Sepia tones from the late afternoon light glowed through the portal as Ella carefully checked her spacesuit before donning it. This would be the first time a human had stepped foot on Pegasus IV. Ella felt some awe, but she was more worried that she would fall flat on her face in front of an inter-global audience. It was her first time to be showcased on “Planetary Survivor,” and she wanted to make a good showing.
“Check, check,” said Roman, her audio-video specialist, and short-time companion for this stint. It was his job to monitor the A/V feed, plus to make the show better, he had already recorded her responses. This show would be live video, not live audio. It was one less thing for Ella to worry about.
Her main objective was to walk around on this brown-gold planet without getting killed. Once she finished her contractual obligation, she would have enough money to become a biologist. Then she would have a chance to do some real science instead of this commercial version.
She took a deep breath, tasting the oxygen in her mask, and gave Roman a thumbs-up. He pushed the button that opened the portal. She watched it slowly go up, squared her shoulders, and walked down the ramp. Show time.
Roman and the inter-global audience watched her square her shoulders and walk down the ramp. The clump, clump added tension. She stopped, waved at the camera, and then stepped onto Pegasus IV’s soil. It was then that the unthinkable happened. In stunned silence, they watched Pegasus IV swallow Ella, silver space suit and all.
Roman hit the off button, and yelled into the microphone, “Ella, are you okay.” Nothing. In less than twenty minutes, Roman and the small space craft were off and zipping around the planet. He had a feed to the producers. All agreed that there was no way to rescue her. She was probably already dead. The producers hoped it didn’t cut into their profits. Roman had a tear for Ella and in no time was off to pick up the next contender and the next planet.
Ella knew she was in trouble after that first step onto the supposedly firm soil of Pegasus IV. She knew no one could hear her screams when the soil turned into quicksand. It didn’t stop her from yelling, and wiggling. And she knew it was all over. There would be no biology and no science for this girl.
She hoped she wouldn’t see her entire life flash before her eyes. It was pretty pitiful and not very interesting. She was the last of her family. They were colonists on Pegasus I and were still paying off the debt. In other words, they were still serfs.
Because of her dreams, her entire family had died in a TV show called “Who wants to be a tetra-millionaire? Death Match.” At the time Ella had been trying to get a loan or a sponsor for college. When she was denied, she lost her dreams and her family in one blow.
As she sank further into Pegasus IV’s soil, it became clear that she would die either by crushing or asphyxiation. It wouldn’t take long for each of her ribs to break and then her lungs and heart to be crushed. It wouldn’t be long now.
“Goodbye, Ella” she whispered to herself.
The crushing stopped. In her head she could hear some whining static. The tones when high and low until she heard a booming voice ask, “What are you?”
“Aaiiee, turn it down.” Ella couldn’t put her hands over her ears. Besides it was in her head. She could feel a pounding headache and then silence.
A little more static, and then the disembodied voice said in a more normal tone, “What are you?”
Ella could feel some hope as she answered, “I am an organic life-based form from Pegasus I. I am human.”
The silence lasted long enough that Ella lost hope, and then she heard the high pitches and static as if something was trying to communicate with her. “Why are you here?”
She tried to come up with a good line like they were exploring the world for new colonies or they were trying to come up with some good science, but all she could truthfully say was that she was on a TV show.
“I’m trying to make money,” she finally tried to be truthful. “I wanted to be a scientist.”
The ground opened up beneath her feet, the pressure built until she could feel up to 6Gs of pressure, she fainted about the time she fell into the laboratory. Two of the exoskeletons picked her up and carried her to a small room.
For a minute, she could hear their thoughts even though it was in machine language, one-zero-one-one-zero. It seemed she was going to be a part of a new breeding program. This time they would get it right. An organic life-form that was less aggressive and less discovery orientated on a place called earth.