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The Silence in Space

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     Data Entry 2131;

     Over a year after the expected time of arrival, though is expected when considering the different circumstances that had not been considered when the time estimate had been made. The dwarf planet ahead of the ship has not been marked as part of this solar system, or is part of any map that details this section of space. The unmarked dwarf planet appears to also be in the habitable zone, and unlike the planet the original mission had been to arrive on, has a rotation on an axis that is similar to Earth's according to diagrams and many articles. (A side note; it has a slightly farther tilt).

     Pictures of the planet's surface show that it does, indeed, have water. An atmosphere is present around the planet, though is unlike Earth's (according to articles and pictures). A scan indicates that it does keep gases around the planet - these gases include oxygen, meaning it might be breathable - just as well as Earth's atmosphere does. The atmosphere makes the planet to appear to be a dark gray coloration over most of its surface, though the southern pole appears to be more white. One side of the planet has thinner crust, and the plates are visible even through the atmosphere. There is volcanic activity on that section of the planet, though it appears to be contained to that section. The northern pole of the planet appears to be mountainous, though is hard to tell from a distance, even with pictures taken before this part of arrival.

     The estimated time of landing is 11:27 PM. The chosen spot of landing is on the southern pole, on a clear area the AI had detected to be easiest to reach and land on without many problems. (Notable; signs of vegetation are all around the planet, and the chosen space has less vegetation, as to avoid the ship landing on what is possibly this planet's equivalent to trees). 

     Further scans and testing are to be conducted after landing.

-----

     Personal Journal Entry 2131;

     It has been five years and ten months. I cannot properly express my excitement in words about this discovery; it wasn't the planet we were sent to colonize, but I would be lying if I didn't say that the conditions on this dwarf planet are a lot more welcoming than the one we were taught we would live on one day. The thought that others from the mission might have arrived here before me and found this planet as well is exciting - beyond what I can reasonably hope for, actually. The chances are dreadfully low.

     Even if it isn't them, the fact life is on this planet already is astounding. Ami's scans tell me that there's at least plants on this planet - that leans towards animal life as well. The amount of intelligence held is unknown for the moment. The thought of someone to talk to without pre-determined responses is a good one. (I won't take credit away from Malin, since, if we're being technical, her responses aren't pre-determined. Not that I can understand exactly what she means, but I like to think I can translate it into English. This might be a sign of me growing insane, which is worrying, but now I've got something to stimulate my mind with that should reverse any ill effects of the trip).

     The point that they probably would not speak English is disheartening, but whatever is awaiting for me there, it'll be something other than what I have at the moment. (The chance of English-speaking intelligent life on this planet is practically zero percent, with good reason. But I like to fool myself into thinking it's possible). What I can really hope for is that they aren't hostile, since I have nothing to defend myself with other than the hull of the ship around me to shield me. Malin can be as ferocious as she wishes, but I wouldn't let her into harm's way even if it meant I'd die in the process. With luck, if there's locals, they'll be either friendly or too scared/mystified to attack me.

     Whatever the case, I must assume the worst-case scenario.

     That scenario being that I am the last human being that roams the stars. I am approaching a planet likely filled with either hostile locals or no intelligent life at all. It is likely I cannot continue the human race out here by myself, so I must make a settlement that can survive past my bones, and send out a signal in hopes they'll send another ship full of humans to live in it when I'm gone. That's my main purpose.

     For the good of humanity.

---  ---

     "Accurate pictures of the surface cannot be taken at this moment. The temperature outside of the ship is negative five degrees Celsius. Samples of the air have been taken, and it has been deemed safe to breathe. The ship landed at a seventeen degree angle, with the highest point being the back of the ship, and is estimated that the terrain had been rougher in this spot than had been expected when first choosing coordinates to land. Artificial gravity is being kept on for the safety and comfort for the occupants, though will be turned off as soon as the ship is on flat terrain and gravity will be pulling in the same direction as the bottom of the ship. Gravity is less intense than on Earth, though long-term damage to the muscles is not likely as long as exercise is continued. The weight of all occupants will only decrease on a minor scale. The parachute cannot be retracted at this time, and will need to be manually adjusted for more information on the surface of the dwarf planet, and so that the solar panels can continue to collect energy."

     A sigh followed the report. "Ami, check the storage to see if there's a cold-weather suit. If there is one available, have it put into the bathroom immediately."

     After all this excitement, the first thing I have to do is re-pack a parachute. At least the task includes leaving the ship and going outside.

     Her (e/c) eyes glided over the thick glass that once showed her a view of the world just outside of the ship. Now the only view it offered was one of eerie darkness, as if she were headed right into a black hole. The reality of it was that the parachute used in landing had draped itself over the ship, and, unluckily, the front of the ship happened to be covered by the fabric as well as the solar panels, telescopes, and all other sorts of devices that were used to scan their surroundings. A lot of the equipment was out of order because of that, but it was an easy fix.

     The window had been the primary source of light for the room, and its absence cloaked the room in darkness. Lights the size of the tip of her pinkie finger cast an ethereal glow from their spots on the floor. They curved along with the front wall, and were absent in the back of the room where the wall was straight. The darkness seemed to congeal in the center of the room, spreading outwards when nearing the curved ceiling. A figure stood just behind a panel that spanned from one side of the room to the other, nearly touching each wall. She pressed her palms onto the surface of the panel, and a whir sounded for a moment before a bright source of light emanated from the air in front of her, just over the panel.

     Information spread out across the air, as if sketched there with a fine tool by an invisible hand. They came in tabs, rectangles about the shape and size of her torso. They expanded until they filled the air from end to end, nearly reaching the ceiling, with barely any open space for her to see through to the window just beyond. The contents of the tabs depended, varying from maps to diagrams, articles to data entries, folders to files. The tabs were projected from a thin slit that spanned the entirety of the panel, right down the center. It glowed, like its projections, and lit up her face with a spectral white light that made her seem like an apparition.

     "There is one cold-weather suit available in the storage," the familiar monotone voice of Ami announced. "It has been deposited in the bathroom."

     "Where is Malin?" She better not be digging through the garden again.

     "Motion is detected in the sleeping quarter."

     Phew.

     "Ami, highlight information regarding environments on Earth that are typically cold," she ordered, scanning the tabs.

     Multiple tabs were highlighted in a gentle yellow color; a few were pulled from little folders that dotted the corners of the projected screen. She reached forwards and used her fingertip to glide the tabs into the bottom center. Though her fingertip touched nothing, and she felt nothing, they moved as though they were physical and she was simply sliding them across an actual, solid surface. More of her hand dipped past the illusion as she swept the other tabs out of the way, watching as they cluttered into makeshift folders at the very corners, clearing a majority of the possible space.

     All of the tabs had their key words emboldened on the cover, offering the basics of their content for her viewing. They'd stacked together, and she had to use her fingertip to nudge them aside so she could examine each one, searching for the correct key words that matched what she needed. Tabs that didn't interest her were flung upwards, forming stacks there instead. The pile grew as her sort continued, until only a handful were left right before her.

     Three pictures, one diagram, and one article (that included a list).

     First, she opened the article by putting her fingers on the tab and spreading them outwards. It expanded until it was bigger than her, the font ending up only about as large as the tip of index finger.

-----

     Earth is in the habitable zone of our solar system, but we still have sections of our planet that are home to very cold climates, while others have sometimes unbearable heat. Humans that are born in space will only know the comfort that comes with the ideal temperature held on spaceships of the age - if they are even taught about the Sahara or the arctic, they won't be able to properly connect with the described temperatures that come with understanding the world their species had come from. The planet they're destined to live on will have climates of its own, and we have no way of knowing if they'll be the same, or ever form the same environments that have formed on our own blue marble. In any case, the humans of the future that might never live on our home planet must understand the hardships that come with climates that we cannot control, and what it is like to survive in such climates.

     Cold temperatures are especially important to teach humans who don't know what the experience of winter is like. They won't be taught by living through such a climate, as us on Earth do. The idea of being cold might be an odd concept, one they might share a laugh at because of how silly it seems. The humorous nature will quickly be swiped from them as soon as they're taught about the horrors that come with the cold, and the many of us that have died in the struggle. Hypothermia and frostbite, the killers that lurk under lower temperatures. The two that have injured and killed too many humans to possibly count. The people who have lost limbs because of stupidity or ignorance. Humans without a grasp on the weight of the cold is something we should fear. What they might do because of their own ignorance could mean the end of space colonization before it began. The ideal humans to send into space are ones who are cautious, and well-learned about the universe around them - ones that know when to put on the extra layers, or skip a few.

     Most notable is the arctic tundra; essentially, it is a cold desert. The strong winds and low temperatures, with also scarce water, make it one of the landscapes that are harder to survive in. Unfortunately, this is the kind of environment humans of the future will have to adapt around on other planets, or one similar. The type of tundra could be easier or much harder to survive in, but, either way, it will be cold, and resources won't be as plentiful as they're used to. Frostbite and hypothermia will always be an issue they will have to learn to deal with, and hopefully they will find a way around it with the information being sent with them. The basic human instincts will always be a part of our species, but the way we use them, combined with our knowledge, will determine the end result of whether we thrive... or cause our own extinction.

     Because of this necessity, we will do our very best to pass on the hard-fought for information that generations of humans collected over the span of thousands of years to those who are sent into the stars. Our future rests upon their shoulders. Cold temperatures are always quite the burden for a survivor, but there are ways to prevent falling ill or dying because of it. This is the reason this article is written. The information included could mean life or death for anybody who comes across it - below are listed ways to prevent hypothermia and frostbite, if you find yourself in temperatures that are well below what you have come to find comfortable. If you don't have the essential gear needed, you will have to make do with whatever is within your reach. Humans have been resourceful throughout our history. Problem-solving is a thing that runs within our very blood. You will find a way, no matter what.

-----

     At least I have the essentials, she thought. She'd reread the list below at least seven times to make sure she knew exactly what steps she should take. They seemed rather straightforward, and made a lot of sense. It would be rather difficult to mess it up, especially when they all led back to 'wear warm clothing'.

     Despite being assured that all would be fine if she wore warm clothes, she found herself feeling... apprehensive. The way the cold on your bare skin was described sounded unlike anything she'd ever felt before. In any other situation, a new experience would be something she would curiously - yet cautiously - embrace. Yet the cold sounded like a punishment. Some ridiculous punishment that an adult would threaten their child with if they were misbehaving, but, of course, never go through with it. 'It cuts your skin like a knife', 'it leeches the warmth from your flesh', 'your body will vibrate in an attempt to warm itself again'.... that sounded much more like nature was punishing some misdeed mankind had done. That sounded absolutely dreadful to have to experience.

     Alas, that was what she was dealt. If the humans on Earth could deal with such a sensation, so could she. It was something she would have to get used to, was all.

     I hope I get used to it quickly.

     She closed the tab in the opposite of the motion she'd used to expand it - placing her outstretched fingers on the surface, and closing them into a fist. It closed itself and disappeared, leaving just four other tabs of interest.

     Next, she opened the diagram.

