Smoky darkness surrounded Kanitha. Her lungs stung with every breath she drew, still she suddenly was wide awake. Something, a micro asteroid had impacted and ruptured an airtank near her. Automatic seaking processes had dealt with the leak, but not the fire. Disorientated she looked around.

There was no fire to be seen.

But smoke. Lots of smoke. Just asnher grandmother usedntonsay, wherenthere is smoke there is fire.

At least some sort of fire, she figured. A moan of agony came from the other end of the room. “Sutherland, is that you?” Unless someone else had entered the room before she passed out there was no other option than it being Sutherland.

“No it’s not me.” He coughed. In the smoke he was difficult to make out but he rose against the faint back glow of emergency lights.

Crawling on all fours she made her way to him. “Either something caught fire or it’s the fusion reactor leaking plasma.” Every word hurt in Kanitha’s throat, her eyes stung as if pierced by needles. “We need to get out of here. Regardless of what causes this smoke.” Agreeing on that Kanitha turned for the door, Sutherland right behind her.

Attempting to open the door Kanitha was surprisednwhen it didn’t open. Something prevented the mechanism from working.

That could only mean that either outside plasma had built up and would burn them, or that there was an atmospheric leak. Although all electronics were offline the engineers who had built Horizon were wise enough to inckude purely mechanical safeguards into the doors. From her pockets she fished the glasses, which she used as flashlight. In a corner of the door there was a small mechanical indicator. “Door is locked for good.”

Desperate she turned around. Panic began to crawl up her spine. “There is a maintenance shaft behind that panel.” Sutherland waved her to follow, he too had out on his glasses, used them as flash light.

Reluctantly Kanitha turned hers off, to conserve energy. Who knew when they’d be able to charge them again?

The maintenance shaft was accessible. The way up however was blocked by a bulkhead, presumably for the same reason the door was locked. Plasma or loss of atmosphere.

“It can onky go down from this point on.” Smoke from the room was wobbling past them, quickly the two entered the shaft and closed the access panel again. After several moments they enjoyed less poisonous air.

For a few minutes the two climbed down before a battery operated warning chime sounded beneath them, between to prongs where Kanitha had been climbing a moment earlier a bulkhead door slammed shut. She swallowed hard. “We better hurry up, what ever is happening, it spreads like wildfire.”

Muttering “agreed” Sutherland continued his descend. Threendecks later they found a dead end in form of a closed Bulckhead door. Since it was a lot cooler than above they assumed that atmosphere had been lost higher up, and decided to exit the shaft.

Opening into a room similar to the one they had just left, Sutherland and Kanitha eagerly inhaled the clean air that greeted them.

“Now what?” Kanitha got to her feet and made her way to the door.

“Now we see that we get out of here. Maybe find others. We hope for Dawn Horizon to pick us up, or the linkers. Maybe even the harpies! For goodness sake, we turned over that ship egg. They owe us.”

The hallway outside was empty, and dark. At least there was no smoke, or immense heat. Kanitha turned on her flashlight, thinking like her before, Sutherland turned his off.

A feeling of uneasiness got hold of her as she looked down the hallway. “Se whether this tub can fly, I’ll be back as soon as I can.” She took a step out in the darkness.

Whioe Sutherland got to work, the door slowly closed behind her. “Hello? Is there anybody?” Only three steps away from the door Kanitha felt even uneasier than before. Dark hallways scared her. Especially if all she wanted was to get away.

But prior to that moment she had never faced such a situation. Biting down her fears she went on. At another door she tried to open it, but it was locked. Since there was no heat she assumed it was due to a leak in the hull of that pod.

Weak kneed she went on. A sudden noise from behind her startled her, shrieking she whirled around, found Sutherland in the cone of light from her glasses.

“Pod’s not going anywhere. Micro asteroid went through the propulsion system.” Suddenly feeling better with Sutherland at her side, Kanitha just nodded and pressed on.

After a few minutes of walking down the corridor they met another dead end.

