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Aquanaut

Alpanon Sep 4th, 2017 (edited) 2,115 Never
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  1.             Log #1
  2.  
  3. Checking, checking, one-two. Checking, checking, one-two. Alright, I guess it’s working. Uhh, they said it helps to make audiologs in situations like this. The shrinks, I mean. They said it helps you gather your thoughts and feel less lonely when there’s someone to talk to even if it is just a machine, and keeps your vocal cords from atrophying in case of longer isolation. So that makes it three good reasons in favour of doing this to one bad reason against it. I mean the whole thing is stupid, I feel like an idiot talking out loud to myself. The shrinks said I’d get over that type of sentiment over time, but I hope I won’t need to.
  4. It’s… October 21st, around 3:15 AM Earth time. By which I mean GMT. I’ve got two watches here, one still tracking that since it’s the time we went by on the ship, and the other I’ve set to 13:37, partly as a joke and partly out of a rough estimate based on the position of the sun. I’m just going to call it the Sun even though it has a proper name with a bunch of numbers and letters. And it’s red. Whatever, it’s almost two PM on Mare right now, and there’s no proper timezones established here yet so it’s officially 20 minutes to two in the afternoon everywhere. And that’s all there is to the time. That’s the time, yeah. The place… the place is escape pod 4.
  5. I hereby christen escape pod 4 as Death Trap, because I can and it’s broken so it’s justified. There’s no communications, the life-support systems are offline, the main computer is offline, navigation is offline, water filters are offline, and the solar panels are not taking in juice. The only thing doesn’t seem to be damaged is the Fab, the all-purpose 3-D printer. So I can make arts and crafts at least, that’s something to look forward to until I die. I mean how could I not die, four is the number of death in Asia, isn’t it? It’s an ill omen.
  6. Excuse me. I’m babbling. I do that when I’m nervous. The shrinks said… no, you know what? Nevermind what the shrinks said. I’m on my own now and no amount of Freud and Jung is going to help me here. I mean I’m not OPPOSED to psychiatry as a practice, but the amount of evaluations and tests and sessions I, well, all of us on this mission, had to go through to even get on board were just ridiculous, and I’m not concerned about repressed sexuality when I’m stranded alone at sea on a planet that’s 100% covered in water. There’s literally no dry land here, no shores to wash up to. With any real luck, before everything broke down the nav systems managed to drop me to some shallow waters. Mare has no moons so there are no tides, meaning the depth here is fixed. So if I end up somewhere with only a few dozen or so meters of water I might be able to anchor the Death Trap so that an ocean current won’t take it out to somewhere deeper. This is something I need to check out as soon as I can. As soon as I finish recording this. But I’m avoiding that. I’m talking because I don’t want to go out there. Because I’m scared.
  7.  
  8. Right. I want any and all insurance investigators who ever listen to this tape to know that what happened was not my fault. The Heyerdahl’s shipboard computer logs will confirm that I was not on duty when whatever happened happened. I woke up two days ago and took my time orienting myself to being out of stasis for a few hours, did some jogging on a treadmill and then made myself some buttered noodles and stiff coffee. My shift started eventually and I spent it watching Alien, then Aliens, then The Thing, and finally Deep Blue Sea, while eyeing up the computer screens as was my duty. I set the computer to wake up the night shift guy after Aliens so whoever it was, some Russian name would have time to warm up before their shift started. I didn’t meet my predecessor, but that didn’t bother me. Probably asleep by the time I was on duty, and I didn’t feel the need to go meet the Russkie. According to what the computers were saying the next morning would be when the entire crew would be defrosted and we’d begin to do actual ship-wide systems and equipment checks while maintaining a geostationary orbit around Mare. I knew we were close to our destination but I hadn’t bothered to look at any camera footage outside the ship; we’d been drilled to death on all the satellite footage ages ago and dumb movies were way more fun anyway. I went to sleep with a clear conscience, wondering if I could get partnered with that cute Chinese girl I shared my body heat with during the survival training course. She was FINE, and I’d been without a woman for years now. Not awake of course, but stasis doesn’t include wet dreams and I think that’s what counts.
  9. For the record I only said that because I know I’ll be dead by the time anyone hears this. I have no means of sending it out so the record will just stay here on the Death Trap.
  10. Now far be it from me to BLAME anyone for what happened, but the night shift was when things went to shit. I woke up to an alarm, and not the regular annoying alarm you usually wake up to, but the terrible siren type of alarm that makes you shit your pants. Figuratively speaking. Let the shrinks analyse that as a Freudian slip for all the fuck I care. I got up and hauled ass to the nearest computer screen to see what was happening. There was just a red mess on the screen full of code and error messages with cryptic numbers I couldn’t hope to understand. Everyone aboard the ship knew how to use these machines and could handle simple system malfunctions but this was something only the actual computer technicians could handle. I ran like the wind to another computer, and that’s when the sprinklers went on. The screen showed the same shit the previous one had, but now I knew there was a fire. No smoke without fire, you know? But I didn’t see any smoke, I just got showered. I knew the protocol though. I took a path to the closest shelter, which was of course the cryobay I’d woken up in. They were equipped with their own internal power sources and ventilation systems so you could hole up in them in case of the main systems failing. I couldn’t make it there though, the blast doors were closed and I couldn’t get them to open. The electronic lock wouldn’t accept the code, it just glowed red. I ran like the wind down the corridors to another one, wondering who the hell had shut the place down from the inside. Now that I’ve had time to think about it, nobody did. It was automatically shut. It was the computer malfunction that stopped me from opening it again, but it had shut like it was supposed to. Hooray.
  11. I found the smoke eventually, and turned around without even thinking of trying to find the source of the fire. It had to be electronic in origin, the computer systems had been fried obviously. I had no time to figure out what to do; I took the path to the escape pods and found that the pod bay already had gotten started on evacuation protocols. I have no idea if there had been anyone in pods 1, 2 and 3. Maybe they got launched automatically. I had no time to load anything aboard the pod; I just clambered up the side, slid down the hole and shut the hatch. I barely got it shut by the time I felt the pod lower down and enter the airlock. So I just sat down in the chair, fastened my seatbelt and heard the pod’s creepy girly voice countdown to blast-off and wish me “bon voyage”. It’s funny; I don’t remember the computer did that last bit. Anyway the pod was blasted out and then it got all rickety and I kind of fainted.
  12.  
  13. I woke up to some heat and saw a fire to my left; this is why the systems on the pod are fried as well. Whatever caused it on the ship probably caused it here too, just later. I tried to get up, forgot I had a seatbelt on and panicked. I got it off, put out the fire with an extinguisher and then spent a good fifteen minutes trying to get the computers to work. The only thing I really managed to do was adjust the time and open up this Memo-thingie to make logs with. I don’t seem to be injured so there is that. I did an inventory of what I have available to me, and since the pod wasn’t really equipped to go, I don’t have much, there’s a pair of flippers, a snorkel, a first-aid kid with some bandages, penicillin, aspirins and a very small bottle of Vicodin that I might end up abusing just for the hell of it, and two flares, which I’ll use if I think anyone might see them. Then there are two nutrient blocks, proteins, sugars, fats, salts, vitamins, all the goods you need to sustain life with none of the flavour, in the storage, and two litres of water. So I’ll live a week maybe? The Mare’s entire water supply is saline since its all ocean. The atmosphere is fit for breathing thanks to all that algae at least, so I won’t suffocate if I go out and have a peek. It’s just that… I’m still scared. Not of all the open water itself, I’ve sailed across the Atlantic with some friends, plus there was all the training for the mission, but the idea of an infinite ocean with no land at all to go to and none of the gear from the Heyerdahl to make this place inhabitable…
  14. I don’t know what happened with the ship. Maybe the ship is still out there, on orbit. Maybe the malfunction has already been taken care of. Maybe they’ll send out their landers and come and get me and whoever was in pods 1-3, if anyone. Or maybe the Heyerdahl crashed and fell into the deepest trench and I’m alone. Stepping outside may or may not confirm this. I’m not sure I want to know. For now I’m going to take a sip of water, eat a small bite and then I’m going to go outside and take a piss at least. That’s right; I’m going to piss on this new world that may yet kill me. So, for now this is Arthur Stew signing off.
  15.  
  16.             ***
  17.  
  18. With a deep breath Art rolled open the hatch and looked up at the sky. It was still the same familiar, comforting blue it had been when he’d opened the hatch to air the smoke out the Death Trap and check the position of the Sun. There was not a cloud to be seen on the patch of sky visible to him. For a moment he simply listened to the sound of tiny little waves breaking against the pontoons keeping Death Trap afloat, instinctively expecting to hear seagulls. He didn’t, of course. Still, the scent of salt water and the flip-flop -sound of it encouraged him to climb out and take in the view around him.
  19. As expected, there was nothing but an endless expanse of sea as far as the eye could see. Mostly the turquoise seascape appeared calm, but in one direction – which, this Art couldn’t know as he had no compass – there was a mass of dark clouds, rising up out of the sea like a mountain range. If the wind took it here, he’d be caught in a storm. This was a scary thought, but the escape pod was designed to withstand harsh seas without sinking. The pontoons would bring it up even if it did sink, and even if he was turned upside down there was another hatch on the floor that would be left above the waterline in such an even so he’d still not be trapped. This was fine. What he’d been more concerned about was a trail of black smoke across the sky, but there wasn’t one. At least that meant the Heyerdahl hadn’t crashed and burned here. It could’ve flown beyond the horizon, maybe even halfway across the planet, and sunken there, but he had no way of knowing that. Wallowing over it would only make him more stressed out.
  20. Careful not to let go of the ladder on the outer side of the pod, Art lowered himself right to the pontoon, where he unzipped his suit and prepared to proudly give Mare its first taste of humanity. While relieving himself he stared into the deep blue sea and noticed it to be some of the clearest, cleanest water he’d ever seen outside of some Alpine lakes he’d gone diving in. It was uncanny, he could see right down to the bottom, which to his surprise couldn’t have been more than six or eight meters below him. Luck was finally on his side!
  21.  
