They always say that every landing you walk away from is a good one.
We'd landed, but it wasn't a good one. There wasn't enough gravity to walk away from it, and too much to take off again easily. The mission (and it's always a mission) depended upon us finding the golden time--the moment the home planet's gravity field interfered just enough to let us escape our current gravity well--and launching perfectly into that space when the time was right.
They didn't tell us that the project had been underfunded, and that corners had been cut from the start. There was no room for error here. Only one shot, or we'd all be consigned to a slow death of starvation. No one stints on oxygen anymore; it's the worst way to die.
But first, the samples. We'd been sent for a reason after all. This moon had life on it, non-sentient, but alive nonetheless. We needed to know how it could survive out here, so we could survive out here, too. The forest waved as if it were underwater, the roots keeping the trunks in place, while fronds and tentacles waved without rhythm or reason.
I left the mechanic in the ship, to calculate the times, and to warn us when to come back, lest we miss our window home. I hoped we could trust him.
The team collected samples while I kept a lookout. After the incident on Meridian IV, no one took any chances. Just because what we'd found wasn't sentient, didn't mean other things weren't around.
After a few hours and no incident, the work was done and we began trudging our way back to the ship. The mech had been radio silent, so we supposed the window hadn't passed. We picked up the pace as we got closer.
"Ben?" I called through the radio, "Let us in, we're hungry." The hatch slid open and we crawled up the exterior ladder to relative safety.
"Ben?" another called, "Where are you, man?"
Ben didn't answer. I noticed the countdown clock as the hatch clicked shut.
"Get to your flight seats and buckle in! Now!"
The rockets ignited without warning and we were heaved into the sky. I'd slammed down into the cockpit and check the "mirrors" to see what was happening behind us. I saw a figure standing on the edge of the clearing where we'd landed, and then watched as he turned and walked into the forest, tentacled branches swallowing him from my site.
We never went back to that moon--there was no way we could modify ourselves to survive there and still be able to travel to other worlds. We wrote off the mechanic as a casualty of discovery in the report--he'd done his job, but had gotten off of the ship and missed the window. That's business.
I always wondered if that had been on purpose.
For the Scriptic
prompt exchange this week, Venusmoon
gave me this prompt: I always wanted to be an astronaut..
I gave Grace O'Malley
this prompt: It's a process, he said, which requires a little...tweaking.