Prieleae EO-F b3-0: 133 days out from Conway City
Even though we were now a full two thousand light years behind where she had originally planned to be by this point of the expedition, Mya did not appear to be terribly bothered about it. Our supplies of food and drink were more than adequate to extend our trip up to a duration of eighteen months or more, and thanks to Mya's excellent piloting skill and my daily maintenance of the ship's systems, Andromeda was undamaged and in prime condition.
Also in good shape was our burgeoning relationship. In the month since we had first acted upon our physical desire for each other, I had abandoned my stateroom to join Mya in hers, extending the leisure time we spent together. Our time in Mya's opulent quarters had been well-spent, sharing stories of our past, our families and our cultural likes and dislikes. It turned out that despite the difference in our ages, we had a surprising amount in common, most significantly a childhood surrounded by warring parents that had done a predictable amount of damage to our ability to confront and talk about our feelings. We made up for this lack of verbal dexterity with our physical enthusiasm, an arena where our actions could be far more eloquent than our words. Mya's passion was matched by her imagination, giving me a heart-stopping education in the arts of lovemaking in low-g environments. I had come to agree with Mya that 0.2-0.3g was best, as it allowed for a remarkable variety and flexibility between partners that was simply impossible (or at the very least painfully tiring) in Earth-standard gravity. We had failed to reach a consensus on a favourite out of the many positions and their variants that Mya had taught me over the last month, though we both knew that the real reason for any lack of accord was that we simply wanted an excuse to keep trying them all. As we shared more and more time together, it became obvious to us both that our relationship worked well on a multitude of levels. Our professional skills complimented each other perfectly, allying Mya's experience and piloting skill with my engineering aptitude and attention to detail. The last few months had proved that we worked well together as a team. Not only that, our temperaments were similar, as were our tastes in food, music, film and literature. We did disagree wildly on politics, though perhaps that wasn't surprising, given that I had been raised in the Federation and Mya came from a family whose sacrifices and contributions had been instrumental in the formation of the Alliance of Independent worlds. I had come to suspect, however, that Mya sometimes provoked arguments with me over the facile nature of the Federation's celebrity and scandal-driven media culture simply to enhance the quality and intensity of our physical reconciliations. Even after four and a half months sharing our days and nights in a living space smaller than a two bedroom flat, I still relished every single moment that we spent together. I was now absolutely certain that I was in utterly and hopelessly love with her, and had even told Mya as much, but while she had responded to my declaration affectionately, she had not yet reciprocated it. I didn't resent or take her apparent reluctance to match my sense of attachment to her personally. I understood Mya's reticence to give such a commitment, given the emotional turmoil between her parents during her childhood - something I could relate to all too well from my own turbulent upbringing. Physically we were already as intimate as it was possible for a man and woman to be and every day we spent together I could feel that our emotional bonds were getting stronger, too. I contented myself with the thought that even if Mya wasn't ready to explicitly declare that she felt as strongly for me as I did for her, at least I could feel it through her actions, and I would be there when she felt ready to discuss the possibilities of a shared future together. I just needed to be patient.
While patience had never previously been one of my talents, the nature of exploring had toned down my natural inclination to be impulsive. It had also struck me that now that our physical rapport had been consummated, the roles in our relationship had been reversed. Now I was the confident aggressor, pursuing the more hesitant partner, the irony being that I was attempting to establish an emotional bond, rather than a sexual one. I decided that rather to try and put any pressure upon her to force a decision, the best course of action would be for me to wait until Mya felt comfortable enough to broach the subject with me. As she had pointed out after our first night together, we could afford to take our time, since we were still several months short of achieving our goal of reaching Sagittarius A*.
Our progress on our flight plan for the day had been remarkably quick. Mya and I sat in our respective seats on the two-tier bridge, already one hundred and twenty-seven jumps through a one hundred and eighty jump programme for the day, despite the fact it was only just after noon. We appeared to be in an especially sparse sector of the Perseus arm. The majority of star systems we had surveyed today had been solitary red dwarves or T Tauri protostars. Mya steered Andromeda to the outer edge of the M-class red dwarf's corona, the magnetic field from our fuel scoop gobbling up ionised hydrogen to restore our hydrogen reserves back up to 100% at a rate of over half a tonne per second. The Asp Explorer's fuel tank was back at full capacity before Mya had finished running the initial system survey with our advanced discovery scanner module. The AI's soundscape simulator emitted a deafening, resonant honk to announce that the discovery scan was complete, flashing up on the HUD that just seven new astronomical bodies had been detected. I checked the system map while Mya completed the detailed surface scan of the system primary. An anomaly on the third rocky planet in the system flagged my attention immediately.