  22. Zipping his suit back shut Art considered the best course of action. Any ocean currents might take him away from this spot in a matter of hours, even though the sea seemed calm right now. The storm out there might hit. This could be just the calm before the storm. If he drifted away somewhere with hundreds of meters or even kilometres of water separating him from the bottom, he’d have no hope of staying put in one place. Moving around was not a smart thing to do when there was no way to actually control where Death Trap moved, and he had no way of signalling anyone. Any rescue party would start looking for him where the escape pod’s trajectory would’ve taken it, which as far as he knew was here. So this is where he had to stay. But the pod was damaged and he had no actual control over the anchors. He knew there were two, their use and release had been drilled dozens of times back on Earth, same as everything else. Only now he would have to dive into alien waters to do so. He didn’t actually know anything about what was going on under there. That’s not true, he could see down plain as day. The visibility below the surface would be so good that with his goggles on he could see perfectly well hundreds of meters around himself. All he had to do was grab the anchor while using a snorkel to breathe and pull away at the line until he had enough for it to reach the bottom, and then let it drop. Rinse and repeat with the one on the other side. He wouldn’t need to dive down at all, would he?
  23. Yes he would. He had no clue how strong the storm would be, but the anchors weren’t sturdy enough to hold the pod in place if things got really wild. He’d need to get some weight on them, rocks or packed dirt or both. To do that he’d have to work down there, and he had no oxygen tanks. Not that he’d need one; he wasn’t in a hurry right now so long as it gone done before the storm hit – if it hit, but of course it would – then it didn’t matter how many dives he made. It was just six or eight meters. Nine tops. He could do it easily. Art licked his lips again. This was thirsty work, but there was no helping it. He’d go down there and he’d make sure he was steadily in place for the foreseeable future.
  24.  
  25. The flippers fit snugly and Art found himself wishing they were bigger. These would make his movements much faster but there simply wasn’t enough surface area to really get going at the rate he was used to. No helping it though.
  26. Art climbed to outside with some difficulty and realized he should’ve put the flippers on AFTER he was outside. He felt silly for having failed to do such a simple thing, and laughed out loud. He fit his goggles on, put the snorkel in his mouth and jumped into the water to just get it over with.
  27.  
  28. Warm water enveloped him and Art found himself feeling the first twangs of what could be considered excitement in all this. He’d been avoiding coming out of his shelter but now that he was in the water he felt right at home. Ever since his childhood Art had been at ease beneath the surface and his grandmother had often told him to stop swimming so much or Satan would give him webbed feet and hands and gills. This had encouraged him to swim more in the hopes he could become like Kevin Costner, but it had not happened. Still, the habit had never died. On Earth or on Mare, water was water and a diver was a diver. The seabed looked familiar immediately despite being unfathomable light years away from any he had ever known; corrals and seaweeds and sand and rock and fish all around. Yes, there were fish, in a myriad of colours, some glowing as the sun reflected of their scales, all small and seemingly uninterested in his presence. Fish were silly creatures and would only make the smallest of movements to avoid a human back home; he could easily catch some of these ones with his bare hands if he got hungry. He wouldn’t starve, no sir. Maybe he’d die of thirst, but that wasn’t the business at hand.
  29. Returning closer to the surface to blow the water out of the snorkel Art surveyed his immediate surroundings and looked at the cliff beneath him. Yes, it was a cliff he was on; the pod’s shadow was cast on a piece of rock barely larger than in surface area than the pod itself. THIS was the floor that was within the six-eight metre range. Talk about luck. The protrusion arose maybe another five meters above the surrounding seabed and further along there was a ravine of sorts that went down much deeper, and into the other direction there was a flat plain which sloped downhill very gently into a forest of seaweed the likes of which Art had often played around in. He felt the desire to explore these places, even if he could only do it within the limits of the air the snorkel could provide. But work came first.
  30.  
  31. The anchor had an electronic motor attached to it to operate the reel that pulled in and lowered the titanium cable it was attached to. With the Death Trap’s controls shut down he had to just grab the anchor – not quite as big as one might have expected, nor was heavy while you were underwater – and then hold it in one hand while pulling on the cable with the other. This is what Art did, and the strain felt like a fun little workout after the long inactivity of the cryostasis. That and treading water were making him breathe more heavily already, but he didn’t mind at all. As he pulled out more and more of the cable he coiled it around his arm in loose loops until he figured he had enough, and with that he let the anchor drop and slowly let out the cable he had gathered so as to make the descent controlled. The anchor made a tiny impact in the sand as it reached the bottom and Art let the cable hand loose. There was still plenty of lax in it, which was good enough for him. If it was too taut the anchors might actually pull the pod underwater during rough seas and high waves since there wasn’t an automated system in place to adjust it. Art swam around the pod and found the other anchor, repeating the process. Having done this, he wondered if the set-up was a little unsteady. The anchors were very close to one another, and ideally they should be some distance away, diagonally away from the pod and one another rather than straight down like this. But there wasn’t much space to manoeuvre them; to get the anchors further away from one another he’d have to attach one outside the high-point of the cliff, and that would leave it deeper than he was really comfortable with. On the other hand if he had to stay at sea for a long time, he’d have to turn the fire-extinguisher into an oxygen tank anyway, so it wouldn’t matter if he did it sooner rather than later. Deciding to leave the anchors as they were for now Art returned inside the Death Trap and took off his diving gear. It was time for a little snack, another mouthful of the nutrient block washed down with two gulps of water. He really should’ve been rationing himself more, especially with the water, but he didn’t feel he had much to worry about when it came to food. Not anymore. Plenty of fish in the sea. He might have some trouble cooking them and figuring out which ones were poisonous would be a top priority, but for now he felt confident he had a steady supply of food, and any idiot could distil fresh water out of salt water so what was he worrying about? All he’d need to do was make sure he stayed put and waited for a rescue party.
  32. With this in mind Art began to look around the pod and wonder about his comforts. There wasn’t all that much space here since it wasn’t intended for long stays; it was survival tool for escaping the ship and entering Mare’s seas. There wasn’t even a bed. This could be remedied easily, and since he worried he’d be too tired to do it in the evening, Art decided to make a bed for himself.
  33.  
  34. Death Trap had two very comfy chairs intended for keeping people securely fastened during atmospheric entry, and there was enough stuffing in just one to make for a comfortable bed. There was a sort of an elevated level at one wall of the pod, attached to which was the locker he’d found his food and gear in. Over this level he decided to sleep, just to be above the floor. He wasn’t expecting a cold night since the water and air were at a tropical temperature. Getting his hands on the chair’s stuffing was simple enough, since there were zippers in place for that sort of thing. He pulled it out with both hands and mashed it onto the counter, kneading it onto a single mass. He simply pulled off the headrest to act as a pillow, and there it was. A hollowed out chair and an uncomfortable, narrow bed. Good enough.
  35. Checking the time Art noticed he wasn’t in any real hurry to get his work done, so he thought he’d go exploring his surroundings a little before diving down to secure the anchors. After all, all work and no play… and besides, becoming master of your environment was something that would help him keep sane, right? It was good for the morale. Grinning to himself Art climbed out again and put on his flippers and snorkel, diving down eagerly and heading for the forest of seaweeds. He couldn’t go down to their roots like this, not even close, they were 30-40 meters at their tallest, but he could swim around and let himself enjoy the sights of the little fish and maybe crustaceans that made this place their home. It was an amazing thought, awe-inspiring, that on a world so far away from Earth an evolutionary process had resulted in the birth of so many creatures that looked so familiar to him in their morphology and most likely very similar in their chemistry to animals and plants in similar ecological niches on Earth. He might as well have been home already; colonizing Mare was only a formality at this point.
  36.  
  37. Down below Art saw crabs. In the middle layers there were fish. There were things that looked like very large shrimps. There were so many little things and slightly larger things, some swimming in schools, some in pairs, and some alone, some with cleaners attached, and they were all so beautiful in their own way. A lot of guys had been joking about maybe finding Mermaids on this planet, but that was silly. On a completely ocean-covered world with no dry land there would’ve been no evolutionary path that led to the rise of mammals. Mammals and mammary glands made him think again on the Chinese girl from the survival course. Had she even been on the flight? There had been less than two hundred people accepted for this mission, and it’s not like he knew them all. He should’ve, come to think of it. But that didn’t really matter now. If there were any people he knew out there, he’d get to meet them again later on. For now it was more important to… was there fruit on these weeds?
  38. Art noticed something large and round on the stem of the weed a few meters below him. Not one, but two… and a third one a little higher up, and… huh. All that time in the cryo-bay must’ve been harder on his libido than he’d thought, because that shape almost looked like a woman to him. If it was fruit though, it might well be edible and sweet. Anything with flavour stood a good chance of being more appetizing than the nutrient blocks. He dove down and noted the shape of the mass of green on the stem was somewhat different in colour and texture from the rest of the plant. It looked like a much smoother membrane. The leaves of the plant itself were wrapped around these pieces, but he thought he might be able to pick the fruit without damaging it.
  39. He reached out and found two very surprising things about the fruit. They felt as smooth as skin, which he wasn’t sure was the case for any plant on Earth. Maybe the evolutionary paths on this world had been different in that regard though. They also felt warm, much warmer than plants should. He kept feeling the fruit up and down, thinking they felt like something very familiar. Something that he had just dismissed as not being possible on a world without dry land.
  40. The third round piece he’d noticed began to move, and then he noticed something that made the air escape his lungs in a shout. From amid a mat of weeds there were eyes looking at him and a mouth was parted, making odd, inquisitive sounds. He couldn’t understand what was being said, but he kicked himself away and swam like the devil without looking back. He reached his top speed and barely remembered to come up to the surface for air until he had cleared the damn forest of seaweeds. He crawled his way to the Death Trap, climbed up and pulled the hatch shut behind him. That had not just happened. No way had it just happened.
  41.  
  42. Log #2
  43.  
  44. I may have hit my head rather hard during the descent. Or I may be suffering from some kind of brain damage caused by the cryostasis. In any case I took the precaution of mixing up all the disinfecting alcohol from the first-aid kit with my opened bottle of water and I’ve been sipping it to get myself to stop being so damn rattled. I was having a good time, you know? Just going out there for a little swim, and then BOOM, Lady in the Water.
  45. Uhh, this is still the same day as the previous entry, by the way. Only a couple hours have passed. I didn’t go insane from isolation; this is something that must’ve happened before that. Or maybe I didn’t go insane at all and there really was some kind of plant woman there. That’s a laugh, isn’t it? I mean what kind of evolutionary process would result in goddamn seaweed to develop the shapes of a human woman?
