Snakes and Pills

110 - under door

Finally, the recruits slumped themselves onto the beach. Their waterlogged combat suits had made the approach especially difficult. Their landing craft was to have delivered them on the shore directly, but a burst of especially strong electromagnetic radiation during entry interface had fried the ship's navigation.

The true miracle was that they had made it down at all. Inertia carried them to roughly the correct location, but with the weight of their gear, they were ill-suited for a swim. The current on this planet didn't make it any easier for them. Even the most experienced swimmers among them found the fight towards the shore exhausting.

As they sat there, dripping and coughing up seawater, one among their ranks was up and about, surveying her crew. The insignias etched into her armor indicated that she was this unit's commanding officer.

"Has anyone seen Reckavik?" she barked in a concerned yet unwavering tone. A few dissenting groans among the grunts answered her in the negative. So, Reckavik was lost, too. In total, four had not survived the trek ashore. The officer was not unaccustomed to losing men, but it was a damn shame when they fell not at the hands of enemy fire, but simply because they were a little off course.

She gave them a few more moments to collect themselves and rest on the beach. The unit needed to get a move on, she knew, but pushing them at this moment would do more harm than good. They were fortunate that the beach was empty, and indeed there was no sign of imminent threat. It was bad policy to just sit around though, she knew. Especially here.

Finally, she called for her subordinates to rally around her. Slowly, the clumps of men huddling on the beach began to rise and saunter in her direction. Eventually, everyone left alive formed a semicircle around her, waiting to hear their leader speak.

She tried to think of something inspiring to say. These recruits HQ had given her were good, but they were just that: recruits. They were green and inexperienced, and now on their first real mission, they had already seen four of their comrades die simply getting to their staging area.

No sooner had she started to speak when the group heard a light popping sound. It was almost comical, like a sound effect from a cartoon. When she heard it, though, her heart skipped a beat and she immediately threw her eyes to the ground.

"Shit, who took off their boots?!" she asked, scanning their feet. She quickly found the pair of exposed feet, and the man whom they belonged to. He had just started to sheepishly raise his hand, but halfway through the motion, his arm went limp along with the rest of his body. Instinctively, the men around him moved toward the stricken man to assist him, but they were met with a swift reprimand.

"Stop! Nobody move!" their officer sternly shouted. The man's body slumped over into the sand, the life already gone from his eyes. The recruits followed her order, puzzled and scared. She maneuvered next to the man's corpse. She gestured to the sand, carefully, pointing out a group of five or six squirming spots that looked like translucent tadpoles.

"They're called Plynypods. If they touch exposed skin, they transfer a highly venomous toxin that will kill you in seconds, like Stevens here. They wiggle up from the ground when you least expect it, and when you hear that pop, you're already dead."

She paused. She let the sadness she felt creep slightly into her voice, controlled to impart upon her men the gravity of the situation. "That's why you were trained to never ever remove your armor here. Stevens' feet were soaked, so he slipped off his boots. Now he's dead. Which is worse--blisters or death?" she asked the speechless crowd.

"Never for a moment forget, everything here on this planet is trying to kill you. Make every action and choice measured against that fact."


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