     It displayed the average food web of a cold environment. Food webs had been a part of her curriculum since her early years, though it stayed to the basics more often than complex. This one had pictures and names of animals and plants she'd never seen, though a few she happily recognized. This exact food web was not to be expected at all, of course; something similar, if life had arisen there, would be. It was something to expect, if there was a lot of biological diversity. (There were plants - that meant there was something eating the plants, as well. If there weren't animals, that would be surprising. The introduction of two new species, however, could completely throw the whole system out of its normal niche, so she would have to be careful about what she interacted with. Exceptions would have to be made for Malin in rare cases).

     Lastly, she took a look at the pictures. There had been a lot of pictures offered to her of cold environments, but a lot had the tags 'city', which wasn't what she was looking for (no matter how curious she became about them; she reminded herself she could look for them again later, when she wasn't due to leave the ship into an unknown environment and needed to see references as to what it might look like). The remaining seemed to be somewhat stages of different factors.

      In one, the available view was clustered by trees she knew to be evergreens. Ones with needles, such as spruce or pine. A layer of white took up a lot of the screen, which she knew to be snow, a type of precipitation on Earth, and a likely type on this dwarf planet. It collected on the ground in thick layers, but also managed to clump together on the branches of dead, bare-limbed trees, on the swaths of needles the evergreens held, and clung to the needles themselves forming small icicles. Tussocks of sickly green or brown managed to poke through the white on the ground, towards the cold, gray skies.

     Another held less trees, and less snow. Patches of trees dotted the mostly rocky landscape, where more grass had fought through the hard-packed soil. Long strides of land were a dull gray color, where any dirt had been scraped away by the wind that ruffled the needles and thinnest branches of the few trees. It seemed more desolate and lifeless, despite there being more undergrowth in the picture. The lushness of the evergreens was far away, the half-dead grass taking its place.

     The last was one devoid of life amid the landscape of ice and rock. A dead sea of dark blue surrounded the island of cracked, impure white; jagged floes and small icebergs drifted amid the currents and waves, sloshing in the waters in a lifeless dance, hitting one another in their rush to nowhere in particular. In the distance, beyond the rising sun, was a larger land mass of white, past the farthest floe that had broken off from the mainland of ice. The inhospitable wasteland of water and ice was unappealing, and she felt somewhat glad that the dwarf planet held no ocean where such a scene could come about.

     Satisfied with her search, she pressed both of her palms firmly to the panel once more, and the projections disappeared just as swiftly as they'd arrived. The soft whirring noise was the only thing that served to tell that the panel had been activated at all. An ache had built up in the muscles of her back, threatening to seize and cause acute pain if moved the wrong way. A quick stretch dismissed the problem as soon as it'd arised, however. She stood up straight after a moment and turned, leaving the control room.

     The walls of the ship were all the same. The same monochrome gray panels that reached floor to ceiling, disrupted only by doorways that automatically slid sideways as she passed. It all blended together into a sea of metal, though lacked the calming movements of the waves that lapped the shores of all continents and islands on Earth. Her right had two doors that welcomingly slid open at the detection of movement, letting the wafting scents of growth drift into the scentless air of the rest of the main hall. When she didn't enter, they shut themselves, concealing the alive scent once again. Her left side held no doors, but at the very end of the hall, it took an abrupt turn that direction.

     Untouched at the very end of the hall was the sealed door that led to the airlock. The frame was thicker than the one around the other doors, and appeared to be made of a slicker material. Despite misuse, dust hadn't collected on the cleansed white color of the door amid the gray, as though it had kept itself clean to seem appealing for when one day she would inevitably use it. The dull light glinted off its smooth surface of the frame and the door itself, though the chamber the door concealed as shrouded in a blanket of darkness so thick she couldn't see anything past the little glass window around eye-level on the door. The entire area had an air of mystery and appeal, though she resigned to leave at a later time.

     Have to change into proper attire, she thought. Her stomach growled audibly, announcing its hunger. And eat.

     Around the bend of the hall, it turned to the left again after just a couple feet. It spanned the same length of the main hall, though now she was facing the other direction. The wall to her right now was sliced through by a thick pane of glass that would have allowed her to have a shaded, safe view of the stars she passed; now, the sections that weren't covered by the parachute that'd gone astray were too dark to see through to the world beyond. They only gave the slight impression of what she would have seen, if the glass hadn't been tinted to avoid any sight injuries. A tilted, dark landscape was all she could make out before she gave up.

     The wall to her left held a door similar to the one that'd led to the garden, sliding open and offering her a view of a slate-gray bathroom. Farther down the wall was an alcove, over six feet across, cutting deep into the wall. As she drew nearer, she could see the metallic cylinder that had been slotted into the space; a quarter had been cut into it, revealing its softer, hollow inside. The white blanket was kept firm across the flat mattress, its ends disappearing into the crevice between the soft white and the hard gray; it was kept in place this way, though not too tightly, so she could still use the blanket when resting.

     Settled on the pillow at one end was a ball of gingery-orange fur. A head popped up and peered at her as she approached, black ears perked with newfound excitement. The vixen swiftly got to her black paws, her black-tinged fluffy tail sweeping across her previous sleeping space. She scratched under the vixen's white-furred chin for a moment, then gave her a quick pet behind the ear. "We're going outside in a little while, Malin. Just to get the parachute off of the ship, but, we're going outside. Isn't this exciting?"

     'Wow wow wow' was the noise Malin responded with.

     "Haha, yeah. Ready for some breakfast?"

     A happy yipping noise was her reply.

---  ---

     The cold-weather suit had been folded and placed on a shelf that'd extended from a smaller panel in the wall. It was the same dark gray color as her current suit, though it had a few features that made it obvious which one was for when the temperature dropped, and which was for adequate, comfortable temperatures.

     The one she was already wearing hugged her skin, covering a majority of her skin. Its texture was smooth, as though she was wrapped in the metal that made up the walls. It stretched easily with her every movement, unlike the metal; no matter how she moved, it simply moved along with her, acting as a second skin that she could easily forget was there. To avoid putting too much on display, places such as her chest and around her hips were gently padded, to blur the inappropriate details. Otherwise, it was skin-tight, showing the finely-toned muscles she'd gotten from exercises that kept her body from falling into disrepair.

     Meanwhile, the other suit was filled with padding for insulation. It was softer in texture as well, like her blanket. The way it felt against her skin as she pulled it on was an odd one; like she was putting on a pelt of fur, similar to the thickness of Malin's, with the softness to match. The fit felt tighter than her usual suit, and she found that it didn't have the same fluid motion - it fought against her instead. That was a little infuriating, but she supposed comfort came at a cost. This suit didn't show off her body as much as the other, but rather made her look more plump, which she chalked up to the immense amount of padding that kept her body heat inside of the suit.

     Unlike her other suit, this one also had a hood. It was rimmed with black, and was a furry texture, not just soft. The inside of the hood was fluffier and comfortable, as though she was pulling a pillow over her head. Strands of (h/c) got stuck in the hood, pressed against her back, and she cleared her hair away to make sure she was as comfortable as possible. Also unlike her original suit, this one covered her hands and feet. It switched to a black color on her hands, leading all the way to her elbows; the inside was softer, and an extra layer had been added, though less padding than around other places of her body to allow easier movement. The black on her feet reached all the way to her knees, in a similar fashion, though was covered up by the shoes that came with the suit. Those were boots, made of a similar texture to suit, but much more firm to hold its shape. They were black as well, as the other details of the suit were.

     Inside of the ship, she felt as though she'd crawled right into a heater. This new suit didn't have the same airing-out properties as the other; it trapped all of the heat inside, letting it fester to unbearable levels. That would be great for when it was much colder outside, which she was grateful for, but currently it was something she wished would go away. She pulled at the collar, exposing the skin of her neck to the air; it wasn't any help, to her disappointment.

     As soon as I leave the ship, it'll equal out, she told herself. Time to finally go outside.

     The boots were uncomfortably loud against the floor, the thuds echoing back at her after bouncing from the walls. Malin had taken a place padding at her feet, keeping well out of the way of her boots to avoid getting stepped on by accident. Despite the uncomfortable heat, she pulled her hood over her head, trying not to think about everything that could go wrong on such a simple mission.

     I'll be fine.

     The entrance to the airlock had always been there, but to her it felt as though it was a new addition to the ship. Around it hovered an air of mystery, snagging onto her curiosity and trying to reel her in to wherever it led. She'd walked past it countless times, never giving it much thought other than a quick glance whenever she was feeling especially curious. For the second time since her birth, she'd be walking through it again, though going the other way.

     "Ami, open the airlock door." Her voice was unwavering, holding steady as she spoke. It contrasted the anxiousness bubbling inside of her, which she'd feared would show whenever she spoke, spilling from its container.

     The door opened, and she had to take a step backwards to avoid being hit with it. It clicked into its new place, offering the small chamber just beyond it. A light had flickered on inside, illuminating an identical door on the opposite side, casting a dim glow on the rest of the dingy space. The panels weren't the same; the technology usually concealed was out in the open, swarming over the metal as though trying to hide the blandness from view.

     Hesitantly, she stepped inside. Her boots clicked against a vent with a louder noise. Malin slipped inside as well, sniffing the air curiously and looking around at the new environment. A mix of excitement, anxiety, curiosity, and fear was brewing just below her surface, though she smoothed them down until she radiated a formal, in-control air, as though she could control every variable of the situation to her liking, how she saw fit. Whatever would give her the best outcome.

     In reality, everything was spiraling out of her control. The feeling wasn't pleasant.

     Click.

     "Proceed?" The AI's droning voice probed.

     "Affirmative."

     The door ahead of her opened outwards, a rush of new air flowing inside of the chamber. It shifted into a new position, with the same clicking noise when it stopped. She glanced behind her a moment; the door she'd come from was sealed again, preventing her from backtracking and retreating into the assured safety of the ship. Malin was the first of the two of them to approach the door, taking a cautious sniff of the air that'd drifted in from the open doorway. She recoiled; she didn't blame her. The same air blew harshly against her face, with all of the pain described by the article previously. She buried what she could into the suit, making sure the hood was on correctly.

     Inhale.

     It burned against her lungs, filling it with sharp needles.

     Exhale.

     The moisture hung in the air, a white cloud of foggy condensation that drifted out of the chamber and away into the world beyond.

     She took her first step into a whole new world. The shift in gravity was expected, but the suddenness made her stumble; she nearly fell off of the tower of rocks the back of the ship had landed on. She stuck her hands out on either side to try and bring back her balance, looking warily over the edge of the rocks. The ground below was covered in a layer of white, and looked soft to the touch.

     There was snow.

     The world around her was one similar to the first picture she'd seen. Even the trees were similar, though after looking at them for a few moments she realized the differences. Their needles were thicker, broader; instead of spread along the branch, they collected into large bundles. The cones were like pine cones, except they were, again, broader. There were bushes, but they formed in a similar way to the trees, except instead of needles they held shiny leaves and tiny white berries. Undergrowth clustered around trees, with the same shiny leaves in odd formations unlike ones she was familiar with.

     Snow collected everywhere, like in the picture. It crunched under her boots, which she was now glad for as an extra barrier between her feet and the cold around her that cut into her face. It drifted slowly down from the sky, freezing to the ground with its brethren. It had even collected in a thin layer atop the ship, she noticed; it had pooled in folds in the parachute, as if trying to drag it down to the ground, but wasn't doing a good enough job of it to actually complete its little mission.

     The sight of the sky was amazing.

