“Richards, lower the landing gear and prepare for landing,” Lieutenant Price ordered over the howl of the storm outside the shuttlecraft.
“Yes, sir,” Ensign Richards replied.
The shuttlecraft swayed from side to side as Ensign Richards fought to keep her steady.
Finally, they all breathed a sigh of relief as the shuttlecraft made contact with the ground and remained stationary.
“Great job, Richards,” Price complimented, as he unbuckled himself from his seat.
As he looked around the shuttle at the other men, he continued, “The ship’s scans showed the planet with breathable air, and the shuttle’s scans show the same, so gather the gear you need, and we’ll head out to see what she holds for us.”
The all nodded their understanding.
Corporals Ramirez and Jackson gathered their weapons and ensured they were loaded. Their function was to protect the Lieutenant and Ensign as they investigated what minerals, creatures, and other resources the planet may hold for them.
Once Price saw that all the men were ready to exit the shuttle, he ordered them to do so.
The Marines stepped off first, did a quick survey of the area around them, and sure there was no immediate danger, waved the other two to disembark.
Price and Richards exited, and quickly began to scan the closest plants and rocks to the shuttle.
They all knew they could be on the planet for days, but they worked as quickly as if they only had the one day to gather all their data.
This wasn’t their first planet, and they had already conducted previous missions that went left real quick, and they had to adapt quickly just to stay alive.
As the hours passed, the Marines continued to keep a close perimeter to the two officers, continuously studying their surroundings for any possible threats.
So far, they hadn’t seen any animals, but they knew it didn’t mean there weren’t. Many animals they had encountered before scurried when they were approached, some animals only came out night, and some would attack you the moment they saw you.
Once they had reached a half click from the shuttle, they changed directions and began walking a perimeter around, the shuttle stationed in the middle.
Even after hours of walking and scanning, the Marines were as sharp as they were when they first disembarked.
The group would walk, stop to take readings and scan everything in the area, and then walk some more. It was repetitious, but necessary.
From time to time, the Marines would look at each other, ensuring they were safe as well.
Jackson noticed Ramirez make a sudden move and turned to see what he was reacting to.
Ramirez looked like he had his weapon trained on something in the forest.
Keeping his own weapon in a sweeping pattern, Jackson made his way beside Ramirez.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“I saw movement in the forest,” Ramirez answered.
“Do you want me to cover you while you investigate?” Jackson asked.
Ramirez only nodded and began waking forward, keeping his weapon trained on where he saw the movement.
Jackson swept back and forth as Ramirez trekked inward. Every few seconds, Jackson would do a quick scan of where the officers were making their studies, ensuring they were still good to go.
Seeing they were safe, and engrossed in their work, Jackson returned to sweeping the forest as Ramirez closed in on what he had seen.
When he reached the spot where he saw the movement, he stopped, looked around, slightly lowered his weapon, and turned to give Jackson a quizzical look.
He then made a circular movement with his arm, indicating he was going to look around.
Jackson nodded his acknowledgement.
He then took a moment to look back at the two officers, and seeing they were still safe, returned his attention back to Ramirez, except Ramirez wasn’t in sight.
Becoming more alert, Jackson began sweeping the forest for Ramirez and was about to enter himself, when Ramirez walked back in sight, and began making his way to where Jackson was stationed.
“Where the hell did you go?” Jackson asked.
Wearing a nervous expression, Ramirez replied, “I thought I saw something, but when I got closer it was gone.”
Jackson could tell it had been a long day, and they were getting tired.
“I think we should wrap it up for the night,” he suggested.
Ramirez nodded his agreement.
Remaining vigilant, they slowly changed their perimeter course to allow them to gradually close the gab between them and the officers.
“Gentlemen,” Jackson started, keeping his weapon in a sweeping movement of the area. “I think it’s about time we wrap it up for the day.”
Though there was still light, after looking at his watch, Lieutenant Price agreed.
“Very well,” Price said. “Let’s head back. We’ll begin again at first light.”
Just as cautiously as they had been so far, they made a bee line for the shuttle.
Once they were back, Jackson pulled Ramirez to the side to find out what he might have seen.
“I’m not sure what was out there,” Ramirez started. “At first, I just saw movement, but as I got closer…”
After a pause, Jackson had to prod him. “And?”
He could tell Ramirez wasn’t sure how to approach it, but he continued anyway.
“I thought I saw my son,” Ramirez finally said.
“Your son?” Jackson asked. “Isn’t he..”
“Dead, yes,” Ramirez said, finishing Jackson’s sentence.
Jackson gave the two officers a side glance. He was sure that Ramirez was just tired and seeing things, but if he said anything to Price, he’d have them return to the ship and come back down with a replacement set of Marines.
They both knew that could damage their reputations and may lead to not being able to return to the surface of this or any other future planet.
Reading Jackson’s mind, Ramirez said, “I think I just need some sleep.”
