I checked in at the lounge and seeing no one, visited Estella on the bridge. She greeted me enthusiastically and tossed me a pouch of crushed flowers for the smell.
I asked her how long it would be until arrival and she gestured ahead to a moon-sized asteroid. “The ship seems set to land on that rock, probably in a day, maybe a little more.” She shrugged. “I could try to force her to take us back to Roland for our pay, but….” She let her voice drift off, eying the asteroid curiously. “It’s taking us here for a reason, be almost a pity to leave before we find out why.”
I nodded. “We’ve never yet managed to persuade the Xing to change its mind.”
H squared wandered onto the bridge and mumbled about something in the shaft. His expression proclaimed “I just said something profound”.
I looked across at Estella. “Should we be worried about this?”
“Yeah, and we don’t want her acting temperamental on us if we can avoid it. So you’re saying you’ve got the situation under control?” The latter bit to H squared.
He looked annoyed. “Plant in the shaft.”
“Can you show us? We’ll have a better idea about the situation if we can see for ourselves.” I gave her a thumbs up.
He turned and started walking out of the bridge, just as Aurora and Guppy came in. “Hue has something to show us.” Estella informed Aurora, passing her a pouch of flowers as she went past. “Use this for the smell.”
Guppy looked at everyone and announced, “I’m allowed to be here, ya know. Imma crew and everythin. She said so.” She pointed at Aurora.
“Right, kiddo, you are crew.” I gave Guppy a nod.
“A pleasure to have you onboard as one of us then.” Estella glanced at Aurora with a slightly amused smile, before giving Guppy a sincere smile. “Welcome to the family.” Guppy looked mightily proud at that, jutting out her chin and all that.
We all followed H squared back to Engineering, where he walked right up to a dismantled panel. “So what have we got here?” I asked from behind Estella, the first to venture up next to H squared. I was momentarily distracted by the dialogue exchange between Aurora and Guppy, the kiddo had some fun remarks to make.
“The fuel shaft, looks like the plant used it for spare parts.” Aurora sighed. “How much fuel we got left, Hue?”
He wrote out some quick calculations, working out the answer to be about one day and a half.
“We have enough fuel to make it to the asteroid, and then we’re stuck there, or I can try to turn us around back to the port, we should be able to resupply and repair with the rest of the money Roland’s boss owes us.” Estella summed up the situation.
“Well, perhaps the Xing knows what it’s doing when it wants us to land on the asteroid, perhaps we can forage for fuel there.” I figured we might as well explore the place since we were already there.
“It’s pretty close to the colony so there might even be an outpost there, or refueling station.” Aurora pointed out.
“The Xing depends on us as much as we do on her, so I doubt she’d strand us deliberately. After the recent mess back there, putting some distance between us and the colony for a few days might not be a bad idea, especially if there’s more of those plant things back at the colony in bloom right now.” That was Estella. We all think alike.
“True, and we’re close enough we can set up a signal fire and hail a passing ship if we have to, and get them to make a fuel run for us, but a moon that big should have resources we can scavenge for.” Aurora continued rounding out the plan.
We then put the plan up for voting- if it was up to me, I would just get on with it but the other two gals insisted on doing this every time for the team spirit. It seemed to work though, going by the way H squared was caressing the paneling and trying to man up with not letting the tears in his eyes drop. Guppy looked around at everyone and uttered her usual warcry, “Let’s go gut something!” Then she got on her tiptoes to whisper to Aurora in a voice that we could all hear, “was that right?”
Aurora chuckled. “Close enough, close enough.” I went over and tousled her hair. “I might grow fond of you yet.”
The kid tried to keep a serious expression but with eyes shining like tiny beacons, it made for an odd match. Estella suppressed a giggle, shaking her head with a grin. “You’re going to fit in just fine around here.”
“Once we land, Hue, you can get to work on the repairs,” Aurora assured him. “You can cannibalize spare parts from one of the guest quarters for the raw materials, a moon this close to the colony probably has a few derelicts crashed there over the years we can salvage too.” He nodded and pulled out a pad to start drawing sketches and doing calculations.
“We can do a little foraging to restock the pantry too, moon that big should have some wildlife on it.” Estella suggested.
“So long as it’s not a salad I’m all for it.” Aurora winked at Estella.
“I can use some meat.” I agreed.
“Looks like it’s pretty lush down there.” Estealla told us cheerfully over the intercom as we were about to land. “Should be a comfortable stop over.”
“I’m making sure the external vent filters are firmly in place, just in case, we don’t want another uninvited plant hitchhiking onboard.” Aurora, ever the cautious one.
“To be fair, we still don’t know if it’s something that got on board, or something in the garden that went to seed and started another part of its life cycle.” Estella admitted. “When we get back to the colony we can ask around, see if anyone else has heard of smart plants. Until then though, we should be okay.”
“Looks like you were right about people trying to get on board back there.” Aurora told Guppy, pointing to the markings. “We took off before they managed to at least.”
Guppy gulped. “I toldya”
Aurora gave her a reassuring smile.”Don’t worry, you’re one of us now, if they try to come for you we’ll all fight to keep you safe.”
The asteroid looked barren and rocky except for various craters teeming with plant life. Aurora observed that these would make for good spots for repair and lying low, if the need arose.
The Xing pivoted around on its own- that was easy to tell, not really Estella’s style- to land in the square middle of a crater, where there appeared to be an open space unoccupied by the plants surrounding it.
“Like the crater knew we were coming.” Estella commented over the intercom.
The ship shuddered a little just before landing, as though using up the last of its fuel doing so.
“Probably an old landing site from other visitors,” Aurora said, “Doesn’t look like it’s been used for a long time.”
One of the vent alarms went off.
“I’m still in landing procedures, that’s all you and Sam.” Estella said.
“Could be a false alarm from the landing winds,” Aurora noted. Nevertheless, the two of us went off to check it out, and Guppy tailed behind us.
It was one so high over our heads that we had to climb into the ventilation shaft or take a detour outside the ship. We took the inside approach, with me leading. I was almost to the external vents when Guppy’s voice yelled something from behind. It was muffled by the sudden “Clunk!” as the Xing landed with a plop. Even in the cramped space of the shaft, I could feel the drop.
A gust of cold air blew in from outside. The vent was broken, with metal bars protruding outwards. I turned back and climbed out of the shaft. I saw Aurora playing tug-of-war with the vines, with Guppy being the prize. I joined her and between the two of us, we managed to wrest Guppy from the plant’s grip. The plant retreated.
“Phew, you and Guppy go and find H squared, I go and deal with that other thing that busted open the vent.”
“Good plan.” Aurora passed me a glow vial. “Guppy, you and me are going to find Hue, and get ourselves some cutting saws from the engine room.”
I took the vial and hoisted myself back up to the broken vent. Once I poked my head out through the gap, I could see a massive plant monster climbing up the side of the Xing, straight for me or the vent. I shot it with my bow-gun. The shot hit but only clipped off some side vines. The thing looked annoyed. I stepped outside the Xing to get closer to it. No point leaving a job half done.
The immediate greeting I got from the thing was a lash from one of its vines as tall as me, maybe even a bit longer. My ears rang so much from the smack that I reeled back. When I lifted up my head again, I saw more viney visitors.