Several hours later, Xiyu--equipped with a heavy suit to protect against the elements, gloves to hide his extra fingers, and a translator chip imbedded in his brain--set foot on Thulisu (or, as the translator chip reminded him, Slag-9).  He had, thanks to bureaucracy, arrived well after the Reticent Vigil's rovers had already landed.

Lovely, he thought to himself grumpily as the cold wind whipped at his face.  More work for me.

The plan was to look as if he had been marooned here.  It would have been helpful to have at least a few minutes on the ground to prepare, but that was water under the bridge now.  Quickly, he knelt on the ground and scooped up some of the dusty soil, rubbing it onto his face and clothing.  Then, for good measure, he threw himself all the way down and rolled around a bit.  That ought to be sufficient.

Now he needed to find a place where he could pretend to have been sheltering.  Keeping the rover in his sights, he scrambled down a slope, staying low so as to remain, for the time being, unnoticed.

He found himself in a field of enormous, jagged boulders the color of rust.  Searching frantically, he happened upon a sort of lean-to formed when one of the formations had fallen upon another.  That would do.  He entered and began to set up the supplies with which he had been sent.  Bedroll here, rations there--but opened so as to appear utilized.  He stamped around the space a few times to make sure his footprints were abundant.  But he was missing something.  He just knew it.  Something didn't add up.


Of course! A human stranded in a cold place like this would need some way to keep warm.  Quickly, he assembled a fire ring out of small stones.  Still, he needed it to look as if it had been used.  He glanced about in a frenzy.  What would burn here?  There was no wood, or anything else that looked remotely flammable, and he was running out of time.

Xiyu felt sick.

Think, Cadet!  Panic will not help.

He tried to breath deeply, but the air, cold and unfamiliar, hurt his lungs.  His two eyes--his mark of youth and inexperience--stung, and tears trickled down his dirty face.  What was he doing here?  Why had the General picked him for such a mission?  Him--little, weak, stupid Xiyu?  There were other two-eyed cadets that could have served, cadets who were much brighter than he was.

Stop it, Xiyu, he scolded himself mentally.  Think.  What do you have to burn?

Clothes.  He could burn fabric, couldn't he?  As long as it wasn't treated.

He unzipped his suit halfway and struggled out of the sleeves.  Zounds, it was cold!  Quickly, he removed his shirt, dropped it on the ground and zipped up his suit again, pausing a moment to shiver violently.  After a minute or so, he took out a knife and cut the fabric of the shirt enough so that he could rip it into pieces.  It wouldn't be very convincing had he burned it all at once.

Dropping two strips of cloth into the fire ring, he set them alight with a laser and watched as they burned, crumbling to black dust.

The End

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