| “I don’t know why we’re going to the lunchroom. I’m so excited about going on a special mission today, that I’m not even thinking of food.” I said to Sasha as we walked down the leisure wing corridor of the space station. Our school is called Exoplanet High School, which is based out of this space station. It is named for the nearby Exoplanet which many of us are from. Our parents sent us to this boarding school because it’s one of the best educational facilities in the entire star system. We get to go on field trips often, but this afternoon we will be going on the biggest one yet.
“Don’t eat if you’re not hungry Kiara, but I’m starving.” Sasha’s shiny black hair glistened in the amber light of the corridor. The leisure wing always glows with amber light during the day to simulate sunlight. Everything fascinates Sasha. She looked around at the glowing corridor with interest as she spoke, even though she had seen it at least a hundred times before. “Why are you so excited anyway? We go on science missions every other month, and you always find them boring!”
“This one is special,” I reminded her. “Only advanced students are allowed to go because of all the danger and difficulty involved. This one is truly going to be exciting. As soon as we land on the planetoid you will be jumping up and down like a little kid.”
Sasha couldn’t help but laugh at my remark because she realized it was true. We were at the lunchroom passageway, so Sasha pressed her hand on the palm key to open it. She continued speaking as we walked over to the food replicator. “Well, at least I’m calm right now. I don’t expect our teachers to let us anywhere near the ‘danger and difficulty’ areas. It will probably turn out to be a week of collecting rocks.” She stopped talking about the mission when she noticed all the food that I added to my plate. “Great Trimoons, Kiara! I thought you weren’t hungry!”
Before I could answer, our friend Ren joined in with the humor. “Kiara is always hungry.” He winked, and the three of us walked to our favorite table to join Skyler, Zeo, and Sateen. The three of them were in the middle of a conversation, when Sateen looked up and noticed us.
“Zeo thinks it’s a good thing that the teachers are making us memorize scientific and historical facts.” Her hazel colored eyes searched each of our faces as she eagerly awaited our reaction. I tried not to laugh, but I thought it was funny. She always gets into strong debates over the silliest things, and now she was at it again. Ren looked intrigued, so Sateen continued, “What will they be making us do next; adding up numbers in our heads like some sort of primitives?”
With that said, Zeo interrupted in a teasing way. “I can do that.”
“Arrrrr!” Sateen grunted dramatically as she closed her eyes and clenched her think red curls with both of her fists.
Sasha, Ren and I were now comfortably sitting at the table with our food. We immediately joined Skyler in stifled laughter. Sateen has these passionate discussions with Zeo often. Zeo has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. The rest of us are always amused at how much Zeo’s scholastic intrigue bugs Sateen. Sateen folded her hands together on the table, took a deep breath and looked directly at Zeo as she continued in a soft voice, “In two years we will each be old enough to have our knowledge chips implanted. These chips will enable us to know everything we could ever imagine knowing about.” Her voice suddenly grew stronger. “Why do we have to memorize all of this information if we don’t have to?”
Sasha interrupted. “Those chips malfunction occasionally. It’s good that we learn information now so that we’re not too devastated and panic-stricken if we get handicapped like that.”
Skyler quickly added, “I wouldn’t be devastated. I would relax in the hospital and watch holographics for two weeks while I wait for a new chip to be prepared.”
“Skyler is always so calm and relaxed. He wouldn’t panic if the chip that he becomes so dependent on goes bad. It would be his excuse for doing no work,” I said with a smile.
Just at that moment, Aiden approached our table. “Hi Sateen,” he beamed with a pathetic, lovesick voice.
“Aiden!” Sateen exclaimed with enthusiasm as she jumped off her chair and flung her arms around his neck. The rest of us rolled our eyes up and exchanged glances as we sat there and watched the couple embrace and kiss. We knew that they would both be this year’s homecoming king and queen. The two of them looked like they could be a painting of an ancient god and goddess. Each of them had extraordinary good looks. She had waist-length red flowing locks, and he had a tall build and black hair slicked back into a neat ponytail.
“We’re not going to see each other for a week because you’re leaving on your mission today,” Aiden continued in a sad little-boy voice. “Could we eat our lunch together at a table for two?”
Sateen instantly had her tray in her hands. Her face looked as though she just walked off the anti-gravity field. She blew us a kiss and said that she would meet up with us later. They were hardly away a few feet when Sasha remarked, “I’m glad that it’s only our group of six who are going. I would get sick if he were coming too. Sateen is wonderful when she’s with us, but she looks like she is struck by Cupid’s arrow whenever he’s around.”
