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Exploration Team TS: The Sands of HD 5251983-A

A small white spacecraft landed on the surface of a desert planet orbiting the red dwarf star HD 5251983. A team of four beautiful women in colorful bodysuits emerged from the vessel and stepped onto the surface. They came from Otrera Prima, a planet inhabited entirely by human women and part of the Technocracy of Vega. These four women made up Exploration Team TS, one of many such teams established by the Otrera Institute of Exploration and Archaeology. Their purpose was to gather artifacts from distant worlds and bring them back for study.

The leader of the team was Yuko Reinhard. She was 40 years older than her subordinates, but thanks to longevity technology, she was just as lively and youthful as them. Her long golden hair glistened in the light of the small red star, and her white bodysuit gleamed just as bright. The atmosphere was uncomfortably dry and warm but breathable, so they didn’t need helmets or life support systems. All around her was almost featureless sandy desert, but off in the distance, near some rocky outcroppings, she could see the remains of tan stone structures. Their finer details were worn away by the abrasive winds over millions of years, but she could tell by their unique design that they were Eridun ruins.

She turned to the other three members of the team, hands on her hips. “Alright, girls. Are you ready for your first mission?”

Sandy Simon ran a graceful hand through her long red hair and put on a confident smile. “I’m ready.”

“Hey Sandy,” said Alexa Schwartz with a cheeky grin, “try not to get your hair all sandy.”

“Oh shut up,” Sandy said, half cheerful, half annoyed.

Chloe Santorini looked up, squinted her blue eyes, and used her hand to shield her pale face from the rays of the red star. “I should have brought some sunscreen.”

“Maybe you’ll become as brown as me,” Alexa said, still grinning.

Chloe rolled her eyes. Looking at the vast stretches of sand made her wish she was lounging at the beaches back home.

“Okay,” Yuko said, “enough fooling around. I hope you all remembered your briefing. One of our scouting probes revealed the location of a ruined Eridun city. Our job is to explore the area and secure any remarkable artifacts we find. No hostile lifeforms were found during the planet scan, so it shouldn’t be too hard. Now let’s go make our planet proud.”

The other girls nodded and they made their way to the ruins off in the distance. When they reached the outcroppings, Sandy tripped and fell face first into the sand.

Chloe gasped and knelt down beside her. “Are you alright?”

Sandy spit out some sand. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

Alexa chuckled. “You got all sandy, Sandy.”

“Would you cut that out?” Sandy said, annoyed. She looked at where she had tripped and noticed a small mound of sand rise, then sink.

“Did you see that?” she said, pointing at the now flat section of sand.

“See what?” Chloe asked.

“I think there’s something lurking beneath the sand.”

Alexa walked to the area in question for a closer look, then walked back. “Are you sure you saw something?”

Yuko approached. “It was probably just a rock.” She pulled Sandy back onto her feet and brushed the sand off her green bodysuit. “Come on. Let’s go collect some artifacts.”

Sandy nodded. They split up and explored the ruins. Chloe took note of a large cylindrical structure that once served as a water treatment plant. Sandy explored the remains of a government building, in which she found a functioning Eridun digital tablet. Most of the data was too corrupted to be translated, but the lines that could be read described the planet on which they were standing as green and full of life. Alexa used her strength to gather up as many ceramic art pieces as she could. The artifacts were loaded onto a robotic dolly which then took them back to the ship.

As Yuko strolled through the ancient city streets, she noticed a pinkish brown worm-like creature the size of a baseball bat emerge from the sand and crawl around. When she tried to get a closer look, it went below the surface again. She thought it was odd that such a dry and desolate planet could host such large animals. She wondered if there were secret underground aquifers where life thrived. Then she wondered if larger lifeforms were around. That thought made her shudder, for it reminded her of an unfortunate incident that happened over ten years ago. Intel told the team she was a member of that the lifeforms on a jungle world they were tasked with exploring posed no threat. A few hours into their expedition, they were beset by a large tentacled plant. Her laser pistol proved useless against it, so she ran. She managed to get away, but all the other members, including their leader, were grabbed and swallowed whole. They were presumed dead. Every day after that, she wished the institute had given her a bigger gun.

She shook her head, throwing the thought out of her mind. She promised to not let anything like that happen again. She would do everything in her power to get her team back home safe and sound.

Several hours had passed. This was hard for the girls to tell based on mere observation, for the planet was tidally locked to its star. Yuko called the others to the center of the ruined city. There they found a large building made of black stone.

“I remember you telling me about structures like this,” Sandy said. “These were temples, right?”

“Correct,” Yuko said. “Since this one is made of black stone, it means it was built during the twilight years of the Eridun Empire. The early ones were made of white stone.”

“Isn’t it true that bad things happened to explorations teams that went near black stone buildings like this?” Chloe asked.

“It is true that unfortunate incidents befell those teams,” Yuko replied, “but those can be chalked up to coincidence.” She looked up at the structure to hide her raised eyebrows and slightly frowning lips.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Alexa said, pulling out her laser pistol. “Besides, if anything gives us any trouble, I’ll give ‘em one of these.” She pointed her gun at the ruins and then put it back in the holster.

They slowly walked into the temple. Many of the other buildings in the city were reduced to mere stone and metal outlines, but the black stone structure was remarkably well-preserved, save for the gold-painted letters that faded away long ago. At the far end of the building was a black marble altar, which still retained its polish after many eons. In the center of the altar was a black dagger, glossy as obsidian. Yuko picked it up and examined the purple inscription on the fuller. The other three leaned forward and looked at it with intrigue.

“What does it say?” Chloe asked.

Yuko squinted at the cuneiform letters. “It says, ‘Hail Ashmodai.’”

“Who’s Ashmodai?” Alexa asked.

