Goldie cautiously opened the outer door of the airlock.  She was well rested and well prepared.  Grudgingly, she admitted that the bot had been right.  Going out exploring in the state she was in last night would have been dumb.

Her space suit puffed around her as the outside atmosphere touched it.  She glanced at the readouts again.  Lots of methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen, at a balmy 130 degrees Celsius.  Lovely.  She wasn’t holding out much hope of finding anything interesting here.  Still, she had to at least look around.  Not only was it her job, it was also a lot of fun.

A few steps out onto the planet surface and she was reassessing her surroundings.  That pile of rocks over to the left looked suspiciously regular, and there, over to the right, was that a building?  She would definitely have to have a closer look at that.  She grinned under her helmet and set off for the distant structure.

As she walked she examined the surroundings.  Rocks were the main feature – red, brown, and blue the dominant colours.  She stopped by a particularly interesting one and scraped a sample into a container to examine later.  There was no vegetation, and there seemed to be no animal life either.  It was as if the entire area was abandoned.

That was what it felt like – abandoned, not dead.  Like the owners had simply upped and gone somewhere else.  It was odd, considering that there was no life.  Why shouldn’t it feel dead?  Perhaps there was life here, and she just hadn’t seen it yet.

Cautiously, she approached the structure.  Up close, she was even more convinced that it wasn’t natural.  It was made of rock, but the edges were smooth, vertical, and far taller than the rocks surrounding it.  She circled around to the left, examining it carefully as she went.  She had gone almost all of the way around when she found the opening.  There was no door, just a hole in the wall, so she stepped inside.  And then stopped, her mouth dropping open.  It was beautiful in here.  The walls glistened with reflected light, in as many colours as Goldie could imagine.  She touched the nearest one.  A slight vibration caused her to jerk her hand back slightly.  When nothing happened, she replaced her hand.  The walls were humming.  Wondering, she turned on the external microphones on her spacesuit, and listened.  The glorious sound filled her ears.

Goldie stood, entranced, and simply listened.  Eventually the humming grew dim and she became aware of her surroundings again.  The fading light was the first thing to register on her consciousness.  She glanced at her chrono.  Three hours!  She had been standing listening to the walls for three hours!  No wonder she was stiff.  She shook herself, irritated that she had wasted so much time, and glanced at her suit’s readouts.

 

What?

She should have had two hours of air left in this suit, even taking into account her… little moment of inattention.  The readout was showing 20 minutes.  Even as she watched, it dropped to 19.

It had taken 30 minutes to get out to the building she was in.

Cursing, she set off for her distant spaceship.  She glanced at her readouts again.  17.  She must be leaking air, there was no way it had been two minutes already.

She picked up the pace.  Soon she was jogging, trying to breathe steadily.  She vowed to do more exercise in the future.

12.

She wasn’t going to make it.  The rocks that she’d been so interested in on the way out passed her by.  All she could think about was getting to the ship.

6.

She was, perhaps, half way back to the ship.

The bot!  Why didn’t she think of that sooner?

“E-560, bring spacesuit-compatible emergency air canister to my location.”

She continued to run as her mind quickly did the calculations.  A minute to grab the canister and get to the airlock.  One minute thirty for the airlock cycle.  Damn it, what was the E-560’s top speed?  It was going to be tight.

3.

The bot was visible now, trundling towards her.  To her anxious brain it seemed to be in no hurry at all.  She put on a burst of speed.  The bot was closer to her than the ship, now.

1.

She skidded to a halt beside the bot and ripped the air canister from its grip.  The last of her air sputtered and leaked out into the alien atmosphere.  Without the pressure from inside, the leaks in her suit began to seep in the other direction.  A whiff of something unpleasant tickled her nose.   She held her breath.

Fumbling at the tubes, she eventually managed to connect the emergency air supply to her suit.  Immediately, the pressure stabilised.

Goldie cautiously took a breath.  There was a trace of the unpleasant smell lingering in her suit, but she could breathe.  She just hoped there was nothing toxic in the atmosphere.

Steadying her racing heart, she set out at a slightly more sedate pace.  The emergency air supply was four hours; even if she was still leaking she should make it in plenty of time.  The bot trundled by her side.

She puzzled as she walked.  Why was she losing air?  She’d checked the suit thoroughly yesterday and not found any leaks.  Was she attacked while she was listening to the walls?  Was there something in the atmosphere that was corroding her suit?  She shuddered, imagining what something like that would do to her body.

Must check the atmospherics better next time.  I’ve got complacent.

It was with a sense of relief that she allowed the airlock to swish shut behind her.  As the pumps worked, she checked her air supply.  Three hours remaining.  She’d used an hour’s air on the ten minute walk.  Unbelievable.

The inner door cycled open, and she stepped inside.  She pulled off her gloves and helmet, and her fingers brushed the outer edge.  She jerked her hand back, hissing.

“Bot, analyse helmet.  Identify unusual features.”

While the bot whirred happily, she quickly stripped off the rest of her suit, being careful not to touch the outside.  Her fingers were starting to go red.  She strode to the bathroom and washed her hands thoroughly, then fished out the first aid kit and hunted for a piece of  SkinCare the right size.  Slapping it on the red patch, she breathed a little easier as the pain faded.

The bot beeped, so she returned to the main cabin and asked for the report.

“Helmet temperature reads at 230 degrees celsius.  Foreign contaminants detected: unidentifiable compound, sulphuric acid…”

Goldie whistled.  That temperature was right on the top end of the limits of the suit.  She was surprised she hadn’t noticed the increase in temperature, although she supposed she had been a little distracted for a while there.

The unidentifiable compound worried her, but it was the sulphuric acid that she thought would have caused her problem.  The suit itself could cope with sulphuric at any temperature, according to the manufacturers.  The joints at knee and elbow, however, were more vulnerable.  The combination of acid and high temperatures would have begun eating away at the material as soon as she stepped outside.  Who knows what effect that unidentifiable would have had.

She shivered.

“Bot, place that suit in storage crate in cargo hold and get a new one ready for use.”

She made her way over to the control boards and set course for the next planet in the system.  This one was simply too hot.

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