Otrera Prima was orbited by a moon named Diana. In one of its many large craters was a sprawling facility shielded by a geodesic dome. It bore the official designation OIS Lunar Facility 1, but it was more commonly known as Hera due to its location inside the Hera Crater. The Otrera Institute of Science used it as a base of operations for many different missions, the most notable of which were exploration and archaeology.
Yuko Reinhard was seated in the office of one of the Institute’s directors, relaying the details of her team’s expedition to HD 5251983-A. Sitting opposite from her behind a lavishly detailed rose wood desk was Director Simone Moulin. Her blond hair was fashioned into a bun and she was wearing the finest jacket, dress shirt, and pencil skirt money could buy. Her full red lips seemed to be stuck in a permanent pout and she had a tiny birthmark on her left cheek. Though her cold blue eyes were focused on her painted nails, she was still attentive.
“Yes,” the director said, “I read the reports just before you came in. Very impressive work collecting those artifacts.”
Yuko knew Simone long enough to pick up on her condescending tone when she gave compliments. “I’m sure you’re also aware that we were nearly devoured by a giant tentacle monster.”
Simone glanced at her. “But you made it back, didn’t you?”
Yuko’s eyebrows twitched slightly. “But what if we didn’t? This has happened so many times in the past. Initial scans would indicate there are no hostile lifeforms on a given planet. Those scans would turn out to be wrong and the exploration team would meet a grisly end. All I ask for is more firepower so we can dispatch any potential threats.”
Simone put her pointed elbows on the table and steepled her slender fingers. “I’m afraid our resources are stretched much too thin to provide anything like that. If you desire weaponry, you will have to ask the military.”
“I already tried asking them. They referred me back to you.”
“Then that means their resources are stretched thin as well.”
“Didn’t they get new guns last year? If so, then why can’t they give us their surplus?”
“If you’re adamant about acquiring them, then you can fill out a weapon acquisition form and they’ll get back to you in six months.”
“I already did that the last time they got new guns and I never heard back from them.”
“Then I’m afraid I can’t help you any further.”
Yuko glowered at her.
Simone pulled out a folder. “By the way, we have another mission for you. Probes have sent us data regarding an Eridun temple on the planet YD 8480-C. Be a dear and gather any artifacts you find there. We’ll see you again in two months.”
Yuko grabbed the folder and left the office without saying another word. She crossed her arms as seething anger settled in her stomach. Interacting with Simone over the years instilled in her a hatred of managerialism. She couldn’t stand how pencil pushers like her lived comfortably while good, capable women were sent to their deaths on faraway worlds. She wished she were in charge.
Chloe called out to her as she gleefully approached, shopping bag in hand. She pulled out a box of luxury treats and handed it to her superior. “I wanted to thank you for saving me from that tentacle pit,” she said, “so I bought the finest sweets on the whole planet. My mom would buy me these on special occasions. I think you might like them.”
Yuko smiled warmly and thanked her for the gift. As they walked together, she asked, “By the way, how’s your mom doing?”
“The Arcturid merchants have taken a real liking to her. She managed to score some sweet business deals.”
“Speaking of which, I heard you’ve taken a liking to that handsome Arcturid who runs the gourmet shop in the Emporia Crater.”
Chloe blushed and put a hand on her cheek. “He’s such a gentleman. If I weren’t so busy, I would go out on a date with him. Oh, how I want to be held in those strong furry arms of his.”
Men weren’t allowed to reside in the Otrera system, but since they were tributaries of the Arcturid Empire, they made an exception for their overlords.
In one of the recreational halls, Sandy was reading poetry while Alexa was doing push-ups. Yuko came in and briefed the girls on their latest assignment. After this, they went to their ship and lifted off. It took them a whole month to reach their destination. During that long voyage, they passed the time with various activities. Alexa exercised in the small gym they had. Yuko would join her on occasion. Sandy and Chloe would also work out to keep themselves in shape, but they spent most of their time reading old romantic literature and having conversations about the various themes found within.
YD 8480 was a yellow dwarf star orbited by five rocky planets and two gas giants. The destination planet was labeled YD 8480-C. It was third from the star and 90% of its surface was covered in water. A large archipelago was situated near the equator. They landed just a few hundred feet from a gray rocky cliff that overlooked a long and wide sandy shore. Moss carpeted the land from the edge of the cliffs to the highlands on the horizon and beyond. They walked to the cliff and immediately spotted what they were looking for: a black stone Eridun temple sitting on top of a small rocky hill which itself was located at the end of a sandy peninsula. The structure was eroded by the salty winds, but it still stood firm. Sticking out of the water a few hundred feet away were stone and metal walls covered in coral.
They found a gentle dirt slope and walked down it. As they strolled along the beach, Sandy noted how many of the shelled creatures that had washed ashore looked remarkably similar to the ancient Brachiopods of Earth.
“Are you familiar with convergent evolution?” Yuko asked.
“Of course,” Sandy replied.
