Snakes and Pills

189 - denim

Red lights blinked in Lauren's visor. She didn't see them, at least not directly. But they were bright enough to be noticed even through her eyelids. The lights caused the first use of her senses in a long time, and her brain was slow to process the stimuli being sent to it.

She finally opened her eyes and felt them focusing for the first time in a long time, too. This sensation of awakening from an incredible slumber would keep happening for a while, she realized. She heard a rumble, and felt it, too.

Lauren's visor displayed the words "ENTRY INTERFACE" across its display. She remembered her mission, and felt some happiness. As her brain backtracked and understood better, she felt even more excited. The accomplishment of being awakened by her pod alone was something many Searchers would never experience.

The risk of eternal slumber was something she had accepted. The chance of her little ship stumbling upon a viable location was infinitesimal, even assuming no other problem presented itself. A faulty stasis regulator, an errant burst of cosmic radiation, or a pocket of dark matter was all it took to doom a Searcher.

Her craft's shaking grew in strength. The computer had detected something worth investigating, and started the descent. It had chosen to wake her up only a few minutes in advance of landing, but as the atmosphere began to inflict its worst upon the pod, she wished that the machine had let her sleep a few minutes more.

Lauren served no purpose in the process, anyhow. Everything at this point was automated, safely out of the control of the erratic piece of meat the pod contained. If the systems failed or miscalculated, she would be forced to sit back and enjoy her demise.

Thoughts of demise diminished greatly when the violent shaking gave way to an eerie calm. Lauren had no idea how long the fall would last, but the feeling of emptiness in her gut made it feel like forever. Her visor cautioned her, "APPROACH / TOUCHDOWN" momentarily, right before she felt the retrorockets kick in.

Her empty gut suddenly filled with lead, and there was scarcely a moment for her to worry about what might happen next. Everything stopped. The pod settled around her, stationary at last. "CONTACT," read her visor.

She exhaled.

The pod ran further automated checks, determining if the area was safe for its mortal cargo. If the results were positive, the enclosure would open on its own. Lauren always knew that she would avail herself of the manual override lever if the computer didn't give the all-clear.

The mechanism to open the hatch started to move, though, indicating that the landing site appeared to be safe. Light flooded into the pod's interior, and the harnesses around Lauren automatically released themselves. The process took less than a minute, freeing her from the pod that might well have been her coffin.

She took her first careful steps on legs that had not supported a body's weight in a long time. The excitement of the situation did not help her shakiness. Yet she did not move slowly for long.

Her boots clanked down the little ramp and stepped onto the surface of this place. Surface. Ground. Real ground. "Beautiful," she whispered to herself. Not as lush or scenic as a simulation in the Sphere, but this was tangible.

When her visor indicated that the atmosphere was safe, she immediately pressed down the button to open up the glass covering her head. The air of this new world permeated every pore on the skin of her face. She took a lungful in.

Wind. Real, glorious wind, swept through her hair. Soon, she would relay the signal back to the colonies. For now, though, tears would suffice.


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