Aetheria
by
Jason Crow

Chapter 7 – The trip

“Really?” I asked, hoping Dad wasn’t joking this time.

“I’m serious, Aidan. You’re allowed to go with Ethan and do a check on the terraforming compound.”

“What about me?” Nadia asked.

“The three of you will head out in an hour or two, so you can be back before it gets dark,” Dad said and looked at Nadia and me.

Ethan stood smiling behind Dad and couldn’t hide his excitement either. Nadia hugged Dad and said, “Thanks! This is gonna be great!”

Dad gently pushed Nadia away and looked sternly at us, “You have to listen to Ethan! He’s in charge, and you’ll listen to him no matter what! Agree?”

“Sure!” Nadia said.

“Of course,” I replied.

“I’m serious! This is no school field trip. It can be dangerous out there, so be careful!”

“I know, Dad! We’ve aced the security exams, remember?” I said.

“I know. But still… This is no joke, and I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“Meet me in garage four in half an hour, okay?” Ethan said with a smug face.

He probably enjoyed being in charge, but I didn’t care. We were going to go outside and about to do some real exploring.  That was more important than setting my brother straight. Nadia looked all hyped during the rest of breakfast, and I also had a hard time staying cool about it.

“Be careful out there. Don’t do anything stupid, and stay together, okay?” Mom said with a bit of a worried look on her face.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” Nadia said, “with Ethan and Aidan around for the muscles and me for the brains, nothing can go wrong. Right?”

Mom laughed, gave each of us a peck on our forehead, and kept looking at us as we waited for the elevator. As we were heading up to the ground level, Nadia said, “Why are they so worried? It’s not like we’re a bunch of morons!”

“Remember our school trip to San Angeles? It was exactly the same. And there were lots of teachers going with us! So I guess this reaction isn’t that bad.”

Nadia chuckled and nodded. “Guess you’re right,” she said, and the elevator doors opened.

We were standing in the inside part of the garage. In the corner, the giant vehicle airlock led to the outside part of the garage where suits were needed. According to the signs above the door, the entrance to the human airlock was in the other corner.

“There’s Ethan,” Nadia said and pointed to a group of people.

“Hey, guys!” Ethan said as we approached him. “We’re taking the big rover-explorer today. Cool, huh?”

“Neat!” I said and looked at the big vehicle we were standing next to.

It had huge wheels. They were a little bigger than my brother and had these tractor-like grooves for grip. The white cabin could seat six persons and also had a small cargo bay at the back. The cabin had about forty inches of clearance from the ground.

It was by far the most versatile explorer vehicle on the planet. Its fusion-powered power source could last years on one charge, and because of the six big wheels of which the front and back could steer, it was agile and could conquer almost every terrain.

“Well… you know the drill…” Ethan said after an awkward silence, “Go change into your suit and exit through the airlock. I’ll make sure the vehicle goes through. I’ll see you on the other side.”

“He looks nervous,” Nadia said as we headed over to the airlock.

“Yeah. Guess his first, real mission gets under his skin. Let’s be helpful, okay?”

“We’ll see…” Nadia said, smiling.

“Be nice… He could’ve taken other guys instead of us.”

“Don’t worry. Of course, I won’t bug him! Do you think I wanna get stuck inside from now on because of some stupid prank or something?”

“Cool,” I said and opened the door to the changing room, “See you in a sec.”

Being naked in a place I didn’t know was still weird, but I was slowly getting used to it. I dropped my clothes in the designated locker, and after I closed it, it disappeared into the wall where the storage bots would take care of it.

After I grabbed the small suit, I went to the airlock. The transparent, vault-like revolving door opened as I approached, and I entered the tight space of the airlock. I realized it was smaller than I expected inside the lock as the door closed behind me.

A light indicated I should hold my breath. The space was filled with white, warm, misty air a moment later. After a couple of seconds, it vanished through gaps in the floor. After the cleaning was done, a red, horizontal laser stripe went from top to bottom over my body.

After the scanner was done, a green light lit up, and the door on the other side opened. I held my breath, grabbed one of the portable oxygen masks, and put it over my face. There was a sign stating I should now put the undersuit on. Near the exit door was a bench, where I put it on. After this, I entered the second airlock. This second lock wasn’t there for decontamination like the first one but just to keep the bad air out of the compound. Therefore, it was less advanced and less cramped. I just had to wait for old air to go out and new air to come in.

