“I’ve called this meeting of the board at the behest of our president and CEO Rutherford Jones. I'm sorry we’ve had to disturb all of you at such an early hour.”
To no ones surprise it was obvious Clive James was not sorry. He looked around the room and noticed all the board members were in attendance. They were looking at each other wondering what was going to happen next. James bit his lip to hold back a smile.
One of the board members groused, “Alright James, what the hell is so important that you make us come in at this ungodly time...and where the hell is Jones.”
“As you’ll recall,” replied James, “Mr. Jones is on a trip to the Orient. He is meeting with potential investors on our Japan program scheduled to begin next year.” Everyone nodded in agreement as they remembered.
The same board member groused again, “Fine, then what are we hear to discuss?” He rolls his eyes exasperated sitting back in his chair.
James could not contain himself. A greasy smile stretched across his face, the board members noticed and began to groan.
“Oh no, not again,” said a different board member. “What crazy idea does Jones have planned now? And why did he have to call a meeting at this time to discuss it? Couldn’t it have waited till later today?”
“My, My, sir,” teased James, “aren’t we full of questions? Please, everyone sit back. I’ll brief you on Mr. Jones’s plan.”
After neatly reaching for the remote control on the table, he pressed a button and said, “Mr. Jones has funded a group he personally put together to capture, alive, and bring back to Earth...the Afflicto.”
The room went into an uproar.
Statements such as ‘He’s nuts,’ and ‘Is he out of his mind?’ were heard all over the room. James allowed the board members’ shock to settle before continuing to speak.
“Gentlemen, please, I assure you Mr. Jones is not crazy. He has chosen to perform a great service to increase mankind’s knowledge of one of the galaxies more feared and little known creatures.” After an intentional pause, he pressed another button on the remote. Before each board member the holograph projection system turned on.
“As I said earlier, Mr. Jones has assembled a team of experts. This team will land on the planet the creatures are indigenous to, capture one, and bring it back for study. Simple, really.” He then added, “I would like you to meet the team right now.”
James pressed another button and then a door at the far end of the room opened. Four people walked in, three men and one woman dressed in jumpsuits. Each of them took an open seat at the far end of the conference table.
“This is the group Mr. Jones calls the ‘Afflicto Capture Team,’ or Capture Team for short,” said James. “I’ll first introduce each team member, then we will have a holographic presentation for the benefit of the board members, and finally we’ll have a question and answer session. Anything before I continue?” James noticed there were none and began, “I’ll first introduce Mac Maynard. Some of you probably already know him. Mr. Maynard is the famous intergalactic game hunter from Australia. Mr. Maynard has extensive experience in tracking and capturing creatures all over the known galaxy. He’s tracked and captured animals from lions to kor hounds.”
Maynard sat there with a wide, sarcastic smile on his face. A man in his mid-forties, he didn’t look it. Well tanned and nicely groomed, his smile gave him a cocky look that exposed his true attitude.
“Next we have Mashaka, a South African native and Mr. Maynard’s assistant on all hunts. He has worked with Mr. Maynard since the last days of the lions.”
Mashaka sat stoically and nodded to the board members. Although only in his mid-thirties, he showed the wear and tear of previous hunts with lines etched on his weather-worn face.
“Next is the esteemed Dr. David Hayley,” continued James. “Dr. Hayley is currently tenured at the University of Ares Vallis on Mars. His research with electro-magnetics and electro-statics is considered the most ground-breaking in his field.”
Dr. Hayley was a young man, in his early-thirties. Although tall, he had walked in without the awkward lankiness that most people with height usually do. His eyes looked across the room as James introduced him. He wanted to notice who knew about him and who didn’t. He was no stranger to the board and was bracing himself for an icy reception.
“Finally, I introduce to you Ms. Kara Larson. She is an alien zoologist and doctoral candidate at Harvard University, and is performing her dissertation work on the Afflicto at the Titan Alien Life Research Facility. Ms. Larson is considered by many to have the most accurate theories on the creature. I almost forgot to mention, Ms. Larson is also an accomplished spacecraft pilot, consequently, she will be the team’s pilot and navigator.”
James looked at her with elevator eyes and smiled. Ms. Larson looked back at him unimpressed.
Kara Larson was certainly pretty. Everyone around the table noticed her long-flowing, dark-brown hair, it made a nice contrast with her greenish-brown eyes. Her expression was happy, yet she gave you the feeling she was judging you as you looked at her. It was the kind of look a woman gives a man when she knows she’s pretty. This made some of the men around the room uncomfortable as they patently avoided eye contact with her.
“There you have it—the Capture Team,” said James. “Mr. Jones contacted each personally and will pay them half now and the remaining half upon successful completion of the project.
“We’ll now begin the presentation portion of our meeting with a holographic recording of the previous mission funded by Mr. Jones. But before that Ms. Larson will give us a quick primer on the Afflicto itself.”
“Hold on there, James,” said the first board member to speak up. “Did you say Jones funded a previous mission?”
“Why weren’t we notified?” said a second board member. “This is completely unacceptable.”
“Gentlemen,” started James casually, “Mr. Jones believed it would be a simple process of capturing the creature and returning it. He hired company men with hunting experience to do the job. Unfortunately, it was unsuccessful.”
Maynard leaned back in his chair and let out a loud snort.
“Do you care to share your thoughts with us Mr. Maynard?” said James, sounding a bit annoyed.
“Leave it to Rusty,” replied Maynard loudly. “I told ‘im it’d be a mistake, but he wouldn’t listen. What’appen to the po bastards, mate?”
“We’ll get to that in just a minute,” said James, “right now I’d like Ms. Larson to brief us on the creature. Ms. Larson, let me know when you’re ready.”
Kara Larson looked around the room then looked at James and said, “Go ahead and start the holo.”
“I’d like for everyone to direct their attention to the center of the conference table,” intoned James. He pressed a button on the remote and then a 3D holographic test pattern appeared over the center of the conference table.
Maynard sat up and looked around, then sat back in his chair. “Looks like the projector’s on the blink, mate. I get a front row seat.”
“No you don’t Mr. Maynard,” said Dr. Hayley. “Correct me if I’m wrong Mr. James, but this is the new style projection system I’ve heard of. The kind that gives each person a front-seat view of the image, instead of rotating it 360 degrees.”
“Correct Dr. Hayley,” answered James, with a slight undertone that mocked Maynard, “Mr. Jones had it installed a few months ago.”
Maynard caught the veiled insult and grunted.
“You know,” said Dr. Hayley, “I had a friend in college that developed this system as part of his doctoral work. Not only does it involve electronics, but also the way the room is designed.” He observed the room with interest and then added, “He was hired by one of Mr. Jones’ companies. Does he still work for you guys?”
“No,” replied James hastily, “Dr. Noah Richards is not with us anymore. Please, let’s allow Ms. Larson to begin her presentation.”
“Ah yes, sorry for going on a tangent.” Hayley looked over to Larson and smiled sheepishly.
Kara looked around the room once more, waited to see if everyone was paying attention.
“Looks like we’re finally ready to start now,” she said, sounding annoyed. “Go ahead Mr. James.”
