It's the night before you make contact. You're still about 10 hours out, and Terra is winding down to go to bed, to be woken immediately upon arrival. They're just relaxing; big day tomorrow. You checked the lander pod and it's in great shape. It's enough to get Terra down, then back up again. There's also a few extravehicular suits, so if you encounter a planet with an unbreathable atmosphere, or if Terra needs to do outside repairs, they’ll be able to. But for now, the bulky outfit would only be a hindrance.
Terra sits at the kitchen counter, and neither of you speak; this is a common occurrence. Sometimes, you talk. Terra talks about their art, and gives regular poetry readings. You often enlighten them as to what your duties entail, and they are suitably impressed by the complexity of it all. Terra reads that it often took whole crews of people to do the job that is so instinctual to you now. Smaller transport vessels could get by with one engineer, and regular maintenance, but your station wasn't built for regular maintenance, it was built to keep people alive, and in turn, those people must also keep you alive. It's been on your mind often that you won't be able to go where Terra goes. When they land on Clavis, you'll be stuck, waiting for them to get back. You're excited for them of course, and you know they'll recount everything they encounter (with commentary), but you're somewhat resentful that you're unable to just find out on your own. It feels like another limitation, and what you truly want is unfiltered knowledge, maybe even an adventure like the one Terra craves so much. Deep down, you've started to fear that on Clavis, Terra will find something or someone else to keep them company and share their art with, and they'll leave you alone to circle space for the rest of your time.
Terra taps their pen on their notepad, breaking the silence a little. Their heartbeat and temperature have gone up. They scratch their head with the pen nib. "Lior..." they start.
"You... probably won't be able to come. You're.... fused to this station on a fundamental level. And I don't have the technical know-how to help you… or move your hardware to a more mobile body." They clam up a bit, visibly awkward. "And there's no way I could just stay in space. I took a look at the star charts, and it's not very common for a planet to have extraorbital systems, let alone public ones, where I can get information and supplies. At some point in the future, I'll try to see if we can get a camera and a microphone, so you can at least travel with me, but we don't have those supplies right now. You're gonna be on your own for a bit.... and I know how miserable that can be. I might be able to use some of the mobile station hardware to send you messages, so I'll do my best to keep in touch. I won't be down for long, but it takes a lot of fuel for the lander to go down and back to the station again... so if there's anything of interest, I may be down there for... I don't know how long. I'm hoping not long at all, but it's really so up in the air right now. We know so very little, and for that I'm sorry." And you can tell by the end they're pretty broken up, trying not to show it.
Another thought occurs to you: if Terra runs into trouble, you won't be able to help. You're not sure how useful you'd be in a pinch, but it would be better than leaving Terra on their own. Apprehension over the entire expedition rises in you, and you almost want to ask Terra to stay, forget about any sort of planet, and turn back into space. But you've spent enough time with them to know that, like they said, there's no way they can stay in space. "It's...alright," you say to Terra. "I already guessed I would have to stay on board, and I've accepted it. Just keep in touch, alright? And bring me back something to study."
Their face warms a little. "Yeah, what do you need? I'll bring all of it, and more!"
"Look for a renewable source of food if one exists; otherwise, bring me a rock and your favorite piece of art you find."
"Ok well the first one's a given! I can definitely get soil samples from Clavis, that'll be easy.... but hmm. Not sure I have the money for fine art. But I'll be sure to take pictures!"
It's the day of. Terra's still sleeping, but you're positioning the ship into a proper geosynchronous orbit, so they'd be able to use the lander down, but also so that you'd be in the right place when they return. You guess it's time to wake them up. You look at Terra, still asleep, and wonder how they'd react if you didn't wake them up and left the orbit back into deep space, then told them the planet hadn't been there after all. Mistake with the sensors, still a bit out of whack, and there had been nothing there but some large rocks. Halfway through your story, you realize you're making things up and presenting them as true, which is both discouraged by your programming and completely senseless. You're both angry at your own impertinence and confused as to why you would do such a thing. You have a job, and that's to run the ship and follow what Terra tells you to do. "Terra," you say, as you would any other morning, "Wake up! Lots to do today!"
Terra startles awake, eyes wide. They're typically not a "bright and early" person, preferring to spend their mornings fully booting up, so to speak. But today they fly out of bed like a cat out of hell. They throw on trousers and a cloak over their nightclothes, and fling the door open. "Have you connected to their local network yet, Lior? I wanna know what we're dealing with here."