“Tube access point seventeen, subgamma.” Sutherland read the emblazoned plaque next to the door.

“Jackson, is it possible that the momentum is getting lost?” Kanitha felt lighter, but she didn’t know whether it real or an after effect of the smoke.

“It is. I thought it was the smoke getting to my head.” The two went back to the next intersection. “We should try and find a way further down. The further we get away from the center the more likely that there will be undamaged pods.”

Wanting to repky Kanitha took a breath, but paused as they heard an odd sound from down the hallway. The way they had come incidentally.

“Run!” She urged, turning in the way and running. Moments later a thunderous noise filled the air, and for a second she was drawn back by strong currents. Then an emergency bulkhead closed behind them, closing off the newky created vacuum.

“What the hell was that?” Jackson Sutherland rubbed his arm that was brushed by the slamming bulkhead.

“The superstructure is failing, although momentum is getting lost, the mass of the pods, and the uneven mass distribution of the burnt out fusion reactor and its surroundings must have a negative impact on it.” Kanitha tried the adjacent doors to the hallway they were in, with no luck.

All were locked due to no atmosphere behind it. A terrible thought came to her mind. Somemof these pods, if not most of them, were launched.

They sat in a failing superstructure with no means of escape.

Hissing. Doom spelling hissing led Kanitha through the corridor lit only by her flashlight. Sutherland followed her closely, until they found the source ofnthat hiss. A air conditioning unit leaking almost pure oxygen into the hallway. Glad it was not a decompression leak Kanitha sat down next to it. “As long as there is nothing to light this up, were not going to suffocate or die right now.” She leaned her head against the wall.

“There are escape pods.” Sutherland too sat down.

“Where?” With a frowning expression he pointed upwards. “Near main engineering. Battery operated, cryogenic escape pods. We wouldn’t be able to go to RV-p296, but dash 2 is close by.”

Reclining against the wall Kanitha made a dismissive gesture. “Main engineering is more of a furnace right now. Even if the plasma has leaked into space by now, the secondary fires it started will still rage, the metals will be hot for days on end. We can’t hold out that long either.”

Slamming his fist on the ground Sutherland got up. “Listen here, I don’t wanna die in this corridor. The pods are either broken, or they left. We have this one chance, and I’d rather die trying to make it there, than wait for death here.” He spun around on his heel and walked away.

For a moment Kanitha was tempted to let him walk into his own undoing, but then got up too.

Ascending through a narrow staircase, filled with dust and debris, decades upon decades of neglected use had left in it, Kanitha noticed a light a few decks above them. It was not the menacing glow of molten metal or plasma from the reactor, but the shiny glow of a flashlight. “Hello?” She couldn’t resist the urge to yell to them. As much as she valued Jackson Sutherland as company, she was hoping for further survivors.

“Hello!” A man returned her call. “How are things up there?” Sutherland asked while taking two steps at a time, a task that became increasingly easy. “Hot, but we’re holding up.” The voice of a woman.

So they were at least two. Kanitha figured. Upon reaching their level Kanitha saw three women and two men. They were huddled together next to an air duct.

“Behind that door, fires of hell.” One of the men commented. He was a civilian.

When things went from bad to worse much the civilian population was transported to subgamma, so they could hold out there. Kanitha feared that most had died anyways.

“We’re on the wrong deck anyway.” Sutherland noted upon seeing the door, pointing up. “Up there is just more of the same.” Francine Harris, an engineering colleague of Kanitha wrinkled her forehead. “We know. We camenfrom one deck up originally.” Sutherland sighed, glancing up the stairs. No fires or glowing metals to be seen.

“Near engineering, there are supposedly emergency pods. Battery operated cryogenic pods. We could reach the linker colony and live.” Kanitha tried to sound optimistic.

For a few moments the five looked puzzled until they got up in unison. “What are we waiting for then?” Gerry Polanski smiled, stepping on the first step of the stairs.

