It was now six hours after the crash-landing…
Yao Yuan was still seated at the conference room stage, waiting for news from the expedition party and results from the scientific community. Until now, he had been busy parrying requests from the Hope’s several academic committees, some of which he allowed, like the one who requested access to the ship’s central mainframe.
The person who issued that curious request was the man standing before him now, the head pathologist, Mitsuda Saburo.
Saburo gave Yao Yuan a deep bow as he approached the stage to report his findings. “Major, my team has ascertained that the planet’s atmosphere doesn’t contain harmful microbes or viruses. I am, however, regretful to inform major that we are still unable to identify the mysterious gas that makes up eleven percent of its atmosphere. What we were able to find out though is that the gas is indeed non-poisonous, which leads us to happily conclude that this planet’s air is breathable by man and it will not bring about any adverse effects.”
Frowning, Yao Yuan inquired, “How is it possible that you could come to that conclusion? Didn’t your team report that the assignment was impossible because you lack an actual air sample for analysis?”
“That much is true; we are indeed devoid of an actual sample,” Saburo answered, “but with the help of the central mainframe’s impressive computing capability, the photos that were beamed over were restored to their original resolution. Looking at those pictures was no difference from looking through a microscope. After comparing those air particles to that of Earth’s, we came to a safe conclusion that there are no harmless viruses nor pathogens in the planet’s air. Also interesting to note is that the air’s incredibly dry… we could barely find one water molecule!”
Yao Yuan silently contemplated the lead pathologist’s report. Thinking his report was being challenged, Saburo stared earnestly back at Yao Yuan. Saburo’s focused gaze reminded Yao Yuan of his encounter with Ning Bo Tao and his ability to read projections of malice. It was his desperation to save his comrades that had moved him into that superhuman state. It was entirely unconscious, but now he couldn’t help but wonder whether he could tap into that power consciously…
(Could the key be imminent danger? Like how I felt my senses tingling right before the shuttle malfunctioned?)
Yao Yuan pulled himself up and walked around the stage in circles a few times to walk off the thoughts that started to crowd his mind. Others in the room mistook this action as Yao Yuan mulling over whether it was safe to call off the time restraint since the survival of the expedition party was no longer limited by their oxygen supply when in fact Yao Yuan was considering whether it was possible to simulate situations of imminent danger to induce the superhuman experience.
After a few more minutes of ambling back and forth, Yao Yuan planted himself back unto his seat with a loud sigh. It was his understanding that fear of imminent danger was ingrained in man’s physiological response. Unless through means of self-hypnosis or infliction of mental manipulation like paranoia, it would be impossible for man to conjure a feeling of imminent danger at will…
“Okay, thank you for your effort, Professor Saburo. You and your team have done a splendid job. I’ll relay your findings to the expedition party. They will be glad to know that there’s no danger of running out of air. Please go and enjoy a well-deserved rest. Again, I would like to express my gratitude for you and your team’s incredible effort.”
Yao Yuan stood up once more to shake Saburo’s hand before proceeding to thank each individual member of his team personally.
Saburo could feel a heavy load lifted from his shoulders, and so did the rest of his crew. Their efforts had paid off handsomely, but more importantly, their labor had saved people’s lives… Saburo was particularly relieved because he had found repayment and satisfaction at the end of his perseverance.
(Shiro, Hanako, mom, and dad, I promise you I will not disappoint you, because I know you guys are watching over me…)
After the group of pathologists and biologists retreated from the room, Yao Yuan slumped back down on his seat. He had requested for updates every ten minutes, so he was well prepared to intercept delegates from the Hope’s various academic bodies. What he wasn’t prepared for was to have the conference room swamped with one hundred plus members of the different physics committees.
The physics committee was an umbrella term for all the various committees dealing with the subject of physics. Some examples include the astrophysics and apex physics crews. The fact that all the members of the physics committees with their respective leaders would congregate at the conference room was no small deal. Yao Yuan quickly stood up to greet them because this could only mean that they came bearing news regarding the shuttle’s anti-gravitational system.
After a rudimentary consultation, Yao Yuan asked, while frowning, “You mean to say that a shift in the electrical resistance of the gravitational system was the reason for the shuttle’s malfunction? Even if that’s true, it is of no use to them because for one, they have no knowledgeable technician, and for another, they have no tools to conduct the necessary modifications. Furthermore, I will not risk landing the Hope on that planet on the basis of a hypothetical theory.”
Silewei, the acting resident professor of the physics unit, offered, “If that’s the case, we could perform the necessary modifications on another shuttle to test the theory. If the modified shuttle shows that it is indeed the electrical resistance that interfered with the anti-gravitation system, then we could safely land the Hope because this spaceship can support a high enough voltage discharge to override any disturbance of resistance.”
Yao Yuan gave the suggestion some thoughts before agreeing with it. “Okay! The physics committees are allowed free access to all the resources you might need to proceed with the modification. But I want it done fast because even though we have ascertained the relative safety of this planet’s open air, there’s still the eleven percent that’s unidentified. We need to reach the scouting party as soon as possible.”
The committees quickly launched into work as per Yao Yuan’s orders. A shuttle had its anti-gravity manipulator removed to be fitted with the suggested modifications.
However, things didn’t end up going as smoothly as expected because even though the Hope had twelve million people, none of them had experience with spacecraft construction, much less someone with ample experience capable of tinkering with gravity-manipulating technology.