James started the presentation Kara had prepared. The lights in the room dimmed and then an image of the Afflicto appeared floating above the conference table.
Some board members leaned forward in their chairs, while others took off their glasses in disbelief. For many of them it was the first time they had seen the most feared creature in the galaxy.
“As you can see, it’s truly a disgusting creature. Spherical in shape, it’s approximately three meters in diameter which approximates to 9.5 meters in circumference, a considerably large beast.” She waited a moment to let the information sink in.
“There’s only ever been four missions to study the creature. Three of them were robotic, and as mentioned earlier, one was manned. The robotic missions are where we’ve received most of the data.”
The holographic image now began to rotate displaying the creatures back-end to everyone.
“These are actual pictures sent back by our rovers,” continued Kara, “before they were destroyed. The creature has four appendages that look like tentacles yet work like our arms and legs.”
The holograph showed how the creature used its two rear appendages to move itself forward and even grasp objects.
The image rotated to the front side of the animal.
“What we in the alien zoology community calls the forward hemisphere of the Afflicto contains its eyes, mouth, and two forward appendages. The eyes are completely round and milky. The mouth seems small, but can become quite large when the animal decides to open it. When it does it exposes large, sharp teeth similar to a shark’s but only one row.”
The holo-image clearly showed this information as Kara spoke. The pictures were so graphic that some of the board members were visibly disgusted and did not continue to look.
“The forward appendages are very strange indeed. They are normally positioned as shown in the image, beneath the mouth and each off to the side. They’re used to hold the creature up and pull it forward to walk. Yet these appendages can position themselves at any point on the forward hemisphere as shown here.” She nodded at James and he pressed a button on the remote.
Still images then showed how the appendages placed themselves directly above the creatures eyes, directly opposite each other sticking out, and how they changed sides as the right appendage became the left and vice versa.
Kara could tell the board members were curious about this, so before anyone had a chance to ask, she said, “I know what you're thinking. No one, including myself, knows how these creatures are able to do this. This is what makes them so unique. Imagine being able to position you arm directly out of your back, or down your leg. It would make reaching objects a lot easier, wouldn’t it?”
The board members agreed, even if the mental picture was not very pleasing.
“Finally,” she said looking at the holograph, “I'd like to point out that the animal’s skin seems to have the look of a frog’s, soft and slimy. Any questions?”
The lights in the room came on as the holo system turned off. Everyone in the room winced as their eyes adjusted to the lights.
“I’ve just realized that I didn’t properly queue the next holograph segment,” said James. “While I get it ready, why don’t any board members who wish to ask the Capture Team any questions do so.”
Interrupting another board member, the first to speak said, “Mr. Maynard, why is a man with your reputation and fame going after such a horrible creature? Weren’t you aware of the previous three, or rather four missions that failed?”
“T’answer your first question, mate, the thrill of the hunt,” replied Maynard arrogantly. “As far as the second question, well, I can’t say much about those robotic missions. What I do know is I won’t make the same mistakes made by the manned mission.”
Maynard glanced to Mashaka who exchanged a knowing smile.
The same board member, clearly unhappy with the answer, questioned Kara Larson, “Ms. Larson, if I recall correctly, weren’t you involved with each of the robotic missions?”
Visibly caught off guard, she frantically wondered how he knew that.
“Yes—I was—as part of my continuing doctoral work. We learned a considerable amount—and the research—it was published for anyone interested.”
She answered while thinking out loud trying to figuring out how the board member knew of her involvement.
Another board member grabbed the opportunity to speak. He directed his questions to Dr. Hayley.
“Sir, I’m sitting here asking myself what is your involvement in this mission? I mean, you’re a scientist of electromagnetics. What does that have to do with catching an animal?”
“I’m glad you asked,” said David Hayley smoothly. “What Ms. Larson did not mention about the Afflicto is it’s a creature which emits considerable amounts of electrostatic and some electromagnetic energy. I was told by Mr. Jones’ representatives my expertise might help in capturing it.”
Maynard snorted then looked over to Mashaka and smiled.
“What you, or even Mr. Maynard might not know,” said David, slightly irritated by Maynard’s non-comment, “is that the creature can direct its electrostatic energy toward objects. The robotic missions failed because the creatures would simply destroy these machines, even though the devices used were supposedly designed to withstand what the creature radiates.” He looked over to Kara then added, “Ms. Larson can describe this in better detail than I can.”
“The creature can emit and direct high amounts of electrostatic energy,” said Kara, addressing the board. “The creature also seems to either destroy what it comes in contact with or drains it. We’re just not sure.”
“The Afflicto can shoot a beam of energy? From where then? Its tentacles, eyes?” quizzed a board member.
“Its tentacles, as far as we’ve seen,” said Kara.
“So this team’s been assembled because the science community attempts failed and sending amateur hunters also failed, right?” said the first board member.
“Yes, you can say that,” said David.
“We tried using scientists to do a game hunters job,” said Kara, as she looked at the team directly, “ignoring the importance that professional big game hunters would play in capturing this beast. The group here shows Mr. Jones noticed the problem and has tried to make an attempt using the best of both worlds.”
James, quiet until now, noticed he had his opportunity to interrupt.
“I’ve got the next presentation ready. What you are about to see is a holo recording of the manned mission previously funded by Mr. Jones.”
“I thought the mission recorder was destroyed?” said David, surprised.
“We thought so too,” replied James, “but our technicians were able to recover the last few minutes of the mission that’s what we’ll see.”
“We’ll get to find out were the mates screwed up,” said Maynard, directing the statement to Mashaka. “Pay attention Mash.”
James looked around the room then pressed a button on the remote. The lights dimmed and the center of the conference table came to life with the test image. The image then became a scene of three men running away from something. One man lagged behind as the recording started.
One of the men running ahead looked back to see where the lagging man was. The lagger was running slow since his leg was hurt. He then glanced at his partner running next to him.
“John, I’m gonna help Noah. Keep running to the ship and get it ready.”
John nodded as he continued ahead.
The man ran back to help and noticed Noah did not look so good. His leg was bleeding, probably broken, and he was in a state of mild shock. Somehow, Noah kept moving forward.
“Noah, come here buddy. Let me help you.”
“Ah, Jim...Just save yourself. Those damned things...they’re right behind me. Just go!”
Jim looked behind Noah. Squinting he saw there were several Afflictos closing in. Jim quickly grabbed Noah and placed one arm over his back. He started moving toward the ship as quickly as he could. Noah began to resist.
“Dammit. Just leave me. I’m slowing you down, go!”
“No way pal, we came here together we’re getting out together.”
Noah grabbed the laser from his holster then pointed it at Jim’s ribs. Surprised, Jim stopped and let Noah go.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Trying to save you. Now go!” Noah looked dangerously pale and weak.
Pursing his lips, Jim started to run toward the ship. He looked back momentarily and saw Noah sit himself against a rock, wincing in pain.
After several running steps, Jim heard a blood curdling scream, it sounded like Noah. As the screaming continued Jim turned, in the distance he saw the Afflictos had reached Noah.
