon flashed, then glowed green, sealing his message within the database. He took a deep breath.
Such a trip would require organising, so he’d have to deal with some of the others, including Simony. But he’d pay that price for the chance to spend a few days alone, with untouched territory all around. And when he returned, he’d make another report, highlighting more misgivings.
If he played this right, the wonderful solitude could be his for months, maybe even years.
He let his head tilt back and shut his eyes, and thought of paradise.
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