The trees were magnificent towering into the sky like mountains and, their trunks were dozens of meters thick everywhere they looked they could see alien shrubs, small critters scurried through the ankle-deep brush. The five of them spent their time collecting soil samples, tree cores, samples of leaves and a whole host of other samples needed for the corp to get an even better understanding of the planet.
“Man, I am tired of putting leaves and little creepy crawlies into little jars.” Vivek holding up a jar with a strange caterpillar in it and the leaf that it had evidently been standing on when he found it before it was unwillingly kidnapped to become a sample. They’d all deactivated their helmets over the past couple of days given the planets safe rating. Case walked over and stared at it a moment and looked at Vivek disapprovingly.
“Is your companion damaged goods?” She glared at him.
“No, why?” A shocked look shot across his face.
“This has already been indexed three times, are you even trying?”
“Hey, it is weird and alien? I’m out here to rescue space vixens and save space colonies from asteroids fired off course by ancient alien artefacts!”
“The only problem being that if you found an ancient alien artefact, you’d probably file it under the wrong category.” She yanked the tube out of his hand and opened it carefully, letting the no doubt bemused bug out onto a branch.
“Also Raj is just fine.”
“Are you sure, he hasn’t got companion dementia, has he? One bit after another bit vanishing without warning?”
“Who has companion dementia?” Colin joined the group.
“Vivek’s companion, Raj.”
“No, he doesn’t!”
“Of course, he doesn’t.”
“You never know.”
“Don’t’ tease him Case, he’s a simple boy.”
“Isn’t he just,” she smiled and headed over to look at the sampler that Yori and Leah were working on.
“Why’s everyone in this group so wily?” Vivek shook his head and walked over to Colin, taking his companion out of his bag and shaking it, holding it up to the sky “You’ve not got brain rot have you boy?”
“Just life in the corp I guess?”
“I don’t believe that for a second, wait what’s that?” He pointed at something stood near a bush.
“I don’t know, but it’s staring at us” There was a fox-like animal with luminous yellow stripes on top of an otherwise jet black body, it was staring at the two boys intently, motionlessly, white and yellow cat-like eyes. The Colin and Vivek likewise stood motionlessly watching the animal. Colin sent a message to Vivek and the others.
“Stay still, I’m going to send a hover drone to follow this thing.”
“You assume it’s going to run away” a message from Vivek bounced back instantly.
A humming sound started as a drone started over from their workbench, the Fox creature looked in the direction of the noise and then back at Vivek and Colin. Then in a blink an eye it was in front of Vivek yellow traces between where it had been of fifty meters away and where it stood now. Vivek, in turn, fell to the ground in surprise, Colin’s hand was reaching for his laser pistol.
“Watch out Vivek!” He shouted, as the fox leapt not at Vivek’s throat but at his hand, landing a couple of meters behind him then it started to trot off like it owned the forest.
“What, hey, it stole Raj!” Vivek started running after the fox, which easily kept well out of reach, Colin had his pistol trained on the creature.
“Wait, Vivek, tsh” as Colin watched Vivek chase after the fox he dropped his aim for fear of hitting Vivek, and he started after them.
“Yori, Leah, Case, Vivek’s chasing a damn alien fox through the forest I’m going after them,” Colin shouted over his companion. He kept his eyes focused on Vivek, it was like running through the ship but with more space but twice as many things to trip on.
“Why the hell is he chasing a fox?” Yori asked over the companion network jumping to her feet she looked at the other two girls.
“It grabbed his companion and legged it!” She could tell he was running at a fair pace as his rhythm was off.
“What an idiot, Leah, get the medkit and follow me, Leah get back to the ship and monitor the comms.” Yori checked her laser pistol and pressed a button, making her helmet unfold from the neck ring. She checked her companion for Vivek’s and Colin’s signals, they were both still moving away at great speed.
“Back!” Leah stood in front of Yori, helmet activated, and a bag slung over her shoulder.
“Those idiots are too use to playing chase, let’s go” they set after the wreckless duo at a fast jog being careful not to exert themselves too much.
“I’m back at the ship, prepping for emergency dust off.” Case came over the companion network.
“Son of a…,” Colin growled.
“Get back here you stupid fooooo,” Colin could hear Vivek shouting then he vanished. There was a sudden sound of crashing and bouncing, “Oh, ah, no, ah, darn, ouch, ah, oof, ah, ouch, wo wo wooooo” echoed from up just ahead as Colin came to a screeching halt.
“Use the suit comms.” Yori directed over the companion network.
“Suit comms, yeah,” he pressed a button on the mini-computer on his wrist, “Oi idiot, are you dead?” He waited a moment panting looking for wherever it was Vivek had fallen. “Come on you stupid goblin where the hell are you.” He headed carefully in the direction indicated by Gura, an overlay showing his suit beacon and the stolen companion which appeared to be a dozen meters away from Vivek. The indicator also pointed down, but he couldn’t see a hole anywhere.
“Sickbag! SICKBAG!!!” Colin screamed into his microphone.
“Hells, can’t a boy have a little lay down, in his dark underground grotto.”
“Where the hell are you!”