Jackson patted him on the shoulder and then decided to call it a night.
The next morning, they marched back to where they had finished the day before and took up their previous positions.
Four hours into their day, Jackson turned to check Ramirez's position, but he wasn't there. He turned his full attention to scanning the area where he was supposed to be and not seeing him there, quick stepped to his position, sweeping his weapon the entire time.
Price and Richards didn’t even seem to notice.
Jackson searched the area for Ramirez but not finding him, decided it was time to get the officers involved. Hopefully, together, they could find where he had disappeared to.
Jackson knew once he did that, Ramirez would be finished if he didn't have a really good reason for disappearing.
Jackson was about to move out when a short distance away he caught movement.
It was Ramirez.
Jackson gave the officers one last glance to ensure they were still safe, and confident that they were, began moving towards Ramirez, never letting down his guard.
Once he was within hearing distance, he said in a loud whisper, “Ramirez! Ramirez, what are you doing?”
Ramirez didn't reply and seemed to be staring at something.
As Jackson got closer, he saw that in front of Ramirez was a deep pit, though he didn’t seem to be looking at it. He seemed to be staring at something either over the pit, or on the other side.
Panic set in when he saw Ramirez step closer to the edge of the pit.
“Ramirez!” Jackson shouted, cautiously closing the distance between them.
Ramirez turned to Jackson and shouted, “It's my son! Don’t you see him! He needs my help!”
Confused, Jackson shouted back, “What are you talking about! There's no one there!”
Jackson didn’t want to make any sudden moves, but slowly closed the distance towards Ramirez. He was almost close enough to grab him, when suddenly, Ramirez quickly leapt from the edge, into the pit.
“Noooo!” Jackson yelled as he ran to the edge. The pit was so dark, he couldn’t see the bottom, but regardless, he knew there was no way Ramirez could have survived.
‘I have to tell the officers,’ he thought, turning and running towards where they he had left them.
His mouth dropped open when he saw that neither of the officers were where they were supposed to be. He had only been gone ten to fifteen minutes.
He looked around, hoping to see which way they went, when he saw Richards walking aimlessly in circles a hundred yards away.
Jackson ran to him.
“Richards!” he shouted when he was close enough. “Where is Price and what are you doing?”
Richards took one look at Jackson and began to scream, catching Jackson off guard.
“They’re all over the place!” Richards shouted. “I can’t get them off!”
Jackson looked around but didn’t see anything. He took a step closer to Richards.
Richards screamed again, pushed Jackson away, and took off running.
Jackson knew he couldn’t lose him, so he gave chase.
They were almost at the edge of the field, when suddenly, Richards stopped, pulled out his side arm, and without missing a beat, shot himself in the head.
Jackson tripped and fell just as quickly as Richard’s body did.
All of his strength seemed to be slipping away as he laid there looking at Richard’s now dead body.
He was about to give into despair when he heard Price scream in terror off to his left.
He quickly stood up and tried to ascertain where the scream had come from.
When Price screamed again, Jackson took off in that direction.
Price looked on as his wife was being attacked by a group of strange looking aliens. He tried to fight them off as much as he could, but whenever he was able to pull one off, another would take its place.
His wife screamed out for him to help her, but he couldn’t get to her.
His sidearm lay on the ground where it had been knocked out of his hand, but after several attempts to get to it, he turned his attention to try to get to his wife.
Feeling close to pure exhaustion, he changed his tactics to getting the gun back. He pushed through creature after creature and felt a small sense of hope as he slowly got closer to it.
Jackson stopped a dozen yards away and tried to understand what Price was doing. As far as he could tell he was dancing wildly and swinging his arms as though he was in a bar brawl.
Jackson wished he had something to subdue him with, but all the medicine he could use was back at the shuttlecraft.
He thought about shooting him in the leg, but the way Price was moving, he knew he could easily accidently nick an artery.
Jackson also had time to remember that he had no way of flying the shuttlecraft. The auto pilot only worked once they were in space. He could call for help, but he couldn’t risk what had happened to the others to happen to a new group that came to help.
He decided the best option was to tackle him and choke him out. Jackson laid down his rifle and slowly began closing the distance, trying not to draw too much attention.
Price was breathing heavily. He had to save his wife. Her screams motivated him to keep fighting through the aliens. He was so close to his weapon, he just had to keep moving and fighting.
With his last burst of strength, he pushed through the last alien, dove to his sidearm, stood back up and began taking out each alien one by one, starting with one that was trying to sneak up on him.
After he shot the last alien, he collapsed next to his wife.
He rolled her onto her back to ensure she was safe, when horror and sadness overcame him, as he realized he was too late.
As more aliens began coming out of the woods, put the gun under his chin, and joined his wife.
A soft breeze blew through the field.
Two bullet holes leaked blood out of Jackson’s chest into the hungry ground as he slowly drifted away, only a few yards from where Price’s lifeless body now lay.