The man knelt in the dust, placing one arm on his bent knee. With his other hand, he felt the smooth and grainy dust on the ground with a gloved hand, making an indented line. He paused for a moment, thinking, and looked up at the stars through his fiberglass helmet, his hand still hesitating on the ground. He finally reached behind him, wiped off his fingers, which were now covered in dust, and pulled a smooth metal rod from his pack.
The man stuck the rod in the ground with one thrust, then took several, slow steps back. He raised his hand out in front of him and swiped around on a holographic display that only he could see. Then, the metal rod, lodged firmly in the earth, started vibrating.
The man quickly knelt again and pulled out a brown package from his pack. As the metal rod’s vibrations increased, he unwrapped the package and pulled out a small black orb. He suddenly threw the orb in the air. For a moment, it fell, but then hovered above the ground at about his eye level. With another wave of his hand, the man moved the orb over to the metal rod.
He placed the brown wrappings back into his pack and watched as the rod and orb together completed the process. The rod released two metal prongs at its top, which, like a claw, pulled out metal plates from the ground. The plates shifted and reorganized themselves, all while the orb hovered a few feet below the action, a watchful eye.
The man was staring at the stars again, the closest one creating a glare off his smooth helmet. He shifted his view and stared at the ground. He found a rock amidst the dust and kicked it off into space, and watched it slowly hurtle towards nowhere. He wondered how many rocks he’s kicked off into space during his time here. He wondered if any of them reached any planets he knew.
Finally, the rod and its processes stopped moving. What was left was a terminal of sorts—a metal box with an overlay and a screen, and not much else. The man stepped up to it, and quickly typed a password. A voice in his helmet interrupted the silence of space and made him jump.
He quickly waved his hand up in front of his face in acknowledgement. His movement made a quiet ping.
How long until this one is complete?
Rav swiped the holographic display on the screen and sent the information. He waited.
Fine. Come back.
He hesitated, unsure of why they would call him back so soon. He wondered if he should send the information again.
Did some dust get into your suit? I can see you on the display. Come back.
Rav stumbled as he turned around, tripping over his own oversized boots. Taking one last look at the black orb, he started running as fast as he could.
Rav finally stopped running at the port. He put his hands against his knees, heaving and trying to catch his breath from inside his clunky suit. As he got his breathing back to normal, he waved his hand in front of the outer airlock. The massive port opened, and he walked inside.
He waited in the depressurizing chamber for the pressure to stabilize. Then he started the slow process of taking off his suit. He removed his gloves first, then his helmet, and finally began taking off the torso and legs. He opened a small locker in the room and pulled out a square piece of fabric, only about 2 inches wide. He placed it against his chest. With a small clicking sound, the fabric replicated itself and covered his entire body in a black jumpsuit. It was a sheer but sturdy fabric that would block any cuts and abrasions, and was required for everyone living in the port.
Then, he walked into the lobby.
The lobby was a large room with multiple hallways leading in different directions around the port. In the center was another terminal that was similar to the one he had used on the surface of the planet. There was no one around, but it was very close to the sleeping cycle. Rav walked into a hallway on the left side of the room—the speaker room.
Rav waved his hand in front of a terminal in the center of the room, and waited. It took several minutes, but he didn’t want to risk moving or relaxing. He fidgeted with a small black orb he kept in the pocket of his jumpsuit.
Suddenly, Rav heard the telltale ping that they were answering him. Rav knelt and tilted his head back. He hated this feeling.
The terminal scanned him with a blue light, and then started vibrating. Rav held his breath. Then, he felt his eyes roll back, and everything went black.
“Alright, progress check.” Rav heard Jun’s voice before he felt anything else. He opened his eyes. He was back on Lithos, in the command center. He felt his eyes shudder to accept the new reality, but then they calmed and he could see clearly.
“Progress check, Rav. Come on.” Rav was sitting at a solid marble table. Jun was at the head of the table, in his black jumpsuit, behind a small terminal embedded in the stone. Rav breathed the clear air deeply, remembering what it felt like to not have to breath in dust.
“The terminal on Hafte is set up,” Rav said.
“I know that, Rav. We were there. How many total?”
Rav thought for a minute. “This makes two hundred twenty-three.”
Jun made a small hand movement towards the terminal in front of him, and the terminal answered with a ping. He sighed.
“Rav, you know we’ve been friends for a long time.”
Were they friends? It didn’t feel like they were friends. But Rav answered anyway. “Yeah.”
“So it pains me to have to do this to you. They’re taking you out of commission.” Jun waved the terminal back and tapped a small pad at the end of the desk.
Rav felt his stomach drop.
“I…I don’t understand.”
Jun shook his head. “Not my decision, buddy. I guess they just don’t need you in this sector anymore.”
Jun waved the terminal again, and Rav felt himself being called back.
“Maybe we’ll see each other again. I doubt it, though.”
Rav’s eyes flickered. Jun and the marble table started fading away.
“Good luck,” Jun said, as Rav was brought back to the speaker room in the port.