Sadrian landed on the battered surface of DP7. He lingered in the cockpit, looking up at the dim sunlight permeating the clouds. Would anyone care if he just went home? The Wayfarer’s Academy had little use for him these days. He figured it was precisely why they had set up the Dead Planet Exploration Force in the first place and quickly named him its chief officer. At the Academy, soft spoken old men were a charming thing to have around, but everyone knew it was the charismatic young minds who would accomplish the long term goals of the Grand Emperor. The Emperor wanted to expand his influence to the deepest star systems, an act of hubris that sickened Sadrian. There was more to scientific exploration than a series of coerced land grabs.
Sadrian took a deep breath and turned off the ship’s engine. He would complete the task at hand even if the effort proved futile. After all, it wouldn’t be that bad. He had picked the solo mission to DP7 himself as a kind of sabbatical. The planet’s orbiting moon had recently collided with an asteroid, splitting it in two. One of the larger chunks came in contact with the planet’s surface and all remaining life was choking to death beneath waves of dust and smoke. It certainly qualified as a dead planet. No one argued when he said he wanted to investigate. He planned to take his time and find something valuable to bring back to the Planetary Assimilation Board. He had heard tales of life forms thriving amidst harsh opposing forces, and he wanted to know if the stories were true.
He locked the visor on his helmet and connected his breathing tube to the air tank. It was possible to breathe without assistance on DP7, but he wasn’t taking any chances in an atmosphere filled with cosmic debris and radiation. He checked the integrity of his suit one last time and reached for his pack. He planned to explore the area surrounding the impact crater first, so most of his food and water could remain in the ship. Camping gear would remain stowed as well unless he needed to explore overnight. Water cartridges and his journaling tablet were all he needed to carry on his first outing. He carefully descended the spacecraft one step at at time and placed his feet on the soil of the forsaken world.
He surveyed the horizon. Squinting through the haze, he noticed a large heap of space rock resting along the shoreline of a great ocean. It lay there like a sleeping behemoth, partially covered in a thick layer of filth, the other side periodically washed clean by the crashing waves. He began to make his way to the far side of the boulder. His footing was plagued by the thick mud and wet sand that surrounded him, so he moved with caution. When the celestial body crashed into DP7, copious amounts of muck and mire where flung into the air. Nightfall came early as the sun’s rays were unable to penetrate the hellish sludge that fell from above. Plant life began to wither and die, followed by a mass extinction of animal life as the aerial nightmare spread across the land. Only a handful of sea creatures and insects were expected to have survived when the sun finally penetrated the ashy smog.
Sadrian held out hope that he would find one of these creatures. He kept his eyes low and hoped to discover fresh evidence of an arthropod. Perhaps a small, hard shelled crab could burrow underground and outlast the darkness and decay. He plodded along toward the massive formation while periodically looking up to view his progress. He was almost halfway to his destination when he accepted the fact that he needed rest. It was hot, and his suit was heavy. He eased himself down on a somewhat dry patch of sand and tried to slow his labored breathing. He became entranced by the rhythmic nature of his own breath as it echoed throughout his helmet. He fixed his gaze on the monstrosity ahead, the hulking mass that fell from the heavens and killed everything. At that moment, his eyes landed on a figure in the distance.
He stared at the man for several seconds before the image registered in his mind. Sheltered beneath a ledge protruding from the rock was what appeared to be a humanoid form draped in a black robe. The man sat motionless, as if meditating amongst the noxious vapors of his dying world. Sadrian abandoned his search for tiny sea creatures at once and rose to his feet. If he could bring this man back to the academy he would not only be a hero, but suddenly his department would mean something. His heart began to race as he walked toward the stranger.