"It's not a bird, Reynolds. Look at it. Its got no feathers, no beak. Its a flying...lizard...bird..." He paused and crouched down next to it, the glass now cool enough to stand on.
"...fish thing? It's got gills. Why the fuck has it got gills if it lives in a desert? No, in the sky above a desert?"
He picked the thing up and held it in front of him. With greatly exaggerated motions he pulled it towards its face and pretended to take a bite. One of Clearwater's soldiers turned and walked away, looking squeamish.
"Hey! I was just pretending!"
He turned back to Gannon.
"No, I haven't. Is it about a boy who's tears are so big they can hold wolves?"
"It's a cautionary tale, and a great con to play to interfere with a guard cycle of a target location. You see, back in the middle ages, there was this boy. He was a shepherd's boy, well, needless to say, he got bored every so often. So he one day yelled out 'WOLF WOLF!' Well, the villagers nearby all grabbed their bows and came quickly, but he said that he'd managed to beat the wolf back himself, and he was praised for his honor and skill, well, the next day he did the same thing, and the next, and the next, until one day a week later, a wolf actually did come, so he of course cried out 'WOLF!'. But nobody came, him and his entire flock was devoured. The lesson, is never tell the same lie twice."
James put his now-clean knife back into it's home on his belt, to join it's several friends, and walked over to the animals Kell had shot
"We could call them... Kells? After their great and tolerant discoverer?"
"No thanks. I'd rather not amuse myself by shooting things named after me. ...I think we should call them Reynolds."
Rick had wandered to the water and stuck his hand in it experimentally. It was warm, but not so much as to be unpleasant. The entire trip down, Jobe had been giving him the stinkeye, and Rick wasn't sure what he'd done to piss him off. Whatever
GOOD GOD, it was hot. Rick ventured over to the nearest clump of trees to seek shade. Off in the distant desert, he thought he saw a dune suddenly rise and fall again, but after blinking a few times, he wrote it off as a mirage.
Amos glared at the young Captain, wondering how such a brazen youth could hold such a rank. He pointedly ignored the rest of the man's squad and sighed audibly, attempting to draw attention to the fact that he wasn't amused with being held up
Amos Clearwater had been waiting at the rendezvous point for over an hour. He'd sent most of his squad onto the target area while he waited to brief the new arrivals, allowing the best of his soldiers to stay behind as an escort.
Surveying the hostile landscape with hard eyes, Amos spoke sharply to Jason. "What's do be done then? I have men waiting at our target position and I'm loathe to keep them waiting any longer than necessary." He glanced sideways at the young captain before striding to the edge of the body of water. He didn't like this youth. It didn't seem right that a mere boy was a captain. Something was definitely wrong with the system...
"No no, we all know that you are the mauve shirt, and I'm the charming Rogue." James nodded to Kell wisely, then looked around , McMillan had been panting in the shade of the Pegasus "Oi, Private McMillan c'mere, I need you to settle a dispute between sadistic superior officers."
McMillan paled, suddenly, the desert wasn't nearly warm enough.
"Cut the Chatter you two!" Jason snapped becoming a little annoyed with their bickering. "SSSSIIIIIIIRRRRRR!!!" one of clearwater's soldiers started yelling as he was running towards the group. "What is it private?" Jason asked as clearwater glared at him for asking his soldier first. "Well uhm we discovered a large hole over there sir and it doesn't look like it was naturally made." The private explained.
"Take us there private." Jason ordered as he looked back to the rest of his squad. "Let's get a move on, I think they discovered something." Jason stated to the rest of the squad. The group was lead past a few dunes and in about 10 minutes they made it to the giant hole the soldier was talking about. Jason looked at the hole and estimated it was about 200 ft from one side to the other. "Whatever made that won't be easy to kill." Jason thought as he looked down the hole and he couldn't see the bottom.
Rick hastily followed everyone through the dunes to the hole. He knelt down and peered over the edge. It was very recently made, as there was hardly any wind, yet sand was pouring over the edge into the hole. The walls had a weird glassy coating that held back the sand. Rick put two and two together.
"Sir, I think that the vanishing holes we saw in briefing vanish when the weird wall structure dissolves, and the hole collapses on itself." As if on cue, a bit of sand suddenly gushed in about halfway down where they could see.
Rick stepped carefully away from the hole. "I think God's Failed Chupacabra is a viable option again. Requesting permission to turn off the safety on my rocket launcher."
Looked at the giant hole and said, "With the size of this hole, I'me guessing it is either a giant sand gopher or a giant worm/snake. Either way it is going to be a bitch to take out." Chris then decided to jog up a nearby sand dune to use his binoculars and see if he could spot anymore holes.
"Not yet Sgt. we still don't know what made this hole." Jason responded as he looked at the walls of the hole. Jason noted what Rick was talking about and noticed the glassy coating it had, he couldn't tell if it was a natural substance or a synthetic one. As jason was looking down the hole a group of the lizard bird creatures came flying out of the hole almost knocking him down.
