The report froze in place just holding his fruit cocktail before him – staring at Captain Reeves with expectation. He cleared his throat, raised an eyebrow and tilted his head towards her.
After staring back at him for a moment, she finally spoke. ‘At first, I wasn’t sure what I saw because the water or the sand seemed to swallow them up. I resisted the urge to race down there – I was terrified – but I knew I had a mission to complete.’
‘And the faster you did what you had to do-‘
‘The quicker I could get away.’ She nodded. ‘Plus, I was on a cliff that was bloody difficult to climb and I didn’t want to go down until I had to do so….’
Captain Reeves stood on the edge of the cliff, looking out towards the black sea. The rolling waves were gentle; its thick, grey colouring impenetrable.
Finally, she turned her attention to the landscape behind her. She was at the bottom of a gentle slope rising towards fog that blended with the low-lying grey-black clouds. The obsidian quickly gave way to a fine black dust not unlike the sand on the shore.
She removed two foil bags from the utility belt. In one, she put a few flakes of the rock she presumed to be obsidian. In the second, she took a handful of the dust. Closing them tightly, she used a small device to vaccuum seal the bags.
Climbing cautiously up the slope, for the next hour she took regular photographs of the sea, the rock and anything else she could capture before returning to the landing craft to store her samples and start her next task.
The electronics beeped in response.
‘Have taken initial samples STOP. Preliminary Analysis begun STOP. Everything as expected from satellite imagery STOP. End message.’
The electronics beeped in response. ‘And if mapping had done their job properly, I’d know exactly what I was looking for.’
Something hard and heavy hit the hull and she jerked upwards, stood still, holding her breath. ‘Computer, what was that?’
‘A solid object of four point nine seven nine kilograms struck the hull.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘Any damage?’
‘Do you know what it is?’
‘Any further information?’
‘Negative. Suggest the Captain investigates.’
Captain Reeves huffed audibly. ‘One hundred billion Euros and you can’t even look outside.’
She opened the exterior door and stepped out once again. The scene that greeted her was a little calmer than it had been when she first arrived. The cloud had thinned somewhat and she could just about make out Barnard’s Star above her head; it appeared as a slightly brighter spot and gave the landscape just the merest hint of pink. The dominating colour, overall, was still grey.
Cautiously, she made her way to the area where she thought the object had landed. Not seeing any immediate damage, she climbed up onto the outer hull and was surprised to find the item was an ununarked metal container. She did not recognise its form and it had no markings, but it looked like a design typically used by the space agencies of Earth.
She climbed down from the hull and took the box inside the landing craft, closing the door behind her. The box was sealed but not locked; she opened it cautiously but had barely broken the hinge when she heard a noise behind her. She spun around but immediately felt a hand at her throat; she was quickly pinned up against the wall by a force significantly stronger than her. All she noticed was that the figure wore a space suit very similar to her own. She struggled for breath, clawing at the hand that held her there.
‘Who sent you?’ came the metallic voice.
‘ESA!’ she managed to force from her throat.
‘Why can’t you just leave me alone?’
The surprise on Captain Reeves face must have saved her life then because the figure loosened its grip, allowing her to speak. ‘What?’ I’m here on a scientific expedition – to evaluate the planet for an outpost.’
‘That’s what they told me too.’ The figure finally let go of Captain Reeves throat and she dropped to the floor, clutching her neck.
The figure took a step back and removed the mask that had shielded its face.
Captain Reeves looked up and recognised the face of the woman before her.
‘Hello granddaughter,’ said the interloper.