“If we don’t finish packing, we won’t be going either,” I reminded my classmates. We all wanted to watch holographics last night, and we agreed that we would pack after lunch today. We got up and started cleaning off the table.
“I wish we were going right this minute. School has been so boring lately. I’m looking forward to a little adventure,” Ren said as he got up to leave. He looked happier than I had seen him in weeks. He had a steady smile on his face, a sparkle in his eyes, and a spring in his step. We said our goodbyes and went to our rooms.
I was in my room when I realized that I didn’t really need to pack much. I folded my Zetus suit neatly and put it in my pack. The Wignut Planetoid is okay for human life, but the suit will protect our bodies from anything toxic that we might come across. I also packed food supplements and oxygen supplements. We studied that there is a slightly higher concentration of carbon dioxide than we are used to on the planetoid, so sometimes we might need to take an ox-compound. I added a few more items, and I was done. As if on cue, Zeo and Sasha were pressing my door chime. They occupy the rooms on each side of mine. I grabbed my pack and joined them in the corridor.
“Are you excited yet?” I teased Sasha.
“Yes Kiara, I think that I can sincerely say that I am excited now.”
Before Sasha could say another word, Zeo mocked, “I think that I can sincerely say that was an understatement! Sasha was jumping up and down like a little kid before.” He chuckled as he reenacted her performance. Sasha and I broke out in hearty laughter. We walked a few rooms down the corridor and stopped to ring Skyler’s door chime. Ren was already in there with him, and they both came right out. Zeo and I led the group toward Sateen’s room when Ren halted us.
“Sateen’s not in her room. She said that she would meet us at the docking bay. Prince Charming wanted to walk her there to see her off,” he added in a mocking voice.
The five of us headed over to the docking bay and reported in to the teachers. Protocol required that two teachers accompany each group of six students on all trips. Mr. Rickman is our regular science teacher, but Mr. McKenly will also be joining us on this trip. Sateen was somehow able to tear herself apart from Aiden’s grip, so she was now standing by our side. After Mr. Rickman noted that we were all present and packed sufficiently, we were allowed to board the spacecraft. This was a memorable moment because my friends and I have never boarded the Phantom before. The Phantom was a magnificent science craft only used for special missions. The sides of it are shiny black with mirror-like chrome. We learned that it goes very fast, and it has the best technology available. We are going into the Zenon Galaxy to the Wignut Planetoid. We have worked so hard for this honor by taking all of the required intense classes, and now the moment is here at last.
The teachers showed us to our seats, and we took off. The Phantom was capable of hyper-drive, so it didn’t take long to get there. When we landed, Mr. Rickman gave us a short lecture. “Now students, this is a class-5 planetoid. You all know that while it is not a hostile planetoid, we do need to approach it with extreme caution. When Mr. McKenly opens the passageway, we will disembark and proceed immediately to the science lab. We are the only inhabitants of this planetoid at this time, but everything that we need during our stay is already in the lab. Once inside, you will be assigned to your rooms. I want you to go to these rooms, where you will change into your Zetus suits. Keep your ox-compound supplements with you at all times. If you feel lightheaded, you should take one.”
Mr. Rickman nodded to Mr. McKenly, and the passageway was opened. We did as we were told and reported to the common room of the small lab building when we had our suits on.
“These suits are so comfortable,” Sasha remarked with fascination. Her eyes sparkled with delight as she smoothed her hand down the soft suit material on her arm.
Skyler agreed. “They remind me of the surfer dude’s suits from a holographic show.” Ren laughed and together they began to sing the theme song of the show. All the while, they were pretending to be surfing at Nebula Beach.
“If you are done pretending to be holographic stars,” Mr. Rickman began, “Perhaps you might begin to pretend to be science students.” Sasha and I turned our heads to stifle a giggle. Mr. Rickman continued speaking. “I have here a map of the planetoid for each of you. Please take one each.” He handed the small pile to Zeo, and then he reached into his pack for another set of papers. “I also have a list of the various rocks on this planetoid. I want you each to take a moment out to review all of the hazards and toxic areas on the map, and get familiar with the rocks. We will not be wasting any time in our research of Wignut. Today we will find a sample of as many rocks on the list as possible so that tomorrow we can move on to plant life. Mr. McKenly and I have some work to do at the lab, but we will be joining you as soon as we are done. Remember to stay in groups, and not to wander off anywhere alone. Above all, you are not to go into any of the hazardous areas. Does anyone have any questions?” He looked around to make sure we all heard him, and continued. “Good. You may leave when you feel ready.”
