Chapter 10: Ethan
The green light of the planet’s filtered sunlight creeps in through the ship’s door as it glides open. I take a step out, my foot impacts the ground with a thud. As the rest of my body becomes exposed, I feel the hard tug of gravity. It’s obvious that this planet has a greater gravity well than that of Earth.
This place is quiet. Too quiet.
The only sounds I hear are that of my respirator recycling the air into breathable oxygen.
“Alright, let’s get started here. Let’s put the geoscanners there. The depth meters…there. Afterwards I want you guys to set up the tent. Winds can get pretty rough down here. Ms. Prydwen, if you could get a start on your power routing, that would be excellent,” Doctor Thrice requests.
All parties silently begin their work like busy little bees inside a hive. Thrice places his hands on his hands and stares out into the horizon. He suddenly looks at me, as if he’s forgotten my presence.
“Petty Officer,” I correct him.
“Right, Petty Officer. If you could…”
“I know how to do my job, doctor,” I say as I begin to walk the area, creating an invisible perimeter.
I can’t remember the last time I was on solid ground without the express purpose of shooting at something. I’m still holding a rifle down here, but it’s nice to be able to take in the view.
This is definitely one of the more unique planets I’ve set foot on. Sekrid tend to set up their primary bases on tropical worlds. It’s theorized that it’s due to the fact that their home world has roughly the same climate. Though, so much knowledge of the Sekrid has been lost over the many decades of war.
Our two cultures hate each other so much that the UEDF ordered a veritable purge of all Sekrid books and knowledge. New generations never learned about them in school. Nothing positive that is. Even their language is dead to us.
Tactically that’s an ill-advised move. But what I’ve come to understand is that this is no longer a war. It’s nearly become a religion to hate those overgrown lizards. This war has simply become a race to be the first species to commit genocide against the other.
I turn my attention to the mountains in the distance. A ray of green light is shining on them through darkened storm clouds. I can see the silver rain fall upon the mountain tops as red lightning cuts through the sky. It’s a symphony of chaos that I find myself becoming lost in.
I have to force my attention away from the sight as my eyes trail further left. The ground I walk on is craggy and desolate, devoid of any vegetation. Strangely enough, the terrain reaches a point that it suddenly turns to lush, green grass. Trees resembling that of Earth’s pines dot the landscape in that area.
My eyes continue to trail left until I find the most beautiful thing currently standing on this planet. Her shimmering auburn hair. Her emerald green eyes. That look on her face when she’s focused on something.
She looks up at me, noticing that I’ve been staring too long. I nervously look away, looking back as I hear her giggle. She locks eyes with me as she maintains a smile. I feel my face start to become hot and I can’t help but to look away.
I really hope I don’t mess this up.
Elena may just be the one piece of positive I get out of this whole situation.
I stop my jaunt and stare at Doctor Thrice and his lackeys as they start a large drill that begins to burrow in to the hard ground. The noise of it subsides as it digs further down, prompting me to approach the doctor.
“What exactly are you looking for here?” I ask him.
He looks at me skeptically as he wipes the sweat from his brow.
“I think it’s best you stick to your job. And I to mine Petty Officer,” He says in a careful fashion.
I take a step closer to Thrice “You know doc, if I’m going to be running security detail on that station and going on these little field trips, don’t you think I should be in the loop a little?”
“Well…I mean…I don’t know,”
I place a firmer than normal hand on Thrice’s shoulder “It’s not like you’re giving me government secrets here,” I say, watching the nervousness grow on him.
“R-right, okay,” He stammers.
I release my hand from his shoulder as he starts to explain.
“We’ve been trying to find artifacts to study. It’s orders from upper management. Any relics that pertain to ancient religions that we can get our hands on. Our scans of this planet indicate that there was once a civilization that inhabited it,”
“Interesting,” I say flatly as I turn away.
What in the world could they need artifacts like that for?
I work my way to Elena, who is finishing up some connections on one of the instruments. I crouch down to her level and stare at her hands as they connect and fasten cables to various ports. I notice her hands stop and I turn my head to see her staring at me.