"Oh, ho! What's this?" I exclaimed, tapping my control board to try and isolate the anomalous signal.
"What've you got, Petr?" Mya asked, keeping Andromeda throttled back to a supercruise crawl of just 30km/s until I was able to tell her where she should prioritise our detailed surface scans.
"Organic life signs on an airless rock. Number 3, three hundred and forty-six light seconds from the primary."
"Outstanding. Petr, I think you've just found a barnacle." Mya congratulated me gleefully.
The mysterious and enigmatic alien life forms known colloquially as 'barnacles' had first been encountered in the Merope system in the Pleiades cluster almost thirty years ago. No-one truly understood what they were, though there were dozens of conspiracy theories of varying plausibility. Some people claimed that they were somehow connected to the Thargoids, acting as some exotic stage in their complex, insectoid life cycle. Others postulated that the barnacles were more advanced forms of the Unknown Artefacts periodically discovered just beyond the boundaries of colonised space. Some even believed that the barnacles somehow bred the UAs, scattering them throughout the region via some insidious, unknown mechanism. Despite three decades of extensive research on the barnacles themselves by some of the finest scientific minds in the Federation and the Empire, the only thing that had been universally agreed was that they were certainly alien in origin and that they produced a unique form of matter, dubbed 'meta-alloys', which had extraordinary properties that transcended our understanding of organic and metallic elements, taking on the characteristics of either, or a combination of both, depending upon how electric, magnetic and gravitational fields were applied to the substance. Due to their alien origin, their supply being limited due to the Federal Navy restricting access to known barnacle sites close to the bubble and a stubborn resistance to being synthesized, Meta-alloys were among the most valuable commodities in the galaxy, fetching prices of up to 250,000 credits per tonne.
"What do you say, Petr? Do you fancy going meta-alloy mining?" Mya asked, turning and rolling Andromeda onto an intercept course for the third rock from the M-class star.
"Is it dangerous?" I responded, having learnt the value of being cautious from my explorer's apprenticeship with Mya.
"Three decades of anecdotal evidence would say no." Mya elaborated. "I've read a few accounts of barnacles responding aggressively to mining attempts, but equally I've heard of barnacle sites that have already been practically crawling with meta-alloys ready for harvesting. We'll have to see what we get. I've visited the barnacle site on Meriope 5C, and that one was totally benign. It almost couldn't give away its meta-alloys quickly enough."
I isolated the location of the life signs as Mya brought the ship into orbit five hundred kilometres above the planet. The signal was emanating from a rift valley less than a thousand metres wide, but more than six thousand kilometres long halfway from the equator to the southern pole. Squat but immensely broad shield volcanoes perforated the rocky skin of the planet, advertising vigorous tectonic activity. I wondered if the presence of hot, energetic rocks from the mantle so near the surface had any correlation to the growth of the so-called 'barnacles' and whether the outgassing of sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide and gaseous silicate compounds from the fissures within the rift valley acted as some kind of fertilizer or food for the mysterious alien creatures.
"Petr, what's the strength of the local gravity field on this planet?" Mya's question brought me back to the present. My theoretical musing would have to wait.
"Let me check." I temporised as I ran the query through the local star chart that had been updated by our discovery and detailed surface scans. "3.2g. Ouch."
"Shit. That's going to make for a fun landing. We better suit up for this one. VENUS, activate the shield generator. Maximum recharge." Mya instructed the AI and we both left our seats to dress in our pressurised flight suits.
"Are you really sure you want to take the ship down into a gravity well that strong?" I asked Mya as we assisted each other into our suits, sitting next to each other on the edge of the bed in her stateroom.
"Why else would I have bothered wasting hull mass to bring the shield generator? It's my contingency against bouncy landings. Don't worry. I've landed Andromeda on bigger planets than this." Mya reassured me with a kiss on the cheek. "Besides, I'll be careful. I wouldn't want anything to happen to my precious kitten, would I?"
"You're sure it's worth the risk? This is an alien life form we're talking about."
"An alien life form with three decades of well-documented behaviour." Mya said as she diligently checked the seals on my gloves and torso. "It's good that you're weighing up the cost-benefit ratio of individual situations, Petr. But you can't eliminate all risk without eliminating all reward as well."
"How do you find the balance then?"