Two Afflictos had their tentacles wrapped around Noah’s torso as they lifted him off the ground. What looked like short lightning bolts, electrostatic discharges, emanated from the creatures tentacles and enveloped Noah. Noah’s body writhed and contorted until it fell limp. The creatures, seemingly satisfied, carefully placed down the body and then continued the chase. There seemed to be ten to fifteen in all.
Jim finally reached the ship and climbed in to find John glaring at him.
“Where the hell were you? I almost left figuring you were killed by an Afflicto.” John looked behind and around Jim, then added, “Where’s Noah?”
The look on Jim’s face said it all.
“Aw, man. They got him?”
“He wouldn’t let me help him. I think he was in shock and it affected his thinking. He forced me to leave him alone. Noah just wanted us to get away, let’s do that.”
“I got the ship almost ready, another few seconds and—”
Suddenly the ship rocked. The men looked at each other in disbelief.
“Dammit! Those monsters can move fast. Let’s get off the ground, now!”
John tried but the ship wouldn’t budge. He turned on the outside cam – two Afflictos were on the top of the ship. The ship’s engines could not handle the extra weight, they had to get the creatures off.
The ship suddenly began to rock and creak, and with it the high-pitched whine of metal being stressed.
“Use the ionizers before they rip the ship apart!” yelled John.
Jim reached into the weapons cell and pulled out the static ionizers, three in all. They were rifle shaped weapons that discharged ionized particles to ground static. He handed one to John, who placed it over his shoulder, as he continued to work the ship’s engine controls.
“I hope these things actually work,” said Jim, inspecting the rifle skeptically.
“Noah used it on one yesterday and it seemed to at least stun them,” replied John.
The ship rocked again as the ear-piercing sound of ripping metal filled the air. Both men fell to the ship’s floor as the hull was torn open.
“Start firing John! It’s the only way we’ll get out.”
White, ionized rays discharged from the rifles looking strangely similar to the emanations produced by the Afflictos. As they shot frantically, they held back the creatures, even causing their tentacles to pull away from the ship’s torn hole.
“Now what do we do?” said John, watching the hole nervously.
“We use the ship’s ionizer to buy us some time,” replied Jim.
“Do it, we’ve got no choice.”
John entered the command sequence to activate the hull ionizer. The ship rocked again even harder, both men fell, and another opening was torn in the hull.
This time there was no chance to react.
Several tentacles reached in, groping for the men. A pair of tentacles found John. He screamed as he was whipped through the opening.
Jim fired wildly, preventing other tentacles from grabbing him. He heard John screaming in pain as flashes of static discharge marked shadows all around.
Another whine of metal and the ship was torn apart like an egg.
From behind, Jim was grabbed. He turned and saw a band of Afflictos, maybe twenty to twenty-five now. Several were fighting with the one that had grabbed him, preventing the creature from pulling him out the ship.
He looked at the control console and nodded. Then with a determined face flipped a couple switches and pushed a button. As two other Afflictos wrapped their tentacles around him, the recording scene changed to an aerial view. Approximately twenty to thirty Afflictos were fighting amongst each other trying to get a hold of two human bodies. The ship’s engines then began to glow bright-red causing a blinding glare on the recorded image.
The ship exploded.
Light from the recording lit up the room causing everyone to cover their eyes. The recording became distorted, but corrected itself. The scene changed to a ground-level view outside the ship, or what was left of it.
The ship had disintegrated and what remained was a shriveled hunk of metal. All around Afflictos were lying limp. When it appeared as though they were all dead, just then some showed movement. Like a boxer dazed from a knockout, the creatures began stumbling around. Eventually, all but one Afflicto got up from its stunned condition. The remaining one seemed truly dead.
As the Afflictos scattered in different directions, interestingly enough, a group of three grabbed the dead Afflicto, dragging it with them. Right then, the recording ended.
”My god! Dr. Richards is dead?” said David, in disbelief. “How long have you known this?” He glared at James.
“Dr. Hayley, I know you and Dr. Richards were good friends but I—”
“You didn’t want to upset me?” interrupted David angrily. “Is that it? Come on man, instead you wait until now?”
“N—No,” replied James defensively. “What I was going to say was that Mr. Jones told me not to say anything. I’m sorry, he’s my boss.”
The door at the far end of the room burst opened. Everyone looked at James, who in turn, looked surprised. James glanced at the remote on the table wondering how the door had opened.
Swaggering into the room with an aura of confidence was Rutherford Jones. He was in late fifties or early sixties, and although his face showed his age, the rest of him seemed years younger and robust. Carrying a broad and white-toothed smile, he sat down across from Kara Larson and gave the room a kingly nod.
“Back all ready from the orient, Jones?” said the first board member. He sounded irritated.
“Wait a second, you’ve been here all along?” asked another board member.
“Yes, I have,” said Jones. “I lied to James about my whereabouts. I wanted to see everyone’s reaction to the recording, plus, I knew I was going to get a kick out of surprising everyone.”
“Damn you Jones,” said the first board member. “Can we get this meeting over with? I’ve got other things to take care of.”
“Yes, Yes,” said Jones, waving his hand dismissively. “I was going to wait until later but decided it was time to come in and answer questions raised by the good doctor. I’m sure he’s noticed quite a bit from the recording. Isn’t that so, doctor?”
Studying Jones for a moment David replied, “Why was Noah on your team? As far as I knew his background had no practical use.”
“Obviously you didn’t know your friend as good as you think you did,” replied Jones arrogantly. “Dr. Richards was an amateur game hunter. He’s hunted some fearful creatures and has—or had the trophies to prove it.”
David felt the blood rush to his face. He’d never known that about Noah. They mostly talked about their research, when they did chat, and very seldom did they talk about outside interests. Come to think of it now, he couldn’t recall ever talking anything but shop with him.
“Was his body ever recovered?” asked David quietly.
“It was not,” said Jones coldly. “We notified the families of all the men involved in the mission. Knowing what we know about the creatures, they’ve probably been eaten by now anyway.” Jones looked at Kara and gestured for her to speak.
“Once the creatures drain an object of its charge, if it’s edible they’ll eat it.”
“Enough already,” said David, laying his forehead in one hand and waving his other in disgust. “Let’s move on to something else.” Dr. David Hayley sat up in his chair, he looked bothered. He just wanted this meeting to end, but he had to know about the static ionizers, “Mr. Jones, I noticed the use of those rifles. Who did you have develop that technology?”
“I had my own engineers implement your theories and your patent information,” Jones said blandly.
Hayley became angry and said, “You know, I could sue you for infringement. I haven’t seen a royalty from its use.”
“You won’t though,” returned Jones calmly. “Doing so would ruin your chances of completing your work. I know you’ve run out of money and have had a very difficult time getting grants lately. Haven’t you?”
“I’m sure you know all about that, don’t you?” said David sarcastically. He definitely understood what Jones was implying.
“Dr. Hayley, please, let’s stop this animosity,” said Jones, raising his hands as if giving up. “I made sure you’d end up on this team. I want this hunt to be successful.”
Hayley looked at Jones and then glanced around the room. He let a deep breath out as though he had been holding it.
“The ionizers seemed weak. That’s probably the first thing you’ll want me to work on.”
