The grass bent beneath his boots as he stepped outside of the ribbon box. What would it feel like if he went bare foot? Wet? Raspy? Like carpet? Green spread out all around them, welcoming them to the small island. Why was grass green? Kaleb took off his helmet and took a whiff of the air. So fresh, so salty. The ocean roared in the distance, jealous of the attention the grass received.
“That’s dangerous, you know,” his partner Foelhe commented, walking past him.
Kaleb shrugged. “If anything happens to this piece of property, they’ll sew me right back up, and probably stick so many needles in my behind, I’ll look like one of those…what are they called again?”
“Yeah, one of those.” He looked around, finally focusing on the sky. Bluer than the ocean. Sure was different than from where he was from. “Think we’ll see one of them?”
“Doubt it. They probably don’t exist on this planet.”
“Stop playing around, you two, we have a mission to fulfill,” said Dalin, forty meters away, walking on the beach with his own partner. His voice sounded muffled, coming from the headset inside the helmet Kaleb was carrying. Foelhe shook his head as Kaleb sheepishly put it back on.
The two of them walked in silence until they reached the edge of the water. No sign of threats. Maybe it wasn’t so dangerous here as most people thought. It certainly didn’t look to be harboring danger. Kaleb watched the ocean steal his footprints from the beach.
“Call down the ATV, this island looks to be uninhabited, but to the northwest, satellites suggest there are people living there. A wonder they never made it to this one.” Foelhe tapped something on his wrist. Kaleb did the same, instructing the vehicle to drive over and deposit the boat in the water. He didn’t like the rubbery foam molding to his head nor the plastic visor that was fogging up.
A few moments later, they were speeding to the northwest. There were six of them altogether, three companionships. The boat went fast enough to see the next island growing on the horizon, but the fish in the water were dark blurs. Not even the screen in his visor could identify them quickly enough. Governmentally issued, they were.
The ocean stretched out as far as they could see, no less infinite than the stars. Each wave glistened in the sun like a show of lights. Kaleb sighed. What would it be like to immerse himself under that surface, without any body armor on? Opposite the empty vacuum of space, being filled instead of emptied? He couldn’t believe he was here; it didn’t feel real. So close to a world that touched each sense, yet a barrier that held him back.
Other, larger shapes began swimming after their boats. The shapes couldn’t keep up, but it was obvious they were trying. They weren’t just fish. Still, the screen couldn’t identify them. Either it wasn’t advanced enough to cut through the interference of the water, or there was no file archived with information on these creatures.
“What do you think those are?” he asked Foelhe. The only response was a shake of the head within his helmet. The others didn’t seem interested either.
Soon they reached the beach, this time not covered in fine sand but in larger pebbles. Some of the rocks seemed sharp enough to cut open his feet, if he ran barefoot. Kaleb stepped out, his feet creating small holes that filled themselves up with rocks and water as soon as he left. His past prints on the world were being erased along with the past. He only existed in the present.
It seemed calm at first, but there was tension in the air, penetrating their helmets. No one said anything, although Foelhe kept his hand at his side, fingers clutching the handle reflexively.
The first sign of intelligent life was a broken spear hidden in the rocks. At first it looked like a wet stick from one of the trees, but the screen pointed out that there was a sharp rock tied to it. It also pointed out that something had urinated on it five hours ago, as well as a multitude of other useless details. But it couldn’t tell him what had been following them.
“Is this an accurate level of their technology?” Dalin asked, more to himself. “I wish those up high would have shared the classified with us.”
They stood there for a few moments, observing the spear, as if it would suddenly start talking to them. Kaleb felt impatient. There was life out there, waiting for them, but no one could get past the spear and begin contact.
“Come on, Foelhe,” he said on the private channel. His partner looked at him wearily, sighed, and started following him to the growth at the edge of the beach. The others glanced at them, but then went back to analyzing the spear.
As soon as he parted the first leaves, longer than his body, the alarms went off in his suit. At first, he thought it was danger in front of him, but after a moment with nothing happening, he realized the danger was behind. Swiveling, he found Foelhe already rushing back to the others. The waves were high, nearly engulfing the ATVs. Strange. Then his screen pointed out the obvious. There were more than five others on the beach with him. There looked to be about ten, with more coming from the sea.
These fish had hands, feet, and heads like humans. Except they were blue, with white stomachs and they were covered in fins, including their faces, replacing their hair. Crawling out of the water, they started rising onto their back legs. Some wore basic loin cloths, others nothing, although there didn’t seem to be anything to see.
A few looked feminine, but it wasn’t as obvious as it would be on humans. His screen pulled up close ups of one of the faces. It was smiling, but with the sharpened teeth, the smile looked devious and dangerous. They approached the men with little apparent fear.
One got close to Dalin and spread his arms wide, still with that toothy grin, Dalin raised his gun, but the creature just took hold of it, and shook it, like it was shaking a hand. It was either mocking Dalin, or really playful and innocent. Dalin took it as the former.
“Get away from me, you monster!” he screamed. Kaleb heard it over the channel, but whether the actual creature did, he wasn’t certain. Dalin pulled his gun back and aimed it at the blue humanoid.