Age of Cosmic Exploration – Chapter 27

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The Landing of the Hope!

 

Just what kind of monstrosity was this?

 

A creature like this didn’t feel like it belonged to reality, it was more like something from a horror story!

 

The thing was as flat as paper an noticeably lacked eyes as well as any other external organs which could be used to indicate its front and rear. The only thing that differentiated it from being a flimsy paper was the needle-like apparatuses that grew out its periphery. These needles were exceptionally thin but nowhere near as fragile as a hypodermic needle. This was proven when it pierced through a heavily-padded space suit like it was nothing.

 

The element that propelled it to stuff of nightmares though was its “children,” the mini versions of itself. These creatures were as small as a grown man’s palm but could move as fast as lightning. Their incredible speed as well as their small size were huge factors in helping them evade the bullet storm. Even though half of these creatures were taken down by the party’s unceasing fire, around seven or eight of them managed to survive the hail of bullets and ended up attacking Ebon and a few other soldiers that were at the forefront.

 

At this moment, Ebon had a curious out-of-body feeling. It was as if the world had imploded upon itself. Every sound and diversion around him was drained with the exception of his own heartbeat and a visceral surge of hunger that was flying towards him…

 

Yes, a visceral hunger, a hunger that could only be felt after years of starvation. It was an undisguised and unfettered feeling of hungering malice!

 

A strange sensation clouded Ebon’s psyche right then. With a mind that was not his own, he dropped his assault rifle to swap for his pistol. He heard a voice telling him that the pistol was much more effective in close-range shooting. The rifle would have shaken too much, ruining his aim.

 

Launching forward like a bullet, the small creatures were so fast that only the few highly trained scouts were able to catch their movements. To be able to spot them was, however, a completely different matter from being able to stop them. The creatures were already several meters away from their location when Ebon suddenly dropped his rifle.

 

Bang, bang, bang!

 

In the next instance, Ebon unloaded three rounds and three creatures burst in mid-air. Without taking a moment to breath, Ebon took a leap backwards, and not a moment sooner, a creature landed before his feet. Before it could recollect itself, Ebon gave it a relentless stomping.

 

The creature, dangerous as it was, was a newborn after all, so its shell hadn’t had the time to harden. Unable to bear Ebon’s weight, it was easily squished into a pulp.

 

The other four soldiers were not as lucky as Ebon. Their rifles were too unwieldy to take down the creatures that were closing in, so in a blink of an eye, the creatures latched onto the men’s suits and deployed their needles. Amidst the men’s helpless cries, the creatures bloomed from their initial palm size into something as big as a car tire, and they showed no observable signs of slowing down. The men slowly shrunk before everyone’s eyes.  

 

Taking no time to dally around, Ying shouted his commands. “Retreat! Everyone, retreat back into the shuttle! That includes you, Ebon! Get back in here!”

 

Further away, the big creature’s body ballooned up once more. Another dozen of its “babies” scurried out from underneath its belly as it deflated. The newborns floated across the sand towards the retreating party. Abandoning their victims that had already been completely sucked dry, the first batch of the creatures joined in the pursuit. Even though all of them were paper thin, the difference in size between the two batches was obvious; the newborns were still palm-sized but the older group was already one meter wide and one meter long.

 

Even though the party was retreating, they had never ceased shooting as they were working to clear a path for their comrades. All of a sudden, Ebon let out an agonizing scream. Before everyone’s eyes, the leg that he had used to stomp the small creature started smoking. It seemed like the creature’s bodily fluids were incredibly corrosive. The toxin did a quick work on Ebon; before the man even dropped to the ground, his left calf had been wholly eaten away.

 

At the same time, a few of the bigger “children” were still gliding towards the party. Ying and Liu Bai exchanged a look and then instinctively moved forth to rescue Ebon. As he was doing so, Ying felt an overbearing silence submerging his surroundings, rooting him to the ground. Within that silence, time slowed to a crawl and he found himself able to see everything with much greater clarity. Training his eyes on the big creature furthest away, he found himself with a clear vision of it, down to the patterns it had on its brown shell. He had a complete visual of the panorama around him; from the sand lifted off Liu Bai’s boots, to the bedlam behind him as people stumbled into the shuttle; from Ebon, who was crawling on his arms towards them, to the needles that the creatures were using as paddles to glide rapidly over the sand.

 

He was presented with a clear picture of everything around him with the option to zoom in at any location at will. Subconsciously, he dropped his assault rifle in exchange for the sniper rifle on his back. Without the aid of a scope, he unloaded numerous rounds into the distance. The rate that he was firing at could be compared to that of an assault rifle. As the sound of gunfire came to a close, Liu Bai was already at Ebon’s side. Shouldering Ebon’s massive weight, both of them struggled towards the shuttle.

