|I stepped out of the shuttle and took a deep breath. It was here I would call my home for the next five years.
Being new to the professional realm of science, I felt nervous to finally meet those scientists I had written reports on while in training. I was going to work along side some of the best scientists in the universe.
I took another deep breath and willed myself forward. It would not make a good impression on the older scientists if I stood gaping at the scenery.
This planet, simply termed U129, had a yellow tinted atmosphere, with slightly less oxygen and nitrogen than the planet Earth. It had a crusty orange soil. There seemed to be virtually no plant or native life whatsoever.
Why anybody cared to study this planet, I had no idea.
I entered the lab through the tinted bubble. This "bubble" technology was still a prototype, but it seemed effective in keeping unwanted elements out of the lab and vice-versa.
I glanced around the lab. All the instruments were crowded into one giant room, and a few smaller rooms branched off the big one. The living quarters, I assumed.
"Welcome." An old man approached me. He didn't appear to be much older than fifty. "You must be Doctor Jalus." He peered at me over his thick glasses, a frown on his face.
I gulped. If all of them were like this, I don't know if I would last very long. "Yes, I am." I reached my hand forward in greeting, but the old man didn't make a move.
"Did the government send you?"
Suddenly, he grabbed my shoulder and dragged me back outside the lab. "You shouldn't have come," he whispered harshly. "Once you're here, there's no going back." His eyes shifted to either side of me, as if scanning the horizon.
"Why? I thought-"
"No!" He practically stuck his finger up my nose with emphasis. "Things are not as they seem. If you know what's good for you, return to the shuttle. Leave!" He still scanned the horizon.
I took a step back. "I don't understand."
"You don't have time." He shoved me towards the shuttle. I stumbled backwards. "Once the sun sets..." He shook his head.
I realized that the sun was indeed setting. I wanted to protest again; I had spent the past three years in chrio-sleep. I could not turn back at the compelling of a half-crazed man.
I glanced around. The old man had disappeared into the lab, though I could still hear him compelling me to leave. I turned around, and saw the darkness approaching.
Only, it did not look like darkness. It looked like a giant cloud of something deadly, perhaps even death itself. With eyes widened, I stumbled quickly to the shuttle, hoping it was not too late.
What ever that was, it was not good.
I had activated the shuttle even before the door had completely shut. The cloud of darkness was advancing swiftly; I didn't have much time.
I ignited the engines.
The darkness cloud was only 200 yards away.
The shuttle lifted slowly off the ground.
Muttering curses beneath my breath, I urged the shuttle to hurry, even as it shot up into the atmosphere.
I knew I wasn't going to escape it. I quickly grabbed for the restraint-belts (rarely used, but still included because of some law still on the books from ages past); if anything happened, I needed to be as safe as possible.
I hit the button for the after-burner, hoping to give the shuttle more thrust.
Even with the extra thrust, the darkness cloud reached me all the same.
With a shrill cry, the shuttle suddenly went dead. I closed my eyes, already knowing what was happening.
The shuttle spiraled downward. Down to the cursed planet. Down to my death.
Was I really going to die after working so hard to achieve all that I had?
The shuttle was going to crash soon, and all that I had done, all that I had achieved, was going down with me.
I slowly lost consciousness as the shuttle reached terminal velocity.
I groaned, afraid to open my eyes. Why I wasn't dead, I had no idea. I don't think I even wanted to know what was left of me, because after a crash like the one I had, not much should be left.
I remained lying on the ground. My entire body hurt with ever-increasing pain. I must have broken a few bones, at the very least. If I didn't die from pain or injury, then I would surely die from starvation.
I was probably hundreds of miles from the lab, which meant no food, nor protection from the darkness. I would be dead by nightfall.
No use wallowing in pain; I could at least try to find my way back to the lab. I slowly and very painfully got to my feet. I felt light-headed and everything around me spun.
After several minutes, my eyes finally focused on my surroundings. Instead of standing on the orange dirt, I was standing on a strange purple moss. There were giant tree-like things all around me, except where my shuttle crash landed.
How did I get out of the burning shuttle?
I hobbled over to the burning rubble. It was so deformed that if I didn't already know what it was, I would have no idea what it was.
I glanced around at the trees. Now there was no sign of the crash landing. It was as if all the trees had shifted. I groaned. Now what? I was stuck in a forest with trees who liked to shift around, trying to confuse my already confused mind.
*** To Be Continued ***