EO AND THE GROUP RETREATED after an uneventful first half of the mission schedule to come to a rest and dining area in the Martian ruins' visitors center. They settled at an undistinctive round dining table of copper-colored, sedimentary rock.
Eo slurped on a cherry-flavored electrolyte liquid while Bog had plain snacks to eat. Bog shared his limited supply of jerkied vegetarian snacks he had stored in his pockets the night before liftoff to Mars with Eo, under the dining table, along with two tongue-tablets.
Feeling trapped at Eo's side, Xavie meandered his hand in a bag of zesty, flaky Asteroid Puffs.
Org nursed Eo's refilled water canteen in its probiscis.
At the same time, Zephyr dipped her eating instrument in a frothy pillow of her candy-sweet Milky Way parfait Bog had bought her.
Eo used past years of practice from boring Academy lectures to take Bog's uppers in plain sight. As he suspected, the cadets hadn't batted an eye. Once one small disc dissolved in his mouth, Eo felt his heart thump faster and a warm chill fall to his toes, making him feel alert enough for the trip's second leg and possibly until the whole flight back to the cadets' Space Academy.
Eo sighed quietly in relief, and he then realized Bog was chortling at the sound of him with pity.
"The frozen ice pool in the rocks was really pretty," said Zephyr.
"Mars' geosphere is truly a sight to behold. I am sure you took many photographs on your journaling device," Bog said, grinning once at Zephyr.
"Xavie dropped some already. You should see it; he has a good eye," Zephyr said. She turned from Eo's surprised smile over to Xavie, who ignored the compliment and stared at a tiny-pawed creepy-crawler roaming the rocky ceiling of the dining area overhead.
"Cadet Xavie, what was your favorite exhibit?" Commander Bog said after his patience had worn thin.
"Just Xavie, mister," Xavie muttered. He let out a wind from his mouth and crossed his arms. "I dunno. They look all the same to me."
"I'd say so," Eo cut in. "It's easy to get lost in here." Eo slurped his electrolyte mix once. "There wasn't anything that you remember about the Forbidden Caves?"
"No," Xavie grunted. "why 'forbidden' if there's nothing to see?" He crunched puffy crisps in the quiet that descended on the table. Around them, visitors' conversations and laughter became louder.
Org bubbled its lips timidly, alerting everyone.
"Oh yeah, I forgot about Org!" said Eo. "How did you like everything so far?"
Org made a quiet, pleased burble.
"Glad to hear that," Eo grinned. Eo slurped his solution again and finally finished it. "Okay, kids. We'll stay here for a few moments and then...we'll go on to a secret passageway. It's somewhere a little off course...."
Bog's eyes flashed upwards from his last cards of dehydrated veggie-jerky. "How do you mean 'off-course'? The star-base is tracking our every move, captain--one degree out of the norm is not authorized."
"Believe me Bog, Colonel has way more important things to worry about than watching us digest in 5-K resolution. Follow my lead, like you promised."
"Where's it on the map?" Zephyr asked, cleaning her frozen dessert bowl.
"It's an old spot of mine and Bog's that we found when we were here getting our mission badges on Mars, just like all of you three," Eo said. Eo scanned the bunch, ignoring Bog's crazed glower, and then he rested his eyes finally on Xavie, who had his own eyes shut under brooding brows.
Eo, vexed some by Xavie's boredom, decided not to wait any longer to throw in the punchline. A smirk jimmied his lips into a cheeky smile. "A spot where we found a certain 'Thing'."
Xavie's eyes opened and roved Eo's way. "What're you talking about?"
Bog interrupted, "something that probably was a figure of your captain's imagination--!" he said swiftly. "We can barely remember if what we saw was even real!" Bog insisted in a pleading voice a volume above what he thought the cadets should witness, "Captain: no, and that is final!"
"What's the problem?" Eo chuckled. "It's not like you're putting your job on the line."
Bog recanted with a glance away from Eo along with a feeble, uneasy stammer.
"These kids may not get a trip like this for a while; let's have some fun! Everything'll be okay; trust me!"
Bog, feeling it was impossible to say no to Eo's eyes that were shining at him like two gigantic and brown Suns, nodded evenly.
Eo announced, "voting-to-go-off-route-in-one...two...!"
Eo and Zephyr giggled when they were first to shoot their arms in the air with Xavie, who had lifted his hand with gentle enthusiasm. Org looked agreeing--at least, everyone thought it did because it hovered in place without disagreeing.
That left Bog. Bog considered the disobedience to strict orders by the star-base was in a small way a repaid debt to Eo since he had accepted the Colonel's orders like a coward. He only hoped their detour to the dangerous ravine in his memory was quick and that everyone came out alive.
"Alright," Bog cheeped.