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An Introduction to
The Symbionts of Murkor

There was a brief expulsion of pressurized air as an opening roughly equivalent to Ellis’s size and shape formed, then, sensing her passage, rapidly sealed.

Outside, the blast-furnace heat and foul odor greeted her like a slap in the face; a first, shallow breath almost panicking her. There was no time to waste. Running the three hundred meters over loose and uneven footing would take forty-five, maybe fifty seconds. Doing so would be a huge mistake, dramatically increasing her body’s demand for oxygen. Maintaining control of respiratory and heart rates, the only real chance she had of accomplishing this insanity, would become impossible.

Fighting the unbearable urge to sprint, she began jogging at a slow, steady pace. Already she could feel the effects of breathing in the thin Murkorian air, each hollow breath sending a spasm of pain shooting into her chest. Her legs, too, were beginning to ache, feeling heavy even in the low-g. Traveling beyond the pain, there was an undeniable fascination to being out and about on an alien world. Unencumbered by the clever artifices of humanity, the contact was more intimate, more visceral: The glorious blue webbing of a magnetic storm coursing through a dirt-brown cloud; a crimson sun winking in and out of view as it fought to break through the shimmering haze; the sting of windblown particles on her exposed skin.

In the mid-distance, fumaroles lined up like sentinels, watching her progress. Krezakgrfel! Merfalger! Levishnuplef!

She had not realized that they could be so expressive!

And there, further out, a roller kicking up a tumbling spiral of glistening lava shards! Losing focus—running too fast.

To prevent her mind from wandering she tried to refocus her attention closer in, to the rhythmic crunch crunch crunch of footfalls on granulated pumice.

A cadence to mesmerize a mind starved of oxygen.

Crunch Crunch Crunch, Crunch Crunch Crunch, Crunch Crunch Crunch.

The muted conversation of an almost dead planet—and, almost indiscernible through the pain, the vague sensation of being watched, experienced by Jensen and others.

What an adrenaline rush.

Lieutenant Brian Davis watched the black-headed gulls gently tip their pointed wings as they floated the updrafts along the steep bluff plunging perilously close to his side. An invigorating tang from the ocean hissing far below mingled with the scent of balsam firs clinging to the ridge he was ascending. It was all good.

And all an illusion promptly dispelled by a biometric panel suddenly and obtrusively coming to life.

BIOBIKE 2340/Program 241A/Davis
Elapsed time: 55 minutes
Distance: 33.21 km
Heart rate: 178 bpm
Blood Oxygen Saturation: 91.2%
Preliminary Heart rate 51 bpm
Body Fat 5.8%
Cardiovascular Report: No pathology detected

Five minutes later, thirsty as hell, he was gulping down precisely one-third of his three-liter allotment of drinking water. So calculated by Base Manager Schulman, so ordered by Ellis, and so no choice. To adhere to the restriction, and those for personal hygiene, he would henceforth have to eschew the cardio workout and limit himself to a regimen of stretching exercises.

Head tilted back, he let the last few drops of liquid splash on his tongue. For sure, he would never again take water for granted. The recent rationing wasn’t nearly the half of it. It was having to live on a planet so parched that not a solitary puddle collected anywhere on the entirety of its surface; where the few remaining life-forms were compelled to live and die in the smelly shadows of the fumaroles. What was the point of a world without water?

He thought of the rec room’s scuba diving sim, detailed down to the sounds, sights and sensation of water on skin. A man-made divertissement that suffered in comparison to the real thing. What was absent, what could not be quantified or duplicated, was the vibrancy of the sea life that radiated around you. None of Zenith’s huge variety of environmental bio-sims could imitate that indescribable energy. He enjoyed them anyway.

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