  46. It occurs to me I touched her breasts. Or what appeared to be breasts. I thought they were fruit at first. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to catch raw fish to eat, you know? And then it opened its mouth and talked to me. I think. How could it have talked? It’s a plant. Plants communicate using chemicals and things. I think. I’m not a botanist. I’m thinking all kinds of things right now, and I almost wish I could talk to the shrinks right about now instead of a recorder. I need a weapon. Plants are susceptible to fire, or so Pokémon has taught me, but I don’t think I can burn things underwater without some seriously dangerous chemistry, so I’ll need a blade. Just for self defence you understand, I don’t want to ATTACK the first possibly intelligent creature I’ve encountered – and just to make a note of it, this wasn’t too many hours after my arrival on Mare, intelligent life might be more common here than previously assumed – and I still feel like I need to stress this fact. I’m not some warmonger out to subjugate whoever is less advanced than humanity. But I need to defend myself in case there’s any aggression. Not that the plant woman thing behaved in any way aggressively. I fully appreciate the fact that it was ME who touched her inappropriately, as far as human standards go anyway, and if I have to take responsibility for starting a war against the sapient flora of Mare then, well then that’s on me, isn’t it?
  47. But I still need a weapon for the time being. There is no knife on aboard the Death Trap, this I have ascertained. I did find two life-jackets and four life preservers under the seats though, I hadn’t noticed them before. I don’t think they’ll help me actually FIGHT anything, but those jackets, if filled with water instead of air, might work out as some kind of armour. It’s not like I need to be able to block bullets, the worst I’m expecting here are the evolutionary counterpart of sharks and possibly something like, like a Mosasaurus or Kronosaurus. Surely the lifejackets will block that, hehe.
  48. Aah, seriously though. I need a weapon, and as far as I can tell there’s only one candidate. It’s because of my need to leave the pod unarmed to obtain it that I’m here, talking, procrastinating. I don’t want to go out. It’s dangerous out there. Possibly. I mean back when we were training for this mission our biggest concern was infection by foreign bacteria we had no resistance or antibiotics to. I don’t feel like that really measures up to Poison Ivy over there. Though she didn’t, or it, rather, didn’t, well, do anything to me. I don’t even know if it could. For all I know she’s just rooted in place. But why would it or she or, you know what I’m just going to call her a she, I did touch her tits, I owe her that much, so anyway, uhh, I think she might actually be rooted in place. I mean, those plants were swaying gently like you’d expect from seaweed. I don’t know why something like her would be attached to one – at least I didn’t notice more than one – but I’m hoping I won’t need to worry about it actually following me. This makes it less dangerous to venture out, doesn’t it? Maybe I’m being overly cautious. There’s no telling what else is out there. I saw fish, crabs, shrimp, things that look harmless, just like they would be back in the oceans of Earth. I haven’t seen any large predators yet. If one should attack me, what do I have? The fire extinguisher, I suppose. So I should go and become an octopus. Though chances are I won’t need it over the distance I need to cover. And I’ve got another reason to go down there.
  49. There’s a storm coming, and this is no longer just a possibility. It’s raining right now; I can hear the drops tapping the outside of Death Trap. The swaying of my dear ship is a sure sign of rougher seas. This means I have to go down to the seafloor and secure the anchors. I know I said I’d do that in my last message, but I didn’t. I got sidetracked and then ran into a watery tar, so sue me. I need to go down and secure one of the anchors properly, dig it down, cover it with dirt so no matter how harsh the storm is Death Trap will stay put. The other anchor I’ll remove from the end of the wire and I’ll tie the wire around some rocks or something. That other anchor will be my weapon. It’d be like a pickaxe in a fight, something to be swung around with all your weight behind it rather than making precise cuts, but underwater the weight won’t be a problem so I should be able to make do with it. The fabricator has a function where you can melt down things like metals to be reshaped, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to make a knife out of it eventually, but I’ll need to make sure the solar panels are actually working and providing me with more power before I waste it on making steel-melting temperatures. If I can make a knife, I’ll be able to make other things out of the anchor as well, I suppose. I don’t know what, though. Can’t think of much at the moment, maybe I’ll just reattach the rest of the metal to the wire and put it to work as an anchor again. Melting down the plastics from the life-preservers might be a good idea, there’s not much but I could make gloves and a cap, or an oxygen bag. Or maybe I’ll even manage to turn that fire extinguisher into an oxygen tank, but that would require me to empty it out and that sounds like a waste, especially with how it’s the only thing I can safely put out electric fires with. Those have a tendency to happen nowadays, God knows why.
  50. I realize I’ve calmed down to the point I feel like an idiot for mixing all that disinfectant alcohol with my water. I shouldn’t have done that. I also realized that with the current rainfall, I should be collecting water. When water evaporates, the salt stays behind in the sea, so the rain is all fresh and fit for drinking. I am not going to die of thirst if rainfall is not uncommon here even if I don’t bother with making some kind of distillation system. I should do that anyway, but for now I think I’m going to go out on top of the Death Trap and setting up the life-preservers so they’ll be filled with that sweet, sweet H2O. And also to put up the lightning rod that I kind of forgot about until now. I’m a highly trained professional who was put through a gruelling series of tests to pick me out from among thousands of candidates to be a member of this very special mission, I am the crop of the cream, and I am most certainly not making up excuses to prolong heading down underwater again. Please don’t judge me, this is a scary situation and I feel extremely vulnerable. I’ll be going topside now, and when I’m finished there I’ll be diving down. I’ll use the seat-belt from the chair I vandalized to make a harness I can carry that fire extinguisher on so my hands will be free to work. See, I’m not a total idiot. Just rattled. And slightly intoxicated. I’ll make one more log today if I make it back. If I don’t, well. Remember me as a pioneer and not a drunk warmongering idiot who perished trying to turn an anchor into a weapon to use against a plant woman.
  51.  
  52.             ***
  53. Arthur clambered up the ladder and opened the hatch into the windy evening. He was hit with a cool drizzle that almost immediately began to wash the salt out of his hair, an issue he hadn’t even considered an issue until he was freed of it. This shower of fresh water also raised other issues he had ignored until now due to the hectic nature of his situation. He had no shower, so he’d only be able to get rid of the salt in his hair during rain. Fine, that he could live with for a time. He had no towels, so he’d just have to lie around wet until he dried up naturally. Fine, that was also just a minor inconvenience. He had no toothbrush or toothpaste though, and this would be a problem over an extended stay. Not that he had any prospects of sugar in his diet though. No toiler paper, but since the sea was his toilet, that might not be much of a problem either.
  54. The lightning rod was easy enough to set up, and while looking at it Art shook his head at the fact that the antennae for communications had been broken but this hunk of metal had been spared. He absolutely needed it though; lightning would seek out the highest point and Death Trap was it, on top of being made of metal. The sky had been covered in dark clouds as far as he could see now, and this meant he’d had to be quick about the business with the anchor. Lightning striking would probably hurt him pretty badly underwater. All the rubber he had available to him wouldn’t insulate him enough. Hustle it up, boy.
  55. The life-preservers posed some problems, he had decided to bring all four out with him and opening them up in a way that would make it so that rain fell in them was rather difficult. Getting them to stay in place was even harder. Ultimately Art lowered himself back inside Death Trap and stuffed them all into the hole, using the ropes attached to secure them to the ladder. He couldn’t close the hatch now, but most of the falling water would be caught by the preservers, so that wasn’t so bad. The noise of the wind was uncomfortably loud now though. Come thunder he’d have trouble getting any sleep. He was well on his way to becoming so exhausted he’d collapse anyway though, so that was okay. It had been a long time since he’d actually worked underwater, despite his long sleep making it feel like a shorter time. Now it was time to see about his equipment though.
  56. The harness was quite easy to set up, he just took the seatbelt off the vandalized seat as planned, then wrapped it around his waist and chest the way it naturally fit, tying little knots at the ends to make it stick. Then he tried realized this wouldn’t help him carry the fire extinguisher at all, removed the bit around his chest, tied it around the extinguisher itself and then wrapped the rest on a loop over his shoulder. Uncomfortable and unwieldy on land, but no trouble at all underwater, so it would have to do. Then there was the matter of light to be seen to. Up above the sun, which was probably well underway to a beautiful sunset, was hidden by storm clouds. He wouldn’t see much without a source of light, so he’d need to take a flare with him down there. This he placed on his “belt” like a baton or sword. He felt like an adventurer already.
  57. Lastly came a little innovation. Knowing he was weal and tired, Art had no doubt that staying underwater for a long time would be a little too much of a challenge, so he’d have to cheat. Removing the plastic wrapping from around the nutrient block he’d been eating he swung it around in the pod and closed it off, making it a balloon. Enough air to breathe for a lungful, maybe. Not quite, actually. He took the bag and stuffed the open end inside his snorkel. This left the air trapped. Of course the air would make the bag float up and escape the moment he went underwater, and as he realized this Art took some of his bandages and used them like tape to attach the bag. Oh dear Lord if only he had some duct tape, he’d master of creation soon enough. But he didn’t and he wasn’t.
  58.  
  59. Opening the bottom hatch, Art considered for a moment the precariousness of his situation; water falling from up above, water churning down below. Were his beloved Death Trap to sink, he’d be treading water for the brief remainder of his life. That was a powerful motivator to go secure the anchor, if nothing else.
  60. Art lowered himself down slowly, fearing that at any moment something would grasp his foot in the darkness and pull him down. Fighting down the rising panic and anxiety, Art took a few quick hyperventilating breaths and slipped down into the waters.
  61. He was surrounded by a moderate silence. The rain drummed on the surface of the sea but the noise was miniscule when compared to what it had been up above. He was also surrounded by a darkness lit only by the light coming from the open hatch of the Death Trap. This, he realized, meant he couldn’t see into the darkness around him but anything and everything out there could see him just fine. Happy thoughts.
  62. The light shone down to the bottom where the anchors were, so to his delight Art could work without needing to light the flare. Small convenience.
  63.  
