Read the previous parts:  Prologue / Too Hot / Too Cold

And now, Too Hard:

Goldie glanced over at the bot again.  It had recovered surprisingly well from its little adventure with freezing.  The only visible sign of the mishap was a slight limp where the frozen oil had damaged one of the components in its leg.  It had also developed an alarming tendency to stop in the middle of sentences for no apparent reason.  Still, it followed orders well enough.  She would have to get it properly serviced the next time she was in a space port.

At the moment the bot was checking space suits.  She had discovered a small tear in one of the spares during a routine check last night, so she’d set the bot checking all of them more thoroughly.

She returned her attention to the planet below.  She had arrived in orbit only a few minutes ago, and immediately turned on the scanners and viewscreens.  The planet appeared nice enough… in patches.  There were even oceans on this one, and plant life.  She searched for a good place to put the spaceship down.  Not too close to any large areas of plant matter, in case it harboured dangerous animals.  Obviously not on the ocean, so what did that leave?

Ah, right there.  A nice rocky ledge, not too far from a forest, but elevated slightly.  It would give a good view of what was going on under the trees.  Sliding over to the navigation console, she set the course and started to descend towards the planet.

The first thing she noticed when she stepped from the airlock was that the forest… wasn’t.  From the air the area had looked like a tangle of tree-like plants, but from ground level she could see that it was actually a complex rocky structure.  It looked like someone had taken two different types of rock, mixed them together until they resembled raspberry swirl icecream, and then somehow removed one of them without damaging the other.

Goldie had no idea how that could have been achieved, and decided to have a closer look.  She checked her air supply and ordered the bot to follow behind, and then set off for the rock forest.  The going was rough, and soon she was sweating in her space suit.  She wished she could take it off and wipe her face dry, but she wasn’t willing to take the risk of alien bugs, even if the atmosphere had been breatheable.

Once she was off the ledge she had landed on, the journey became easier.  She started to relax a little, and enjoy the walk.  Something moved in the corner of her vision, but when she looked there was nothing there.  Shaking her head, she continued on.

Almost without warning she realised she was entering the rock forest.  She paused to look up and marvel at the immense structure.  It seemed to go on for ever, from down here.  She could just barely see hints of sky peeking through between the branches.

Time to get some samples.  She took out her kit and started to pick at one of the rock “trees”.  It was very hard, harder than she had expected.  She had to upgrade to a diamond pick.  Eventually she managed to get a small chunk to come away from the rest, and scooped it up into her sample pot.  She dug around on the floor a little, but the surface appeared to be the same type of rock, so she didn’t take any more samples.

There was another little flicker at the corner of her vision.  She whipped her head around to look, and just managed to catch a glimpse of something small moving away into the forest.  She followed it, curious.  This was the first sign of life she had seen on any of the planets in this system, and she didn’t want to leave without getting a better look at it.

The creature was elusive.  It kept disappearing behind rocks and appearing some distance away.  Goldie continued to follow.  After a few minutes she realised she couldn’t see the edge of the forest any more.  Shrugging, she continued on.  What was the use in having a homing signal on her ship if she didn’t use it to find her way occasionally?

She glanced back and saw that the bot had fallen behind.  She paused for a moment to wait for it, leaning against a rock tree.  She closed her eyes for a moment and just listened to the sounds around her.

The skittering of the creature.

And… another sound, one more ominous.  A creaking, cracking sound.  Her eyes popped open and she looked around, trying to figure out where it came from.  A particularly loud crack brought her attention up just in time to see the huge rock branch falling towards her.

She dived out of the way.

Her frantic movement sent her crashing into a tree.  The tree vibrated, cracking.  Another branch fell, and then another and another.  Goldie dived from one side to another, desperately avoiding being crushed to death.  It was too much.  The fifth branch to fall caught her leg as she lay splayed out on the floor.

Pain.

Goldie lay very still and prayed desperately that nothing else would fall on her.  Long minutes (hours?) later, the crashing stopped and she opened her eyes.  She was still alive.  Quickly she took stock.  Her leg was painful, crushed beneath some rocks.  She couldn’t tell if it was broken or not.  Her spacesuit seemed to be intact, her air supply still good.  Now all she had to do was get out from under these trees.

She keyed the comm.

“E-560, status report.”

“E-560 in full working order.  Unable to follow previous orders.”

“Why not?”

“Route is blocked.”

“Bot, clear the path to me.  Use any means necesary.”

There was the sound of crashing and the fizzle of weapons discharge.  The bot was using its mining lasers to clear the route.  Goldie lay back to wait.  There wasn’t much else she could do.  The throbbing in her leg was clouding her thoughts.  She considered a pain killer, but anything strong enough to have an effect would cause her more problems than it solved.

The sounds the bot was making were coming closer.  Soon, she could see the gleam of its casing through a gap in the rocks.  It lifted the last rock from the path and came to her side.  It beeped gently to announce its presence.

“Bot, lift the rock from my leg and place it to one side.”

The bot complied.  Goldie gasped as the pain in her leg suddenly shot from throbbing ache to stabbing needles.  After a moment it subsided and she tried to stand.  Her leg was painful but apparently not broken.  That was good.  The problems came when she tried to put weight on it.  Tears came to her eyes.  Shaking her head, she gave up on the idea of walking back to the ship.

“Bot, carry me back to the ship.”

The bot picked her up and began walking back the way they had come.  Goldie was feeling very faint, her throbbing leg matched by the growing ache in her head.  She gave the bot instructions on what to do when they arrived back at the ship, and then allowed herself to fall into darkness.

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