“Is it up to your standards?” She asks sarcastically.
I point at her handiwork “Well let’s see…this doohickey here is connected to this thingamabob there. Yeah, looks right to me,” I say, acting more ignorant than I am.
I smile as she laughs at me. Elena looks me in the eyes again as her laughter fades. I feel my face light on fire again as we stare at each other.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” I ask her.
She smiles almost seductively at me “Because I think I’m starting to like you,” She says, downplaying her feelings.
The moment is disturbed by the intense quaking of the ground. Elena and I nearly fall over as we stand up. There’s a near deafening sound as the ground tremors beneath our feet.
“Doctor! What the hell is going on?!” I call out.
“Just hold on, it’s probably just a gas pocket!” Thrice calls back.
At the height of the quake it suddenly comes to a stop. There’s a strange stillness in the air.
Thrice holds out his arms “See, nothing to be worried ab—” His words are cut off by a massive talon jutting out of the surface and piercing his chest.
He stares at me with fear in his eyes, the last moments of life beginning to fade from them. The soil tears away as the talon turns into a large tail that lifts into the air and begins to flail Thrice around.
His blood rains down everywhere, coating my face and respirator. Eventually his body is thrown off and crashes down just in front me. His body is torn to shreds. He’s no longer recognizable as a human.
I see the tail motion towards Thrice’s assistants. I reach a hand out to them. Before I can get a word out, the tail slams down on top of them.
I stagger backwards as their gore splatters on to my clothing. I look back at Elena who stares in shock at the scene, her face and body just as covered in crimson as mine.
“Elena. Run. Now,” I order.
She looks at me, shock still consuming her. I rack a round into my rifle then step over to Elena, seizing her by the shoulder.
“Elena. We have to go. Now!” Raising my voice finally pulls her out of her stupor.
She stands up and composes herself. The ground begins to shake once more. Elena and I hang on to each other as we attempt to run from what ever murderous creature this is.
I can hear the ground crunch behind us as the monster bursts forth. I look back, witnessing a terrifying sight. A massive, what I can only describe as a worm screeches behind us, revealing what must be a thousand rows of razor teeth.
I notice it lock on to us, and begin to pursue.
“Faster, Elena! Run faster!” I yell as we both pick up the pace.
With every burrow down the worm does, the more the ground shakes, becoming worse and worse as it inevitably catches up to us. I take Elena by the arm and shove her forward, turning to face the creature.
“What the hell are you doing!” I hear her call out.
I raise my rifle, ignoring her words.
I empty my magazine firing at the monster to no avail. All of the shots just bounce off it’s hide, leaving only sparks behind.
“Shit…” I say under my breath.
I look down at my rifle, looking at that glowing yellow button. I have a special attachment that I save for very specific occasions. Mainly because every time I do, it’s liable to vaporize me.
No choice now.
I lower a grip on my rifle to allow me more control. I take aim on the creature as it charges me, mouth wide open, tearing away the craggy surface as if it’s paper.
I raise my finger to the yellow button.
Aim is locked.
Eyes are focused.
Breathing is steady.
I press the button.
The weapon charges, superheating the barrel of which it is attached beneath. The whole rifle shakes, causing my arms to do the same as I desperately attempt to hold it steady. My rifle barrel melts away completely as the projectile reaches critical mass and is finally slingshotted from the launcher.
The shot blows me backwards, tearing my rifle to pieces. I land hard on my back and roll for several more feet. I look towards my target as I lay on the ground on my stomach.
I watch the projectile enters its mouth. There’s a short delay as it disappears before it finally explodes in a bright blue flash. It completely atomizes the creature, leaving not a trace of its presence behind.
Elena rushes to my side, placing a hand on my shoulder as I sit up.
“What was that?” She asks.
“Fission cannon,” I say simply, barely believing what I’ve done.
“Are you stupid? That could’ve killed you,” Elena says, helping me up.
“Well…it worked, didn’t it?” I say as I rotate my shoulder, causing a number of cracks and pops to accompany my action.