Yuko scratched her chin. “I remember seeing that name in several Eridun inscriptions and digital tablets. Our research tells us that he was an extremely powerful being who was worshiped as a god by some Eridun during the last years of their empire. They-” She trailed off as she stared at the inscription. The purple colors mesmerized her.

“What do you want us to do now?” Sandy asked.

The team leader snapped out of her trance and turned her head. “Let’s head back to the ship. I’m certain the institute will be pleased by all the artifacts we gathered.” She attached the blade to her belt and they left the temple.

As they passed between the rocky outcroppings, Alexa asked, “So Yuko, why were you looking at that blade so intensely?”

Yuko stopped. “Oh, the blade?” She grabbed it and looked at it again. “I’ve just never seen anything like it, that’s all.”

Unbeknownst to them, pinkish brown tentacles emerged from the ground. They quickly slid towards Sandy and Chloe and coiled up their slender legs. The sand near them gave way, revealing a gaping maw twelve feet wide and six feet deep. Before either of them knew it, they were being dragged across the sands on their stomachs. They screamed as they were pulled into the mouth and down the giant monster’s narrow throat. The stomach was dark, save for a shaft of light in the center that came down from the esophagus. Once their daze cleared, their ears were assaulted by a disgusting wriggling sound. The floor, walls, and ceiling were covered in tentacles. As the monster’s smooth appendages wrapped around their slim bodies, the girls began to panic.

“Sandy!” Alexa cried. “Chloe! Don’t worry! I’ll save you!”

She drew her laser pistol and jumped into the creature’s maw. Once she was down in the stomach, she started shooting wildly at the floor. The tentacles immediately reacted by slapping the gun out of her hands, wrapping around her waist, and pulling her up against the wall. Two more secured her legs and another wrapped around her neck. She tried to pull off the tentacle around her throat, but two more restrained her arms.

“It’s useless,” Sandy said as more tentacles wrapped around her. “They’re too strong.”

“I was hoping to go shopping when we got back,” Chloe said with tears in her eyes, “but now I’m gonna be some monster’s snack.”

Yuko looked down into the mouth, her eyes wide with terror. She didn’t know what to do. She wanted to dive in and save them, but she knew the tentacles would quickly overwhelm her. She wished the Institute had given her weaponry suitable for a situation like this. Six tentacles emerged from the throat and pointed their tips at her, ready to strike. She drew her laser pistol and started firing frantically, scoring direct hits on all of them. They retracted, but a dozen more emerged and lunged at her. She dove to the side and kept firing, striking six more. Just as she got back on her feet, the gun was swatted out of her hand. She tried to make a run for it, but the tentacles were faster. They grabbed her legs and started dragging her to the mouth.

As she was being pulled to the rim, she thought she was done for. But then she remembered she still had that Eridun dagger. In a last ditch effort to save herself, she grabbed it and started slashing the tentacles. They relinquished her and retracted back down the throat. She looked at the dagger and wondered if those tentacles were afraid of it. Remembering the urgency of the situation, she felt it was best to save those questions for later. She jumped into the mouth and slid down the slimy throat.

The other three girls let out muffled screams as they were being cocooned by the tentacles. Yuko landed in the center of the stomach. Tentacles lunged at her, but when the pointed the dagger at them, they backed away and retracted into the walls. She then used the blade to free the girls from their restraints.

“You saved us,” Chloe said as she got back on her feet, “but how are we going to get out of here?”

They looked up and saw that the throat was barely out of reach. Yuko scratched her chin, then had Alexa stand in the center. She then climbed onto her subordinate’s shoulders, grabbed the walls of the throat, and pulled herself up the narrow passage. The fleshy surface was so slippery she could barely hang on, but through sheer determination, she managed to climb up and onto the rubbery floor of the mouth. Sandy imitated her superior. Chloe followed shortly after. She nearly lost her grip and fell back in, but Sandy grabbed her hand and pulled her out.

Alexa looked around and saw that the tentacles on the floor were still wriggling. She looked up and called out, “Please hurry.”

Yuko grabbed Sandy’s ankles and lowered her down into the stomach. A few of the tentacles on the floor began to slowly rise. Just as they were about to pounce, Alexa jumped and grabbed Sandy’s hands and Yuko used all her might to pull them out. Escaping from the mouth was much more trivial. Alexa lifted Yuko onto the sand, then the team leader pulled out the other three. They then ran to the ship and secured themselves inside.

Yuko got in the captain’s seat and prepared for takeoff, but then they felt a rumbling beneath them. A few seconds later, the ship started sinking into the sand. The exterior cameras showed that another sand monster had emerged beneath them and its tentacles were wrapping around the ship. The subordinates began to panic. Yuko was confident that the hull was strong enough to protect them, but she knew they had to escape as quickly as possible. She activated the thrusters. The plasma burned the monster’s flesh, but its grip remained strong. She gradually increased the speed until they finally broke free of the monster’s grasp and entered space. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, then got up and had a group hug.

“We can’t thank you enough for getting us out of there,” Sandy said.

Yuko put her hand on Sandy’s shoulder and smiled. “The Institute lost too many good women over the years. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing three more.”

Alexa felt inadequate knowing she was unable to fight the tentacles on her own and had to be rescued, but she was still glad to be alive. “It’s funny how those tentacles were afraid of that dagger.”

Yuko drew the blade and once again stared at its inscription. “Yeah. Funny.” The glitter of the purple letters fascinated her.

With an elated voice, Chloe said, “The institute would be thrilled to see what you’ve found.”

The team leader ran her finger over the inscription, then lifted up her head. “You know what? This might come in handy later. Let’s hold onto it and keep it a secret between us, okay?”

Knowing what they had just been through, the girls understood and nodded.


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