As foretold by Francine temperature increased by each deck they ascended. Hopes to find the lifepods intact, or at all, was decreasing as the temperatures rose. “This is it.” Jackson stopped. “The door is almost hot enough to set someone or something touching it ablaze. No chance I’ll be going through there.” The civilian, Nepumo Ricosta, took a step back. “Perhaps we can patch up one of the pods on a lower level?” Maria Trinidad, an Ensign, suggested with little hope shining through her tone.

“Not here.” Jackson poimted at the door. “There!” A door, almost hidden inside the wall opposite of the exit, halfway up to the next deck, said “Lifepods” on it, in tiny, dust covered, painted letters.

Quickly the party rushed up the stairs, Sutherland opened the door, which was surprisingly not locked due to decompression behind it.

Kanitha and he surmised that the emergency life pods were in a specially sealed and shielded compartment, so the micro asteroids rushing through the spine did not harm it. In addition the molten reactor in front of the pod chamber provided a dense shield of immense heat, vaporising any micro asteroid passing through.

The room was dimly lit, but in stark contrast to the rest of the ship, it was lit. Onky a few meters from the door the room ended, with a ladder leading up and down.

“I see only four pods, we’re seven people!” Nepumo shrieked.

Now Kanitha knew where she had seen him before. He had a broadcasting show on the Horizon net. “There are four more below, and four above us. I suspect there are again some another deck lower, and higher. But the ones I see, are plenty for us.” Jackson returned from the ladder.

He began drawing up the sensor data the poda could collect with the built in sensor arrays. “Alright. There’s only these twelve, and we have to fill them bottom up.” A rumble went through the ship, suddenly weightlessness set in. “Molten structure ground up against the suspension. Gravity’s gone.” Kanitha calmed the nerves of the others.

As long as the simulated gravity was there, heat was rising upwards, melting the materials it met. Now that was gone. An alarm sounded, and the access dor alammed shut from inside the wall. “Apparently, this is our last stop on Horizon. Air pressure in the staircase is gone.” April Wallner, commented checking the sign at the door.

“Alright, Maria, Francine, Gerry, take Nepumo down there and get ready, enter your pods, I’ll program the coordinates for ES-p296-2 from here.”

“Wait, why can’t we wait on Dawn?” Gerry stopped the others from doing as Jackson had told them to. “Surely they received the distress signals. They will come pick us up. Or the pods launched from Dusk already.”

With a sigh Jackson shook his head. Telling them would not ease their concerns, he knew. He entered a few commands into the console in front of him. “Dawn Horizon got picked up by the linkers. I saw it in the sensor logs, they rushed here, while we hadn’t even met in that staircase, they had arrived here.” A video was on display.

Dawn Horizon appeared, a foreign shaped ship between subalpha and alpha. Within moments they collected all the pods that were sending out distress signals and after a short time the entire group of ships disappeared again.

Silence befell the room. “I don’t mean to be an ass here, but what the fuck?” Gerry pushed away from the display.

“It’s over, man. They abandoned us!” Nepumo panicked. Attempting to slap him proved difficult for Kanitha, but she managed. “They didn’t know we’re here, or still alive for that matter!”

For a moment the others stared at the display. “Forgive my saying so, but what if we hijack one of those?” April enhanced the image on the display. An inert landing pod floated in space. “There is no apparent damage, we can scan it from here for confirmation that it is still working, if not we go with the escape pods for the linker moon. If it is we can bring this thing to the moon with us.” Intrigued Sutherland raised hia eyebrows. He held o to the wall of the pod next to the display. “Sensors show it is fulky operational, it got torn off the superstructure, with the docking clamps and part of the superstructure, so it is fully operational, and undamaged.” Frantically typing away at the display he programmed the escape poda to dock with the landing craft, while Gerry, Maria and Francine brought Nepumo to the pods on the lower deck, and began boarding them.

Minutes later all were in the escape pods. Through a tiny view window they saw how the air vanished out the entire room as the doors opened to allow the pods to escape.

