"North, to Alaska, we're gonna mush, the rush is on."Johnny Horton.
The artic zones were fairly uniform, and it seemed that, by the age and structure of some of the ice in the glaciers, the area had not had a thaw for some time. After making some analysis to the sky, it was then that they realized that the planet only tilted about two degrees off its axis, thus making the days fairly uniform throughout the year. Indeed there were seasons, as was evidenced by the northernmost edges of the temperate zones when they passed them, those areas being marked by where the changes in season marked the zones to where the ice extended in this world's winter period. By the looks of things, this world was heading into its summer solstice. Before they set down, they took high to the sky to scan the area from there to the pole for life, because they wanted to study the fauna, (and flora if there was any,) of that area. Once this was done, Ceres called for them to find an area of the continent covered with ice, but next to the ocean, because he felt that this would give the most chance for an area teeming with life to study.
The craft landed on an open beach that was not covered with ice, and the team of Marines assigned to the task began to scan the area for any kinds of hostile life or mud flats that might suck some of them under. Once this was done, Ceres and the Marines, along with members of the science division assigned to the Marines, (wearing the same uniform, but having their hats and trim marked in the light blue of the science division,) debarked to explore. The temperature outside the craft marked things to be about -20 degrees Celsius, and thus, very cold. They all donned their artic gear and debarked onto the beach. The beach itself was barren of any kind of plant life, marked by several boulders sticking out of the leather brown sand, but the tide did seem to be going out, so if there were any tidal pools that marked the newly exposed rocks, they would be ripe for study. One of the craft, and a small team of the blue trimmed scientists, sealed acraft and rolled into the water. As it submerged, they found quite a different view than what was to the surface. This was an area teeming with life, as the water temperature was about 4 degrees Celsius, which was conducive to life on Earth in waters of those temperatures. The life just off shore was different than what Mercury had found in the open seas. Here, the kinds of, well, what could be best described as fish, were different, and were quite adept in living in their environment. This also included what could be described as corals, sponges, and algae that were not too dissimilar to what one would see on Earth. In fact, as data from the other areas were pouring in to Mercury as she returned to the UES Artemis, Mercury had to conclude that life on other worlds would ultimately adapt in ways that would create creatures that would have structures and abilities like those on Earth. However, what those creatures would come from would be different than on Earth, but not too much. They had already seen this, and they were to see more of it.
As the craft made its way along, they saw different kinds of crustaceans and mollusks that were unique in appearance, but familiar enough to identify them by things they already knew. They took only a few samples of those animals and algae so as not to disrupt things too badly, but allow for them to analyze if they were edible or useful. If this world were ever to be colonized, such data was needed. They also encountered cephalopod-like creatures not to dissimilar to what Mercury had already encountered, but they were also much smaller, but no less aggressive. About seven clung to the clear, transparent steel encasing, biting at it with their beaks, but gaining no headway. Along with this they saw blue and gray auk-like creatures diving into the water and snatching the fish as they went. Every creature also looked like they were designed for the cold waters in which they lived, with the auk-like creatures looking like they carried a layer of fat on them. However, as they went, suddenly, the water began to splash and churn above them, putting them into a state of alert, but they calmed down when they saw what was causing the raucous. Into the water swam what looked like a cross between an elephant seal and...well...an elephant. Their skin was not unlike a pachyderm's skin, but with a layer of blubber, ears like an elephant but smaller, but with pinniped limbs. However, their noses were not dissimilar to an elephant's, and they were prehensile. As they entered, the squid-like creatures came out of everywhere and started to attack the new invaders. However, the skin of the animals was too thick to cause cuts of any significant damage. In fact, the roadmap of scars on the animals showed a history of dealing with what had to be an annoyance for them. Yet, as they watched, there seemed to be a method to the madness, as the animals proved very adept at use of their trunks. They were quickly snatching the squid-like creatures off one another and gorging themselves on them with the speed of arattlesnake! A few observed the ones clinging to the strange transparent boulder now invading their waters, and the Marines watched in amazement as they observed the creatures being snatched off the dome with speed and efficiency of a vinedresser plucking bunches of grapes off the vine. The creatures seemed to have the ability to camouflage themselves like their Earth cousins, and they even turned transparent, but it was to no avail. The look in their all too humanlike eyes in the brief moment they could be observed by the Marines before the creatures were snapped off the dome were the looks of something that did not know whether or not it had been shot, kissed, powder burned, or snake bit. Once the feast was over, the Marines under the water reported the return of the animals to the surface.
Once Ceres heard that, he gathered a team of his riflemen and scientists into a craft to observe these creatures on the beaches when the surfaced. The craft made its way swiftly but carefully as they negotiated more solid patches of sand and boulders. Soon, they were at a spot that looked like it was their nesting area, as they observed smaller looking adults, and what they had to assume were newly born pups as it was the time of year for that. They opened up the craft, and Ceres said, "Observe, and get as much footage as you can, but don't get too close. If they are anything like what we have on Earth, they are far more aggressive than most would give them credit. With their size and the speed of their trunks, there is no telling what they could do to any of us."