All of us headed straight for the door. We have never been more ready for anything in our whole lives! This was a vacation to us. Ren and Sasha were in my group. We agreed to go to area ‘A’ on the map, while Zeo, Skyler and Sateen go to area ‘B’.
“This is so easy,” Ren remarked as he motioned to the color coded markers. “We can’t get lost or anything if we stay on these paths. Area ‘A’ is color coded with blue markers, and the path to the first excavation is clearly marked.” Ren seemed determined to find adventure. “I say that we be open-minded about going off the path if we see something interesting.” Sasha and I nodded, but I thought it would have to be something really unusual to get my feet off the path. The first and most important rule that we learned was to always stay on the path. The only time anything ever went wrong was when someone had strayed away.
I glanced around at the rocky planetoid and thought that it looked like a big mess that needed to be cleaned up. The main color was clay-brown, and everything off the path was rugged and hilly. I did enjoy looking at the beautiful rocks that were all around.
“Oh, look,” Sasha said with excitement as she pounced on our first find. She held up her rock guide to make sure it was one of the rocks that we needed to find. “This is a zula stone!” The enthusiasm in her blue eyes twinkled more than the glittery blue rock.
“Oh joy, that was fun.” Ren said with sarcasm as he took the rock from her and put it in a sack. I knew that he was pretending to be uninterested because a minute later he snatched up a rock with the same enthusiasm as Sasha. We were making remarkable progress in finding the rocks that we needed. While we were stopped there, we saw Skyler running toward us in the distance. He was leaping over rocks as though he were in a marathon race. “Now that dude knows how to have fun.” Ren commented.
“Something must be wrong,” I began. “Skyler would never run off all by himself.”
“Especially racing around off of the paths like that!” Sasha added with a rare solemn look on her face.
“Hey you guys, help!” Skyler started to yell as he approached closer. We ran to meet him, and waited a few seconds for him to catch his breath. Ren handed him an ox-compound, and Skyler took it without hesitation. “Sateen and Zeo fell down a cliff. Come on! They’re OK, but they need help getting out. Come on this way!” He blurted out, and then began to run back in the direction that he came.
“Everyone take an ox-compound.” Ren ordered as we were running. We all did so at once. I sort of like the way they taste. They are made to melt instantly in the mouth so that water isn’t necessary, and they have a very mild wintergreen flavor. That only took my mind off Sateen and Zeo for a split second, as I followed along closely behind Ren. I kept feeling as though I would slip on some rocks, but I ran on. A quick look at Sasha’s nervous face made me think that she was having the same fears.
“It looks as though you got your adventure, Ren.” Sasha said while trying to keep up with the rest of us. Her voice sounded as though she were on the verge of tears.
It didn’t take us long at all to get to our destination since Skyler knew the way already. Actually, the area that we were now at was somewhere near the green zone. Skyler’s group had been off their path. Skyler stopped us before we neared the edge of the cliff. He was out of breath, but he managed to say, “Be careful when you get to the edge. It can crumble off like it did when Sateen and Zeo were near it.”
I felt my heart race with fear. The sandy ground under my feet was crunching like peanut shells as I inched closer to the edge. I was finally able to see Sateen and Zeo. “Hello, are you OK?” I yelled down. They must have tumbled all the way down, because they were at the bottom of a sandy slant.
“We’re OK, we just can’t get back up,” Sateen replied. It was a relief to learn that they weren’t hurt.
“I’ll go back to the lab and get the teachers,” I announced quickly.
“No! Wait!” Zeo said in a flash. “I think that I might be able to get us back up. Do either of you have a solidifier?”
The four of us at the top of the cliff waited for each other to answer, but we all shook our heads to say no. I yelled down to Zeo, “I don’t think any of us have one.”
Zeo stomped his foot with frustration. He tried to explain the packs to us, though it was clear from the sound of his shaky voice that he was upset. “Did you look in your packs? What color are your survival kits? There are two different kinds that we could have -- the ones from last year’s stock, and the new ones from this year. They were all mixed together.”
We took off our packs and looked inside. I looked at the kits and yelled down the inventory to Zeo. “All of us have yellow except for Sasha. She has a purple kit.”
Sateen and Zeo let out unexpected shouts of glee. Zeo yelled up to Sasha. “Sasha, throw down your purple kit. The purple ones contain solidifiers.
