Who to tell about the conversation I overheard troubled me. What were they talking about? I really had no idea. Nothing specific had been said. I wanted to tell Captain, but we were leaving and he was busy. The only time I ever saw him was when he came to me and the occasional passing in the corridor when we were both near our quarters.
I didn’t even know where he was at when he was captaining the ship.
Maybe Lakshou would know. Or I could use the vid to message him. That was a good idea. I stopped and looked around. There was an open door to some sort of a storage area not far from the hold. There wasn’t much room in there, but I just wanted a quiet place to record my message to Captain.
The handheld device I’d tucked in the pocket of my pants worked just fine to set up a vid recording. I relayed what exactly I heard, glad I could remember it word for word. I racked my brain, but I wasn’t able to remember the human’s name, though. Captain probably knew it anyway, or he could ask Lakshou.
A rumble sent a vibration through the metal floor of the ship, and I gasped. Time to go. I tucked my vid back into my pocket and rushed to the hold. Red lights were flashing, and there were only a few beings moving around.
Lakshou stood in the hatch of one shuttle about halfway down the row of tethered vehicles. “Kohen, hurry up!” As soon as I passed him, a crew member closed the hatch. “Take a seat there.” He pointed to an empty spot at the end of one row with another seat beside it. It helped that he took the seat next to a wiry alien in a pale suit that covered most of its dark skin.
The lack of windows on the shuttle meant riding blind onto the planet Lakshou had mentioned. I wished we could see it; it had been so long since I’d been on some form of earth. Would I be able to handle it? An entire sky overhead was really different from cells, ships, and space stations.
We landed with a soft thump, the shuttle’s landing pads extending and locking into place with a quiet whirr I could hear through the hull. “Stay in your seat for a moment,” Lakshou said when I put my hand on my restraints. “The crew needs to run a few scans before they allow us off.”
Just then the hatch unsealed, and the first unfiltered air I could remember smelling moved through the shuttle. A breeze caressed the skin of my cheek in a motion completely unfamiliar. Air was cycled through the vents in space-going vessels, but it wasn’t the same.
And the smell.
Green things. Heat. Salt. A bitter, unfamiliar tang as well as a sweet hint of something flowery twined together. I closed my eyes and breathed deep, my hands clenched together. I was practically vibrating in my seat when Lakshou finally tapped me on the thigh.
“We can go out, but before you leave the shuttle, make sure you apply the protectant. You’ll need it since your skin has adapted to being in space away from UV rays. There are also some insects on this planet that find humans a tasty snack, and you definitely don’t want them to try and get their dinner out of you. It’ll keep them away.”
There was a crew member handing out cloths by the hatch. “What do I do with this?” I asked.
“Just wipe it across any exposed skin.”
Lakshou nodded. “That’s it.”
“You don’t need one?” I started with my face, and then got my ears and the back of my neck. My hands were last. The cloth disintegrated as I rub it through my fingers.
“Nope. I’m not on the menu, and my skin is mostly covered. Plus I get planetside quite often.” Lakshou turned. “Watch your step, the ground is very soft.”
He wasn’t joking. My feet sank in a few inches. I squinted. There was a body of water just beyond the second shuttle beside ours. The sun was bouncing off it like a mirror. There was so much all around us, the sight, the sounds, the smells. My breath came faster. “Is the ground… moving?”
“Yes, to get away from the shuttle. The vegetation is sensitive.”
“And we harvest it?” I was appalled.
“Not sentient. Sensitive.”
“Oh.” This was amazing. I took a few steps on my tiptoes, not sure if it was okay to actually to move around on the ground, no matter what Lakshou said. If it moved away, it must be because it hurt.
“Over here.” Lakshou was standing on bare ground, and I sighed in relief when I joined him.
“Should we be helping?”
“You’re doing enough work just acclimating to being outside. The crew has done this before.” Lakshou smiled at me. “Feel the sun on your skin, soak in the fresh air. You’re doing great.”
A high-pitched hum filled the air, swelling and then fading. “What’s that?”
Lakshou frowned. “Not sure. It doesn’t sound too close. If it’s something to worry about, the crew will let us know. How about a quick meditation?” He bent over and removed the coverings on his feet. “Join me.”
“You want me to stick my bare feet on the ground?” I wrinkled up my nose.
“It’ll be good for you. Commune with nature.” Lakshou simply stared at me, waiting.
Sighing, I did what he asked. He knew best, right? “Communing with nature, got it.”
We stood there breathing in concert. I focused on my other senses by closing my eyes. The hum that had faded swelled again, even louder this time.
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