For the hour-long flight down to the designated landing site, Barney and Kumar were pilot and first officer. The pair were already in their surface gear, a full-body suit infused with Venusian diamond lattice. The expensive gear was essential in preventing the caustic atmosphere on the ground seeping in and killing them. A screw pattern ran around the suit’s neck, to which their helmets attached.
Barney surveyed the monitors on the panel in front of him. Further information from Claudio stood alongside the atmosphere and surface conditions provided by satellites and the onboard infrared scanners. The sulphur dioxide levels in Colony Nine’s jurisdiction had begun to increase, but were not yet to the levels that caused the lockdowns on Colonies Six and Seven. The lack of volcanic mountainous terrain compared to the other colonies assisted in their profitability, as well as the slow surface winds moving noxious gases to their region.
He looked at the monitor surveying the cargo hold. Carolina, Woody and Juan were in their varying degrees of surface readiness. Carolina and Juan, adorned in their own boy suits, kicked a round football between to each other. Woody stood in front of his locker, still in his casual gear, assessing each piece of his equipment. Barney pushed the button on the intercom. “Are you three ready to go when we land?”
The three turned to face the camera. Juan deftly flicked up the football, which Carolina kicked at the surveillance device. Barney and Kumar instinctively flinched as the ball flew towards the screen. The ball rebounded towards Woody, who caught it easily in one of his massive hands. He shook his head as he dropped it to the ground.
“Just because you can’t destroy the camera, doesn’t mean you can durability test it. You should be getting prepared, since we are just under a half hour from landing.”
“Argie and I are all good Barney,” Juan answered in his honey-smooth voice. “It’s only Woody over there who leaves his equipment assessment for the last possible moment. We just have to put on the drilling equipment.” Carolina nodded her agreement to the Spanish man’s words.
Woody gave Juan an indignant look. “That’s because I can find better things to do with my recreation time than you, JC. And I can run the checks quicker. It’s called efficiency.” He turned to face the camera. “I’ll be ready, Barney.”
Barney switched off the intercom. He turned to Kumar, who was looking out the front windows into the thick yellow haze. “What are your plans for when you land back on Earth, Kumara?”
Kumar turned to him and grinned widely. “I’m headed to Columbus, Nebraska. There is a huge powwow planned just outside the city, at the joining of the rivers. The Pawnee tribe I’m part of will be joined by the Otoe, Ponca and Omaha tribes. We all used the land in that area before the settlers came in and set up shop.”
His surface leader nodded. “That sounds like a great time. Getting the chance to have a traditional meal and party is rare anywhere on Earth these days.”
“What do you have planned, Barnaby?” The pair always referred to each other by their tribal names, a bonding point between them. The others in the team preferred nicknames, saying that having their own names for each other aided team bonding.
“I’ll be heading back to see the family and the tribe. For the couple of days I’ve been here, all I’ve dreamed of is walking through my homeland and my favourite spot.” The one idea Barney found amusing was the difference in the day lengths of Venus and Earth, since it was an important aspect of his contract. Earth rotated once every twenty four hours, while Venus rotated once every two hundred and forty three days. To further confound, a Venusian year was two hundred and twenty five days, making Venus’ year shorter than its day. Between the two planets, the idea of a ‘two days on, one day off’ staffing rotation had massively different connotations.
Barney reflected wistfully. “Seeing the emerald green waters, the waterfall cascading over the rocks, the bright green trees and the ochre colours of the earth around it… I’ve missed it.”
Kumar nodded, with a far-away look in his eyes. “I know your feeling. My tribe and I would head off on bison hunting expeditions across the plains in Nebraska. They were some of the most productive crop-growing areas in the whole of the Great Plains, and the grasslands that the bisons and other animals lived on were a sight to behold.”
“The beauty of nature is breath-taking. I still find it amazing that people would prefer to dig it all up for some shiny rocks that serve little purpose other than glamour.”
The Pawnee tribesman nodded. “The jewels yes, but the other metals have their uses beyond that. But thank goodness this forsaken planet has more diamonds than the people on Earth would know what to do with.” He ran his hands down his diamond-infused body suit. “This is proof of that.”
“That’s true, but all those diamond traders of the old days still have their fingers in all the goods shipped off here. No jewel trader will readily give up their source of income, unless they can replace or better the source.”
“Isn’t that the truth. What location has Claudio provided us?”
Barney looked back upon his information from the team manager. “Let’s see. Coordinates are thirty eight point one south, two hundred and seventy point three east.” He typed in the data to another screen. “The files identify it as Mertseger Mons. It’s in the second highest diameter bands at four hundred and fifty kilometres.”
Kumar gave him a sideways look. “Don’t go metric on me. What’s that in miles?”
Barney rolled his eyes as he calculated. “That’s just under two hundred and eighty miles.”
“Impressive. That’s a large area to be exploring at any time, not just when we are watching out for spikes in the sulphur dioxide levels.”
“Claudio just wants an initial look-around. Since the mines up near the equator have been so lucrative, he has not considered sites further towards the South Pole. He thinks it should be a useful exercise, and could give us a new mine if any issues arise down the road.”
One of the monitors alerted the pair of the ten minute warning. Barney turned the intercom. “Suit up fellas. We’re going in for some quick samples, and other notable things that catch your eye. If I send out the warning to return, you all better haul ass to get back. If we get caught by that incoming sulphur dioxide, our gear isn’t designed to repel that much of it.”
The three in the back headed to their lockers to put on their external protective suits. Barney turned off the intercom, and then turned on the auto-landing sequence. He and Kumar exited the cockpit and entered the cargo area, so they could get their own protective suits ready for the hellish conditions awaiting them.
– X –