"If it doesn't kill you, it must be okay." Mya snickered before continuing on more soberly. "It's a judgment call, Petr. One of those things you have to work out for yourself based on your experience. I'm fairly risk averse, as you know. I want to live to a ripe old age where 0.2g will make my tits sag below my waist."
"I can't see that ever happening." I replied, using my own check of her suit seals as an excuse to double-check the firmness and shape of her breasts. It took a herculean effort on both of our parts to avoid our playful caresses from turning into something rather more primal and profound. "I'd want to be there to provide independent verification if it ever did, though."
Mya laughed, snagging my wrists in her hands. "I bet you would. But there's an important point here, Petr. Temper your decisions with logic, yes. But never let caution override your willingness to seize opportunity. Some events in the universe aren't enduring enough to be kept waiting for three months."
"In other words, when opportunity knocks, answer the damn door." I replied, chastised by her reference to the slow start to our relationship. I did appreciate the irony that Mya was now keeping me waiting before declaring if she felt ready for a deeper level of commitment in our partnership. After Mya had spent so much time and energy initiating our physical bond, I was sure that she would eventually reciprocate the depth of attachment and love I had for her. Every evening and morning I was eternally glad that Mya's patience had exceeded my initial reticence. I could not and did not want to even begin contemplating what a future without her in my life would be like. I smiled internally when I reflected that she had only kept me waiting a little over a month so far. Now that I felt committed to her, I was willing to wait as long as it took.
"Exactly, Petr. Once you learn the difference between a good risk and a bad risk, those decisions about whether you should answer the door become a whole lot easier." Mya's broad smile lit up her smooth features.
"And this is a good risk?"
"One worth taking, yes." Mya nodded, clipping her long bronze hair up into submission behind her ears so that she would be able to put on her RemLok helmet if needed. "If you can fill the cargo racks of both our SRVs with meta-alloys, that's nearly two million credits in pure profit. Even if you have to mine them from the barnacle, it should take less than an hour. You'll struggle to earn a quicker million credits until you're flying around in a Type 9."
"Okay then, Commander. Let's go make some money." I smiled back at her.
Mya and I returned to our stations on the split-level flight deck, resuming our seats and allowing the symbiotic maglock between our flight suits and acceleration chairs restrain us into place without the need for the decidedly low-tech and cumbersome strapping we normally relied upon while wearing casual clothes on the bridge.
"Alright, Petr. I'm taking her down. Keep three pips in Systems and Engines until I say otherwise."
"Aye, aye, Commander." I responded, setting the requested configuration on the power distributor and monitoring the ship's altitude, velocity and capacitor reserves as Mya initiated her approach to the barnacle site, dropping vertically towards the surface at over 100m/s and shedding the vessel's forward velocity with a sequence of S-shaped turns, circling the landing zone as Mya began to shed the velocity of the ship to give us a good overview of the valley containing the barnacle. It was easy to see why the alien life forms had acquired their common name. The central structure comprised of six rugged and ridged growths, twisted together in a cone, like fingers gripped around a concealed central polyp. Spiked organic structures surrounded the tall umber and white carapace, jutting out from the dusty regolith in their over an area of well over a square kilometre around the central structure, stretching the entire breadth from one side of the rift valley to the other. Luminous green buds grew along the thin spikes, with the larger, more mature ones opening like flowers to reveal the glowing egg-shaped meta-alloy pods within. From my vantage point on the lower deck of the Asp's cockpit, I could see that three meta-alloy pods had fallen from some of the spikes to the valley floor below.
As Mya reduced the altitude of the ship, I could feel the tug of the planet's gravity become steadily more emphatic. By the time Mya was approaching the landing zone she had identified two kilometres from the barnacle site, I was finding it difficult to breathe and lift my head. Over the last four months we hadn't landed on a single planet with a gravitational field larger than Earth-standard. Typically, we had spent the night resting on planets with surface gravities of less than half that. The rocky planet's outsized iron core gave it a gravitational pull of 3.2g, roughly eight times greater than what Mya and I had become accustomed to on the journey so far. The sensation of being crushed by your own weight was not a pleasant one. We certainly wouldn't be putting down here for the night. I dialled up the strength of the servomotors on my flight suit to maximum so that I could move my limbs more easily, but every action still required an exponentially larger effort than normal. The same was true for the ship. Every ventral thruster flared continuously as Mya and the autopilot tried to prevent the Asp's considerable weight from dashing us into the rocky surface below. I could almost visibly see the fuel level in the thruster reservoir drop as Mya manoeuvred Andromeda delicately towards the ground.
