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professional smile. ‘Dr. Evans is ready for you now Zizi. I’ll just open the door.’

They got her down in a chute from a Zorik. Zoriks could hover like huge insects and Zizi had been able see the chute dangling from the craft, twisting in the tufts of wind that caught the loose end. She could see that she would have to drop the last three metres onto the soft sandy ground.

She was scared that the pilot would make an error and bang the chute against the ground while she was still in it.

Yret said, ‘You’ll be fine.’ He’d said, ‘I’ll be with you, you won’t be alone.’

The pilot, a young soldier, Dent, counted her down, listening to the pilot over his headphones. ‘Three, two, one go!’ he yelled, and shoved her down the white tunnel.

Dent had talked to her while the craft flew on auto. He had been on Sheppa B for three orbits and it was three orbits too long.

‘No fun on the planet and no way of getting any off it,’ he said, ‘it’s a shithole!’

Sheppa B was a mining planet that had been sucked dry a millennia before. The mines had yielded enough pure solparite to power half a planet. Now Sheppa B was as dry and lifeless as a bowl of dust.

Zizi slipped down the chute and, just as she reached the end, the chute bent from the vertical, slowing her fall through the hot rushing air to the ground. She rolled over as she’d been taught.

Lying flat she shuffled her body round to orientate herself. The heat of the sand seeped through her bodysuit, the dust clouded up into her face and lungs, blinding and choking her.

Trying not to panic, she waited until the white dust settled, and her breathing became easier. Squinting against the bright sun she looked around. About fifty metres away she could see a slight rise in the ground; behind that was the entrance to an air shaft, and that was her route into the tunnels.

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