As the four-mate away-team of Starship Apple marched single file down the long corridor to the exploration pod Applet, the slow, measured tromping of their heavy boots upon the grated flooring resounded, ringing back heavily and hollowly like a grim, metallic dirge.
Calyx, the team leader, allowed herself a backward glance over the high white shoulder of her suit at her mates. It was to be their first expedition. Were they ready? Ready for anything? Probing of the planet for which they were bound had been problematic. Lush vegetation on the surface kept long-distance scans from being conclusive; would there be animal life? Predators? Sentient life? A civilization even? Going in blind was just Calyx’s style, for she was a cowgirl at heart, but she was worried about her three teammates.
“What you lookin’ for, boss? You forget something?” This from Skeve, the smallest and feistiest of the four. Calyx was glad he was on the team. The chip on his shoulder would serve him well if push came to shove, as it damned well might.
“Yeah, I forgot to tell you to bring an extra pair of unders,” Calyx replied. “Just in case you foul the ones you’ve got on when we come up against whatever the hell lives down there.”
Coming at last to Applet, Calyx reached out a gloved hand and rapidly keyed in the needed sequence, then stood aside as her team passed through the hatch. Boarding the pod last, she again tapped out a quick pattern on the gateway console.
The hatch closed. Vira, at the helm, commenced her checklist.
“So what do you reckon are the odds we’re going to our deaths?” quipped Mick. Mick was the youngest of the team, having graduated Tutelage mere weeks before Apple’s launch.
“Fair to middlin’,” Skeve said dryly.
“Nonsense,” countered Calyx. “We’re well-trained, in peak condition, and armed to the teeth. We’ll be fine. And who knows what we’ll find. We could make first contact here.”
“Nothin’ to it but to do it, right?” Mick came back. It was a favorite line among Tutelage cadets.
“Nothin’ to it but to do it,” echoed Vira, flipping a row of switches decisively.
Fifteen minutes later, Applet detached from Apple, bound – all unbeknownst to her crew – for glory.
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