Viewed from space, Redstone III is a glowing red orb. Clouds do move across the surface, but they are of thick, black ash. The descent through the atmosphere starts out turbulent and grows worse from there. “Strap in!” shouts the pilot. “We’ve got a soot storm!”
The ship lurches violently, and Imogen gets tossed away from her seat before she can grab the seatbelt. Smacking into a bulkhead, she hears the co-pilot call out, “Losing power to shields!” Lilly’s experience is quite similar.
As the ship breaks through the cloud cover, they see the ground below through its windows. Off in the distance, well beyond the flat surface they are rapidly approaching, stands a large structure. “That might be what we’re looking for,” Imogen says dazedly to Lilly.
Lights flicker as the ship shudders through a rough landing, coming to a halt on a mesa several miles west of the coordinates Li June provided. The remains of the cerebrate are on a mesa farther east, but between it and the Smashing Star is a low lying area broken up by lava flows.
The pilot calls back, “Everyone okay?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Lilly replies, steadying herself.
“Sorry about that. That soot came up out of nowhere.”
The co-pilot is already heading back to pull out equipment, muttering about how they are going to have to spend significant time doing repairs, which is going to cut into the time available for collecting minerals. A few of the science team will have to remain at the ship to help out. Without training in starship maintenance, there is little Lilly and Imogen can contribute, but the pilot requests that they keep an eye out for salvageable mining equipment that could be repurposed. They agree to call in anything of use that they come across.
As Lilly and Imogen step off the ship, they see that everyone around them has a sealed helmet. They pull on the filter masks that they bought at the Bunker. Even with them on, the planet smells disgusting. The surface is mostly barren rock with occasional lichen, and it is hot. Lilly has to adjust her mask a bit to get the seal to fit right. Sinclair made it seem just fine back in the store, but Lilly is having her doubts about how long the mask will hold up in this actually harsh environment. But, whatever, Lilly thinks, I can tough it out.
They proceed down the gently sloping side of the mesa, traveling with Durian and the science team for as long as they share a common path. Some of the people with more mechanical backgrounds stay with the ship, as do two marines. They have to protect the ship; if something happens to it, everyone is screwed. The rest of the survey team, though, begin hiking across the dry, unstable land. An hour or so in, one of the geologists pulls out a sensor. “Hang on… seismic readings. We’ve got to move!” he shouts. Everyone scrambles for higher ground as lava begins seeping through the cracks around them.
Lilly gets cut off from the main group and quickly finds herself with lava on all sides. Imogen tries to swing climbing gear over to help, but she is not coordinated enough. There is not enough space to even back up, so Lilly just makes a jump on her own. As she lands on the upslope, she can feel the heat of the lava through the soles of her boots. Durian’s hand clamps down on her pinwheeling arm, and he tugs her forward onto entirely stable ground.
“First time on a lava world, huh?” he asks her.
Lilly laughs. “It’s not yours?”
“No, I fought on Char. That place is a hellhole. If you’ve never been there, you’re lucky.”
Lilly glances behind her, where the surface she had been standing on is now gone. “Seems like it.”
Meanwhile, the geologists are looking around, murmuring excitedly about how perfect this spot is and how the current lava activity will rejuvenate the mineral supplies in the area. Some of them are even trying to take samples of the molten rock. Lilly works with Durian to quickly check the perimeter of the team’s current location, making sure they are secure before she and Imogen move on. She does not see any zerg in the immediate vicinity. Lilly reports her observations to Durian and checks if he is all set to watch the survey team: “You good?” He tells her they will be fine, that these conditions are pretty much what he expected.
Lilly steps up next to her teammate, who is gazing out to the east at the wide flows of lava between them and their destination. “I don’t know why they expect to find any abandoned equipment out here, not with all this activity,” Imogen says. “Anything left here has probably melted.”
“Now I’m wishing we had jetpacks,” Lilly comments as she leads the way.