  64. Quickly, but without rushing, Art dove down to the bottom, circling slightly to make his descent more diagonal and to keep the pressure from getting to his ears. Without much thought he picked one of the anchors and grabbed on to it. Using the curvy bit as a clunky, makeshift shovel he began to dig a hole into the mud and gravel to bury the anchor in. Working against the resistance of the water and while holding his breath made Art’s heart rate jump up, up and away. His arms and lungs began to burn. Don’t panic, you’re in control, he reminded himself. He held off as long as he could before slipping the snorkel out of his mouth, covering it with his thumb to keep the air in, and emptying the used up air out of his lungs. Then he took the snorkel back in and breathed in that small lungful that felt, despite how stuffy it actually was, like the first breath you took when outside on a crisp, frosty morning. Air is life, but there was only so much of it to go around. Just enough to finish this task, just enough to finish, just enough, Art repeated a mantra to convince his body to go beyond reasonable demands. At last the hole was deep enough for the anchor to fit into it and he dropped it down. And then he rushed back up, giving no heed to anything else.
  65.  
  66. “BWAHH!” he cried out, breathing in greedily. He took the time to fill in his airbag and then it was time to get back to work. The sooner he was finished here, the better.
  67. Art dove back down, where he simply filled the hole and covered the anchor with the dirt he’d moved before. Nothing complicated, and it was quickly done. Rising up he still hadn’t taken his extra breath when he loosened some more slack into the anchors’ lines. Since one of them was now buried, it was deeper than it had been. The other one might end up deeper, he’d thought about taking the anchorless line and tying it around a rock somewhere below the cliff, and if he could he would. That meant he’d need considerably more slack in the line.
  68.  Art emerged on the surface this time rather than in Death Trap, and looked around himself. Waves were rising up above the length of a man, but he couldn’t hear thunder yet. Still, it was coming. He’d better hurry up.
  69. Art dove down, picked up the other anchor and began to fiddle with the latch that attached the wire to it. Nobody had given any thought to removing it in a situation like this, and his fingers kept fumbling. The light from the open hatch of the Death Trap was decent, but in the twilight it wasn’t easy to see fine details like this. Frustration made air feel less abundant. He was choking. He wasn’t working fast enough, he’d have to go up for air, no, no, he had a breath left in the bag, he’d take it…
  70. Art breathed in and kept fumbling with the anchor. He tried to ignore his anxiety and the lack of air by listening to the drumming of rain coming from up above. He tried to focus on his work. He tried to focus on the sound of rustling he heard. Rustling? What?
  71. Art looked around but saw nothing that could make that sound, like something being dragged along on the gravel of the ocean floor. It was coming from the direction of the forest of seaweed. Or so he assumed, it was difficult to tell underwater. Still, images of a walking underwater forest controlled by the plant woman sprung up in Art’s mind. He needed air right now.
  72.  
  73. Art slipped to the hatch of the Death Trap and threw his snorkel away. He’d either get that anchor off on his next lungful of air, or he wouldn’t get it at all. Or he’d get it on another try, it’s not like he could afford to give up now. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, and breathe half of it out, dive.
  74. No movement was visible in his field of vision. Of course there wasn’t, he’d just been in the bright light of the escape pod. Art cursed his stupidity and dove down with controlled motions, listening for the rustling. Maybe he’d imagine it. He hadn’t. It was there, louder than before. Closer. He should focus on the anchor. But if he did, whatever that was might sneak up on him. If it was nothing, he’d lose nothing. He could come back again and keep working if it was nothing. And if it was, he’d be better off seeing it. Art removed the flare from his belt and lit it, throwing it in the direction he assumed the sound was carrying from. The red light arced and fell off the cliff, slowly gliding to a rest on the sloping seabed, where it revealed what looked to be a slowly moving rock. No, not a rock. Shell, it was a shell. A seashell big enough to compare to dear old Death Trap. Art was awed by this sight. Of course he’d known there were things on a world like this bigger than the little fish he’d seen so far, but that thing was just gigantic. It was the size of an elephant; the creature inside it must’ve been at least as big as he was, if not bigger. And if it was anything like on Earth, he’d be considered food. Good thing it couldn’t reach him up here, so he could just focus on the anchor. Nothing to worry about, nothing at a-
  75.  
  76. Something emerged from within the shell, something shining crimson in the red light of the flare. Initially it appeared to be very much like a sea slug, all soft and gooey and kind of transparent, but then he saw more of it, and the proportion of it, it was almost as if it, but no, no, a plant woman had been one thing but a primate’s arm on a snail?
  77. Then the rest of the thing came out and Art almost choked as he gasped. While coughing out water and kicking water to get higher he couldn’t help but stare at the ludicrously unlikely sight before him. That was a woman, no two ways about it. Shapely hips, wholesome bosom, long wavy hair, the skin colour of a neon pink, the revealing dress a bright crimson, an amorphous goop making up the hem of the skirt and where the feet should’ve been. The woman was quite clearly attached to the ocean floor rather than floating, and she reached down to pick up the flare, very carefully. She held it and covered her eyes with one hand, then turned it away from herself and looked right up at Art. Who rushed for air, took two deep breaths on the surface and dove down again. This was the strangest thing he’d seen today, but this time he was almost prepared for it. Maybe she wasn’t hostile. Maybe she was intelligent. He wanted to…
  78. He hadn’t been away for long, but by the time he returned the flare was again on the ocean floor and the shell appeared empty. The woman was gone. Where had she…?
  79. His fear from earlier was realized as something caught onto his leg and pulled him down.
  80.  
  81.     ***
  82.  
  83. NONONNONONNONONNOIDONTWANNADIEIDONTWANNADIENONNONONO….
  84.  
  85. The pull was irresistible. Art could do nothing to kick himself upwards and away. He stared right up at the circle of light, his safety, his refuge, and saw it shrink as he was pulled further and further away. He immediately felt the panic of imminent drowning. He needed air and he needed to get out of here and he needed to do it right now and now both his legs were being groped by something and they were creeping up and up and…
  86. Art turned to look down, looking at his captor with dread. In the glow of the white light from Death Trap it didn’t have the same reddish hue as before, rather it was pink for the most part, with some almost purple bits here and there, around the puffy sleeves and the hair. The tentacles dragging him down appeared to be emerging from its back, and they were an icky yellow. Art found himself taking in all these details with surprising accuracy. Maybe it was his brain going into overdrive to look for a detail that would allow him to escape his situation. He found no such thing however, as the tentacles brought him in direct contact with the front side of the creature. It was soft and surprisingly warm; he’d expected something cold, like a dead fish. The creature was considerably larger than him, his feet couldn’t reach whatever the bottom of it was like even with the flippers on, and his head only reached up to what he would’ve referred to as the chest area. And what a chest it was! It almost made the hysterical Art laugh out loud to realize he was going to die with his face buried in a pair of tits, even if they weren’t human.
  87. The tentacles were holding him by the waist now, some wrapping around his thighs and buttocks to hold him in place more firmly. Art was feeling the burn of his lungs again after his initial shock had died down and was biting his cheek to keep the focus away from it. He had to get out of this before he got eaten. He had a pretty fuzzy idea about how sea slugs ate but he didn’t want to get melted alive by acidic puke before being swallowed. He had to get away from here.
  88. Almost human-like hands, no, quite human-like hands brushed his face and fiddled with his mask and snorkel. He struggled and squirmed, but the tentacles wouldn’t relent. The creatures face, mostly obscured by the mat of “hair” had an orifice open. It looked like a human mouth. The lips looked soft and there were teeth and a tongue there. Art couldn’t believe what he was seeing.  He also didn’t want to get eaten by that mouth. There was a gurgling sound coming out of that mouth. There might soon be acid coming out of that mouth.
  89. By some stroke of luck one of the exploring tentacles behind him fiddled with the strap that had been keeping his fire extinguisher in place. And that reminded him of its existence as well as of the fact that his arms were free. With one hand he pushed against the chest – above the breasts – of the creature to catch its attention, and with the other he reached behind him. He found the nozzle and pointed it. He managed to grab the handle, and an eruption of foam was let loose. It wasn’t as loud underwater as it was on the surface, but the pressure was more strongly felt. He lost control of the damn thing right away and it pushed itself away from him and the creature. To Art’s delight the slug was so shocked by this octopus-like defence that it let go of him immediately and gurgled loudly, the colour on its face and then on the rest of its body turning darker and darker. Art managed to get the extinguisher back in his hands and turn the nozzle downwards, using the pressure to propel himself upwards. He didn’t have the strength to kick and his eyes were getting blurry.
  90.  
  91. Getting back up in the Death Trap was a real pain, but as soon as he broke the surface Art gasped in air and kept gasping, barely able to tread the water for long enough to throw the extinguisher on the floor and climb up. He collapsed with all his weight on top of the hatch to shut it, kept hyperventilating until he could lift himself up and lock the hatch. Arms and legs shaking Art clambered up to the control panel and with a horribly trembling hand turned on the recorder.
  92.  
  93.     Log #3
  94.  
  95. I understand now. I’m dead and this is Hell. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
  96.  
  97.     ***
  98.  
  99.     Log #4
  100.  
  101. It’s a brand new day on Mare. My first sunrise. I couldn’t really sleep last night so as soon as the storm had died down I climbed out and sat up above Death Trap. Once there I just  looked as the stars disappeared and the horizon went from black to blue to red to orange to yellow to the regular blue. I looked the other way, due what would be considered west, and saw last night’s storm clouds drifting away, far away, dying down.
  102. I had little enough to do up there other than admire the scenery, and the scenery was boring. I hoped to see something in the sky, a rescue shuttle come looking for me, or at least more escape pods falling down within my horizon, but I saw neither and eventually came back down here for this newly acquired habit of figuring things out out loud. Figuring things out, out loud? Out, OUT loud? Whatever.
  103. I should probably delete that last log, but I won’t. I’m an honest man if nothing else, and after what happened last night, that was a perfectly reasonable reaction. Uhh, I think. I had another encounter with a life-form native to Mare, and it was not a peaceful one. It went much worse than the first one did.
  104. The creature was some kind of gigantic sea slug. It had a shell, but it came out and moved faster than I did. A fast slug, that’s nice. It, uhh, it kind of tried to eat me. I think. Maybe it was just curious or something, but I escaped in any case, using my fire extinguisher like the ink spray of an octopus. That scared it off. Did I mention it was also very much like a woman, like the plant I talked about earlier? Well it was. I’m not kidding. The waters here are inhabited by those kinds of things, and I’m not sure I want to go back out there any time soon. The fact of the matter is that I can’t stay indoors forever. I have water for a long time now, that won’t be a problem; these life-preservers were filled to the brim with fresh water. If and when it rains again my supply will be filled up again, so I’m not sure I need to even ration it. What I don’t have is food, other than the 1 ½ nutrient blocks. I can stay indoors safe and sound for quite a while, but what if I’m not rescued over the next week or two? Week and a half?
