Light filtered through the canopy, casting shadows on the ground of the jungle planet. The planet itself sat in the outer reaches of an uncharted system, its surface covered in green plants. Animals foraged for food in the lush forest that covered the entire planet, then suddenly stopped and stared briefly at the ship streaking through the atmosphere, then returned to their tasks, as if nothing had happened.
I awoke in the battered shell of the escape capsule. My head spun as I stood up, and I quickly sat down again. The air reeked of burnt plastic, and as I looked at the scorched panels of the pod, I quickly realized why. All I remember is heading through an uncharted system, and suddenly all the alarms were all flashing, and I found myself speeding towards a green planet. Then everything went black as the heat from the atmosphere turned the protective shield red.
After awhile, I decided to try to get up again. My head still spun, but not as much as it had before. I staggered out of the pod and collapsed on the soft ground outside. The warm, green, moss-like stuff felt so nice compared to the pod. As I lay there, I drifted off to sleep.
The footsteps were what woke me up. They were not quiet footsteps but loud, crushing footsteps that rattled the branches, sending twigs and leaves down on my head. I scrambled up to my feet, ripping up thin vines that had been growing over my legs. The brush shivered as the footsteps grew closer, and vines receded up the trees that they were growing on. With the thick green curtain removed, I could clearly see what was heading towards me. The four legged beast had a thick, green leathery skin. Its back was ridged with black spikes running down its spine and its head had small, beady eyes. I stood motionless as the great beast lumbered past, crushing the fast-growing tendrils as it walked. Small birds and animals scurried out of the way of its massive feet, and fallen branches snapped at every footstep. A shrill cry of a less fortunate animal pierced the air, and I was glad that I was behind this tree I stood motionless until I could no longer see the beast. The footprints it left were already being covered over by vines creeping over the planet floor.
I walked back to the pod and dragged the emergency pack out from under the crushed control panel. If it hadn’t been destroyed, I could have sent out a distress signal and put up a beacon, but now the only way to get off this planet was to find my ship. The side of the pod was charred, but a faint outline of what was written on it still remained. The word Equinox was written on the side of the pack and was also what had been written on the pod. Equinox. The name of my ship, or at least the ship I was given. I set down the emergency pack on the soft ground beside the pod and started laying the contents out around me. Most of it was rations and clean water, but there was also a small water filtration unit. Terracorp had also included a medipac and a progressive knife, which could cut through pretty much anything. I gathered it all together and started to pack up.
I set out after I had eaten a little bit of a ration pack. A column of smoke had been rising up from what I assumed was my ship, but it had stopped now. I looked back at the pod, then stepped out towards the unknown. What an exciting day it has been, but tomorrow would be far worse.
The sky glowed a fiery orange as the setting suns crossed the horizon, and I could see less and less the farther I walked. The progressive knife was clipped to my belt for easy access when I needed to cut through vines. The change in the landscape was gradual but the ground was no longer soft and mossy, but rocky and unforgiving. My legs ached from all of the walking, and I collapsed next to a small bush covered in faintly glowing bulbs. All of the plant life here was different from every terrestrial plant that had been spread through the galaxy, and yet it was vaguely familiar. I drifted off to sleep thinking of nothing.
The bright light of the double suns beat down on me, no longer blocked by the sheltering canopy. I got up, my legs stiff from yesterday's trek. All of the walking reminded me of cadet training back at Proxima Centauri. I guess this is why they had us walk so much. I ate some more food. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I got to my feet and kept heading towards where I saw the smoke.
The walk had gradually been becoming an upwards climb and when I looked back, I could see above the tops of the trees I had been under. Small birds were flying from one tree to another, eating the smaller berries that hung from some. I turned around and kept walking, the pack growing heavier on my back. I saw a small patch of moss off to the side of the rocks, and I took off my bag and collapsed onto it, eager to have a break. As my knee hit the moss, I heard a crunching sound as the ground gave way under me.
I fell into a high-ceilinged cavern and slammed into the pool of clear blue water, sending up clouds of bubbles. I swam up to the surface and over to the side. As I clung to the wall, I inspected the bioluminescent fungi that were illuminating the room. The walls were slick with water. It was really humid in here. I swam to the other side of the cavern, and through a smaller passageway out into another cave. The cool water was refreshing, and it soothed my sore legs. The ceiling of the passageway gradually sloped down, and eventually I took in a deep breath and dove below the surface. The water stung my eyes, but I kept them open. The bottom was lined with a thin grass-like plant, and it rippled with the current, swaying back and forth. I swam forwards, but the passageway still showed no sign of ending. I swam more frantically, my lungs burning. I looked up, and saw a dim light. I swam upwards, my head just missing the edge of the tunnel. My back scraped against the rough rock, cutting through my shirt and leaving a gash in my back. Blood seeped from the wound and down into the bottom of the pool, but I didn’t care.
I clung to the side, taking in deep gulps of air. Large bubbles surfaced, a stream of them coming from the center of the pool. I looked down, but the water went so deep that I could not see the bottom. Suddenly, something brushed my leg, and a shiver went down my spine. A dark shape spiraled in the water under me, it's serpentine body longer than a shuttle. My body froze up, paralyzed in fear. I hated eels. It swam closer, and I dove back into the narrow tunnel, hoping it couldn’t follow me there. I swam to the narrowest part and turned around. Its greyish, slimy body passed by the opening, and as quickly as it had came, it was gone. I pulled out the progressive knife, the blue edges of the blade glowing softly in the water, and tentatively swam towards the opening.
Just then, the eel’s massive head rammed into the opening, jaw snapping. The front of its head barely fit into the tunnel. Startled, I lashed out with the progressive knife, swinging it in a wild arc, cutting a shallow gash in the eel’s snout. Green blood seeped from the wound, and the eel thrashed, its head stuck in the tunnel mouth. I slashed again, the knife easily cutting through its fleshy head. This wasn’t so bad. More blood filled the water, and as it finally pulled its head free, it swam back into the depths. I swam out of the tunnel, eyes trained on the center of the pool it had come from, knife at the ready. I surfaced, adrenaline coursing through my veins. I wanted to get out of this place.
The swim to the far side of the pool was longer then I had expected. The cavern seemed to continue onwards forever, but a light glimmered at the end, giving me hope. I kept on swimming. As my eyes gradually adjusted to the brightening light, and the opening widened, I could begin to make out what was outside. A lake, surrounded by trees, water shining off of the still surface. And in the middle of it all was the Equinox.
I swam with a renewed vigor, elated that I had actually found my ship. The only bad thing was that the outside looked battered and blackened from the entry into this planet's atmosphere. As I got closer, I found that I could walk on the bottom of the lake, which was surprisingly sandy, just like back on Earth. I walked up to the outside hatch, wrenched it open, and climbed inside. I was astounded to find mostly everything on the inside intact. As I walked through, I realized just how lucky I was just to have survived the crash. I opened one of the storage lockers and took out a bag of chips. I deserved them. I turned to the controls, and powered up the beacon, alerting every ship nearby where I was. Help would arrive soon. Meanwhile, I climbed out the top hatch and onto the roof of the Equinox. The sun was setting, and I gazed out at the strange new horizon, the place that I would call home for now.