With that note of caution, they debarked and approached. As they began to film, they saw the males returning to the surface, many of them with the squid-like creatures in their trunks, and the creatures still fighting back as defiant as ever, though now helpless being out of their environment. They vainly flailed their tentacles, but the animals kept them out of the creatures' reach as they approached the ones on the beach. They took them over to the boulders, and with a couple of good whacks against them, the creatures stopped moving, and they were brought to the ones that were nursing their young. Thus, it was shown that they were akin to mammals, and it would probably not be out of sorts to call them such. As they watched, they were showing themselves to be very caring parents, and also very intelligent, as their cranium size indicated alarge enough brain cavity to contain a brain of such intelligence. It was an awe-inspiring sight for them to see. However, it all went to hell in a hand basket.
After about 20 minutes of observing, the one that looked like the largest, and looked like it bore a healthy pair of tusks, looked up to see the intruders behind some boulders, and it decided that they were a little too close for comfort. It made a trumpet like that of an elephant, but higher in pitch, and it began to charge. It moved in such a fashion that it seemed slow and lumbering, yet it was an illusion as it, (what they had to assume was the bull male,) closed ground quickly. The Marines observing knew trouble when they saw it and hightailed it back to the craft. Ceres was wildly flailing his arm to them to get into the craft, remaining outside to direct the retreat, and even to heave a couple of the slower ones into the craft. He hopped in and yelled, "PUNCH IT!" as they started the craft. The driver knew he had not time for turning it around and just put it in reverse. The animal was no match for the craft, and they began to lose the aggressor, until they backed into the boulder! Everyone was thrust to the back with nothing more than some bruises, but in the time it took to get back to their feet, and for the driver to get things going, the animal was almost on them. The driver had to put it into forward for a moment to get it off the boulder, and in that instant, Ceres noticed the danger: in their haste to get away, they had forgotten to seal the craft. Ceres shouted"Seal the craft!" but by the time this was said, it was too late. The animal had grabbed the nearest man to him by the arm with his trunk and yanked him violently out of the craft. He then threw the man into a boulder-hard!The man obviously had broken ribs now, and he tried to get onto his feet when the animal charged again and tossed the helpless man with his tusks further down the beach. The man was going to get mauled to death if actions were not taken, and, sadly, there was no other way to save the man except for the next action. Ceres gave the command to "euthanize" it, which was the nicest way he could say to dispatch the brute. This was the last thing he wanted to do, but his man was more valuable than that. The herd's top male would be killed, and he was saddened in wondering what that might do to the herd. He let loose with his Tsunami Attack as the others opened up with their AK-01 weapons. The six with Ceres proved their aim true as they animal was not only riddled with holes, but it was blown down the beach about ten feet. This was the first time they had ever tested these weapons on anything living, and thus, they were not sure what these weapons would do. They now knew, and they also now knew that even armored creatures may not stand a chance. The sounds of the pulses then scared off the other males that came to investigate, and thus insured that things would stop right there. With that, the corpsmen quickly went up to render aid to the man, who was now barely alive.
They stabilized him as best they could, and prepared a craft to take him back to the ship. This would also mean that that team would have to go as well, and that would leave him with a smaller force than he wanted. He went over to the radio and called back, saying, "UES Artemis...this is General Ceres. Prepare to receive acasualty-attacked by one of the local creatures. We have stabilized him as best we could, but we do not guarantee that he will survive the trip. To save him, we were forced to put down the attacking animal. This was the last thing we wanted. We are now going to conduct an after action review and prepare to go forward."
Serenity heard this, and she cringed in her chair. "Are you certain it is safe to continue with this exploration?" she asked, her stomach turning flips, "We have already had someone hurt from your wi...sorry, Admiral Jupiter's crew."
"With all due respect, your majesty," said Ceres, "We knew there would be risks, and something like this was the chance that we were willing to take. Besides, we're Marines: we're hard chargers, and we don't know the meaning of the word'quit'!"
"Maybe this is time to learn?" she asked in an uncertain voice.
"I certainly hope that if there are hostile races out here in space that this is not your attitude, your majesty," responded Ceres.
She wanted to get mad, but Luna looked up and said, "Serena, he's right! Ugh, after all these years, and you still have that slight yellow streak..."
She looked at Luna and said, "That will be quite enough from you," and poked her nose as Ceres then said, "We are not just going to roll over here. We are going to get the mission done, but I am going to assure that these Marines understand the gravity of the situation, and ensure that nothing like this happens again. Things like this sadly have a learning curve, and that curve may include lost lives."