     Everything was lit up by the two suns that chased each other across the horizon, lazily snaking their ways along the treetops in a slow race. The clouds that covered the sky swirled like a painting, the thickness of the covering varying; in some places, she could see right through to the stars. The thin atmosphere allowed a direct view into the world of stars above, not the blue skies she was told would come with the day - no, it was a backdrop of black, speckled with gentle stars that twinkled softly like little lights, so many different solar systems with different stories, ones she would never explore to their fullest extent. The stars were only disrupted by those swirling clouds that dotted the sky.

     The sunlight glittered off of the snow, bathing everything in gentle - but dim - light. The effect was ethereal, lighted by not lighted, dark but not dark. A few of the plants appeared to glow, showing their bio-luminescence in the lack of full lighting from the suns. The phenomenon added to the landscape considerably, adding to the effect. She'd been told time and time again that life on other planets would be different from what they viewed on Earth, but she hadn't expected this.

     She wouldn't mind living here.

     The gravity was noticeably different than on the ship, where it simulated Earth's gravity. It was a little weaker, making her seem a few pounds lighter. She tested her weight on the rocks, moving back and forth to get a feel of how it was to maneuver around in her new environment. Scaling down the mountain of boulders seemed a lot less daunting now, compared to the fear of falling she'd felt when she first felt the pull of the new gravity.

     She glanced down to look at Malin, who'd ventured from the safety of the ship as well. She sniffed at the snow, watching curiously as her black paws sunk into the white powder that covered everything. They met eyes; her (e/c) meeting amber. Malin tipped her head to the side, looking around the new world they'd come across. Her tail swept across the rocks, disturbing the layer of snow that'd settled.

     "Come on Malin, let's re-pack a parachute, shall we?"

     Malin responded with a yip, her tail flicking as she was scooped up into her arms.

     The journey down the rocks was quick one. She slid along the sides of the boulders, stepping from boulder to boulder with long strides and little hops to make sure her feet were always planted firmly on a solid surface. It didn't take long of that until she was on more solid ground, and let down Malin. The red fox stood still for a moment before lurching forwards, jumping up and landing face-down in the snow, kicking around her back legs in the air as she fought with the snow.

     She popped back up, a rodent in her mouth. It disappeared down her throat as soon as she'd gotten it.

     "... I'm not saying I'm saying you should hunt, but remember that you are an invasive species. Try not to hunt unless you really need to, okay? And we just ate, so I doubt you're that hungry. I get that foxes eat animals, yes, and you haven't eaten anything like that for years and probably needed some meat, but don't eat too much of that. We need to be careful around here."

     Malin yipped in response, and she sighed.

     The two headed to the front of the ship that was half-buried in the snow. The cone had popped off to allow the parachute to deploy, leaving an open nose; the parachute was still connected to the mechanisms inside, but they had gotten lodged with the snow that had managed to get in. She got on her knees, wincing at the cold that seeped through the suit, and started to dig out the snow so she could retract it manually.

     Malin sat next to her, watching as she shoveled snow out of the nose with her hands. Her huffing breaths created a trail of white, leading upwards to join the swirling clouds. When the snow was cleared enough, she reached in and pressed a button - she quickly withdrew her hand and ushered Malin away from the nose as a loud whirr followed. The strings the parachute was connected to began to retract back into the nose, the parachute being dragged along the hull with it, the snow that had collected on the parachute falling from the folds and sliding along the hull on their trip back down to the ground.

     She stood up, swiping the snow from her knees. "Well, let's head back inside the ship, Malin. I, personally, would like to eat something and read through a long report of our surroundings. You can do whatever you like, and if you really want to, I suppose we could come back outside again later and you could play around in the snow. That sound good?"

     An excited yip was Malin's response.

---  ---

     Data Entry 2132;

     Results from today's scans around us have shown that this dwarf planet does have life on it. Complicated life - plants similar to trees, bushes, ferns, and even a rodent was spotted. Motion has been detected on a large scale miles away, though the trees block any direct images. It is believed that this is a town of sorts, but its inhabitants are unknown. It has been decided that the course of action will be to wait in the ship and see if they take notice, and work out what to do from there if they come to investigate. Chances are, they could be violent, and walking right into a violent group of however-intelligent life would mean next to certain death.

     Further tests are to be conducted, and scans.

-----

     Personal Journal Entry 2132;

     I went outside the ship today. Twice.

     The first time, it was to manually retreat the parachute from on top of the hull. The system had gotten clogged, and it wasn't able to properly pull it back inside of the ship, so I had to press a button after clearing the snow from the nose. I can't say that I enjoyed the outside temperature, since it was unlike anything I'd felt before - my breath was visible, it burned at my lungs, and it really felt like it was cutting my skin whenever the breeze blew. It felt like I was pressing my face up against a vent that had malfunctioned.

      Malin caught something. It looked like a rodent, but not like any I'd seen before. She ate it as soon as she'd dug it up from the snow. She had been raised on a mainly plant diet - which isn't very healthy for foxes, I know, but I didn't have a choice - so I let her do that. She needed that meat somehow, but I suppose this was the easiest way.

     The second time, it was so Malin could have more exercise. She caught another rodent even though she had eaten lunch just a little earlier (she'd also eaten that first rodent right after breakfast; I think she's just eating for the sake of it being meat) and I let her have that one as well, since she'd already killed it. Letting her kill and eat things I haven't studied isn't smart, but I couldn't do much to do anything against it, since it's more likely to positively affect her health.

     On another note, I am extremely excited about the detection of what is probably a town of sorts. Even if it isn't a town, it means there's at least a large group of something moving just miles away; whatever it is, I'm not alone here. It isn't likely they'll speak English at all if it's intelligent life (practically zero), but any form of communication is anticipated. If they're friendly or not isn't certain, but if they're friendly it means I could potentially make friends here. If they're hostile, then I'll have to find some way off this planet, or just a way to hide from them and make a settlement that can stand against them. Again, I must assume the worst-case scenario, but I'll act leaning towards the best-case.

     I will make that settlement. I'll be sending a message out soon, whenever is most convenient. For the good of humanity.

Chapter Text

     Near silence reigned over the snowy meadow, broken only by the satisfying crunch of the brittle ice under the powdery snow being crushed underfoot by the trekkers. Most wildlife had fled the area at first signs of the alien object's suspiciously smooth landing, going elsewhere to graze and scavenge where the overhanging threat of the unknown didn't reside. Nothing bigger than a rodent remained. They still busily burrowed just underneath the ice and searched for food as always, not bothering to care about the newest disturbance to the peace. To them, it was just a break from the usual predators, giving them an excuse to stay out longer and scavenge more than usual, hopefully plumping them up for the harsher, colder season that would come in only a couple month's time. As the footsteps drew nearer some sense finally came to them, sending them into their burrows to wait for their retreat so they could come back to enjoy their safe haven.

     Two suns fought to be the first to rise over the horizon, their blazing tops already gracing the land of snow and ice with a trace of their warmth. The sparse - but thick - clouds of yesterday had been blown across the starry skies, bringing the heavy snow elsewhere on the pole, exposing the broad expanse of black emptiness only broken by stars and constellations, distant galaxies and nebulas that stretched bands of light across the void. The breathtaking view above was bordered by the glowing land below. The bioluminescent plants spread across the landscape like an artist's brushstrokes, painting the expanse of white into a world of gently glowing color, spreads of blue and purple and green blending excellently with the rest of nature's palette, unmatched by the blandness of the trees that soaked up the rays of sunlight and sent looming gray shadows over the white canvas. A gentle wind made the lights sway, though the sky only moved slowly, setting a pace of patience that no monster or man could challenge.

     Snowflakes encrusted the top of the spacecraft, giving off an attracting sparkle as the suns' warming rays gave them a melting embrace. The broad metal plates that made up the outer hull of the ship were no less reflective, blinding to anyone who peered too closely into the polished gray; heavily tinted black windows adorned the side of the craft, soaking up the light and keeping it like a black hole. The pointed nose was buried into the ground, melting into the whiteness of the rest of the meadow. The back was propped on a mass of boulders, making the entire craft face down towards the ground at an angle. The stainless steel wings had collected a massive layer of snow, the angle and the warming rise of the suns causing the deposited snow to start to slide off the slick surface. The spacecraft's presence had caused such disturbance in the peace of the meadow, disrupting the usual flow and giving it a more dangerous and alien atmosphere, making it clear that the ones who had tread the meadow before weren't welcome any longer.

     They drew closer to investigate the futuristic craft.

     One of the two figures was smaller than the other, stouter and rounder, barely reaching the height of the craft's wing that lay suspended above the ground. Clad in something akin to a mix between a varsity jacket and a parka, the stark contrast between the dark yellow, darker blue, and soft fuzzy white created an interesting combination. The sleeves were yellow, with two thin parallel stripes went across the chest, sides, and back being the same color. They stood out among the dark midnight blue fabric that made up the bulk of the parka. The bottom trim and the lining of the hood were made of white faux fur. White poms made of the same material dangled from the ends of white hoodie strings. The silver zipper wasn't zipped, revealing a much darker blue cashmere turtleneck sweater underneath. They donned blue sweatpants that matched the parka, with a vertical yellow line going down each pant leg, all the way to light blue slippers embroidered with stars.

     The other figure was taller and lankier, towering at least a couple heads over the smaller figure. Its outfit wasn't crafted well for cold climates. The top half of the outfit was a bulky and rounded breastplate, a blue color similar to the other figure's parka. Broad yellow arrows adorn the tops of the spaulders, pointing down; yellow badges and tags had been attached to the breastplate's left side with a yellow diamond hovering above the rest. The trim of the spaulders and breastplate were lined with that same yellow. The covering left a majority of the figure's arms bare, and its midsection. Another piece of armor, something similar to but not quite a tasset, covered the figure's hips. It was predominantly blue with an upper trim of yellow, with lots of thin vertical yellow lines. Wrapped around the figure's neck was a thick blue scarf, a darker blue than the rest of the outfit, only a little lighter in shade than the smaller figure's turtleneck. The fringes were a border of yellow surrounding it, locking in the constellations and stars sewn onto the scarf's fabric. They were connected to show the constellations by hair-thin lines of yellow. The figure's hands were clad in gloves, glossy-textured ones on the outside that caught the lighting like the delicate snowflakes. The base on the inside of each glove was black bordered with thick yellow arrows that came together, pointing upwards with the tip barely reaching the palm; the rest was blue, with painted stars decorating it to look like space, like the scarf except for the constellation's connector lines. Covering the figure's feet were slick boots, mainly yellow in color with blue tops and two broad blue lines across the front. They crushed the snow gracefully, none of the snow able to stick to the boots' outside where it could melt later when in warmer temperatures.

     Both of them were skeletons. Neither was perfectly accurate to the human anatomy, but both could be easily compared to a human's skeleton. The taller of the two had a more striking resemblance with a narrower and taller skull, thinner bones, and a two-part skull where the mandible could separate from the rest of the skull. The stouter skeleton had much broader and thicker bones, with a more rounded skull and a connected mandible; the eye sockets were wider and had small orbs of light floating in them, acting as eyes, while the taller skeleton's smaller eye sockets were empty. The smaller skeleton's teeth were curved into a laid-back smile, though only a single row of teeth were visible, the bottom set covered by a lip made of more flexible bone.

