Saturday, 6 June 2009

Alone with the Bodies - Part 2 of 4

The airlock swished open efficiently, opening the way for Stein to step out onto the reddish-brown soil. Above him the glass dome of his work-garden swept up and over, encasing him almost completely, except for the gap directly opposite the door. This semi-circle gap, like a giant archway, allowed the planet’s atmosphere and plant life to seep into the dome, where Lobert could study it for the good of the human race. His shining white bubble suit bulged around his midriff, protecting him from the toxic oxygen-deficient environment. The bulbous helmet surrounded his head and upper body, making him feel like an over-sized goldfish.

He trudged out, making his daily checks on the plants growing in the dome. The creepers were creeping away, as they did, trying to cover any and every surface they could. Little black flowers twinkled in the hazy sunlight. Stein made notes on the touch-screen built into the wrist of his suit, trying to make the checks last as long as possible. He didn’t enjoy this part of his job anymore than being stuck in the view tower, but at least it got him away from the other scientists. Lobert scowled, remembering his run-in the previous day with the head of the UEAD scientific section of the base, Skiller Findus.

“How’s the research going?” smirked the tall spindly man as they passed in the corridor, two technicians reverently following, their royal blue overalls in contrast with the gleaming white of the scientist’s billowing cloak.

“Fine,” replied Lobert tersely.

“Any progress lately?”

“I’m still working on… lots of calculations… controlling variables…” Lobert muttered, frustrated.

“Well you keep up the good work,” said Findus smugly, stooping down to Lobert’s eye level, his face a contortion of pride and derision. “Luckily for the human race, there are some people here who produce results. But don’t you worry about that, we’ll let you get on with whatever you’re doing.” With that he swept away, the two technicians sniggering in his wake.

Lobert reddened with embarrassment and anger recalling the event, standing in his dome with his plants. He knew Skiller couldn’t fire him because he was a voluntary colonist, giving him a permanent position as long as he kept to UEAD regulations. But Skiller could still make his life hell if he wanted to.

He was about to turn and stomp back into the airlock when he noticed something rustling amongst the leathery creepers. Carefully, he pulled back the plant’s leaves, revealing a small furry creature. Lobert had seen them before, they were one of the first indigenous life forms to be classified on the planet, along with the skittish flat snakes that floated above the ground, rushing away as soon as they detected a presence, and the vicious bear-like predators with eyeless faces and giant fanged maws. They were known as ‘dust monkeys’, little bundles of brown fur that closely resembled the primates of Earth, except for their eight arachnid eyes, which gave them a rather creepy look, especially for those with arachnophobia. They were fairly friendly, as this one proved, staring at Lobert, unafraid.

As he looked down at the tiny animal, Lobert had a crazy idea. Without really knowing why, he coaxed the dust monkey onto his hand, and made his way to the airlock. He punched in the codes to close the door and change the room’s atmosphere. The dust monkey sat calmly on his hand. Lobert knew the little creature could cope with the atmospheric change because of the tiny gills they had discovered on the necks of the species, allowing them to breath in almost any environment. Not really knowing why, he furtively carried his new friend back to the view tower, entering the circular lift and speeding upwards into the office above.

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