The bottom four were ejected, veered off on their course to the inert landing craft. The next three were lowered automatically, and ejected, also began taking course to their destination.

From outside damage to the Dusk Horizon was looking even worse than fro, the inside. Just two decks above their last position a giant hole was gaping, incandescent and fatal to the ship. It spanned over several decks, when it decompressed, a stream of plasma had shot out, hitting the dish, eating away much of it.

Occasionally there were minor explosive decompressions, and explosions when the fires ignited an oxygen tank.

Kanitha watched, not realising that she wept. The devastated wreckage she was watching had been her home all her life. She was in the engineering crew, the ship had also been her work, her efforts, her ingenuity.

It broke her heart to see it destroyed.

Only at that moment did she realise another loss. Her sister! Her nefews!

Carl Olafson! Sobbing violently now, she closed her eyes.

Docking with the landing pod was automated, every one of them came with docking ports for eight escape pods, before landing in an atmosphere they had to be ditched however, or else they risked burning up.

Jackson looked around the vessel. It was a standard military landing craft. All systems were operational, batteries were running at over 90%. “Salvage the batteries from the escape pods, on that moon our solar panels will take a long time to charge anything.” He went aroundnto inspect for an algae processing plant, but found it missing, which meant they’d have to find edible stuff on the moon asap.

Hoping biochemistry worked differently on the moon than on RV-p296, so they wouldn’t miss vital amino acids, he returned to the cockpit.

“Anyone with any landing training here?” Laying in a course for the moon was the easier part of the eacape from the wrecked Dusk Horizon, landing it was another bargain.

“First we have to get there, we worry about landing this tub then.” Gerry mumbled, he felt incredibly hungry. “There are emergency rations.” Francine knew the look on his face, she pointed to a closet in the cockpit.

With a disdainful frown he shook his head. “I need to get even more hungry to eat that.”

Thrusters engaged on the ship, it swayed away from the Horizon wreckage. “We need to break the momentum, currently we’re only slowing down on our path towards the inner solar system, it’ll take a while. We should get to work with those batteries.” Kanitha left her seat and wandered back to the pods. Finding Jackson already at work at his escape pod, and April at hers. Nepumo sat in a corner too terrified to do anything.

Compelled to do the same she shook her head and got to work.

Several hours of deceleration later the craft finally began moving in the direction of the linker moon, most of the survivors had fallen asleep. There had been a few breakdowns, mourning for lost friends and family. At least Gerry could take solace in the fact that his wife and children were safe and sound aboard Dawn Horizon.

Just as Gerry had predicted, the rations were edible, but far from tasty. But to sustain themselves for the days of flight there was no other option.

“Approaching ES-p296-2.” Kanitha had taken the pilot’s seat. Noe of them, including the ensigns, had any flight experience, education on landing procedures was only slowly rolling out, when disaster struck. “Signaling emergency to the linkers, we don’t want them to think we are here to spy or invade their territory.”

The mostly red hued surface of the moon appeared before them. The vastly grown shipyard at the end of the elevator tether standing out like a thorn in the moon’s side.

Sweaty handed Kanitha typed commands to bring up the automated landing. “This thing can only do so much, I still need to guide it down.” Kanitha looked up at their destination. “Where do we want to set it down folks? Near the linkers, or further away?”

Jackson came up to her side, lookimg at the screen then at the instruments. “Since we depend on them in case our efforts to survive fail, and need them to make contact with Destiny when they fly by, I’d say not too close, but also not too far away.” Confirming sounds and nods from the others followed.

Trying to ignore her sweaty palms and shaky fingers, Kanitha entered a few commands, coordinates and then reluctantly took the steering. With a faint metallic click the pods they had arrived in disengaged.

Pressed in her seat by belts Kanitha had never been shaken ao violently as during the first phase of atmospheric entry. This part of the landing sequence was fully automatic, but in truth there was nothing even the computer could do during entry. Flames licked up from the heattiles beneath the ship. Scared Kanitha closed her eyes, thought about the people she had lost on Horizon. Carl.