“Yes,” said Jones smiling. “Obviously you left out the most important pieces of information to truly reconstruct an ionizer from your patent. I have to hand it to you.”
“Wait a second,” said the first board member to speak. “Why are these—ionizers—so important?”
Kara Larson leaned forward, “My research has shown that the ionizer technology is the only thing Afflictos aren’t impervious too. Laser guns, particle beams, and such have had little or no effect on them. In fact, the creatures seem to feed on this energy when fired at.
“As shown in the recording, the ionizers had a stunning effect and in one case apparently killed an Afflicto.” She leaned back in her chair visually punctuating her statement.
“There’s the point exactly,” Jones jumped in and said, “the ionizers had shown a stunning effect, but it was only mild. With Dr. Hayley’s knowledge we could build more powerful guns. Consequently, we can then bring one of these creatures back.”
“Well, I can get to work right away,” said David. “It’ll probably take around six months to complete the work, depending on how much I have to redesign based on the units you have.”
“No, you only have three months,” said Jones.
“Three months? Why?” questioned David.
“The planet these creatures are indigenous to,” continued Jones, “its year, is a little over 200 days. There are only 40 days in which the weather is comparable to Earth at the equator, like the Central American region during summer.”
“Let me guess, those 40 days are coming up in three months,” said David, shaking his head. “So what? We’ll just go next year.”
“No doctor, we go this year,” retorted Jones, pressing a finger to the table with a thud. “My representatives have made me aware of another government attempt for next year. I want to be first!”
Rutherford Jones looked down at the table, he knew had lost some self control. He adjusted himself in his seat and looked at Hayley. Everyone waited, knowing he was going to say something.
“Look, we don’t want to be there with another team running around,” said Jones calmly. “We’ll just end up getting in each others way and then someone might get hurt.”
“So you want me to just give your scientists all my data,” said David, sounding distrustful.
“On the contrary, I want you to work with my scientists as their lead,” replied Jones. “You can work at my research facility and all of the equipment will be at your disposal.”
Dr. David Hayley’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. The thought of having additional help, with additional equipment was pleasing to him. He thought that maybe, just maybe, he could get this done in three months after all.
“Okay then,” said David askance, “let me get to work immediately.”
Jones nodded his head toward James, who noticed and stood up.
“Are there any other questions?” asked James, he then waited for a second. “If not, this meeting is adjourned. The Afflicto Capture Team will be leaving in approximately 90 days. Dr. Hayley will provide monthly status as to his work and if all goes well, there’ll be an Afflicto for the whole world to see up close and personal.”
Everyone stood up to leave and started to exit the room. Jones walked over to James and then grabbed him by the arm.
“Keep a close eye on the good doctor,” whispered Jones ominously. “Make sure he works night and day to get those ionizers built.”
James simply nodded, he looked scared. Jones released him and then caught up to Maynard quickly.
“Macleod Maynard, you old, aussie dog!” said Jones loudly. The two men hugged and sized each other up.
“Rusty, mate, ‘ow’ve you been?” said Maynard.
“Good, good,” said Jones. He noticed Larson was still in the conference room speaking with a board member, Jones called to her, “Kara” – she turned and looked his way – “please come here.” She took leave of the board member, shook his hand, and then approached Jones. As she neared he added, “Please join us for lunch.”
“Don’t forget Mash here,” said Maynard.
“Yes and Mashaka too, please.”
Kara looked at all three men. She noticed Maynard’s greasy smile at Jones. If Maynard only knew, Kara thought to herself.
“Yes, I think I’d like that,” said Kara with a devilish grin. “I get to choose though. And oh, you are buying Mr. Maynard, right?”
“We’ll follow you off the ends of the Earth my dear,” said Jones as he slapped Maynard’s back, “and this one will be on Mac.”
Maynard looked confused. He wondered if they were really serious about him paying as they walked out of the room.
As the spacecraft made its final approach toward the planet, Kara Larson deftly worked the controls of the ship. She made corrections in the ship’s flight path so it would place itself in a geosynchronous orbit. And once in orbit they would also launch orbital-mission recorders at that time.
“We’re almost there guys,” said Kara, “we’ll be at the planet in a few minutes.”
“You couldn’t resist coming could you mate?” said Maynard as he looked over to Jones.
“Are you kidding?” replied Jones. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.” He smiled to Larson sitting next to him since he was in the co-pilot seat.
Toward the rear sat Mashaka and David Hayley. David was bored for most of the trip. Mashaka was not much of a talker and David did not get along well with Maynard. Jones coming along was a surprise, as the CEO took Dr. Hayley’s original seating assignment next to Kara. Shrugging to himself, David figured this was as good a time as any to brief the team on one last bit of important information.
“Hey,” started David, “I’d like to have your attention, please.” He waited for everyone to become quiet and attentive. “I’d like to talk about some other work I did based on theories provided to me by Ms. Larson.”
Jones’ head snapped as he looked at Kara suspiciously, she smirked and continued piloting the ship.
“Part of Ms. Larson’s research describes these creatures as having the ability to feel the electrical energy produced by an object, machine or organic. Similar in manner to how a shark senses its prey, she calls it ‘current sensing.’ If you’ll recall the recording, you could tell the Afflictos seemed to know where the men and the ship were. Knowing this we developed devices called ‘negating field producers.’” He held one up for everyone to see. The device looked like a wrist watch, without the familiar face.
“A larger version of this device has already been installed on the ship, immediately after landing we’ll turn it on. If it works as expected we’ll be invisible to the creatures, at least to their current sensing capabilities.” Hayley stopped for a moment giving everyone a chance to process what he said.
“So doc, do we know if these things will abso-bloody-lutely work?” asked Maynard.
“In the lab we tried to reproduce what the creatures do and they seem to work effectively,” replied David.
“‘Seemed to work,’ huh?” Maynard said as he looked over to his trusted tracker. “Mash, don’t let your guard down, mate.” Mashaka quietly nodded in agreement.
“David, don’t forget to mention the limitations on the ship’s NFP,” said Kara, over her shoulder.
“We’re on first name basis with the good doctor, are we darling?” whispered Jones, with a sneer.
“Oh, just be quite!” she whispered back.
“Did you guys say something?” said David, leaning forward.
“No, nothing doctor,” said Jones, waving his hand dismissively. “Please tell us about these limitations.”
“Okay, the only problem with the ship’s NFP is on people or equipment entering or exiting the craft. Prior to either the NFP must be turned off. I just didn’t have the time to solve this.” David sounded embarrassed.
“What’appens if you don’t?” asked Maynard.
“One of two things. If your NFP is on and you come in contact with the ship’s NFP they’ll be a drain on each. Your watch will probably overload and become damaged, the ship’s will be disabled as the system recharges. If you walk into the ship’s NFP without yours on, you’ll be stunned, probably unconscious for some time.”
“This can ‘appen goin’ in or out?” questioned Maynard.
“Wonderful,” said Maynard sarcastically. “We’ve gotta worry about the creature and the ship? Listen, I’m keepin’ m’field on all the time, it’ll be your responsibility to make sure the ship’s turned off when I need it off, gots it?”
“I know this is an inconvenience,” began David defensively, “but this if for our safety. The thing to remember is to move in and out of the ship as fast as possible. We don’t know how sensitive and at what range these creatures can sense.”
