The Captain sat on a chair in the centre, which spun as me and my companions entered.
He was a large man, with greying hair and pale eyes. “So,” he said, “you’ve finally graced us with your presence.”
I glared. “Not by choice.”
He shrugged one shoulder. “That’s not important. What is, is that you agree to what I’m about to ask you.” He had pretty good English for a Martian.
“And what makes you think I will?”
A smile I didn’t like. “It’s mutually beneficial.”
I can’t deny a twinge of interest pricked at me. “I don’t partner with Martians.”
“You do now.” He prised himself out of his seat, and flicked a button on the console. A map appeared onto the screen. A map of a planet I’ve only ever heard rumours and stories of.
Stories from my father.
“You have a personal interest here, yes?” the Captain said, one brow raised.
“Treasure, is it? You think you’ve found something valuable and you want my help getting it?” Okay, I may have been starting to panic.
“Treasure…oh, yes, in a manner of speaking. See, I know your father went there, great space explorer that he was, and I knew he disappeared there. Ten years ago, now, was it?”
Twelve. But who’s counting.
“And I know he was hunting something valuable. And I know how to find that something valuable. I have,” he reached into his pocket, drew out a rolled piece of paper – tattered and torn – obsolete, “a map. And you,” he pointed at my necklace, “have the key.”
My hand covered it on instinct. The symbols, ingrained beneath its surface, flashed into my mind and suddenly so many things made sense.
He gave me the key.
“I know that thing is locked to your DNA,” he said, words resentful, “so I need you. And I’m betting you’d give anything to find out what happened to your Daddy. So,” he swaggered over to me, so close I could smell his putrid breath, “do we have a deal?”
A million and one back-up plans streamed through my mind. There was no way I could turn it down.
I shook his hand. “We have a deal.”
And that’s how I’m here, approaching a planet that’s known as the most dangerous in the galaxy.
My crew aren’t happy. Especially with the Martian on board looking after his Captain’s interests.
And as for the rest of the story, you’ll have to wait for that.
Cos, you know, I have to survive it first.