  105. I’ve been over this before. I realize that, but it’s what’s on my mind right now. Let’s turn it into a mathematical formula, shall we?
  106.  
  107. indoors = safety
  108. outdoors = danger
  109. indoors = no food = death
  110. outdoors = food = danger
  111. danger > death
  112.  
  113. So I have to get out. And will Poison Ivy and the Blobette be waiting for me when I do? I haven’t made any progress at all and it feels like I’ve been at this for WEEKS rather than a day. I STILL need something to keep me safe out there, and the anchor I left down is still the best candidate for this. I STILL need materials for building tools, and the anchor is still the best candidate for this, too. I go down there and look for it, and then what? Do I get attacked again? Have I made myself a threat to the ecosystem? Am I an alien invader? I did come from another world, uninvited, and then I started groping their women and attacked another one due to what may well have been just a misunderstanding. Or I’m reading too much into it and the creature was just looking to eat me. If only I had some way to determine their intelligence!
  114. An idea begins to form.
  115. The sea slug carried a shell to protect itself. The shell was not part of it though, since it came out and pursued me. A biologist might be able to figure out whether the shell was made out of secretions or if it belonged to a – God forbid – some larger animal that discarded it, but I can’t make a distinction like that. The point I’m trying to make here is that the animal, woman, thing, lived in that… other thing, and therefore understands the concept of a protective shell, which is essentially what Death Trap is. Now stay with me, despite how crazy this might sound, but I’m thinking maybe instead of food or a threat, she saw me as a potential mate. In my dreams, right? But think about it, for all I know she was coming on to me.
  116. I’ve been here a day and already I’m starting to think sea creatures are lusty women. No wonder sailors believed manatees to be mermaids. Excuse me.
  117.  
  118.             Log #5
  119.  
  120. I’ve thought about it and I’ve reached the conclusion that the two female specimens I’ve met represent highly intelligent species, sapient even. Why seaweed or a slug would develop the mental faculties and vocal cords required for a spoken language, I don’t know – not to even mention the obviously mammalian features, or the primate hands – but it is quite apparent that they have done so on this world. The noises they were making, those had to be speech. They had tones and intonations and things. In human terms, I would consider the sea slug’s communication to have been trying to calm or comfort me. I may be reading it wrong, but I’m becoming more confident in the “potential mate” theory. The tentacles didn’t actually hurt me. There was no vomiting of digestive fluids on me, no teeth or claws biting into me. The way it… I think it, she, was trying to hold me in the correct position for me to mate with her. This I’m fairly confident in.
  121. As far as I’m aware of slugs and snails on Earth, they’re hermaphrodites. I didn’t see any signs of that here. Not that I was paying much attention, but I’m fairly sure this one was all lady slug. Does that mean there are males? Or is it like that species of lizard that reproduces without males existing but still engages in vestigial mating? If the female slug perceived me as a male, would a male perceive me as a competitor and try to remove me from the turf? Is there such a thing as slug turf? So many questions, so many things a scientist would need to answer.
  122. Thinking about things and trying to figure out mysteries is much more fun than fretting over my eventual death. Consider the plant woman, now. It too was obviously female as far as I could tell, and resembled a human to the point it could be considered attractive. I suppose I can’t deny the physique of the slug having had some nice curves, either. This raises the question: are secondary sexual characteristics something that the FEMALES of a given species usually develop to attract mates? On Earth it’s usually the males that show off. 100% of my encounters with these semi-humanoid ones have been with females, and I don’t have much of a sample pool, but it would seem to be quite the opposite here. At least with the slug, which had bright colours and resembled something like a, what are those fish called? The ones that look like they have frilly dresses? Like Goldie, you know? No, you probably don’t, that’s another Pokémon reference. Uhh, anyway, what I’m saying here is that I might be safer out there than I initially assumed. If it’s just sex they want, instead of food. The slug must’ve assumed I was a potential mate due to my shell, Death Trap, resembling her own. It makes sense. It was dark out there, it couldn’t see I was all that different from her, and when she noticed that, she was confused. After my defensive spray I must’ve discouraged her to the point that she won’t try it again, at least not in broad daylight. So I’m thinking maybe I’ll go out there again. See if I can get the anchor. See if I can interact with her somehow, if she’s still there. I’ll keep my eyes peeled and if I see her approaching I’ll just try to keep my distance for now, but eventually I’ll probably figure out some kind of sign language, see if she’s smart enough to learn it. I’m getting excited rather than scared, now. Also I’ve been indoors with very little to do for most of the morning, the computer is still unresponsive and I can’t masturbate all day, so I’ll just lose my mind if I don’t get out there and DO something.
  123. So today’s agenda is going back down there and getting that anchor up. No clue how long it will take, but I’ve got daylight and I’m not giving up. That anchor is the difference between life and death. I’m going now. Any second now. Really.
  124. Oh, one more thing Jackie. She wasn’t Chinese at all. The girl back in training, I mean. I remembered her name just now. It was Kurome Rei. That’s Japanese, right? Funny how these things come back to you when you’re not trying to remember them.
  125. Kurome, if you ever hear these logs I’d like you to know that you were a great lay, a wonderful source of warmth on a cold night and that I’m still going to think about you on lonely nights here rather than about the natives. XOXO
  126.  
  127.                         ***
  128.  
  129. All of Art’s muscles were aching. They had been ever since he fell on his makeshift bed, wet and trembling, and had remained so when he climbed out and squatted in the cool morning air. In retrospect it would’ve been smarter to do some stretches and take off his wet clothes. But he hadn’t. Chances were he’d end up with a cold now. Maybe it would kill him, what with all the foreign microbes on Mare. No use fretting about it now though.
  130. A good fifteen minutes later Art finished doing his stretches and felt a little limber, but still the strain of the previous day was a bit much. He comforted himself with the fact that he could just rest for a day or two or three after he was done with this dive. It was the only thing he could really do after the anchor was inside the fabricator, melting down something that big and shaping it into ingots would take a while, and it’d need to cool down afterwards. He’d need to let the solar panels soak up more power after the effort of melting titanium, too. Yeah. Just some rest and relaxation until someone came and picked him up, so all he needed to do was finish this one thing. Just this one thing.
  131.  
  132. The silence of the Death Trap was replaced by the silence of the sea. Though he’d already seen it yesterday, the beauty of the sights all around him filled Art with awe. As if last night’s storm hadn’t bothered them in the slightest, there were fish with their shiny scales jutting about, crabs scuttling on the ocean floor, all manner of fungal creatures reaching their tentacles to grab passing plankton – of course there was plankton here, what oceanic ecosystem wouldn’t – and all the corals that looked so similar to ones he knew, yet so different. For the first time it really hit him that this world would be his home until the day he died, whether he was rescued or not. He’d trained hard to handle himself underwater and he’d spent most of his life diving anyway, but it wasn’t until now that he really understood what it was that he’d gotten himself into. Without the security of technology, he was almost completely helpless out here, well trained or not.
  133. Turning slowly he took in the full view of his surroundings, seeing the waving forest of seaweeds, the ravine below the cliff he was anchored to, and of course the hill along which he’d seen the slug for the first time. His flare was nowhere to be seen. It would’ve gone out by now of course, but still he was fairly certain where it should’ve been, and he couldn’t see it. What he saw instead was a track. A wide, deep track, like an armoured truck or a tank had passed along the sea floor. It had come from the direction of the forest and up the hill, and then there was a spot with a much wider clearing as if it had stopped and turned around several times, then kept going. The tracks ended at the cliff where there was no more sand in which to leave them. This of course had been the path the slug had taken with the shell on its back. Could it have taken the flare with it? This seemed like a very distinct possibility. But where was it now? There was no track showing it had returned, but as Art knew from the night before she could move outside the shell and swim around like a fish, which wouldn’t leave any. He’d need to keep his eyes open, just in case.
  134. The anchor he’d dug into the earth (into the mare?) was firmly in place, and that was a bit of good news. No need to mess with it. The only thing to do now was to do what he’d come down here to do. Art lowered himself once more into the breach and found that despite the soreness in his muscles and the lack of sleep he wasn’t having as hard a time as last night. It was probably because of all the light around him, he could see as far as, well, the eye could see, and there must’ve been a psychological boost to his stamina from that fact. He easily reached the anchor he needed and managed to release it on the first try. Climbing back up to the Death Trap took longer than he’d anticipated with the added weight and getting his head in the hatch while holding on to the anchor with both hands proved to be a hassle, but Art made it through the ordeal alive. He left the anchor on the floor and dove back down to pull more of the cable free so he could tie it around a jutting rock formation that was a bit deeper than his cliff.
  135. All things considered it probably would’ve been a smarter idea to wait longer before dragging the cable down to a depth of what must’ve been at least eleven meters or more, but Art had a nagging feeling at the back of his mind that if he failed to take of his work now he’d end up with it still not done the next time something bad happened, which could bite him in the ass.
  136. Problems arose immediately. It wasn’t that Art couldn’t handle going to a depth like that, just swallowing a bit made the pressure not hurt his ears and he knew he could reach the surface for more air easily enough. What he hadn’t prepared for though was the cable itself being uncooperative. He wrapped it around the jutting rock a few times but realized he couldn’t pull it very tight since it was sharp metal and his hands were just soft flesh. With some armoured gloves he could’ve pulled it nice and taut around the rock, but with it being the way it was he could only kind of do that. The cable itself was too bulky and unwieldy to be tied into any kind of knot. There wasn’t anything to do about it, really. He’d just have to leave it as it was.
  137. With a shrug Art began to rise up, kicking slightly away from Death Trap to get a better view of something that had caught his attention. It couldn’t be seen from directly above, but apparently in the rock he was anchored on there was a cave, at the depth of something like 20 or 30 meters. Not a small cave either, the entrance must’ve been big enough to fit four Death Traps and without a light source there was no telling how deep it went. What’s more, the sand near the entrance showed familiar tracks. So that’s where the slug went.
  138.  
  139. After resurfacing for air Art just floated for a while on his back and drifted back to the Death Trap while staring at the sky. Still no ships to be seen. He’d need to figure out a way to fix the communications array to get the rescuers’ attention. If there were any rescuers; if there weren’t he’d have to make do with other survivors. In any case he needed to get in contact with other people. That would have to wait for a long time though; he wasn’t an electrician in the first place and didn’t even know what kind of tools he’d need to fix the innards of the pod provided he could figure out what was wrong with it. But he had time.