“Give me a second, just turning on my lights.” Colin could hear rummaging around on the other end of the microphone. “Oh, I can see, oh hello boy, how are you, can I have Raj back please?”
“What’s going on.”
“Oh it’s our fox friend, he’s just down here, staring at me, Raj is in its mouth.”
“I suppose at least as long as your companions in his mouth your throat isn’t.”
“I guess, err, let me look back there, oh.”
“Yeah I fell down a long old slope I think, I can see a large hole there.”
“I can’t see anything, can you fire a flare through it?”
“Yeah, yeah sure, just stay there boy, don’t get excited now, don’t eat my Raj, okay, just gonna fire this you see.”
“Stop talking to the thing and fire the flare.”
“Usho” The sound of the flare gun and then about two meters in front of him the flare flew out, Colin staggard back.
“What the,” he crawled forward but couldn’t see a hole, then he waved his hand, and it went through the ground, “damn, some kind of holo matrix.”
“Hey I just saw the arm of a shaved gorilla, that’s gotta be you right?”
“Yeah, that’s me. Are you injured?” Colin shook his head as he answered.
“No, don’t think so, but I might of wet myself?” The voice came back over the suit communicator.
“The suit has a filtration system,” Colin started going through his bag and pulled out a nylon rope. And attached a clip one end a hoop to the other.
“I know, but I just wanted to share.”
“I wish you wouldn’t,” Yori’s voice came over the comms system.
“You hear everything?” Colin looked back at her as she jogged into view. She nodded.
The three of them mapped out the limits of the hole.
“Are you lot just going to faff around up there or are you going to come down here and, wait a moment there some kind of door back there.” There was the sound of Vivek moving about.
“Don’t you dare move you moron!” Leah barked.
“I’m just going to have a quick look.”
“I am going to garrot you when I see you,” Leah growled.
“Darn it. If this idiot gets himself killed, I’ll kill him.” He clipped the rope to his suit and slipped the hoop over a peg he’d hammered into the ground. Yori looked at him and nodded. Within an instant he was making his way down the hole, it was about a 2 meters square passage covered in a tangled mess of tree routes in the light he could make out that the passage had once all been concrete. Occasionally there were white symbols stencilled on the wall that he didn’t’ recognise, Gura was recording and relaying the data to the companion network.
He landed on the ground, turned and saw a massive chamber a huge doorway was behind a pile of rubble, that the fox was stood on top of. A brief look around indicated that this was some kind of ancient technological site, his heart started pumping harder, the fox stared at him, and he quickly went around the pile looking for Vivek.
Above Yori was listening in to the action below, and tapping her foot watching the video feed from Colin. She looked unsure for a moment, and Case looked at her.
“What should we do?” Leah looked at the holo matrix, Yori watched as Colin carried on past the fox.
“Get ready to for an emergency evac just in case and send a data feed to the orbital comms net, Case, you read?”
“Get the ship over here and don’t toast us please.”
“How we going to get past the trees?” Leah asked.
“We’ll just laser them out of the way if we have to and drop evac lines.” Yori looked at the mesh and checked the feed from below.
Below Colin had found Vivek looking at some kind of colossal orb, it had cables and tubes running to and from a giant metal ring that surrounded it. There were countless panels dotted around, and Vivek was poking at one.
“Hey, what do you think this says?” Vivek turned to Colin, and Colin unable to hold back was beside him in a moment looking.
“Hmm, no idea, Gura?”
“Running it against the database of known writings. It’s similar to the material recorded on the way down and in the previous room but there’s no match on record other than that.”
“Something completely new!” Vivek slapped Colin’s shoulder.
“Hell yeah,” The two of them hadn’t heard the pitter-patter of little paw steps behind them, the fox-like creature dropped Vivek’s companion and looked up at the machine, its eyes glowed bright yellow. The two boys turned to face it.
“Oh, hey, don’t be mad. We’re buddies, right?” Vivek made a funny face. “Hey, thanks for giving me back my companion, just a game of fetch, right?”
Noises of machinery, beeps and bloops from the banks of consoles, lights flickered to life above them, the two of them looked back at the giant sphere and the metal ring, which was now slowly beginning to pick up momentum.
“Do you think this is a bad thing?”
“Yeah, yeah I think it’s a bad thing.”
“Yeah, I thought so.”
“I recommend the two of you head back to the surface.”
“Already ahead of you.” Vivek was already several dozen paces ahead of Colin and had grabbed his companion from the floor as he passed the fox which just watched him as he ran, Colin moments behind.
“I think we’re going to need that evac,” Yori said looking up at the sky above.
“On it!” Beams of intense light flashed across the sky vaporising the treetops all around and a substantial part of the trunks to boot. The roaring of the massive engines drowning out sounds on the ground. Coils dropped from the ship. Leah and Yori headed over to start to clip on. Colin and Vivek were desperately scrambling up the rope to the surface and, unseen by them all the fox was watching an orb of black, blue, and white expand out from the metal orb. In the blink of an eye, it expanded to several hundred meters consuming the four on the ground and the scout ship. Then it collapsed to an infinitely dense single point in space.