“That’s likely the case here. These organisms independently evolved similar traits to adapt to similar environmental conditions. Let’s gather up some of them for study.”
They called over their robotic dolly and started loading it up. Sandy knew that her mother, a biologist, would enjoy examining these specimens. Chloe noticed a bright purple starfish crawling on a wall that jutted out of the water. She waded out to it, picked it up, and admired its vivid colors and textures. It was then that she felt something coil around her leg. She looked down and saw that the culprit was a tentacled creature that looked like an Orthocerus. Its cone-like shell was as long as a man’s forearm and its tentacles were just as long.
She screamed and dropped the starfish she was holding. She hurried back to shore, fell face first onto the sand, then rolled onto her back. The animal stared at her with its tiny blue eyes while caressing her thigh with one of its grayish-white tentacles. Alexa sprinted towards her, grabbed the creature by its shell, and hurled it back into the ocean.
“Hey,” Sandy said, “we could have brought that back for study.”
Yuko chuckled. “Don’t worry. We have plenty. Now let’s do what we came here for.” She adjusted the Eridun dagger she had attached to her belt and led her team towards the hill.
The hill was 10 feet tall and the temple was eight times as high. Its large metal double doors had fallen off their hinges long ago and were now rusted heaps. In the center of the building was a large, deep well overflowing with water. Surrounding it were gemstones of all different shapes and sizes, as well as extravagant golden jewelry. Chloe was astounded by the sight. She wished she could have some of it for herself, but she knew their scientific value outweighed their economic value. As they loaded the items into the robotic dolly, she examined the gemstones and noticed they were all engraved with the same sigil. She asked Yuko what it meant.
“Similar sigils have been found in Eridun ruins on other planets,” the team leader replied. “They represent powerful entities they worshiped during the final years of their empire.”
“Like that Ashmodai character?” Alexa asked.
Upon hearing that name, Yuko drew the Eridun dagger and gazed upon its purple inscription. “Yes.” She looked around and noticed a large black marble box, two feet long and a foot wide, at the far end of the temple. Elaborate purple decorations were carved onto its sides. She approached it and tried to lift the lid, but it would not budge. She requested Alexa’s aid.
“Gladly,” Alexa replied with a grin. With all their might, they lifted up the lid and slid it aside. The box was empty, save for a black ring. Yuko examined it and saw that it had the same purple inscription as the dagger. She put it on her left ring finger and smiled as she gazed upon it. The others gathered round.
“I wonder why they would go out of their way to store that thing so securely,” Sandy said.
“Whatever the reason might be,” Yuko replied, “this is a marvelous discovery.”
They were so busy admiring the artifact that they did not notice the grayish-white tentacles slowly and silently emerging from the water like a snake preparing to strike its prey. With a lightning fast motion, they wrapped around the girls’ waists. They screamed as the beast lifted them into the air and pulled them into the well.
They frantically kicked their legs as they slowly descended into the cold, dark depths. They tried to pull the tentacles off of them, but the monster’s grip was strong as steel. Alexa nearly succeeded in breaking free, but another tentacle wrapped around her neck. She shut her eyes and gritted her teeth as it squeezed down upon her. The same happened to Yuko as she tried to grab her dagger. As the water’s surface grew more distant, she began to dread that the well would be their grave. She knew she had to act quickly. Summoning her remaining strength, she moved the tentacle out of the way of her dagger, unsheathed it, and with the fury of a shark freeing itself from a net, she slashed away at her fleshy restraints. Blue blood leaked from the monster’s severed limbs. The team leader swam to Alexa and freed her, then did the same for Sandy and Chloe.
They swam up to the surface as fast as their legs could allow, then ran out of the temple. Thunder crashed in the dark gray clouds above and the rain came down in such heavy sheets that they could not see five yards in front of them. They did not stop to think how such a large storm rolled in so quickly. Their only thought was getting to safety. Frantically they sprinted across the beach and climbed up the dirt slope just before the roiling blue-green waves smashed against the rocky cliffs. Chloe nearly slipped and fell, but Yuko grabbed her hand and pulled her to safety. Hail began to fall upon the mossy fields as they ran to their spacecraft. The clanging of hail striking metal was deafened as the engine roared to life. Bolts of lightning struck the hull as they lifted off and flew into the sky. The girls gripped their seats as the interior rattled horribly. A few harrowing seconds later, they escaped the storm and entered space.
Chloe got up from her seat. “That’s the second time a giant monster attacked us after we found one of those artifacts. I’m starting to think they’re cursed.”
Sandy placed a hand on her teammate’s shoulder. “Relax, Chloe. The Institute is no stranger to perilous situations. Isn’t that right, Yuko?”
Yuko stared at the black ring, admiring its many tiny details.
“Yuko?” Sandy repeated.
The team leader turned to her. “Oh, right. Danger is a natural part of adventure. It’s something you always need to be ready to face. Now let’s get some rest. We have a long trip ahead of us.”
As her subordinates went to their rooms, Yuko stayed on the bridge and looked over the dagger and the ring one last time before hiding them inside a compartment.