Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
The three scientists stood over a fully clothed skeleton. “I told Jill not to wander off by herself,” said Anthony Caroni, the mission commander. “Damn. What could have done this?”
“I don’t see any animal footprints, and there’s practically no blood,” noted Christopher Saunders, the exogeologist. “Maybe birds carried her here?”
“There aren’t any birds on Orinoco II, just plants, animals, and insects,” stated Sarah Lyman, the mission xenobiologist.
“Up until now,” retorted Saunders, “you didn’t think that there were any carnivores either.”
“Stop arguing,” snapped Caroni. “The colonists will arrive in less than three months. We need to find out what happened. Let’s gather her remains and take them back to the ship.”
The geology lab was turned into a makeshift morgue. Caroni and Lyman began to study the remains, but Saunders was heading out the hatch carrying a frozen ham and a phaser pistol. “Look,” he said, “I’m not a pathologist, but I’ve killed a few mountain lions in my time. You guys do what you can here; I’m going to set a trap.”
The Commander started to stop Saunders, but Lyman held up a hand and whispered, “Let him go. He’s too upset to help us here.”
After an hour of studying Jill’s remains, they were no closer to solving the mystery of her death than they were when they first found her body. “I can’t find any damage to her bones,” complained Lyman. “No teeth marks, claw marks, fractures, nothing. It was like Jill fell into a vat of acid. But it can’t be chemical; we found a dozen dead flies in her clothes that weren’t dissolved. Maybe Chris is having better luck. Give him a call.”
“I’m not having any luck either,” reported Saunders. “A couple of animals came by to smell the ham, but they walked off. I’ll be heading back soon. There’s a nasty storm cloud coming in from the east, and I need to get rain gear if I’m going to stay out here much longer.”
“Roger that,” replied Caroni. “You know Sarah,” he added as a thought struck him, “I never saw flies that didn’t lay eggs in a corpse. Maybe her flesh was consumed by maggots?”
“I didn’t see any maggots,” she stated, “but I’m about to examine the flies now.” Holding one of the flies with tweezers, she examined it under a binocular microscope. She was shocked to discover that the mouth contained two rows of tightly packed, serrated, interlocking teeth. The individual teeth appeared markedly triangular, similar to the teeth of a Piranha. “Oh my God,” she screamed. “The flies are carnivorous. Get Chris back, quickly.”
“Crap,” realized Caroni. “Our weather comes from the west, not the east.” Still holding the walkie-talkie, he ran to the hatch. “Chris, return to the ship, now. That dark cloud isn’t a storm; it’s a swarm of killer flies.”
“Repeat,” asked Saunders who couldn’t believe what he’d heard. “Ouch,” he exclaimed a second later as he felt a sting on his forearm. He swatted at an insect, only to discover a rivulet of blood streaming down his arm. He was bitten twice more before he began to run back to the ship.
Caroni watched helplessly as Saunders came into view, only to be engulfed by a black cloud of death. Saunders fell, screaming and writhing. He fired his phaser in vain. Seconds later, he was motionless. Caroni slammed the hatch shut. “Quick, Sarah” he yelled, “shut all the portholes.”
As he turned from the hatch, he heard Sarah’s voice from the lab, “Ouch. Oh, damn.”