Earle stood at the precipice of an enormous green lake that moved like a sea of violent storms, surrounded by enormous cavern walls that covered the sky in stalactite spears. Here, Earle grunted and pulled on his rifle’s strap, shifting the gun so it wore less on his shoulder. The green lake, too, shifted with his movement. It had detected John as well, who was now a pile of ashen clothes and pink skin—his innards licked clean of bone and marrow. But the lake had not acted violently toward Earle, for he had done it no wrong. John, on the other hand, had showed cruelty in his actions, and was reduced to an acrid bag of flesh.
How the lake had feasted on him, Earle thought.
Withdrawing a small glass cube from his backpack, Earle inspected the Earth rat carefully, noting its small black eyes and turbulent movements. Rabies had done its part to the animal and achieved an agreeable solution to Earle’s problem. Placing the vial on the cavern floor, setting pellets near the mouth of the open container, he stepped away.
The green sea, which had seemed so dangerous only moments ago, fell quite calm; though, a tiny tendril stretched out and away from the lake, inching closer to the glass vial. Detaching itself with surprising dexterity, a spoonful of emerald water moved toward the opening of the tube like like a translucent snake.
The rat gnashed blindly at the aqueous solution, but the liquid became thin and entered the rat through its screaming mouth with such speed the rat’s head snapped back and it spasmed to the floor as the green fluid began to feast on its brain. Earle closed the lid on the vial and put it into his backpack.
A half-hour later, he was on a ridge overlooking the cavern’s mouth and watched as a procession of trucks marched its way through the pink and purple landscape of the alien planet to the very base of Earle’s ridge where the men from the trucks unloaded their supplies and prepared to enter the cave that lay at the bottom.
Crouching low, Earle surveyed the Crimson Company as they ate food from tin plates in the blooming dark. Their trucks were parked parallel, two in a row, with a ten foot space between. Lights atop tall metallic poles illuminated small areas of the camp and just enough for Earle to manage an accurate inventory of bodies: twelve men and one woman.
The Crimson Company men huddled around in a few semi-circles and talked little, grunting between each unsavory bite of their hasty meal. Perhaps they would stay until the morning, or leave earlier; undoubtedly, though, they would remain here most of the night, as their surroundings had trapped them in their place. He doubted there was a navigator among them to direct them through the dark.
Setting down his infrared binoculars, Earle unholstered his rifle and began to creep toward the caravan; the night settled comfortably around him. Near the truck closest to him he placed a hand-sized silver box, and moved far right and up a hill. Here he removed an ignition switch from his bag and lifted the lever. After a moment of reflection he pressed down on the switch.
A resounding boom and flames proceded and Earle traipsed quickly into the camp. The Crimson Company, distracted, had their attention on the flames. Earle, meanwhile, waited alongside a truck. The woman who he had seen emerge with a piece of the lake exited a tent across from him and began desperately ordering the men to put out the flames. Circling to the reverse side of the camp, Earle laid another small box and flanked the position again so that before him lay the wreck of the first explosion.
After he set off the second bomb, destroying the woman’s tent and specimen, he opened fire on the twelve men with his rifle. Scattering, the Crimson Company men who hadn’t been killed ran toward the lake in a frenzy until they were pinned against a sea of hardened green stone. The woman, however, took cover behind a truck and crouched. Taking note, Earle skirted the backside of the truck and wounded her in the leg with a shot from his rifle. She fell to the ground and he placed his boot-heel on her neck.
With her mask off she was pretty enough: brown hair, blue eyes, and only a dusting of makeup. However, venom, Earle assumed, pulsed through her veins.
“I bet you don’t think of the Blackout mission much, do you?” Earle said between grinding teeth.
Unable to speak from his heel, her red-veined eyes bulged.
“You wrote me off as a casualty, but you neglected to check my pulse,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. I’m taking my prize back to Earth, and your company can collect the table scraps if they want. I suppose you can get your reward, too, if you make it out of this one alive, but seeing as how you didn’t bring a navigator—I doubt you brought a doctor.”
Her face turned red, then a light shade of purple. Earle applied more pressure.
The sun was hot when he left the beach-side tavern on Earth, and he walked along the coast to meet his fence. He was barefoot, jeans rolled up, and backpack held firmly in place. Across the water a Metropolis stood juxtaposed against the blue sky and lake; the many towers and city buildings loomed high and railway tracks stretched below creating an iron horizon, shimmering like a desert oasis.
After he collected his money he would go into the city and find a way off the planet again, Earle mused, and then head somewhere into the farthest galaxy … to a place where he couldn’t be found. Though, the water on his toes made him feel homesick in a strange way. Years navigating the stars as apart of the Crimson Company or as a lone mercenary had taken its toll. His interest in playing gun-for-hire was making him feel more morose as the days wore on. But the Earth sun and the feel of water gave him hope that all was not in vain—perhaps it was even a tiny nod from the galaxy for a job well-done.
About halfway to his location he realized his fence was dead, and another three-quarters of the way he was sure his killer was upon him. Turning, he found a man standing stolid behind him on the beach holding a pistol.
“You have the Emerald Green. Give it to me,” the man said, and in his hand the gun became more steady.
Early, frowning now, put his hands up to calm him. “I’ll give it to you. It’s in my pack.” As an afterthought, “Be careful, though, you don’t know what this is capable of doing.” And he reached back, unbuttoning his knife from its holster.
“My interest in the Emerald Green is superficial. I want it now,” replied the assassin.
Raising his arm, the knife held expertly by the blade, Earle aimed to toss it into the heart of his assailant. The assassin, however, smelled the deceit beforehand and shot him in the chest, the round exiting Earle’s back. Crumpling, Earle fell into the sand and died.
The assassin bent to remove Earle’s pack, his shadow falling like a black veil over the dead man’s face, but he stopped. From the bullet hole in the backpack, the Emerald Green slithered out amongst broken shards of glass, and the assassin, filled with ire, fell prey to the green snake—his eyes becoming its first taste of food in nearly a month. The assassin fell to the beach, his body convulsing as the Emerald Green ate away at his brain. And, finally, when the creature was done it slithered along the beach and entered the water only feet away. There was no sound as the blue shimmering reflections shifted into a green placid lake under the sun.