Suddenly the shaking stopped, thrusters engaged, Kanitha snapped out of her memories of Carl, put her hands on the controls again.

Onky a few meters above ground, giant red, leathery leaves rushed by beneath the ship, animals took refuge or flught from the potential predator in the skies.

Thrusters had slowed the ship down, kept it floating until it reached a clearing. There the computer aided in settlingnthe ship down, after Kanitha had to steer it over the trees.

Thrusters went offline, and into cool down after they had touched ground.

“Welcome to the moon colony of indifference, where we will sit and wait for the bus to arrive. Estimated time till arrival of said vehicle, about five years.”

“Three actually. Destiny plowed through the solar system on orion drive, they shaved two years off their trip.” Nepumo had his wits back, after days in the confinement of the pod.

Giving him a look that said without words what she thought of his witty reply, Kanitha got up and walked to the airlock that led outside.

Taking a deep breath she closed the inner doors behind her, knowing her comrades stood at the window, eagerly peering outside.

The outter doors opened letting in a stream of cool air. It was crisp, moldy, and although only a few hours on foot from the linker ground base and their industry, the air held a freshness and quality that Kanitha had never known before.

Gingerly she placed her steps outside. Soft ground, covered with a mossy growth, greeted her feet. On the ship the ground in the gardens had never had that quality to it. Although there were patches of grass and walkways, there was no moss covered clearing, that was both soft to the step and yet after a centimeter or two turned harder. She looked up. The sky had the tiny weak glow of the sun in the far distance, barely any warmth came from the sunshine.

It was by now common knowledge that the linker moon had it’s warmth from inside, which also allowed for a strong magnetic field around the moon to keep the atmosphere from being blown away by solar winds.

Threatening almost, the shadow of the shipyard in stationary orbit loomed to the north east. Something was traveling up the tether. Silently and as ominous as the space based shipyard itself.

She felt cold. If they were to live outside their pod, they would need to find clothing firewood. On the edge of the clearing she saw movement.

Some indigenous lifeforms had come to inspect the new arrival.

Hopefully nothing carnivorous. Waving to the others to join her, Kanitha turned to the pod.

Jackson and April stepped outside, Gerry and Nepumo followed. “Oh yes. That is some fresh air.” Nepumo commented, took images with the camera on hia glasses.

Presumably for his vlog, once they returned to civilisation. “I’ve set one pod up there to emit an emergency signal once every month, starting in two years.” Jackson had left the battery of one emergency pod intact.

“Guys? We should probably seek help from the linkers.” Gerry turned around a few times. He held a tablet in his hand that was equipped with a few extras, currently he was analysing the air. “Or get some breathing equipment.” The magic and wonders of the scenery around them blended away into the background as they all gathered around him. “According to these readings there is a spore abundant in the air, that has some hallucinogenic properties to it. At current levels, nothing dangerous, but if we’re exposed to large enough quantities,” he looked around. Pinching the base of her nose Kanitha lowered her eyes. “Take a reading close to the ground.” A warning began to beep as he did so. The moss! “It is possible we stirrd up those spores when we landed. A reading close to the edge of the clearing should provide an answer.” Jackson pointed to the east.

After saluting Gerry started walking. All the while his eyes fixed on his screen.

“There.” Something lowered itself out of the red leaved tree. The presumed plant had probably a dozen leaves, not more. Like the others that were visible around them.

From the ground the creature that Kanitha had observed stood up.

It had six appendages, stood on four to look. There was a thick purple fur on its body, and extremities. Fur color had evolved to blend in with the trees.

The only question was, to hide from predators, or to sneak up on prey? Pressing against the red hued stem of the plant, it became difficult to make out the creature. “Readings are lower here!” Gerry yelled. “Up there is a thing, better watch out.” Jackson replied waving him back.

We should’ve landed right next to the kinker colony. “We should get inside. We have guns inside.” Kanitha urged Jackson, who nodded in approval for her to go and get one.

