Here's the story:
Taking a glass of the refreshing faquilada fruit drink, Meg wandered toward the TDJ pavilion, hoping she knew a few of the cruise staff or crew. A woman in the other line’s uniform came to meet her, waving cordially. Delighted, Meg recognized Sallira, a casual acquaintance in the Guild. Their circle of mutual friends was wide, so catching up on gossip took a few minutes. Then Meg said, “Hey, what’s the deal with the ranger station? My guy said it was closed. Did you see anyone official when you landed?”
Sallira shook her head. “No, he’s right, the staff is all gone.” Making a funny face of regret, lips scrunched, she sighed. “Too bad, I had a flirtation going with the senior ranger last time I was here.” One eyebrow raised suggestively, she sipped her drink. “I was anticipating more fun and games this trip, if you know what I mean.” She nudged Meg in the ribs with her elbow. “Harmless fun, but he sure was cute.”
Meg stared at the Falls and then the lake. The park gave the appearance of order, serene and beautiful as always. Maybe the Sector Thirty government had decided to cut costs by eliminating the rangers? But then why hadn’t she seen a bulletin to that effect? The captain gave her the permit token before the shuttle left the Far Horizon this morning, so he must not have known the permanent staff was gone either.
There was a shout from the TDJ pavilion. One of the crew was hustling their obviously bewildered passengers toward Meg and Sallira, while a second man ran ahead, sprinting for the landing field as if he had a major predator on his heels. The other cruise staff member was matching him stride for stride, but skidded to a stop in the sand next to Sallira, breathing hard. “We gotta go, right now.”
Eyes wide, the woman’s jaw dropped. “What are you talking about?”
“Captain called, emergency channel, said get our butts up to the ship immediately.”
Sallira twisted her hair into a knot as she prepared to return to work. “I guess gossip time is over, sorry, Meg. I’ll go pack the gear—”
But the other TDJ woman was shaking her head, pulling her by the elbow. “No, the captain said leave everything. Run before the pilot leaves us.”
“Is there something I should know?” Meg asked. No one ever abandoned the expensive robots and gear. Unease stirred in her gut.
“I don’t know, captain didn’t give any details. We’re out of here.” The staffer grabbed a dawdling child who was digging a hole in the sand, and hurried to the incline leading to the shuttles.
“Guess I better go,” Sallira said. “Maybe you should check with your captain, might be a solar flare or something.”
Her crewmates were yelling and gesturing for Sallira to hurry so she didn’t linger for any more chitchat, taking off at a fast pace, leaving Meg alone on the beach. Moments later, the TDJ shuttle lifted straight from the pad and shot into the azure sky. Meg rubbed her elbow, suddenly feeling goose bumps. The beach wasn’t as welcoming anymore, despite the bright sun and the ethereal music from the Falls. The forlorn pavilion and humming equipment bothered her.
“What’s with them?”
She jumped, turning to find Red standing behind her. This time it was a bit comforting to have him by her side. “I don’t know.”
“Is the other crew coming back later for their stuff?” His face was set in serious lines.
“I-I don’t know.” Meg walked toward their own set up. “The TDJ staff member in charge said their captain got on the com from orbit about some emergency and recalled them.”
“Did we get any bulletins?” Red asked. “Storms? Warn offs?”
She shook her head. “Not that I heard of. You’re ship’s crew, you’re more likely to know than I am. Think I should ask Drewson to check in with the Far Horizon?”
He scanned the beach, eyes hooded. “Yeah, I think you’ve got a good idea. I’ll cover things here.”