The Lotus Eaters by pleasantlybad

161 19 1

Erstwhile expeditions aside, the planet was solitary and completely disregarded by all others in its section of the galaxy. Wispy clouds curled around its smooth green surface, as it spun against the backdrop of a generous smattering of stars; completely, utterly silent.

It was this silence that worried the few chosen members of the crew of STS Olavia, separated from their mothership, as their small shuttle orbited the planet. The distress signal they picked up had been fleeting and died away fast. Not wanting to risk the lives of close to one hundred crew members, the captain had assembled a small, six-person landing party to take a shuttle down to the planet's surface and investigate.

"Cohen, stats."

Dilara Cohen, a rather mediocre woman, snapped to attention and tapped at the glowing screens in front of her. "Zeta Volantis III, a panarbor planet with few bodies of water. There's... not much recorded. Uninhabited, as far as records say. Our position is roughly 25 lat, 133 long."

The planet hung ominously behind Yazmin Lang as she turned her back to the window. She felt an invisible pressure from behind her, unseen eyes penetrating through her stiff grey uniform and burning holes into her skin. As the leader of the group, she felt the burden of responsibility weigh down her shoulders more than her fellow crew - the planet's presence loomed over her even when it was banished from her sight.

"You know the rules," she began, "so I won't go over them all again. Everyone strapped in?"

Thumbs went up. Lang took a breath, sat down, nodded to the helmsman.

The shuttle descended.

They landed in an isolated clearing, a small round break in the sea of leaves. The shuttle drew to a shuddering halt, sitting inert amongst the whirling forest debris kicked up by its arrival. Inside, the crew hung in their seats, heads spinning like they always did during descent.

Lang was the first one to rouse herself from the daze. "Is everyone okay? Hughes?"

The perpetually raggard-looking helmsman, Drew Hughes, forced a smile. He shakily undid his harness and leant forward, dark hair falling in sweaty clumps over his eyes. "I think we're right, Yaz. Shuttle's fine - used up more fuel than I initially thought, though."

"Is it-"

"It's enough to get us back," Hughes reassured. He pressed a fist against his eyes. The on-board medic flipped him a pill. Hughes popped it, dry swallowing. "Thanks Joe."

Lang gratefully accepted her own anti-vertigo pill. She stood. "We're about a kilometre from the signal, if Hughes landed us properly. With the forest it might take thirty or forty minutes to walk there, so we should start as soon as possible."

She could sense a simmering reluctance in the crew as they unbuckled and took their pills - there was always some hesitancy during rescue missions. With the unknown out there, there was always a sense of preservation that followed the crew sent down to investigate, an urge to turn tails on the danger and flee back to the safety of Olavia.

Especially with this one, with the added confusion surrounding the distress signal; was it real? Was it just bait for some heinous trap? If they turned around now, were they leaving someone behind who they could have saved? It was terrifying, the possibilities and questions. The thought of failure scared Lang, and she knew it scared her crew too.

"Oxygen level 30%," Cohen announced, "almost 50% higher than Earth."

"Is that a problem?"

"Shouldn't be," Joe grunted.

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