That was why it had taken the relevant personnel more than ten hours to complete the modification. What was worse was that the modification was only a rudimentary one; the dangers that it could entail were a worrying unknown…
Operated by a few volunteer soldiers, the second shuttle slowly ejected from the Hope. As it drifted towards the yellow-colored planet, it had the attention of everyone on board the ship. It was possibly more intense than when they had watched the departure of the first shuttle, for even though it was equally dangerous, this second shuttle carried with it the hope of them landing on the planet… The hope for their future…
As the second shuttle worked its way through the ozone layer, somewhere on the planet was the stranded expedition party. At this moment, all thirty-two of them, still in their spacesuits, were fast asleep.
It had been twenty hours or, according to this planet’s time, one day and two nights since they had landed. Without any food and water intake since they arrived, it was less of a sleep for most of the party but rather a blackout. According to Liu Bai’s analysis, if they were to spend yet another twelve hours in such a barren environment, they would be facing serious dehydration, and twelve more hours on top of that would only lead to death!
Making things worse was the fact that the shuttle’s store of energy was completely depleted. This was because the anti-gravitational system and the communicator consumed exceptional amounts of power. Other than the fuel reserved for igniting the rockets, the shuttle’s reservoir of energy was hitting rock bottom. The anti-gravitational system, the inner heating system, and the communicator had all powered down. Other than the sonar that relayed their location to the Hope, every single electrical appliance in the shuttle was non-operational.
It was safe to say that things were not looking well…
All of a sudden, Ying’s, Zhang Heng’s, Ebon’s, and Liu Bai’s eyes shot open and they sat up from their sleeping postures. It was a mystery to them as to why they had suddenly awakened. They were physically spent, but somehow their mental states were heavily agitated right then.
A series of light taps pierced through the pregnant silence. The sound was so light that it was barely discernable, but the four were able to tell that it definitely came from beyond the shuttle’s entrance.
The four exchanged glances and each could feel chills traveling down their spines. No one had the courage to articulate what was on their minds; even the normally loud and brash Ebon was struck silent. After some time, Ying said, “Rouse the rest of the crew. We have to go out and see what made that sound.”
“Is that really necessary? It was probably the wind sweeping the sand against the shuttle’s shell. It’s not even light yet; let’s just stay in here instead of wasting our time,” said Zhang Heng with forced cheeriness.
Ebon ignored Zhang Heng and went ahead to wake everyone else up while Liu Bai whispered to Zhang Heng, “That can’t be done. As the vanguard unit, we have the responsibility to scout ahead, and this includes… ascertaining the presence of alien organisms. I’m sure you’ve heard of the main ship’s rescue mission; if they’ve confirmed it was electrical resistance that weakened the anti-gravitational system, the Hope will proceed to land here. There are thirty-two of us and twelve million of them… For the greater good, we must leave the comfort of this room.”
At this time, the twenty soldiers had roused themselves and started to sort out their weapons while the remaining eight scientists were facing difficulties collecting themselves. These men of science were not trained to endure such harsh conditions, so after twenty hours without sustenance, they were already at the early stages of debility.
As Ebon led the way, he was followed by Ying, then Liu Bai, and then the rest of the soldiers, the frontline squad moved towards the shuttle entrance. They were trailed by Zhang Heng, who was visibly reluctant to move from his position. After positions had been taken, Ebon kicked down the door, training his assault rifle at what laid beyond it.
And beyond the door was… nothing but a darkened desert. The weak light shining from within the shuttle revealed nothing but sand and more sand.
Everyone was sharply relieved, but even so, Ebon remained extremely alert as he led the way out of the shuttle door. Following him were the soldiers, Ying, and Liu Bai.
They came up with nothing after checking their surroundings for rogue prints in the sand. “Looks like Zhang Heng was right after all,” admitted Ebon with a chuckle.
After hearing that, the remaining soldiers gradually let down their guards. One of them was Chen Wei, who was particularly close to Ebon. Chen Wei walked up to Ebon’s side, chiding laughingly, “You sirs are too strung up sometimes.”
At that moment, Zhang Heng, who was just stepping out of the shuttle, yelled, “Watch out!”
Before anyone could respond, a few brownish, metal-like needles shot up from underneath the sand. They bored through the space suit and dug right into Chen Wei’s body, lifting the unfortunate soldier into the air. Within the short span of two seconds, Chen Wei’s body was mummified before everyone’s shocked eyes…
His bodily fluids had been drained instantly!
Connected to those deadly needles was a seven-by-four-meter-sized monstrosity that was shaking itself loose from the sand. The thing was paper thin, and with its coppery shell, it had the appearance of a metallic object. It had no visible appendages or exterior organs like a mouth or eyes other than the metal-like needles that grew out of its circumference.
The creature appeared to have become sluggish after its feast. It remained motionless after its attack on Chen Wei with the exception of the central part of its flattened body, which started to balloon up. It continued to expand for several seconds before deflating. As it deflated, about ten creatures similar to it but much smaller in size scurried out of its underbelly.
These mini creatures leaped towards the party with surprising speed. In almost the blink of an eye, a few of the creatures stuck onto the two foremost soldiers. Even though attempts were made to swat them off, they adhered tightly to the spacesuits before lodging their needles into the victims within.
Compared to Chen Wei, these two soldiers had the unfortunate pleasure of experiencing a slow death. Amidst violent struggles and earsplitting screams, the two soldiers shriveled up while the creatures attached to their bodies grew bloated at an alarming rate. While the carnage was happening, the other creatures swiveled past the claimed victims, throwing themselves at other fresh kills.
Ying’s call to arms shook everyone out of their stupefaction, then everyone started unloading their guns. There was no time or thought for neither scoping nor targeting; bullets were being sprayed aimlessly. It was a race for survival!
This was mankind’s first encounter with an alien lifeform… and it certainly wasn’t going to end well!