The jungle was dense and lush, with so many shades of green she couldn’t count them. There were flowers here she’d never even seen before, their forms so delicate she almost feared to touch them.
But touch them she did, for the botanist in Galia could not resist. She photographed each with her mobile device, recording location, then
cross referenced with the data library in the device to try to identify the flower, but more often than not, she couldn’t.
Zane was as excited as Galia, even if he didn’t show it so much. He glanced across at her, remembering how they’d met at university so many decades ago. They had been kindred spirits, sharing their great passion for plants.
How lucky they had been to get employment in the same drugs company, even working in the same laboratory.
They were together almost all day, every day, but never tired of each other.
And when two places had become available in the space programme, they jumped at the chance to study plant life on other planets. Zane smiled as he remembered the joy on Galia’s face the day they were chosen to travel beyond the stars.
As if suddenly aware of his eyes on her, Galia turned to look at him and for a second they felt like the only two people in the cosmos.
“This jungle is so verdant,” she laughed. “It will take us days to catalogue it all. Just as well it’s so isolated, we won’t be disturbed.”
“It also means we’re unlikely to encounter hostile natives.”
Her eyes widened.
“Do you think…?”
“We’re quite safe. Besides,” he soothed, “we’re well trained if we do encounter alien fauna.”
Galia thought back to that training. From its inception, many decades before she was born, the space programme had been a long, slow progress, from short trips to the moon, then bases on the next planet and now interstellar travel.
After a childhood avidly following the space programme, dreaming of wonders just waiting to be discovered, Galia had been elated that they were finally on their way to the stars. She and Zane would be the first to see things others could only dream about, so she could hardly be squeamish if some of those things were a little… well, strange.
Nevertheless, the thought made her think of home, and it gave her a short stab of pain.
Silence fell as they gathered samples and data, glancing over now and then to check on each other.
After some time, Zane straightened and stretched, easing out stiffness in his muscles. He sighed deeply.
“Are you homesick, too?” Galia asked.
“A bit. I confess I’ll be happy when this research trip is done,” he murmured as he bent once more over an orchid flower. His slender six-fingered hand cradled the specimen as he examined it carefully.
He drew upright again and looked at Galia, his deep amethyst eyes glinting, their elliptical pupils dilating in the low light.
She smiled, showing delicate pearl-pink teeth that complemented the lilac sheen of her skin.
Freckles the colour of pomegranate stains tumbled across her cheekbones, falling in drifts down each side of her neck to disappear under her body suit.
Zane’s smile broadened, remembering the joy of tracing those markings with his fingertips.
He longed to run his fingers through the silken strands of her hair, violet like the two moons of their home world.
“It won’t be long now,” Galia assured him. “There is only one more planet left to visit.”
She looked down at her handheld device. “What do we name the sample files for this planet?”
“Our star charts label it M-795C,” Zane replied. “But I believe the indigenous people call it Earth.”
Look out for our next themed series of short stories from our archives, every Monday and Thursday throughout December