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Lost Diaries #3 - Mission Aborted

This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine website in 2003, and reprinted in the January/February 2021 issue.

The following log fragment was recovered and deciphered from the wreckage of a starship dating back to the pre-Interstellar Wars Terran Confederation period. No corroborating data has been located to further identify the ship or its mission.

Day 207: 11:18—After three days of low-orbit observations, we have landed on [indecipherable]. Science Officer Vranek has suggested our current location to be in a low-storm zone, and Lt. Appice has given the nod from a security standpoint. In fact, Appice and the other two troopers have already begun precursory reconnaissance, and it would appear that Streimann is ahead of schedule in post-touchdown procedures. The main drive has already been run through diagnostics, and Streimann has begun placing the solar arrays, though I wonder how productive they’ll be under current meteorological conditions.

16:42—Appice, Rhoads, and Essenza reported readings of larger life forms, but no visual confirmation. They and Streimann have marked [indecipherable] fortifications. Many large rocks in the area which will help, since the soil has been found to be crumbly and relatively high in mineral content. SO Vranek has run analyses, and confirms that, while the immediate region is rather sparsely vegetated, the soil is agriculturally viable. Coupled with findings from Ensign Torres’ sampling excursion at the lake nearby, the area promises to be be adequate for initial settlement, [indecipherable].

Day 209: 13:02—As per standard operating procedures [indecipherable], we're still running only passive surveillance to a 5km range. Audio from last night’s watch was particularly eerie; I can understand why Torres woke me up during his shift. The rest of the crew listened this morning. Vranek never ceases to react almost giddily to new life forms, and Streimann is merely considering burying the irrigation piping. While Appice said little during the playback, his face showed at least mild concern, if only because whatever’s out there looks and sounds… big. Not huge, maybe 500kg… but big enough.

Rhoads and Essenza are my biggest concern. While cross-trained for scientific exploration, they both still retain a great deal of that gung-ho quality inherent to so many [indecipherable] services, particularly the Stellar Troops. I would consider a weapons lock-down outside of survey operations, but I’ll hold off on that until we know what we’re dealing with.

19:35—The camp is [indecipherable] operational. Tomorrow Vranek will head out with [indecipherable] equipment, escorted by Rhoads and Essenza. Appice and Streimann will see to any possible engineering improvements of the perimeter. Given that Torres and I have limited duties, we’ll head out [indecipherable] and see if we can’t get a better grasp of the local lifeforms.

Day 210: 08:37—Last night’s weather was harsh, moreso than the first two nights. A storm, in fact. Beyond the high winds (which kept dust and grit airborne throughout the night), we also had major precipitation and lightning. The precipitation checks out, per Vranek, to be essentially taint-free. That’s the good news. The bad news is that our surveillance array has taken a pretty nasty hit of lightning. Streimann will set up the back-up today, but he says the wreckage of the first looks toasted.

20:19—Vranek’s initial reports look promising. Minerals and metals abound in the area, and some underground cavities were detected as well. This may be a great help toward excavation and mining, and may offer additional protection for a [undecipherable] colonization group.

I had hoped to make Vranek’s day with [indecipherable] our findings in the wild, but apparently he and the survey team spotted one of the native creatures from a distance while in the field. Horned quadrupeds, they seem relatively docile. Vranek wonders if the horned structures aren’t at least partially hollow, natural amplifiers for their calls. I reminded him of his duties, and tried to discourage him from too closely studying the animals until the surveys are done. Not because I find the whole enterprise unnecessary, but because Rhoads took a shot at one of them. Appice assures me he’ll deal with the situation; he doesn’t seem too fond of the notion of a weapons lockdown.

Day 211: 03:03—Heavy storms again tonight, and I spent my watch on the bridge; lightning struck within our perimeter, and while the dust storm obscures visibility greatly…. I would swear that I saw one of the quadrupeds just beyond the southern embankment. If not for the lightning, I wouldn’t have seen anything at all. What concerns me, though, is that I would swear I saw another creature on its back.

Of course, we’re all psych-profiled before these missions, and I’m well aware of the mental mechanics that manifest themselves in this way… but it sure looked like a person. Maybe not a “person” per se, but a bipedal humanoid. I suppose I’ll keep this to myself; however, I think I’ll go wake up Appice. I could use the company.

09:31—We’ve had some major revisions to our mission plan. I hadn’t said a word to Appice until this morning, when we checked the camp at sun-up. The surveillance array has been hit by lightning… again.

Streimann doubts the ability to scavenge both arrays to make a single useable one. And on the morning perimeter walk, Torres and Rhoads both discovered animal tracks outside the embankments, [indecipherable], while Appice and I found more near the gate. It was at this point that I described what I saw last night to Appice. Today, Torres and Essenza will accompany Vranek as he finishes the survey of this grid. Appice will take Streimann on recon toward the lake, since the irrigation system has become blocked. I’ve brought out the assault rifles from the ship’s locker, and armament is now a standing order for everyone. Rhoads and I will remain with the ship and keep our eyes peeled.

11:09—The defecation has hit the circulator. Streimann returned with what was left of his irrigation apparatus from the lakeside. It was worse than I’d expected when he radioed it in; what I had imagined to be damage done by animals clearly wasn’t. Metallic fragments around the damaged areas… and symbols painted on the equipment… sounds beyond the capabilities of animals. Streimann has begun firing up the main drive, and we’re going to active life sensor arrays from the ship’s suite.

Vranek radioed on for a solid contact; high winds and dust found them off-guard for a barrage of primitive projectiles. Return fire caused the abatement of incoming projectiles, but Torres took a sizeable dart to his left thigh. They’re on their way back into camp.

23:47—[indecipherable] This is Lieutenant Appice, posting to ship’s log, under emergency procedures, as Captain Ericson is currently incapacitated… Report follows:

When Vranek’s team arrived from the field around 1200 hours, Ericson and I were worried because no radio contact was made after their hostile contact. When they arrived, Vranek and Torres were carrying Essenza from the ATV. He had been hit by lightning, and Vranek’s med report sounded grim. Ericson, Rhoads and I went to help when lightning hit the [indecipherable].

The sensor arrays [indecipherable] are shot to hell, and Streimann was killed by the hit. The drive room sustained major damage, and even now most non-essential systems are down and the power plant is operating at about 17% capacity.

The lightning strike seemed to coincide with the attack. Humanoid, upright bipeds… it was hard to tell with the storm rolling in, and the dust in the air. Ericson took several arrow-type projectiles and dropped. Vranek… I was shouting at Vranek, trying to coordinate a defensive reaction to what was happening, when he… lost his head. A blade weapon of some sort, I think. Thrown, or fired. I don’t know. I grabbed Torres by the jacket and headed for the ship. Rhoads provided covering fire, lighting up the general direction of the attack.

The storm has been fierce, and even with clear weather I’m not even sure [indecipherable] power to dust-off; Torres has been feverish and delusional for several hours now, and my guess is he’s a dead man. Poison in his wounds, maybe? I don't know, but he was our best shot for getting off this rock. Rhoads is dead, too. About two hours ago he collapsed, seized, and died. Maybe [indecipherable] no idea in hell.

Day 212: 00:36—Storm is even more intense. Trying to take off now would be suicide. Torres just checked out, and the noises outside the hull are getting worse.

I’ve gathered weapons and ammo here on the bridge. If they want to come in and get me, so be it. But I'm not going down without a fight.