We came out of the second airlock simultaneously and headed over to the changing room where we could change into our space suits. My eyes roamed over my sister’s body as we walked, and despite seeing her in this outfit numerous times and even seeing her naked, I was still fascinated immensely by how she looked.

She walked in front of me, and watching her ass move as she walked, was hypnotizing. When we got to the suits, she caught me looking but didn’t say or do anything. I felt I was blushing heavily, but she just smiled coyly as we got into our suits.

“Checking coms,” I  said after we were suited up.

“Coms okay. Checking uplink,” Nadia replied.

After I heard the beep that confirmed our suits were connected, I gave her the thumbs up, and we headed to the outside door.

“Nervous?” I asked as we stood there, waiting for the door to open.

“A little. But mostly excited. You?”

“The same. It’s a long drive to the site, and I don’t know what to expect along the way. I’ll probably be taking a lot of pictures, that’s for sure.”

After the door opened, I exited the base for the very first time. The realization that I was walking on a remote planet was overwhelming and gave me goosebumps all over.

Nadia was right behind me, and over the coms, I heard her say, “Wow…” which was also a good representation of how I felt.

For a moment, I was at a loss for words and had to take it all in. The view of the horizon, the slightly different air color, the lack of birds in the sky, the white instead of the yellow sun. Everything was so different, and seeing it in real life instead of pictures or from the control tower hit me hard.

“Pretty amazing, huh?” Ethan said, and I looked behind me.

He walked over to us with a massive grin on his face. He stood between Nadia and me and put his arms around our shoulders.

“You’ll never forget your first time, but it gets me every time I get out here.”

“It’s awesome!” I said excitedly.

“Yeah!” Nadia added.

“Let’s get going. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.”

“We’re just driving. It’s not like we have to launch into space,” I said.

“Yeah. But along the way, I have to check a couple of things. And we don’t know what we’ll find at the site.”

We entered the rover, and as I sat down, I was amazed at how much space we had inside. In the front, there was a single driver seat. Behind that, three rows of each two seats. If we wanted, there could be two more rows, but they were taken out, and now a couple of big crates were there. And behind the wall in the back was an even bigger storage space.

“What’s in the back?” I asked as Ethan was powering up the rover.

“Nothing much. An exo-suit, oxygen, two generators, and a couple of spare parts for the CPU in the terraforming site we might need.”

“You know the way?” Nadia asked, eager to go.

“Really!?” Ethan said, acting offended but smiling broadly. “Of course I do!”

“Let’s roll!” I said with an equally big grin.

The rover started moving, and a thrill of excitement shot through me. I knew Ethan had lots of experience in the simulator and did a few real-life runs over here, so he knew what he was doing. I knew Dad wouldn’t let us go otherwise, so I smiled at my sister and took in the scenery as we left home base behind.

Despite the bumpy terrain, the ride was comfortable. After about five minutes, Ethan stopped. He opened his door and said, “Be right back. Just changing the batteries of the guidance light.”

I watched Ethan grab a battery from the storage compartment behind us, and he walked over to the light beside the dirt path that we called the road. Nadia showed me her control pad, and it showed Ethan’s vitals. He had a higher heart rate and elevated blood pressure, which were the telltale signs that he was nervous.

Nadia smiled at me, and after Ethan retook the wheel, she said, “You’re really good at this, Ethan. You’re sure this is just your fourth time?”

“Thanks!” Ethan said, “Yep! Fourth time for real. And a lot of sim work, of course.”

“Bisque,” Nadia said, and I could already see Ethan’s heart slow down a little.

The view outside changed as we drove further. The rocks got pointier and higher. The mountainsides were almost vertical now, but there was still grass and moss on the bottom.

Ethan stopped to change the battery every five minutes in the lights beside the road. We started calling them streetlights, which made Ethan laugh.

“Just two more left, guys,” Ethan said as we drove off again.

“What’s that?” I asked as I saw a narrow passage approaching.

“That’s the Antelope narrow. It’s called that way because the stones in this narrow are almost the same color as the famous canyon back on Earth.”

“Looks impressive,” Nadia said.

“It’s thirty feet wide, about five hundred feet high, and almost a mile long.”

“And we need to go through it?”

“It’s the shortest way. We can go around it, but that’ll take at least another four hours. And don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe!”

Driving through this canyon did look impressive. The colors were magnificent, and the high walls on each side gave it a bit of a claustrophobic vibe.

“This is cool,” Nadia softly said beside me.

“Yeah… You can’t find places like this on Earth. And after this canyon, it’s a straight shot to the terra site.”

