122. First-in Scout (post 2)

Cyan, the novel about this planet, will be out shortly from EDGE. Here is a sample from the opening minutes that the crew spend on the surface.

Tasmeen cut the jets.  Silence came in to fill the landing craft, and she said, “All right, Keir.  It’s yours.”

“Acknowledged.”  His response was recorded, and at that moment he became commander of the expedition.  Stephan had brought them here.  It was up to Keir to keep them alive until Stephan could bring them home again.

Practically, he had been in command ever since Tasmeen put the landing craft into polar orbit ten days earlier.  Now he slipped out of his couch, moved sideways toward the door and cracked the seal.  There was a faint hiss of incoming air as the pressures equalized, and for the first time they smelled Cyan.  Keir shoved the hatch back and pale morning sunlight entered the cabin.

Big Bug, a combination automatic bacteriological laboratory and homing beacon, sat a hundred meters away where it had landed five days earlier.  It had already determined that no Cyanian microorganism would harm them.  The base DNA of the planet’s creatures was too dissimilar.  Now Keir sat in the hatchway, getting used to the light, the smells, and the vegetation.  He had spent hours studying the images sent up by Big Bug, but reality was always different. He scanned the flash perimeter where their landing jets had scorched the earth, then let his eyes move slowly outward to the still living vegetation. There were grasses — or what passed for grasses on Cyan — within thirty meters of the landing craft, and they were half a meter high.  Crawling, crushing, fanged and poisoned death could be lying in wait.  There was no way to know.

Keir’s eyes moved on over the grasses, noting the direction of the wind, seeing how they moved and looking for discontinuities in the pattern of its motion that might tell of unseen things waiting in hiding.  They were in the center of a meadow that stretched away for nearly a kilometer in every direction.  Keir had chosen this place for its clear field of view.

When he could no longer stand the discipline of searching just for danger, Keir looked about with a tourist’s eye.  Points of light scintillated in the trees along the river.  He had no idea what they were.

“Petra,” he said, “rifle at the ready.  Stay in the hatch and stay alert.  Leia, you go out first.”

There was a smell of tension in the cabin.  Leia was the smallest of them all, the fastest, the meekest, and the most likely to run rather than fight.  Those were the reasons Keir had chosen her.  She squeezed past Keir and started down the chain ladder.  Keir went down on his belly with his pistol out while Petra stood over him with a rifle.  Leia worked her way down and dropped to the ground.  No one made any historic pronouncements.  Keir and Petra were too intent on watching for danger, and the others were holding their breaths.

“I’m down,” Leia said and her throat mike carried the words into the cabin.

“Walk straight away from the craft ten meters,” Keir said.

Leia complied.

“Do you see anything?” Keir asked.

“Nothing that looks dangerous.”

“Ten more meters.”

“Okay.”

“Petra, watch Leia, not me.  Gus, take my place.  You watch me.”

Keir swarmed down the ladder and dropped to the ground.  Burned grasses crunched beneath his feet.  He cradled his 12 mm. automatic pistol at the ready and moved up beside Leia.  Nothing moved in the grass but fleet and tiny insect-like creatures.

Leia took a deep breath and said, “My God, it’s beautiful.”

Keir nodded.  He smiled to himself as he noticed that her pistol was still in its holster.  No matter.  That was why he was here.  “Be ready to run back to the ship,” he said, “and if I give the word, don’t look back.  Don’t wait for me.”

“Are you sure?”

“If you hesitate, I’m going to make cleated tracks up your backside when I run over you.”

Leia chuckled and said, “Sure you would.”

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