Air filled his lungs: crisp, clean, perfect. Water tumbled down the waterfall, releasing a fine mist that prickled the skin. Bright blue skies shone down on him. A green dolphin-like creature on long scaly legs cocked its head sideways at him across the shallow lagoon.
Ted Murphey sighed. He ran his hand over the pale green grass, thick like a carpet.
Angela stepped beside him, reading the text displayed on her iris. “It’s this good all over, according to the probes.” She tensed her arms and eeked. “Do you have any idea what this will net us?”
“No.” Ted stood.
“No?” Angela blinked off her headnet connection. “Excuse me?”
“We’re not reporting.”
“Like hell! Ted, we’ve searched for this one for years. Sleeping from system to system, finding miners’ paradises and methane duds. Getting barely enough to keep the ship functional. And now we finally find a real haven – a place for settlers? You know how much the corps back home will pay for these coordinates? We’d be set for life!”
Ted placed a hand on Angela’s cheek. “You really think this is worth any money? Look at this. Unspoiled.”
She backed away from his hand. “Yeah. That’s why it’s worth that much.”
“We can’t bring people here. They’d ruin it.”
“If we don’t, someone else –“
“Don’t go there, Ange. Come on.” Ted tucked a smile into the corner of his mouth. “Come on. We could just stay here. Make the most of it. Just the two of us.” He sat on a mossy rock and took off his boots.
“Ted. Ted Bentimere Murphey. Don’t you dare. Don’t you go being romantic. No.”
Ted slipped off his jacket and plucked the shirt over his head. He grinned. “What? The probes say the place is harmless. Can you think of anyplace better to be romantic?”
Angela wrinkled her nose.
Ted shrugged and waded into the lagoon, splashing water as he went. The dolphin-thing finally fled. The cool water came up to his knees. His feet tingled as they touched the sandy bottom. “Man. I think my arthritis is actually loosening up a little!” He stretched his arms.
Angela rolled her eyes and stalked away. Let the adolescent fifty-year-old play around. She was here for a job.
She made her way back to the landing pod. A thin form leaned against it.
He stood naked and emaciated. Long pale hair fell over his shoulders. A faint grin twitched on his face. “Hey.”
Angela paused twenty paces away. She blinked on the headnet, double-checked flight paths. This entire system was supposed to be untouched by humans. No flight paths. Pirate?
He stumbled away from the pod. “Hey.” He stood, his eyes blinking to connect to something, failing. Her linkup stated that someone tried to connect to their network, but he didn’t have the right operating system installed. It was… his system was old. Incompatible.
He raised up a hand. “Hey. Um.” His eyes wandered away from her, snapped back. “Do you think. Maybe. Isn’t this the best place?” He giggled. “No. It’s awesome. I need to get away.”
Angela took a few steps back from the stranger.
“No. You need to get away. Before it ruins you.” He swallowed, lost focus, looked around. Saw the pod again. “Whoa. That’s right. Can you? Can you just take me out of here? This place is too good. I can’t be here. I’m too happy here.”
Angela eye-twitched a message to Ted. Hopefully his headnet connection was on.
“Look, this place. It’s paradise. And we. We weren’t meant for paradise. We can’t be here. It’s killing me. I’m the last one left. Crash. A few months ago.” The man stumbled again. “I don’t know. Maybe longer?”
“Why haven’t you eaten?” Angela asked, gesturing to his too-visible ribs. Every tree around was laden with fruit.
“Why? I’m never hungry. And I’m never thirsty. This place is too good. I don’t want anything.”
Something came out of the ferns behind Angela. She jumped until she saw it was Ted. He was naked.
Of course he was.
Ted smiled. “Come on, Ange. We can’t leave here. It’s too perfect. Come swim with me.”
Angela ran to the pod. She looked behind her to see Ted shrug and stumble away. The other man lurched toward the pod.
“Take me away. Please. I need somewhere that isn’t perfect. I’m not perfect. I can’t be here.” His eyes pleaded at her.
She hesitated only a moment. “Get in.”
They left Ted behind. He didn’t answer her messages from orbit.
She listed the planet as a blackrock. Ted was right. They couldn’t send people to paradise. It would be the death of them.
This is a fifteen-minute write. I sat down, wrote for fifteen minutes, edited for five. This is what came out. Not sure what I think of this one, but here it is!