01 trudged along the cave. Occasionally he’d spy a crack in the ceiling, now normally about 80 to 100 feet above him, observing that he wasn’t that far beneath the surface. He still was not nearly close enough to jetpack up and out. Even if he were to attempt to climb up a steep wall his pack still wouldn’t have the stamina to push him all the way out.
The oxygen-giving fungus seemed to be getting more sparse. 01 was cutting it close between nearly every colony, which started to become pairs and even single growths sometimes. He bent down to collect a single mushroom sprouting proudly from the soft ground.
That’s when 01 noticed that he wasn’t alone in the cave anymore. There were four of them. Sideways-scuttling shelled creatures about two feet tall and six feet wide with a multitude of legs and long clawing arms sticking out of a wide body. One arm was considerably larger than the other. The creatures stood about 30 feet away from 01 around a body of what appeared to be water. The creatures regarded him with some cricking sounds and scurried away when 01 approached. He followed. Still no scanner to catalog these discoveries he thought. What a shame. I can at least take photographs.
He retreated to a groove in the wall and loaded the camera program on his suit. He waited for them to return. They did and 01 took diligent time to observe them scavenge around the edges of the pond with clawed limbs, bringing small bits of matter to their fast-moving mandibles. I wonder if they taste like crabs too? 01 thought.
That’s when 01 realized that he’d spent up his oxygen without making progress in the cave. He couldn’t backtrack to the previous fungus spread as he no longer left any of the stuff to preserve for later use or for scientific collection. He regarded the opening above him. Even out there he wouldn’t be sure that he’d find an oxygen-giving organisms. He tried his scanner but nothing came up in his vicinity. He had no choice at this point but to try to his luck above ground.
The crack above him was about 70 ft from where he stood at its lowest point. It was amply wide to let him through on any side but he would have to sprint up the highest sloping surface, steep or not, to give himself the maximum height and inertia for the jetpack to do the rest of the work.
He could see that a near slope would get him about half way up the wall. He sprang for it, dodging one grey humid cloud spewing organism, his hand ready on the jet acceleration grip. Up the wall. His speed slowed on the incline but he pushed on breathing heavily. With one giant step and a forceful grunt, 01 lept off the vertical wall at the top of the slope. Full throttle. The jets screamed and propelled him up. Up. Up. 20 feet. 16 feet. 12 feet. He pushed off the wall with his feet, almost running, to give himself a little extra upward force. 10 feet. The jets sputtered. 6 feet. He reached up. 2 feet. And out for the ground above him. The landscape starting to show as he breached the crack. He was weightless for a brief moment before he felt himself being strongly tugged down. His arms slammed on dark brown-red rock while his legs dangled and pulled him down. He slid until he was just able to find purchase in a deep crack. Thanks to his suit, he could support his weight and the weight of his equipment.
One more small boost from his pack after letting it recharge itself momentarily helped him get out completely. He stood up and looked back down into the chasm. The crab-like creatures were scuttling back over to the pond where they continued to pick at the water. He looked out and saw a small cluster of them scampering down the opening on the other side, gripping the corners and vertical walls. 01 thought for a moment. Really not too different from the seafood where I’m from. His field tool was low on energy but his suit was running very low reserves. He needed to live longer more than he needed to fix his tool.
He checked his jetpack, found it to be recharged, and took a running leap across the 30 foot gap. Field tool in hand, he started firing before he hit the ground, making sure he would get one of them before they all got away. The smell of cooked crab flesh wafted through his suit’s advanced sensory system. Saving some of you for later. I won’t let you hog it all he nagged his suit. Zapping the creature longer, his suit began to absorb its molecular energy, which 01 converted to power his life support system. He stuck two slow twitching legs in one of his field pouches.
01 turned around and in the distance noticed a green beacon beam filing straight into the air from beyond a low mountain. Green beams like this were a nearly universal symbol. Someone needed help.