We drove for a couple of more minutes. We were moving slowly, but it was fast enough, considering the terrain. Ethan stopped at the next light and did his thing again. Nadia was looking at her coms, and I checked what Ethan was doing. He had to climb on a small boulder to reach the light. The front door was closed, which was the first time he had done this. I guessed he was getting fed up with Nadia’s constant whining about the wind.  I was starting to get bored by all this, bummed out by the lack of action during the trip. I wanted to check out the site and see what was wrong there.

And that’s when disaster struck…

The rover started shaking violently, and I thought for a second that Ethan had pressed some wrong button or something. But when I saw my brother fall to the floor a heartbeat later and heard his groan over the radio when he hit the ground, I instantly knew it was bad.

“EARTHQUAKE!” Nadia shouted.

An ear-shattering crack sounded, and pieces of rock were flying around the rover. Before I knew it, the rover sank to the ground, and all windows were covered by metal shutters that came out of the top and bottom of every window.

“We’re cocooning!” I said, remembering this from training.

Cocooning is an automatic feature of every vehicle. It creates the safest possible environment for the humans inside. In the case of a rover, it gets low to the ground, with an air cushion below to dampen the blows it gets. Every weak point, like windows, is covered with the most robust materials, and the air inside is filtered and reused in case of external fire or gasses.

“ETHAN!” Nadia shouted.

We heard another low grunt over the radio. Nadia looked panicked at me, and I knew we had to do something. So I reached for the door to open it, but an annoying buzz reminded me that opening the door during cocooning wasn’t possible for obvious reasons. I was looking frantically for a solution when I heard Ethan say, “OH SHI-!“ over the loud noises of falling rocks on the rover.

The beep in my ear, combined with Ethan’s voice being cut off, made my blood run cold. I checked the pad on my wrist, and it confirmed my fear. Ethan’s vital signs were gone. No heartbeat, no breathing, but still a normal core temperature. Oh no…

“ETHAN!!” Nadia screamed.

She looked questioningly at me, and tears started forming in her eyes. I felt myself tear up, and my mind was blank. I wanted to do something, but because of the constant shaking of the rover and the idea my brother was dead, I couldn’t think of anything.

“I… I need to help him!” I shouted and moved my hand to the door handle.

“You can’t! We… he’s…”

“But what if he’s-“ I said, cut off by the sudden calmness as the rover stopped shaking.

There was an eerie silence now that the earthquake had stopped. Only two or three small rocks fell on the roof of the rover. But other than that, it was quiet.

“Surroundings are safe. Resuming normal operation,” a female voice said.

The rover moved up, and the windows opened again.  I immediately opened the door and stepped outside. 

“Wait here,” I said to my sister.

I expected her to object, but I could see her nod inside her helmet, and she looked terrified. I didn’t know what to expect outside, but the primal urge to protect my sister told me to do this alone. When I stepped out of the rover, I saw small rocks everywhere. Where the road was clear of debris when we drove here, now it looked like a rough gravel path. Nothing the rover couldn’t handle, but it would slow us down considerably.

Near the edges of the canyon, there were several big rocks. Some were bigger than our rover, some were man-sized, and everything in between. When I looked at the direction we were coming from, I realized we had been very fortunate. Just a couple of feet behind the rover lay a big rock twice the size of the rover. If this thing had hit us, Nadia and I would’ve been squashed like bugs.

This all happened in seconds as I tried to assess the situation and look for my brother. I walked over toward the spot where I last saw him, and as I approached it, my heart sank, and I knew I didn’t have a brother anymore.

Two gigantic rocks were lying at the bottom, and the step Ethan had stood on to change the battery was gone. The place on the ground where his body should be was covered with bigger and smaller rocks, with the two big ones side by side.

I couldn’t see his body, but when I looked a bit further to my right, I saw Ethan’s helmet lying there with a broken visor and a big dent in it. I was glad I couldn’t see his body because I knew then and there that this wouldn’t be pretty. But he was undeniably dead, that much was certain.

This realization didn’t hit me as deeply as I expected. I felt an incredible sadness and emptiness, but I also knew I had to act to keep myself and my sister safe. There just wasn’t time to mourn now. I dragged myself back to the rover to bring Nadia the bad news. When I stepped back in, Nadia must’ve read my body language because she started crying the moment she saw me.

“Oh, Ay! Is he really?” she cried as she threw herself at me.

“Yes. It’s…” I managed before I started crying myself.