     The smaller of the two stopped a safe distance from the ship, observing it from afar. The taller - filled with more curiosity and bravery than the other - continued to march towards it, bypassing the stouter skeleton and coming to a stop at the side of the hull. Placing its hands on its hips, the taller skeleton proclaimed in a soft, but loud, voice, "WOWIE... SANS, DO YOU THINK THIS IS AN EARTHSHIP? WITH A HUMAN ON BOARD?" Barely contained excitement and wonder shone through the - now distinctly male, though higher-pitched, like an alto - skeleton's voice. His skull couldn't stay still, roving around in all directions in an attempt to take in all of the ship at once, trying to look at everything there was to look at. He ran one of his gloves across the hull tentatively, as though touching it might cause it to shatter into dozens and dozens of tiny fractured shards.

     "maybe," came a soft-spoken, quiet reply, also male. The smaller skeleton's voice was definitely on the deeper end of the spectrum, closer to that of bass. The pinpricks of light in his eye sockets were studying the footprints left in the snow around the ship that had gone unnoticed by the overeager, taller skeleton. They were easily distinguishable from the broader, fresh footprints the skeleton left behind. They were narrow and thin, feminine, with soles that indicated some type of boot. Always nearby those footprints were pawprints of a small animal, though he couldn't quite tell what it was exactly. Some parts of the snow were upturned and dug through, which caught his interest. what kinda animal did they bring? He wondered.

     Amazed, the tall skeleton strutted around the hull, feeling the smooth metal plates under his gloves. "I DON'T THINK SPACESHIPS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE TILTED LIKE THIS," he realized out loud, withdrawing his hand from the mysterious hull as he stopped walking. "IT WOULD BE REALLY HARD TO WALK AT THAT ANGLE, EVEN FOR THE GREAT PAPYRUS. WHAT IF THE HUMAN GOT HURT, SANS? WE HAVE NO IDEA HOW FRAGILE THEY ARE... WHAT IF THEY GOT HURT AND GOT TRAPPED IN THERE?" Alarm replaced the naive wonder in his voice, brought by a newfound anxiety.

     poor paps.

     "i think they're ok, bro. look, there's tracks. see?" The smaller skeleton stepped a few paces closer to the craft, stopping just short of the trail of footprints. The taller skeleton looked over, the tension in his shoulders relaxing and making them slightly slump as his fears were assuaged by the evidence that the human was, in fact, alright and able to leave the craft. "no need to get worked up 'bout it. if there's anythin' to worry 'bout, 's us scarin' 'em into stayin' in the ship."

     Blinking his eye sockets owlishly, the taller skeleton looked back to the ship. "WHY WOULD THEY BE SCARED? WE'RE PERFECTLY FRIENDLY! I'VE ALREADY PLANNED PUZZLES FOR THEM AS A SIGN OF FRIENDSHIP..." He faltered, taking a single step away from the craft. "... WE SHOULD WAIT FOR THEM TO COME OUT. THEN I CAN ENTICE THEM INTO FRIENDSHIP WITH PUZZLES AND SPAGHETTI! COME ON, SANS!" He rushed past the small skeleton, picking him up on the way and hoisting him over his shoulder as he sprinted back into the cover of the trees. He only let him down when the shadows swallowed them whole, hiding them from view of the spacecraft. He stepped behind a tree and peered out to look past its trunk, practically bouncing with excitement of when the human would emerge.

     Taking the opportunity to rest, the smaller skeleton leaned against a tree's trunk. He relaxed himself and let out a heavy sigh, watching the condensation cloud drift upwards and disappear amid the tree's branches. He looked over to the spacecraft in the open meadow, gaze lingering around the back of the craft held high in the air just above some boulders; he knew the human would be exiting from there, if they decided to come out at all. If their craft was as high-tech as they were led to believe, surely they would know that the brothers had come so close to it and that they hadn't really left. They would stay safely tucked inside their ship where they knew they were safe from harm, away from the potentially hostile skeletons that - quite suspiciously - were hiding. 's what i would do, he reasoned. It was the smart way to stay safe in an unknown environment. They'd gone out before, though, so there was a good chance they'd exit the craft again.

       Ten minutes scraped by with no signs of life from the ship. The taller skeleton wasn't deterred in the slightest by the no-show; it just gave him more time to think up new puzzles and traps to show his potential human friend. The smaller skeleton's patience, however, was wearing thin as his optimism declined. He was sure that they'd scared off the human for good and they'd stay huddled up in their ship until they'd truly gone. They'd come back empty-handed and be berated for being so stupid as to directly approach the craft. Some other monsters would be sent to find a way to forcefully enter and extract the human, which could very easily be taken for aggression, then the entire relationship between them would be soured. They'd had one chance to peacefully make contact and they'd already fucked it up. It took all of his willpower to stay there beside the taller skeleton and not just head home and admit defeat. they didn' have much faith in us anyway, he thought bitterly.

       A faint mechanical whirr met his acoustic meatus. He stood up a little straighter, leaning forwards to try and get a better view of the back of the ship. The taller skeleton shifted his weight foot to foot in excitement, keeping himself from rushing forwards immediately to check if the human was exiting or not. The whirr ended as soon as it began, leaving a hollow silence hanging in the air, suffocating them with anticipation.

      Crunch.

      Hesitantly stepping out onto the boulders was a human. Like the footsteps he'd seen earlier implied, she was female. The suit she wore was padded, though he could still tell she had a slim and lithe frame underneath that. It had a black hood, gloves, and boots that combated the solid, slate gray of the rest of the suit. She kept a stoic expression on her pale face, a hard and calculating one that didn't have time to have feelings; her (e/c) eyes betrayed that, expressing how anxious and scared she was, darting to and fro along the treeline and trying to find them among the shadows. She reached up one hand to readjust the (h/c) strands that were pinned to her back by the suit, fiddling with her hair for a moment before letting it go and keeping her hands down.

     Slipping out of the ship next to her a tiny, mostly ginger, figure. The little fox ruffled its fur and took the first steps away from the ship, peering right at them from its perch on the boulders. Its little black ears twitched as the human followed its example, walking to the edge of the boulders and looking where it was looking.

     welp, we've been spotted, he thought as her expression shattered.

     "Hello?" She was definitely nervous; he would've been nervous, too. Her hands clenched and unclenched, looking for something to do as some type of anxiety tic. She tapped her feet on the boulder over and over again, each pause being the exact same length as the one before, perfectly timed. Even when her emotionless expression broke down, her measured aura remained with her. she's like an organized panic attack.

     The taller skeleton was quick to respond, stepping out from his poor hiding spot behind the tree and taking a few steps forward to be more visible. "GREETINGS, HUMAN! MY NAME IS THE GREAT PAPYRUS! I CAN GUARANTEE YOU WE ARE PERFECTLY FRIENDLY, SO THERE'S NO NEED TO HIDE!" The shorter skeleton winced at his wording, staying secluded in the shadows to simply observe but getting ready to step in if Papyrus messed up beyond repair and needed to be excluded from the situation. He settled down to get comfortable as he watched.

     "You speak English?..." He had a feeling that wasn't her only question. "Wait, uh, don't... answer... that, it's obvious. Haha. Well, uh, I'm (Y/n). Glad to hear you're friendly, I was a tad... worried. No offence or anything! Uhm..."

     this is kinda painful.

     "NO OFFENCE TAKEN! IT'S PERFECTLY REASONABLE ACCORDING TO MY BROTHER. AND FEEL FREE TO ASK AS MANY QUESTIONS AS YOU LIKE, I WON'T TAKE OFFENCE TO ANY OF THEM! I HAVE MANY OF MY OWN, IN FACT!" Papyrus oozed confidence, and acted as a repellent to her potent awkwardness. Their conversation still made him cringe, though Papyrus made it more bearable to listen to. "WOULD YOU LIKE ASSISTANCE GETTING DOWN FROM THOSE BOULDERS?"

     "N-no, I can get down fine," she assured, "come on, Malin."

     She picked up the small fox and easily made her way down the boulders, placing down the fox again when they were down. She still stood a couple feet away from Papyrus, who had been inching closer so she could more easily see him and hear him. That nervous tic had come back even worse than when it had started, and she seemed really twitchy. The fox, Malin, much less caution, padding forward to greet Papyrus without any fear. He crouched to greet the smaller, furry animal. "HELLO, SMALL FOX!"

     A little yip was his response.

     "YOUR NAME IS MALIN, CORRECT?"

     Another yip.

     "I DON'T SPEAK FOX."

     Malin tilted her head at him, going silent. Papyrus gave her a quick pat between the ears and stood up to his full height again.

     "So, uh, Papyrus - right? - how do you know English? And, uh, where am I?"

     "HOW YOU LEARNED ENGLISH, I SUPPOSE. AND YOU'RE ON THE GROUND."

     oh stars, paps. He nearly facepalmed.

     "That's.... not... what I meant. English comes from Earth, so do you guys come from Earth too? And what is this dwarf planet called?" She explained, a nervous twitch to her smile.

     "OH! THIS IS THE ABOVEGROUND, HOME OF MONSTERS! MONSTERS WERE SENT HERE BY EARTH A LONG TIME AGO, SO YES, WE COME FROM EARTH - TECHNICALLY." Papyrus took no notice when Malin rubbed herself along his boots, getting on her hind paws and peering inside as though checking if he actually had feet inside of them. She gave up her search early on and trotted towards the treeline, making a beeline for Sans who stood a couple feet within, mostly hidden in the shadows.

     As Papyrus and the newcomer conversed about how monsters had found a home among the stars, Sans sat down in the snow and let the inquisitive fox sniff and inspect him. His attention switched, now primarily focused on the curious canine. He gave the ginger-pelted fox a couple scratches behind the ears when she came within reach, gaining her trust in a matter of seconds. The sensation of fur beneath his phalanges was comfortably soft, and the intense warmth just underneath the surface was welcoming. It reminded him of the friendly guard dogs back home, which he occasionally pet if they'd let him - which was often, since they adored it - but it wasn't really the same.

     Papyrus' voice brought his full focus back to him. "SANS! IT'S RUDE TO NOT JOIN IN THE CONVERSATION AND POSSIBLY EAVESDROP! YOU'RE MAKING A BAD IMPRESSION ON OUR NEWEST FRIEND!... AND NO PUNS OR JOKES! YOU'LL ONLY MAKE YOURSELF SEEM WORSE!"

     "aight, aight. no need to give me the cold shoulder if i crack a joke or two."

     "SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANS!"

     " 'm done, i swear," he relented, getting up and wiping off excess snow that clung to his sweatpants. He shoved his hands into his pockets and ambled towards the two of them, a little ginger shadow following close behind. The snow was left with deep tracks where he dragged his feet, taking his time making his way over. He stopped a couple feet from them, much farther away from the human than Papyrus, who stood only a foot away. He slouched and inspected her, finding it fair that she scrutinize him in return.

     Sans walked a couple steps forward after a brief moment of stifling silence, offering her his hand. "the name's sans. sans the skeleton."

     She inspected his palm and didn't shake his hand when spotting the red whoopie cushion there. dammit. He shoved his hand back into pocket in defeat. He walked backwards to where he'd stood before, slouching again to get comfortable as their stare-off continued. Papyrus kept quiet throughout the whole encounter, openly confused as to why she hadn't shaken his hand.

