I stepped off the Nebula SS onto the ground, the dry dirt crunching beneath my boots. My visor became stuffy immediately. Adjusting my rifle, I flicked open the control pad on my left arm, tweaked the controls. A blast of cold air into my helmet, and I could breathe easily again.
“They lied to us,” I said, holding my rifle. “It’s hotter than a furnace out here.”
“Worse Nas,” Gaella Stanton said into my earpiece. “I can feel my brain boiling. Whaddaya think, hotter than Mars?” Gaella was a half-breed; half human, half Takmur, all beauty. Her beauty she got from her earthly father, but her fighting prowess was from her mother. Literally the best of both worlds.
“No, Mars takes the cake.” I felt James ‘Slugger’ Albert’s heavy footsteps beside me. “Never going back there. Ever.” Slugger was a mini mountain, but he was surprisingly nimble on his feet, and he packed a mean punch. I was glad I was not on his bad side.
“Are you kidding me? Mars doesn’t hold a candle to this,” I said, looking around. We were on some sort of hill, and in the distance nothing but dust that hung like a noxious pall in the air. The sky was cloudless; the two suns cast their dying light on the forgotten planet of Urreoa, now just known as Sector 36-C.
“You guys are boring me to death here. Quit your whining and get to work. We only have 48 hours max, then we need to be on our way home.”
Gaella chuckled. “Joey, you smartass. Always whining.” Joe Peck, a fast-talking white boy was our Transport and Utility guy. Anything you needed, he could get, or find someone who could.
“Hey,” he replied, “a guy has to have his perks, doesn’t he?”
“Alright,” I said, “ Joey, we are counting on you to get us out of here when the time comes. No idea what we will meet here. Stay sharp; time to sync.” A few seconds, then, “Weapons.”
The three of us set off.
“Please remind me why we are here again?” Joey asked.
“Apart from retrieving Golem’s Cube? We are here to look for your brain,” Gaella said. “Last I heard, SENTINEL put it in a pod and sent it off out here. Now, it is trapped.” We jumped over a gully. We were now making our way down rocky ground, deeper into the darkness; the dust formed a canopy like an overhang, blocking most of the sunlight. The light was failing, and soon we would need to put on our headlamps.
“Guys, keep it down, will you?” Slugger said. “We have no idea who, or what calls this planet home.”
“Well about that,” Joey said, drawing his speech, “I’ve got bad news, worse news, and the worst news. Which one do you want first?”
“Any good news in this place?” Gaella asked.
“Bad news it is. According to my records we have at least three visitors here on Planet Forgotten, apart from us. The last official archives show that almost all life was exterminated during the last Interstellar War 25 years ago. Apparently Zandor, High King of the planet Ber decided he hated the ugly mugs of the guys on Urreoa and went super nuclear on the whole bloody planet. Can you believe that?”
“Yes,” Slugger said. “I can.”
So did I. I had been a kid when that particular war had happened. Whole planets had been destroyed, and Earth had come close to being very much so. Urreoa had been hit with a Nuclear engulfer, a weapon that could only be launched from space; it launched eight pods to the eight points surrounding a planet and spread nuclear death, covering the whole planet. That way a planet could be ‘cleansed’ without any terraformation.
“Anyway, apparently one particular life form is said to have survived. The Guardians of Golem’s Cube. And three more are here as well. Immigrants.”
“Where did you get this intel?” Gaella asked.
“I have my ways,” he replied. I could hear the smirk in his voice.
“Go on,” I said.
“Well, first we have the Caamorans. Intelligent species, capable of human communication. Planet hoppers, they are relatively harmless, until they decide to be. They-”
“We know all about them Joey,” I said. I looked up and behind. We’d made good ground. The map on my visor said we had another 30 klicks to go, but the light was fading, and we had no idea what came out here at night. Night-time on most planets meant certain death, and we had no clue what was here with us. “What else?”
“Well, next, we have the Braacks.”
“Shit,” Gaella said. Slugger stopped.
Yeah. Shit was right.
The Braacks were mobile bad news. Humanoid creatures, they looked like a cross between a tiger, a snake and a wolf; the pet project of a disgruntled demon. Perpetually angry, they hunted in packs of five or more. No one knew how they were able to find their way across galaxies; they had first appeared on Earth almost 30 years ago. Probably some spatial anomaly or something; one moment you were goofing off with a friend, and the next, a Braack was tearing off the head of your friend right in front of you. And they always showed up angry, snarling, aggressive…
“How are we gonna handle one of them, never mind a pack?” Slugger asked.
“We have no idea how many there are actually,” Joey said. “Might be as many as 10. Packs. However, it seems there are maybe just one or two packs around these parts. The others seem to be scattered all over the planet ”
“Shut up Joey,” Gaella said.
“Alright. You mentioned a third one,” I prompted him.
Joey went uncharacteristically silent.
“Um, Joey?” Gaella said, “cat got your tongue?”
“No,” he said, his voice grave. “Worse.”
“You gotta be kidding me,” Slugger said. “What’s worse than packs of Braacks?”
Slugger said “Shit.”
Slugger was right. Shit. If Joey was right, and he was never wrong, then this mission just got more deadly.
“Everything is about to go to hell in a hand basket,” Gaella said.
No one argued with that.