"...I can hear my old hound dog barking, chasing down a hoodoo there...born on the bayou." Credence Clearwater Revival
While all this was going on, the exploration of the southern temperate zones were occurring. Luna hopped up on the console and said, "We still haven't heard from Mars yet."
Serenity sighed, upset that Mars had not been as frequent with her calling in. "She is so headstrong," she said, "She always does this to me!"
"That is a lot to say after 900 years, your majesty," responded Luna, "You would think that the relationship between the two of you would have become less volatile...unless you miss the bickering!"
Luna chuckled a bit with the last statement, but Serenity then said, with a chuckle of her own, "Truth is, it doesn't happen as much, and I almost miss it. It's as if a part of Mars went away. I act annoyed when she barbs me from time to time, but inside Isay, 'There's the good old Rei.' You know, Luna, I've always wondered: are we now as we had been, or are we still Rei, Makoto, Minako, Tom, Ami, Chibiusa and Mamoru? Are the Outer Scouts who they were?"
Luna saw her pondering the matter seriously, and it was a solid question. Luna had always been glad that Serenity had finally regained her grace and poise from the Old Moon Kingdom. It took a couple of centuries, (knowing how hard headed that Usagi could be,) but the Queen that everyone now knew came forward, especially when she became pregnant with the present-day Princess Usagi, and then amother. Parenthood had a tendency to produce maturity. Despite all that, no matter how much the other ones changed, because of who they had been transmigrated into, that signature would always be left on them. Indeed, then mind whales demonstrated that quite aptly when Serenity could not resist the urge to touch one of them. Luna hopped up into Serenity's lap and said, "Your Majesty-Usagi-chan-there is no way that any of you could ever stop being who you were. I think, because of who you had all been, and how that your minds reopened to who you had once been, it just makes all of you that much better as people. How many times have we seen the bookworm Ami come forward when it came time to research something for the kingdom? How many times have we seen that confident girl that Makoto had always been when her and Ceres are allowed to relax and be themselves? How many times have we seen the show woman Minako come forth when she gave the State of the Planet address for the planet for whom she is named? That will never go away. I was always hard on you, but Ilike what you have become, and I would say it is a pleasure to know you as my friend."
She began to purr and curl up on Serenity's lap. They awaited word from Mars, but they were quite content to be that way at that moment. The bridge crew, observing the whole thing, liked the spell that was being cast, and none dare speak, lest the spell be broken.
As that was going on, Mars indeed was getting deep into her phase of things. The all-terrain craft that the others were using was spending more time skimming water and quicksand than being on land. Indeed, it was swampy land into which they had entered, and Mars was more hoping for something more beach-like and tropical. However, this was the place that they had ended up, and they had no time to find the other areas. Truth was, the mission had been shaped to just get afeel for things and send back the information so that teams of Mercury's scientists, and teams from every university in the Sol system, to come back and make athorough exploration of that world. They had at least two, if not three, other systems to explore, and then that would not address the other stars that were in reasonable reach that they had yet to visit. There was so much to do. Thus, she settled into the task of going over that area.
The sensors showed the conditions: temperatures around 30 to 33 degrees Celsius, with a humidity of at least 70%. In other words, it was hot and very muggy. There were also desert areas that she could have ended up, and it seemed her zone had more to explore than the others. With that, she decided to call both Mercury and Serenity at the same time to get their opinions. "Alpha six to Charlie and Headquarters Six, over?" she called over the system.
"Headquarters six here," said the communications officer on duty.
"Charlie six here,"said Mercury.
"Is her Majesty present, or off stuffing her face somewhere?" joked Mars.
"Rei, you're so mean!" snapped Serenity.
"Whoa!" said Mars, "I haven't heard you use that one in a while, your Majesty. You must be angry."
Serenity shook herself and laughed, saying, "I was just reminiscing before you called, Admiral."
Mars chuckled a bit and said, "I should stop that."
"Don't you dare!"responded Serenity, "It's who you are. You're the only one who gets away with that, though."
"Well, me, and your court jester..." said Mars, who trailed off, and then came to an epiphany, who then snapped, "Wait, did you just compare me to that idiot?"