“Have you ever shot one of those things before?” He asked before she left. “I’m an engineer. Harpies aren’t a threat anylonger, and I’m only twentytwo. So, no, I haven’t. But I learn pretty quickly.”

Meanwhile Gerry backed away from the creature, inching slowly.

The doors to the airlock opened, Kanitha sprung inside. There was a weapons locker in the airlock, where she took two guns and hurried outside again. “Run!” She heard Nepumo yell. Looking in Gerry’s direction she sawnthe creature leapt from thentrunk of the tree, shot across the mossy ground towards him.

Kanitha reached Jackson, handed him the second gun, while yelling for the others to go back inside.

In one swift motion the freature had jumped in Gerry, brought him to fall into the moss. It bit him in the shoulder, when suddenly several small darts lodged themselves in its body.

Twitching and in aginy the creature let go of Gerry, who scrambled away from it, and found himself running the distance towards the pod.

Rising again the creature shook off the shock received from the darts, it looked after Gerry, but saw he was too far away at the others.

Instinctively the creature ducked away and ran back to the forest, disappearing in between the trees. “That thing will be back.” Jackson grumbled. From the corner of his eyes he noticed more movement in the forest. “Back inside. Now.”

Kanitha and he reached the airlock, Gerry leaned against the doorframe, blocking the doors until they arrived. Other creatures like the one that had attacked Gerry emerged from the forest, undoubtedly drawn in by the noise and the scent of blood.

“Alright, we’re surrounded by hostile wildlife. Suggestions?” At the console right inside the airlock Kanitha checked the systems of the pod. “Not enough power to make it away to the linker base.” She turned to the others. “If we won’t use an ounce of power, in about four days the ship will have generated enough through solar to make it.” Knowing that was no option she still felt obligatedmto mention it. “Batteries won’t help it, just fyi.”

“So we have to impact the local environment even more by killing these creatures.” Nepumo sounded content with that.

“Maybe we can eat them?” Gerry cussed while April applied a bandage to his injury. The thought of having to keep eating the rations was almost as unbearable as the pain.

“They appear to be moving off.” Francine was watching a diplsay showing the outside, several cameras allowed for a 360 degree coverage around the pod.

“Maybe they too are susceptible to the spores?” Kanitha also looked at the display, but turned it off after few moments. “We have to conserve power. Turn off everything that might drain energy and is not essential.”

Sun was about to set, ushering in a dark and icy night, hence it was decided to leave the heating on, but set to a bare minimum.

Kanitha had volunteered for the first shift, of holding watch. Through the windshield she could still see outside, without wasting any energy.

Light, reflected off of the other moons, lit the forest. There was no light from the mother planet, as it was on the other side of the moon, always stayed there.

Wondering what sight that would be she kept staring outside. Mists rose from the moss, covering the clearing with an eerie blanket.

In the mist she could see the predatory creatures move around, but onky at the edge of the forest, always in the trees.

She figured that the mist was laced with the spores, and that leaving the pod now, would be a stupid idea unless she wore protection.

“No signs of our lion lizards, except them monkeying around in the trees.” Kanitha reported to Jackson as he began the next shift.

“Gerry is unresponsive. Running a high fever. Either the bite of the,” he paused recalling what Kanitha called the creatures, “lion-lizards is poisonous, or the spores entered the wound.” Neglecting to tell him that the bite would be venomous, not poisonous, Kanitha nodded.

The moment the creature but Gerry, she somehow doubted he’ll survive it. Hearing about him being unresponsive only deepened that assumption. “We need to get to the linkers. They can provide us with shelter, protection and food.” Her voice was low, but sharp.

Rubbing his temple Jackson sat down in the other seat in the cockpit. Henknew she was right, but he had objections. Before he could reply hpthey were disturbed by movement outside. Shielded from soundmthe two only had their eyes to go on.

Through the fog bank a creature darted across the clearing towards the pod, and jumped at the windscreen.

