The gargantuan ship burst through the cloud cover and descended, the sweet air underneath its bulk shimmering with the force cushion expended by her powerful engines. At 100,000 feet, the retro-rockets activated, spitting spikes of brilliant orange-blue flame towards the ground to slow the behemoth’s descent. Even so, when the craft touched down the earth trembled with the impact. The engines died and a calm settled across the prairie, the knee-high, tan grass waving in the gentle breeze that flowed across the veldt. Many eyes watched the descent — birds, mostly, but also those of a passing herd of gazelle-like herbivores stared momentarily before the animals ran in fear. But other eyes also watched — intelligent, green eyes that were not afraid, but were very interested in what the landing ship might mean.
The ship rested, at last, its hull having sunk several inches into the warm, rich soil from the ship’s tremendous weight. Every system on the Bon Chance was alive. Scanners of every sort examined the world around them, seeking out every minute scrap of information, looking for any details about the air, plant life, animals, radiation, bacteria, soil composition, star-relative positioning, and the nearly endless list of minutiae which such first contact protocols demanded. The crew of the ship, all 130 of them, were alert and awake, each doing his task of preparing the ship for whatever her commander might require. Engines were being recalibrated and kept in readiness in case a sudden departure became essential. Weapons were loaded and distributed to the crew who would be first to step out onto the soil of El Dorado. Even floors were being swept so that no errant scrap of paper might be allowed to impede the work at hand. But no matter how efficient the efforts of the crew were, every pair of hands was connected to a brain that was only partially thinking of the task at hand. The rest of those minds were thinking of the immense find of presarium on which the Bon Chance now rested. Although from the outside, the blocky craft appeared still and lifeless, inside it was a buzzing hive of activity.
Nearly seven hours after touchdown, a soft whirring sound came from the belly of the starship, and a boarding ramp descended from the underside of the craft. Fourteen men on spindly-looking motorcycles cautiously rode down the sloped, textured metal, their eyes trying to look everywhere at once. Each man carried a portable sensing/recording device, various kinds of emergency survival gear, and a sidearm. Half of the men, also had short, stubby rifles slung over their backs. These split into seven squads, each taking another man with him, and the squads whirred off in different directions. From the command center of the Bon Chance, Commander Reese watched their departure on his personal view screen. Even though every measure of security had been taken and every indication that this world was no more dangerous than any still-wild sector of Earth, Reese couldn’t shake the nagging whisper somewhere inside him that said something was very wrong here. “Be careful,” he whispered to the images of his crew as they rode away from the safety of his ship. Then he touched a switch on his console, and the viewscreen changed perspective. Now, instead of the tan and green sea of grass surrounding the ship, it was a black field with a glowing pale dot — the Bon Chance herself — at the center, and seven much smaller pinpoints of light around it, slowly moving away from the center.
As the sun began moving towards the horizon, six of the seven recon squads trekked back to their ship. There they turned in their equipment so the data they’d collected could be analyzed, weapons stored, rations restocked, and clothing sterilized. But when C-squad, composed of Delaney and Mgalo, did not return on time and did not reply to repeated radio hails, a hastily assembled search party was organized. Twenty men, heavily armed and prepared for a hazardous rescue, mounted six-wheeled ATVs and made ready to take off in the direction the lost squad had taken. At the last moment, a radio message crackled through from C-squad — they were coming in, unhurt. Their radio had been rendered FUBAR as they traveled through a canyon whose walls had been hefty in quartz deposits, preventing the signals from carrying. They reported that while they had not found anything related to the presarium they had found something equally interesting. What it was, they wouldn’t say. Then they broke the connection.
Commander Reese’s viewscreen flickered to life, again showing a view from the sky — a black field, a mile in diameter, with a glowing dot at the center. Into the perimeter of that area came a pair of green-white dots, representing C-squad. The commander adjusted the resolution, zooming in on those dots, and was puzzled when one dot resolved into a pair. There were two living things on that bike.