When the documentarian comes over the ridge, the biologist is already unpacked and fussing over a bag.
He descends the slope, knees akimbo against the treacherous scree. His shadow tremulous in Nafthalar’s diffuse sunlight. The biologist’s tent is already up—a violence of silver amidst the giant teal fungi and strange trees like giant eyestalks. She does not look up when he approaches, though he knows she heard him.
He stops a few feet away, and swallows, and says, “Hi.”
She straightens and turns and bows briefly. She is wearing a breather and he knows that behind it she is pursing her lips. Her standard greeting. Rendered unfamiliar by the alien sun and the alien air and the technology keeping them alive.
She does not say anything.
“When did you arrive?” he asks.
“Not long ago,” she says.
“You look hot.”
“It is hot.”
He looks around.
“Yes. To begin with.”
“Where is he?”
She gestures with her head. She has cut her hair into a fierce bob and it looks good on her, he thinks, but does not say so.
“Over there. Down by the river.”
“How’s he looking?”
“Well that’s to be expected, isn’t it?”
She turns and resumes her fumbling. He lingers a few moments and then puts his backpack on the ground and takes out his drone. It skitters around on spindle thin mechanical legs, whirring and twittering like a mechanical rodent. Finally it straightens and fixes its lens on him.
“Online,” it says.
“Establish campsite,” he says.
He turns and wanders off because he cannot think of anything else to do. He can hear the drone working behind him. The shuffle shuffle of pebbles and the dry hiss of the tent. He cannot see it but he knows it is blooming behind him like a ripening dewdrop.
He peers down at the valley but he cannot see their quarry. After a few moments she wanders up next to him with a scanner.
“So, how are things?” he asks.
“Yeah. You know. Stuff.”
“Same as always.”
“How’s the new place?”
“It’s a lab.”
And then, “You don’t miss Earth?”
“I’ll be back soon enough.”
Finally she turns to look at him.
“Soon enough,” she says.
“Well, I’m glad you’re happy out there.”
“I’m doing well too.”
For a moment he thinks maybe she will draw near or at least smile, but she does neither. She just nods and says, “We’ll strike out just before dawn. Keep within a mile of him at all times. He’s old now so I don’t expect him to move very fast. But you never know.”
“Don’t get too close either.”
And with that she turns and walks to her tent and leaves him there with nothing but the answers he had prepared to the questions that she had not asked.