“Our decent is commencing. Fasten seatbelts and prepare for landing.”
Talon jolted awake at the sound of the robotic voice coming through the sound system. He blinked rapidly to clear his vision and rubbed his hand against his stiff neck.
“We’re already here?” he mumbled.
“We’ve been flying for six weeks, Talon” Kayson reminded him from the seat next to him.
“It went by quicker than I thought it would. I can’t believe we’re here. This is so mega!” Talon exclaimed; looking out his window with excitement.
Kayson drummed his fingers on his uniformed knee in anticipation. “It seems like just yesterday that we were at the academy doing our training.”
“Well, we were six weeks ago” Talon laughed.
“Would you two homies shut up?” Natom, the veteran of Team 9579 barked. He had clearly been on so many of these missions that his patience had worn thin.
Talon bristled at the insult. Homies were weak minded, clingy, nervous individuals who were too scared to leave their home planet. He was nothing like them. He had a sense of adventure. He was willing-no, grateful-to serve his people.
Kayson shot him a wink but kept his mouth shut.
The adrenaline pumping through the small vessel was almost tangible. Out of the five men on board, Natom was the only one who had done this before. The other four were freshies; barely adults and having just completed their training. Personally, Talon found the term “freshies” degrading. It was short for both “fresh meat” and “fresh out of training”. It was basically like calling them babies.
Talon fixed his eyes out of the front window, staring forward into the black depths of space.
“Shouldn’t we see the planet by now?” Paxon asked from the seat behind Talon.
Natom let out a heavy sigh. “Freshies,” he grumbled to himself before answering Paxon, “No, it won’t appear until right before we land on it.”
The last man on Team 9579 piped up from the seat behind Kayson. Talon wasn’t even sure of what his name was. “How are we going to land on it properly, then?”
Even Talon had a hard time fighting a sigh with that one. Everyone knew this stuff; it was basic. You learned it in the first week of training.
“Honestly boy, did you pay any attention in training? How did you manage to graduate?” Natom snapped, “The computer in the ship has been programmed with the coordinates of the planet. It knows the exact spot that we’ll be landing.”
“But what if there’s stuff in the way?” the nameless one asked, still puzzled.
“Listen to me, boy,” Natom responded, anger colouring his tone. Talon couldn’t see his face because Natom was seated in the chair in front of him, but he knew it was probably getting red. “I don’t need idiots like you messing up this mission. Our job is to get down there, scout around, and get back out. You better get your act together and start acting like a valuable part of this team, or I’m going to kick your ass.”
For a moment, the silence on the ship was deafening. Then the computerized voice broke the silence.
“Touchdown in one minute,”
“Is everyone clear on the plan?” Natom said calmly, having regained control of his emotions.
“Yes, sir!” the four men chorused.
Talon glanced out his side window into the darkness. The inky blackness gave no indication of the incredible speed at which they were travelling. He had no idea if they were slowing down as they approached the mystery planet. He tried not to think about what would happen if the computer programmers had made a mistake with the distance of it from their home planet. At this speed, they would all die instantaneously if the ship were to crash into it without stopping.
Talon shook the thought from his mind. These trips happened all the time, and nobody ever died. Every day, ships were being sent out to planets across the galaxy. Every day, teams of Scouters were landing on these foreign planets and searching them without any problems. Nobody ever crashed, nobody ever died. Most importantly, nobody ever encountered any form of life.
Their training had been quick. Immediately after graduating high school, Talon and Kayson, who had been close friends since they were children, had enlisted to be Scouters together. Talon had worried that training was going to be hard, but it had been easy and painless. It had been mostly knowledge based rather than practical skills. Talon could remember the first day of training like it had been yesterday.
“Listen up, boys,” their burly trainer had growled as he paced back and forth at the front of the lecture hall. The hall had been filled with no less than 500 boys, all right out of high school. The large room was so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop. All eyes were on the man.
“Each and every single one of you is here because you want to become a Scouter. You will be heroes to the people on this planet, as well as the people on all the rest. You are doing a great deed to humanity by being here and taking part in this training,” the trainer boomed, his voice echoing through the hall. “At the end of this month, you will board a ship with four other men and take a journey that you’ll never forget. When you get to whatever planet you are assigned to, your work there may seem easy after the weeks of flying in close quarters with your Team. It may seem not worth it. But tell me; if you don’t go explore these planets, who will? Where will we develop? Where will we send the ever expanding human population? Being a Scouter is one of the most valuable jobs a person can hold right now. You are the ones who will build the human race a solid future.
“Being a Scouter is simple, but somebody has to do it. When you get to your planet, you will have one job. To search the planet; make sure nobody is inhabiting it. There can be no signs of life anywhere. So far, out of the hundreds of planets we have scouted, none have been found to have life forms. Which make them ideal places for us to build civilization.
“Over the next month you will learn the details of how to scout the planet, but I’ll tell you this: everything you need to know about being a Scouter can be summed up in five words. If you see life, run.”
Talon shuddered now as he remembered the trainer’s words. He had been right; most of what they learned in their month of training could be boiled down to those five words. They had been taught how to use all the fancy charting equipment and how they were to go about scouting, but at the end of the day, those five words were what were drilled into their heads. Of course, they were always matched with “but no life forms have ever been found”, which strangely enough made Talon more uneasy rather than relieving him. Surely, the humans couldn’t be the only forms of life in the entire galaxy. Often at nights he had lied awake thinking about why they drilled that thought into their heads. Shouldn’t they only run if it’s intelligent life forms? Like aliens? The trainers insisted that they run no matter what, even if they just saw a tiny bug. As a Scouter, you have no idea what anything could be capable of. It’s better just to leave immediately.
“I SEE IT!” Paxon shouted from the back seat, snapping Talon out of his thoughts. Sure enough, where there had only been black a moment before there was now a planet. Now that there was something to see, Talon could judge how fast they were going. At the moment, they were hurtling along with no signs of slowing. The planet grew in size rapidly as they zoomed towards it.
“Is everyone’s seatbelt secure?” Natom barked. Before anyone had a chance to respond, the aircraft lurched suddenly as if the computer was slamming on the brakes. Talon was already strapped tight to the chair with a series of harnesses across his chest, but he still jerked backwards. His spine mashed into the back of the chair and he could feel his face contorting back as the immense pressure forced him backwards. He couldn’t move a muscle.
Puzzled, he tried to make sense of the feeling. The normal laws of motion didn’t apply in space, did they? He tried to remember what they had said about landing during training, but all he could remember is that they said it would be gentle and easy. Before he could fully consider what was happening, the pressure decreased and his body and facial muscles relaxed into a normal position.
“What the hell was that?” Natom shouted at nobody in particular. He checked the computer controls at the front of the ship to see if they showed any sign of distress, and then looked out the window in alarm. “We’re going too fast,” he exclaimed sharply, “we’re going to crash!”