Singer slapped at the back of her neck and shifted to a more comfortable position while she waited for the rest of her group to catch up. She’d been to just about every terraformed planet in the system, and no matter what color the sky, plants, or critters happened to be, they all had one thing in common: bugs.
If scientists could figure out how to turn a dead rock into a habitable planet, why couldn’t they do it without the bugs? She let her mind wander while her eyes tracked back and forth across the red horizon. Every few minutes she slapped reflexively at whatever bug had stopped by for a snack.
“Singer! Damn it Singer, where the hell are you?” The roar of their expedition leader bounced around the trees.
“Ten meters ahead, Freberg!” she yelled back, rolling her eyes. Scouts scouted ahead, that was the definition of the job, but Freberg got nervous if he lost sight of her for more than a second or two.
She heard the group before she saw them. They moved slowly around the massive trunks of trees that were an odd cross of pine and oak. The leaves that covered the floor of the forest looked like they should rustle just like the ones back on Earth, but the oddly sibilant noise they made as the group passed over them added to the hostile feel of the place.
“Singer! I’m tired of tellin’ you to stay with the group!”
She wondered, briefly, if the color of his face was an effect of the red sky and foliage all around them. She glanced at the drawn faces of the other four expedition members and opted against deliberately aggravating their EL.
“Freberg,” she began calmly, “I have to move ahead of the group…I’m the scout.” She dropped what was meant to be a calming hand to the thin man’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, I won’t lose you.”
He jerked away from her hand and took a step back. “Look, how far are we from the colony?”
“Not far, maybe one more hour if we move at a good pace.” Her gray eyes swept over the horizon again.
“Fine. Can we just stay together? At least until we know the situation at the colony.” The hand that pulled a cloth over his sweating face was shaking slightly.
“Yeah, no problem.” She narrowed her eyes and took a closer look at him. “You might want to take a pain block. You let the headache get ahead of you and we’ll be carrying you back to the transport.”
Freberg rubbed the back of his neck and nodded. They all had headaches—the shades of red covering the planet had that effect. The colonists had goggles that provided some protection, but their expedition hadn’t been issued any.
Forty-five minutes later they passed the outbuildings of the colony and what little chatting there was fell silent.
The buildings were intact; there were no signs of a hostile attack either by a rival faction of colonists or anything else. It was clear that the forest was beginning to reclaim the area cleared by the colonists, but everything else remained pristine.
When the silence became oppressive, Singer spoke. “Let’s spread out in pairs and check the buildings. Make sure you look in the cellars…and for God’s sake announce yourselves loud and clear.”
A reedy voice piped up from the back of their group, “I thought the colonists were pacifists…unarmed?”
Singer swung around and fixed her cool eyes on the skinny sci-geek, “A rake to the head will knock points off your IQ, which is exactly what’ll happen if you scare the crap out of one of these clod thumpers.”
The group split up, leaving her with Freberg.
“So Freberg, what did you say the name of this colony is?” she asked, and grinned when fumbled a data disk out of his pocket.
“Hmmm…that’s interesting,” he frowned at the display.
“What is?” She looked back to where he’d stopped walking.
“They named the colony Roanoke.”
She let the name sink in for a moment before she spoke again. “Freberg, I don’t think we’re gonna find these colonists. I don’t think anybody is.”
This post is the beginning of what I’m calling “Lucky Sevens.” The idea is that I’m going to try to write a short story every day that is exactly 700 words. I’m hoping that this will help me take my writing more seriously, and maybe jump-start my brain on a novel idea…which I’m very short on at the moment! If you’d like to join in, just leave a link to your Lucky Seven in my comments and I’ll be happy to pop over and read it!