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"That's one dry rock, Reene," Zain said to his computer as he surveyed the horizon over planet P254-334-5 through his ship's viewport. Below was an endless monotony of sunburned sand dunes broken by an occasional rock outcropping.
Reene replied, "An astute assessment, sir. Eighty percent desert, twenty percent water. No detectable human or alien populations. There is a viable atmosphere. However, significant terra-forming would be required to place a water-based populace here."
Good, Zain thought. The fieldwork of mapping a new planet was easier when it had no people. "Include that in our report to StarNet."
Zain checked their progress in the planet's holo-image on the console. Reene had divided the planet surface into equal sections forming the typical grid pattern. As they passed over the next section, the sensor readings scrolled up beside the holo-image displaying surface maps, climate, electromagnetism, geochemistry, gravity. Zain scanned them. Nothing special. Another routine survey.
He leaned back and closed his eyes, letting Reene take care of the survey grid.
Lately, charting star systems and the planets therein had become downright monotonous. Not that he was looking for excitement. He smirked. Well, maybe just a little.
"Sir, I am getting an unusual reading over grid A5501," Reene announced.
Zain opened his eyes and noted a significant anomaly in the stats. He moved forward for a closer look. In one pinpoint within the grid, the energy readings were off the scale. What the hell was that?
"De-orbit and bring us down," he commanded, the first whispers of adrenaline unfurling in his gut.
As Reene took the ship down, Zain continued to monitor the readings and the planet surface. The terrain remained constant. No breaks and nothing to explain the kind of energy the sensors were picking up.
"We are directly over the site now," Reene announced.
"Any idea what this is?" Zain asked.
"We have never encountered this phenomenon before. Therefore, I cannot offer an accurate explanation."
Zain smiled at Reene's flawless logic. "A guess, then?"
"Sir, you may recall that I am not very good at guessing. Intuition is a trait I have not yet mastered."
Zain had to agree with his computer there. The last time he'd let Reene guess, they'd nearly made inadvertent first contact with a new species. Always a bad thing.
Besides, it had been a while since he'd stepped foot on land. A little hands-on data investigation might be just the thing he needed to mitigate the restlessness he'd felt over the past few cycles.
"Bring us down for a landing," he ordered. "Let's see what's making all the noise down there."
His ship responded immediately. The planet's energy readings continued to climb the closer they got to the surface, but Zain couldn't detect the source. He'd never seen anything like this in five years of space exploration.
The earlier excitement he'd felt changed to concern as they neared the planet's surface. Zain waited for touchdown, but it never happened. Something wasn't right.
"Reene, pull up," he ordered just as they slipped below what had appeared to be solid earth.
At the same instant, Reene reported, "Sir, I have encountered an energy field."
A flash of light crossed the viewport, striking the ship's hull full force. Another flash simultaneously hit the starboard side and sent a surge of current through the main systems.
"Evasive action!" Zain yelled above the alarms.