Orlando Flinton pulled a face. “We must be crazy!”
The other Earthman, Ricky Kiyosaki, who had been gazing out of the viewplate at the green and gold alien vista, glanced around at Flinton’s remark. “Huh?”
By this time, the spaceship had finished jiggling and now stood firmly on Deiphobus’s soil, and Flinton was beginning to doubt his sanity. “Look,” he said, “we thought we were special, you know, a big deal being selected for this mission, ten years training for it, and now we’re here, guess what? I don’t feel anything. I could be at home, back on Earth, watching the big game and drinking Coors with Jenny. Instead of risking my life on this crummy planet!”
Kiyosaki gave a wry smile. “Come on Orlando, get kitted up. Don’t be melodramatic, we’re supposed to have noble aspirations. At least we owe Earth a ‘welcome’ video!”
Out on Deiphobus’s surface, the two men set up a camera. Above, a star hung, small in the sky, bathing the planet in baleful green light. Through the thin, hazy atmosphere, several pinpricks of light indicated sister planets to Deiphobus, further out in frigid orbits. The two men stood, posing with raised arms. With the coatings on their helmet visors and their thick insulated gloves, they were limited in what they could visually convey to their anticipated audience of billions. They danced around and waved for a short video. Flinton’s heart wasn’t in it, but he didn’t care. It would take five long years for the images to reach Earth and who knew what might happen in those five years?
Six months later, they’d settled into a routine and Flinton felt a little happier. With the help of a robot workforce, living capsules had been constructed and other buildings had been erected where they were able to grow vegetables in the thin, golden Deiphobus soil.
The planet rotated about its sun every thirty hours, which had a disorienting effect on the men. “This planet’s day is doing my head in,” Kiyosaki complained. “We’re getting up in the light, then we’re getting up in the dark!”
“Don’t worry, we’ll get used to it,” Flinton replied, and he was right. As predicted, their bodies adapted to the strange cycle, sleeping for twelve to fourteen hours a night, so that they got up after sunrise.
Most days, they’d take the rover out across the planet’s strange landscape, where large expanses of black rock looked like swamps against the yellow soil and towering dunes. On one expedition, Flinton radioed to Kiyosaki, back at the rover. “Hey, Ricky, come and look at this!” Soon, he watched a cloud of yellow dust rising in the far distance as a vehicle began to make its way towards him.
“It’s some kind of craft.” Flinton patted the side of a turtle-shaped object, glowing a dull silver. It was partially buried and the length of a locomotive. “Looks like it’s been here a long time.”
Inside his helmet, Kiyosaki gasped. It was incredible. There was no record of any lifeforms anywhere in this system. “Look, I’ll take the rover back to base, bring some bots and gear. Let’s see if we can get into this thing.”
“No,” said Flinton, “I’ll go.”
That was the last time he ever saw Kiyosaki. On Flinton’s return, Kiyosaki had gone. He could see Kiyosaki’s boot marks around the craft, but no sign of the man himself and no response from his radio, as if he’d quite simply evaporated into the thin Deiphobus atmosphere.
With the aid of the bots, Flinton was able to open a door into the spacecraft. To his dismay, he saw the occupants, whoever they were, had been tiny. The passageways into and through the craft were too small for him to enter. Flinton stood and stared up at the dismal green sun with hatred. “Damn you!” If he wasn’t crazy already, he soon would be.
Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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