The ground felt rubbery beneath his feet. The nearby vegetation--if it could be called that--was covered with a thin film, like Saran Wrap had been draped over a dead tree. Still, his instruments said that there was sufficient oxygen in the air to support life. It was still working on the trace elements present, though, so he kept his breathing mask on just in case. It wouldn't do to find out too late that he was breathing in mercury vapor by the lungful.
He saw a few creatures resembling insects flying around, but they paid him no attention. They tended to land on the film covering the vegetation and pull themselves through it. Valdis put a gloved hand against the film on one of the "plants". He felt no resistance; the film clung to his hand like a bubble. Surface tension. He pulled his arm back--the film continued to cling to it. Pseudo-insects buzzed around him, obviously disturbed. Finally he pulled his arm back far enough and the film snapped back to its original position. The pseudo-insects subsided.
The gravity was higher here. Not by much, but he'd been running on empty for about three days now. It didn't take much to get him tired anymore. The rocks were green, and he sat down on one.
It was spongy, too. And warm. And it made a soft, wheezing sound. Then he felt a sharp pain in his left buttock, and he stood up with a curse.
The "rock" had opened big yellow eyes and was looking at him. Where he had been sitting was a protruding spike, and some blood. As he watched, he saw the blood soak into the rock's surface. Then the rock started shuddering and convulsing, as much as it seemed able. The eyes opened and shut, and started to get more orange. Then the shuddering died down, and the rock started to deflate. Soon it was flat on the ground, and pseudo-insects were investigating its surface.
Great. It looked like his blood was toxic to the local fauna. Unfortunately, that didn't bode well for his finding edible food here. And he'd better get that sting checked out, in case it was something poisonous to him.
The autodoc in the ship was still working, although it would drain off a couple of hours from the lifetime of the distress beacon. Well, if he died, he wouldn't care much about the distress beacon, so he might as well use the 'doc.
It turned out to be harmless. The sting had been coated with tannic acid, which was decidedly nonlethal. Great. He'd better hope he didn't need those two hours of the beacon. Of course, it would last for two weeks anyway, and if he didn't find any edible food here, he probably wouldn't last that long himself.
Then he noticed a light flashing on the console. A communication of some kind! Excited, he opened the channel. It only took him a couple of seconds to realize that it was another distress beacon. He cursed softly. Just what he needed.
Well, might as well decode it anyway. He ran it through the computer.
Hmmm. They were on the planet as well! This must be a real sargasso or something. He checked the message further. Jesus, they've been here for years! In fact...in fact, they're probably dead. But their beacon's still going. He checked the location. It was about a thousand klicks from him. Well, that was luck. The ship wasn't going to make it to another planet, but it could drag itself another thousand klicks. As long as that other ship wasn't underwater or anything. Probably not, if the beacon was still going. And if it was still going, it'd probably last longer than his. Strange that he hadn't seen it earlier, though.
He lifted the ship up and flew to the coordinates given by the beacon. It only took about an hour--draining another day from his beacon's lifetime, but hey, if he could get a better power source thereby, it was worth it.
The other ship wasn't in the ocean. In fact, it was in a desert. Great. Oh, well. It was bigger than his, so it probably had a bigger power source. He brought his ship down beside, close to where he guessed the main airlock would be.
As soon as he stepped out of his airlock, he tripped and fell headlong into the sand. The heat hit him about the same time. He picked himself up, and tested his ankle. Not twisted or anything. He turned to look at what he'd tripped over. It was a skeleton. Looking around, he saw several more skeletons, further from the ship. Okay, time to be careful. He pulled out his needler pistol and opened the airlock.
Nothing leapt out at him. He stepped inside and cycled it. The inner door opened, and still nothing leapt out at him. So he explored the rest of the spaceship.
He discovered three things. One, that the beacon didn't actually have that much power to drain on, but it was set at an intermittent level. That would've been fine, except that this system was mostly used as a jump point, and nobody was here for longer than a few minutes. No wonder they never got rescued.
The other two things he found was that the water tank on the ship was empty, and the cargo hold was full. So they'd died of thirst. The thrusters were totally wrecked in the landing, so they couldn't leave the desert. Well, that explained the skeletons.
So what was in the cargo hold? Curious, he checked the records. Mixed nuts. They were carrying ten tons of mixed nuts. He laughed. Well, he didn't have to worry about food, that was for sure.
Based on the words: Rubber Film Shamrock Cashew
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The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey / firstname.lastname@example.org