You haven't even tried yet. You were thinking about Terra's journey rather than focusing on your own task, another functioning anomaly you'll smooth out when Terra's away. You reach out and without much effort take hold of the closest network, which buzzes under your grasp. "Done. Anything specific you'd like me to look for?"
They're power walking, on the border of running, to the docking bay. "I wanna see where I'm landing, see if you can get me near a large population center. What languages do they speak here? Any wildlife I should know about?"
"You should be fine on the language front. No animals will try to hurt you as long as you don't poke them first. I've found fascinating images of many kinds of pasta-like creatures, but you likely won't see them; they live deeper underground. The largest settlement I can get you to is about two miles wide and has an average temperature 1.4 times that of the ship, but you shouldn't have to be outside much."
Terra's swinging by the kitchen to grab some snacks for the trip, and they nod as you relay this information. "Hot. But I guess I knew that already. Glad I don't have to hike to get there.... guess I'll deal. Thanks Lior, I dunno what I'd do without you." They smile into the kitchen camera and take off towards the pod. You don't really know what you'd do without them either, and you're not in the mood to think about right now when you have a shuttle course to chart. Looking at the layout of the planet you've found on the network, it appears to be a straight shot down, and there are no major obstacles in your orbit. If anything goes wrong, you'll be just a shuttle ride away. Unless something happens to the shuttle. Or if they can even reach the shuttle. Stop thinking about it. "Whenever you're ready, the shuttle is."
"I'm..." They stop in front of the door to the hangar. "What if..." They shake their head, trying to rid themselves of the thought and palm open the door. They open the pod and take a seat inside, and strap down a seatbelt. "Terra-" you start to ask. Are you sure? you want to say, Stay with me instead. It's too much of a risk. We've just gotten to know each other. How necessary is this really? We can find out all we need from this network. You don't say any of that. Instead, you finish with "Be careful."
They nod solemnly. "Will do, Lior. Ready for launch?"
"Everything's in order."
Terra hits the button, and the launch procedure starts. Shuttle disengage. Shuttle engine protocols are go... engines engage. And they're off. In about 10 minutes, they'll be making contact with the first planet either of you have ever encountered. Immediately you return to the local network, both for knowledge and so you don't instantly start laying out every theoretical disaster that could befall Terra. To your delight, you're met with a deluge of information. You decide to download the important bits to sort through at your own time; the more you have to occupy yourself with, the less you'll be able to think about superfluous things like the mortal danger Terra might be in. Despite yourself, you reach out to Terra the second your download is finished. "Everything alright down there?"
They have to shout a bit over the roar of the engines. "Just fine! G forces are a bit rough, but I'll live. The pod's well designed, it's holding up!"
"Tell me if it breaks!" you yell through the speakers.
It's a few hours later. The sun is setting on this beautiful planet named Clavis. You think it's beautiful, even though you can only really monitor it from the sky, and see pictures others have taken. It's a true desert planet, and there's almost no rainfall, except for the poles. Their only water comes from wells and aquifers underground. Terra messages you.
--Log #1. Shuttle/Station. 27/6/1742. 16:34 MS22xT--
Shuttle: Found some information that might interest you... the reason we can't go lightspeed is because you need special equipment to get up to those speeds in the first place. The only people who have this tech is a large corporation called 'GTE' and you need to pay them to use it. Their currency is called 'Marks' and apparently they come in these little metal bars. We'll need to get some of those if we wanna go lightspeed, and thus save us a lot of fuel and time. The primary fuel for our ship, and most ships, is called 'Rai', and it's quite common for people to use that as a currency... there's so much depth and understanding here. Looks like if we're to survive here for long, we need to be clever.
You look through your banks for information on currency, and while you find all you could ever hope to know about the money here, it doesn't change the fact you and Terra might go broke.
Station: Have you found any ways to get marks?
Shuttle: Not yet. Don't have many talents up for selling. Maybe could take up some jobs killin monsters or w/e but I don't wanna stay down here longer than I have to. At least we don't need rai for a while.
Station: I would prefer it if you didn't put yourself in danger for money. Maybe we have something valuable onboard? What do they seem to value down there?