"Jesus Christ!" Jason shouted as he jumped back from the hole. "Fucking lizard birds!" Jason swore as he stood up and brushed the sand off his armor.
Rick watched the lizard birds fly back towards where the oasis was.
"Well... it's a hole, sir. Should we go back to the trees and water to mark out a landing zone and ideal outpost location?"
"See sir? 'Enemy aircraft.' Would you like me to fire at them?"
"Kell was right... They DO have gills... If I remember my high-school evolutionary classes right, that would mean they're either things that evolved from something with gills, and they're gills either stayed, or evolved into something else, or there's a lot more water somewhere we don't know about." James frowned, casting his mind back to his classes "If there are underground lakes, that would probably mean these things evolved to come up to the surface for food. Now, we can hope against all odds they're herbivores, but they seem to have teeth, so they probably eat those strange ground-creatures of which I knifed earlier. Some 'lifeless' world this is."
McMillan was looking around, and then pointed to more of the ground creatures hiding closer to the squads, and the bird-lizards seemingly deciding to find easier prey, farther from the perceived human threat. "Seems we're the local walking safezone from predators."
"Heh. I'm surprised they haven't attacked us. But I'm left with a question... if these tunnels lead down to giant underground lakes, then why do they collapse in on themselves afterwards?" Almost on cue, the hole struck another leak closer to the surface. "Better question... what the hell is digging these things?"
"I imagine it's less luck, and more they might somehow know how we slaughtered they're friends in methods which, to them, are entirely unknown. Also, I'm no scientist, but from the way the sides look, I'd say it's something without legs or arms, or general appendages of any sort. Sarlaccs? Something else we could kill with liberal use of ballistic firepower?" James looked down the hole "I could probably scale this, And if I get my active camo on, I could go on a pretty safe scout mission." James frowned as he did mental math "I would have maybe thirty minutes down and back before the sand starts pouring down dangerously fast."
McMillan looked at his superior incredulously, James was volunteering to go down there? Knowing that there's probably a ton of bird lizards?
"Alternatively, I could drop a bit of this," He rattled his explosives pack meaningfully, "down the hole and we could be on our merry way."
"But what if there's something sentient down there? Maybe we could communicate..." Rick somewhat doubted that Kell gave a damn one way or the other, so he addressed James directly. "It seems like a good idea, but if that hole collapses or you encounter something that detects movement and you get in trouble, there's not a damn thing I can do to get you out of it. Maybe we should wait for a fresher hole."
"Or we could send down a drone with a camera to see whats down there, no one gets hurt, and nothing goes boom. I do believe that sounds like the soundest plan, nothing could possibly damage or disturb the local area. What do yall think?" Chris said putting his two cents in.
"And then we wouldn't find out what's making them. Brilliant. Lets just forgo the rules of Situational Awareness made by lines of multicultural generals and field veterans through wars that make anything any of us have ever faced look like sandbox disputes. Nah, beyond that, you could always throw that down after I come back. Then, I can tell you how much we need to kill every single thing down there that is even proto-life." You could HEAR James's snarky smirk through the helmet's speakers.
"Leave the pyro be, James. Your idea was to put yourself in extreme danger."
Rick saw another leak - a small one - spring out of the hole's wall. He backed away.
"I propose we let this one fall in on itself, or send in a camera if we're that curious, and start marking a landing zone for the outpost. If our lovely tunnel-digger comes back, it can talk to us directly."
Jobe had managed to restrain himself back on the ship, but ever since he'd been lurking moodily at the back of the group. He drummed his fingers on his shot-gun.
"Somewhere, over the rainbow..."
What? Who said that? Fuck, now he was humming the song himself! He needed to do something, he needed a distraction.
One of the alien bird things swooped in lower than the others. With alarming speed, Jobe swung his shotgun above his head like a bat and knocked it out of the air
"Way up high..."
Jobe brought his foot down heavily on the creature's wing to stop it flying off. Shouldering his shotgun, Jobe slowly drew the combat machete as the alien thrashed pitifully beneath him
"In the land that I heard of..."
The blade plunged into the creature's back. The music stopped as the blood bubbled out of the thing. Jobe felt better already. Smiling, he turned to the group standing around the hole
"Sentient creature or not, we'll have to kill it anyway before the colonists land. I agree with what's-his-name, drop some explosives down there and get on with hunting the big game."
"...We won't have to kill it, necessarily. For all we know, there's a lost city of gold down there filled with humanoids who have too many resources and will hand ridiculously lavish gifts because why not." Rick frowned. "Or maybe it's a Lovecraftian horror, and grenading it will just piss it off and the resulting fight would be comparable to a panther versus a swaddled baby. I doubt that we're the panther in this equation."
