Lost And Found
'Kelly, you're with me heading north.' Hal directed.
'Let me guess, the rest of us are to search east, south and west right?' Jensen drawled.
Chuckling to himself, Taylor couldn't resist the urge. 'Just like the four horsemen of the apocalypse.' he replied.
'Except for the fact that there are six of us dummy.' Jen yelled.
'Two of us are walking alone then, any volunteers?' Kelly asked.
'I'll head south, alone.' James replied, feeling depressed.
Stepping closer to Jen, Taylor placed both hands upon her small shoulders. 'I'm not leaving my sister's side.' he said.
Brushing off his overprotective gesture, Jen stepped out of the way. 'I don't need a baby sitter.' she yelled.
'You two go east together then Taylor, I'll have a slow wander to the west.' Jensen said, massaging his thigh, the wound was still causing him pain.
With his mouth hanging wide open, Hal was in shock. He could not believe that Jensen wanted to walk anywhere else in his condition. 'You won't last five seconds out there with a bullet hole in your ass!' he argued.
'Challenge accepted, besides you're not doing too bad yourself after being shot in the leg.' Jensen replied, already shuffling away.
The others followed in suit, sauntering off. 'It was only a graze! Fine, search for one mile and then come back.' Hal called after him.
Each group waded out into the wilderness, leaving behind illuminating markers in their wake. Painstakingly searching for any signs of life, they focused upon every crunching twig, every gust of wind and on any peculiar sound. If luck was on their side, they might even discover some spare parts for the shuttle.
Almost half an hour later, there was an eerie silence settling in. Thin, stagnant air threatened to overwhelm fragile lungs, and the thick canopy of trees encouraged a crippling bout of claustrophobia. It was hard to look up, without feeling nauseous.
Static radio transmissions broke through occasionally, with one or two words being clear enough to understand. Pairing off might have made sense, to begin with, but without effective communication, it was proving to be a nightmare.
'This has to be one mile.' Kelly said, checking her map.
'There's been no word from the others either, only garbled messages.' Hal stressed.
Sinister screams pierced through them like sharpened spears, causing wispy hairs to stand on end.
Whoever it was, they could have been miles away, or a few hundred yards. The labyrinth of a forest made it too difficult to tell, with sounds echoing all around. Once instilled branches and undisturbed grass stems suddenly burst into spasms of life, and heavy vibrations began to radiate across the surface beneath them in a pattern. The surrounding fauna repeatedly shook, just as mighty bolts of lightning would rattle the roof of a building.
Amidst the tormenting screams, there was movement coming from every direction. Hastening and careless footsteps would bring whoever it was straight to Hal and Kelly. Heavy breathing and rustling bushes sounded louder as they drew closer, and trembling legs sorely wanted to run away. They were too late, whoever it was, was right on top of them.
Bumping into Hal with the force of a bull, James fell to the floor, still fearfully searching behind him. 'I swear, something was behind me.' James screeched, trying to catch his breath.
Taylor and Jen were next, although their entrance was not so grand. 'We heard a scream, and it sounded like it came from back here.' Taylor said.
Not even hearing Jensen return, they were surprised when he spoke. 'I heard something on the radio, and thought that you had found something.' he said.
'You sneaky devil, you are as silent as a mouse, even with a wound like that.' Kelly replied.
'It must be the tree canopy bouncing signals around.' Hal reckoned.
Kelly looked sceptical. 'That may be the case Hal, but we didn't say anything.'
'This crashed shuttle would have had a radio transmitter right?' Jen asked.
'There may be someone out here after all.' James agreed.
'Like the screaming lady?' Taylor asked.
Hal nodded. 'It came from the north.' he said.
'Are you sure? We thought that it was coming from you.' Taylor joked.
'North, hopefully not too far north.' Hal repeated, strolling ahead.
There were no signs of screaming nor any signs of life at all. 'Let's just keep going.' Jensen said.
Boots trudged and slipped on boggy grass, and Kelly skidded onto her front. Her face mere inches away from kissing a trail of clagging blood. 'Damn it.' she fumed, wiping wet red hands onto her pants.
'Are you alright?' Hal asked, helping her up.
'Never better.' she replied.
'It's heading north; I guess you were right, Hal.' Taylor conceded, beginning a sarcastic round of applause.
'Not entirely, if you look closer, it's also heading west. We have to split up again.' Hal replied.