"Altitude, 100 metres. Four pips to Systems, Petr." Mya said, struggling to keep the Asp straight and level as she re-oriented the nose to face towards the barnacle site.
"Four pips to shields." I acknowledged, making the adjustment to the power distributor. "Landing gear deployed."
"Altitude, 30 metres. Brace yourself. This might be a little bumpy." Mya warned. There was a horrifying, resonant echo that rolled around the hull as the shock absorbers on the Asp's landing struts absorbed the energy of the impact as the ship settled down onto the surface. Our shields had taken the brunt of the damage, dropping to just 37% of their full strength. Mya quickly disengaged the thrusters and I put them into standby mode so that they wouldn't burn any of our precious fuel, yet still be able to be brought back online in seconds if need be. "And that's why I always pack a shield generator."
"That wasn't so bad." I said, redirecting power from the frame shift drive to the SRV hangar using the module overview screen on my right hand information panel. "I'll go warm up the SRVs."
"Okay, Petr. This shouldn't take long. I can see a few meta-alloy pods on the ground already." Mya said as I headed aft to the vehicle hangar. VENUS powered up the first SRV, opening the bubble canopy to allow me to climb inside. "I'm going to keep an eye on the sensors, just in case we get company dropping by."
"I'll be as quick as I can." I assured her, checking that the Surface Recon Vehicle's systems were all at 100% before signalling VENUS to deploy the rover. The automated lift system lowered the Lyttini out of the Asp's main cargo hatch delicately, waiting for the SRV's onboard computer to confirm that it had finished extending the vehicle's six fully articulated legs before lowering the SRV the final couple of metres to the ground. "I'll grab the pods that have already fallen first."
Mya had landed Andromeda a shade over 1800 metres from the southern edge of the barnacle field. I used the SRV's targeting computer to log the location of the three meta-alloy pods that were ready to be scooped into the Lyttini's cargo rack, designating each one with an identifier and interception vector that would allow me to take them as quickly as possible. Then I would have to identify several of the subsidiary organic structures surrounding the main body of the barnacle itself to the pods that I would have to 'harvest' by using the Lyttini's twin pulse cannon turret to convince the barnacle to shed its ripest meta-alloy pods. The SRV was sluggish and unresponsive to throttle and steering commands due to the intense gravitational field, so I took the first half a kilometre slowly to get a feel for the lag time between control inputs and when they actually occurred. Even though the rift valley was eight hundred metres wide, the almost vertical, three hundred metre high walls still gave me a sense of claustrophobia as I inched closer to the barnacle. I would have felt much more comfortable if I had more room to work with on either side of the barnacle site. Instead, it formed a barrier across the width of the valley floor, the field of organic spikes stretching for more than a kilometre in length. I kept any sense of trepidation to myself, turning the Lyttini to take the most direct route to the nearest of the fallen meta-alloy nodules. I had set the SRV's power distributor to prioritise the vehicle's internal systems, including the scanner and shield generator, over the turret and drive systems, prioritising precision and protection over speed. As I entered the spike field, I began to appreciate the scale of the alien life form. Each organic structure was easily double the height of my SRV, with some of the taller spikes reaching as tall as twenty-five metres. The spikes had the same bio-mechanical look to them as the Unknown Artefact we had found aboard Commander Cook's ill-fated Constrictor a month ago. My subconscious registered a similar primeval shrieking emanating from the spikes, though I wasn't sure if that was simply my imagination playing tricks on me. The central barnacle itself was placid and unmoving as I passed within fifty metres of it, lowering the SRV's cargo scoop to retrieve the first of the fallen meta-alloy pods. The cargo transfer system whirred obediently as it shunted the pod from the cargo hatch to the topmost slot on the cargo rack within the rover's cuboid chassis.
"Well done, Petr." Mya told me in reassuring tones over the intercom. "Three more to go, and then you can swap SRVs."
"On my way to number two. Range, 329 metres, bearing 024o." I reported back, relieved that I had managed to recover the first pod without incident.
"Creepy as fuck, aren't they?" Mya said over the intercom as I drove by another spike, which was seemingly emitting a banshee wail that made the cabin of my SRV vibrate.
"Yeah. No wonder you wanted to stay on the ship." I replied, covering up my nervousness with sarcasm.
"Don't worry, kitten. I'll be there to rock you back to sleep if you have nightmares tonight." Mya sniggered.
"Oh, that's comforting." I replied with an amused snort, carefully lining up the Lyttini with the second meta-alloy pod. I lowered the cargo scoop and eased back on the throttle, hearing the gratifying clunk as the alien nodule was processed into the SRV's cargo rack. "Two down. Vectoring for number three."
