"Where was the expedition last seen?" asked Rodney Charleston of his wife, landing the shuttle on airjets.
His wife Lucy bent closer to the sensor board. "Right on this beach, bearing thirty by one sixty-one to the left."
The beach, roughly forming a filled-in letter D, was bordered on one side by the choppy lake and on the other by a deep-green forest. Seated behind their parents, Rodney and Lucyís daughters craned their necks to see more.
"Just looks like an everyday beach to me," said Nadine grumpily, falling back with her disappointed arms crossed. "Youíd think that on an alien planet, it would look a lot different."
"Not necessarily, sis," said Vicki. "I think itís cool that some planets were created similarly."
"This is not a vacation, girls," said Rodney. "Weíre checking for clues to why we lost contact with Vicís landing team, why they disappeared."
Lucy said, "Iíve double-checked the atmosphere mix, and it still reads breathable. I think we should deboard and see what we can find."
As soon as Rodney opened both hatches, he and his wife and daughters climbed out into the warm sunsí brightness. The sky was bluish violet with a few yellow clouds drifting here and there. Earlier probes had indicated that when it rained here, the water was mixed with 10% sulfur, which incredibly was conducive to the native growth.
While Lucy joined her husband to scan the sand, her daughters wandered toward the shuttleís other side, also scanning.
"Hey, look!" cried Nadine. "Look at the size of these clams underneath! We could have a clam bake, right here on the beach."
"We donít know if theyíre edible to us," said Vicki annoyedly. "Will you focus on our work? I think Iíve found something. Nadine, dig here."
"Why should I have to dig it up?" she said with a pout. "You found it."
"Nadine! Why is it that every time we ask you to do a little work, you always want to do something else?"
"This is too boring. Letís go swimming."
"Thereís too much sulfur in the water. Look, you wanted to come. You begged us to let you come, even though we thought you werenít ready. Now all you want to do is play. This is not the time, Nadine!"
With a deep frown, she casually kicked ripples of sand.
"Come on, we have to work together," said Vicki. "The least you could do is watch out for danger!"
Nadineís brown eyes grew wide. "What kinda danger?"
"I donít know, but thatís why we split into pairs. To help each other and stay safe."
At last Vicki sighed and crouched, shaking her blonde head while her fingers dug into the sand. When her hand came up, she held a manís bracelet.
"Oh, brilliant," said Nadine. "You found jewelry. Maybe we can sell it."
"Donít you recognize it? This is Vicís bracelet, the one he got for his 15th anniversary. That means he was here, and I found some blood stains toward the woods, too. Come on, look for more clues. Something happened here, and we need to find out what."
But while Vicki worked toward the forest, examining the trail, Nadine threw up her hands and wandered toward her parents. While Lucy held the scanner, Rodney occasionally bent to dig out and examine everything she detected.
"Can we go home now?" cried Nadine.
"Why arenít you with your sister?" demanded Rodney. "Youíve got to take orders better than Ö"
A sudden scream cut the air. Everyone was shocked to see a deep brown leonine figure with a scaly gray face dragging Vicki into the woods. Its eyes stood out like a frogís, its nostrils and mouth more like a lizardís. Its jaw was shaped with three spikes in front, and its mandible formed a matching puzzle piece. Its claws had scratched Vickiís shoulders, and she was motionless as it backed up, pulling her by the collar.
Immediately Rodney and Lucy ran toward the beast, drawing their weapons and directing stunning energy at its head and shoulders. The animal dropped Vicki and attempted to stand its ground, until the stunning effect took over. Soon it lay still.
Examining her daughter, Lucy said, "Sheís sedated, but still alive. Nadine! How could you leave your sister alone like that? You know the rules."
Tears filled Nadineís eyes as she fell to her knees at Vickiís side. "Iím sorry, Vicki Ö Iím sorry Ö"
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