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I stumbled as I ran blindly in the dark. The night seemed eerily quiet all around me except for the noise I made as I ran. When I stopped for breath, the pounding in my chest and my rapid deep breaths of panic were all I could hear. I couldn’t perceive anything around me. As I ran ahead, all I could think of was to survive. And I needed to get back to my ship. I had to escape this hell.
I seemed to be in some kind of an overgrown jungle. Wet leaves, branches and fronds slapped me all over as I ran through them. I was thankful for my body suit but I was worried about my air filters. Through the foggy visor of my helmet, I peered down at my chest and saw that the air filter was choked with dirt. I brushed it awkwardly with my gloved finger and immediately felt the the cool rush of breathable air circulate inside my suit. I took a deep, satisfying breath and looked back at the dark jungle through which I had just run.
I could only see the dark silhouettes of the forest and the looming shadows of enormous trees, standing tall as a black shadow of ancient giants against the dark night sky. A few smattering of stars here and there twinkled down at me, as if amused at my plight. I leaned against the trunk of a huge tree and took a few more deep breaths, calming my nerves. My legs trembled less and less with each passing second and I could feel my heart rate slowing down. I didn’t hear the faint whizz of the metal spear but felt the dull thud as it embedded itself with a sickening impact into the tree trunk, barely an inch from my hand. I jumped back, and ran. The creature had been following me and hunting me for over three hours now and it was showing no signs of defeat. Each time I thought I had put sufficient distance between us I was proved wrong. It was always near, lurking around the corners, hiding in the shadows and shooting its high velocity metal spears with a makeshift bow.
I cursed this planet as I ran. We should never have stopped here to explore. It was all Kai’s fault. If only she had half a brain. Well, she was dead now, killed by one of those deadly metal spears that had flown out of nowhere and had lodged itself firmly in her throat. I shook my head and forced myself to stop thinking about Kai. I was alone on an alien planet that was intent on killing me. I had to make my way back to the ship. That was my only hope. I dodged the forest left and right, high and low, retraced my steps to throw the creature off my track, and finally found a tree trunk that I could climb. It was high enough to hide me from being clearly visible. I thanked the darkness and climbed as high as I dared, hugged the branch and lay still, watching the forest floor beneath me. Every rustle of a leaf and every chirp of an insect seemed to reverberate in my ear. My senses were on hyper alert.
On the horizon, I could see faint snatches of light from various points, glowing over the tops of the trees. Far away in the distance, I thought I heard the whine and growl of machinery, but I couldn’t be sure. We were told this was a primitive planet. We were told that life was almost impossible here due to the heavy, toxic atmosphere and the crushing gravitational pull of the nearest star. We were told to explore without fear and that it would be routine. I’d love to see the faces of those Command Center fucks now.
We were scientists. I was a specialist in alternative energy studies and my sole purpose on this trip was to collect geothermal readings from various planets, analyze them and rate them according to the ease of harvesting. In other words, I was a lab rat. Not a fucking soldier. I didn’t know how to survive in these situations. These creatures were terrifying to say the least.
We first encountered the aliens four hours into our exploration. The landing was routine, without any incidents. Kai and I had strayed far from our ship, collecting samples and making small talk when the clearing in which we stood was doused in bright, harsh light that blinded us. The light seemed to emanate from the forest itself. I could see Kai panicking, screaming and I ran to her to calm her down. We heard the guttural sounds that almost seemed to be a type of vocal communication. We looked up to see three figures walking towards us, gesturing and speaking. All I could make out was the unnaturally long limbs and the row of white, jagged teeth on their heads. I felt Kai shuddering suddenly in my arms and when I looked down, I saw the metal spear sticking out of her. I felt her body go limp. The creatures had killed her without warning. Without provocation. I ran.
I felt an insurmountable anger boil inside me as I lay on the tree branch. Anger at myself, at those short-sighted Command Center nuts and anger at these vile, merciless aliens and their makeshift weapons. I wanted to destroy it all.
