Expedited Expedition


The first officer set his palms against the holographic display.


“Captain, there is a planet with a hospitable atmosphere and water here,” he said.


“Initiate a full planetary scan,” the captain ordered. The first officer dropped to his seat and swung around, facing the controls as it lowered him below. He flipped a switch and the copilot seat switched to scanning mode. The captain tilted the nose of the ship, Outer Wilds, to face the planet the first officer had indicated.


“Ship is aligned, beginning the scan,” the first officer called. The other two crewmates, seated in the port and starboard turrets, fumbled the controls with anticipation. The first officer squeezed the trigger and information began to load its way onto the HUD.


He began to list facts of the planet, like the atmosphere makeup, ring composition, average temperatures and where liquid water could be found. There was something of note at the bottom of the screen. “Two moons, which orbit each other as they orbit the planet.” He hesitated. “Signs of a previous civilization.”


The captain started. “Does it give a location?”


“Yes,” the first officer responded. “I shall send the coordinates to your navigation console.”


The captain watched as the console pinpointed a location on the planet’s surface, near the equator. “Get ready, team. We’ll be touching down shortly!” The first officer turned off scanning mode and activated the remote turret that hung underneath where he sat.


The air inside grew hot as the Outer Wilds made planetary entry. All the members of the crew could see the orange flames as it burned its way through the upper atmosphere. The captain watched his altitude and artificial horizon. They were approaching the surface at forty below level, and once the altitude reached twelve thousand meters, the captain pulled up to twenty above the horizon to wash off speed.


“Take a good look, team. This may be our home for the next few weeks or longer,” the captain said, cruising now at 145 meters per second, two kilometers in the air. The crew and the captain glanced around. The sky was a teal color, and the red sun, massive and looming, dominated the edges of mountains. Shifting their gaze to the ground, it was mostly rocks, rocks and more rocks. Flora was sparse. However, there were forests of trees akin to a pine tree back on Earth. Rivers were as common as the surrounding mountains, of which were plentiful. Snow covered most places in a light dusting. The whole place seemed like a rocky taiga.


The first officer, knowing where to look, caught a glimpse of the foretold civilization. The buildings were almost shell-like. But that was all the first officer was able to see.


“Landing in ten,” the captain intoned, starting a countdown. The first officer brought his chair back up to its neutral state and was joined by the other two crew members in the corridor of their rooms. The three got ready in EVA-compliant suits within their rooms and stepped to the back, where the rover lay in wait. The artificial gravity shifted about as the captain made small maneuvers to land the craft. Whirs resounded through the hull, signifying the outrigged wings folding vertically and the landing gear being deployed. With a jolt, the Outer Wilds had landed. The engines rumbled to a halt and the captain soon joined the rest of the crew by the rover in his own EVA suit. The ship’s rear ramp opened up as the crew stepped aboard the rover.


“Will,” the captain began. The first officer looked up. “You keep an eye on the radar. We never know if something may show up. Kat, you be ready to set up your survey.” She nodded. “Jack, you hop on the turret. Listen to Will for radar contacts.” The weapons officer saluted and hopped in the seat on the right. The captain slid into the driver’s chair, and Will stood between the two, carefully watching the radar. Kat stood braced in the back as the rover began to bounce around on the rocky terrain. She held a computer and a small kit under one arm while the other kept her off the wall.


As the group drew nearer, Will said “Contact!” Both the captain and Jack glanced at the radar, as Will explained. “Immobile. The computer doesn’t know what it is, but it’s providing enough signatures to show up.”


“Let’s check it out,” the captain said, and he turned the wheel to face the anomaly. The captain grinned. This was the first sign of something substantial in their voyage! He made a mental note to check the system they were in.


“Five hundred meters,” Will said.


“Jack, you stay here on the turret. Will, you and I will grab our rifles. Kat, you make your analyses,” the captain said. The back door of the rover opened, and Kat stepped out, followed closely by the captain. Will strode out, holding a long-range laser rifle. He would stay by the rover and cover them as they investigated.


“Comms check,” Jack said from within the rover.


