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 Here on the mountain, above the stagnant air of the valley, far from the hurried clatter and clank of the settlers setting up shop, the wind carries a song from the trees. The trees of this world hum like hollow crystals, low melancholic bell tones. The evaporators drown them out at night or Weber would have definitely lodged a complaint by now. On the mountain their crystalline song is sweet and clear.

I wonder if the trees back home sang like this before we drowned their song in car exhaust and power lines. Maybe if we'd listened, we wouldn't be on Nidhogg, so desperate to make this grand experiment work.

Do the other colonists even know how intently the Expansionist Board watches our progress? How much money they threw at this enterprise?

The air here is so clean, it hurts to breathe. My body struggles to adjust to the purity. This place is a true miracle of science, a one in a million occurrence, a planet with near identical conditions to home.

Minus a few billion inhabitants, but if the settler unit of the Brahma succeeds, the Expansionist Board will rectify that soon enough. Humans will pour onto the soil of Nidhogg like an upended colony of ants, until they drown out the chiming trees.

Part of me almost wants the colony to fail. Guess I'm not qualified to be a humanist.

:A. Lee, report your status.:

Ah, this moment of introspection is over, duty calls in a slightly tinny crackle through the communication implant.

"Your perky A.I. in a meat suit reporting for duty! How may I assist you today, Dr. Chang?"

There's no missing the dry tones of Chang's deep voice. :Could you put a clamp on that sarcasm? We have a job to do.:

"You should get out more Chang. Start adapting to the air quality before more settlers arrive to find their head botanist wheezing like an old man."

That weary sigh through the comm makes me smile. Got to win the little victories where I can.

:Focus, A. Lee, please. The committee is pushing hard for results, I don't need you ragging on me too.:

He just had to bring them up. "Buzzkill, Chang. Fine." 

Beneath the skin of my left temple, there is a sub-dermal switch. Pressing it makes my ears pop and my back teeth buzz. I can feel the internal machinery come online and my vision goes blurry. Whir, click, whir, click. The valley below jumps into focus, until I can make out details of the individual colonists from the Brahma. The knot of the Traditionalist Committee is easy to spot by the scarlet sashes across their chests. Looks like Weber is on the move again, enforcing their lengthy lists of policies. Woman is more persistent than STD in a brothel.

The muscles beneath my eye jump as my line of sight shifts to the laboratory quadrant. The corner of my mouth twitches. Chang has moved his work outside. The valley air is humid. I can see the sweat beading across his forehead.

"Make sure you hydrate," I tease.

Chang stiffens and looks up, those pretty brown eyes full of annoyance. The gesture is just for me, no one else packs these upgrades, a matter that secured my placement on the Brahma despite the Traditionalist Committee's distaste of my 'complicated' citizenship status.

:Your job is to survey the other side of the mountain, Scout.:

Somebody's cranky. This is a routine confirmation. The exploratory team already performed an extensive survey and gave this planet the initial all clear. My job isn't so much scouting an unknown terrain as it is dotting the 'i's' and crossing the 't's' on the team's comprehensive environmental report. Feeling dutiful, I turn about face. Nidhogg is truly breathtaking, and not because the atmosphere is only 95% compatible with our lungs. Chang and Dr. Dunn both insist our bodies will adjust through exposure.

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