Briana sniffed. "Can you smell that," she asked. I sniffed, a little tentatively at first, and then a little harder. There was a faintly eggy smell about the moon that I didn't exactly mind, but made me vomit when it got strong. The air was human-breathable, but there were persistent rumours that the sulphur compounds that gave the air its eggs smell were carcinogenic, teratogenic, and just about any other -genic you cared to suggest. I made sure I got a monthly check-up and reminded myself every so often that so far, only Auntie out of all the people in this career had made it to retirement.
"I think so," I said, sniffing again. There was something else against the eggy backdrop and the loamy smells from where we'd disturbed the earth. I sniffed one last time, and suddenly caught it quite strongly. "Aniseed?" I said.
"I was thinking fennel," said Briana, "but I think other people describe that as aniseedy, so it's probably the same smell. Where's it coming from?"
It was kind of a rhetorical question as it pretty much had to be coming from the ten foot metal straws that now separated us from our landing ship, the Guinevere. I sniffed again, and edged towards the straws. The smell vanished immediately.
"Apparently not from where we both thought," I said. coming back. The aniseed hint returned to my nose. "It disappears when I start to walk towards those straws."
"Bugger," said Briana. "That would have given us somewhere to start, at least."
"We've got two places to start now," I said. "We've got a field of metal straw that might be some kind of Spoon harvest, and we've got food smells, that might lead to a Spoon Diner."
She laughed, but she also punched my arm, just above the segmented armor we both wore. I said ow in a loud voice, and she laughed again.
"Let's follow the smell," she said. "We know where the straw is, but the smell might go while we're looking at the straw."
"The straw came up pretty fast, it might go again just as fast."
We looked at each other for long moments, and I found myself admiring how she arranged her blue hair to frame her face and draw the eye to her seriously sharp cheekbones. She looked almost too beautiful to touch, and her choice of mission partners was limited to just three of us, who could each be guaranteed not to fall in lust with her.
"You do the straws," she said. "The smell has to be more interesting."
"Ok," I said. "So, standard protocol. Visibility at all times, unless you radio contact me first and show me where you're going to be and how long you're going to be there for. Veto rights applied, and we'll use band 35 as the fall-back if we think we're compromised. First scout, twenty earth-minutes."
Our watch timers all carried earth-standard time as a universal default so neither of us had to work out the local time conversion rates, for which I was grateful. I started off back to the straws, turning round from time to time to make sure I could still see Briana.
When I reached the metal straw Briana was still navigating her way. I reached out to the straw and touched one. It was slightly warm to the touch, and vibrated all the time. I gripped it a little harder, trying to see if it would snap, and it seemed to flex and bend somehow; the world around me flattened out, went two-dimensional, and then seemed to recede as though at the end of a long tunnel, making me feel instantly nauseous. When I recovered, I'd broken the straw off and was clutching it tight in my fist. Then I looked for Briana, and instead of seeing her, I found myself surrounded by tall, thin Grey-like aliens and the sky behind them was already dark with strange new constellations visible.
"Hello?" said one of the aliens, his head stretching and distorting to make the sounds as though he were running through a circus-grounds Hall of Mirrors.
"Hello?" I replied, and then everything went weird.