+++ SECURITY ALERT +++
Priority One – All security personnel respond
> Rioting on the Strip between local workers and off-duty US Marines.
They emerged onto the Strip into the middle of a riot. A massive brawl was going on; there were US Marines and Port Security facing down a mob of (mainly) Chinese workers; many carrying and chanting TLA slogans.
‘Call up all information we hold on Lieutenant Crossland, Serial number 023488.’
Dr Singh frowned. ‘I may join a ground team if I think it is necessary; this would normally only be if progress was unsatisfactory.’
After debunking from hypersleep, the team gathered in the planetary survey office. The ‘Oppenheimer’ was coming in to Aurora from the darkside; even so the aurora playing around the planet was impressive.
‘What the frack is that smell?’ asked Achernar. A ship’s tech poked his head in. ‘Sorry about the smell; a malfunction in the water recycling system. It’s a recurring problem on this ship. We’ve fixed it now; the scrubbers should fix the stink.’ He grinned and bowed out.
Dr Singh entered and called for attention; Etamin clicked his heels and saluted. Dr Singh scowled but ignored him.
‘We are looking at three sites of interest. Team Alpha will investigate the rectangular structure in Environ s01. Team Beta will investigate the strange mounds in n13. Team Gamma,’ he paused, looking at Achernar, ‘will investigate the dry alluvial bed in s02’
Etamin raised his hand. ‘Will you be coming with us to investigate the dry river bed? After all, it seems to be pretty safe.’
Achernar cut in before Dr Singh could respond.
‘What is the overall mission plan? I understand that due to the high-energy cosmic bombardment from UV Ceti, radio communications are impossible and if a major storm is expected then the safest place is underground. How are we to keep in touch?’
Dr Singh beamed. ‘I like a forward thinker, Mr Achernar, (‘just Achernar’, muttered Achernar), I am appointing you Team Gamma leader. You will be equipped with an ATV and full supplies; you and Team Alpha will be flown out to the site by the expedition lander, which will then continue to s01 to drop Team Alpha. Your planned mission time is five days; the lander will return to the drop point in five days. Yes, what is it?’
Etamin had his hand raised again. ‘What if we find everything in the first two days? What do we do for the other three?’
‘I have a doctorate in planetology. What do you have? Nothing! So either prove me wrong, or don’t question me. We land in 24 hours, be ready to leave immediately.’
Bellatrix raised her hand. ‘Dr Singh. It is traditional to have a last night beer, food and movie session.’
‘And waste twenty-four hours! You will leave immediately.’
+++ AURORA CONTROL +++
Brought to you via landline from Parkfield Corporation
– The weather forecast is good, there are currently some minor flares; these are expected to produce normal activity.
– There is a developing region in the southern equatorial belt, a Class Two sunspot. This is being kept under observation.
– Polar magnetometers show fluctuations within normal limits; no major storms are expected.
++ ADVISORY: If the warning sounds; or the aurora deepens in intensity, then seek shelter immediately. Get into your assigned shelter or as deep underground as you can.
The lander took off at 0800 the following morning, heading for Environ s03. Bellatrix wangled her way onto the flight deck; she immediately saw what problems the massive radiation storms caused.
‘Hi, Pat Mason; I’m ship commander. That’s Rachel, pilot; don’t want to disturb her at the moment. As you can see, the instruments don’t give accurate readings.’
‘So how do you navigate then?’
Mason grinned and pointed out of the window. ‘We go back to the twentieth century; how they used to fly the early aircraft. They navigated by looking out of the cockpit. Look down; do you see those beacons?’
‘Now put these on.’ Bellatrix put on the set of goggles; only now realising that Pilot Rachel was wearing them as well. Suddenly a line of beacons appeared; stretching into the distance.’
‘They only go as far as Outpost Three; after that we rely on the locator beacon that the ‘Oppenheimer’ fired down from orbit. Rachel, do you have a fix?’
‘Not yet; we’re still too far out.’
Approaching the landing site; there was a decision to be made.
‘The locator beacon is on a cliff above the river bed. You can be landed there; or down on the river bed.’
‘Go for the river bed,’ said Achernar; ‘the pick-up point is the beacon on the cliff. We’ll go for a hot drop, hover down and we’ll drive straight out. We don’t know what that river bed is and the ATV will float if it’s water under that ground cover.’
It was fairly firm ground; they headed for what used to be the riverbank. There were several clusters of hard-shelled pod plants in clumps.
‘Look here’, called Capella. ‘Some of these plants have been smashed open.’ He pulled out a camera; suddenly the ground heaved and a creature burst out of the soil next to him. It was shaped like a shrimp, dark-grey, with several segmented legs at the rear of its body. The upper body was bulbous and two rotating eyes on short stalks regarded him; moving to look from various angles. Capella raised his camera just as Etamin realised what it was doing and screamed a warning.
‘Capella! Get away from it! It’s triangulating!’
The warning came too late, much too late. With blinding speed, the creature’s bulbous upper body extended into a club, striking Capella full in the chest. There was a sickening crack and he went down. There was no time to help him; the ground erupted with several more of the creatures around the party.
They fought a running battle back to the ATV, managing to drag Capella with them. Even so, they were all injured and Achernar was wounded; even a glancing blow from one of the clubs was enough to cause severe bruising. Inside the ATV, for a time it came under attack; the clubs ringing off the outer hull; after a time the creatures gave up and left.
Paula examined Capella but looked up and shook her head.
‘His ribcage is completely stove-in. He must have died instantly.’
Achernar glanced at Bellatrix, expecting a bad reaction. Instead, she just stared at the inner hull and said nothing.
“Capella,” he thought to himself. “You were my cousin and I will never know now if you knew.”
Paula drove the ATV up to the landing beacon and Paula and Achernar buried Capella, whilst Etamin stood guard. Bellatrix stayed in the ATV. When it came to saying a few words, Achernar hesitated.
‘What’s up?’ asked Paula. ‘Are you worried about the mission?’
Etamin was looking at the alluvial plain with binoculars.
‘There are several clusters of those pod plants. Maybe they mark nests or hives of some kind?’
Achernar tried to talk to Bellatrix; he found her lying on a fold-down at the rear of the ATV, staring at the wall.
‘Fuck off Ach; we’re in this mess because of us landing at Mobius Three. And whose idea was that? Mine! It was fucking mine!’
‘You couldn’t have known what was going to happen and we did rescue your brother from the Lebkuchen.’
‘Yeah, we rescued the fucking wanker that wanted me out and still does. Piss off Achernar and leave me alone.’
Achernar became angry; ‘Now just listen! We’re in a crawler in a potentially hostile environment. There is no room for you to be a prima don …’
‘Sorry to interrupt’, came Paula’s voice. ‘A tight-beam has just come in from the lander. There’s an emergency and it’s nearly here to pick us up. We’re needed to help Team Alpha.’
To be continued …
OMG! Another PC death!
This was a straight combat using the 1970’s retro-rules. At one point I thought I was going to lose Achernar as well.
The creatures started off by being designed using the Creature Design rules; however when it turned out that they did a load of damage using a Club; I remembered a documentary about deadly creatures that mentioned the Mantis Shrimp.
Seriously, to design some weird alien life-forms that are nasty or just strange, you don’t have to look further than this planet to skin your random rolls. Bombadier beetles are real, as is the Ant-Lion!
Capella dying has buggered up a couple of Storylines!
Where are the Currents of Space going to blow me next?