  140. His head bumped against the pontoons and so he climbed aboard and yawned loudly. To make himself feel safer he shut the bottom hatch, then took off his wet clothes and hung them on the ladder to dry. A nice long gulp of the Irished up water and a small bite to eat while in the nude in a room the size of a bathroom made him feel oddly nostalgic. It’s like he’d gone back to his lost years, back when he dropped out of college and did oddjobs to save enough money to go on a nice long diving trip in Vietnam. The sights there had been worth it.
  141. With great uncertainty Art opened up the Fab and dropped the anchor in it as is. The system had its own computer systems not connected to the pod’s mainframe, explaining why it was still working. The powercells were shared between all the electronics though, but with nothing to use save for the lights, the time/temperature function and the fabricator that didn’t seem like that much of a problem. Three of them in total, two at full power and one at 80% power right now. Art had no clue how much would be required to melt and mould the big lump of metal, nor how much it would take to shape it into anything useful. He’d never actually printed out anything metal. How long would it take for those things to cool and be ready for use? He could dunk them in the sea, but would the sea water affect them negatively if he did? He had no clue about metallurgy either.
  142. Feeling too weary to care Art set the Fab to scan the metal and melt it, then picked the option of shaping it into three ingots. Three seemed like a good number; the ingots would be smaller and would cool faster, but they’d still be big enough to reshape into most anything. You could always whittle down the size to make smaller tools, but to go bigger you’d need to re-melt all the material. Though he’d need to re-melt it to shape it into anything at all now that he thought about it. But he couldn’t just make the Fab turn the anchor’s metal into a knife or a spear or a screwdriver from the get-go, there simply wasn’t an option for that in any of the menus he’d checked. Having computer skills might’ve been useful at this point, but he just didn’t have enough to re-program the damn thing. Whatever, he was tired.
  143. Having set the Fab to its work Art turned off the lights and lied down on his terrible bed and drifted to sleep to the gentle lull of the waves, not giving a damn what time he’d wake up.
  144.  
  145.             ***
  146.  
  147. Coffee, tea, cocoa. Three hot beverages, none of which Art had access to. Three hot beverages you could add some rum or whiskey into. None of which Art had. It was a rotten shame to wake up to a world like that. Sure the Heyerdahl was equipped with botanical gardens that grew coffee and cocoa beans and a whole lot of different types of tea, and the liquor cabinets were equipped as well as you’d expect from a ship that was on a one way journey to the ass-end of nowhere, but none of that stuff was within Art’s reach. And neither was bacon, or eggs, or waffles, or toast. His breakfast, enjoyed at around two in the afternoon, consisted of more mouthfuls of the ever present nutritional block, something he didn’t even bother to ration at this point, and some mighty gulps of the Irished up water, the alcohol content of which was enough to make it taste like disinfectant but not enough to make him feel better about his situation.
  148. Depressing conditions and a stiff neck aside, Art didn’t feel too bad. He’d slept for the first time on his new home planet, not counting the brief period of unconsciousness towards the beginning, and that made all the difference in the world. One of the power cells showed a drop from 80 to 45%, leaving it at a level which was a little disconcerting, but to Art’s surprise the Fab reported it had finished the shaping and now the ingots were just cooling down. At least something was going right. He felt damn hungry though, and finished the first nutritional block. He thought about the long freeze he’d gone through and wondered if the hunger was an after-effect of that, or due to all the hard work he’d been doing. Probably both.
  149. In retrospect it probably wasn’t that smart to consume half of his food supply in roughly two days, but the fact of the matter was that those blocks were meant for people who weren’t recovering from cryostasis, but rather were in normal condition. That was a stupid oversight on the part of whoever had designed the equipment for the escape pods. He’d need to make a record of this so the insurance investigators could blame his death on some engineer and his next of kin could collect a nice life insurance. Who even was his next of kin? He’d written someone down on some kind of form before leaving, but he had no recollection of who it had been. Not like he’d met any of his relatives since he left Boulder to hitchhike to… some girl’s place. Francine from Florida? Kelly from Kansas? It was a name that started with the same initial as the state. His eyes flitted over to the audiolog recorder, a device built to be so sturdy it survived when communications arrays failed. No SOS could leave the pod, but he sure as hell could talk to himself! Great. Just great.
  150.  
  151. In the vain hope of seeing a rescue crew up above Art climbed out of the Death Trap to look at the sky again. In case there was a storm coming he’d want to have some warning about it, too. He embraced the salty sea breeze in the nude and shaded his eyes with one hand while scratching his thigh with the other. It wasn’t until he’d turned 180 degrees that he saw the blue-something-woman-thing staring up at him from the water with a confused look on her transparent face. The scare made Art loose his footing, fall on his ass and slide down the side of the pod into the water right next to it.
  152.  
  153.             ***
  154.  
  155. At first Art thought he was looking up at a giant jellyfish. The transparent dome and the transparent noodle-like tentacles were exactly what you’d expect from the earthborn breed. The transparent human feet in the middle of them on the other hand weren’t.
  156. Breaking the surface of the water Art kept his gaze trained on this new jelly-fish creature. What he saw was a human head, a human face, all blue and transparent. She had what resembled hair, also blue and transparent and seemingly consisting of a single mass of the same gooey substance the rest of her was made of. It appeared to be wearing some kind of dress, since there was a clear distinction between the texture of the, not the skin, but whatever it was, around the neck and the top of the chest and the rest of the body. Dress or no, you could easily see all the way through her. The hourglass figure and the modest bosom completed the image of a woman. How did any of this work? Art found himself wondering if it was some kind of mimicry in order to lure potential prey within consuming distance. Sure he’d had less culinary theories about the natives of Mare, but that had been in the relative safety of the Death Trap, not out in the water with no clothes or gear. He tried to skirt around the creature to climb back aboard. It didn’t pursue him, merely turned around in place to keep her eyes on him, tilting her head every now and then and fidgeting with her hands. Five sleek fingers on each hand, just like a human girl. This one seemed younger than the slug or the plant had.
  157. Once he was safely out of the water and had his leg wrapped around the ladder to keep himself from accidentally falling off, Art calmed down and began thinking. Here he was with the first real chance at establishing contact with the native life forms. Third time’s the charm, right? He had to get this one right, somehow. There’s the rub of it, of course. How? It could take days and weeks to establish some form of communication, provided this jellyfish could even communicate at all.
  158.  
  159. As if responding to Art’s thoughts, the jelly waved an arm, lifting and lowering fingers in order from pinkie to thumb as if forming a wave.
  160. Taken aback, Art waved back shyly.
  161. The jelly clasped her hands, interlocking her fingers, and then just stood there. Well, floated there. It, or she, yeah, she, seemed to be in no hurry to get anywhere with this interaction. Her eyes, which Art only now realized were not transparent, though they were still blue, if a deeper blue than the rest of her, were not entirely focused on him, but rather in his general direction. As seconds ticked on by they began to look up and down the Death Trap, then the sky, then back at him as if seeing him for the first time, and her mouth opened. A sound emerged, but it seemed to startle the creature, which covered her mouth with a hand. The hue of her face took on a darker shade, just like that of the slug had. Was she blushing as well, or was Art reading too much into it? Was he interpreting as human behaviour something that wasn’t human at all? It seemed just so right of an assumption to make, but what if it was wrong? Chimps smiled when they felt threatened, not when they were happy. Dogs wagged their tails to show happiness and excitement, cats to show displeasure. He’d have to tread carefully here. Or just…
  162. “Hey there beautiful” he blurted. The jelly tilted her head again and seemed to float away from the pod. Looking into the water Art saw her little feet kicking. Was that how it propelled itself? It or her, decide, dammit. Her. HER! Right!
  163. Seemingly he’d scared her off though; she was increasing the distance between them. Dammit!
  164. “Come on, don’t be scared” Art tried, talking with the tone of voice reserved for dirty cats hiding under the bed to avoid baths.
  165. The intended effect was not achieved; the jelly bobbed on the waves and kept fidgeting, not coming any closer. At least she wasn’t moving away anymore. But what to do if talking itself scared her? He could try waving at her some more, but he didn’t know any sign language and even if he did, what use would earth signs be here?
  166. There was no need for Art to resolve his conundrum on his own though. The jelly seemed to get over her distrust of her own voice and tried to say something again. The sound was awfully quiet coming from the distance and with the slouched posture she took Art couldn’t help but interpret it as “shy mumbling”.  He couldn’t make head or tail of it.
  167. “Could you speak a little louder please?” he tried. The jelly responded with more fidgeting and downcast eyes. She stared very intently into the sea below her, not meeting his eyes even by accident. But she wasn’t retreating! That was progress!
  168. “I’m sorry, but could you come a little closer?” Art tried again. He beckoned with his arms for emphasis, hoping it would drive home the point his words couldn’t. The jelly looked up, then down again and muttered something inaudible.
  169. This wasn’t going anywhere, but an idea was beginning to form in Art’s head. How do you tame animals? How do predators catch children? You bribe them with some kind of treat, right? And he had the nutrient block he hadn’t unwrapped yet. With that, he could maybe convince… could he? Did jellyfish eat solid food? But she wasn’t a jellyfish now was she? It wouldn’t hurt to try, so long as he made sure not to lose the entirety of his food supply.
  170. “You just wait here, okay? Stay. Stay!” Art brought his hands down like one would when teaching a puppy to sit, then turned his back on the jelly and climbed up the ladder to grab the block. He slid down inside the Death Trap and didn’t at first notice anything being off. He realized the floor was slippery and wet, but so was he so that didn’t strike him as being particularly odd. He had to dodge the open hatch at the bottom of the pod, but that didn’t register with him as being particularly noteworthy due to the hurry he was in. He opened his storage locker and grabbed the block. His last piece of food; when this was gone he’d have to rely on catching fish or eating seaweed. But that was alright, he was making a connection. He was going to establish contact with the natives and maybe he could gain a reliable food supply from them. Yeah.
  171. He turned around and then dropped the block on the floor when he saw the clothes he’d hung up on the ladder standing up on their own at the other end of the pod. And then it really hit him that the hatch was open and that the floor was wet and that the clothes were being held up by an INTRUDER.
