After waking up from cryosleep, my body was a bit numb and unresponsive. Bits of memory came back one by one: we journeyed through space to colonize a “new earth” and I'm on board because I know how to fly ships. Foolishly enough, one of the first questions I asked Doctor Gerald along with “How is the crew?” and “are my relatives safe?” was “Any aliens yet?”. The doctor assured me that everything was alright. We're one week away from destination, and that's a good thing because the wormhole apparently closed behind us. Three other colons were woken up with me. Gudrun the mechanic, Jawny the quartermaster and King, the… security person, I believe. He sure doesn't look like nobility. All four of us were told to go meet the people in charge: Isabella McLeod, president of the NECI, and the Admiral Alexander Kamal. That's when they told us we were freed for a good reason.
A man who we later identified as Robert Inigo had locked the entire ark out of life support. The puzzling part is that according to our AI's data, that man woke up five years ago. The whole trip from Earth to NESS was meant to take months, not years. We were tasked to retrieve that man and get the life support back online. The head of security, Cyrus Amos, was assigned to accompany us. Our group of five stealthily ventured through… a bunch of platforms and tunnels. I must admit this part of the day is blurry, maybe a side effect of the recent awakening. All I remember is Gudrun and King arguing with the man we were looking for through the computer and camera systems. I think.
Then we entered the life support room, which was containing an isolated, full, cryopod. If I remember correctly, the person inside was Inigo's wife. The terminal attached to it and the few words exchanged with the madman taught our squad shocking news. Robert Inigo really did wake up five years earlier than us. In order to survive, he had to eat a quite large chunk of the ark's food supplies. But the real troubling information is that the current year appears to be 2164. We left Earth in 2078. A quick math suggests we're a bit under 86 years too late. In a way, I can understand the actions of Inigo. I don't think I would've done a better job than him in his shoes, facing this reality all by myself, in a drifting space ship.
Before we could access this information, the man appeared accompanied by what looked like two maintenance drones and a security droid – maybe my robot terminology is inaccurate, but the key point here is that they were programmed against us. King was able to subdue the man while Cyrus, Jawny and myself covered down and took the robots down. We carried the man to safety and presented ourselves back to president McLeod… Or Mrs McLeod. Or Captain, maybe. That's when she announced that our resource pods, which traveled with us and were meant to be a key factor in our colony's long-term survival, didn't have a much better journey than us. Some fell into the ocean, others drifted and we lost track of another part of them. This is when we were asked to travel to the surface of NESS 89-03, and secure three of those crates that crashed on the planet.
It was exciting to think we'd be the first humans to step foot on this new world. This is a childhood dream coming true, and I'm sure kids from all over the world have wanted to experience this for centuries. And here I am, not only being part of it, but also being in charge of flying my squad down to New Earth. Our assigned ship is a black corvette named the Sigrun. Provided with three guns, including one meant for myself, that ship is a bit over fifty meters long, with a decently-sized cargo. I suggested to replace the copilot's seat with a popcorn machine, but I don't think I was taken seriously.
Our captain is a man named Roscoe Merrick. I don't recall us talking to him a whole lot, but from what I've gathered he seems best-suited to give us orders. As for our communications officer, her name is Riley Sokal. I could tell right away that she's among the most experienced members of our crew by the way she cares about us in an almost motherly way, which is something I appreciate and try to do myself, minus the motherly part.
After landing on this planet –and again, I am actually writing these lines– the five of us who dealt with Inigo jumped in the Rover, a robust military wheeled vehicle best designed to use on land. We were indicated the three key locations on our map, where the crates had crashed all those years ago. Gudrun was in charge of driving it. Near the first pod the squad was sent to collect, we encountered our first alien life form. Wildebeests, as the others called them. It's not a word that I was used to hear back home, but I'm sure that's appropriate. If I remember correctly, their appearance was midway between warthogs and rhinos, only with six plates. The younger ones seemed to possess a tougher skin – looking almost like plates. Obviously, the average length of these creatures was several feet bigger, and probably wider, than ours.
After opening the first pod, which was damaged and covered in thorns, King and Jawny made a shocking discovery, in the form of a humanoid skeleton. It looked like it could've been one of us, but the strangest part came from the uniform worn by this dead body, which read the initials “F.E.I.”. Not only it looked human, but it used our alphabet. Could it be that we weren't the first scouts from Earth to land on NESS 89-03 after all? What could F.E.I. even mean? “Future Earth Initiative”, maybe? Another disturbing event occurred when the skull turned into dust the moment King tried to grab it. It was clearly lying in that pod for a very long time. As for the rest of the crate's content, it contained metals and alloys necessary to build our colony, as well as seeds for our future fields. The ALPACA carried a fair part of these resources.
