Jay was tired and sick of everything at this point.
Since he got onto the damnable spaceship, he had been infected by a mysterious virus, tormented by high fever, and thrown into one-month-long quarantine. He never thought that he would say this, but during that period, he even missed the times he was locked in jail, because then he at least had an inkling of what was happening.
Tragedy, however, didn’t end there. A few days after he was released from quarantine, he was requested to attend a series of meetings with the military and people’s representatives where he was bombarded with questions regarding his academic standing. He knew that it was a matter of time before he would be found out, so he decided to come clean in the hopes of getting a less severe punishment. Before he could do that though, some emergency came up and the authority had left him alone. He felt immensely relieved following that, but his elation didn’t last long. Call it karma because this time his fake doctorate had landed him in a much bigger pickle than he could have possibly imagined.
The Hope was gathering personnel for a geological surveillance unit. This unit would be responsible for conducting an analysis of the geological structure around the Hope’s landing zone. This was to find out whether the area would pose any danger to the spaceship and its citizens. Thanks to his doctorate, Jay was recruited into this unit.
Obviously, the unit’s mission was incredibly important; twelve million lives depended on the result gathered by this unit. It was considering their mission’s importance that Yao Yuan allowed this unit to venture out of the Hope before the military had the whole planet secured.
Of course, Yao Yuan wasn’t going to send the unit out into the great unknown desert without protection. After all, the unit consisted of technicians, scientists, and engineers; these were invaluable assets to the Hope. Therefore, the unit was accompanied by five hundred soldiers and a fleet of hovercrafts to ensure their safety. Furthermore, the location that they were heading to was only twenty kilometers away from the Hope. The hovercrafts were there for expedient transportation of materials or for a quick retreat.
And that was how Jay was roped into this conundrum. Before he boarded the Hope, he had spent days thinking about the perfect doctorate to give himself. To prevent an ugly unraveling of his lies, he needed to find a field where his knowledge would not be tested. Subjects like chemistry, biology, physics, and astronomy were definitely out. Even courses like translation, resource management, and economics were unsuitable.
After much deliberation, Jay decided on geology.
They were, after all, going to space, a place where there would be no land. What use would a geologist be in space? Or at least that was what Jay thought back then.
Now things couldn’t be worse. Thanks to his fake doctorate, he was requested to join this geological surveillance unit as a team leader. He would lead the prospecting team and would be personally responsible for analyzing the minerals they would mine.
Amidst the general air of excitement that surrounded him as they walked towards their destination, Jay was an isolated bastion of gloominess. He was full with lamentations of how harshly fate had treated him. Suddenly, a hand nudged him on his shoulder. Jay swept around and was greeted by a girl’s grinning face.
“Eh? It’s you! Your name is…” stunned, Jay had difficulties placing a name on the familiar face. But he was sure this girl was the person he was talking to when he fainted a few weeks ago, the girl who needed his help gathering some water.
“The name’s Feng Xiao Chen,” the girl supplied, pointing cheekily at herself.
“Wait, didn’t you tell me your native language was French? Why do you have a chinese name now?” enquired Jay.
Xiao Chen explained, “You’re still as ditzy as ever! Don’t you know that they are going to formalize chinese as the Hope’s official language? People are going to give themselves chinese names sooner or later, so I opted for the sooner! Come, repeat after me: Feng Xiao Chen!”
Shaking his head, Jay replied, “Fine… Feng Xiao Chen, is it? By the way, why are you here? Isn’t the Hope on lockdown? Other than the surveillance unit and rescue party, no one is allowed out. So how did you sneak your way here?”
Feigning offense, Xiao Chen mockingly scolded Jay, “Who are you saying snuck here? I walked alongside this unit openly, okay? For your information, I speak multiple languages; without me, who is going to translate for you bunch of unilingual dummies?” Pointing at her collar, she added, “Lookie here! See, I’m wearing a yellow first-grade badge.”
The surveillance unit was a hastily constructed unit with members who didn’t know each other personally, so there was general confusion in determining people’s assigned roles. To rectify this, a few engineers designed a set of color-coded badges. These would be used to easily signify one’s rank and role. The reds were the highest ranked; these were the scientists and engineers. Following them were the yellows; the technical workers and a handful of translators. After that, the team leaders wore green and the remaining general workers had grey.
Jay was more than a bit annoyed to have this girl of only seventeen or eighteen parade her yellow badge before him. It was a bit hard for him to stomach that she was of a higher hierarchy than he was when she was so much younger than him. Swallowing his anger, he teased, “Fine, you’re the boss. As a matter of fact, is there anything I can do for you, madam?”
