Author : Beck Dacus

The organic machine hobbled unsteadily on the shoreline, leaving wet tracks in the sand. The gelatinous-lensed camera gazed up and the blue sky, and noticed a strange crescent, apparently far above, lit by the Sun. This was a surprise to the remote operators deep in the ocean behind the robot.

“What could it possibly be?” asked a shiny-scaled, broad-finned technician, turning his armored head to the mission commander. “Is there yet another world, above this new one we’re exploring?”

“Irrelevant,” the commander replied. “Our machine cannot swim up in the thin gas of the Highworld, so we should focus on what we can reach. Move forward.”

On badly jointed, uncertainly constructed legs, the spidery robot responded to its command, limping uphill, away from home, into the arid Highworld.

For a long time, there was nothing to be seen but a rocky, unworn landscape. Away from shore, the rocks enlarged and sharpened, gradually giving the rover a harder and harder time. It took around an hour for the clumsy assemblage to clear the rise that had been visible ever since it scrambled from the waves, which was farther than any other of the explorers had ever gone. Its high vantage point gave it a wide, clear view of the much wider Highworld, apparently stretching on for leagues.

The machine saw movement.

“What could that have been?” one of the scientists asked, more to herself than anyone else. Nobody could answer her question.

“Is it possible that there’s life up there?” a journalist asked.

“I don’t see how,” the commander said. “How could they move? It’s unlikely that they could float up there. And how could anything survive without water?”

“Isn’t that what our machine is doing?” an engineer refuted.

“Right, yes” he said sarcastically. “Some fish decided to take a trip onto land and turn into robots.”

The crowd gathered at the event released bubbles of amusement. They were silenced when an armored, six-legged monster landed in front of the robot.

“By the Shimmer!” someone said. “What the hell is that!?”

A segmented tail curved above the beast, before lashing at the camera, blurring the image in the lower-left corner. Then the front claws took care of all four of the explorer’s legs, while the tail repeatedly sunk into the stone-and-seaweed exoskeleton of the rover until the camera went dark.

“The Project’s been completely destroyed,” said the head engineer, mourning the loss of his brainchild. “Hundreds of days of work, destroyed in instants. Torn completely apart.”

“By life,” a biologist chimed in. “Life in the Highworld. Life on land.”

“Did you see that thing’s legs!?” another technician said excitedly. “They absorbed all that impact force on the jump, and it walked circles around the rover like it was nothing! Imagine making a machine with those legs!”

“How could it live without water?” someone else wondered. “Wait… could it be holding it inside itself? That armor looked pretty sturdy.”

“All we know,” the commander said, “Is that we have a lot to learn. Now make preparations for another rover. We’re going again. And this time it’ll be really fun.”