“Mark hears you,” the captain said.


“Will hears you.”


“Kat hears you.” She opened the analysis kit and plugged it into the computer.


The anomaly looked something like a giant pearl. There were also faint creaking noises emanating from it as well. Kat fiddled with several instruments while the other three swept their gazes back and forth.


The team saw nothing while Kat poked and prodded the anomaly. The captain lowered his rifle when Kat stood and backed away.


“That’s-” She got no further. The pearl-like anomaly exploded, sending the captain and Kat flying back. Kat hit the side of the rover, jostling it and knocking Will down. The captain was sent past the rover, and he rolled several times when he hit the ground. Therefore, Jack was the first to see the true form of what they faced. It was like a cross between a jellyfish and an octopus but used its scaly limbs to propel itself across the rocky terrain. It didn’t seem to have a face, only a mouth. Concentric circles of teeth filled its gaping maw, saliva pooling in places as it screamed a silent roar. Spicules covered each limb, which punctured the ground, acting as anchors, providing it purchase to pull itself forward. The whole thing had a sickening green tint in its scales. No noticeable eyes or other similar sensory organs. Two antennae sprouted from the top of its body. The gunner noticed a translucent slime covering its body as well, likely supposed to protect it from the rough ground. He couldn’t believe that this thing came from something that they had called a pearl. It sped towards the rover. Jack, acting on instinct, fired upon the alien.


Will was up only a moment later. His rifle was far from reach, so he pulled the laser pistol from his thigh and began sending small lasers into the body of the thing.


The captain rose slowly, struggling to get his bearings and ignore the cuts and bruises he’d received from the ground. He heard the ballistic Gatling weapons of the rover’s turret and small discharges of energy from a light laser firearm. It didn’t make sense at first, but he soon saw Will and the rover engaging the grotesque alien. The captain picked up his rifle, which happened to be just a meter away from him, as he rose to his feet. He pulled the trigger once the massive form of the anomalous alien dominated his sights.


Kat was mysteriously still.


The EVA suit’s comms were filled with static, but Will and Jack managed to hear the voice of the captain through it all.


“Will, pull Kat aboard the rover, then drive over to me and I’ll get on. Jack, keep shooting that thing.”


Will rushed to Kat, wrapped his arms under hers and dragged her onto the rover. He then rushed to the seat and gunned it to the captain, just as one waving tentacle missed only by centimeters. The captain grabbed on to a handhold next to the side door of the rover as it sped past, which nearly wrenched his arm from its socket. It did, however, wrench the rifle from his other hand. It clattered across the rocks and snow and was soon crushed by the alien.


Will barely slowed as they reached the Outer Wilds. The captain stepped off and closed the ramp.


“Jack, rear turret, quickly. Will, take care of Kat. I’ll get us out of here!”


The team split, the captain and Jack heading for the cockpit and Will carrying Kat to her quarters.


The engines roared to life, but not as quickly as the captain would’ve liked. Jack, controlling the turret, spun it around to face the abomination. The explosive shells of the cannons mounted to the turret should do the trick, right? Will laid Kat on the bed and checked for a pulse. It was there, but faint.


As soon as the thrusters provided enough lift, the Outer Wilds jetted from the ground, avoiding the alien. But only just. An appendage scored a raking blow across the body of the ship, sending it spinning. The captain wrestled with the controls while the other two conscious crew members did everything possible not to pass out. The monster was gaining on them, lashing out with its many arms. Luckily, the first blow had sent the Outer Wilds further away from the creature.


Soon, the spinning was under control, and the ship was ready to get to orbit. As the spacecraft sped into space, the alien tried one last thing, but it fell a few meters short. The ship’s artificial gravity kicked on, and the captain set the route back to safe space. The Outer Wild’s adventure across the stars would be cut short, but at least they left with their lives.


The captain healed very quickly, and Kat regained consciousness several days into their return journey. They held a small party in the mess room to celebrate their good health.


No one noticed the small needle that implanted a small sphere, something like that of a pearl, barely thumb-nail sized, to the hull of the rough ship.