Sasha threw it down, and Zeo went right to work with it. We stretched our necks to see what he was doing. It looked as though he was pointing it at the sandy surface. He was also sticking rocks that were big enough to stand on into each area before it solidified. Sateen joined in by running around to gather up rocks to stand on. They made good progress with this system, and scampered quickly up the cliff.
Sasha, Ren, Skyler and I slowly moved away from the edge. We didn’t want anymore mishaps.
It wasn’t long before Sateen and Zeo made it to the top. The rest of us screamed so loud that I thought our classmates would hear us all the way back at school. We squeezed the two so tightly as if we never wanted them out of our grip again.
After a moment, Sateen and Zeo sat on a large rock to rest. “Look what we found as we climbed up,” Sateen said, as she took some shiny pebbles out of her pocket.
Sasha took out her chart again to search for these new rocks. “Those rocks aren’t on our chart.”
Zeo took the chart from her and checked again. “She’s right. Maybe we shouldn’t keep them.”
“Nonsense!” Sateen said as she put her prize rocks back into the pouch. “These rocks are very unusual. I never saw rocks with a mirror finish before. Let’s take them back to the lab, and we can tell the teachers what happened.”
“That’s the last time that we will be allowed out on our own.” Zeo grumbled with anticipation of the teacher’s reaction.
We all took some more ox-compound, and headed back to the lab. We entered the building, and found Mr. Rickman in the first room. Zeo proceeded to tell the story.
“…And these are the new rocks!” Sateen eagerly took the silvery rocks out to show the teacher.
“Pilo stones! You should not have brought…” but Mr. Rickman abruptly stopped talking and collapsed to the ground. Sateen bellowed a bone-chilling scream. Sasha and I clutched onto her, but we were clearly scared speechless. We already had too much excitement today, and weren’t ready for this. Skyler and Zeo dropped to their knees to try to bring our teacher back to consciousness, and Ren ran to get Mr. McKenly.
“Great Trimoons!” Mr. McKenly shouted when he saw his co-worker sprawled out across the floor. He joined Zeo and Skyler on the floor to examine Mr. Rickman. We watched in anticipation as Mr. McKenly opened the unconscious teachers eyelids. I’m not sure what he was looking for, but the look on McKenly’s face didn’t seem too promising. Next, he started feeling around near Mr. Rickman’s temples. He swiftly diagnosed a chip malfunction. “In this situation, the person will typically will be in an unconscious state for about 24 hours. If the patient isn’t treated in that time-span, he will awake in a state of panic.” He looked around at our stunned expressions and realized that more clarity was in order. “We have 24 hours to get him to a hospital. I will hook up the communication equipment in the lab at once to notify Exoplanet School and the relevant medical units.” Mr. Mckenly stood up and took a few steps toward the equipment, when he collapsed to the floor, too.
Sateen screamed hysterically. “Sateen, please be quiet so we can think.” Ren commanded. “This is not supposed to happen,” he said as he paced the floor. He looked at both of the teachers and repeated his statement in an anxious chant. “This is not supposed to happen. This is not supposed to happen.”
“Zeo,” I began in an almost pleading voice, “Can you hook up the communication equipment in the lab?”
“No,” Zeo’s voice quivered. “I only took one semester of basic communications, and I only saw equipment like this briefly while on a tour.” Zeo leaped to the control panels as if to make sure. “No. This equipment is impossibly advanced. I couldn’t even make a light glow on this panel.” I looked down at the brightly colored lights and buttons, and thought to myself that machines shouldn’t be so complicated.
Ren was at one of the information units, which was working. “Oh, no! It says here that Pilo rocks cause chip malfunctions if a person comes within five feet of them without proper protection. Look at these pictures. These are the same rocks that we brought back with us!” We gathered around Ren and looked on in shock as he pointed to the pictures.
“Well, what about the communication equipment on the ship?” Skyler said that randomly. He was still thinking about a way to get help.
“No,” Zeo quivered some more. “The ship is already shut down in recharge mode. It won’t turn back on for at least 22 more hours.” With that said, Sateen began to cry. My eyes weren’t exactly dry as I tried to calm her.
“Try to think.” Skyler ordered to us. “Do any of you remember seeing any portable communication equipment on the ship? Of course, equipment like that would have been dismantled, but we could easily put them together.”
Sateen suddenly stopped crying and perked straight up. “Thank you Aiden!” She shouted at the top of her lungs. That terrified me so much that my legs nearly threw in the towel and buckled over.
