Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“Receiving a distress call, Captain,” reported the communications officer of the SS Diciotti. “It’s coming from Lavello III.”

“Lavello III?” repeated Captain Campbell. “What idiot would land on Lavello III? It’s a death trap.”

“Captain,” said the science officer after consulting his monitor. “According to the ship’s transponder code, it’s a rental. The manifest lists a Mr. and Mrs. Balordo. Married a week ago. No mention of Lavello III on their registered flight plan. Looks like the honeymooners got more than they bargained for.”

“Okay, let’s investigate,” replied the captain. “Helmsman, best speed to Lavello III.”

As the Diciotti came out of warp, a featureless gray planet filled the center of the forward viewscreen. Although all terrestrial planets appear spherical from space, Lavello III was the closest thing in the universe to it. The difference between the top of the highest mountain and the bottom of the lowest valley was a little less than three centimeters. Scientist attributed this unique characteristic to a gravitational instability in the planet’s core. Every five hours, the core emits rhythmic graviton waves that cause the planet’s diameter to grow by almost 30 meters. These gravity quakes last about two minutes, and then the planet settles down to its original diameter. The net effect of billions of years to expanding and contracting is the pulverization of the crust and mantel. Mountains were leveled; boulders were crushed to rocks, rocks to pebbles, pebbles to grains. Over the eons, the denser fragments settled toward the planet’s core, and the lighter pumas-like material drifted toward the surface. As a result, the density of the surface ‘sand’ was 0.95 grams per cubic centimeter, or a little less than the density of water. During the five hours of dormancy, a person could walk along the surface of Lavello III, but during a gravity quake, the liquefaction of the surface meant that anything more dense than 0.95 grams per cubic centimeter would sink below the surface. In other words, the surface of the planet became quick sand.

“Any sensor readings?” asked the captain.

“Aye, Captain. Their ship is already fifty meters below the surface. However, I’m reading two life signs near the surface. I can’t tell if they are still on top, or just below the surface. The next quake will occur in approximately three hours. If they are not completely under now, they will be soon.”

“Have a maintenance team meet me in the shuttle bay,” ordered the captain.

An hour later, the shuttlecraft landed near the two partially buried newlyweds. The ground crunched under the weight of Campbell’s boots as she walked up to the protruding heads of Mr. and Mrs. Balordo. They were both buried up to their mouths, with only their blinking eyes confirming that they were still alive. Captain Campbell knelt down and scooped the sand away from the woman’s jaw, making it easier for her to breathe. “This was his idea wasn’t it?” asked Campbell.

“Yes,” sputtered Mrs. Balordo after spitting out a mouthful of sand. “He did it to win a bet. He’s a moron. Please, dig me out first. I want to use his head for a soccer ball.”

Campbell checked her chronometer and motioned to the maintenance crew to start digging the woman from her would-be grave. Then she moved over to the husband and asked, “Did you sign up for the additional insurance for the rental ship?”

Mr. Balordo closed his eyes and moved his head back and forth very slightly.

“Well then,” said Campbell with a grin, “I guess it’s not a good day to be you.”

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