1 Prologue

Adrift above a planet swirling with clouds, the infinitesimal nature of the universe seemed more clear than ever for the observer. On his vessel, a small one, meant for small missions just like this, he could not feel the gravitational pull of the planet just yet but felt the pull of a greater destiny.

The size of the spacecraft really didn't matter in the grand scheme of things, not when you made the most of what little space you had. And in the underfunded Exploratory Branch of the Celestum Congress that rang especially true.

The Novice remembered their first day in training. They were just a larvae back then, curled into their pod, listening to the retelling of how the first stars sprung into existence. And now here they were, in the distance an ancient star which from this angle was only a tiny amount bigger than the planet swirling around it.

Currently, they were observing the night side of the planet. Small sparks covered it, and the Novice felt excitement surge through their tentacles. Electricity was the first sign of a civilization ready to ascend into the ranks of the Congress. This was their first mission, and they knew that they couldn't have found a better find.

Before they descended upon the planet to observe a tiny bit more, they had to send out drones, as per protocol, to see if the life could even be interacted with by more intelligent lifeforms. Only then would he get a signal from the Corps Core to descend and talk to the natives.

The Novice tapped a button, and a small, circular drone sprung from the hull of the ship. Seeing as this would take two orbits of the planet's moon, they decided to sleep for a while. Using the rails at the top of the main cabin, they crawled over the doorway into the next room.

It was just then, as they were a second away from reaching the rails in the first cabin, that something happened to strike the ship, making the entire vessel ring like a bell. Terrified, a whistling sound emanated from the Novice's gills as air vibrated around them.

Luckily, the claws on their left tentacle were still snagged on the railing in the main cabin. Their spines flaring in confusion, they made their way back to the control panel.

A large crack was spiderwebbing across the exposed solar shield. That was the biggest problem. They'd have to take it into the shop, and that'd get their pay docked. I can still do this, they thought as they activated armor on the solar shield, blocking out the starlight.

Then, another pang, just like the last one. An alarm sounded, and the multi-faceted eyes of the Novice were pushed back into their skull as they cringed in fright. But even that gesture of fear could not stop them from reading that the anti-pull system was down, as it was one of the engines this time that had malfunctioned.

They could feel the effects almost immediately. The slight pull towards the solar shield, the alarms still raking the air in desperation. They pressed the alarm button, altering all near ships that they were down and needed assistance.

But the Novice was a member of the ExploraJasmine Corps. Going where no one had gone before, and though this system had been visited before and this was merely a check-in they were still far ways away from any other spacefaring nation.

Now they could truly feel the pull of the planet's gravity on them. I'll have to crash land, they thought. Ships weren't designed to crash land, exactly, they were supposed to not have any flaws.

Besides meteors. And the Novice had forgotten to check if there was a swarm of them nearby.

The Novice did what is equivalent to the human sign of "facepalming".

They summoned a model of the planet from a long time ago as the noise built around them, sounding like the force of a tsunami. They were only a couple of hundred miles above the surface now. Their options were limited now, as they were above land.

But a saving grace soon appeared: a lake!

The Novice closed their eyes, interlocked their claws, and prepared for impact.

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