Between the dark rocky plain and the low gray cloud cover there was a narrow strip of light the color of tarnished silver. Ari adjusted his face mask as he walked between the modules of the remote base. Everyone wore the masks, even though the weren’t strictly necessary. Imai II was classified as a shirtsleeves world, but the humidity was unrelenting and the smell of sulfur never faded. It was a tidally locked world, and the base straddled the planet’s terminator near the shore of briny lake. It was the only body of liquid water to be found.
The giant dodecahedron that contained the algae farm gave off a soft amber glow, even through the slime-covered glass panels that made up its sides. Ari followed the steel-plated walkway to the farm, passing condenser stacks and electrolyzers and massive heat trappers that dotted his path in no particular order. This was no colony. It was to be permanently temporary.
He reached the entryway and locked himself inside, having a seat on the very practical and very uncomfortable bench while the sanitization routine ran its course. He was tired. He found it hard to fall asleep and then hard again to wake up in the perpetual twilight. It didn’t help that the mining teams working a couple klicks out were blasting rock on the night shift, or at least that’s what Ari assumed they were doing. There was an explosive out that way that shook him awake. He’d heard there was some big xenotime deposit they were anxious to get at, but he didn’t know much more than that.
At last the scrubbers stopped hissing and the hum of the compressors ran down. The inner lock clicked open and the indicator lights illuminated. Ari opened the door.
Laying among the muck was a body, unmoving. They wore a Federacy uniform, military, and the signature scaly and obscuring helmet and mask of an FTL pilot. The uniform’s clean Federacy design scheme of light gray chevrons on white fabric was a mess of muddy drainage water and dark globs of dried blood.
The weak croak from the pilot’s helmet caused Ari to stumble backwards, his feet slipping in the runoff, and he landed in a bloom heap. Something grabbed his arm and he yelped. It was the gloved hand of the co-pilot.
“Don’t say a word,” said the co-pilot. “First you patch her up. Then you tell us why we were shot down.”
Ari’s heart smashed against his lungs like a snare drum and his throat burned and tightened. He suddenly wasn’t tired anymore.