Serenity then began to laugh along with Luna, and she said, "Looks like I still know how to get your goat! Anyway, what's going on?"
Remembering her reason for calling, she said, "Oh, yes; I need some clarification. The zone to where you sent me has several different environments: there is a beach-like area about 160 km south of here, a savannah area about 300 km west of here, and this swamp where we landed. I don't think we will have time to go over all of it."
Mercury then said, "True, but I think where you are would be the most fact finding. We'll just have to do aerial scans of those areas before we go to the next system. I would think that your SEALs are up to it!"
"Hooyah!" was heard from all the craft in the team, and one of Mars' lieutenants piped up saying, "If the Jarheads can handle the artic, we can handle this!"
"Careful," said Mars, "General Ceres might not take kindly to that."
"Bah!" said the lieutenant, "We'll take on his boys in any exercise any day of the week!"
Another piped up and said, "Hey, you know why a Marine can't count past 13, right?"
A third said, "Yeah, because that's all he knows from undoing the buttons on..."
"That will be quite enough, ensign!" snapped Mars, knowing that the joke didn't have a nice ending,"We're all on the same team."
They all behaved, and Mars said, "We're guns for it. We'll make it happen."
"Careful, though,"added Mercury, "There have been some dangers the others have already faced, including myself, and in that swamp, I think danger may go up tenfold."
"How so?" asked Mars.
"Well, in areas like that," pondered Mercury, "you have insect bites, venomous animals, and as we have already seen, killer plants. Remember: this is a world where there may be diseases the insects bear that we have yet to see, and, of course, no cure."
That sobered up Mars a bit, and she said, "Duly noted, Admiral Mercury. We will take it into account."
"Well, be careful,"added Serenity, "We've already had some people badly hurt, and we don't need to see you or your brave SEALs come back the same way, or worse."
Mars wanted to say something, but she just laughed and said, "Roger, Alpha six out, Ready to Lead, Ready to Follow, Never Quit!"
Serenity said, "As tough as she and her team is, I sure would hate it for any for they ever faced."
"What was it she said her boys always said?" asked Luna.
Mercury responded before signing off, saying, "I believe it is, 'Don't bother running-you'll only die tired!'"
The craft had been taking some time to go over things to try to find a spot upon which to set down where there was stable ground. Once they had, they geared up. For this, the SEALs preferred to get into fatigues and use their field gear, because the crackerjack and senshi uniforms they wore on ship were more for show, and they were not practical as far as they were concerned. Mars, on the other hand, continued to wear her familiar senshi uniform, as was the habit of her peers. However, she was yet practical, in that she, for this, set aside her heels and put on proper boots for the terrain-red ones, of course-and she wasn't above wearing fatigues if the mission called for it tactically. As soon as they stepped out, the conditions hit them immediately, and they began to sweat profusely. At that, the few of the blue marked sailors of the science/medical team instantly handed out salt pills and told them to drink plenty of water. "We should have brought the still suits," said one of the team, and another said, "Well, there was no way of knowing that this would be this way."
"Hey, the old method of water and salt pills will work," said one of the medics, "Just stay hydrated, and be sure to use your universal water filters if you need to refill your canteens."
"That's a general order for this mission," added Mars, "No need for anyone to drop from heat exhaustion."
Another said, "What does this remind you all of?"
They all said at once, "Swamp training!"
Mars had even undergone this many centuries ago, just so she could properly lead the SEALs, and for them to realize that they had a commander that was not willing to push them harder than she was willing to push herself. "I said this when I went through it," said Mars, "and I will say it again: I feel like I'm wrapped in awarm, wet blanket!"
"Yeah, but you seemed to eat up the experience, ma'am," said another of the team.
She laughed and said, "Well, truth is, I hated the whole thing! I just couldn't let Princess Jupiter show me up. She was always considered the strong one."
"Hey, who didn't hate the whole training, ma'am," stated that one team member, "But, we got through it, and we are the baddest thing in the galaxy."
Mars rolled her eyes, and then said, "Let's just hope we never need to test that one!"
