I snap the hand-me-down helmet over my head as I hike away from the exit of the cavern. I don't look back. I can't bring myself to do that.
The headlamp I once took for granted is a blessing, allowing me to clearly see my way across the dark, rough terrain of Ace. I glance around myself as I go, checking for the creatures that first chased us into the caves when they attacked. I don't know where they went. They could emerge at any moment for a second—and final—strike.
I can't let that happen. I don't have any time to lose.
The air is silent for now, at least, and I'm grateful for that. I walk quickly, but I keep my steps light. These creatures are able to burrow under the ground. I don't know if they would be able to sense my footsteps from below, but I don't want to risk it if I can help it.
I glance over my shoulder as I hike. The entrance to the tunnel fades away as I get further and further from it. I need to put as much distance from it and myself as I can. Even though it would take that creature hours to burrow all the way out of that cave, there's another thing I need to worry about—something I don't want to think about. America was bitten. The infection moves fast. It will only be a matter of minutes before . . .
I cut my thought off before I can finish it. I can't let myself think about that now. I need to think about my plan. I need to focus on the one mission I have left.
Even from the surface, I can't send a warning transmission to Earth from my spacesuit. We have radios, but they are only powerful enough for broadcasts of a hundred miles, not the four and a half light years between here and Earth. The only system capable of that sort of transmission is the one on the starship.
But where is she? I do a full spin, scanning my surroundings, but my light fades out before it reaches anything. The surface is a rocky desert expanding out in all directions. The stars provide some illumination, too, but not enough. I don't have any idea where I am on the planet. I don't know how far we went through those caves, and I certainly don't know in which direction we were traveling. I have no idea where the Starship Scarborough could be.
Our headsets have trackers in them. I should be able to connect right into the main system at the starship from the helmet I inherited. As long as I'm within radio range of the ship, I'll be able to get a reading of my own location relative to the ship.
I click the homing button on my helmet. The display screen in the top right corner of the helmet's glass glows as it lights up. A dozen green dashes flash across it five times before becoming solid. After ten seconds, the screen goes dark.
"Shit," I hiss under my breath. Those are supposed to read out coordinates. I click the homing button again. "Come on."
The screen glows to life, and once again, the dashes in the corner of the glass flash before going out.
"What the hell," I mutter. The radio range on the helmet is nearly a hundred miles with no obstructions. We walked down under in those tunnels for a while, but there is no way we could have traveled hundreds of miles. I have to be within radio range.
I click the homing signal one last time, but still no luck. My heart sinks in my chest. What if it's broken? Hands shaking, I snap the helmet off. I run my fingers over the headset mechanism inspecting it for any sign of damage. A few cracks radiate like a web in the plastic right around the button. I trace over the rough, damaged surface with the pad of my thumb.
"Fuck," I hiss under my breath. This helmet got slammed around so much, I shouldn't be surprised the electronics are damaged.
What else can I do? There are no satellites on this planet, which means no global positioning other than what I can ping of the starship's radio. Without that button, I have no way of knowing which way to go. I look up to the stars, as if I might find a map up there in the heavens. People used to use them for navigation, but it's a skill I never learned. Even if I did know how to use them, all the reference points would be different here than they are on Earth.
YOU ARE READING
Down UnderScience Fiction
Shawn, a convicted criminal, never thought she'd see the sun again, let alone call another star system her home. When she's offered an out from her prison sentence, she embarks on a dangerous interstellar expedition along with 18 of Earth's most int...