Cover for the short story Startomb by Frederick Lacroix


A Jackson Garrish Story
By Frederick Lacroix

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Jackson Garrish is a freelance explorer. Under contract from big corporations, he surveys planets for interesting, and valuable, things his employers can use.

On a deserted planet that once supported life, a river of molten rock is not the only amazing thing Jackson finds.

But they say some things are better off staying buried, did Jackson Garrish bit more than he could chew?



Jackson Garrish stood on the edge of a thousand meter deep canyon. He was watching the river of molten rock flow at the bottom, slowly making its way toward the ocean ten miles away. The planet’s thin atmosphere, coupled with the fumes emanating from under him, made it hard to breath and filled the air with the smell of burning earth. He knew he couldn’t stay there long, but it was too great a sight to behold not to become fascinated by it. There were no sound around, save for the occasional noise made by the small computer controlling his suit. The hard rock surface was bare of any life, and by all estimate, had been like this for at least a hundred thousand years. Jackson took a last look before turning around and walking back to his vehicle. He hadn’t come here for the natural wonders.

He sat in the rover, a four person land vehicle with oversized wheels, a hard shell and solar panels on the roof. The driver’s seat creaked under his weight and he closed the door. The systems emitted a series of small beeping noises and the whisper of air filled the cabin. This rover wasn’t completely air-tight, but this small addition of oxygen helped keep a clear head.

“About time,” Jella’s voice said via the rover’s intercom. “I was beginning to think you’d fallen into the lava.”

Garrish smiled. “So, that’s why you keep complaining about the tracker in my suit. You want to keep tabs on me.”

The small screen embedded in the black, plastic dashboard lit up and Jella’s face appeared. She was younger than Garrish by only a few years, but she looked eighteen or nineteen at best. Garrish, on the other hand, looked his thirty years of existence. And sometimes more. Jella didn’t seem amused, but that was also her natural expression. Garrish had gotten used to the serious face of the young woman, partly because she was a great gal and partly because he knew she had a wicked sense of humor when she let loose a little.

“Yes,” she said. “I relish the stress of wondering whether my partner is dead or not and whether I will get paid or not. Not always in that order, mind you.” There was a beep and Jella looked to her right. “Possible contact. A large metallic mass two sectors away. You’re gonna need to get back to the shuttle for that one.”

Garrish nodded. Even using unmanned drones, scanning an entire planet took a while. It was worse when there was a lot of water, or a lot of ice, to contend with. It was also frustrating that the drone couldn’t distinguish between a chunk of iron and a building made of steel. That resulted in a whole lot of false positive. He sighed and pushed the button to turn on the engine. He was about twenty kilometers away from the shuttle and the terrain wasn’t great.