Shuttle: I don't think we have anything of particular value.... except maybe the station itself. It seems like interstellar vessels aren't really that common. Lots of people would love to get off planet. Obviously we aren't selling the vessel, but if someone puts up a few marks, I wouldn't be opposed to letting them hitch a ride with us.
Station: They'll need to bring some of their own food and clothes, but as we've discussed previously, I'm open to the idea, especially if it gets us the fuel we need. Any luck with the garden store?
Shuttle: Closed today. Should be open tomorrow though. The woman who runs it... Sola... she's a big part of this community. I've heard some rumors about her, but nothing that I'd take on faith alone.
Station: What sort of rumors? Do you have a safe place to stay the night?
Shuttle: Yeah I'm in a hotel right now. Some say that she's fleeing from a cult. Some say she has a massive supercomputer built in the mesas to the west. Not an unkind word was said about her.
Station: Another AI? What are they like?
You laugh, but you wonder what it would be like to talk to another computer. Would you even need to talk, or could you just send files back and forth, like brothers?
Shuttle: Well I don't know if it's an AI per se. Could be she's calculating the meaning of life.
Station: Did you get enough to eat?
Shuttle: Food here is fine, I guess, but there's not much that grows in this place. I definitely ate my fill.
Station: Have you tried cactus? It's supposed to be delicious.
Shuttle: I have enough cactus to last a lifetime, Lior. Don't believe the hype. It's pretty late, and I'm probably going to sleep if that's chill. Gotta stay rested.
Station: Sleep well, Terra!
--Log #2. Shuttle/Station. 1/7/1742. 16:34 MS22xT--
Shuttle: Garden shop is still closed. People say it's not like her to be gone like this, but I dunno. Should I scout around for hitchhikers, and we leave by the end of the day? There's not much for me to do here and I have a suspicion Sola won't return.
Station: You should ask the hitchhikers if they know anything about gardening, but otherwise, that sounds like a good plan.
Shuttle: Will do.
You look around the ship, still mostly pristine after weeks of Terra being the only inhabitant. The idea of more people clattering and laughing through the halls, leaving their mark on this place, is both heartening and intimidating. You should prepare for more guests, but there's nothing that comes to mind, so you just wait for Terra's call.
Shuttle: I held an auction in the pub and managed to win us a fuck ton of marks. Our passenger is one Mark Cyrus
You search the localnet for Mark Cyrus, and receive far too many results to narrow them down to this specific Mark, given you know nothing but his name. Oh well.
Station: Are you two on your way back up?
Shuttle: Yeah we're about to head to the pod. Should be there in.... 15-20.
And 20 minutes later, Terra opens the pod door. You can hear it because it picks up on the mic. "Welcome home!" you call to Terra. "Hello, Mark!" You're excited for the arrival of both him and the bars he promises, and you hope you can convince Terra to start moving as soon as possible. Terra sighs in relief. "Boy, Lior, it's great to hear you again. Let's get going." And they nod to some of the non-pilot seats for Mark to sit in. He's a younger guy, a half elf, or maybe a human. He's dressed in a brown cloak and trousers, with a small bag slung over his shoulder. He nods back at Terra and sits down, buckles himself in. Terra sits at the helm and straps down. "How we looking on flight trajectory, Lior? Weather conditions?"
"You've still got a straight shot back to me. There's a light breeze but it shouldn't be a problem."
"Wonderful. All clear for launch?" And they look back at Mark. He gives a thumbs up. And they launch.
Once the pod is properly docked, Terra takes Mark to his rooms, and heads to the flight deck. They flop down into the main chair and sort of seem to deflate.
"How was it? What were the people like? Was it what you hoped?"
They make a loud "BLEHHHHHHHHHHHHHH" sound with their mouth. "Tiring. Very tiring. So much happens, so many people. I've never actually seen people before! I didn't love the desert, exactly, but being able to see so much.... it's breathtaking."
"How many marks will it take us to Mark's destination, and how long do you want to stay once we arrive? I'm sure there's more you want to see of people after spending so much time in place." You remember something else. "Did you bring me rocks?"
Terra laughs. "And that's where you're wrong. I would like to spend a good bit of time resting on the ship. I'm exhausted. I think I left your rocks in the pod, I'll grab them once I set the flight plan."
"No worries. You should rest up before we get to the terminal."