The cabbages sprouted. They’re tiny and green and alive.
I spent most of today saying goodbye to various members of the crew. Then I cleaned out my dorm and took my bag of stuff down to Hangar 3.
The wind was blowing inside the hangar, kicking up clouds of gray dust and black sand from outside and throwing it against the walls of the ship. At the far end of the bay, four uniformed bodies loaded big plastic crates into the back of a hoverjeep. When I approached them, big Frank Hagerty (a low-ranker in the security department, one of the dudes who watches you if you get thrown in the brig) shoved a duffel bag in my arms.
“You’re late,” Frank said. “Give us a hand with this shit.”
“We’re not waiting?” I asked.
The wind howled. I leaned closer, practically shouting in his ear:
“We’re not waiting for the storm to blow over?”
“It’s supposed to last all week,” he said. “And after that it gets worse.”
I stowed my backpack and helped with the last of the crates. Other than the sprouts, agricultural equipment, and camping gear, the rest of the cargo was mainly batteries. Now the Hierophant is more recharging station than spacecraft.
We finished up with the boxes. Frank got in the driver’s seat. There were two passengers other than myself: Dawn, heading to Quadrant C Sector 8, and Vikki, heading to Quadrant C Sector 10.
“Ready for this?” Dawn asked.
“I guess,” I said.
“We’re stranded on an inhospitable planet,” Vikki said. “What could go wrong?”
We took our seats, barely able to hear each other over the dull roar of the surging storm outside. Hoverjeeps are silent. When their engines flip on you feel your body rise up into the air but not much else.
Despite the predictions, the sandstorms quit about thirty minutes into the ride, just after the first of the batteries ran dry and Frank switched over to the secondary. Once the wind dropped it was totally silent. We rode in the hoverjeep over sand and rock for two hours without speaking, watching the bleak landscape pass by and the soil grinders crawl across the horizon.
“Alright,” Frank said suddenly. “First up: Quadrant C, Site 9. Owen Thruston, welcome home.”
I flipped through the pages of my map and tried to see if he was right, but with no landmarks it was hard to say. The hoverjeep slowed to a stop and then settled down in a clearing between a few rocks.
Dawn got out and helped me with my crates.
“I’ll see you in a week,” she said. “On the resupply run. Until then keep your radio on, OK?”
“OK,” I said.
We had a brief moment standing there together amidst the gloom and then she got back in the hoverjeep. I took my first long look at the landscape. A couple of rocky columns stood in rows off to the southwest and a pool of still blue water reflected the huge yellow sun to the east.
The hoverjeep powered on, rose into the air, and then accelerated away from my camp. I watched it go until it blended in with the horizon and then I started setting up my tent.