“I’ll do my job,” said Maynard irritably, “just make sure not t’slow me or Mashaka down.” Mashaka nodded again.
“Gentlemen, I hate to interrupt the conversation back there,” said Kara, smiling, “but please buckle yourself in. We’re re-entering to our planned landing site.” She looked back at Maynard and quipped, “The ship’s NFP is on and operational, you’ve been warned.”
Maynard just grunted as he looked back at her. He also looked at the doctor who sat expressionless. He had no idea David was desperately holding back a laugh.
After landing hours ago, the capture team had set up camp. The ship’s NFP was configured to shield at a 10 meter radius. This allowed team members to go in and out of the ship at will. The additional energy needed to produce the larger field would drain the NFP’s battery, something Dr. Hayley would need to keep a close eye on. At the very least, it kept Maynard from complaining.
“Well doc, looks like you and the lassie were right after all,” sneered Maynard. “Haven’t seen nor heard one of those slimy creatures. This current sensing thing Larson’s talked about is probably true.”
“You doubted me Mr. Maynard,” said Kara as she surprised him from behind. “Oh, and don’t call me ‘lassie,’ I’m not a dog.”
Maynard laughed and said, “No, certainly you’re not. Just part of me’lingo.” He quickly changed the topic and added, “I suppose not being attacked by these creatures, or seeing any at least, proves your theories.”
“Some of them,” she looked at David and smiled. “It’s good to know the doctor here was able to design these units well.”
“The ship’s NFP is working fine,” said David, as he looked at the smaller NFP on his wrist, “I expect these units to work even better.”
“We’ll get a chance to find out soon enough,” said Maynard glancing at Mashaka. “Mash, you done settin’ up?”
“Yes, equipment ready and out for use,” said Mashaka.
“Doc, I’m gonna kill you if these things don’t work.” Maynard slapped Hayley in the back as he walked away laughing. “Let’s go Mash!”
“You’re going now?” said Jones. “We just got here.” He was walking out of the ship.
“Rusty, you’re not the only customer I serve. Mash and I are busy men. We’ve another hunt planned as soon as we return. The earlier we’re done here the better. Isn’t that so Mashaka?” The quiet tracker simply nodded.
“Please, don’t insult me,” snorted Jones, “you’re just trying to cash in on your swiftness clause.”
“Swiftness clause? What’s that?” asked Kara.
“It’s a clause on all of his work,” replied Jones, looking at Kara. “The faster he completes the job the more money he makes.” He turned to Maynard and added with a smile, “Go ahead you old dog. Don’t let your greediness get the best of you.”
“That’s why I’ve got him,” said Maynard, putting his arm around Mashaka and giving him a squeeze.
“Let’s go Mac,” said the tracker.
“All right, come on,” said Maynard. “Grab the terrain mapper, acoustic radar, and two of the doc’s ionizers.”
Mashaka collected the equipment in special backpacks, placed one on his back and handed the other to Maynard. Both men started to walk away from the camp, each looking down at their wrist unit to make sure they were on.
“Whoa! Wait a second guys, stop!” David yelled, suddenly realizing they were walking toward the NFP field boundary.
Both men stopped and looked back, Maynard then hung his head when he realized what almost happened. He instantly became agitated waiting for the doctor to disable the field.
“You can see I’ve marked the field’s boundary with the small flags,” said David. “Go ahead and walk right up to them, I’ll turn the field off temporarily and then you guys can cross.”
After approaching the NFP control unit placed right outside the ship, Dr. Hayley made some adjustments, then suddenly, a quick flash appeared all around them as the field became disabled. Quickly, Maynard and Mashaka crossed the boundary and just as quick David turned the field back on – with another flash.
“Don’t worry if we don’t come back at sundown,” said Maynard. “We have our own stash of food and water, and a tent for cover. You can track us on the ship’s radar and we’ve got our radios with us. If you need to get in contact with us just call.”
“Are those radios on, Maynard?” asked David suspiciously.
“Turn it off now!” yelled Kara.
Maynard did so looking like a child that had done something wrong.
“The NFP you’re using will only shield you,” said David calmly. “The additional equipment you’re carrying won’t be covered by it.”
“Only turn on the equipment when you are ready to use it,” added Kara. “Otherwise these creatures will be able to track you.”
During the explanations both men hastily turned off all the equipment they had.
“We’ll have to do this the ol’fashion way, mate,” said Maynard. “Let’s set up camp as far as possible from here and start trackin’ at daybreak.” Maynard looked back one last time, “If we get in problem we’ll be callin’.” He smiled, turned around, and then both men began to trudge away.
The men had set up camp the night before and spent the evening asleep. Each had taken a turn keeping watch for four hours making sure they would not be attacked. Maynard kept the first watch, then Mashaka – for each it was uneventful. At day break Mashaka woke Maynard to start the day’s hunt. They had spent all morning chasing after the creatures. With Mashaka’s keen sense of smell and Maynard’s skill in predicting animal movements, they followed a track up a small hill, Maynard leading the way. Once at the top he looked down and saw a valley: There were six Afflictos herded together, they seemed to be sleeping or maybe at rest.
Maynard realized he was in full view, he fell back quickly toward Mashaka grabbing him and bringing them both to the ground.
By Maynard’s reaction, Mashaka knew they had reached the spot they were looking for.
“They here Mac,” said Mashaka. It was more a statement than a question.
Maynard simply nodded. He put his index finger to his lips, giving the silent signal. They crouched and crawled over to the ledge then looked down. The Afflictos were still there, they had not moved. Apparently they were sleeping.
“We need to find the weakest one, mate,” said Maynard. “Let’s wake them up and find out which one lags behind.”
“How to do?” asked Mashaka.
“Let’s find out if these things can’ear.”
Maynard picked up a rock and tossed it as far as he could. He hoped it would land on something and make enough noise to be heard.
The rock landed with a thump.
Instantly two Afflictos awoke and stood then the others followed suit. With their forward appendages in the air, the creatures stood motionless.
Maynard thought out loud, “I wonder if that’s how they try to sense where the energy’s comin’ from? Throw another rock.”
Mashaka did. When it landed the creatures began to move all around as though startled.
“I’ll be damned,” said Maynard, “it looks like those beasts are blind as bats.”
“You think Mac?” questioned Mashaka.
“Well, I’m not about to walkabout there in full view, but it does seem like it.”
“They using forward appendage. You be right.”
Maynard thought for a moment, then said, “Do we have anything we’re carrying that’s expendable?” He started to take his backpack off.
Mashaka did as well and each man found a small, pen-sized flashlight.
“This should do it,” said Maynard smugly, “if I’m right, those bastards will hear this land and they’ll be able to feel it. We’ll toss one to give ‘em something to chase after. The weakest one should be at the back of the herd.”
After turning it on, Maynard tossed his pen-light. It landed some distance from the herd not making much of a sound. At first the Afflictos were oblivious to it, then slowly, they started to react.