  172. “What the fuck?!”
  173. His clothes were dropped. And he saw the INTRUDER. It was a plant. Just like the one he’d groped yesterday. It wasn’t standing upright like a person would’ve; rather it was hunched up into a heap with its head and what appeared to be its arms being the only parts clearly defined, like it had pumped all the innards up to those body parts. If Art had been of a sounder mental state he might’ve deduced that an aquatic plant wouldn’t have the structures required to hold up its weight without water supporting it, but that wasn’t anywhere near his list of priorities. What he was thinking about now was getting rid of the INTRUDER and to do that he needed his only defensive weapon. He needed his extinguisher. And where was that, pray tell? Why, right behind the INTRUDER of course! No way to get it from there, no sir.
  174. The plant slid a little closer to him, shuffling along the floor like a seal. It looked silly doing that, or would’ve looked silly doing that if Art hadn’t been frightened and interpreting this movement as threatening. In order to get past this monster he’d need to distract it somehow. He looked for the nutrient block. It had slid along the slippery floor and was now bobbing in the water of the hatch. That was bad. He couldn’t leave it there. If it sank, he’d have to chase after it. He couldn’t afford to lose what was left of his few resources like this. What else did he have?
  175. Reaching back into the locker Art found two items immediately. His last flare and the bottle of water with alcohol mixed into it. There wasn’t too much left in that one. Art licked his lips. This could be it. If he gave up on his flare here, that could come bite him in the ass some dark night. He only now realized how useful a flashlight could be and how troublesome it was that he didn’t have one. But that wasn’t something he could help now. The flare had to stay, so he dropped it back in. Here goes nothing, then.
  176. Art rolled the bottle along the floor and over to the right of himself. If the plant woman went over to it, he could skirt to the left of the ladder and get to the fire extinguisher behind it. Or her. Hadn’t he decided on her? They were all her. The sea was a bitch and now she was out to get him.
  177. The plant woman looked at the bottle curiously and made some kind of noises as she reached out to it. There were no fingers on that arm, but it looked like there were soft branches surrounded by a single leave, making it look like a flippered claw. It was nimble enough to grasp the bottle easily. The water splashed inside and this seemed to confuse and amuse the creature. It stared intently at the contents while tilting the bottle to and fro. Art saw his opportunity and very carefully snuck to the ladder, then lunged to the fire extinguisher. He climbed on to the intact chair and took aim from his perch. What he saw was downright shocking.
  178. The plant had opened the bottle and was pouring the water over her head, tiled her neck to pour it on her face and then drank it all up. She’d opened the cork. Just like that. So that’s how she’d gotten in. She’d just opened the hatch. She could do that. And if a plant could do that, couldn’t anything else?
  179. The bottle was empty and the plant let out a little hiccup, then made a sound that could only be a giggle. Had that tiny amount of alcohol been enough to get her drunk? What a ridiculous question. Plants can’t get drunk. On Earth. But on Mare…
  180. Suddenly the plant woman turned around and fell on her back. She let out one more hiccup and then sighed deeply. The mass that had been used to hold up her upper body was now returning to the rest of her body, making her the shape of a woman once more, if a little flatter than what Art had seen in the water. She seemed to be unconscious. Asleep? No, passed out, she’d passed out drunk. Huh.
  181.  
  182. Art lowered the extinguisher and tiptoed to the hatch. The intruder was no longer a threat so all he needed was his food back, and then he’d…
  183. Something dark below the surface pulled the nutrient block below the surface and Art jumped away from the hole. Whatever it had been, he didn’t want anything to do with it. Now he needed to… to figure something out. The hatch wasn’t going to keep him safe anymore, and whatever was down there could get in here. No more sleeping in the Death Trap, no sir. He’d need to set up outside the pod. And out there he wouldn’t have a chance of keeping dry. Still it seemed safer than here.
  184. In a hurry Art put on his clothes, slipped on his harness and put his extinguisher in its place. He took the flare and the unopened bottle of water on his belt. Then there were the lifejackets –and preservers. Full of water now, but was water what he needed the most? Maybe just one preserver full of water would be enough, what he needed now was security. If he was washed off the Death Trap he’d need something to keep afloat. He didn’t have much in the way of food anyway so it’s not like all that water would make a difference. He just had to make sure he was safe, right? For now. No saying how things would turn out later on. He’d put on one jacket, empty the two preservers of the precious drinking water, maybe he’d pour it into the storage locker, that would be empty now, wouldn’t it? Yeah, that’d work. He’d have to preservers full of air, with the jacket and those he’d have a raft of some kind ready. And that was just a precaution, not a permanent solution. There was no need to panic. This was all just in case. Just in case.
  185. Before climbing out of the pod with his gear Art turned on the audio recorder.
  186.  
  187. Log #6
  188.  
  189. Made contact again, but pod was breached. Need to move up top for safety. Hope I get rescued soon. The plants can operate hatches and bottles. If I don’t return, know that I got one drunk.
  190.  
  191.             ***
  192.  
  193. The jellyfish woman had gotten much closer to the pod in Art’s absence. She was bopping against the side and touching the pod’s surface, feeling it up with her hands and clearly curious about what it was. Or maybe she was trying to get aboard to pursue her prey. With the plant inside, Art was beginning to suspect there was some kind of cooperation between these creatures. The way it had been looking down before… could it be she’d been watching the plant swim beneath the Death Trap? The jelly had only been a distraction, then. But the jelly and the plant weren’t large or quick in their moves. The real threat was the slug, provided she was involved. And why wouldn’t she be? They were all working together against him. The shrinks might call that paranoia, but it was better to prepare for the worst and hope for the best than to trust in things turning out well. Why would anything good ever happen?
  194. Art used the rope attached to the life preservers to tie them together, the ones with air side-by-side and the one with the drinking water between them vertically. This way he could drink from it when the time came. Not “if” the time came, it was just a question of when. He was sure of it. All the effort to get the anchor up from the bottom and into the Fab had been wasted. He wouldn’t be able to make any tools; he couldn’t get any more food out here. He couldn’t fix the communications array; he couldn’t stay inside the pod. There was only one chance of survival at this point, and that was to get picked up before he starved to death. The question was whether he’d do so on a pathetic makeshift raft or on top of the pod. Waiting on the pod seemed like the better bet since there wasn’t much of a chance of it sinking and the possible rescue party would be following the trajectory of the launched pod, which would bring them to this vicinity. The pod was something they would see from a great distance, hell, even from orbit. His raft on the other hand wouldn’t. How large of a search area would they be dealing with anyway? How accurately could they calculate the trajectory of a pod launched from orbit? With all the fancy computers it’d be easy to get it down to the meter, but the Heyerdahl had been in a state of chaos when he left it. There was a chance they didn’t even know he was out here. How long would it take for them to notice he was gone? There must’ve been some kind of log that would show when the pod had been launched, so they’d be able to deduce at which specific point along the orbit the Heyerdahl had been on when the pod was launched, right? And the other three pods too. He hadn’t seen a sign of any of them, but when falling from that kind of height, surely it wasn’t…
  195. The falling! The parachute! He’d forgotten about that. He could use it. Oh yes siree, he could use it! The parachute that had slowed down his descent to bring him safely to the surface was still packed up inside the roof of the pod, wasn’t it? And he could make something out of it. A sail, maybe? And a floor for his raft, he wouldn’t need to balance himself on the preservers if he could just lie on a canvas. And then there was all that line that held it attached! A sailor with rope could do anything. That’s the ticket, think positively and look for something in your environment you can use. Hey, maybe he could just go back down into the pod and use the canvas to plug up the hole so… no, that wouldn’t work. If they could open the hatch then they could slip past canvas just as easily. But the raft would work. Now all he had to do was pull out the parachute and get to work. Work keeps a man busy and doesn’t let panic and angst take over. Hurray for psychology!
  196.  
  197. Removing the parachute was tricky as it had been attached to withstand the tumultuous fall from low geosynchronous orbit. There were screws that needed to be undone and without a screwdriver or even coins it was a real pain to get them moving, but after hurting several fingers and chipping a few nails he managed to free the chute. It was even bigger than he’d remembered. Of course back during training it had been pairs that had worked on packing and unpacking it – which made him laugh, the automatic device that repacked the parachute after landfall (seafall?) was one of the few things on the Death Trap that actually worked – so it hadn’t been as big and unwieldy by comparison, but still. The canvas stretched out to a larger area than the pod covered. Turned into a ball with the maximum area its volume would’ve been maybe two and a half times the size of the pod. He didn’t actually need all of it, but he had no way to cut it so what the hell. He just had to figure out how to mould it into a useful shape and then get it to stick that way. A sail needed a mast, and he didn’t have one. Unless…
  198. Art looked at the lightning rod. It was a precaution for the pod, but it’s not like not having it would change anything for the electrical equipment within, right? The pod had metal and plastic parts and plenty of rubber too. It was insulated. Even when it was hit directly by lightning, would the effect be any different with or without the rod? Not really. He removed it and placed it in the space where all three life preservers met. It was shorter than he was. Some mast, his sail would be useless. But how was he supposed to hold it up higher? There wasn’t really anything… Oh, yes, the extinguisher. If he put THAT in the space instead and then somehow managed to tie the rod above that, the mast would be… not quite his height but close enough for the sail to catch some actual wind, right? Now how was he going to make it all stick together? And how heavy would it be? Maybe a little too heavy? He’d need to empty the second lifejacket of the seawater he’d thought would work as an armour and fill it again with air, then attach that to the bottom of the preservers to increase buoyancy. Then he’d make a mattress out of the canvas so he could lie down comfortable; maybe build some kind on tent out of it too? It would be hard to fold it, but he had to figure it all out since he couldn’t cut it. This would take a while, but he had nothing else to do, now did he?
  199. As if to defy his train of thought, the jelly made a loud noise at him, in a tone of voice that could be interpreted as being demanding. Art looked down at her and tried to understand this sudden change. Why was she being so loud now? Was she upset because her friend hadn’t managed to ambush him? Or was she just ordering him to come down where she could reach him and eat him? Had he really just reverted back to the “they’re out to eat me” theory?
  200. “…” the jelly made smacking noises and furrowed her brow. That was the face of an upset teenage girl, no two ways about it. She pointed her finger at him and made more noises, clearly agitated. What was she…?