Serenity looked sad as she had to concede the point, and Ceres looked at the sad face on her screen. He then said, "Hey, buck up: everything's going to be fine. We'll all try to get home in one piece, okay?"
They ended the transmission, and Serenity then said, "This is always the hard part of the job."
"Everything is new to us," said Luna, "We must go with the flow. All we can do is learn from our mistakes and march on."
"How many and how bad?" asked Serenity.
"How many and how bad what?" asked Luna in return.
"I would not want to wager a guess," was the only thing Luna could say.
Once the transmission was done, Ceres went back behind a rock and slammed his hat to the sand in disgust. He was angry that they had acted in such an undisciplined manner that something like this would happen, and he was also angered that he did not see it coming in time to pull the Marine out of the way and let the animal attack him. He would have been hurt, but he would have healed almost instantly, considering his state. Once he had blown off some steam, he came back around and said, "Alright, gather around here: after action review."
They all gathered around him as he stood in front of the smashed vehicle and began to speak:"What happened today should not have happened. I want you all to look at the dents on the back of this craft, the carcass, and keep in mind your fallen comrade. We almost lost a good man today and all because we panicked! That was not needed! Now, before I jump on you, understand that responsibility always starts from the top, and that means that I have to accept a bit of the blame myself. I did panic a bit myself, and that indeed was uncalled for. Ido believe that it did spurn some panic in you, but in the same sense, that does not give me, you, or anyone any excuse for losing their military bearing as Marines and allowing this to happen. We came here with the intent of learning as much as we could about the planet, and we were going to attempt not to kill any of the wildlife if we could help it, unless we had to for either food if we ended up stranded, or self-defense as you saw here today. However, if we had kept things calm, even that would not have had to happen. We are here to explore, not to hunt. The only good things that came out of it was the hard lesson we learned about the lack of procedure in a case like this, and we do have an opportunity to learn just what our weapons did. From now on, whenever we board our craft, the first thing that is done is that the craft is sealed without question. I don't care how nice it is outside, but the craft will be sealed. If that had been instinctive in us, Corporal Ramstein would still be a part of this mission now. Also, for goodness sake, remember that we are Marines! The panic and fear that I saw displayed today was disturbing. Keep your bearing! This is not just because we have a reputation as Marines, but it also keeps things from happening that happened today. Okay, science team, I want a quick autopsy on the beast done. Find out how that thing ticks, and find out what kind of wound damage the rifles did. I want to try and pull something useful out of this."
They complied as the others went to repair the wounded craft. Ceres then went for a short walk, kicking himself for what had happened.
Within an hour, the crew had managed to repair the craft and get the information on the animal enough to where they could then move off the beach and inland to examine things there. The animal yielded much in the way of data for that creature, and it was a prime specimen for what it was. Indeed, the creature seemed to be acombination of seal and elephant. The information was certain to keep science guessing for ages. However, the data on the AK-01 was staggering. When the bullets hit, they were moving so fast that it seemed that they were passing through thin air. However, what it did to the flesh was tremendous! Because of their massive speed, the wound damage was staggering. The rounds entered small and left six inch holes on the other side, with passages just as wide about three quarters of the way through the beast. They only could speculate what this could do to human flesh, and one scientist spoke of the old sabot rounds that certain tanks used about 900 years ago. They would punch small holes in armor going in, make large holes coming out, and suck out everything in-between, essentially res misting anything living. "My compliments to the Kalashnikov Arms Company," said Ceres, "The common soldier and Marine have quite a weapon with which to fight the foe. I only hope the M-7 bullpups are just as effective. Well let's press on."
"It may not be that easy sir," said one of the scientists, "Look on the Doppler here."
Ceres did, and he did not like what he was seeing. If the radar was any indication to the darkening skies forming above them, it did not look good. He looked around and said, "Take the crafts to the highest points possible. If it is what I think, we may have to hole up."
He called back to the Artemis, and had them patch through to Mercury, who was still out on the high seas studying. "Mercury, it seems that some nasty storm is on the way,"said Ceres, "Is there any way to confirm this?"
"I'm on it," she said, and then said to the ship, "Launch a weather probe up, and have it go over the artic where General Ceres is."
Immediately, atorpedo tube was cleared and the probe was inserted. It shot straight out, and then took a sharp 90 degree turn upward and launched at breakneck supersonic speed. Within ten minutes, it was over the area desired and it began to analyze. The data came back and stated that a massive blizzard was heading that way. Just as that was relayed, the wind began to pick up and toss some of the snow around. Indeed, the falling snow mixed with the wind would create whiteout conditions, and this was the reason for the call to go to the high ground. Ceres thanked them for the information, and Serenity chimed in, asking, "Maybe you should come back here until the storm passes? I could not stand to think of any of you lost in the storm."