“What are you saying that for?” I demanded. “Why are you screaming?”
Sateen walked over to me, but she was too teary eyed to speak. Instead, she reached into her pack and pulled out an illegal communicator. No one is allowed to bring any communicator on these missions because it risks interference with the ship’s master communicators.
“Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” Zeo sang as he jumped all around. He grabbed the communicator out of Sateen’s hand and said, “It’s a direct link to Aiden, but for once I’ll be glad to speak with him.”
We all gathered around Zeo as we waited for contact with Aiden. Finally we heard the magic sound out of that little device. “Sweetheart? Is that you?” Hearing Aiden’s voice made us start cheering all at once. Zeo quieted us down and began to tell Aiden what happened. Aiden stayed on the line, so we heard him panting as he ran as fast as he could to find the nearest teacher. Help would be on the way at last.
Zeo heard the voice of a teacher now on the line, so he quickly explained what had happened. “We thought we were doing something good when we brought back Pilo rocks…”
“You brought Pilo rocks into the lab!” The nervous voice on the other end interrupted. “Were your teachers affected?”
“Yes.” Zeo replied. “They are both unconscious, and none of our communication equipment is working.”
“Listen very carefully,” the teacher began. “Around the back of the building that you are in is a bright orange container. I need you to put all of those rocks in it right now. Once that is done, you are all to stay inside and try to relax. Watch holographics if you want. I am sending help right out to you, with medics on board for your teachers. Everything is going to be fine.”
“I’m right on it!” Skyler exclaimed as he scooped up the rocks and ran out the door. I watched him leave, and at the same time Zeo was signing off with the teacher. He left it on intercom mode so that there wouldn’t be a delay in further contact. We all stood for a moment in silence, when the high pitched sound of the communicator startled us. Zeo practically pounced on it.
“Yes,” Zeo said. “This is Zeo here.”
“Zeo, this is Medic Alan. My team and I are now in transit to Wignut. Our medical transporter is swift, so it won’t take too long for us to arrive. What is the condition of your teachers?”
Zeo glanced down at the teachers, as if to make sure they were in the same place. I almost wished that it were a bad joke, and that they would get up and laugh. I listened as Zeo told the medic that both of the teachers were sprawled out on the floor. The medic spoke again. This time he gave instructions. “Go and get a blanket for each one of them. In this state, they can get shivering cold. The idea is to keep them as comfortable as possible. Do not try to move them from where they are now, but see if you might be able to slip something soft under their heads.”
Sateen and I ran to get a couple of blankets and towels for under their heads. When we came back we noticed that Zeo signed off with the medic. We put the blankets on the teachers, and sort of stared at them for a few minutes. I thought back to the first time that I ever met Mr. Rickman. A new student, I was lost down one of the corridors. I actually bumped right into the teacher and knocked all of the papers he was carrying out of his hands. I scampered around to help him pick them up. He saw that I was embarrassed, confused and on the verge of tears, so he smiled to make me feel better. He escorted me back to the right path, and I finally felt at home. Mr. Rickman reminded me so much of my own dad. It hurt me to see him so helpless like this. Skyler came back in and broke the silence. “What do we do now?”
“Well,” I began. “We really can’t do anything else for the teachers. All we can do now is wait for the medics. Medical transport is fast, so it won’t be long now. Why don’t we sit in this room and play a card game?”
I really didn’t feel like playing cards, but I didn’t want to leave the teachers alone in that room. The others must have felt the same way because they all mumbled some kind of agreement. We all sat down, and Skyler brought over some cards from a nearby game cabinet. Sasha got us all something to drink. We went through the motions of playing cards, but there wasn’t any enthusiasm involved. After what seemed like a long while, we heard the transporter approaching the planetoid. That brought us all back to life.
We were relieved that help came as promised. The medics were impressively organized. I guess they have done this many times before. First, they made sure that we were alright, and they even made some jokes to make us feel more at ease. “That’s one way to get out of class,” one of them said with a wink. As they spoke to us in light conversation, they put the teachers on stretchers and carried them out to the ship. We followed and found seats on board.
I was so glad to feel the transporter take off. I had one last glance of that orange-colored, rocky planetoid as I looked out the window, and thought that I would never look at a rock the same way ever again. Now I will be joining in the chorus in saying how important it is to stay on the right path. I put my head back to relax because I finally felt calm. We were going back to the safety of our school, and our teachers were going to a hospital. I knew this would be a memorable adventure. I can hardly wait to see what our field trip with the music department will be like.