The landing craft was filled with portable equipment for the short journey down to the surface of the planet. The whole crew came down for the landing, the shipboard navigation was keeping the ship in orbit and the rarely used astrogation bot was sitting at the controls in case of an autopilot failure.
“Hey, guys. Is the nav light supposed to blink purple when in orbit?” A metallic voice chimed over the landing craft speakers. “I may need an update but I don’t know how long that will take.”
“AB-775, you can start your update now. I’ll set the computer to ask us for corrections if it needs it.” Janine said into the mic. “Activate thread 17-22-ZPD to get the download from the computer at emergency speeds in case we need you soon.”
“It’s really nice to have a computer tech on the ship now. I don’t know why your father insisted on doing all the coding himself, Blavet. Janine does much better than he did, and just noticeably better than Elinog.” The AB-775 paused for a moment. “No offense intended of course. Elinog is the best mechanic I’ve ever met.”
Elinog looked like he was going to comment right when they hit atmosphere. The instant jarring made him stare at Blavet. To Elinog’s surprise, Blavet had a surprised look on his face as well.
Both Elinog and Blavet turned to look at Allie. It wasn’t audible over the sound of the turbulence, but they could both tell she was laughing hysterically. The turbulence didn’t last very long and Allie seemed a little disappointed. “You should’ve seen the looks on your faces.” She sounded half-hearted like she had expected the turbulence to go on for quite some time.
“Seriously?” Elinog was furiously tapping at his tablet. “Janine, why would you indulge her in this? I see your coding all over this!”
“Because I researched beforehand and only let the turbulence last for a quarter of the recommended maximum.” Janine started running a diagnostic on her tablet. “I assume you’re running diagnostics too and not just harassing me?”
A tail started to snake its way towards Allie’s beak. She playfully swatted it away and snatched at Blavet’s hand. “There shouldn’t be anything wrong with the landing craft. Alarms would go off if there wa-”
Low klaxon alarms started sounding and Elinog gave both Allie and Janine an angry glare. “Now look what you’ve done!”
“Calm down, it’s just the polarizing array. If you don’t fly towards the sun on our way out we should be fine. Do you have glare-proof glasses?” Janine turned to the panel labeled Eye Protection and opened it. It was filled with non-polarized goggles. “I guess not. I’ll try to fix it once we land.”
Blavet’s tail flicked Allie’s beak. “Don’t do that again. It could’ve been worse.”
“Oh, it turned out okay.” She playfully nipped at his tail.
“Careful, you do have a sharp beak.” Blavet jerked his tail away. “Anyway, what’s our plan? We gather samples and return them, but our pairings are different now.”
“You two pair up while Janine and I fix the ship. Come back with two full satchels.”
“Right. I’d love to collect samples, but I partially caused this mess and am qualified to fix it. It was going to be one full satchel per team, but now you get two. Keep in radio contact with us and the ship.” Janine set her tablet down and started looking for the spare parts. “Oh, and try to get two of everything if you can.”
– – –
When the crew disembarked from the shuttle they found themselves in a floral landscape. There were quite a few more green plants than Janine was expecting, but there was quite a lot of orange plants. The ground was covered in a grass-like mossy substance with only a few places where they could see rocks or dirt.
Janine and Elinog set down their tools and started working on the front viewport of the shuttle. Elinog pulled off a few panels and connected a reader to the electronics and passed it to Janine while he continued pulling off the panels surrounding the viewport.
Allie grabbed a satchel and flung it over her shoulder. “Ouch!” She took the satchel off and fixed her feathers.
“Yeah, that’s your fault. You know you have feathers.” Blavet did the same motion with his satchel and batted his third eye at her. “See, works fine with fur.”
“Keep talking like that and next time I will bite your tail.” She took a few steps towards where his tail was waving through the air.
“Hey, that’s not funny.”
“Oy! You two get going, or you’ll never get done.” Elinog shook his head, his large eyes rolling.
“Yes, please get moving. I want as many samples of different plants as possible. If you see any wildlife get hairs or fecal matter or something, but leave the wildlife alive. We don’t want to upset the ecological balance here too much.” Janine was rustling through a box labeled Spare Parts.
Blavet gave Allie a playful push to get her going. “Well, this direction looks as good as any other. Let’s go.”