We cried in each other’s arms for a few moments. A loud cracking sound outside the rover brought me back to my senses, and I gently broke the hug.

“We need to get out of here,” I said softly.

Nadia sniffed, and I could see her nod. I knew that getting out of here would be difficult, and time wasn’t on our side. There could be an aftershock at any moment. At least on Earth, aftershocks were common. I didn’t know if it was common over here, but I didn’t want to take the chance.

I sat in the driver’s seat and pressed the radio button. The light turned green, and I said, “This is rover D7 for Base. Come in Base.”

I waited about half a minute and repeated this. But we didn’t get a response. After the third time, I got out, stood at the door opening, and checked the roof. The radio antenna was crushed, which explained that.

“We can’t get hold of the base. The antenna is crushed, and our coms aren’t powerful enough to reach that far.”

“Shoot!” Nadia exclaimed, “That’s bad. Now what?”

“I think we’ve got two options. Push on or go back to Base. What do you think?” I asked.

Nadia thought about it briefly and said, “Back to Base. It’s our best shot, and they can go and get Eth-“

She sniffed and sucked in a breath, and I felt a lump in my throat that I had to swallow down. Heading back was also my first option, so we didn’t have to debate that one.

We got out of the rover and checked out the road. As I noticed earlier, a huge boulder blocked the way back almost completely. There was a small gap beside it, but there was no way the rover could get through that.

“Well… that isn’t an option,” Nadia said.

“We can walk,” I said, but I wasn’t overly thrilled about that idea.

We walked to the front of the rover, and that part of the road was still relatively clear. There was nothing there that the rover couldn’t handle.

Nadia looked at me and asked, “Pushing through to the terra site?”

“Guess so. We know there’s a radio over there. We just need to find a way to fix it, but we’ve got the spare parts for that.”

“And what if the site isn’t there anymore? We don’t know what to expect,” Nadia said.

“I think it’s our best shot. Yes, there is a chance that it’s gone, but it’s slim. To get back to the main base, we’ll have to walk, which will take us hours. If we have to, we can always drive back here and walk. But if the terra site is still intact, we’ll have a roof over our heads and a good chance of reaching the main base. I’ll say we take the chance.”

Nadia nodded and said, “Good point. Let’s go!”

I got into the driver’s seat again and started the rover. Nadia closed the door and got into her seat. I pressed the pedal, and off we went. I took another quick glance at Ethan’s helmet and promised myself to ensure his body was retrieved and that he’d receive a proper funeral. But for now, we had to think about ourselves. We rounded the corner that marked the end of the canyon. But right at the back of it, an enormous boulder blocked the road.

“Fanck!” I mumbled.

“Now what?” Nadia said a bit glumly.

We could clearly see the giant towers from the terraforming installation now. It was just a mile or two ahead of us. Maybe three.

I stopped in front of the rock and tried to push it out of the way with the rover.

The rover wasn’t equipped for this, so immediately, an alarm sounded, and the gas pedal stopped working. I backed up a little and looked at my twin sister.

“Three miles is doable, right?” I asked.

“I don’t know. With these suits, it’ll feel like ten miles. But if we have to…”

I knew she was right. It would be difficult to pull it off. But we also might need the stuff we brought with us from the rover, so I really wanted to take it with us. I thought about it for a few moments when an idea hit.

“I can wear the exo suit and take care of the rock,” I said excitedly.

Nadia wasn’t as excited as I was, but she didn’t immediately dismiss the idea either. She looked thoughtfully at me and asked, “It’s in the back, right?”

We got out, and I opened the storage compartment. Nadia checked the suit and prepared it for me to wear. We didn’t say much to each other. We knew what had to be done. The moment it was time for my oxygen to be cut off, I took a deep breath.

After I dropped my top and helmet, I stood there in my socks and undersuit. It was weird to be standing unprotected outside, but Nadia had prepared well, and within a minute, I had the top and helmet back on and could breathe again without being afraid of clogging my lungs.

“You get behind the wheel and drive through as soon as the road is free.”

Nadia did just that, and as I checked my suit’s settings, I walked up to the rock. As I stood in front of it, a sense of power washed over me. With this suit, I was almost a superhero.

So, after Nadia said she was ready, I grabbed the rock and lifted it. It was as if I lifted a bag of groceries. I turned so I faced the side of the road and took a step. There was a great spot to put the rock, and it wouldn’t bother us anymore if it was there. I just had to lift it a tiny bit higher.

