It seemed only appropriate that I put Squishy Dave in command of the expedition, so it was with great pleasure and relief that I heard his voice calling out from the speakers. “Red Corporation year one expedition has landed and disembarked. We are proceeding to plant and activate anti-cloaking devices at our present location.”
I looked to the sensor suite in time to see a roughly hexagonal shape of land appear. It was designated as mostly wasteland plains.
“We are proceeding toward the polar ice cap region.” he squawked.
I had time for a coffee before another revealed chunk of Mars appeared on the viewscreen. This was designated with a radiation warning. For years, while ECM bickered with the Corporations of Earth over who would be allowed to manage Mars, it had been used as a radioactive ship drive dump. The mechanics of interplanetary ship drives, while allowing for very timely planetary travel also produced some pretty toxic and radioactive materials. A shielded fuel station had been established on the 23 km diameter wide moon Phobos because it contained some key rare elements in the production of the fuel. It was a very controlled substance and ships came to Phobos on a regular basis for drive replacement. The spent and dirty drives had been unceremoniously dumped to the surface of Mars, disappearing into the swirling camouflage atmosphere.
“Exploration team. Be advised you cannot stay in the Radiation area without suffering casualties. Please proceed further.” I beamed down the order.
Squishy Dave received the order and stood facing the incoming wind. The horizon was obscured with a red dust wall of advancing clouds. There was going to be a storm.
Dave did not like storms. He was not sure why. He had no memory of being in a storm or having any particular opinion about them, but it just ‘felt’ dangerous. He looked at the Squishy and Crunchy units spread out before him and issued an order to dig in for survival. Immediately the Crunchy units started digging, throwing geysers of sand and rock into the air. Small rocks bounced harmlessly from Dave’s armor. When they finished they stood aside of the hole and the Squishy moved methodically into the trench followed by the Crunchy who pulled the surrounding soil in on top of the Squishy and themselves.
Insulated from the storm for the next few hours they barely felt it tear across the plain and over their hiding spot, leaving a smooth grit pounded surface. Dave signaled all clear when the ground shaking howl had finally stopped. The Crunchy units extracted themselves from the soil and pulled the Squishy units free like pulling carrots from garden soil.
With Dave leading, they soon reached the next obscured sector and placed a cloaking disruptor in the soil. A “canyon” sector signal was sent to the Red Corporation satellite. Dave glanced up to where the satellite hung in orbit, a bright spec in the sky reflecting the sun’s dim light and then continued into the undulating ground and debris field that marked the decaying edge of a canyon wall. Like a miniature Grand Canyon it spread left and right for kilometers. It wasn’t very wide, but with their tank treads it would take much longer for the Crunchy to navigate than the Squishy.
“Hey Squishy Dave come in!” his helmet speaker chuckled. It was his Boss.
“Yes sir. I am receiving you clearly.” Dave replied.
“The name of the game is exploration Dave. Why don’t you spread out your men a bit and explore more landscape. You shouldn’t come in contact with any other Company units this early in the exploration process. And be sure to keep an eye out for any signs of Alien tech or habitation down there too. We sure could use a leg up in this competition.”
"Roger. Out." he said. Dave preferred to work together as a more effective combat force but his Boss had a point. And it sounded like a direct order so it was nagging his brain like an itch he couldn’t scratch. He found he couldn’t think about it any longer and had to send his troops on their way. He directed the Crunchy to head out one more sector and divide and continue to the extent of their range. He would then be able to send his Squishy toward any objectives or in other directions to fill the gaps.
Dave watched as the Crunchy made their way painfully through the canyon and out the other side. They split up. Two went west and ran out of fuel in a desert plain. One more also suffered the same fate and after activating the anti-cloak it settled down to wait on resupply. The last Crunchy went right and ventured into what looked like another desert plain. Upon closer inspection the Crunchy blew a few well placed holes in the topsoil and reported that it had found water. Water! Just what we needed.
While Dave and another Squishy established a base in the canyon, he sent one unit farther left than the Crunchy and it discovered another arid plain. The Squishy was the one the Boss had put in the airlock and almost killed her. She was the last to be sent out. Her orders were to investigate the area farther right than any others.
The last of her energy was used to place her solidly in the middle of another Radioactive wasteland. Stuck as she was, she would stand and be slowly cooked in her environment suit. As seemed to be his protocol, Dave considered whether the Squishy could be rescued. It didn't take him long to factor things and he turned his attention to other things.
A Squishy in a Radiation zone without resupply was as good as dead.
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