The creatures were standing with their forward appendages in the air, apparently trying to determine where the noise had emanated from or where it had gone. Suddenly, their appendages began to move in a circular motion, similar to a radar sweep. Just as suddenly, the heard began to move to where the pen-light had fallen. Maynard and Mashaka stood there amazed. After a few seconds of astonishment, they snapped back into the moment.
“Mac, look there,” exclaimed Mashaka, “that one!” He pointed to a smaller Afflicto, it was either sick or younger than the others.
They ran down the hill into the valley, hurrying as fast as they could. Not knowing what the creatures would do once they found the source of energy, they prepared to stun the small Afflicto.
The leading Afflicto reached where the pen-light lay, it began using all of its appendages searching the grassy ground. The others then showed up right behind and also began to search.
Maynard meanwhile reached the small Afflicto first.
With the ionizer in hand he quickly turned it on, aimed, and fired a lightning bolt-like ray at the creature. The beam hit its target in the rear – dead center. A beam from Mashaka’s ionizer rifle also hit just moments later. Both men turned off their guns and looked at the animal.
The creature at first seemed unaffected then abruptly it stopped moving forward. The Afflicto keeled over on its circular side with appendages twitching in the air.
Both men jumped for joy as they kept a close eye on the herd only a short distance away. Evidently the creatures were very persistent and continued to look for the pen-light.
“What now Mac?” said Mashaka nervously. “We get this out, quickly.”
“Mate, you know we always take a picture with our game,” said Maynard confidently. “Set up the camera and take a picture. Then we’ll notify the others to bring the ship over and tractor beam this bloke into it.” Maynard then walked over and admired the creature from close up. This beast was truly disgusting. He patted the Afflicto softly to feel it.
Unexpectedly, static discharged between his hand and the creature’s body. The discharge shocked him a bit and suddenly his NFP wrist unit began to smoke. He looked at it dumbfounded, apparently woozy from the shock.
“Dammit!” blurted Maynard. “Why the hell did that happen? Hurry Mash, get the spare out of your backpack.”
Mashaka look surprised, “I don’t have spare, I assume Dr. Hayley gave you one.”
“Aw mate, he didn’t give me one that bastard hates me. Damn, he probably knew this would happen.”
“We hurry before herd senses you. Get up hill, make call from there.”
Already it was too late.
One Afflicto had made its way back without them knowing; as they turned toward the hill the creature greeted them.
”Mash…look up!” hissed Maynard.
Mashaka, noticing the creature also stopped and stood quietly. Both men were almost certain the creatures were deaf, but reacted like this out of habit. The Afflicto began to wiggle its forward appendages in their direction.
“Dammit! It must be sensin’ me.” Maynard growled under his breath.
“Larger energy sensed quicker?” said Mashaka.
“Look behind us and see if that herd’s still there,” said Maynard.
Mashaka turned slowly, then said, “Yes, all there.”
“Okay, on the count of three turn on the ionizer and blast this drongo. Ready?” Mashaka nodded, Maynard continued, “One—Two—THREE!”
They raised their guns and turned them on in one fluid movement. As the creature sensed the additional energy, it lunged toward Maynard. Both men blasted the creature simultaneously, the Afflicto was hit point-blank and knocked back.
Not caring whether it was killed, they frantically ran up the hill. Looking back, Mashaka noticed the herd had moved except for two while one moved toward them as another two were gone.
“Mac, hurry!” yelled Mashaka. “They chase!”
Reaching the top, they turned in the ship’s direction but were then stopped dead in their tracks. Before them were two Afflictos, forward appendages wiggling, this time it seemed they were sensing them both.
“Turn off your gun, Mash, they’re sensin’ you.” Maynard said.
“No. I help you,” replied Mashaka. “We get out together.”
“Okay then, start firin’ and run back to the ship.”
They raised their guns without a word and then began firing at the Afflictos. Unfortunately their use of energy began attracting more creatures and soon they were fighting several more. The men were now basically trapped and unable to get away.
As the creatures circled them, the ionizers became weak. The first of the creatures hit were coming out of their dazed state, those being hit now were only stunned.
“These gun’s, they’re getting weak,” groused Maynard, “we won’t be able to hold’em back.”
Mashaka handed Maynard his ionizer and reached in his backpack for another weapon. This was Mashaka’s weapon of choice – the laser spear. The device was collapsible, only a half meter long out of the bag. After pressing a button, it grew to over 2 meters. The tip of the spear was basically a highly amplified, laser beam, designed to cut through most metals and alloys. The device worked great for stopping large, alien creatures – dead in their tracks.
Deftly controlling the spear, Mashaka began firing the laser. Maynard fired a blast now and then with the ionizers he held. The creatures meanwhile did not react as the men expected. Instead of being cut or at least blasted back, the creatures seemed to absorb the energy.
“My god!” shrilled Maynard. “The spear’s havin’ no affect, they’re getting’ closer!”
Mashaka collapsed the spear and grabbed an ionizer from Maynard.
“Mac, fire to that point,” Mashaka’s head nodded in the direction of the ship, “and run fast.”
In unison they fired at two Afflictos, sweeping the ray to get the most coverage. The men ran toward the slight opening created, and then without warning, Maynard was grabbed from behind. He screamed in fear rather than in pain.
Extra Afflictos converged on the creature holding Maynard, each trying to get an appendage on him.
Maynard continued to scream.
Mashaka stood in shock. With the weakened ionizer and his wrist NFP working he was virtually “invisible” to the creatures. Without sensing any energy coming from him the creatures simply attacked Maynard.
“Hold on Mac, I come and help!” yelled Mashaka.
Mashaka began firing the ionizer – the beams hitting the creatures had no effect. In disgust, Mashaka threw the ionizer aside then grabbed his laser spear, knowing it would have no effect on them but at least provide an energy diversion from Maynard.
Maynard began to scream louder, this time it sounded as pain.
An Afflicto field, similar to the one Mashaka had seen on the recording, began to engulf Maynard. The shrills from his mouth fell silent as his body contorted.
Mashaka quickly turned on his laser spear, two Afflictos took notice and turned. Firing two blasts at each creature, they were completely unfazed and seemed to look stronger after the shots.
Another two blasts – same effect.
Mashaka knew the point on the spear was sharp, he sometimes used it to puncture a creature and fire from within the body. Positioning himself quickly, he lunged. Thinking the spear would puncture the beast he fired.
He thought wrong.
The spear pushed on the area it was jabbed at. When he fired, it completely drained it. At the same time the second Afflicto lunged at the spear stunning Mashaka to the ground. Mashaka lay still for a moment dazed.
Screams from Maynard brought him back. The two Afflictos that had grabbed his spear left it on the ground spent, they return to the others and tried to grab Maynard as well.
Mashaka watched helplessly as his friend writhed in the air, the Afflictos draining him of his life’s energy. It was a horrible sight to behold.
Mashaka began to smell something…smoke. He looked around for the source and discovered it was coming from his arm. A wave of terror filled him – the NFP was damaged! When the creature grabbed the spear it must have shorted it; the shock that dazed him had also damaged the wrist unit. Not knowing how long he would remain “invisible” he began to run as fast as he could toward the ship.
Mashaka looked back as he ran and noticed the creatures had finished with Maynard and began to sense once again. At first, they just stood there, but when they made a move in his direction, he ran faster.