     "... I get that 'the skeleton' is just an obvious statement but," oh boy, he thought, "it means 'without the skeleton', which is, honestly, the most blatant lie I've ever heard."

     Sans hummed in thought. "should i introduce myself as sans the flesh instead?"

     "You know what, just keep the one you had before." He could practically see the images that the phrase put into her mind as her face scrunched up.

     He stifled a snicker. "aight then."

     "AHEM," Papyrus cleared his non-existent throat to gather their attention back to him. "HUMAN (Y/N), YOU SHOULD COME BACK TO SNOWDIN WITH US! THAT IS, AFTER ALL, THE REASON WE CAME HERE IN THE FIRST PLACE! THE OTHERS WOULD SURELY LOVE TO MEET YOU!"

     The rosy pink color that had risen to her face from the cold had paled away. "Y-you mean right now? Today?" She stuttered. "I can come back to the ship, right? I can't just leave the ship..."

     "OF COURSE YOU CAN COME BACK HERE! AND YES, PREFERABLY WE WOULD RATHER LEAVE RIGHT NOW. THE SOONER WE START WALKING, THE SOONER WE ARRIVE BACK! IT ISN'T TOO FAR OF A WALK EITHER, ONLY AROUND TEN MINUTES. THIRTY IF YOU'RE REALLY GOING SLOW, LIKE SANS."

     "you ran," he said, a tad defensively.

     "THAT WAS SPEED WALKING!" He huffed, crossing his arms.

     "to everyone else, that's what we call 'running', pap."

     Before Papyrus could retort, (Y/n) piped up. "I'll go, but only for a little while - approximately three hours at the most. I can always come back at a later day for longer lengths of time, right?" She dragged the toe of her boot across the snow in a back and forth motion, creating a deep gash in the powdery white.

     "RIGHT. LET'S GO, THEN!" He instantly turned away from the ship and marched towards the treeline.

     Sans let out a heavy sigh and followed. Unlike his brother, he glanced over to the two newcomers to make sure they were actually following, checking if they were keeping pace. He mulled over the monster's reactions to the new face.

---  ---

     Preparations for the festival celebrating the changing of the months were in full swing, nearly everyone in the town helping out in some way, putting their talent to some type of use. Blue paper lanterns were being created by one group, less than a handful of them making proper wicks and frames to fit them with. Another group had a wide variety of different pastries and candies made just for the holiday, a large group coming through and tasting them - sometimes squabbling over getting seconds of some of the options or fussing over some monsters snatching the sweets straight from other monster's mouths - to determine which would be served at the festival. Monsters were stringing blue ribbons around the town for decoration, setting up wires where some of the lanterns could be attached. Refreshments were laid out for the exhausted workers, though were soon left to be just crumbs and drops when the tasters of the candies and pastries had gotten to it. Everyone was having a fun time together, enjoying other's company.

     Many of them stopped what they were doing to look at them as they entered the town from between the trees, a human and fox lagging a bit behind them. Tasks were forgotten; food and drink was discarded back to where they'd gotten it, sipped from or bitten from along the untouched. Eyes were trained closely on the unfamiliar face - unfamiliar species - as monsters inched forwards to inspect her more closely. Papyrus puffed out his chest in pride at his discovery while Sans dragged his feet behind him. poor (y/n), he thought as she shrunk into her suit, turtlenecking and looking around warily. Malin, as he had expected, walked forwards with more vigor, eager to explore the new land and new people.

     "Woah, is that a human?"

     "What's a human doing here?"

     "... Do you think it's dangerous?..."

     "I wonder if it's hurt. That ship came in pretty fast."

     "Look, it brought a fox!"

     "It's probably been on Earth! I wonder what that's like."

     "I was totally right! It was a ship! You owe me twenty g, guys."

     Excited chatter was immediate, talking about her as though she wasn't standing there among them. It took a couple minutes for it to die down as Papyrus made a loud "AHEM" noise over and over, trying to capture their attention and failing. He put his hands on his hips and started speaking to them as soon as he'd finally become their point of focus.

     "THIS IS HUMAN (Y/N), AND HER SMALL FOX NAMED MALIN! SHE WILL ONLY BE HERE FOR - WHAT WAS IT?... AH, YES - THREE HOURS. BUT NOT TO WORRY! SHE WILL COME BACK AGAIN! WE WOULD HAVE BEEN HERE EARLIER BUT THEY INSISTED ON WALKING SLOWLY, SO I APOLOGIZE ON THEIR BEHALF. DID YOU GUYS LEAVE ME AND SANS ANYTHING TO DO WHILE WE WERE GONE?"

     Papyrus' question was left unanswered as everyone descended on (Y/n) to throw questions at her like an interrogation, hammering her with them and giving her no time to actually answer any of them. They formed a circle around her, battering her with question after question, completely disregarding the fact that they had been so busy not too long ago and tasks still needed to be finished. They didn't seem to mind that she wasn't answering them seeing as they were too busy throwing more questions about what it was like on Earth or in open space, asking her about herself and if she was really alright from the landing. A few merciful monsters left her alone and instead crowded around the inquisitive fox, giving Malin all the attention her little fox heart could desire when she padded forward to inspect them.

     After watching the scene for only a minute he felt as though she'd been battered enough. She looked scared, almost; eyes wide as saucers, sweating visibly, trembling a bit and turtlenecking like she wanted to just squish herself into a ball to hide. He switched his gaze to Papyrus, and they caught each other's sockets. He gave a subtle nod and Papyrus stepped amid the crowd, loudly announcing that they should show her around and invite her to help them prepare for the festivities that would happen in just a couple days. When a bit of resistance rose he assured them they could ask her questions at a much more moderate pace throughout her visit, and then more when she came back at another time. That left them satisfied as multiple grabbed at her arms and shoulders or started pushing at her back to guide her into the town, trying to lead her to the thing they, specifically, were working on.

     Her anxiety had melted away and bloomed into newfound curiosity and excitement when they started to show her their culture. She appeared to be fascinated; sampled food and drink with only a little less pushiness than the others, tried to get them to explain how they made the lanterns and what they symbolized - if anything - and why some monsters were painting black birds on them and what those symbolized - again, if anything. The whole festival enraptured her. She had endless questions, some drowned out by the noise, but he heard most of them and so did everyone else. It made his soul warm to see her emotions switch like that.

     What intrigued him more was her answers to the monster's questions, the ones he could hear. They asked about what Earth was like, what travelling in space was like, the basic questions that burned in everyone's minds. Her answers were... vague. Deflective. Like she was hiding something, or was unsure how to properly respond without insulting them, somehow. The monsters didn't seem to mind as long as she answered some things, like if she was alright after the crash. She could answer basic questions about what Earth looked like, but anything about their own customs and she'd get all barricaded and blocked off, back with the vague answers. The way she described the Earth, though, was beautiful. Blue skies, white fluffy clouds, vast stretches of pure water filled with salt and all manners of creatures, and biomes similar to the one they stood in. It was hard to comprehend something like that. The concept of the ocean was so foreign that he almost didn't believe it. Although her being able to describe the Earth is such detail was amazing and lead him to the conclusion that she had been there, the way she deflected all other questions put him off about it. Was she really not born there at all? He didn't know why she'd lie about that if she wasn't. Another thing bugged him - when asked why she was there on their own dwarf planet or how she'd found them, she'd pretend she hadn't heard the question. Either she didn't know or it was something that he should be very concerned about. He suspected that he should be concerned. He'd ask her about it in private later.

     He'd heard the stories about humans. About why his species was even on the Aboveground in the first place. They were greedy and weren't willing to share land, so they fought monsters for control of the Earth and banished them to the stars. Their kindest mages thankfully gave them a habitable place to live. thank the stars for that, he thought. But what if the Earth wasn't enough for them anymore? What if she was one of many to start falling from the sky, ready to fight them again and take what little they had now? would they finish the job this time around? He shuddered.

     He realized he was jumping back into the pit of pessimism, thinking only the worst outcomes could possibly be true. Maybe she was some lone explorer who was embarrassed for getting lost - that could explain why she was so interested in their culture. Based on the stories, humans hated all culture except their own, especially when they wanted to just stamp them out and take their land instead. But where did she come from? If he knew, it might make things clearer. have humans already moved into the stars and are our neighbors again already?

     These questions were going to kill him. He'd obsess over them until he knew for sure. That's just the way he was. It'd become his focus until he'd puzzled it out for good, and would consume him until then. His current work would have to be put on pause, or at least be on the side. He couldn't afford to do some of the things on his plate half-assedly, so he'd have to just work on those when he'd figured everything out. Hopefully he'd get his answers sooner rather than later.

     Three hours ticked past faster than he would have expected. She'd gotten comfortable over that time with the monster's presence, at least enough to not be so tightly wound around them. Conversation flowed more easily with her. Papyrus walked up to her and told her that the three hours had passed and she thanked him quietly. Sans walked over to stand beside Papyrus.

     "Can you guys lead me back? If it isn't too much trouble." She seemed confident in her pathfinding skills, but he could understand being a little afraid to walk for half an hour back to her ship completely alone. This place was still dangerous and alien to her, and she hadn't come to find it as comforting and relaxing as the monsters here did. He found himself feeling a little ashamed to think that she was some evil human wanting to just steal their land from them.

     "OF COURSE IT ISN'T TOO MUCH TROUBLE! SANS AND I WOULD BE THRILLED TO ACCOMPANY YOU!" Papyrus, excited and helpful as always. Made him a bit jealous. He was such a cool brother and likeable personality.

     "yep, 's no sweat, pal," he assured her. She visibly relaxed. She'd started up her anxious tic again, though she'd stopped. Malin yipped quietly from her heels and rubbed along her boots in a comforting manner.

     "I can't thank you too enough. You've been so helpful and kind." He fought back a physical wince as he was filled with more shame. Even though he hadn't outright accused her of anything. But just because she's nice doesn't mean she isn't there to steal their home. She still could be there to. He couldn't let his guard down too much. But he also didn't want to be an asshole.

     why am i like this?

     Papyrus beamed at the compliment and thank-you. "THAT'S JUST HOW THE GREAT PAPYRUS IS! AND SANS, OF COURSE. IF THERE'S ANY WAY WE CAN HELP WITH ANYTHING ELSE, LET US KNOW! WE WOULD BE DELIGHTED TO HELP."

     "I'll be sure to ask." She offered an genuine smile. "Let's go. I have a lot to write down, and I don't want to forget anything. Better to write it when it's fresh on the mind."

     Papyrus led the way, bursting with excitement as always. Though he walked with a bounce as usual, his shoulders slouched a little, showing his sadness in the fact that his new friend wanted to leave, albeit temporarily. After just a couple hours with his new friend and she wanted to head home. Sans could relate a lot with her, heading home in the middle of festivities included on that list. Sure he could handle big crowds well, and he seemed quite charming with them and was usually the life at a party, but he didn't actually enjoy being among them. It got exhausting. Like Papyrus, he was excited to have a new face in their midst, but he also wanted to go back to resting. At least he knew that she probably wouldn't be around too long at a time and he wouldn't have to spend all day trying to grill her about her personal information.

