I didn’t know what I was thinking. So many people told me, “Jessie it won’t be a big deal, just go out on a few expeditions and you will have tuition money for college.” They were wrong. The hours were long and torturous. Captain Henson could be insufferable at times, getting angry over nothing. I guessed that was what they taught him a captain should do at the academy. Many of the guys in the outfit were nice and respectful, some of them overly so. Ken Wilkins was always opening doors for me and smiling a bit too much. I think he had a thing for me. Then there were the men that couldn’t seem to get over the fact that women could now join army expedition teams for galactic expeditions, even though it had been a thousand years since women were first allowed to join the army. Specifically, that was meant for James Perry, a big, dumb heap of muscle-perfect for the army as long as he had got superior officers to do most of the thinking for him. He was constantly making inappropriate comments like,
"I'm not sure if there's going to be a place to get your nails done on planet Karkast."
That was not the worst of it. I had caught him on more than a few occasions looking at my butt. I did the best I could to cover up and de-emphasize my femininity for those men that couldn’t control themselves. I tied my hair back, didn’t use makeup and wore the same unattractive uniform donned by everyone else. It didn’t seem to matter to types like James who probably hadn’t seen any action in light years.
To tell the truth, if it wasn’t for my best friend, Wendy Langston, I wouldn’t have been able to tolerate this situation at all. We both agreed that we would join the army together to pay for college, knowing that we would both have some crazy stories to tell everyone back home once we had down a few tours of duty. How was I to know that I would only make it to one tour that wouldn’t even be completed? Now I was considered by many to be a traitor for reasons that I would reveal in time.
Our first mission after Wendy and I joined was to explore the planet, Karkast. Karkast was a grayish, blue planet that was very Earth-like in its appearance when you were out in space. There were large swirling masses of clouds that looked just like the storm systems that affected Earth. However, the blue color of the planet was a darker more metallic blue. I was told Karkast got this shade from its unique chemical composition. On this strange planet you did not find sodium, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and other common Earth elements. The elements on Karkast had no human name. They engaged in distinctive chemical reactions unlike any you had ever seen before. As soon as you surfaced you realized that you were not in Kansas anymore. Most of the surface was barren and rocky, although there were lakes and rivers of something resembling water that dotted the landscape. This mysterious state of matter was both liquid and solid, kind of like many the colloids we had on Earth. Also, the surface was prone to violent upheavals such as geysers and volcanoes the size of Mt. Everest. It was an unforgiving landscape that was similar to the Earth during its most early stages of existence.
Karkastians made their homes in a variety of ways. The poorer of their kind lived amongst the rocks, carving out dwellings that were telltale when you saw round windows carved in the stone. The more well-off lived in hover dwellings that were suspended high enough in the air to avoid any of the discomforts of life on the ground such as the frequent tremors. One would think that a society that was supposedly more advanced than our own would have solved these differences in inequality. However, Karkast seemed to prove that evolution and technology couldn’t solve the problem of wealth disparity.
Both the rich and the poor were affected when a planet was under attack. We landed on the surface of Karkast to see a smoke-dotted landscape, which made the planet look even more desolate than it already did. It kind of reminded me of Nevada, except with a more grayish blue tint. The desolation was only interrupted here and there by tall, rocky mountains devoid of vegetation and columns, and spires made of rock that would give Utah a run for its money. The Karkastians were attacked by the Sarceastians, which are a phantom-like race of beings that brought destruction in their wake throughout the known universe. Although I had never seen a Sarceastian, Ken who had been on a previous mission had encountered them. He said they looked like something out of a nightmare, not unlike the Nazgul from the ancient book, The Lord of the Rings. Now all that was left, for the most part, were smoldering ruins. Our mission was to see if there were any survivors and capture them. If they resisted our efforts in any way, they were to be eviscerated. Ah, such inspirational work.
Did I mention I was an artist? It was funny to think that a girl from Tennessee who just wanted to be a sculptor would end up out here with these scoundrels, holding a gigantic laser cannon. The answer, of course, was money or lack thereof. By the year 2978, college tuition had soared to $50k per semester. My parents, being artists themselves, couldn't afford such luxuries. I won awards throughout high school and even had my own exhibition in my hometown of Linden. Now I was determined to get into a prestigious art academy once I got tuition money in my hot little hands. First, however, I would need to survive the army.
After we landed on Karkast, we were sent out on expeditions in teams of eight. I was both excited that Wendy was on my team. I was also less than thrilled to have both the captain and James on it as well. I guess the captain had some old fashioned notion that he needed to protect us, as girls. As our team prepared to leave the landing capsule, colored army green, of course, I couldn't help but open my big mouth.
“I just don’t get it. Why is a whole planet declared evil because of the actions of three rogue citizens that decided to commit acts of terrorism?” I said.
Captain Hensen rubbed his shaved head, frowned up and turned to face me.
“Private Hampton, you would do well to keep your trap shut with opinions like that one. The Karkastians are our enemies and that’s it. Keep your mind on your mission and your opinion to yourself!” he barked.