Allie started moving then stopped. “Uh, did we get a sample of this weird grass moss stuff we’re walking on?”
“Not yet. This stuff is probably contaminated from the lander.”
“Right.” Allie started walking again and then stopped and started coughing loudly and repeatedly. When she finally stopped she said, “I think I’ll take one of those filters. The oxygen content may be at safe levels, but the pollen is much too high for me.”
“Catch.” Elinog tossed her a modified face-mask that would cover her beak. “Don’t break it.”
Allie caught it easily then turned away, rolling her eyes. “Right, cause I break everything I touch.”
“No, you break everything you decide to have fun with. Be careful Blavet. You might end up damaged if you keep flirting with her!”
“Oh, shut it, Elinog.” Allie stormed off in the direction Blavet had pushed her earlier. “Be careful alone with the person who actually affected the ship.”
Blavet rolled his eyes and hurried to catch up with Allie. “Okay, I think we can start getting samples just past that tree-like thing.”
– – –
“Janine, this is Blavet, do you read?” Blavet and Allie were standing outside a cave. Blavet was now carrying both sample satchels while Allie was resting against a rock.
“Loud and clear. What’s up?”
“We’ve found a cave. The satchels are about 90% full so I thought some cave life would be an interesting next stop. What do you think?” Blavet set down the satchels and rustled through one.
“Yes, caves always have interesting flora and fauna. Have you gotten any water samples?”
Blavet found the sample he was looking for and pulled out a small beaker. “Yeah, I was going to ask if you got the software on the water analyzer working or not.”
The radio was silent for a moment, then Blavet heard some rustling on the other end. “I think so. Let me test it first.”
There was a readout on the radio’s screen. 99% water, 1% various minerals. There was a dropdown list to display the minerals. Blavet didn’t bother selecting it.
“Yup, it’s working. Go ahead.”
Blavet shook the beaker to mix the water up then unscrewed the cap and poured a little onto the sensor then looked at the screen. The liquid was 90% water with some small traces of minerals and 9% chlorophyll. “Well, I guess that makes sense. There’s a lot of plant life here. Over and out.”
“Over and out.”
Blavet looked up to where Allie was when he called Janine and didn’t see her. Looking around he saw her disappear into the mouth of the cave. “Hey, wait for me!” He put the beaker away and swiftly caught up to Allie.
“Sorry, I got bored.” Allie took a sampler from one of the satchels and scraped some slime off of the stone wall. “Well, she said we were supposed to get as many samples as possible.”
“You know, if you’re trying to gross her out I don’t think slime will do it. She asked us to get fecal matter.”
“True…well, I’ll try.” Allie took her satchel back and started taking various samples. “All the samples will be gone if you don’t get a move on.
Blavet pulled out a glow rod and activated it with a snap. An orange glow filled the cave. “I can’t see in the dark as well as you can.” He looked at the walls around him and dropped the glow rod. It made an audible thunk as it hit the ground.
“What was that?” Allie turned back and saw Blavet pointing at the wall.
“I’m not crazy, am I? You see that too, right?”
Allie walked back to him and picked up the glow rod. She looked back at the wall. “Oh, that almost looks like a language. Do you think it is or is it just some random scratches?”
“Random scratches on a planet where we’ve only seen small bugs and plants? I don’t think so.” He pulled his tablet out. “I’ll take a few pictures then we can go back to sampling. It might be important, and it might not.”
– – –
Elinog reached for the last bolt to put the final panel into place and brushed against something. He turned to look and found Janine’s hand holding the bolt he was looking for.
“I finished the diagnostics and thought I would help out here. I guess you’re basically done now.”
“Yeah. So are we going to get samples too, or wait around here for Allie and Blavet to return?” Elinog took the proffered bolt and screwed it into place. “Hand me the bolt cover?”
“Here.” She handed him a carbon cap that was supposed to protect the bolt from collisions. “I think we should wait here, make some adjustments to the bubble shield for the next entry into atmosphere. I’ll do the coding and you can do the mechanical bit. We should be done before they get back.”
– – –
Allie jumped in front of Blavet right when he took the first picture. “You’re supposed to take pictures of me and then other stuff.”
“Hey! I’ll just have to take more pictures. Happy now?”