Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“Captain’s log, 6022.55. We’ve separated from the Command Ship and are descending toward the surface of Piscis Austrini C. The weather over the primary landing site is clear, so we’ll set up the blind as planned on an old lava field, approximately 1000 meters from the migration bottleneck. Per the mission objectives, we’ll observe the mandria herd for two days as they return from the birthing plains. Reconnaissance data from the drones indicate that this herd contains at least one million bison size creatures. We plan to capture a few live specimens to obtain statistical and biological data, including blood and DNA samples, assuming they have them. With a little luck, we should collect enough data on this trip to keep Earth’s Xenobiologists busy for decades.”

“Approaching the landing site,” announced the helmsman. “Touchdown in ten seconds.”

Three massive landing pads extended from the underbelly of the shuttle and locked into position. As they touched the surface, the ship skidded sideways before jarring to an abrupt stop.

“Captain, the penetrometer indicates that we landed on mud, not lava-rock. We’re at Zee minus one meter.”

“Move us to hardpan, Mr. Shikoku,” ordered the captain. “We don’t want to be mucking around in waist deep mud for the next two days.”

After several aborted liftoffs, the helmsman reported, “Sorry, Captain, she won’t budge.”

The captain unbuckled his harness. “Okay,” he said, “let’s pop the hatch and have a look.”

Crewmen Alpeton climbed down the ladder and prodded the ground with his foot. “It’s solid, sir,” he announced as he jumped onto the rocky surface. As he walked around the stub-wing toward the nose of the ship, he suddenly sank into the mud up to his knees. The mud instantly turned solid, trapping his legs. “What the hell! What is this stuff, some kink of cosmic fly paper?”

The ground began to tremble. In the distance, a nearby hill began to undulate. It started to move perceptibly closer. “A spider web would be a more accurate analogy” remarked the science officer. “If I’m interpreting the circumstances correctly, that approaching hill is the silicon-based equivalent of a gigantic Earth-spider. It must be capable of controlling the viscosity of this mud-like substance to trap prey. I estimate that it will reach our position in approximately two minutes.”

“Options?” demanded the captain.

“Our phasers will be ineffective against rock,” replied the science officer. “I recommend that we free the ship by melting through the aluminum landing gear struts. Unfortunately, we’ll have to amputate Mr. Alpeton’s legs above the knees.”

“Unacceptable,” snapped the captain. He quickly set his phaser to self-destruct and threw it as far as he could toward the approaching mound. The moving hill shifted its path and engulfed the whining phaser. Moments later, the size of the mound tripled as the antimatter power-pack detonated. The expanding hill then burst like a water-balloon, showering the area with fist size clumps of mud. The ship shifted slightly as the rock encapsulating the landing gear suddenly returned to the consistency of mud. Freed, Alpeton scrambled up the ladder and through the hatch.

“Preparing to return to the Command Ship,” announced the helmsman as he began manipulating the controls.

“Belay that,” ordered the captain. “We didn’t come to the cosmos to run and hide every time an alien creature says ‘boo.’ In fact, this planet has piqued my curiosity. After we complete this mission, we can spend a few extra days studying this amazing new predator.”

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