I looked back at Wendy and rolled my eyes. She agreed with my point of view, but chose to remain silent in order to avoid the wrath of the captain. About a year ago, three Karkastians went on a kamikaze-style mission in order to bring about as much devastation on Earth as possible. Each one crashed their landing pods into three different cities: New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, trying to inflict as many casualties as possible. Two hundred thousand casualties resulted from the attacks. About ten years ago, the Earth council decided to increase tariffs on the Karkastians to such a degree that it was crippling for them. Earth at one time was their biggest trading partner. Their planet was rich in minerals and resources that had become scarce on our own planet. It also contained undiscovered ones that our scientists were anxious to study. This action spawned anti-Earth sentiment amongst the Karkastians, understandably enough. Only a few individuals took it upon themselves to attack Earth. Now the entire planet was considered to be a planet of terrorists.
We proceeded across the empty, barren landscape with our protective suits. The atmosphere of Karkast was full of a heady stew of noxious gasses. All around us were smoldering remains of rocky dwellings and hovered dwellings that had been attacked from above. It seemed that the Sarceastians had done a pretty thorough job of effectively destroying all life on this planet. Some of the rocky dwellings were blasted open so that you could see the contents. You could see pictures, what looked to be blankets and other personal items strewn about the floor. It could be a poor human’s home back on Earth. Hovering above the violent surface were the dwellings of the most privileged in their society. The rooms were more spacious and open and the furniture looked to be more expensive. A hover dwelling was also more likely to have an expensive hovercraft parked outside of it. Nevertheless, many of these homes had been destroyed as well.
“Looks like the Sarceastians did a hell of a job,” James said in a husky voice.
"A hell of a job wreaking havoc. Let's just hope their next target isn't Earth," I said, unable to keep my mouth shut when comments of this nature were made.
“You can sympathize with these people all you want, it won’t bring them back. The Sarceastians did us a favor bombing this breeding ground for terrorists,” James replied.
I was about to retort when Wendy tapped me on the shoulder and shook her head, implying that I shouldn’t egg him on. I knew she was right, so I kept my mouth shut.
Just when we began to think that we weren’t going to encounter anyone, we saw some movement up ahead near a large rocky outcrop. Something had ducked behind the rocks when it saw us approaching.
"Stay back behind us." The captain said to Wendy and me.
This made me furious because I knew I was just as capable a soldier as any of the rest of them. Despite the fact that training had been difficult, I was mentally and physically just as prepared for the mission as any of my male counterparts. The captain put his back to the rock and prepared to go around the corner and point his laser cannon directly at the individual behind the rocks. As soon as he came around the corner he yelled.
"FREEZE!" We could see a bluish vapor rise into the air and then dissipate off into the distance. Then, in a blink of an eye, the vapor became a tall, cyan blue figure with two muscular arms wearing strange clothes. It ran into what looked to be a cave of sorts about a hundred yards away. It was just a small opening at the bottom of a rocky hill, barely tall enough to walk through without having to duck your head.
“He transformed. I forgot that these maggots could do that. This might be trickier than I planned. James, go and fetch the phasinator so we can keep him from doing that again. We waited behind the rocks until James came back with the device that had a long wand that terminated in a disk-shape. It was not unlike the ancient metal detectors that people used in ages past.
Once we had this device, we advanced towards the cave that the creature had ducked into.
Hide we are coming for you I thought to myself, thinking that the creature could have been some innocent citizen caught up in the aftermath of war.
We entered the dark cave. All around us we could hear dripping noises as a musty smell entered our nostrils. Somewhere in the darkness, a stream full of colloidal material could be heard making a gurgling sound. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we could see amazing rock formations above our heads. Long stalactites hung from the ceiling resembling long spears or spirals. The walls were mostly smooth rock. Wendy and I were bringing up the rear, of course. We went down a stuffy passage that led deep underground. After a while, we could hear the creature breathing in the darkness up ahead. Then, we saw a shadow dart off to our right where a narrow passage led upwards.
“I’m going in after him,” James said as if it were a real act of heroism.
He ran after the creature, which turned around to look at James. As soon as it saw him, the creature began to turn to vapor. James turned the phasinator on full blast and the creature froze in his current form.
“Stop right there and come with us!” James spoke into his dialector, transforming his speech into Karkastian. The device was attached to a headset with a tiny microphone attached. He pointed his laser cannon at the creature, which threw up his hands.
The creature looked panicked and didn’t seem to trust that James wouldn’t shoot it. It chose to try and run again, turning its back on James. James fired his laser cannon, filling the dark chamber with bright blue light. The creature screeched so loudly we had to clutch our ears. It was vaporized in the blink of an eye. James turned around to face us like a conquering hero.
“Well that will take care of that. One less terrorist that Earth will not have to worry about,” he said with a smile.
The captain was neither pleased nor disappointed. He simply said:
"Remember, we need to try and capture them if we can- those are our orders."
“Well you saw how willing he was to surrender,” James said.
“And your laser cannon doesn’t have a stun setting like mine?” I said angrily.
“I didn’t have time to think about that,” he said.
“Too bad you don’t take the time to think in most instances,” I darted back. Wendy looked back at me as if she said I should quit. James took a step towards me as if he might knock me down.
“Enough you two, let’s get out of here. We need to check the rest of this sector for signs of life,” the captain said.
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” James mumbled under his breath. “It was just a Karkastian.”
I shot him an evil glare, but kept my mouth shut.