  201. To Art’s immense surprise she facepalmed, as if irritated by how obtuse he was being. He smiled despite his circumstances. Then the jelly did something even more surprising; she put her hands on her shoulders and moved them down along her body, as if taking off her “dress”. Which then came off. Art could clearly see the transparent layer falling down, revealing a second transparent layer. The texture on her became more and more uniform the lower her hands fell. She looked almost exactly the same, if a little skinnier, and yet Art felt like he should avert his gaze. He didn’t though. This was interesting. The jellyfish was wearing some kind of mucus membrane as a piece of clothing. And now she was in the nude. Her breasts were more clearly visible now, she had areas there that had to be nipples, and looking down… to his disappointment Art noticed she hadn’t undressed down to her crotch. But what he did see was even weirder. Right there inside her belly, which had been completely transparent before and still was, there was something dark. Like a bubble of something, no, rather it was something solid. Something solid was floating inside the jelly, something that had been invisible while she’d been “dressed”, even though he could see through her even then. This wasn’t making any sense.
  202. The jelly waved a hand over her exposed body, then pointed her finger at Art accusingly and made more noises. Now it was beginning to make sense! When they’d met previously, he’d been naked. Now he wasn’t. She wanted him to undress again. Was that to make him more easy to digest, or was it because his other theory, the one about mating, was true?
  203. Art laughed out loud. The jellyfish wanted him to undress so it could mate with him? Was this really the truth of the matter? Arthur Stew, pioneer to the stars, a man who would boldly cum where no man had ever… no, no, no. That was too much. He wasn’t going to put up with this!
  204. “Go on, scram!” he snapped at her and let loose with the fire extinguisher. The jet of foam soon covered up the jelly who immediately let out a frightened sound and dove down into the water with a loud splash. Apparently she’d been floating with the aid of a bubble of air trapped inside the jellyfish dome, and to make her escape she’d simply released it. Art felt a little guilty for spraying her, but he had to have his peace while working. As long as he got his raft done, he’d have somewhere to escape instead of just being trapped on the Death Trap, even if it was the safest place he could be right now. He needed the peace of mind that choice and freedom gave him or something to that effect. Time to get to work.
  205.  
  206.             ***
  207.  
  208. It took quite a while to get the fire extinguisher attached to the raft properly, and then he realized he couldn’t put the canvas mattress on top of it so he had to untie it and start over again. Then he struggled with attaching the lightning rod, and even after that was soundly in place he was worried he couldn’t rig the sails safely. A stiff enough wind would snap the mast just like that, but what could he do? If he undid the hose and attached the rod inside the container he’d be without a defensive weapon, and that was something he sorely needed, especially when he’d seen how effective it was. He’d used it twice and it had scared off his enemies twice. That was a 100% success rate! How many weapons could boast of that, eh? Trying out the mattress he found it to be soft and comfortable enough. There wasn’t really much space to lie down and stretch out on, but it was much better than the preservers themselves would’ve been. He folded the canvas into a tent successfully and got it all nicely attached with the ropes. The only thing he couldn’t figure out was how to make it into a sail that would actually catch wind and wouldn’t capsize the whole raft. In the end he had to give up on that idea, without a knife to cut it into the pieces the bulky canvas was just too unwieldy for something like that.
  209. With a sigh art opened up his last bottle of water and drank greedily. He should’ve been rationing. He should’ve been rationing since yesterday, but he hadn’t done that. He couldn’t. He was still famished from the cryostasis, his muscles still kind of atrophied. He needed food and lots of it, his hunger wouldn’t just go away with nibbles. Of course now he didn’t have any food whatsoever, so what did it matter if he drank a lot? There were painkillers in the first-aid kit down below. He could grab a bunch and try to deal with hunger that way. Maybe he could slip into the sweet embrace of death without the pain of starvation too. He’d just need to go down there and grab the damn thing, it wouldn’t take long. He’d regret not having that stuff in a while if he wasn’t rescued.
  210. Art left his mask, snorkel and flippers aboard the raft and climbed down into the pod as silently as he could. He saw the plant wasn’t unconscious anymore; rather she was… oh dear.
  211.  
  212. The plant woman was holding up the empty bottle. Only it wasn’t empty anymore, there was something inside it. The cap had been closed, and as the plant shook it back and forth, the insides rattled like a maracas. This seemed to be a source of immense entertainment to the OTHER TWO PLANTS that were in there now. One was seated on the chair that hadn’t been vandalized; the other was lying on what remained of Art’s makeshift bed. The first-aid kit was lying there on the ground, and the things rattling inside the bottle were aspirin pills. The plants had been busy down here while he’d been busy up above. He should’ve kept an eye on them. If only the fire extinguisher wasn’t tied to his raft, he could deal with these three. Where had the other two come from? The same forest, of course, that should’ve been obvious. But how many more were there? And what about the jellies? More slugs maybe? With a wince Art jumped down, shouting incoherently and flailing his arms to scare the plant women, to distract them, and while they stared at him in confusion he snatched up the kit and climbed up. Even though he knew they could open the hatch, he shut it behind him. He wasn’t going to return down there. He wished he’d had time to make a proper goodbye log. But he’d whined into the recorder enough as is. Now it was time to reflect and to wait.
  213.  
  214. And wait Art did. He hugged his knees, sitting next to his raft and staring at the sky and the horizon. First one direction, then another, and then another. He turned to face a different way every now and again to catch any horrible storms approaching. He saw dark clouds in two directions, but neither seemed to be heading his way. He looked up to the sky, waiting to see some kind of ship coming for him. He didn’t. He’d been doing this a lot today, hadn’t he? The sun was beginning to set, but he wasn’t ready to sleep. He’d had plenty of sleep. He wanted to be awake. He wanted to be alive. He didn’t want to lose a moment of what would be the rest of his short life. That was a defeatist attitude, better think of it in a different light. He just wanted to watch the stars. All those strange stars. How many people had ever stared up at them? Him and barely anyone else, right? Did the natives look up at the stars? Did they care about anything above the waves that wasn’t a potential source of food, or a mate, or whatever it was they thought he was.
  215. The sun set and the stars came out. He saw a nice crescent moon. Art didn’t remember if it shrunk or grew the same way as it did on Earth, was it growing or shrinking when the opening was to the right? Didn’t really matter. What kind of names would he give to the constellations he saw? Yeah yeah, they all had names already. But those were names given by a bunch of dumb Earth scientists, not by someone looking up to them from Mare. Things looked different here. If he used his imagination, maybe he could…
  216. A creaking noise stopped his thought process. Something was turning the wheel to open the hatch. Oh no. Not now! He didn’t want to… come on!
  217.  
  218. The hatch was pushed open with some force by a mass of plant matter. There was much more than just the arms of three plant women, there must’ve been a dozen. They’d climbed up the ladder together, supported one another and with their combined strength they easily pushed aside the hatch. Art put on his slippers and began to push away his raft. He wasn’t going to stay here and fight. He wasn’t going to beat this. Not without fire, and he had nothing to make fire with.
  219. The raft plopped on to the waves and rocked wildly before settling. It held together. Art sat at the edge and kicked away from Death Trap with his flippers, his only means of propelling the raft. He put some distance between them and pulled up his feet to hide from potential predators. The canvas mattress was mostly dry so he wasn’t completely uncomfortable here. He could spend the night like this, provided nothing snatched him up. He thought about sharks and things like that. Maybe even shark women. Who knows what horrors were gathering up? Lit by the moon and the stars he saw the plant women shuffling out of the pod. Then somehow the lights were turned on. He saw the beam of light shining down into the sea from the bottom of the pod, and there in that light he saw more dark shapes. Were they plant women, jelly women, slug women, or something new and more terrifying? They seemed to take to the light and began to flit in and out of sight. And then Art DID see something new. He saw green glow. He saw the shapes of creatures moving in the sea around the spot of light, he saw them glowing green, moving erratically. More and more lights began to appear, from all directions, all converging on that central beam of light glowing from within the Death Trap. Up above the pod, the plant women were making noise. They were clapping their floppy arms together. One was rattling the bottle, now full of aspirin pills. Others were rattling the various jars of pills. Were they… making music?
  220. Then it hit him. The creatures down below were dancing. The green lights were joined by red ones. Yellow, orange, bright blue, pink, they were shining in many, many colours. Were they all the same creatures changing their colours, or were they all different species, each glowing in their own hue? What was happening here? How come there were so many? Where had they all come from? Why now? The only possible explanation was that they had come for him. He’d shown up the day before, run into a couple creatures. Those had signalled others, and here they were, to partake of his flesh, be it to eat him or fuck him, they were all here for him. They hadn’t seen him escape the pod though, had they? The raft was being ignored because they were all so focused on the pod. The raft was just a dark shape against a dark sky; no way would they notice him when they were all so focused on their reverie. The change of colours began to take on a rhythm of sorts, shapes of some kind were being formed and the creatures began to circle around in these formations. They were dancing, without a doubt. Art put on his mask and put his head underwater to see a little better, and that’s where he heard it. They were singing, and clapping, and there was a kind of drumming emanating from somewhere, and there was a snapping sound going click-click-click, like two massive rocks being hit together. He pulled his head out and sat staring at the lights for a while. They were plenty intelligent, these natives. And they had a culture and the different species seemed to get along just fine. If only he hadn’t been such an idiot, he might’ve been able to interact with them, to form some kind of connection. Humanity could create a cultural exchange with these creatures. There could be understanding and cooperation here. But would he be part of it? Maybe they weren’t malicious, maybe they were. Maybe this was celebration was also his funeral, or maybe it was to welcome him. No matter what it was, he was too tired and weak to do anything about it. He just wanted to get rescued. Art looked up to the sky, hoping he’d see something across the night sky that would even hint at the Heyerdahl or some smaller vessel that he could signal with his flare.
  221. And saw it he did. He saw it in the distance, and a little while later he heard the roar of its approach. He didn’t want to believe he was looking at what he was looking at, but there it was. It was without a doubt the Heyerdahl itself, and it was flying low, far too low. Was it already landing? But it was only designed to land when it was time to salvage the materials it was built from, not yet! Then again it was on fire. The sky turned red and Art had to cover his ears to shut out the noise when it passed over his head, and he saw it was coming down, lower and lower, inevitably. And then, all too soon, there was the indescribable noise and his raft was tossed in the air and he fell out.
  222. The Heyerdahl had crashed into the sea.
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