A Tale of the Old Solar System: Dylan's second contribution
He cautiously approached the circumference of hills- for it was now evident that they really were hills- and eyed the thick vegetation growing there warily. Slowly he scaled the hills and made his way into the craggy, broken countryside. His pulse raced when he thought he saw movement in the surrounding foliage, but sighed with relief when he realized it was merely the extending shadows. He cast his gaze up to the small sun. He was dismayed to see it well past zenith; soon the short Palladian day would be over and the deep, frozen night would be upon him. He would have to build a fire, although without a weapon he hated risking unwanted attention. Still, it was that or freeze, and the cold would kill him more surely than a zuff.
He withdrew his knife from his pack and examined the nearest fungus. Of course, it wasn’t truly a fungus, that was an earthly form of life, but this resembled it in appearance if not function. He seemed to recall that Palladian life was distinctly alien in a way that had astounded biologists when it was first discovered. The creatures of Pallas blurred the line between single organisms and colonies- most closely they resembled a mesh between the two. This fungus, for example, drew water from the ice locked in the soil, but not every fungus of this type did so. One would take up that task, while another would grow from its side and process nutrients, and another prepare for reproducing the entire pseudo-organism’s genetics. Should one be hurt or damaged, the others could pick up its slack until it was healed, as each possessed the necessary biological machinery.
This, incidentally, was what made the zuff so fearsome. As its unfortunate discoverer, Viron Zuff, had learned, a bullet would not stop it as long as enough of its “nodes” remained unharmed. Some of those nodes, particularly its thrasher-tentacles, were devastatingly dangerous.
Cutting into the fungus, he managed to remove a piece that seemed suitably dry for burning. Since he had no idea what growth would most easily light, he decided to hedge his bets and collect some of everything, the grass, the shrubs, a crawling vine and some others, and test each one with his magnesium lighter.
An hour later the sun was sinking below the horizon, and the ground was covered in a thin frost everywhere except a wide circle around Raker’s crackling fire. Sitting near it made him feel secure, and as he lay with his head resting on his pack he thought again of the situation the Patrol had left him in. I hope there’s open water somewhere out here, so far everything seems to get its water from the ground, or perhaps the air, neither of which do me any good. But I can’t waste time every day searching for springs, not when the sun’s only up for eight hours. Or perhaps nobody survives this test and the Patrol is staffed by corpses. He grinned, remembering some of his colder, less animated instructors.
A bright streak cut across the brilliant, star-splattered night sky, quickly followed by another, and then a host which carried on endlessly. Of course, Raker watched in awe, meteors. This is the Belt, after all. He counted meteors until he fell asleep. Somewhere in the distance, a creature whistled to its mates.
note from Zendexor: I shall qualify this last sentence slightly in order to preserve the idea of Pallas as a silent world: we could have it silent by day, noisy by night.