     Sans realized he'd missed a chance for asking those questions. He could have insisted to walk her back alone. He really didn't wanna force questions on her with his brother watching; it'd fill him with more shame than he already was filled with just thinking about what he planned to do. At least now he had some time to stall before that. Gain his courage. Hopefully not push it off again and again until he didn't even do it at all. These questions he hadn't even had for a single day yet and they already were gnawing at his soul insistently, begging to be answered. It would also probably help if he gained her trust first. She'd probably be more open to answering them if they actually had a kind of personal relationship first.

     He liked this new plan a lot more than his old one. Was less invasive. Besides, he liked the thought of actually gaining a new friend that he could kind of relate with. He couldn't relate with a lot of people he knew, but he had a sense that he could relate with her. She had this certain kind of sadness in her eyes all the time that he just... connected with. like me. She'd arrived with just a fox as company. How long had she been alone? must've been hell.

     She was an interesting mystery that he was determined to solve. It would be a long, probably frustrating, path, but it was something nice to do with his time. Any possible invasion would take time, anyway. He'd have plenty of it to gain her trust and learn more about her.

     The air was crisp and cold, exactly the way he liked it. The quiet and calm of nature was welcome after the hustle and bustle of Snowdin town. The sky's view was breathtaking as always, and the bioluminescent plants seemed to wave to them in the breeze. The twin suns were still chasing each other across the rim of the sky, where they rarely reached any farther, always just at the very edges. Casting such a slight warmth that it kept the overwhelming chill away, though preserved the cold in just the right way to still keep its enchanting lure to its inhabitants. He loved this place, and he hoped she liked it too. She didn't seem used to the cold but hopefully she'd learn to love it over time as they did.

     Her ship was exactly how they'd left it. A little less snow gathered on it than before, but the same angle, same place. It was astounding that such a thing had been created. Looked so bland but held mysteries he couldn't fathom. He wondered if she was the one who built it. She gave them waves good-bye and clambered up the hill of rocks, Malin excitedly climbing up alongside her, and disappeared into the back of the ship. Malin's tail disappeared as well, the last flash of color gone.

     A loud whirr, and she was safely tucked away in her ship. Sans looked over to his brother and offered and reassuring smile. "we'll see 'er again tomorrow, paps. don' worry. i bet she's just as excited to have met you as you're excited to have met 'er. wouldn' even dream of not comin' back and embracin' your friendship."

     "YOU'RE RIGHT, SANS. WE SHOULD HEAD BACK AND HELP FINISH UP PREPARATIONS FOR THE FESTIVAL TOMORROW!" Excited and optimistic as always.

     "yep. let's go."

     And they turned around and started the walk back. He looked over his shoulder and cast one last lingering glance at the hull of the magnificent ship, and his curiosity only grew. He looked back to his brother and kept that smile plastered on his face, but the human never left the back of his mind.

Chapter Text

     Data Entry 2133;

     Despite previous calculations that strongly suggested otherwise, the inhabitants on this dwarf planet - called the Aboveground - do, in fact, speak English. According to their own records humanity had somehow sent them here a long time ago, though the specific time is unknown to them. Curiously, they don't seem to have to abide by the same biology as animals on Earth. They call themselves monsters. The first inhabitants to be seen were strikingly similar to human skeletons, though not quite one hundred percent accurate to human anatomy. They had no vocal cords, yet they could speak. They had no eyes, yet they could see. They had no ears, yet they could hear. They explained that they were kept alive by magic. Magic is a frowned upon answer in the scientific community, but in this situation... scientists should be inclined to believe them.

     Their culture is complex, focusing on the stars and their own constellations. At the changing of each month (their months do not align with human months; instead, their schedule is slightly off. This is understandable, considering the days are not twenty-four hours, and instead are thirty hours in length - the length of the year is unknown as of yet) they hold celebrations, focused on the constellation that is most prominent in the sky during the following month. Avemis is the upcoming month, starting the day following the day of this entry. The constellation it is named after is of a bird with its wings spread, seeming to be covering something unknown. According to the inhabitants, different regions of the Aboveground celebrate the holiday differently.

     The celebration is to be held on the first day of the month, which is tomorrow. More information about it will be held in the next entry, which will be written after the festival.

-----

     Personal Journal Entry 2133;

     It's as though some benevolent part of the universe has heard my hopes and brought them into fruition today, and brought me even more than I asked for. The dwarf planet has friendly, intelligent life that speaks English! They have such amazing and rich culture which I've barely even heard about as of yet. Their history is so interesting - despite the fact they come from our planet and definitely should have been at least somewhere in our history texts, they seem to have been wiped out of our memory completely. Monsters typically have such scary outward appearances and usually are violent or devious, looking to harm humans, but... the monsters on the Aboveground actually exist, and are quite kind.

     The first monsters I encountered had approached my ship directly and then retreated to the treeline shortly after. They were skeletons - human ones, though living and breathing. One was tall and rather excitable, and was determined to try and make me feel welcome and safe by the looks of it. The other was shorter and quiet, though he was just as kind, offering a kind of silent support - also a bit of a jokester with a knack for wordplay. I like their company, and I hope I can learn all about them over time. Back onto the pressing topic, however, is how they survive without flesh.

     One word. Magic.

     Magic appears to the fueling source for the monster's existence. They can use it freely however they desire, and it also holds them together. Such a force is amazing, and I got to see it firsthand! As soon as possible I will bring something to record it with so anyone reading these entries in the future can see just how amazing these monsters are.

     Trying to explain something as being done by magic is frowned upon in human society, seeing as we've come to accept no such thing actually exists. I've begun to question if everything I've been taught is really true, at least when it comes to that. What magic does here cannot be explained by science - how else would a skeleton breathe and speak? I still remember classes from when I was younger, during the years we were taught about Earth's history and culture. Everyone had been so mystified by the idea of something being done that was unexplained by science. We all knew how everything worked already. How the vents could give us air to breathe, how we acquired water, where our food came from, how the different technologies on the ship worked. Nothing appeared out of nowhere; we made it or harvested it and recycled it. Magic was making something out of basically nothing and making it do amazing, wonderful things. I used to think, just like everyone else, that the idea of something being magical was wrong and frankly ignorant and uninformed. Now my world has been flipped on its head, but I don't mind in the slightest. I can only hope future colonists will be just as excited about finding out about this as I was.

     I've been invited to the festival tomorrow in Snowdin. The monsters of that town are so nice and helpful. They are anticipating for when I am to arrive - on my own, hopefully as soon as possible, when the twin suns begin to rise. Seeing such culture before my own eyes will be a delightful experience I am sure, and I cannot wait to write all about it and my experience. I wish to document all of the different festivals and holidays, even things as little as the drinks they serve and treats they eat during the event. I have so much culture to explore. This is truly a fantastic way to reenter being social once more. Maybe I'll find another colonizer somewhere on the planet when I get around to travelling. That will really make this entire experience all the better.

     I will have to eventually ask them where a suitable place is for me to begin to try and start a colony. Not right away, of course, since I imagine it would be rude to start asking about that right away. I have to keep in mind my main goal of being here in the first place as I explore their culture. To start a suitable place for humanity to thrive among the stars. For the good of humanity.

---  ---

     This place is beautiful.

     She angled her gaze up towards the skies. Wisps of transparent clouds drifted across the starry expanse, adding white-gray swirls to the colorful cosmos. Just barely reaching above the edge of the horizon were the twin suns starting to make their daily route, the seemingly bigger sun being the first to begin to emerge. The rays shined right onto her face, warming her chilled skin pleasantly. She closed her eyes inhaled deeply, coming to enjoy the crispness of the air.

     When she opened her eyes again she looked around at her surroundings. The snowy path she walked on was bordered by trees on both sides, their rough-barked trunks reaching high above her head. A herd of what looked somewhat like deer roamed on her right - instead of four legs they had six, and they had two short tails instead of one. They were led by a stag whose antlers had begun to collect snow on their tops from the light sprinkle coming from above. The stag looked wearily at her as she passed, though didn't flee. She noticed Malin looking at something in the woods; she followed the fox's gaze and found a doe staring back at her, flicking its ear slightly as it trodded along with the rest of the herd through the snow. She picked up Malin and continued on the path, not wanting to disturb the wildlife further than she had already.

     Already she could see Snowdin through the trees. The paper lanterns cast a blue glow throughout the town, giving it an ethereal glow much like how the bio-luminescent plants lit up the tundra. There was movement just beyond the trees - no doubt the monsters making sure everything was ready for the event. If the lanterns were hanging correctly, if the food was out, if the drinks were set, and so on. She sped up her pace, feeling and hearing the snow being crushed noisily under her boots as she excitedly made her way towards the town.

     She paused at the treeline to look around at the town more clearly. For once she noted the monster's architecture since her attention wasn't forcefully being drawn elsewhere. Without the lanterns, it looked like it could fit in with any other small town on Earth, if they were a bit more clustered together. The way buildings were placed was a little chaotic, but that only gave it a charm that the organized cities on Earth didn't have. The huge tree in the middle of town caught her attention. It looked somewhat like a pine tree, and stood taller than any other trees she'd seen yet. Lanterns had been hung on its branches until she could barely see the green or brown anymore. She smiled at the sight. She'd have to note to herself to put it into the data entry later on.

     The first monster to notice her arrival was none other than Sans. He'd been lounging around a little farther down the treeline, having a familiar slouch to his posture and smile spread across his skull. He looked over at her when she looked at him. It wasn't a moment longer before he began to walk over, hands in his pockets and dragging his feet in the snow. She set down Malin as he approached and watched as the excited fox rushed over to him and rub against his legs, happy to see a familiar face again. She let out a soft 'aww'. She likes him. That's adorable.

     "heya, pal," he greeted, coming to a stop half a foot away. His shoulders slumped as he studied her, the way his white pupils shone reminding her of Polaris, the north star, if it was split in two and was alone in pitch-black skies.

     "Hello, Sans. How are you? How's Papyrus?" She wondered where the tall skeleton was. She had expected to see him immediately, but she hadn't spotted him yet. The energetic skeleton was probably across town helping put up the last of the decorations or something like that. He always seemed to want to help everyone however he could. He really put her at ease whenever he was around. She was almost a bit sad when she hadn't seen him in the main part of town where most monsters were starting to gather.

     "we're doin' fine," he assured. His smile looked so malleable. The edges curved upwards, making the smile look all the more real. She wondered what kind of things went on his head, but she didn't want to pry and seem too nosy.

     A smile found its way to her own face. The happiness in the air was contagious. "Is the snow gonna be a problem for the festival? It might make the lanterns go out or get on the food or something like that. Will you guys have to cancel or delay it at all?" It didn't look like they planned on doing anything but continuing the festival, snowy weather or no snowy weather. She hoped it wouldn't make her first experience with their culture dampened.

     "oh, snow happens weather you like it or not, and snow is really snow problem. lotsa stuff 'ere is enchanted to be snow-proof," he explained. When she realized he'd punned twice in one sentence she let out a small snort that turned into a chuckle of amusement. Clever, but also incredibly bad. They were cheesy, but funny at the same time.

     His smile spread even wider at her small bout of laughter. "c'mon (y/n), this is snow laughing matter." The newest pun only made her laugh more, holding back snickers. She found his punny side charming, in a way. There hadn't been a lot of humor in her past, and the jokes were refreshing. Laughter is the best medicine, she remembered an old saying. While it made no logical sense when it came to physical wounds - the best medicine for those were found in the latest medical advancements made before and during her time - it did make sense as a cure for loneliness. It made her feel like all that time alone just... didn't happen.