They began to proceed, and as a precaution, they locked and loaded their M-7 particle accelerators. They too didn't want to harm the flora and fauna as much as possible, but considering some of the dangers they may face, they could not be as hesitant. They had heard what had happened in the artic, and they realized they could not be as careful about that as to risk the men. They also took their time, knowing that, at any point, the ground could not be as stable, and they could find themselves hip-deep in mud, and having their teammates struggling to extract him or her. They also wanted to watch out for something trying to sneak up on them. It had already been shown that, though the wildlife on the planet was unique to that world, the animals still adapted and changed to suit their environments in ways that were similar to those on earth in matching environments. All along the way, the scientists were taking plant samples and soil samples, and letting the SEALs know what was safe to touch, and what was not; what was safe to eat, and what was not. They also had a special sonic device that transmitted sound waves far beyond normal hearing that were good for repelling insects. They also hoped it would have a repulsive effect on other things that might catch them by surprise. Indeed, as they made their way inland, they encountered heavily scaled creatures that looked like monitors, but were suited for moving in the water not unlike chimera on earth,(alligators, crocodiles, and such like.) Their slow movement did not garnish too much attention from the lizards, but they were spooked into the water. Indeed, they were twice as big as the Komodo dragons on earth, and they looked just as mean, if not worse. They gave these creatures much in the way of respect, and a wide berth. This made them even more vigil, because there was no telling what they may face inland.
The more inland they moved, the less swampy it became, but it also became more of a subtropical rainforest. One thing that they found interesting was how little there was in mammal-like life. What there was of that was small, and seemed to prefer staying hidden as much as possible. The reasons for this were soon to be seen. They saw a couple of those creatures moving as fast as they could across a clearing. However, one did not make it, as out of nowhere came a fast moving creature in flight and snatched it up with the proficiency of a striking rattlesnake. It took a roost in a nearby tree, and this was the first they could see the creature. It looked like a pterodactyl, but it was covered with colorful feathers. It then began to pick at and consume the creature it had been so fortunate to discover. This made them wonder if that was the only dinosaur-like creature they were going to face. They soon came to a clearing that looked about 500 meters in diameter, and in there they saw lizard-like creatures that rivaled the dinosaurs in size. They did not look like the brachiosaurs, but they looked more like iguana from earth. It was then that they came out of the forest!
Creatures about the size of Allosaurus came charging out of the forest. However they were also covered with colorful feathers, including their small front arms, which looked like flight wings, but really had no ability to make them fly. However, they still retained about three manipulatable digits despite the feathers. Their snouts also looked like a dinosaur of that kind, except the very end of it did indeed seem to form a beak. There were enough to well overcome the larger, slower creatures, and they began to do just that. The order was given to stay on the rim, and observe. The cameras of the scientists were recording the slaughter, and they loved the fact that they had the chance to observe this happening before them, and have an idea what it might have been like on earth. That's when it went south.
As things went on, Mars' instincts began to kick in, as did the others who had been trained in psychic abilities, and they tensed up. What was happening was that one of the creatures nearby put its nose to the air and began to approach that spot. It was more curious than anything, yet none of them trusted that this thing would not look at them as dessert to their meal. No one was sure what to do as the thing began to get closer. Close up, the beak looked vicious, and after watching how they wielded them in feeding with the proficiency of a samurai, they did not want to find out what kind of short work it would make on them. The closer they came, the more they saw the teeth that they also had. Suddenly it stopped, and seemed to lock onto one hapless SEAL in the brush. It suddenly lowered its head and started to move with a posture similar to a goose or swan looking to strike. Because of the psychic abilities that all the SEALs bore, it was apparent it meant business, and there was no need to make the order to fire. He raised his M-7 and fired near its feet, hoping the flash and the bang would scare it off. It caused it to back up some, but unfortunately all the other creatures heard that and also became curious. The way they were beginning to assess the situation led the scientists to realize that these creatures were displaying problem-solving smarts. The first creature now knew to be more cautious, and began to approach again, more aggressive this time despite its caution. That was it for Mars. She gave the order, "BACK TO THE CRAFT, NOW!"
Instantly, everyone bolted and began to sprint back to the craft. Mars also said, "Do not hesitate to use deadly force...after all; they don't care about that on us!"
