She wrapped the cloak around her shoulders and a scarf around her neck. She checked the time: nearly six o’clock in the evening.
“Keep all lights off past this point.” Shel’s voice was low, but insistent. “Using light is dangerous in this area. We are unsure of how far their scouts patrol. I brought you these. Wear them.”
Shel held out his hand. He was holding a small box.
“These will increase the contrast of your surroundings.”
Lena took the container. Inside was a pair of circular- rimmed glasses. She put them on and the world became brighter. Before, she could only find vague shapes in the sea of hazy light, reflecting from the gas giant Exodar. She was now able to distinguish vibrant color patterns in the glowing foliage. Exodar had transformed into a massive overhead spotlight. She could now see the path before her with ease.
“Verus has been known to send scouts to patrol their premises. We must remain hidden.”
Lena’s eyes widened.
“Your facial reaction expresses concern. Our camp is still far from their outermost border. I am taking every precaution. You need not be worried.”
She grabbed her bag from the back of her bike and slung it over her shoulder. They traveled along the broken path until they arrived at the campsite. It held only a single bedroll and a small container of food and supplies. Shel informed her that they must be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
He unsheathed a warm gel-substance from the food container for Lena. Trying to stomach it made her gag, but she forced it down before laying down in the bedroll.
Her bed generated its own heat, and was surprisingly comfortable in the strange woods. She lay back and took off the glasses. The stars sparkled through swaying branches of the treetops high above. A chorus of insects sang a pulsing hymn. The sound carried her into an uneasy sleep.
Shel woke Lena early the next morning. In the darkness, she fumbled for the glasses. She choked down another of the bland gel meals before they departed. She almost envied the strawberry-flavored Vitabars she had so often consumed before work. Almost.
They traveled together along another narrow path from the camp. Lena took an opportunity to ask Shel about the local foliage and fauna, and how they had adapted to grow with such little light. It seemed life here existed slow and stunted, growing for uncountable ages before eventually reaching maturity.
“How old are these trees?” she asked, marveling at their size.
“It is unknown.”
“I thought there were geology teams that studied this a long time ago.”
“Yes, but results were inconclusive. The conventional method for dating trees involves counting the number of layers the tree has grown throughout the years. However, Zarmina does not experience the seasonal effect as Earth does, and therefor do not have distinguishable layer growths. The technology simply does not exist to calculate their age. However, it is relatively conclusive that they are the oldest forms of life yet found on this planet.”
“So... there could be things even older?”
“There is still much room for the possibility. Zarmina is indeed a wondrous place.”
“This is where we must part. I’ll await your return here.”
“How much further do I need to go?” Lena asked, looking down the path.
“Travelling in a straight line, your destination will be 3.14 kilometers from this point.”
“Three point one-four kilometers,” he corrected. “Follow this game trail until you find a steep hillside. Divert your path to the outer perimeter of that hill.”
Lena looked ahead. The glasses provided a vibrant colorscape. A small map Shel gave her displayed the task ahead. The mine portal lay within the crevice of a V-shaped hill. She needed to plant the readers in at least three spots before returning. She slung the bag of posts over her shoulder and stepped forward into the woods.