“Let’s—” The ground cracks beneath me.
I look down and watch as the crack grows wider.
Elena and I look at each other “Oh, fu—”
The ground gives way beneath us, causing us both to fall an indeterminate amount of depth. I slam hard into the bedrock below, falling unconscious.
I wake up to a splitting headache. I grit my teeth as I struggle into a sitting position. I rest against the wall behind me, leaning back with a hard thud.
I raise a hand to my head, feeling a cold wetness. I bring it down and see that coagulated blood coats my fingers. I look upwards, seeing that hours have passed.
The sky is filled with stars rather than the green light of the planet’s parent star. The fissure we fell into must have been a result of that thing’s disturbance of the ground. Probably didn’t help that I fired a handheld weapon of mass destruction.
I attempt to use my right arm to grab my medical pack, only to realize that it won’t move without intense pain from the elbow down. I lightly smack my head against the wall, sighing heavily.
My elbow is dislocated. I need to fix it.
I use my left hand to place it in between my legs. I squeeze my legs tightly around my forearm. I brace my upper arm with my left hand. I breathe in sharply and then yank forward on my forearm.
I gnash my teeth at the pain of my elbow resetting with a sickening pop. I flex my hand a few times, ensuring everything is working as it should.
I finally reach to my hip and unclip my medical pack. I open it, grabbing out some gauze and my stitch kit. I unclip my tactical vest and shake myself out of it. I unbutton the first couple buttons on my uniform blouse and carefully move it to the side, revealing a sharp piece of stone that has embedded itself in my shoulder.
I grip the stone between my finger and thumb and pull it out with a quick jerk. I grab the gauze and apply pressure to the wound.
I look towards Elena as I wait for the bleeding to stem. She’s still unconscious, but I can see that she’s still breathing.
Seeing that the bleeding has stopped, I prep the needle from my stitch kit. You’d think with all of this future tech they’d give something a bit more useful out in the field. I guess old habits die hard.
For a number of agonizing minutes, I stitch my shoulder up. As I finish, I force myself to crawl over to Elena’s position.
I examine her, ensuring there are no life-threatening injuries. Luckily, there aren’t. I remove my canteen from my belt and tear off a piece of my uniform. I pour a portion of the water on to it and use the rag to wipe Elena’s face and forehead. I focus on the wound that she also sustained on her forehead, cleaning it.
I notice her wince as she wakes. Her eyes flutter open.
“Nng…what happened?” She asks.
“Ground gave way. We ended up falling in the fissure that resulted,”
I place a hand on Elena’s shoulder as she starts to sit up.
“Careful. We fell pretty far,”
She gives me a nod as she slowly sits up. I place a hand behind her back to guide her. She winces and inhales sharply as she grabs her side.
“Are you alright?” I ask with concern.
“Yeah…yeah I’m fine. I just think…I have a rib or two broken,”
I help Elena slide back in to the wall and assist her into a comfortable position. She looks up, surveying the depth of the fissure as I did.
“Well this is great,” She says.
“I knew some kind of shit like this would go down,” I point out as I rest against the wall next to Elena.
She chuckles “Maybe you jinxed us,” She teases.
“Yeah…yeah maybe,” I agree.
“How are we going to get out of here, Ethan?”
“I’ll be honest, I’m stumped on this one. Jake would know what to do if he were here,” I say without thinking.
Elena looks at me confused “Jake? Jake who?” She asks with purpose.
“He was this guy I knew at my last station before all of…this happened,” I explain.
“Ethan, this is important. What happened to him?” I look at Elena, unsure of why she’s so determined to know.
“How did he die. Tell me exactly how he died,”
“Elena…what’s all of this about?”
“Just answer the damn question,”
“O-okay. Fine. He was shot. In the chest. We were trying to save the ship. There were too many Sekrid and Jake was trying to save this mother and her children from being killed. Damien and I tried the best we could b—”
“I don’t care about that. What ship were you on again?”
“It was the Hercules,”
I see tears start to form in Elena’s eyes.