Indeed, some were taking the time to take an occasional pop shot behind them if one was getting too close. They were also smart enough to use serpentine motions as they made their way along, using the trees to try to slow up the creatures. Seeing this, the creatures were beginning to get the movements and were now trying to outflank them on both sides, trying to negotiate the paths of least resistance. The SEALs were able to drop about three of them before the creatures changed tactics, and now they were just trying to move at a dead sprint as best they could to keep from being outflanked. When it seemed that was going to happen, Mars put her hands together, forefingers extended and touching and called, "FIRE SOUL!" separating her hands as two fireballs went out and over them, exploding into the trees where the creatures were trying to move in. That stopped them dead in their tracks, and they started to regroup to find a way around the flames. Mars was not worried about the fires, knowing how moist everything was, and knowing that the fires would dissipate with little damage to the forest. That was when they hit the marshes again, and it was because of their haste that they forgot about certain features of the land.
As they went, half of them suddenly found themselves mired in the quicksand patches around. Many of them kept their heads and managed to wriggle out of the mud and crawl across the surface, but a few began to panic and caused them to sink. "Stop struggling, you idiots, you'll only go in deeper!" screamed Mars as some of the team were working to calm the stranded and extract their comrades. However, the creatures had found their way around by this point, and were now not moving as fast, thinking that they now had their prey where they wanted them. Those not engaged in pulling out their teammates were opening fire to keep them away, but Mars had another idea. She then screamed, "LAVA BLAST!" snapping her hands around. Suddenly, on all the trees around appeared the blobs that marked her attack, and they all went off at once. The blast caused the creatures to retreat for a certain distance, and also to form a barrier around them of logs. However, she knew that the creatures would not be scared for long, and the logs would only delay them. Worse, now the monitors were becoming curious, and the scientists knew that, if they seemed stranded and unable to defend themselves. With haste, they were now pulling the others out, but they were also becoming a bit mired in the effort, and now the free ones were opening up on the monitors. Mars was using Flaming Sniper, and now the monitors were not as interested anymore, seeing a few of their friends drop. By the time the creatures arrived they were already heading into the water. They saw the feathered dinosaurs standing on the shore screeching defiantly, almost daring them to come back. "Next time, let's bring tanks!" said one of the lieutenants. Mars could not have agreed more! "Let's just go back to the ship. At least we know that we have to come back with more protection for this area, because we have no idea if something bigger lurked out there!"
Everyone was now heading back to the Artemis, having had enough adventure for that planet. Serenity went to the deck to see everyone in, and then she saw something that caused her jaw to drop. At the back of one of the craft, there seemed to be something being dragged along. Serenity asked for some binoculars, and she began to become a bit upset. In the Marine contingency, someone was being abit more nonchalant than they probably should be. As the craft, the strains of Credence Clearwater Revival began to be heard as "Traveling Band" was being cranked out the outer speakers of the craft. On the back of it in speedos and in a life jacket was General Ceres on a wake board. He looked to be jamming out on the music, lip syncing as he went in between doing flips and tricks. The mind whales seemed to love this, doing tricks all alongside them. Once they got back, Serenity was up in his face, screaming, "What was that all about, general? That was not exactly in good military standing!"
"Whoa, your Majesty," said Ceres, "We were just celebrating a successful mission! After what we faced, the men deserved a little fun!"
He still looked abit sheepish being chewed out in that outfit, dripping wet. The others were shaking their heads, but smiling as well. There was silence for about 20 seconds, and Ceres then said, "So do I get a Captain's Mast for boarding?"
Serenity started to raise a finger, and then thought of how amusing it would be for Ceres to face asummarized court martial for that, and she began to snort and try to suppress alaugh, but it wasn't working, she started to bust a gut as the rest joined in, and she finally calmed down enough to say, "Okay, you want to show off that bad, I sentence you to get together with Admirals Venus and Jupiter, and you are condemned to giving a concert of the ARK Juban Trio for the ship's entertainment!"
Ceres put on a mock face of shame saying, "It's a hard task, but I am cosigned to my fate," and pretended to mope off to get ready for doing a show, to which Makoto smacked him on the back of the head, and they both broke out in laughter, as she said, "Come on, Evel Kenievel: let's get ready to perform! Sometimes I wonder about you!"