"Good job. We'll be done in no time if you keep going like this."
"That's the plan." I smiled to myself, buoyed by Mya's praise. I glanced around the spike field, still wary that things were going just that little bit too easily. A hint of movement from the main barnacle structure attracted my eye, but as soon as I focussed on the ridged dark brown carapace, the motion had ceased. "Mya, did you see that?"
"I swear the shell on the barnacle just moved."
"Don't go paranoid on me now, Petr. I didn't see anything." Mya replied, her voice perfectly calm.
"I didn't imagine it, Mya. I really don't like this. Next time you ask whether I want to go barnacle mining, remind me to tell you to pike off." I told her, perfectly seriously.
Mya laughed and I heard her slap the armrest of her flight chair in amusement. "Oh, sweetie. You're not scared of a little space mollusc, are you?"
"Damn right I am." I replied as I slowed the SRV to capture the third of the mature meta-alloy nodules. "And they're not so little. Not from where I'm sitting."
"Mommy's here to protect you, darling." Mya replied mockingly, her tone conjuring the image of a parent indulgently patting the head of a scared toddler. There was a tiny pause before she carried on more circumspectly. "Don't worry, Petr. I'm watching out for you. I'm not detecting anything unusual from the barnacle. Just keep going."
The cargo loading mechanism whirred again as I steered the SRV slowly over the third and final pod of meta-alloys. With three out of the four cargo slots in the rover's rack now full and the supply of fallen pods exhausted, I adjusted the settings on the vehicle's power distributor to feed energy to the weapons turret and long range sensors. I began the laborious process of scanning each of the barnacle's organic spike towers, trying to identify meta-alloy polyps that were ready for harvesting. I had just finished my sixth scan when more movement attracted my attention in the corners of my peripheral vision. By the time I finished turning my head, I just had time to see a meta-alloy pod bounce feebly in opposition to the planet's massive gravity as it fell from a spike tower four hundred metres short of the northern edge of the barnacle field.
"That's handy." I mused, not realising that my intercom channel was still turned on.
"What's handy?" Mya asked.
"One of the towers just dropped a meta-alloy pod." I explained. "I'm marking it on the targeting computer now. Nice timing. It'll save me having to take pot shots at one of the tower spikes."
"That's nearly 3.5 kilometres away from the ship." Mya said, instantly suspicious. "Keep your eyes open, Petr."
"200 metres to target. I'll be on my way back in fifteen seconds." I replied, glad that I hadn't needed to resort to using the rover's plasma turret on one of the spikes. I was a lousy shot. "Deploying cargo scoop."
"Acknowledged, Petr." Mya said. Her voice was calm, but I could hear over the intercom that she was going through pre-flight checks as a precaution.
Doubt flashed through my mind for the few seconds before I concentrated on steering the Lyttini over the meta-alloy polyp that had been conveniently released by the nearby organic spike. I smiled internally as I retracted the cargo scoop and the onboard computer showed that the SRV's cargo rack was full with meta-alloys. My sense of triumph and satisfaction was short-lived, as before I could even start turning the rover to head back towards Andromeda, the Lyttini was rocked by an unexpected blow. A sonic alarm indicated that the SRV's shields were about to fail and I opened the rover's throttle up to maximum, aiming the cockpit north at the nearest boundary to the barnacle's spike field.
"Mya, what the fuck was that?" I shouted down the intercom.
"A plasma blast from the main barnacle cluster." Mya replied, activating her ship's thrusters as quickly as she could. "As soon as you picked up that last pod, the barnacle's power emissions went off the scale."
"It was a trap." I said, almost casually, concentrating on weaving the SRV on an evasive path to the nearest edge of the spike field.
"Looks that way." Mya said apologetically. "Petr, keep heading north. I'm coming to get you."
"Negative, Commander. Wait until I've cleared the weapons range of the barnacle and then take the long way around." I advised, swearing as a second plasma blow from the barnacle tore down the SRV's shield envelope. "Fuck! Shields are down. 200 metres until I clear the spike perimeter."
"Keep going, Petr. I'll meet you there." Mya said as the Asp Explorer's thrusters whined, fighting the planet's immense gravitational field valiantly.
