Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The regiment’s remaining survivors set up a parameter around their crashed transport ship. “Lieutenant Colonel,” called out Corporal Kuroki as he climbed over the twisted remains of a cargo hold bulkhead. “Colonel Searcy is dead too, sir. Looks like you’re the CO.”

“Understood,” replied Bourke. “Do you know if the pilots got out a distress call?”

“They did, sir. But the ETA for evac is 15 days. We have enough food, but the transport’s water tank ruptured on impact. We only have enough potable water for a couple of days.”

“That shouldn’t be too big a problem, Corporal. This may be an arid planet, but I can see an oasis in the distance. It can’t be more that a couple of klicks from here.”

“Yes, sir. But according to the planetary briefs, the oases on Inculta are all guarded by an unidentified apex predator. It is strongly recommended that they not be entered.”

“Need I remind you, mister, that we are United Earth Marines? We are the galaxy’s ultimate apex predator. Now, take a squad and recon the oasis and report back.”

Several hours later, Lance Corporal Swensholm approached Bourke. “Sir,” she said, “Corporal Kuroki reported in. He said he found a small lake in the center of the oasis. Then we lost contact. I haven’t been able to raise anyone in his squad.”

Getting more angry than concerned, he said “Instruct Sergeant First Class Craddock to take a phaser platoon to the oasis and burn a thirty meter wide path to the lake. Tell him to locate Kuroki’s squad and secure access to the lake using whatever force he deems necessary. And just to cover all the bases, have the maintenance engineers uncrate a few Samson Assault Vehicles and stage them just outside the oasis.”

The following morning, Bourke stood in the open turret hatch of a Mark III Samson. He surveyed the still smoldering path that his platoon has scorched through the dense overgrowth of the oasis. He could see the glistening lake less than a kilometer away. “Still no contact with Kuroki’s or Craddock’s teams?” he asked.

“No, sir,” replied Swensholm. “It’s like they simply vanished. Sir, do you really think there’s an apex predator in there?”

“Unsure, Swensholm, but I’m going to find out.” With Bourke in the lead Samson, the three assault vehicles began to move single file down the center of the newly created path. As the Samsons lumbered toward the lake, the rapidly rotating proximity sensors scanned the nearby vegetation for any evidence of alien creatures. The radar controlled pulse cannons were set to automatically discharge at the first sign of any predator more that 50% larger than a human being. When the vehicles pulled up to the lake, Bourke spotted a dozen soldiers lying on the ground. He drew his hand phaser and swept a 360 degree arc, looking for something to shoot at. To his disappointment, he saw nothing. He climbed down from the Samson and approached his fallen men. Although their body armor was unscathed, there was nothing left of his men but skeletons, as though their flesh had been consumed by acid. One soldier lay on his back, his hollow eye sockets staring upward. Suddenly, a stabbing pain shot up Bourke right arm. He instinctively slapped at a mosquito-like insect on his right hand. Unaffected by the blow, the insect continued walking toward his forearm. “What the Hell?” He was dead before his body hit the ground.


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