Vitya watched the speckled panorama, crowded tubes intersecting the domes of the habitats. Each blurred pixel a man, woman or child. Any one of them like him, once an ovum delivered to seed the manufactories of a new world. The spectrum of colours became coarse blocks as the ship rotated in high-orbit. Only the yellow dappled surface of the moon in view.
I am alive. Soles of my feet are wet with fresh dew. The sun beams a pale yellow over the horizon. The dull light bathes my outstretched hands. My hands creased with callouses; the tips white with a new skin, old blisters fade into tanned lines.
The ebony box was a perfect cube, a hand’s width on the sides and unadorned except for a gold lock fastener on one edge. Shiriin knew better than to try to open it. Even if she had the key.
The whirling motor-blades of the craft kicked up a thick fog of crimson dust. The rear wheels settled on the mud cratered surface. The gravity was thick like soup. The front-wheel thudded. Pulling at their safety harnesses, the shaken occupants got up. The marines were already drained by pulling hard Gs in the descent. Their faces masked their relief as they checked their gear. They loaded their packs and rifles. The youngest grunt got out first. Heaving and spewing a stomach load until he settled. More experienced troopers lurched out after him. The vets nostalgic watching the recruit chunder. They taunted him and jabbed their fists on his helmet in good cheer as they passed.
He reached into his pocket and retrieved a small ball. The pale, flesh-tone leather was scratched and sooty. With his thumb, he fastened it in his palm. Shifting and twisting, he freed his shoulders from the tweed jacket and wriggled, letting the patched-up garment drop into the muddy bank.