"...Anyway, we were in for a major surprise."
I shut my log book, quickly wiping my sweaty fingers on the cotton vest I wore.
Jesus, I was nervous.
So nervous that I was positive every one of my crewmates could hear my heart pounding in my chest. Didn't matter.
Nothing mattered but the task.
At least, that's what they'd drilled into our heads for weeks while planning this excursion. I was holding onto that task as if it were my lifeline. This was my first mission, my first chance to prove myself.
I would not screw up.
I would not.
At least, I told myself I wouldn't.
"Brandy! Do you have the drill ready?!" Gillian shouted at me from the front of our crew. She was crawling a little farther ahead of me. We'd taken a quick break, but it seemed we were right back in the action.
And I realized I'd forgotten about the drill. Right. Shit. That's what I'd been tasked to do during the break, not write...
I fumbled in my pack for the drill, pulling out its complicated parts and shoving them together in the ways I'd been taught. I didn't understand how it worked, I just knew that this was what I was supposed to do. I handed it up to Marlin, who grabbed it carelessly and shoved it towards Julie who passed it delicately to Gillian.
The four of us. The crew of wonders. We'd been scouring different cave sites for weeks, searching for a species that refused to show itself.
In my heart, I was starting to think it was hopeless. This planet was so pock-marked and mutilated it was hard to find anything. I guess that's what happens when countries decide to stop playing nice and blow each other to smithereens.
I shuddered at that.
Gillian was fidgeting with the drill until a hum filled the air and I could see the blue light indicating it was on and ready to go.
What had previously been a wall blocking the rest of the cave was now a dark, gaping mouth leading to God-knows-where.
I didn't want to find out.
But sometimes, you do things you don't want to do because people pay you to do it.
I mean, I guess I also liked it. I hadn't been through all that training just for some cash. Although the wads of money I was coming out with couldn't be ignored. Just saying. I was going to go on a very nice vacation when this was over with.
Gillian looked back at us, eyes wide. She thrust a hand out expectantly. Julie handed her a flashlight.
"All right. Whatever's down here, remember to stay calm. Stay together. Be careful."
Stay calm, stay together, be careful. Gillian's favorite phrase.
"Got it, boss," Marlin replied, clicking the button for his headlamp. I just nodded and found mine, too, quickly turning it on. Just the action got my heart racing, blood pumping in my veins. I knew what was to come. Either some grand revelation...or some grand disappointment.
Julie let Marlin go ahead of her, as Gillian threw a rock down the hall, waiting to hear how far a drop it was. The clatter came quickly. Barely a fall. Gillian nodded to herself before climbing through the yawning gap and dropping to the other side.
Marlin went next, unceremoniously shoving his way through.
I waited for Julie to go, but she didn't. She turned to me and laid a hand on my shoulder.
"I just wanted to say...I'm proud of you. You're doing good for your first mission."
I was a bit taken aback. I didn't know where this was coming from. "Uh...thank you."
She kept my gaze, though, a frown staining her face. "Whatever we find...just remember the goal. Remember the mission. Don't let it faze you."
I nodded curtly. "Of course. It's my duty."
It didn't seem enough for Julie. She gripped my arm suddenly, forcing me to stay with her. "It's more than your duty. It's your life."
Before I could inquire into what she meant, she'd jumped, leaving me behind at the edge.
Seconds later, I joined the rest of my crew at the bottom of the cave. My fall had been a lot less graceful than the others. While we walked, I brushed clumps of dirt that'd gotten stuck to my long pants and boots.
Just as I felt I'd recovered, Gillian stopped so abruptly I ran into Marlin in and barely caught myself.
An ominous shiver went down my spine.
Gillian turned a corner and I heard her gasp, sending spikes of fear through my bones. That could only mean one thing.
The rest of us quickly made our way to the end of the cave's hallway, standing beside her to try to see whatever it was she'd found.
At first, I squinted into the dark, unable to make out anything.
And then...Gillian's light beamed onto what it was.
What we'd been looking for.
It was a thing with bright beady eyes, a sharp nose and a mouth twisted into a snarl. It huddled in the dank corner of the cave, not bothering to shield itself from our gaze.
It was primal. Disgusting...
The word came rushing back to me, filling every corner of my mind. I'd grown up being taught to hate them. I remembered the rhetoric about the cruel, cunning, violence of such a species. Their ferocious faces showed up in children's books to keep them obedient.
But now we were facing one.
Remember the task.
One thing left to do.
Gillian lifted her other hand, revealing the gun she'd kept for this exact purpose. I watched her, terror in my eyes and heart. She had to put this thing down before it got any ideas.
But it didn't seem fazed by us. It didn't seem to even care that we were there. Instead, it looked past Gillian. It looked at me.
It met my gaze.
And it knew.
It took a millisecond for Gillian to turn off her safety. A half second for Julie to turn her head. Three-quarters of a second for the creature to smile.
And a full second for me to jump.
It only took one bullet for the human race to go extinct.