"Oooooor maybe there's lost technology down there. Pieces of a destroyed ship or something that have been crashing on the planet over time, and we simply didn't detect them because I'm not done calibrating the sensors to bypass filters. Or, you know, a massive predator with skin as hard as the polycarbon titanium/aluminum alloy that protects our starship. If we REALLY want to destroy this thing, we could just orbital strike it." James found a small pebble, and tossed it down, waiting for a sound
Rick waited too. No sound after ten seconds.
Rick pulled a powerful flashlight out of his pack and approached the hole. Shining it downwards, one could barely make out a curve that started about five hundred feet down before turning out of sight two hundred feet farther. Give or take. The flashlight wasn't powerful enough to make out any details.
Another leak sprung, and there was a low rumble. "Um, guys? I think the hole is about to collapse."
"I was operating under the assumption that whatever made that hole would happily make another. Rick's right, this hole's not fresh enough for any sort of good recon. It's best we leave it and move on, we'll inevitably find another one at some point."
"Okay guys enough with the chatter, for now lets search around and see what else we can find." Jason ordered as he turned away from the hole. The other squad members started to walk away from the hole when there was a large earthquake. The earthquake took Jason's attention away from the hole and when it stopped he looked back and the hole was gone. "Looks like it caved in on itself. Maybe that's why the lizard birds flew out of the hole." Jason wondered as he went over to where the hole once was.
"Whatever that was, it's gone now. should we fan out?" James looked to Jason for orders
McMillan was talking to a soldier from the Tokyo "So, let me just get this straight, you don't have to be the lackeys to a WINGS solder?" ".... No, our WINGS just stay in the command section and they don't bother us for the most part." McMillan thanked the soldier, and walked over to James "Can I get a transf-" "No, I can't give you that, and I order you to forget the entire idea" James interrupted, smiled at McMillan, and followed his squad with McMillan left there, and then running to catch up.
"Yeah fan out and see if you guys can see anything." Jason ordered as he looked around. Jason checked around the area where the hole once was and stood on it and noted that the hole was most likely completely filled in.
Continued his scan of the surrounding area. All he could see were lizard birds flying around in the distance, almost seemingly like buzzards back on Earth. "I do believe we need to give the lizard birds a proper name, after all we did first discover them. I say we call them flying geckos, anyone agree?" Chris mentioned to the group.
"I suggest we let the Medic name them, he's probably taken biology at some point." James was examining a several-legged scaled reptile... like... lizard.... spider.. thing? As it squirmed, and he threw it up where it was swooped and eaten by one of the flying creatures, which seemed to move in localized networks of flocks.
"Sure, name the flying lizards. That's why we're here right?" Jobe grumbled as he started examining the surounding area. Hole caving in on themselves, large groups of flying scaled beasts, this was all very...quaint, but nothing that would merit the attention of an elite killing team. Where were the alpha predators?
"Well this is fun" he said, loudly enough for rest of the squad to hear him.
"I notice. By and large, the ground animals are constructed to be very fleet of foot, or the animals fly. I vote sandworms as a priority concern, we must be like the newest chinese buffet in town." James glanced back at McMillan, who looked like he was gearing for a fight with the worms Great. Exactly what I was trying to train out of him. Harsher regimens, as soon as we're on the ship.
"I don't care what you call them, I just want to know what are making these.." Jason started until another earthquake interrupted him. Jason looked around looking for the source and then he saw the group of lizard birds that just flew out of the hole that just closed up fly off somewhere. "Something tells me that they know where that earthquake came from." Jason stated as he looked off to where the birds were heading.
"Okay WINGS let's go and check it out." Jason ordered as he started to head out. The squad followed as they braved the outskirts of the desert. Jason was becoming dehydrated because of the heat so he took a swig from his canteen when he noticed the lizard birds flying over something and then one mysteriously looked like it was shot but he heard no gun shot or saw a bullet of any kind. "Strange, I think we are going to have hostiles." Jason thought as they got closer to the area where the birds were flying over.
As they got closer Jason saw a few figures in the distant and they looked like soldiers. One of the figures looked over to where they were and Jason saw it point it's weapon at him as a bullet almost hit his foot. "Hostiles!" Jason shouted as he tried to find any cover and the only thing he saw was this big sand dune.
Rick said nothing, he just immediately planted himself in front of the group and whipped his shield off of his back, eager to test its capabilities properly. As he did so, a bullet sailed straight into his chest. It bounced off, leaving a small dent.
Rick held the shield in front of him, soaking up enemy fire. The shield did an admirable job of reducing recoil, and Rick could hear the grinding of nanobots pulling metal from the rear deposits to repair the chinks.
Rick looked down at where he was hit. The dent hadn't even begun to repair, in fact, it looked a bit deeper. And deeper! After another second of dull shock, the dent stopped deepening and slowly began to fill. A puff of acrid smoke rose from the metal.
"Sir! Their bullets have a sort of acid on them!" Rick realized that his new shield might be taxed fairly badly on its first run. Hopefully it wouldn't rupture...