"If it's all the same, your majesty," said Ceres, "We're going to tough it out. Storms like this don't tend to last more than one day, if that. We can hold tight until then. Besides, we have a time table. There are three more systems to explore before we head home, and we cannot break schedule."
Serenity looked saddened and said, "I could give you a royal command to return, but..."
"You must do what you feel is right, your majesty," said Ceres.
"If it were me, Iwould return," she said, "but that is a bit of the coward that still tries to come back from time to time."
"From time to time?" exclaimed Luna, "You mean...murrfff!"
Serenity covered her mouth tight, and she said, "I know you're strong-you've always shown it. If your Marines are as tough as you, I know I can trust you. Please, come through well."
As Luna struggled to get free, she stopped as she looked up to see the one single tear roll down her face in concern for "her boys." Ceres saw that and said, (in Japanese,)"Usagi-chan, thank you for your faith in me. I know we can make it...Dumpling Head!"
The last statement was said with a smirk, and now she started to get flustered like she used to when she was a teenager. Anyone else in uniform would have been in trouble for such a statement. Though there was indeed freedom of speech in the kingdom, there was still certain etiquette that was called for when speaking to the queen, but because of their past and closeness, he was only one of a handful that could have gotten away with that. Ceres smiled and finished the transmission with, (and still in Japanese,) "The more you change, the more you stay the same. Don't change too much, Usa-chan. We love you the way you are. Have a hot cup of coffee waiting for me when I get back."
"I look forward to that cup with you," she said, and the transmission cut. This mission was turning out to have many hazards, but she was always happy to be surrounded by her brave friends that made her feel so strong.
Ceres then said,"Seal everything off, and make sure the supplemental air tanks are filled. Keep everything just warm enough to live, but not so warm as to drain any reserves that we may need later. Keep it just warm enough not to freeze, but just enough to where light outerwear would be needed. Use this time to tend to your gear, rest up, and get a little rest and relaxation. We will not have these times often, but make the best of it."
Not ten minutes after he said that, it hit. The wind was loud and hard, and it was just below a category one hurricane. Those of the old New England region of Earth would have called it a nor'easter. It was not long before everyone realized why he called for the crafts to be brought the highest points around. The low areas were quickly filled, and they were certain that they would have taken too long to dig out of that mess. Up there, they would still get buried, but they could easily free themselves once all was said and done. They crafts all hunkered down, and the men contented themselves with cleaning their weapons, in which they now had more faith than ever, tending to their gear, reading, sleeping, and even throwing around the cards for a bit. Within 18 hours, the storm subsided, and the scientists on board the crafts began to analyze just how deep they were. Because of where they stopped, it was determined that they were under about six feet of snow-very manageable. The hover thrusters were turned on, and they slowly added power to them, making sure not to burn anything out by trying to take on too much too quickly. As they rose, the snow began to slide off in a fine powder, and they were soon free. Ceres then radioed in, saying,"Okay, we'll have to keep it on hover mode until it is time to go. We could easily fly for a time, but we need to keep it down here to study things. If we roll, because everything is so fresh as far as snow goes, and this being dry snow, we could sink in hidden low points, so we must hover. It will be a bit slower, but it will be safer."
As they went, they began to see some new creatures rising from the snow. They were all white, but looked like prehistoric giant sloths from Earth. They looked carnivorous, and they were headed for the shore. Curious, Ceres ordered the others to stay while his craft investigated. Once there, they went to a spot where the other creatures had been. The others went out to see to ride out the storm, but those that could not go died on the beach. It was upon these carcasses that the sloths fed. It was apparent they were carrion eaters, but he wasn't yet sure if they could hunt, and that would be left for later missions to discover. He returned to the others and they proceeded. As they did, it was discovered that underneath all the snow that fell and blew around was tundra. Ceres figured that, in time, such would be visible again. It was then that the now clearing skies revealed a range of pointy hills, and that got the geologists jumping. As the entered the hills, they discovered caves, and by the readings, the caves were loaded with mining minerals, enough to keep any geologist happy for decades. Everyone was cheering for this discovery, knowing that the earlier failure had been avenged. The corporal that was hurt was going to make a full recovery, and, despite having to kill that one beast, they had a successful mission. This area would also be left for future study, but it would be a rich study indeed. Ceres then radioed back to the Artemis, and said, "UES Artemis, this is General Ceres: your majesty, have the coffee ready-we're coming back, mission accomplished. I told you Marines get the job done."
Serenity jumped up and yelled, "Hooray!" and then stood embarrassed as everyone on the bridge stared at her outburst. No one dared laugh, though it was obvious that they were trying to hold it back. She collected herself and said, "Very well, general, I look forward to your company."
However, once the transmission ended, Luna, doing all she could to hold it in, left and went into the restroom where she rolled over in hysterics. Yes, the more she changed, the more she stayed the same, and that's the way everyone loved her!