Behind me, Nadia pulled through with the rover and said we were good. I was almost finished here, but just when I lifted the rock that final tiny bit, an alarm sounded in my ear. A fraction of a second later, an unbelievable pain shot through my arms.

I screamed loudly, and when I looked down, my underarms had a very unnatural downward bend in them. The alarm kept sounding in my ear, and I felt I was about to pass out.

“Ay!” Nadia shouted as she ran toward me.

She caught me just in time as my knees were getting weak. She supported me as we stumbled toward the rover. She sat me down at the door opening, and I could see her worried look.

“You… your suit has snapped and… your arms…”

I avoided looking down, but I had to know if I still had my arms, so I checked them. Seeing how my arms were pointed downward, I was glad I still had arms.

“Let’s hope there’s a working med pod in the terra site. Lie down,” Nadia said as she helped me inside.

I lay on my back, feeling lightheaded. I slipped in and out of consciousness during the ride. During one of the moments I was awake, I heard my sister grumble and curse under her breath. I didn’t know what it was, and I was out again. I felt myself drift back to the land of the living again, and when I saw my sister’s face above me, I felt a little better.

“Your undersuit is ensuring your pain and blood pressure are controlled. I’ll set it to maximum painkilling so we can remove the suits and get you inside. Okay?”

I nodded, and after she pressed some buttons on her wrist pad, I almost immediately felt no more pain. I couldn’t use my arm, but Nadia helped me to my feet, and we headed to the entrance of the terra site.

We entered the outer airlock, and I was glad everything seemed okay with the building. There was power, the control systems worked, and we were able to go inside. This was a huge plus. Despite my situation, I realized we were lucky.

“Sit down,” Nadia said, and she helped me on the chair.

I watched her as she got out of her space suit, and as she hung it on a hook, I checked out her ass again. Even now, I had to admire how she looked. I just couldn’t help myself.

“Now, let’s get you out of this and get inside,” Nadia said after she turned around, with her hard nipples trying to push through her undersuit.

She started with my helmet and smiled at my roaming eyes but didn’t say anything. She used the rarely used feature of the exo-suit, where the arms, front and backside disconnected. It wasn’t easy to put these back together, so people hardly ever used this feature.

Nadia placed the front and back parts of the suit aside and looked at my still-covered arms.

“I’m gonna have to cut these open,” she said, grabbing the emergency kit from the wall.

Moments later, the plasma cutter beeped, and before I knew it, my arms were freed from the suit. I looked at my underarms and saw the bones in both of them were broken, but I couldn’t feel anything due to the painkillers. My skin was red and bruised, but no bones stuck out or anything. I tried moving my fingers, and thankfully, they still worked.

“This looks bad, Ay.”

“I know… but…”

Nadia grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the sleeves of my arms open toward my neck. This way, the upper part of the undersuit fell open, and I could feel my body react. The suit had stopped working now, and I could feel my arms starting to throb. I was also getting a bit lightheaded and could now only hope for a med pod. Nadia took a tube from the medkit and pressed it hard on my upper leg. The sting of the needle was briefly there, but I could almost immediately feel the warmth of this painkiller as it entered my body.

“Ready?” Nadia asked.

I nodded, and Nadia started taking off her undersuit. No matter how lightheaded I was, looking at her exposed body was still a feast for my eyes. As her slit came into view, my dick rose in my pants, but I didn’t care. Nadia had seen me naked and hard before, and I knew now she didn’t mind too much either. That helped with making it a lot less awkward.

She threw her suit in the corner and helped me to my feet. As she pulled down my suit and my hard dick popped up, she asked with a bit of amusement in her voice, “Really? You’ve got a boner now?”

“I’m sorry! It’s just…”

“Come on,” she said, not letting me finish, and wrapped her arm around my waist to guide me toward the airlock.

She helped me inside and stepped in right after me. This is when we realized why these airlocks are called single-person-airlock. It was tight! Her breasts pressed against my chest, and my boner was trapped between our bodies, twitching every now and then from feeling my sister’s body in all her glory.

“Multi-person failure,” a friendly woman’s voice said.

“Medical emergency override,” Nadia said.

A second later, the same voice said, “Please confirm emergency override.”

“Confirmed,” we said simultaneously.

A feeling that things were going to be alright now washed over me. The painkillers were doing their job now, and I heard the beep indicating to hold our breaths in the distance as I slowly blacked out.

End of chapter 7

Copyright 2024 – Jason Crow
All rights reserved

Exigua agendi hujus cap. Occidere mores semper fun rem facere

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