With the creatures close behind, Mashaka reached the ship. The other three team members were milling around.
“Start the ship! Start the ship!” yelled Mashaka.
The first person to notice was David Hayley. He quickly saw that Mashaka was not slowing down and he was wearing his wrist unit.
“Mashaka, wait! Let me disable the ship’s NFP!”
Mashaka ignored him, the tracker continued running full bore.
“What the hell’s going on?” barked Jones, as he approached David.
Mashaka reached the ship and remembered the boundary. He stopped right before and looked back with horror in his eyes. Knowing the creatures were soon to reach him and figuring the wrist unit was broken, he walked into the field.
Watching this, David yelled, “No! Stop!”
Mashaka entered, unaffected. David scanned the ship’s NFP control unit – everything seemed fine.
“Mashaka, is your wrist unit broken?” asked David.
“Where the hell is Mac?” griped Jones, still wondering what had happened.
“Yes, wrist unit broken.” Mashaka threw it to the ground. “Mac is dead, creatures killed him.” The last words came out as he fell to his knees and began to cry. David just stood there in shock, while Jones bent down and uncharacteristically consoled the tracker.
Kara watched the whole scene unfold when she noticed something move at the edge of her vision: Fifteen to twenty Afflictos approaching the ship, all of them swinging appendages in circular motions.
“David,” hissed Kara, “look there.” She jabbed a finger toward the creatures.
David looked surprised, he said, “Oh my god!”
“Shush!” said Kara. “Quiet now, we don’t want them to hear us.”
“We must leave now!” said Mashaka, standing up. “Beasts are horrible.”
“Hold on a second, Mash,” said Jones, as he straightened himself as well, “we’re hear to grab an Afflicto, we can’t leave yet. I can call for extra help, I have a—”
“I want to leave,” interrupted Mashaka angrily. “I not stay here! We go NOW!” Mashaka turned and saw the creatures outside the NFP field, it frightened him visibly.
“We must leave now,” continued Mashaka nervously. “If creatures touch field they kill us.” Waiting for no one, he started picking up equipment laying on the ground.
“What are you trying to say, Mashaka?” asked David.
“Creatures don’t sense if NFP working. But if touched by creature, it breaks.”
“What?” replied David skeptically. “Wait, you’re saying when an Afflicto touches the field it’s as if two fields come in contact?”
“Well that’s nice to find out now,” said Jones sarcastically. He turned to David with a look of contempt, “Good job, my boy!”
“Listen Jones,” said David, through gritted teeth, “if you’d given me more time to get the system designed properly, but nooo, you had to do the hunt this year.” He stopped and paced away angrily, then turned and added “Maynard’s death is on your head, not mine.”
“Doctor, no one said his death was your fault,” said Jones softly. “Are you feeling guilty about it?”
“Boys,” said Kara, coming between the two men, “we don’t have time for this. The Afflictos are creeping closer.”
“She’s right,” replied David, “we need to move fast. If any one of those Afflictos touch the barrier they might damage the ship, then we’re in trouble.”
“Oh, no, we’re not leaving,” groused Jones. “We’re not leaving without an Afflicto.”
Kara shoved a storage box into Jones’ gut, and said, “Oh, yes we are.” She turned to David and added, “Get the rest of the stuff in the ship, I’ll get the ship ready to go.”
“You two won’t get the rest of your payment!” sniped Jones, after them. When he saw they had ignored him he cursed under his breath then looked at Mashaka and said, “Well, you wanted to leave, didn’t you? Help out then, off with you, be lively.”
With no warning a flash of light blinded them. Jones cursed at Kara and David as they came running out of the ship.
“The ship’s NFP is down,” said David, after checking the controller outside of the craft. “Everyone check you wrist units. Are they working?”
Kara and Jones replied with wide-eyed head shakes. Everyone then quickly looked at the mass of Afflictos still standing by the edge of where the NFP shield had been. Every single creature started swaying its forward appendages in circular motions.
“They sensing for us,” said Mashaka, with a slight tone of terror to his voice.
“Get into the ship, quickly and silently,” Kara whispered.
“Too late,” deadpanned Jones, “looks like they’re on their way.”
The Afflictos started moving, forward appendages still swinging and they seemed to be going faster with every passing moment.
“The ship’s like a beacon to them,” said Kara, “by the time we get in and ready they’ll be on top of us.”
No one had noticed Mashaka enter the ship and grab another ionizer. The next thing they knew the tracker was walking toward the Afflictos with determined steps.
“Mash!” Jones yelled. “What the hell are you doing? Come back here!”
The tracker turned and said, “Save yourselves, I do this.”
“But Mashaka—” said Jones, starting to walk after him.
“Leave him,” interrupted Kara, grabbing Jones by the arm. “I’ve spoken to him. He comes from a proud tribe, this is what they do.”
Jones quickly changed the subject, “Doctor, they’re coming closer. Any ideas?”
“Don’t worry Jones,” said David, smiling sweetly, “I’m already there.” He tossed ionizers at Kara and Jones, then continued, “Kara, go in and send a distress call” – she started to move inside – “Jones, take this” – he handed him a fully loaded backpack – “there’s items in here we’ll need to survive until we’re picked up” – Jones began to put the backpack on – “I’ll set the ship’s NFP circuits to overload and blow the ship—”
“What?” said both Kara and Jones stopping dead in their tracks.
“You yourself said it Kara,” replied David, “they’ll be on top of the ship and we’re trapped. This way, if we destroy the ship, we can take some of them out buying us some time.” He looked over his shoulder and saw the quickly approaching monsters, noticing Mashaka was about to engage them.
The quiet tracker shot ionized pulses at the Afflictos. Although he tried to stop the full onslaught from approaching, there were just too many. Instead, he was able to hold back a group of five to six of them while another three or four circled around from behind.
“Mashaka!” yelled David. “Look out!”
One of the Afflictos behind Mashaka stretched a tentacle at blinding speed and wrapped itself around the tracker’s torso. Instantly Mashaka was engulfed in a sparking, electric field. Screaming in pain, the other Afflictos pounced on his writhing body, and soon after the squealing stopped.
“Dammit, Mash,” cursed Jones. After watching Afflictos dispatch the tracker, he turned angrily and addressed David, “Doc, your plan better work, if it does, I’ll double your salary.”
Before David could reply, Kara intoned, “Distress signal sent and on a two-second repeating cycle. Someone should come fast, I hope.”
“Good,” said David, “Now take these.” He handed Kara and Jones another wrist unit. “I only have two, so you take them. Kara you have the locator” – she showed him the locator beacon the rescue team would find them with – “Now run fast to the other side of that hill” – he pointed behind them – “we’ll only have two minutes before this spot becomes one really big and deep hole.”
“But the Afflictos, they’ll sense you,” said Kara, with concern.
“Yeah, I know,” replied David sheepishly. “That’s just a chance I’ll take, now go!”
Jones put his arm around Kara and led her away. He looked back one last time and nodded, it seemed sincere.