I opened up the SRV's throttle to maximum, steering a path away from the forest of barnacle spikes blocking the path between my vehicle and the broad expanse of the rift valley floor beyond. There was a loud, dull clunk and the rover sagged at the rear right corner, the actuator on the articulated wheel arm disabled by a projectile hurled from one of the spike towers behind us. I struggled to maintain the SRV's course, compensating for the lack of drive from one of the vehicle's eight wheels. There were more thuds as all the spike towers within four hundred metres began to attack the rover.
"Oh, shit." was all I managed to say before the canopy of the SRV shattered under the barrage of sharp, spear-like projectiles launched from the barnacle spike towers. "Canopy compromised. I've got 30 minutes of air."
"Petr, listen very carefully. I'm on my way. Do what I say, when I say it. We're only going to get one shot at this." Mya said. I could hear the determination in her voice. "Keep going for the northern edge of the spike field. You've got to get as much distance between the SRV and the central barnacle as you can."
"Yes, ma'am." I replied, trying to keep my head down as the barnacle spikes kept pelting my vessel with chitinous spears. Another wheel arm sagged as its main suspension actuator was destroyed, this time the central port wheel arm, which helped correct some of the imbalance in the SRV's steering. I opened up the Lyttini's throttle to maximum again, trying to make a break for the open space of the rift valley beyond. The high-g hobbled the rover's acceleration. It seemed to take a geological epoch before the vehicle approached even half of its top speed. I aimed the Lyttini midway between the gap separating the final two pillars that marked the perimeter of the spike tower field, gunning the rover's engine for every joule of energy it could release. I screamed in agony as three more spear-like projectiles crashed through the cracked canopy, pinning me to my seat. One of the chitin darts had smashed through my right shin and calf, while the second had struck me midway between my hip and my ribs on my left side, tearing a large hole in my oblique muscle, but thankfully missing my internal organs. The final dart had dislocated my right clavicle and scraped the top of my shoulder blade, disabling my right arm, which hung limply at my side. White hot pain broke over my body like the waves from a high tide, overwhelming my senses. Unable to see properly, and with my steering arm dangling uselessly, I kept the SRV's throttle fully open, hoping that the path before the rover was still clear. I was losing blood and consciousness rapidly, and I barely heard Mya's distraught voice over the radio.
"Petr! Stop the SRV!" she cried. I obeyed instantly, despite the distraction of the barely endurable pain from my wounds. "I'm almost there, Petr. Fire the SRV's jump jets when I tell you... Three, two, one... now, Petr!"
I depressed the button under my left thumb, boosting the SRV vertically into the air. I barely had the chance to register the shadow cast by Andromeda on the dusty valley floor as the Asp Explorer swept overhead in an exquisitely timed manoeuvre, the automated lift mechanism for the SRV hangar catching the rover at the apex of the vehicle's ballistic leap. As Mya applied a full burn from the Asp's main thrusters to take us up into orbit and out of range of the irate barnacle's organic weapons, I did the only reasonable thing I could under the circumstances and passed out.
I found myself in the bed of my stateroom on Andromeda when I eventually came to, fourteen hours later. My punctured and bloodstained flight suit was hung over the back of the room's acceleration chair and Mya sat expectantly on the side of the bed, looking down at me affectionately, as I gradually regained consciousness and command of my senses. Mya caressed my cheek and the back of my neck, looking relieved.
"Hey, kitten. How are you feeling?"
"Like I've had an argument with a Thargoid hive and lost." I conceded. I couldn't move either my right arm or right leg: the former being in a sling and the latter being in a cast. My left side also ached like it had been injected with a litre of concentrated hydrochloric acid. At least the oppressive gravity of the barnacle's world was gone. Mya had obviously found a more lightweight planet or moon to land on to aid my recovery.
"The good news is you're still alive, and you retrieved four tonnes of meta-alloys." Mya said, bending down to kiss me. "The SRV's practically a write-off, but that's not important."
"Do you have any idea why the barnacle turned on us?"
"Not a one." Mya replied, shaking her head. "It baited you into getting isolated from the ship, that much is clear. As for why? No clue. I'm just glad we managed to get out alive."
"And mostly intact." I added, coughing slightly. My lungs, along with just about every fibre and sinew in my body ached.
"You'll be alright. No permanent damage." Mya consoled me with a gentle kiss on the forehead. "I'll take good care of you."
"You took a big chance coming to get me, Mya. The barnacle could have shot down the ship."
"That's true, but I wasn't going to leave you behind."
"You could have been killed trying to rescue me."
"Also true. But remember what I said about risk versus reward."
"No, you imbecile." Mya rolled her eyes before kissing me long and hard on the lips. "You were the reward, Petr."