Previously, Giorgio Pinto brought his high school Botany class to the planet surface from Divine Scepter. Upon their arrival, they met Tanya Sablicksen, a former student of Pinto’s.
“Class, I’d like you to meet Tanya Sablicksen, a former student of mine, and now assistant to Director Hodge. Tanya?”
“Thanks, Mr. Pinto, happy to see you again. Class, welcome to Genesis City – such as it is!” She pointed to the ground, “As you know, this area of the planet has green soil – unlike the brown lands of Earth. We’re running a little late, so please follow me to the HQ building – we call it ‘Hodge House,’ but not in front of the Director!
Five minutes later they assembled in the conference area inside HQ, listening to the Director’s welcome address. He briefed them about the reason for their Marine security detail and asked them not to engage the soldiers in conversation. They had to maintain their focus and discipline. Jonathan caught his teacher’s eye and shrugged in resignation.
“The air here has an acidic bite to it, but we don’t need any breathing apparatus, according to our medical staff. So don’t worry, you’ll adjust.” Hodge gave them a smile of confidence. “Any questions before you head out to the jungle?”
Barbara DeBrooke flagged down the Director. “Sir, we’re here to collect plant specimens, but are there any life forms we should avoid out there?”
“It’s okay, Barb, we have Marines with guns to protect you!” Joey Stillman grinned at his buddies after delivering that line. Pinto rolled his eyes and shook his head.
Hodge smiled as he took in the friendly verbal taunt. He had raised teenaged children of his own, so he felt quite at home with this group and waited until the laughter faded. “Your friend is partially correct, Barb. You see, your marine detail has orders to give priority to protecting the female members of the group. I’m afraid he (indicating Stillman) might be on his own!” That prompted another round of catcalls directed at Stillman.
Smiling indulgently, the Director held up his hand for quiet. The students complied quickly. “I’m off to a meeting now, but Miss Sablicksen has generously volunteered to escort you until it is time to depart for Divine Scepter. Have a great experience!” With that, he shook hands with Pinto, waved to Sablicksen and left the room.
When they emerged from HQ, they found two treaded military vehicles waiting for them. The class was divided, and each adult chaperone took charge of a group. A detail of twelve Marines met them at the jungle’s edge and avoided eye contact with the students. After consulting with Pinto and Sablicksen, the commander led five Marines on point duty and assigned the other six to serve as their rearguard. Their serious comportment sobered the mood of the class. They all had their jobs to do.
The Marines took the students almost a kilometer into the jungle where there was a picturesque waterfall. After conferring with Pinto and Sablicksen, the commander instructed his detail to set up a perimeter. The students had instructions to collect specimens inside this boundary. They had heard the story of the black creatures, so they were hesitant to test the rule. The top of the waterfall was only thirty feet above the stream below and within the assigned perimeter.
Carol and Barb decided to climb the bank to the top of the falls to check out some attractive foliage. Barb scrambled to the top first, braced herself by holding a tree limb with one hand, and reached for Carol’s hand with the other. The detail commander, standing twenty meters away, watched their ascent with growing concern, noting their foot gear was inappropriate for that kind of climb.
“Here, Carol. Grab my hand.” Carol reached up and clutched her friend’s outstretched hand. As she grabbed it, she saw a black snout emerge from the bush behind Barb. She screamed, pulled away instinctively, lost her balance and pulled both of them into the rushing water. Alerted by the scream, the commander fired twice as the animal growled and bared its teeth.
Stay tuned for the next post!