'Should we take the west track boss, since it doesn't lead as far from what I can tell. Kelly asked.
'Yes, Jensen, you and the others head north.' Hal replied.
'We're on it.' Jensen agreed. He was anxious to discover who the blood had come from and where it had originated. The others were not so enthusiastic, though.
'No need to sound so excited, why is it that we have to walk towards the blood trails and the sounds of screaming again?' Taylor demanded.
Shaking her head in disgust, Jen left him behind and jogged to catch up to Jensen and James.
As Jensen made his way north along with James, Taylor and Jen, they came across several huge pieces of debris. The design was strangely familiar, and by yanking burning rubbish out of the way with a stick, the emblem of 'Aspire' revealed itself across the ruined outer hull.
'What is this metal?' James asked, running his hand across its solid surface. 'It's so thick.' he added.
'Duratanium. At least that's what Hal told me once; it's an incredibly dense alloy with a lot of uses. You'll find it within the structures of every spacefaring vessel these days.' Jensen replied.
'Is it worth a lot of money?' Taylor asked bluntly.
Jensen scowled. 'Don't be getting any ideas; we'll need to keep whatever we can find.'
Taylor didn't reply.
Charcoal grey paintwork coated decorated the outside of several former living sections of the shuttle. The destruction had almost rendered them unrecognisable, and it was a miracle that anything had ended up surviving such a crash.
Grasping at straws, Jensen limped ahead. He began systematically scouring through the other visible compartments of the shuttle wreckage. Fear and suspense gnawed at him as previously sealed areas urged him to unlock their secrets.
'What's he doing?' Taylor asked.
'He's looking for his family, and we need to help him.' James replied, already rolling a loose pipe out of the way.
Few human remains had been discovered thus far; it was both promising and torturing. Clambering through to the rear section of the engineering compartment, Jensen had to duck as sparks fired out at him like fireworks. Trickling fuel leaks were creating beautiful rainbow-coloured puddles beneath them, as runaway forest water continued to mix in.
Jensen's lips quivered; his smiling face was swiftly turning to stone as he saw two mutilated bodies lying sprawled up against a flickering console. The victims were likely killed instantly when the aft engine blew up.
'May they rest in peace.' James whispered.
'It looks like the explosion tore the ship apart, and if I had to guess, there's only some evidence left because they were close enough to the planetary surface when it happened.' Jen said.
Staring back at her, Jensen bore a look of curiosity. 'How would you know that?' he asked.
'It was just a guess, but if they were at a high enough altitude, they'd have gone ballistic, and the only thing that we would've found would have been a giant crater.' Jen replied.
'Seriously?' Taylor asked.
'Are you doubting me, brother? You know that I've been studying physics for the past few years.' she replied, storming off.
Sniggering at his sister's tantrum, Taylor shook his head. 'She'll be back.' he announced.
'There's nothing else back here, let's get to the bridge.' Jensen said. The forward sections near to the bridge were inaccessible, and so they began searching for other viable routes.
Jutting tree branches pierced through cracks in the hull plating, and scorched remnants of tethered couches still bore patches of melted blue fabric.
The shuttle had barrelled into a steep incline when it crashed, and to reach the forward section, they began to climb up a ladder of exposed wiring, and ragged metal alloy.
'My hand!' Taylor yelped, catching his palm on a razor-sharp mesh panel.
'Almost there.' Jensen said, reaching the precipice first.
Amidst the thundering of exploding electronics, and the constant complaints of Taylor, a soft and gentle sobbing could be heard. The crying grew louder as Jensen drew closer.
Pressing a finger against his lips, Jensen called for silence. 'It's alright.' he said.
The hushed wailing came to a sudden halt, only to be replaced by a terrified whimpering. Whoever it was must have sensed danger, and then hid as fast as they could.
'Hello, is anyone there?' Jensen asked soothingly.
'Daddy?' a high-pitched voice called out before several hastily stacked boxes began to budge ever so slightly under a feeble attempt to move them.
Staring into the darkened corner, Jensen strived to see her face. Springing with excitement, the little girl leapt straight into his arms.
Giggling with joy, the little girl nuzzled into his loving embrace. 'Rose? Rose, is that you? Where've you been? I was worried, sick!' Jensen pleaded.
A father was miraculously reunited with his daughter against all the odds, and Jensen was failing to blink away unchecked tears. These were not tears of sorrow; however, they were, in fact, tears of joy, and at this moment, all of his pain was gone.