I stiffened as I heard the rustle of the leaves somewhere to my left. It was different from the usual rustle of the wind. This was unnatural. I lay very still and saw the leaves part and the creature step forward slowly. It seemed to be looking at the floor, trying to discern my footprints. This type of pursuit predators were the scariest – they never tired, they never gave up and they hunted you down from your footprints and the twigs your feet snapped while you ran. The creature held the makeshift weapon in one hand as it slowly moved on two feet looking this way and that, and passed beneath my tree. I could see the top of it’s head as it passed under me. I was tempted to jump down and fight it, but held myself. I didn’t know how many more of them were out there.
I looked around in the general direction of my intended escape. The ship was somewhere off to the right and from my vantage point here, I could faintly see the outline of the ship’s tail. It was close. Closer than I thought! I felt a renewed surge of hope in me. I made sure that the creature had gone before I descended as quietly as I could and started jogging towards the ship. My heart skipped a beat when I heard the loud guttural shout from behind me. I didn’t look back. I ran as fast as I could. I could hear two, three, four, countless creatures behind me, all shouting and crashing after me. Where did so many of them come from?
I felt a searing pain shoot through my arm and when I looked down, I almost fainted in fright. I saw a thin metallic spear stuck in my arm. It had pierced the palm of my hand clean through! I didn’t dare pull it out. The pain was excruciating. I felt loud bangs from behind and I felt the forest explode all around me. One moment there was a lean tree trunk and the next, a loud bang from behind and the tree trunk exploded in splinters that rained over me as I ran headlong into the forest. I prayed and prayed that I was going in the right direction.The noise behind me was deafening.
I ran through the pain in my hand. I could feel the numbness creeping up my arm from the point where the spear had pierced through. I felt faint but forced myself to keep running. Escape! That was the only thing on my mind.
After what seemed like an eternity and almost when I thought of giving up and surrendering to the aliens, I broke through the tree line and almost collided with my ship. I screamed out in ecstasy and agony and clambered around the hulking machine and into the open bay door at the back. I saw the aliens break through the tree line and stop as they saw the ship. Through the closing bay door, I saw them hesitate. They seemed to be awestruck at the sight of the ship. One of the aliens saw the bay door that was closing and caught sight of my face through the rapidly closing slit. The metal spear it fired pinged harmlessly off the ship and I heard the satisfying bangs and the thuds of the door closing and the bolts driving home.
I stumbled my way to the cockpit and hit the big red button on the dashboard. Everything would be automated now. The ship would take me home.
I slumped down on to the floor and looked at my hand. I could see the metal spear sticking out from both sides of my palm, firmly lodged. The ship trembled slightly as the fuel heated up and the ignition kicked in. I almost felt sorry for the alien creatures standing outside the ship. They would all be fried to nothingness in about ten seconds. It was a pity. I could have observed them and studied them, had it been under different circumstances. I thought I heard them scream as the ship fired on all cylinders and cooked them to a crisp and lifted off. I breathed a sigh of relief as it picked up speed. In about fifteen seconds, it would automatically open up the wormhole into our world and shoot into it. I could hardly wait to get home and get someone to pull this fucking spear out of my hand.
I stood up gingerly and saw out of the cockpit window at the fascinating landscape of the vast blue planet beneath me. An entire planet that had evolved to breathe the most corrosive gas in the universe – oxygen. I shuddered at the thought.
I saw the brilliant golden glow of the wormhole opening up in front of me. Just as the ship neared it, out of the corner of my eye, I saw some movement out on the horizon. The last thing I saw before being sucked into the wormhole was a huge metal cylinder hurtling through the air at a ferocious speed – almost like an aircraft – crashing into the ship at what seemed like a million miles per hour and the entirety of the fire and the debris being sucked into the wormhole. Drifting in the void of the wormhole, I saw the remains of the object that had collided with my ship. Hundreds and hundreds of those alien creatures floated away in the zero gravity of the wormhole, all dead. It couldn’t have been an aircraft, I thought to myself. This was supposed to be a primitive planet. Someone is going to have a lovely time trying to find this plane, I thought, smiling to myself as I blacked out, and hoped at the back of my mind that my arm and all my thirty-one fingers would be intact.