“It was you…you’re the one he always talked about,”
“Elena…what are you talking about?”
Elena slumps against the wall.
“Jake…was my…he was my brother,”
“What? How…? The odds…Elena, I swear I didn’t know. He never told me his last name,”
“No, I know…I don’t blame you. He did what he had to do. I’m just…surprised that it was you he was talking about,”
“He…used to talk about me?” I ask, surprised. Elena looks at me, a tear running down her cheek.
“You were his best friend,”
“I…don’t really know what to do with that,”
Elena looks at me with a somber smile, placing a hand on my shoulder “Maybe you should start trying to forgive yourself,” She suggests.
Her words cause me to recede into myself.
I bring my knees to my chest, wrapping my arms around them “I don’t think I’m there yet,”
“I know it’s what he would have wanted,” Elena reassures me.
I look up to the sky again, surveying the situation.
“We have to find a way out of here,” I point out.
I feel a cold, wet drop of water splash against my face just before it begins to downpour.
I sigh in annoyance “Of course it gets worse,” I say as my clothes quickly become saturated.
I feel Elena press her body up against me, causing me to tense up awkwardly.
“Relax. This rain is freezing. We need to keep our body heat up,” She tells me, making light of her actions.
I remain in my original position, staring forward nervously. Elena nudges me, forcing me to bring my attention to her.
“Well?” She demands.
I shake my nervousness away and wrap my arm around her so that we can be as close as possible. She lays her head on my chest, wrapping both arms around my torso.
“You’re warmer than I expected,” Elena says as she nuzzles tighter against me.
She must be able to hear my heart pounding.
I stare around our nature made prison cell, noticing that it’s already filled a couple inches with water. I begin to hear the sound of something familiar.
I focus hard on the sound.
My eyes widen as the sound becomes louder, realizing the source.
Water. A lot of water.
I look up. Not a moment after, a waterfall comes cascading down into the hole. I take hold of Elena and shield her as the water collides with my back and rapidly begins to fill the fissure.
We both stand up. The water is already halfway to our knees.
“What the hell are we going to do?” I ask, hopeless.
“No Ethan, we can actually use this. We’ll ride the water up as the hole fills,”
“I hope you know how to tread water, then,”
The water quickly reaches our waist, shortly after, our chest. As it reaches our necks, Elena and I push off the ground and begin to keep ourselves afloat, letting the water do the rest of the work.
Elena’s plan seems to work like a charm as we quickly rise to the surface. The closer we get, however, the louder the sound of crunching metal becomes.
One of Doctor Thrice’s large instruments crashes against the edge of the fissure, becoming momentarily stuck. Elena and I look at each other, then back up as the instrument breaks free and falls directly on top of us.
Our attempts to move out of the way aren’t good enough, however, as it collides with the water, hitting my shoulder and upper back in the process. The impact causes me to submerge beneath the water.
I struggle to the surface. As I break through to the open air, my eyes immediately dart around, trying to find Elena.
I look downwards, into the black depth as I come to the understanding that she’s still beneath the water. I dive back downwards, swimming as fast as possible.
I take my flashlight off my belt and turn it on, using it as a guide in the murky water. As I reach the bottom, I finally see Elena’s unmoving body.
I double my efforts to reach her, taking hold of her outstretched hand. I cradle her in one arm as I swim upwards. I kick and move my free arm as hard as I can, struggling to hold Elena’s weight.
I see the darkness begin to close around my eyes as my body starts to give in to fatigue. As I reach my limit, I make a final, desperate reach upwards. My hand grasps something solid, causing me to pull with the remainder of my strength.
I gasp for air as I finally break the surface. The water is now overflowing the top of the fissure. I pull Elena upwards and throw her over the side, placing her on solid ground.
I lift myself out of the fissure as well and immediately begin CPR on Elena. Every set of thirty compressions feels like an eternity as I watch no response come from her.
Her lips are cold to mine as I breath air into her lungs.
The frustration builds within me.
“Come on…breathe damn it. Breathe!”