The ship gently settled on the ground. It made no noise, it lifted no dust. Everything was very quiet and, for a place were rocks floated all around you, there wasn’t a single sense of danger. The crew of the ship, consisting of only three people, were checking the final numbers in order to decided if it was really safe to go outside and take a look.
The planet was a gas giant and it had been discovered many years ago by traders trying to built faster routes into the worlds of the Core. Actually, according to the charts and many calculations, the planet was located exactly between the center and the edge of the galaxy. It was also a rare system, as the sun was potent and such have been the center of a very active neighborhood but the truth was that no creatures, no matter the type, lived in any of the planets.
However, and exactly four months ago, a signal had been detected in the gas giant. First, it was thought to be a mistake but the signal persisted. Then it went mute. The traders and even the smugglers told the authorities that they hadn’t lost any ships and no other ships had been lost in the area. So who had activated a very strong signal on a deserted planet?
The three-person team had been sent to collect data about the planet and check if there was a reason to believe anyone could be stranded on the planet. Upon arrival to its orbit, the team named the planet as Cotton World. It was not an official name of course. It was just a way to identify it and feel more comfortable while talking about it. The name, of course, came from its appearance: the world was covered by huge pink clouds that made the world look like a massive cotton candy. As they descended through the clouds, they realized that the name had been very accurate as the clouds were not only pink in color but were also kind of solid.
The first to go out was the biologist on the team. Her name was Yarra and she came from a very different world, a world she deemed incredibly boring and that’s why she decided to have many adventures by joining the forces of authority that ruled the galaxy, Besides, she had always been interested in life and in all the shapes and sizes it took all over the galaxy. She had been working for the State for four years and she loved it: she traveled a lot, got to meet lots of people and made good money out of it.
Yarra was half human but even her other half couldn’t breath on this planet, so she had to use a special suit to be able to walk around without fear. She only took a couple of steps before returning to the ship and telling the other two crew members that the rock seemed stable and that it was urgent that they began the search for the beacon that had been detected. After all, that was the reason they were there.
The next one to step out was a big, yellowish creature. He wasn’t human at all but had many features that one could identify as human. The only things that really differentiate him were a horn in the center of his forehead, his large tusks, his four arms and tall stature. His name was Gorg and he always seemed menacing at first but he was the most tender and calm being ever to be seen by anyone. He was happy by just helping and had joined the force almost seven years ago. Granted, he was very strong and could fight any kind of danger physically, but he was first and foremost a physicist.
Gorg was simply in awe of the Cotton World. In all his travels he had never encountered something quite like this place. The fact that sound didn’t seem to function exactly as it did in the rest of the planets, was something he wanted to understand urgently. But Yarra was right and their priority was to explain the origin of a beacon signal that had been detected in far way worlds. In order to do their examinations, Gorg put on his suit and carried a large antenna outside, as well as a special console and computer which they used to detect any electric emissions. No matter the type of beacon, it would leave an imprint in the atmosphere if it existed.
The third crew member was the captain. He was full human and his name was Ionek. His skin had been burned by many suns so he had patches of red and brown all over. His eyes were yellowish, although they could change color depending on his mood. He was a tall strong man and he had been known many years ago as a military hero all over the galaxy. He had served in the army for many years before having to step out of it due to a scandal that he had to pay for. The only option they gave him was to have his own ship and serve the State with it.
Ionek did what he had to do but he was always clear that exploration and discovery weren’t his first choices in a world where so many wars and battles were being fought. He wanted carnage and destruction but had to settle to be the pilot of some scientist trying to discover why fire burns. So he just sat down in his captain chair and tried to have a nap as the other two investigated outside.
After several hours, Gorg and Yarra detected something very weak but still trying to work. It was located directly below them, maybe four or five kilometers. They copied the information on an electronic pad and then packed everything in order to investigate closer. Ionek wasn’t very happy that his nap had been cut short but at least he didn’t have to move too far. The trip downwards was an easy one but it wasn’t deprived of a few scares, mainly because the clouds and the environment got darker as the ship sank into the planet.
Finally, they detected a rock they could land on and Ionek settled on it, but this time landing wasn’t as soft as it had been the last time. When they came out of the ship to check, they realized one of the landing “legs” had sunk into the rock and was now trapped in there. Captain Ionek wasn’t pleased at all and asked Yarra and Gord to be fast in order to mend the damage to his ship immediately. They then took the electronic pad and walked around the rock, trying to detect the signal again. But what they saw wasn’t a signal or a beacon but something far stranger.
Below, another kilometer maybe, there was another ship on another rock. But that wasn’t the strange part: the strange part was that the ship looked exactly like the one they had used to get there. Both Yarra and Gord looked below and then their ship and then back again down. They couldn’t believe it at first but then they realized that the model was not that uncommon and that the most important thing was to determine who had entered the planet if it was supposed to be deserted.
They went back to the ship, where Ionek asked if they could leave at once but they refused, telling him about the ship below and how they had to go down there and check it out from up close. The captain refused to move his ship and clarified that the model was exclusive, or at least that was what the army said when they transferred him from the military. Yarra ignored that last part and told him they were using the jetpacks. Nothing indicated they couldn’t use them and it would be easier for them to investigate that way.
Minutes later, Gorg and Yarra were floating down to other ship. The jetpacks worked a bit awkwardly, not responding fast enough, but they were good enough to get to the next rock. Once they were close enough to the ship, they started to check for life forms and found out they were three and they were all inside the ship. Gorg turned to Yara and urged her to leave. He had suddenly had a very bad feeling about it all.
Then two shadows crossed the sky and the whole area became shrouded in darkness. It was as if they had landed on a dream that was about to turn into a nightmare. The team tried to active the jetpacks but they were slow to respond. Gorg’s made him fly but Yarra’s wasn’t working. It was then when she heard a sound coming from the ship and, at the same time, a device in her backpack started to beep. She had found the beacon. It had been put up by…
She screamed but no one heard it as she was wearing a mask. She did it just as she had seen the crew of the other ship come out of the ship and walk towards her. Her jetpacked suddenly worked and she landed abruptly on the right rock. Gorg helped her up and they both ran to the ship. Ionek used every force the engines had to liberate it from the sink part and he succeeded, only by leave that part on the rock before rushing into space.
As he typed the codes to achieve interstellar flight, he asked them what had happened. His ship was know missing a limb and he wanted to know why. Gorg told him everything he had seen: the other ship and the shadows. But Yarra was shaking and trembling too much. She only said two words “beacon” and “us”.