Chuck poked at the crackling fire and unwrapped some ration pouches. He frowned at the narrow trail of smoke that curled off into the sky. He’d seen nobody since landing in this ancient ruin two days ago. Chuck had set up motion sensors around his entry pod, but beyond the odd rat or wallaby, he’d seen very little sign of life. Surely a fire would be noticeable in this silent land?
“Dinner for one it is then,” he said.
He settled the plastic packet into the boiling water and waited for it to heat. There was almost definitely intelligent life on this planet. He’d been pinged at least a dozen times by radar and other scans during his descent. The ship had picked up regular transmissions of energy that were too regular to be random. The consensus amongst his exploratory party was that anybody living here was underground. If there was anybody living here.
The other proposal put forward was that only the computers were left. In the thousand years since humanity abandoned Earth and headed for the stars, there had been no communication from their planet of origin. Therefore nobody had survived. Chuck did not believe this theory. It was chock full false logic, and was incredibly unromantic.
The heat sensor on the food pack changed colour and Chuck fished it out of the boiling water, hissing as he burnt his fingers. He tore the top of the bag with his teeth and spat it onto the ground. Then he grabbed a spoon and took a mouthful of what turned out to be lukewarm, slightly pasty, completely unflavoured rice. Cursing technology and money-grubbing corporations in general, he tossed the bag across the square. Various birds flittered down to find out what tasty morsels had been abandoned. Chuck snapped some images of them to send back to the orbiting ship. He gave one last mournful look at his lunch, sighed and stood up. If the natives weren’t going to come to him, he’d have to go and hunt for the natives. He hoisted his backpack, pulled out a pad, brought up a map of the ruins and headed for what looked like a giant gaming die on the city grid. It seemed to be a hotspot for energy fluctuations.
“That’s stop number one,” he said and headed out of the little clearing between the buildings. Soon the clearing was empty, but for the birds, fighting over the rice in its plastic wrapping.
And then the birds scattered as Chuck bustled back, his face scarlet. He snatched up the plastic bag of rice and tipped the food onto the ground. He looked about and nabbed the lid of the packet, stuffing both into his backpack. He pulled a small capsule out of his pocket and dropped it onto the fire, where it exploded in a squirt of foam that immediately extinguished the fire. Hands on hips, Chuck looked around critically. He nodded in satisfaction and a certain grim embarrassment.
“We left this planet because it was too polluted to live on and what do I do when I get back? Sheesh.”