Trying to hold with its claws it couldn’t get a hold, slowly it sank down and fell into the mist. There was no movement of it running back.

Quickly Kanitha brought the sensors online, took a reading of the ship’s hull and found no breaches. Barely outside the creature was moving around in an erratic manner, going thisnway, then another.

After a few minutes it stopped moving.

In silence Kanitha and Jackson exchanged a long look. “First thing in the morning.” He said, turning off the power hungry computer, displays and sensors.

Although the fog had cleared in the second half of the night, Kanitha still had strpped on a breathing mask that filtered out the spores. A few meters from the windscreen she found the creature. It was dead, but still rather warm. It too must’ve run a high fever in the last moments of its life.

Close to where Gerry had been attacked by the first creature, she found the tablet he had been using before. Taking readings of the dead creature she felt a tight grip on her heart.

According to the readings the spores had affected the neuro chemistry of the creature, just like the warning messages said, but then had taken its lungs as perfect grounds to grow in. From the snout of the creature moss was growing outwards already.

Alarmed and terrified Kanitha fled back to the pod. “Watch Gerry closely!” She yelled at April throwing her a breathing mask, she herself went to wake Jackson.

“Sutherland, the spores infected the creature, grew in its lungs and devour it as we speak.” Dazed, since he just woke up, Jackson looked at her. Itntook him a moment to realise her words.

“Gerry?” Kanitha shrugged her sholders, closed the doors to the room. “We haven’t established any form of command chains yet, but we need to find a consesus now.” She hissed as low as she could with the tension on her mind. “It is a very likely that we are already infected to a certain degree, we might be able to cleans ourselves with what we’ve got. We surely dragged spores with us in here, we could also cleanse the ship. But, what next? What should we eat? Rations are diminishing rapidly. We have but one alternative.”

Grinding his teeth Jackson lowered his head. “Alright, call up the linkers.” Thanking him Kanitha left the room, informed the oers of the decision, if anyone was against it she’d put it up for debate. To her relief no one had any objections. So far, ever since the Dusk Horizon ran into the asteroid shower, they had gone from one bad situation into a worse one.

At least the linkers would save their lives.

“We do not have an atmospheric vessel ready to take you from your present location to the base. But we will hold the door open for you.” Confronted by either the unwillingness, or actual inability to help them Kanitha still found herself thanking the woman with the dark skin and green eyes that just had spoken with her.

Devastated she turned around to face the ither horror in human form, her colleagues’ aggravated faces. “Breathing gear, every weapon you can grab, rations and tablets. Get your move on!” Kanitha barked. Never had she taken command of any groupmof her fellow engineers, Sutherland was as surprised as the others when she shouted her commands.

Noon drenched the clearing in a clear bright, yet cold light, the doors opened to the airlock, releasing Kanitha, Sutherland, April and Nepumo. Francine turned back. Maria stood in the airlock, shaking her head. “We can’t leave Gerry here. He’ll die!”

“He’ll die anyway! Don’t stay behind.” Arguing Francine stretched out her hand. Kanitha passed her by. “You stay here, you will die. Along with him, once the moss grows out of his mouth and nose. Do you want that, Ensign?” For a moment Kanitha saw resistance in the other womans eyes. The question who gave Kanitha command hung unspoken in the air, lnhering like a predator in the shadows. “No Ma’am.” She finally gave in to Kanitha’s glare. “Move out.” Kanitha growled.

Looking back herself Kanitha felt guilty and dirty for leaving Gerry behind. In case he would snap out of it they left him with provisions for three days and a radio to signal for them to get him, or give him directions on how to reach them.

Still, she could not back away now. Determined to survive and get the rest of the group to safety she stepped out of the airlock and closed the doors behind herself.

Breathing with the respiratory aid was a new experience for the entire group, ezcept Kanitha who had gotten used to it since examining the lion-lizard. She was the vanguard of the group as they headed out towards the base of the linkers. In her left she held the tablet with which she occasionally took readings of the air and plants they passed, in her right she held a gun. Set to fire the darts, but with a flick of a switch she could turn it into the deadly instrument she knew it could be.