 

On the other hand, the few soldiers who were standing guard at the shuttle door as well as Zhang Heng, who had been shaking in fear, were in a complete daze because every round fired by Ying shot right through the centers of the many one-meter-wide creatures. Every single one of them pirouetted for a few moments in the air before falling inanimately to the ground.

 

Ying himself was shocked by his marksmanship, but without allowing himself the time for shock, he ran towards Liu Bai to help him carry Ebon. As the three finally careened through the shuttle door, it slammed shut.

 

It was then that the party had the time to reflect over the nightmare that they had just encountered. The cries of their friends and their mummified portraits were still vivid in their minds.

 

“…Are those aliens?” asked a shivering Zhang Heng in a timorous voice.

 

The question fell unto a quiet room with everyone still trapped in their abhorrent memories. The uneasy silence was shattered by Ebon’s sudden moan of pain. Liu Bai immediately yelled, “Guys, help me carry Ebon into the inner chamber, and remove his space suit!”

 

Everyone moved to heed Liu Bai’s orders. After they removed Ebon’s suit, the party was greeted with a nasty surprise. The place where Ebon’s left calf was supposed to be was nothing but a stump that ended with a mess of bones, tendons, and blood vessels. On it still remained some of the acid, burning away and releasing an uncomfortable sizzling sound.

 

The seriousness of the prognosis was written all over Liu Bai’s face. He uttered no words as he leaned to reach his medicine kit. After extracting a surgical knife from within it, he said, with much difficulty, “Ebon, old friend, hang in there and don’t you dare fall asleep! You’ve lost a lot of blood and are seriously dehydrated, but I’m sure you can pull through. No matter what, just focus on my voice and keep yourself awake!”

 

An ashen-faced Ebon replied listlessly, “Do what you have to do. I know it’s not my day today, so don’t worry. The name’s Ebon for a reason; the life’s as tough as its namesake.”

 

Liu Bai turned to exchange a signal with Ying, who then walked over and inserted a part of Ebon’s spacesuit into Ebon’s mouth. Then Liu Bai sawed Ebon’s infected leg. Pieces of muscle and bones fell off until there were no longer any sounds of corrosion. Liu Bai quickly retrieved a container with white powder from his kit and applied the powder over Ebon’s leg. After that, he quickly bandaged it and moved to check up on Ebon.

 

True to his word, even without anesthetic, Ebon had endured through the surgery. He came out of it fully exhausted with barely any energy left to move a muscle.

 

One of the scientists broke free of their cowering huddle and went over to the spot where Ebon’s discarded flesh had fallen. To his dismay, the flesh had sunken several centimeters into the floor. It was obvious how corrosive the creature’s bodily fluid was.

 

“This is some strong acid. It’s not blood but acid that flows through these alien creatures’ bodies…” commented the scientist before turning to address Ying. “It’s necessary to bring him back to the Hope to conduct a full blood test. This is the first time we come into contact with an alien species that could produce such a level of acidity. We can’t remove the possibility of it containing latent toxins, so to be safe…”

 

Ying sighed. “That is easier said than done. If we could access the amenities on the Hope, we wouldn’t still be stuck here now…”

 

That squelched any semblance of hope present within the party. They were still hopelessly stranded on the planet, but they didn’t have the monstrosities outside the door to deal with before…

 

Ying stole a glance at Zhang Heng and sighed as he said, “We have no supply of energy left, so the communicator is non-operational, but we have to stop the Hope from coming here. Even if we all die, there will only be thirty-two deaths, but there are twelve million people on the Hope, including our families and friends. We must…”

 

Right then, a series of beeps issued from the shuttle’s control panel, giving everyone a shock. As Ying rushed towards it, he asked Zhang Heng, “Is that communication from the Hope? Tell me!”

 

With a complicated expression, Zhang Heng replied, “No, that’s… it just means a shuttle is flying towards us; it’s pinging us of their proximity through sonar relay. Plus, as you’ve said, we have no energy left, so the communicator can’t even be powered up.”

 

Everyone stared blankly at Zhang Heng, trying to wrap their heads around the words he had just said. Meanwhile, Liu Bai was caught murmuring to himself, “So a shuttle is flying towards us… According to a previous update, as long as they have proven the anti-gravitational system was indeed weakened by electrical resistance, the Hope will…”

 

“The Hope will land here soon?!”

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