My scans indicated there was a rocky outcropping nearby, and based on what I’d seen of the wildlife so far, I wanted nothing more than to put some solid stone at my back. Climbing would do me no good, and while the ground level was rarely safe either, I’d have to take my chances there. Setting up a shelter would take too much time, though I’d brought collapsible poles and and flex fabric.
I would fear what I couldn’t see. Being inside a shelter wouldn’t make the predators go away, and I’d rather see them coming. I’d make a fire; while extremely humid, this planet still had the proper conditions for thunderstorms. Lightning meant fire. Wild animals would fear it.
I’d make a fire. Between that and a rock wall at my back, hopefully I’d be able to get some sleep. Sleeping in a suit was never comfortable, but I wasn’t reckless enough to take it off either.
I found a rock wall that had a slight vee to the wall that would block some of the wind. I could tuck my body into the angle and be protected. With a fire in front of me, it was the best I could think of. I kicked some larger debris out of the way, getting an area of bare dirt. Pouring a tiny pool of fuel, I used an igniter and set it ablaze. It would burn for hours but I could help it along if I could find some dry tinder.
The last of the dying light gave me just a little time to forage. I came back with a scant armful, but three of the branches were as thick as my forearm. They’d take some time to burn.
Finally done, I settled down on the ground and leaned against the rock. The fire burned orange in front of me. My stomach rumbled.
Rations were adequate, high in nutrition and filling. I’d grabbed a few of my favorites. I pulled out a sweet carb-protein pack and unfolded it. Popping the ignition tab, I set it near the fire. It’d take a bit to warm and reconstitute. I poked another stick on top of the tripod I’d arranged over the pool of fire fuel.
The cliff had trees above it, vines stringing from one to the other. None hung down the rocks to be camouflage for those nasty limbless creatures. Dark shadows bunched across the sky, but I could catch small glimpses of stars between the thick foliage and the approaching clouds.
My dinner packet was puffed and steaming. I snatched it up before it could explode while I was stargazing. The last thing I needed to do was waste food. Pressing a button, I released the helmet shield and waited for it to retracted below my neck and chin.
Scents hit me first. Warm mud, green growing things, a hint of decay, sun-warmed rock, and the syrup-sweetened hint of steam from my dinner. Fire, smoke, and alien scents I couldn’t name from the plants and flowers and probably animals were all around me.
Then the heat. It was like sucking in lungfuls of wet air, like almost perceptible droplets drenched my nasal passages and lined my throat and lungs. Overwhelming at first, it was a stark contrast to the dry, purified air on ships and stations.
I leaned against the rock, staring up at the sky and just breathing. So many things had gone wrong today but here I was. I was the first to catalog this planet, the first to explore its wonders. I grinned and sucked up a mouthful of my ration. The gummy paste tasted almost good enough to overcome its texture, but my sudden elation was too overpowering to focus on trifling complaints.
Settling down to work, interspersing taking notes with sucking up bites from my dinner packet, I took at least an hour to record my observations from the day. I used the firelight to detail the insect I’d recovered, tilting the jar and examining it from every angle.
My dinner packet empty, I folded it and put it in the vacuum pouch to reduce the chance of drawing in any more wildlife. If grubs were a delicacy, the smell of my food would probably be irresistible. Nope, no thank you. I’d made enough stupid mistakes.
Sighing, exhaustion began to steal over me. Closing up my pack, I put the last of the sticks I’d gathered over the fuel. It’d probably last for the thickest of the dark hours. Better safe than sorry, I detached my shock wand from my suit and settled it across my thighs. Finding the flattest rock on the wall I could, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes.
Dawn was not long in coming. With the dual suns, my fuel hadn’t completely burned out before the first rays of the larger star was already breaking the horizon. I blearily opened my eyes, grumbling at the break in the foliage that let the brightness hit me dead on.
My wrist unit showed how little time had passed, so I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep. What I didn’t realize at the time was just how shiny my suit was and how the sun, which had cast a glare bright enough to wake me, also reflected on the metal of my suit.
My mistake was taken advantage of as soon as the fire burned down low enough that the limbs no longer burned, casting off the scent of deadly smoke. Hunger overcome even the remnants of that warning, and teeth clamped down on a limb and my metal suit chimed as it scraped against the rock as I was dragged sideways and away from the wall.
“Wha—” I face planted into the dirt, flailing, as I tried to roll away from the hold on my leg.