Laughing haughtily, Xiao Chen said, “Not at the moment, but do not stray from your post beside me because I might need your help at any moment. I heard that the minerals we’re collecting as samples are quite heavy. You can help me carry those.”
Jay wanted to turn around and leave, but he suddenly had a fit of inspiration. “Sure, a ten kilogram load will easily crush a girl like you, and I’m sure those rocks are heavier than that. How about I carry those samples for you while you go around translating stuff for people?” suggested Jay nonchalantly.
Grabbing Jay’s hands, Xiao Chen tried to hide her appreciation as she narrowed her eyes at him. “You yourself suggested that, so no backsies! You are now my lackey and will be helping me carry everything that is heavy.”
Feigning reluctance, Jay complained, “I’m okay with it, but how about my assignment? If my superiors find out, I will be dead.”
“To hell with them!” Xiao Chen giggled, catching herself swear. “This is volunteer work after all. It’s not like you’re abandoning work, you’re just assigning yourself a different role, so why care about them? So, go get me a bottle of water right now, lackey number one. I’m incredibly thirsty.”
Making no signs to move, Jay shrugged, “Can’t help you there. All of the supplies have been sent to the destination beforehand. I heard that the military is setting up camp there now as we speak. If you’re that thirsty, then move faster.”
Seemingly satisfied with his justification, Xiao Chen nodded obediently. Suddenly, she took off running, but not before dragging Jay along. As Jay was pulled along, he could hear Xiao Chen laugh. “Then let’s move! We’re not moving fast enough! Faster! Faster! Now I can’t wait for work to start…”
“Wait, wait! Are you crazy? You’re going to make me trip…”
The pair ran ahead of everyone else, trailing shrieks and laughter. In everyone’s eyes, based on their intimate interactions and banters, this pair of rosy-eyed young girl and dashing young man was an obvious couple. Witnessing love blossom always brought a warm, fuzzy feeling to one’s heart, and that was especially true considering their situation. It told them that even after everything man had been through, the legacy of love would survive.
That brought hope for their future, a future where this barren desert would be terra-formed after they find a water source. With hard work and dedication, they could see this being man’s second home planet!
Everyone felt lifted by a surge of inspiration and their steps quickened…
At that moment, back in the Hope, Guang Zhen had just ended transmission with Yao Yuan. There were three main points of communication. First was Yao Yuan reporting that they had indeed located the stranded survivors. A bit of bad news was that Ebon needed immediate medical attention when they transported him back to the Hope.
The second was a warning about the planet’s dangerous organisms. Yao Yuan said that they were still unclear as to how these creatures could detect human presence, but speculation pointed towards water. They were transporting a carcass of such an alien creature back to the Hope as well, hoping the biologists on board could get more information out of it.
Lastly, Yao Yuan wished for the Hope to not stay grounded. He also wanted Guang Zhen to recall the geological surveillance unit, but that was a lost cause. They had departed hours before Yao Yuan remembered to contact the Hope. They were probably beginning the process for excavation by the time Yao Yuan called.
After Guang Zhen got off of the call, he immediately issued an order for the Hope to lift off. The engine room heeded his order and started to charge the ship’s anti-gravitational system.
However, the system couldn’t be powered on for some reason…
On the outer wall of the Hope’s base, numerous small tendrils were tangled up in the gravitational system’s circuit. They appeared to be draining the system’s electricity while simultaneously eroding it…
At the same time, at a spot twenty kilometers away from the Hope, in a small encampment, people were busy working. In the middle of the encampment were a few giant drilling machines. They were poised to dig through the desert’s surface layer.
However, the operation wasn’t going so well. For some reason, when the drill bits hit a depth of about two hundred meters, their power would suddenly become dry. It was the same with all the machines. This had the scientists and technicians present scratching their heads. Without any other solution, they ordered the bit to be retracted to have it checked to see what exactly it had come into contact with.
When the bit was lifted above ground, its surface was enveloped in a thick, green layer of something similar to moss. However, unlike moss, these green organisms adhered to the surface of the drill by ways of tendrils. It would appear that these green organisms were the culprits that were draining the drills of their energy. What was more horrifying was that with a speed that was observable to the naked eye, the bit was slowing dissolving before everyone’s eyes…
The green organisms were draining and “eating” the drill bit! As the bit shrunk, bits of sand continued to fall off from the thick layer of the green organisms…