There was also this mountain-like structure nearby. It seemed rocky from afar when we were still driving the Rover from our starting point, but the more we approached, the more it looked like architecture. As we ventured near what looked like an entrance to this structure, I noticed corridors and caves similar to what could be found in an ant colony. It's at this moment that we met other creatures, which we later baptized “Click Dogs” due to the distinctive noise they male. They are six-legged like the wildebeests from earlier, but their behavior seems more hostile. The first member of that species that we met approached us instead of avoiding us like the previously mentioned creatures. Some light emitted from our flashlights scared it away at first, but it quickly came back, bringing its five friends to assault us. Or maybe it was to protect the eggs we had found a bit earlier, whether it's their kids in there or their usual meal. A closer look at them allowed us to notice their pinkish skin tones and their somewhat impressive claws, along with a large beak. I want to disclose that this is not what I think dogs look like and that I am not going crazy due to prolonged exposure to cryosleep. That being said, the fight against this click dog pack was quick enough. I haven't shot or hurt them in any way myself – I don't possess the combat reflexes my peers have and couldn't react quickly enough to land a hit – and chose to take cover while observing the situation. Another attempt at flashing a light at them made half of them flee the fight. The other three were either shot dead, or bludgeoned by a shovel hit by our mechanic which, according to herself, isn't cut out for combat either. This should be a proof of those dogs' … what's the opposite of toughness? The word escapes me at the moment.
I believe it's when we exited the cavern that King had shot one of the wildebeest that seemed to innocently approach us. He's the fighter, maybe he saw something I didn't, but from my point of view it seemed unnecessary to kill the creature. At least, when setting up the camp, we we able to eat some of this animal's mean. It didn't taste wrong, and was certainly a nice change of taste and texture from our usual nutritional paste.
After a bit of sleep, we ventured north-west to secure the second crate. On our way through a thorny jungle, the Rover seemed to be slown down by an amber-like, sap-looking substances. Jawny emitted the theory that it could be the alien equivalent of honey, suggesting the presence of bee-like animals on this planet. Other wildebeest herds were detected, and they fled us once the Rover drove too close to them. I cannot tell if it's the sound provided by the vehicle that scared them away, or if it's the range between us that they perceived as a threat. Our squad almost reached destination when Gudrun announced something wrong with the engine, and we decided to split. While Cyrus and Gudrun stayed near to rover to fix it, King, Jawny and myself approached the crate. Sadly, this one was half-immersed in water. King tried to open it with his hands, and despite our help, we failed. Jawny then used his plasma cutter on the crate, which revealed its contents: uranium, iron, and all sorts of elements similar to what was found in the first crate. King also noticed weapons in the water, and decided to jump. It's at this time that I saw this fish creature swimming towards him.
It looked seven feet long, flat but somewhat bloated at the same time, a bit like a puffer fish. It seemed to float towards King, and at this point I started aiming at it, even though I wasn't going to shoot. Plus, the fish's skin and scale looked plant-like, almost like it wasn't an animal at all, but instead some sort of thinking, moving flora. On the back of this alien were stalks, shaped like hammers. However, it didn't seem aggressive, and clearly didn't intimidate King, who managed to soothe the creature by singing a… familiar song whose name I can't recall at the moment, but I believe it is irrelevant for this debriefing. Regardless, the creature was charmed, let itself be petted by our security squad member, and went away. Maybe “muse fish” could be a fitting name, as I don't see anything else inspiring a hardened man like King to sing. The guns we retrieved were laser rifles. Three of them looked like standard issue while a fourth one was heavier. Naturally, King chose this one. Jawny and I both took a standard rifle, but I don't think I will need one. I can barely shoot with my usual homeland carbine, so a laser rifle seems out of reach for my skills. I cannot tell who has the fourth one, but it's probably Cyrus or the ALPACA.