     After taking a moment to recover, she settled down again. She shifted her weight from foot to foot, filled with nervous energy and excitement as she glanced to her left, where everyone was gathering in the middle of town. She picked at the fabric of her suit without realizing, pulling it from her skin and letting it snap back into place when she let it go. She looked back at Sans again, changing the topic. "Where's Papyrus, anyway? I don't see him anywhere."

     "he's makin' friendship spaghetti. always does that when he makes a new friend. should be out o' the house soon, don' worry," he assured. He leaned against the trunk of the closest tree, looking out over the town. The way the blue light cast on his white face made it seem like he was flushed with blue, giving it a small, barely noticeable glow to his rounded features. The snow at his feet shifted as Malin settled, her bushy tail coming to rest atop her narrow black paws as she let out a small sneeze when a lazily drifting snowflake landed on the tip of her nose. All of the hustle and bustle of the town setting up the last of the decorations seemed muted, the area on the fringe of the chaos a calm and quiet world. She liked this quiet; it wasn't suffocatingly silent, with and overhanging sense of despair. It was a quiet held between people, an unspoken assurance that they were there, even if they weren't saying anything.

     "Friendship spaghetti? Huh." She almost didn't want to break the blanket of quiet, her voice soft as she spoke. The festival would be starting soon, she knew. The gathered monsters were increasing in number, coming from all the nooks and crannies of the small town and chatting idly as they waited for everyone to arrive. Children ran about playing games as they eagerly awaited the festivities, playing tag, hide and seek, and a number of other games she'd also done once or twice during her childhood. She found it amazing how some parts of their culture were so alike and yet so... different. She eyed the food and drinks set out on the tables, currently untouched by the crowd; she could see a couple monsters inching closer to try and discreetly nab a sip or two, perhaps a bite of something or another. The food and drinks looked absolutely delicious, and she hoped she'd actually be able to enjoy some of it before they were all eaten and drank. Hopefully not within the hour, though with how the monsters treated it she may have to get some snacks and a drink immediately.

     Sans let out a soft sigh and she looked over at him again. The way his shoulders drooped and posture worsened was far from unnoticeable. She wondered what could possibly be bothering him. After all, they were about to enjoy a fun holiday with monsters he knew. Did he not like social events? She'd known people like that before, who would rather stow themselves away in their sleeping compartments or wander the ship over going to gatherings with others. She'd been like that too, sometimes, and she understood the feeling of not wanting to participate in the same activities as others. He doesn't seem to be like that, though. He'd seemed so cheerful and happy yesterday, always with that wide smile on his skull and clever remarks, getting along with the crowd so well. Then again, she could do that too. She'd been really bothered by the crowd the day before when they'd badgered her with questions - some she couldn't answer... she still felt bad, but she did enjoy privacy and she wasn't sure how they'd react to her actual past - the sheer curiosity she felt for their interesting, unique culture really took her out of her shell. Not counting how the social interactions soothed her years of loneliness in that ship. When she was more used to the constant social interactions and learned more about their culture she would probably begin to shut everyone out again to some degree. She had to. She couldn't afford to focus purely on this new culture. She had a mission.

       "hey, (y/n), i had a few qu-" He began to speak, voice a murmuring gentle tone, settling so deeply into the tranquil tone of the air-

       "HUMAN (Y/N)! IT'S SO GOOD TO SEE YOU! HOW ARE YOU?" Marching up to them was none other than Papyrus, a wide grin on his teeth as he strutted over to them with quick, long strides. He had a plate of spaghetti with him - the plate reminded her of the ones they had on Earth hundreds of years ago, smooth and white, easy to clean. They had a few of those kinds of plates on the ship, though they were rarely used anymore because of how poorly they did to separate different kinds of food. She'd seen pictures of spaghetti before, but she'd never actually eaten any; it was an old dish that they didn't make on the ship. It was filling, yes, but it lacked the proper nutrients and was a waste of stomach space in comparison to the food they had more readily available. It supposedly tasted good, though not good enough to go out of anyone's way to make.

       She offered a smile in return to the excited skeleton, giving a small wave. "I'm doing good." Her attention had completely focused to Papyrus instead of the smaller skeleton, though she did spare him a glance; he looked relieved by the interruption, his smile becoming less strained. When had it been strained before?

       Papyrus distracted her again. "THAT IS VERY GOOD! I MADE YOU SOMETHING! IT'S FRIENDSHIP SPAGHETTI, STEP ONE OF MY 10-STEP PLAN TO BEFRIEND YOU AND WELCOME YOU AS A NEW MEMBER OF SNOWDIN! I HOPE YOU ENJOY IT!" He offered her the plate, allowing her to inspect it more closely. She'd underestimated the portion beforehand; the heaping pile of noodles and sauce looked enough for two whole meals, way too much for her stomach to handle all of it at once. It looked less like the pictures when she was so close. It looked like something was in the sauce - she startled when she realized it was icing. In the spaghetti sauce. Her genuine smile became a little more forced as she gingerly accepted the plate, poking at the way less appealing meal with the silver fork that had been stabbed into the side of the oddly solid mass.

       He looked at her expectantly. Did he... did he want her to take a bite? She gulped and offered a sheepish smile, finding a section of the spaghetti that was just noodles and hesitantly putting it into her mouth and chewing. They were hard on the outside but squishy, watery soft on the inside - she nearly gagged, but swallowed. "It's... delicious, Papyrus, thank you," that was a lie and she knew it, "but I can't possibly eat more of it. I need to save space for some of the other things they're serving. I can't fill up completely on this right now." She was so relieved that she was good at thinking on her toes, otherwise she might have been stuck with eating the whole plate while Papyrus watched.

       "OH, RIGHT!" He smacked himself in the face, his own version of a facepalm. "I CAN MAKE YOU A NEW PLATE ANOTHER DAY! THE FESTIVITIES ARE STARTING AND YOU TWO ARE GONNA MISS IT IF YOU KEEP LOLLYGAGGING IN THE TREELINE! EVERYONE IS WAITING, COME ON!" He retrieved the plate of spaghetti from her - she let out a small, inaudible sigh of relief as the food was taken away - and turned around to head into the crowd. She took a moment to process that everyone was waiting for specifically them to arrive before looking over at the small skeleton to find him... gone. He was missing. He'd been leaning against a tree trunk before but now he was just missing, like he hadn't been there at all. She stared at where he had been for a good moment, then finally hesitantly followed Papyrus into the happy crowd.

       Once everyone had gathered around the huge pine tree in the center of the town, one monster broke apart from the rest of them; a bear monster with thick light brown fur and squinted eyes. He wore a dark blue vest with yellow stripes going down the arms, a starry constellation pattern decorating the vest's dark blue surface. The early dawn's sunshine shone off of the coppery zipper as the bear monster got settled in front of the crowd, standing on top of a small box he'd placed down moments earlier so he could look over the crowd and have everyone able to see him. He began to speak.

       "Fellow residents of Snowdin, I'm so glad to be seeing you all here today! It's the changing of the months once again - we're now in Avomis! Like you all I'm hoping we can see some birds during the festivities, but we can't be lucky every year, can we?" A small ripple of chuckles washed across the crowd, a few monsters looking around as though trying to spot some feathered creatures already. "Anyway, this year we have a special guest - she's never been to a changing of the month festival, so I would like you all to really show her what this is all about! As much as I'd like to keep talking-" Multiple groans broke out across the audience, "- I think you would all appreciate it if I let you go enjoy the holiday. Well, go on, now. Nothing's going to stop you. Have a good day, everyone, and remember to share!"

       The large crowd dispersed immediately, breaking off into chunks of monsters as they headed towards the various activities they had set up beforehand for the event. Some monster had set up multiple games of cornhole. The monster children had continued their games of tag and hide and seek. Monsters chatted as they tore through the snacks and beverages, their chatter melding together into a wall of white noise. Other monsters had brung out binoculars to search around for birds in the surrounding area, occasionally a shout of "I SEE ONE!" being followed by a disappointed groan or a "NO YOU DON'T!". She was left standing in the previously packed clearing around the tree, looking around and trying to decide which activity she would want to do first. She looked over at the bear that had been talking just a minute earlier; he had picked up the box and was stowing it away again for use another time before leaving the tree and going to join in the festivities.

       Where's Sans? She scanned the crowds, searching for that stout skeleton. She'd grown used to his presence the most by far, and she figured he could offer some advice on some things she should do. She figured she may as well head to the food and drinks first so she might have a chance of tasting them at all, so she headed over that way before her lingering awkwardly in the empty clearing didn't last longer than it needed to be.

       To her dismay, by the time she arrived the tables were empty besides empty glasses and those white plates with just crumbs remaining. She knew the monsters tore through snacks and drinks fast, but she didn't expect them to be that fast. What am I even going to do now? She looked around for a familiar splash of ginger fur but she figured Malin had run off to explore elsewhere, probably getting affection monsters she approaches begging for strokes and pets. Both Sans and Malin had disappeared at around the same time - maybe Malin had followed him wherever he'd went. She knew Malin liked the round skeleton, so it wasn't too far of a stretch to assume she'd follow Sans around. She spotted Papyrus making snow sculptures of birds and headed over, seeking his company in the absence of Sans or Malin's.

       "Hey, Papyrus. That looks neat." 'Neat' was an understatement. The snowbirds were damn impressive - looked almost lifelike, and he'd only been working on them for around five minutes. Almost made her wonder if he'd used actual birds as casts for the statues. He made them in a number of poses; a bird flying, a bird pecking the snow, a bird about to fly. He was making another snowbird as she approached, this snowbird looking like it was sitting on a nest. She stood a foot away to watch him work, wishing she could take pictures of the spectacle.

       "HELLO HUMAN (Y/N)! YES, IT DOES LOOK RATHER TERRIFIC, DOESN'T IT? NOBODY WOULD EXPECT ANY LESS FROM THE GREAT PAPYRUS! I ONLY MAKE THINGS WITH THE MOST EXPERT CRAFTSMANSHIP!" Except food, apparently, she thought, biting back the urge to say it out loud. That would have been extremely rude and she didn't want to insult someone so kind. She did agree that his craftsmanship was excellent, but his cooking skills were... lacking. He continued to talk. "DID YOU SEE WHERE SANS WENT? I'M HOPING HE ISN'T SKIPPING THE FESTIVAL AGAIN."

       "No, I haven't. I think Malin followed him wherever he went since she's gone too. Does he skip these celebrations often?" Now she was curious.

       "YES. I HAVE TO KEEP A CLOSE SOCKET ON HIM OR ELSE HE LEAVES AS SOON AS HE CAN. SOMETIMES HE'LL COME BACK FOR A LITTLE WHILE THEN LEAVE AGAIN! I APOLOGIZE ON HIS BEHALF." Papyrus finished up the snowbird and began work on another, this one seeming to fish in an imaginary stream.

       So she'd been right earlier; he was the kind of person to avoid social situations if he could. "Oh it's no bother, no need to apologize for him. I'm just wondering where he's off to. Mind if I join you? I've never tried to build anything out of snow before but I could try."

