A rescue mission on Epsilon turns into an adventure Terrex Stonewall did not sign up for. Captured by aliens, he finds love where he didn't expect it.
Terrex Stonewall shouldered his huge duffle bag, which held his meager possessions, and stepped from the shuttle onto the alien soil. Taking a deep breath, he inhaled the hot, humid air, registering unfamiliar scents and finding them not as unpleasant as he’d been told.
The door of the shuttle irised shut behind him, cutting off his way back should he change his mind about this new assignment, and he moved further away as the small shuttle lifted into the air. It rose then disappeared into the low hanging clouds.
Although he had been briefed, it still came as a surprise to see the giant mushrooms surrounding him. He walked slowly across the cleared area toward the enormous bubble that would be his home for the next year.
He knew what to expect.
Life on an outpost was not a holiday. Neither did it mean hardship, not usually. His job, as a scout for the Solar Union, would be to keep watch over this area of space and report any intrusion into the system.
They did not tell him why this particular outpost was so important. Epsilon happened to be the fourth planet in a solar system at the edge of controlled Human Space. There wasn’t much here, as far as Stonewall knew. Nothing anyone would want, unless you liked mushrooms.
The shrill cry of an animal hastened his steps toward the dome. Before he reached it, an opening appeared in the smooth surface of the bubble, and a man in the drab brown uniform of the Union stepped out.
“No canvassing allowed.” The man burst out laughing when he saw Stonewall’s perplexed expression. Holding out a hand, he said, “You must be Terrex Stonewall. I am William Peters. Welcome to Hell.”
“Hell?” Stonewall said. Then he nodded and grinned, suddenly aware of the wet fabric of his uniform clinging to his perspiring body. “It is damned hot.”
“Come inside.” The other man stepped back into the dome.
Stonewall followed him and stood silent for a moment, breathing in the cool air. Behind him, the door closed with a barely audible whoosh.
From the outside, the surface of the dome looked opaque, but standing inside, he could see the sky above and the forest of mushrooms as clearly as if the shell didn’t exist.
“Pretty clever,” he commented.
“It is. Don’t ask me how it’s done. I’m not a scientist. Something about bending the light waves.”
“You even have a garden,” Stonewall observed.
“That and more. Makes living on this hell-hole almost bearable.” Peters pointed to a squat building. “Those are our sleeping quarters. The kitchen and mess hall are over there. That ugly structure behind the kitchen houses the observation screens, computers and detection systems. Below it, underground, is the power grid. We call that building the Power-building.” He grinned. “Very original, don’t you agree? You’ll be spending most of your time in there.”
Stonewall saw a couple of figures moving around in the garden. Peters noticed his interest. “Don’t worry,” he said, laughing. “You won’t have to work in the garden. Those are work-drones. Robots.”
Stonewall grinned. “You had me worried there for a moment. I’m not a farmer.”
“Speaking of farmers,” Peters said, “there is the Chief right now. His name is…”
“Derrol Farmer. I know.” Stonewall smiled.
The tall man who came walking toward them, looked gaunt, like someone who hadn’t slept or eaten for days. “So, you’re the new guy,” he said with a grating voice, giving Stonewall a tight smile.
“The name’s Terrex Stonewall, sir.”
“I’m aware of that. Call me Chief. We are not that formal around here.” Farmer pointed at Stonewall’s duffel bag. “What did you bring with you? I hope all that stuff fits into your locker.” He stared at Peters. “Show him his bunk and introduce him to the others.”
Peters tipped his non-existent helmet in a sloppy salute. “Will do, Chief.”
Farmer turned and walked away.
“Is he always in this cheerful mood?” Stonewall asked when he was out of earshot.
Peters chuckled. “Not always. Today is one of his better days.” He punched Stonewall on the arm. “Come, I’ll show you to your executive suite.”
He took Stonewall to the dormitory and showed him his bunk. “Here we are. Your lavish quarters for the next year.” He grinned. “Just throw your stuff on the bed. You can stow it away later. It’s almost noon, but before we go for lunch, I want you to see your new workplace.”
When they entered the Power-building, Terrex smelled the sterile air, like the air in a hospital ward. “These instruments are quite delicate. They don’t like dust or temperature fluctuations. Better put on one of the lab coats.” Peters handed him a white coat. Then they walked down a short tunnel and through a door into a large room full of computers and electronic devices.
“Transmissions from the satellites circling Epsilon,” Peters said, pointing at the screens covering one wall. They displayed images of stars and empty space.
Only four of the computer terminals were occupied. One of the men looked up when Peters approached. “Hey, Peters,” he said. Glancing at Stonewall, he nodded. “The new guy?”
“Yep. Terrex Stonewall meet Ferd Prowler. He’s the supervisor on this shift. He’ll be your supervisor.”
“Hey, Stonewall,” Prowler said. “Welcome to Shithole. I hope you’ll be happy here.”
Stonewall smiled and lifted his hand. “Hey.”
Prowler’s expression turned serious, and he looked at Peters. “Better call the Chief. I’ve lost contact with Wong and Maisoneuve.”
“What the fuck are you saying?”
“I’m saying that I’ve lost contact with Wong and Maisoneuve, you dimwit. The beacon of the rover died an hour ago, and I can’t raise them on their personal comm. Haven’t been able for a couple of days now, but I thought maybe their comms were faulty. We’ve been having trouble with them for quite some time now. I didn’t think anything of it.”
“Fuck it!” Peters cursed again. “The Chief won’t be happy.” He grabbed Stonewall’s arm. “Come with me. Maybe your presence will keep him from executing me on the spot for being the bearer of bad news.”
“What happened?” Stonewall asked as he walked beside Peters.
“A few days ago we tracked an intruder into the system. A small ship of unknown origin. We got a fairly good image of it as it passed one of our surveillance drones. It traveled much too fast as it entered the ionosphere of this planet. And the angle was wrong, too. It crashed not far from here. We sent out two of our people to search for the ship and see if there were any survivors. They’ve been out there now for three days.”
He glanced at Stonewall. “This place might look peaceful and exotic with all those giant mushrooms, like a scene out of a fairy tale, but believe me, appearances are deceiving, literally. Danger lurks everywhere. On the ground and in the air. Even underground. You don’t want to be caught out there without a protective suit and a flash-rifle in each hand.”