When we came back to the Rover, Gudrun seemed satisfied with her work on the vehicle's engine, and we were good to go to our next location, the third pod. Upon arriving next to it, we decided to set up camp once again, this time to sleep. Unfortunately, halfway through the night, at around what could count as 1am on Earth I believe, an explosion woke us all up. We had chosen to stay inside the vehicle because of a storm raging outside. The video recorded by the Rover's integrated camera showed us a shuttle much like ours crashing down the planet, with what seemed to be people jumping out of the wreckage before it landed. We elected to drive our way towards the crash site. That's where we saw five people. Humans.
Two of them were tending on a wounded person while the two others were waving us to slow down. I immediately ran towards the injured person, to see if I could be of any help. I've assisted my father with his numerous illnesses and injuries over the years back home, including that one time he crashed while piloting my makeshift airplane in our farm. This crash landing was obviously on another level of gravity but I grew more skilled in my first aid knowledge. With the help of their own crew doctor, who calls himself East, we were able to save this woman's life. A bit later, I could identify her as a fellow pilot, Jennifer Travers. It shocked me a little, because I know she is talented – we all are in the academy – but her abilities in the cockpit were never questioned. If anything, she was known to be moody at times, but long faces don't crash ships. I was then notified their shuttle encountered a microburst. That would catch any pilot off guard, and no one really knows the best way to maneuver a ship on NESS just yet. East seemed to disagree with my point of view, and blamed Ms Travers entirely. Sadly, their mechanic has died from the landing, maybe this is the explanation behind East's attitude. Along those two, there was the Captain, Meredith Asara, who told us about the microburst among other things. Verica Chester and Anetas Eckstein, respectively comms and security officers, were also alive and well.
While King and Jawny opened the third pod – and to be honest, I can't seem to remember what was in it aside from the usual seeds – I promised Captain Asara I would check back on the person who suddenly became my patient, once we would go back on the ark. We also noticed strangely shaped puddles of water. After a closer inspection, we decuded they were in fact the giant footprints of an elephant-like creature, that was quickly known between us as a “beast”. Based on said footprints, this beast seems to be another six-legged animal. Next to those footprints, I believe King managed to catch a rodent-like creature, while Jawny and I noticed strange writings on the walls, which reminded me of rock art from our cavemen.
On our way to the Sigrun with the crew of the second shuttle, we noticed another anomaly. We stopped by to check what seemed to be an oddly-shaped hill. As it turns out, it was actually another crashed ship. However, it didn't look like one of our models at all. After entering it, our crew noticed the same F.E.I. initials that were written on the skeleton's uniform. The ship itself was named the Icarus. Two important elements were found in the wreckage: first, a data tablet was found, next to moving picture which was dated from 2099, or 21 years after our departure from Earth. If F.E.I is a human initiative, how could their leave the planet after us, but seemingly arrive so long before us than the only evidence of their passage are bones and a ship covered in plant life? Maybe they are still on the planet somewhere? Or maybe they were only scouting the planet? I will leave the speculations for a late time, and for people better suited for that task. For whoever reads this, I now remember that Jawny could supply you a rather unusual amount of pictures he took of our journey, which could probably help you better understand what our squad saw down on the planet.
The second and maybe most important item encountered so far on the planet is what Gudrun described as “miracle” technology, that science was apparently only dreaming of back when we left Earth. It is a heavy power plant structure, that was apparently fueling the ship. It was emitting radiations though, which seemed to be harmless for us according to our comlinks. If it really is coming from Earth like I think, who knows how much more advanced this FEI is (or was) compared to us? Maybe technology like this could've saved our planet? This could possibly explain why we encountered this ship instead of, say, a well-established colony. But again, these are speculations. Another important, but unrelated piece of data is our first encounter with a bird-like life form. I haven't seen it myself, but King will probably know more about it.
We salvaged what we could, but had to left this power plant behind as it was too heavy, even for the ALPACA. The rover then carried us to Sigrun. After embarking Jennifer who was stabilized but still injured, inside the corvette, the second crew told us they planned on staying on the planet to further investigate the planet. Captain Amara also mentioned tensions in the Ark, as the news of our delayed arrival had spread throughout the entire mother ship. We entrusted them with our ALPACA, since they had lost theirs, and took off towards the Ark. Our mission was accomplished and we could safely travel back home. I believe in this colonization project more than ever, but I must admit I'm very curious about the mysteries we uncovered since waking up. I know some of us are eager to meet this Beast creature, but I'm clearly more curious about this other Initiative, and worried about the state of my fellow pilot. But I'm positive we can succeed here on NESS 89-03.