       "OF COURSE I DO NOT MIND!"

       They had built snowbirds for a few hours or so. Her snowbirds were never as well-done as Papyrus', but she did try her best. The birds always ended up lopsided or the proportions were wrong, though most just collapsed from lack of support. She still had no idea how Papyrus got them to stay up, and he wouldn't give her any advice, telling her it was a 'SKELETON SECRET'. She was more used to two dimensional creation than three dimensional and she knew it showed. She'd fiddled around with some of the programs on her ship to occasionally make three dimensional models but trying to do the same with actual, physical materials that were flimsy was incredibly hard. Her snowbirds - the ones that were still standing - were always lacking details she wanted to add but knew if she tried the birds would fall, and for some of them she just wanted to knock them down and start the bird over again for a fresh start but refrained from doing so. Progress was progress. By the time the fun was over the gloves and knees of her suit were caked in snow and she'd begun to shiver from the cold seeping through the suit. It was good for cold weather but being pressed against snow for hours on end did the suit's ability to work well no favors.

       She was halfway done with what would be an awesome, slightly better falcon than her previous snow falcon when Papyrus stood up and brushed the snow off of himself. She startled and looked up at him, confused. "Where are you going?"

       "I'M GOING TO GO HELP PREPARE LUNCH! I WILL BE BACK WITHIN THE HOUR, DON'T WORRY," he assured, beginning to maneuver out of the field of snowbirds they'd created. The ground had been almost completely cleared of snow at that point, all of it in the form of standing - or collapsed - snowbirds. The crunch of the snow under boots she was used to wasn't as present. She gave him a wave goodbye and sighed quietly, turning back to her falcon to find that it had crumbled to the ground when she'd looked away. She began to form the legs again, going to just restart the project.

       The first leg of the rebuilt falcon had just been finished when she heard footsteps behind her, noisily making its way across the open, still-snowy part of the field and towards her. She looked over to see Sans and his familiar slouch, hands shoved in his pockets. Malin trotted eagerly at his heels, darting over to see what she was doing and nearly destroying her progress once more when she nearly catapulted into the leg she was trying to sculpt.

       "need a hand there, pal?" Sans plopped down on the ground nearby, shifting to get comfortable on the ground and looking over her meager bit of progress. Malin sat down right beside him to observe.

       "Would be ice of you." She remembered their earlier of exchange of puns and figured it would be appropriate. She was proved correct when he snickered, smile curving at the edges to make it appear more genuine. He shifted again to get a little closer to the bird she was trying to create.

       "so, what're ya tryna build here?" He tilted his skull at the single leg poking out of the mound of snow, looking around at the other snowbirds. "i don' think birds are supposed to be this... leggy."

       Against her will, she snorted. "Well I'm not done with it yet."

       "my point still stands."

       "Just help me with this already."

       He chuckled. "aight, aight, no need for a standoff over a single leg."

       She felt at ease talking with him. His clever, quick replies and relaxed personality was easy to chat with. The building of the falcon went smoother with Sans than her previous attempts - as Papyrus had told her earlier, keeping the birds standing without proper support really was a skeleton secret, since Sans was able to do it too but she still couldn't manage it. He gave useful pointers on where to add details though didn't do much more than give tips and keep it from crumbling into nothing. When she was done the falcon was almost as impressive as one of Papyrus' snowbirds, though she took longer to build one than he took to build three.

       Sans was easy to get along with, and there was no denying that she could easily imagine him as a close friend. Not that she really had the time for anyone more than a casual friend. Getting attached to someone could put her mission at risk. After all, she was there for humanity's sake, not her own. She couldn't get caught up in enjoying herself, she had a civilization to build for future human settlers. It was why she was there at all. She would spend a few more days enjoying herself before starting to plan what she would do to accomplish this. She... really hoped the monsters wouldn't mind. By the way they talked about the Aboveground there was a lot of space for so few towns and cities, so surely a bit of land for a small settlement wouldn't be too much of an issue. She hoped she wouldn't fuck this up. It was what she was meant to do and she had no room for messing anything up.

       "Weren't you going to say something earlier, before Papyrus came up to us?" She suddenly mused aloud, having recalled when he'd began talking but got interrupted. Something about asking a few questions, if she was correct. She switched her gaze from adding the last detail of the tail feathers of the falcon to him, surprised to find that he'd jumped slightly, startled. The small sculpture he'd been working on was partially crushed; it looked similar to an egg, with a smooth round surface, though now part of it was destroyed when he jolted and his hand brushed against the wrong area. His smile became strained, having to spread wider in an attempt to cover his obvious discomfort; he avoided looking at her now, edge of his smile twitching.

       Whatever reaction she had expected, it hadn't been that.

       "nothin' important," he mumbled, slowly looking back at the setback of his small project. His fingers unclenched and began to softly bring the snow back to its original shape so he could continue to make the smooth, round surface of the egg. His eyelights were noticeably a bit duller, fuzzy around the edges and unfocused. "don' worry 'bout it."

       "Alright." She wasn't going to press. If he didn't want to ask, he didn't have to ask. That didn't stop her curiosity about what he possibly could be so wound up about, but she wouldn't do anything about it. She respected privacy, and hoped others did too. It probably wasn't anything important anyway, just like he said. Was probably something so trivial that he became embarrassed by it, hence his strong reaction to her question. She focused again on the falcon, giving it a last final touch and sitting back to enjoy the products of her work. Malin gave an approving yip and she smiled, happy with the results.

       Before she could properly thank Sans for his help in making it, she heard Papyrus making his way towards them, carrying food for them with him. He carried two burgers on plates, looking absolutely disgusted to hold them. When he arrived he placed the burgers in front of them. "GRILLBY MADE THESE! INSISTED THAT I GET YOU ONE TOO, HUMAN (Y/N), THOUGH I DID TRY TO MAKE MORE SPAGHETTI FOR YOU! SORRY IT'S SO GREASY AND UNHEALTHY. ANYWAY, BONE APPETIT! NYEH HEH HEH!" After cackling at his own brilliant joke, he gave them both a small, affectionate pat on the head before leaving the way he'd come to give food to more monsters.

       "Thanks, Papyrus!" She called after him, looking down at the food. She'd actually had burgers before, though they were made of a different kind of meat than beef. It looked a lot more edible than the food Papyrus had attempted to give her earlier, and she gave a silent thanks to whoever Grillby was for stepping in and making sure she had something slightly more pleasant for lunch. Sans had reverted back to his chill, relaxed persona from before as his brother left, picking up the burger and taking a bite immediately. She followed suit, having to wipe the snow off of her glove's fingers before picking up her food.

       It tasted amazing. The burger was cooked perfectly, and the condiments had been placed with such care and precision that every bite was perfect. The buns were centered instead of lopsided like she expected most burgers to be like. She ended up eating the burger a lot quicker than she had intended to at first, not taking the time to really savor the taste like she wanted to.

       Malin decided that she wanted some of the burger too, hopping up onto her lap and getting in the way of her eating, placing her paws on her chest and shoving her muzzle in her face, rubbing her head against her jaw and trying to look cute so she could charm her way to a bite to eat. She chuckled and ripped off a small, tiny bit of meat from the burger - no bun, no condiments - and offered it to the fox. She took the chunk and curled up in her lap to enjoy it, getting a few strokes as she finished off the burger.

       "That tasted amazing. Who made that?" She asked, assuming Sans would likely know. He'd finished his burger before her and was back to adding intricate details to his egg.

       "grillby. he owns a restaurant 'ere." He sat back to look at her now, the embarrassment from earlier completely faded away and forgotten. She envied how easily he'd recovered from something embarrassing.

       "He should, since his food is delicious. I may want another one of those sometimes." She scratched behind Malin's ears, earning a small noise of contentment from the fox. "... I wish I'd gotten to the snacks before they all were eaten. They looked good but I guess I'll have to wait for next month, huh?"

       "actually, you're incorrect."

       "What?" She looked back over at him to see him pull a plastic bag out of his pocket. She could see that it was filled with the snacks she'd seen earlier. Cookies in the shape of birds, a different selection of blue and black pastries (some also shaped like feathery friends), and a few other treats that he had evidently snagged and bagged. They were a bit squashed together in some parts of the bag but were mostly fine. He had the widest grin on his face, like he'd won a contest or something.

       His grin only widened as he tossed the bag over to her and she gratefully caught it. "figured ya wouldn' make it to the treats in time so i got a few for ya. you liked taste-testing so much yesterday and it'd be a shame to not have the best choices, right?"

       She nodded. "Thank you so much." She opened the bag and carefully spilled the contents onto her empty plate. She seperated the ones that had molded together and chose a bird-shaped cookie to begin with, taking a small bite to test its taste. It was sweet, and delightfully soft but didn't crumble. "These are so good. If only you could grow these, I'd have a hundred plants by now."

       "heh, if only." Sans looked into the trees, seemingly lost in thought as she finished off the cookie and chose another savory, tasty treat from her plate - this time one of the pastries, a bread roll stuffed with nuts and berries with chocolate chips baked into the dough. It was one of the larger food items which made it easier to savor, enjoying the sweet berry juice and crunch of the nuts between her molars. It was sweet and filling and she was glad Sans had chosen to grab this one - she'd have to find who made it and ask them to teach her how to make them.

       A comfortable silence was held between them as she made her way across the sweet palette of treats. She could hear the tranquil sounds of the forest - snow, twigs, and brittle undergrowth being crushed under some animal's hoof or paw, the breeze winding between the trunks and leaves, disturbing the thinnest, unsettled layer of snow and anything unsturdy that dared to poke out of the cold sheets of white. Monsters enjoyed their lunches and celebrated the day across town, their chatter indistinct but happy on the background of white noise. She knew she'd probably head home very soon as she finished the last of the treats, a delicately soft sugar cookie with bird-shaped sprinkles across the light blue icing.

       "oh look, a bird."

       Sans' voice was soft and quiet when he spoke, though she heard it clearly in the quiet nonetheless. She followed his gaze to see a small white bird perched on the leafless branch of a dead tree. It was small, speckled with black-tipped feathers that made it blend into the rocky but snowy terrain. It hopped across the length of the branch, tilting its head as it surveyed the area. When it looked towards them she gasped quietly; the bird's throat was a gentle, soft blue color, standing out among the black and white coloration across the rest of its body. It stretched out its black-tipped wings silently and fled into the safety of the trees, gone as soon as it'd come.

       "... It was a very beautiful bird." She wished it hadn't left. She reminded herself to bring the portable computer with her so she could take pictures. They would be useful to include in the entries to really capture what she was describing. She hoped she'd see the bird again when she had the device. "Are those common?"

       "nah. don' think 've seen it before." His gaze lingered on the branch it had been on awhile longer before he looked up at the skies.

       Guess she wouldn't be taking a picture of it. She would draw it instead. She gave Malin a few strokes, noticing the fox had fallen asleep, acting now as a heater on her lap. "I should probably go soon."

       "prob'ly."

       Sans seemed at peace. He was quiet and thoughtful, just enjoying the moment like her.

       She didn't want to leave, really, but she had to. She had important things to do, and doing nothing with a skeleton - as appealing as it sounded - was a waste of her precious time. She really didn't want to seem rude. I have to stay distant, even if I really don't want to.