Dispatch #3: In Plain Sight

Dispatch #3: In Plain Sight

Waking up on the side of a sand dune was better than never waking up at all, thought Commander Sean. He hardly had time to think about what happened when Commander Von sprinted over.

“Are you alright? Is everything okay?”

Sean rubbed the sand out of his eyes. There was no way he, or anyone else, would have survived a crash like that. Everything and everyone should have been destroyed by the sheer force of impact.

“Here, let me help you up,” said Von, extending a hand. “I don’t know how you ended up all the way over here, but at least we finally found you. I was freaking out for a hot second.”

Sean looked at the wreckage below. The spaceship was barely recognizable behind the wall of thick smoke. Half of S2TM was ablaze with flames crackling and popping.

“Where’s the crew?” asked Sean, shaking bits of ash out of his hair.

“They’re doing a roll call, making sure everyone is accounted for. So far, so good.”

Sean ran his hands over his face. “Whatever wanted us to crash also wanted us to live. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Not much does,” said Von.

The dunes reminded Sean of the Sahara Desert. The way the wind moves the sand, building and flattening mountains. It felt like Earth, and even though he knew they would never return home, it was nice to breathe fresh air again and feel particles of sand roll across his skin. Even the strength of the sun felt like home. All of it made him feel alive; it made him feel human in ways living aboard a spaceship could never provide.

“I don’t know about you, but my first experience with teleportation could have been smoother,” said Von. “I was full-ostrich with my head in the sand. Definitely don’t want to relive that moment again.”

Sean hadn’t put much thought into how the crew and 5,000 recruits made it out alive, but in that critical second before the crash, when he closed his eyes and released a prayer, he vaguely recalled what it felt like to slip away from the bridge and dissolve into nothingness.

“Who teleported us?” asked Sean, scanning the desert.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Von. “We’ve been out here doing roll calls for at least an hour, watching our spaceship burn, and no one has rolled out the welcome mat.”

Sean shuddered at the thought of being watched. Anything could be hiding out there in the shells of fallen vessels, waiting for the right moment to attack. The longer he thought about it the more it felt like they were an experiment. That whatever crashed their vessel wanted to see how beings from another planet reacted when left shipless and stranded.

Von bent down and scooped up a handful of sand. “I know it looks like sand,” he said, bringing it closer to his eye. “But it feels artificial. It’s different from the sand we have back home.”

Von would be the first to admit that he wasn’t well versed in the molecular makeup of sand, but he knew it well enough to know that the coarse particles in his hand felt extra prickly.

“What if these are actually tiny cameras?” he asked. “And every particle is watching our every move. Wouldn’t that be trippy?”

Sean rolled his eyes. Sometimes the ideas born out of Von’s imagination shouldn’t be verbalized.

“I think I have a plan,” yelled JB, running toward Sean and Von. “There are fresh tracks headed west, just over the tallest dune. I’d like to take two teams in that direction. We don’t know what is out there, or what we’ll find. What I do know, is that we’re without food, water, and shelter. If we don’t find refuge before sundown, we’ll have bigger problems on our hands.”

If there was anything JB didn’t like about being a Mission Specialist, it was coming up with blind solutions to unforeseeable problems. A role that became increasingly problematic on a strange planet. As a natural problem solver, JB instantly thought about all the issues the crew could encounter. Fundamental glitches that trickled down to the very air they breathed. Air which could be composed of anything, like tiny molecules containing foreign substances with the power to alter their DNA. Even the weight of unfamiliar gravity pressing on their shoulders could impact the shape of their bodies. There were so many invisible elements at work that JB, who was so easily filled with worry, could be paralyzed by fear simply by entertaining the breadth of every outlandish possibility.

“Great plan,” said Sean. “Have we been able to salvage any supplies from the ship?”

JB shook his head. “The crew is too afraid to try. We can’t tell how deep the fire has traveled and some of the Officers are worried that the ship may blow. We can’t risk the lives of our own on the off chance that we can retrieve a weapon, a communicator, or a wedge of cheese from the galley. It’s just not worth it.”

“No, you’re right. There’s too much at stake. Von and I will join you and lead additional teams. We fly as one, and we survive as one.”

“I appreciate it,” said JB. “Whatever exists here has an advantage. We may find ourselves outnumbered or in a situation where we need to split up to explore alternate routes. Strength in numbers may be our best approach.”

Von, Sean and JB looked across the desert. As much as they would like to believe that everyone comes in peace, their first impression of this planet was far from positive.

“Time to break the news to Snazzy and Risk,” said JB. “Wish me luck.”

Sean smirked as JB slid down the dune.

“Guess we’re mobilizing the recruits,” said Von. “You take the right side of our burning spaceship, and I’ll take the left?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Snazzy was completing the last of her roll call when JB busted through.

“I’m taking Riemer, Von and Sean over the peak. I’d like you and Risk to stay here.”

“We can’t stay here forever,” quipped Snazzy, shielding her eyes from the sun. “Look around. We’re without shade, and I doubt we’ve hit the hottest part of the day. We’re going to fry if we remain exposed. Add chronic dehydration and we’ll be dropping like flies.”

JB spied a piece of debris out of the corner of his eye. Its shadow moved with the sun. A loose, flaw-filled calculation of time.

“Give me two hours,” said JB. “If I’m not back by then, you and Risk can lead the rest of the recruits over the dune and come looking for us.”

Snazzy didn’t like the idea of being a designated search and rescue party, especially when she knew no one would come looking for her if she or Risk were ambushed and taken captive.

“You know that fake sundial of yours isn’t going to work, right?” laughed Snazzy. “But if you need two hours, I’ll give you two hours and not a second more.”

“Deal!” said JB. “Now where’s Riemer?”

It took JB one quick sweep over the plains to spot Riemer in the crowd. Being the tallest crew member, he always stood out.

“What did I miss?” asked Risk, stepping next to Snazzy.

“Just the worst idea JB has had in a long time,” she said, watching him rush toward Riemer. “I hope your combat skills are sharp. We may need them.”

Risk looked at his feet. He knew he wasn’t built for hand-to-hand combat. Finding a place to hide, on the other hand, was a solid strategy.

“I was digging around in some of the empty vessels, and it looks like their landing wasn’t nearly as pleasant as ours,” said Risk. “There’s more structural damage and the ships have been completely looted.”

“Any remains?” asked Snazzy.

“Not a single set of bones. These crashes are either so old that the sands have broken down the bones of the crew or whatever lives here likes to teleport crews a split second before impact. Either way, it’s weird.”

Snazzy looked at JB’s rigged sundial. “They have two hours, Risk. Two hours. JB thinks that if he follows those tracks, he will discover a new civilization, but those tracks had to come from somewhere. Heading in the opposite direction is just as logical.”

Snazzy didn’t say it, but Risk knew exactly what she was thinking. Being left behind was like being left for dead. Time, or lack thereof, kills all.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE

Recruits, it’s time for you to choose what you think happens next.

Select ‘A’ if you think Snazzy and Risk will wait the full two hours before rallying the rest of the troops and follow the path JB and the rest of the team are taking.

Select ‘B’ if you think the heat gets too much for Snazzy and Risk and they decide to leave immediately, but head in the opposite direction of the team, hoping to find shelter, food and water.

Select ‘C’ if you think Snazzy, Risk and the recruits get ambushed by the planet’s ruling colony and are taken hostage.

Head to your delegated Starship channel in the S2TM Discord to discuss your choice with your teammates.

Listen to next week’s podcast to hear what happens.

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