Behind her was Jackson, carrying two guns, followed by Nepumo, April and Maria, with Francine as the rearguard. Each of them had at least one gun, and each carried rations for two days. Through the densely packed stems of the trees at the edge of the clearing they soon entered a forest that was not as dense. Only at the edges, where light was more abundant, did the plants grow denser.

“Do you hear that?” Kanitha looked around following Jackson’s question. “No air conditioning, no ever so faint engine, no nothing. Just wind, leaves, water.” He pointed at a creek that ran through the forest.

“Stalking predators, us trodding through the forest, spores that would fester in our lungs and kill us.” Nepumo replied in a bleak tone.

Shrugging Kanitha looked around, walked towards the creek. For a moment she stopped, taking readings of the air. “Spore free.” She took the breathing mask off. Curious about the water she held the scanner into the creek. “Minerals, water, nothing harmful.” She smiled gladly, taking another good look around, and a glance on her tabket again. No sign of any predatory creature. Puttingnthe tablet away she took a sip of water with her hollow hand.

“There is no comparison to the water we had on Horizon. This is really good water.” She smiled benignly.

Standing up she looked around, all the time ready to fire at any lion-lizard that might be charging at them. One by one the others tried the fresh water. Water that had not been through a refreshment, and refinement plant numerous times, but that had gone through nature’s own recycling circle. “How much longer do we have to walk?” Nepumo was tired. As they all were.

“Two hours? Maybe three.” Kanitha crossed the creek, the cold wster that entered her boots felt refreshing, although it may have been a badnidea, she couldn’t h3lp but enjoy it.

After a while the forest grew even less dense. The trees were older, further apart, taller and their leaves were bigger. Dead logs were lying on the ground, all rotten through the years. As some trees grew larger they took the light from smaller trees and that killed them. “Do you hear that?” Not that again. “No. What is it now?” Annoyed Kanitha didn’t stop to listen. “There is a hum.”

Stopping now to listen Kanitha too noticed the hum. It was almost electric, but they were too far out to be at the linker base already. As she looked at her tablet her palms began to sweat, and she found herself caressing the trigger of her gun for reassurance.

“There’s a lifeform. Several lifeforms. Two O’clock.” She had picked up that form of giving directions from old movies and TV shows, apparently so had the others as they all looked in the according direction. Slowly they advanced towards the spurde of the hum.

Twenty meters later they found a group of bug like creatures, the size of a person’s head, sitting on a dead log, they danced around, flapping flightless wings, producing the hum.

From a safe distance the group watched for a few minutes. “Mating rituals? I heard that animals do that sort of thing.” Nepumo whispered, recording a video on it.

“Maybe. It might also be that one pack of them wandered into the territory of the other pack and they’re about to fight. Maybe they’re communicating. Bees on earth communicated to others in the hive by dancing and buzzing.” Francine was also recording.

Not wanting to test any of the theories Kanitha retreated, urged the others to do the same.

While wandering on Francine and Nepumo discussed what these creatures might have been. Birds, mammals, insects, or something they had not onown all together. Paying no mind to their chatter Kanitha kept a close eye on the tablet, soon they’d leave the forest again, if there was more moss, and subsequently spores, she wanted to know.

Breathing masks on their faces the group stood infront of a large metallic wall. It stretched to either side of them for as far as the eye could see. Dusk was already setting in, beneath their feet was moss, Kanitha felt panic slowly taking a hold of the group. “Dusk Horizon survivors to DEHuman base. We have arrived at the perimeter, please advise on proceeding further.”

Static. About to repeat her word Kanitha looked to the side, paused. A light emanating from an opening in the wall drew her attention. A door! “Let’s hope we won’t end up as part of the common consciousness.” She sighed. More to herself than the others who had a similar thought. “Even if, after all we’ve been through, I’m sure we’d find a way out.” Jackson laughed, following her.

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