After watching them trot away, David filled a backpack with stuff he might need and then placed it on. Turning his attention to the nearing Afflictos, he watched them stalk the ship – and possibly him as well. He quickly keyed in commands on the ship’s NFP controller. A few more settings…, thought David, Yes that should do it. He looked around, Now, to get out of here. I have less than two minutes.
Practically surrounded, his only chance for escape was to blast his way out. With a couple of quick adjustments to the ionizer he’ll simply zap his way out and—
A tentacle reached for him from out of nowhere. Dodging a grab of his midsection, he wasn’t fast enough on the recoil. The tentacle grabbed him by the ankle toppling him. The ionizer fell out of grasp, frantically he reached behind him into the backpack and pulled out a grenade-looking device, an ion discharger, he held it up and hoped it would work – he never had a chance to really test it…
Just as he was feeling a tingle growing around his foot the device discharged – a pulse of ionized particles burst from the unit stunning several creatures around him. The tentacle released its grip on his ankle as the Afflictos all around him rolled lazily to their sides.
“It worked!” David said to himself in surprise. “Thank God!” He tossed the device aside and scampered to the rifle, picking it up and firing it in one swift motion around him. The Afflictos behind the stunned ones had just started to reach for him when they recoiled from the ion blasts. It was just enough to open a small gap to run through – he was free – but not out of danger.
He ran while turning to take short blasts behind him, hoping to keep them at bay. Afflictos were now frenzied as many grabbed and tore at the ship while the rest followed him like a cats to a mouse. David knew he had to keep running, with less than a minute he had to find cover, but where? There were only small rocks and shrubs everywhere he looked, not enough to protect him from the blast, and with the Afflictos between him and the others there was no way he was getting to the hill.
The count must be down to the last few seconds. Think, man, think…I got it.
He reached into his backpack (something difficult to do while running) and pulled two things out: Another ion discharger and a flimsy-looking foil object about the size of a piece of paper. Engaging his ion grenade he toss it at the chasing herd and tossed the foil like a Frisbee ahead of him. The foil opened in mid-air into a metallic igloo, landing with a thud. The ion grenade meanwhile discharged stunning the oncoming Afflictos. Those behind the leading line stumbled over the lolling creatures catching each other as though behind an invisible net.
Almost in a panic, David scampered into the metallic-looking igloo and quickly closed the opening behind him. With only enough room to sit up, he waited a moment for the explosion…nothing, he waiting another couple of heartbeats…nothing.
“What the heck,” he said to himself out loud. “Damn, the beasts must’ve—”
He was interrupted by a cataclysmic explosion, followed seconds later by a blast that rolled the igloo like a beach ball for several heart-pounding moments. Once the igloo stopped rolling, the pain started in full – his shoulder was either broken or dislocated and he felt blood trickling from his nose. Still dazed, he had enough wits about him to check the contents of the backpack. The two other grenades were broken, the extra ionizer was broken, and an extra distress beacon was in pieces.
Great, all I have is the one working rifle with a couple extra charges. Hopefully enough were killed and I can get to where Kara and Jones are without much trouble.
Opening and exiting the igloo, he stared in shock at the devastation before him. Afflictos nearby had rolled on their side, some of them with tentacles twitching in the air, the area around him was cleared of rocks and trees, or at least many were blown away or simply blown down. He was beginning to think he had killed them all, when scanning the horizon he found several creatures approaching his position.
Damn, at least they’re not between me and the hill. He started running.
The instant he started he looked back and saw the chasing creatures pick up their pace as well.
The pain from his shoulder made the bruises he now felt in his arms and thighs almost meaningless. It made running difficult and eventually all he could muster was a fast trot. Almost to the hill, he looked back and was shocked when he saw another six or seven Afflictos practically behind him.
Geez, those things can move fast.
With all the strength he had, his shoulder stabbing him with excruciating pain, he reached the top of the hill and found…nobody. Nobody was at the bottom on the other side, Kara and Jones had either moved or something else had happened. As Afflictos were reaching him, he painfully slid down the hill.
Now what? David thought. He looked at the looming Afflictos and with resignation lifted the ionizer with his good arm and shoulder. Dammit, this is how it ends for me? Dammit—
A hovering sound broke David’s train of thought. A military troop-transport with Jones’ company insignia floated above his head. Smiling down was Kara, who helped drop a harness toward him. The next thing he heard, not surprisingly, was Jones’ disembodied voice.
“Don’t worry, Doc, we didn’t leave you. Grab the harness before those monsters grab you.”
Sweeping the ionizer ray enough to hold the nearby Afflictos back, he flung the rifle away and grabbed on tightly to the harness. In one rapid motion, almost hurting his good shoulder, he was whisked off the ground as tentacles tried to grab at his feet. The next thing he knew he had landed on the floor of the transport, pain shooting through his shoulder.
“David,” said Kara, her face full of concern, “are you alright?”
He looked at her pretty face and said, “I am now.”
She smiled as Jones appeared in his sight and interjected, “Good job, Doc. Blowing up the ship was the best idea.”
It didn’t feel that way to David, sitting up painfully, he asked, “How come?”
“He got the Afflicto he wanted,” said Kara, pointing at Jones with a tilt of her head and smirking.
“Yessiree,” said Jones gleefully. “One of them survived the ship’s blast and we picked it up with one of your cages.”
“Cages?” replied David. He paused for a moment then continued, “Oh, the ion-negating field generator. Yeah, I had forgotten.” He wiped his face and winced for the pain in his shoulder. “Where’s the damn thing headed to?”
“To my lab on this planet’s moon, my boy,” said Jones. “We’ll keep it there, study it, make sure we understand it before we bring it anywhere near Earth.”
David breathed a sigh of relief. He did not want these creatures anywhere near Earth, even if it was only one.
Once the transport closed up and entered space, they were soon landing at the Jones company facility on the moon of the Afflicto’s planet. Waiting for them there was none other than Clive James.
“Doctor,” said James with a straight face, “we were notified of your injuries.” He pointed behind him to the staff of nurses and medics beside a floating stretcher and added, “They will take you to sick bay.”
The medics helped David onto the stretcher as the nurses began to quickly insert an intravenous fluid line into his arm.
“Thanks James,” said David, then looking at Jones he earnestly added, “and thank you too Jones, really.”
“Oh don’t worry, my boy,” said James indifferently, “I thank you. With your help we’ve made history.”
“I’m going with him,” said Kara sheepishly, “I want to make sure he’s okay.” Her face was slightly flushed.
“Oh, yes, of course my dear,” smiled Jones. “Please, look after the good doctor.”
As they watched the group of medical personnel take David Hayley away, Jones couldn’t help notice Kara by the doctor’s side. He then lamented, “Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.”
“What’s that sir?” asked James, although he knew full well what his boss meant.
“Remind me to look up what’s-her-name when we get back to Earth,” said Jones, frowning. “Looks like time for a new girlfriend.”
“Absolutely Mr. Jones. Anything else?”
“Yes. Is it ready?”
“The Afflicto sir? Ready. Our transport team has loaded it and should be leaving within the next half hour.”
“Tell them to wait until I depart on my private ship. I want to be on Earth when the transport arrives with the beast.”
“Oh, and one more thing.”
“Call ahead and have a press conference setup and ready, it’s time to surprise some people.”