"All I'm saying is that just because we're soldiers and have guns, it doesn't give us the right to automatically blow the shit out of everything we see," PFC Reed Donaldson said.
"We're soldiers. Blowing shit up is in the job description," PFC Stephens replied.
They were walking down a plain grey corridor, a squad of ten men mostly fresh out of training.
"Yeah, but we're also representatives of the US of A. How the world sees us is how the world sees the US. We have, like, a responsibility.
"Fuck the world," Stephens spat. "If some towelhead steps in my sights I'm blowing his fucking head off. I ain't taking no chances. Those mutha's hate our fucking guts, nothin' we can do to change that."
"What do you expect?" Donaldson said. "How would you react if some dude showed up in your 'hood and started waving a gun around?"
"Depends on the size of the gun," Stephens replied. "If it's some whiny-ass punk with a popgun then I bust a cap in his knee and send him crying back to mama. But if it's some badass muthafucka with a big muthafuckin' assault rifle then I'm going to keep my head down and stay the fuck outta his way."
Stephens lifted up his SAW for emphasis.
"Me, I intend being that badass muthafucka with a big fucking gun."
They didn't get it, Donaldson thought. All the guns, bombs, tanks, fighters, warships; all the ordnance the military could bring to bear; it only bought fear and fear was not the same as respect and it certainly didn't bring obedience. What good is fear against a man who's just dug the bodies of his children out from beneath the rubble of his home? What use is fear against someone already prepared to strap explosives to their chest?
Donaldson's college buddies were all of a liberal mindset. They'd been astonished when he'd enlisted. Donaldson always remembered the words of his Pop though. If you wanted to change something you had to get right in there and work from the centre. Whining from the bleachers never accomplished anything.
He wasn't being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan though.
The lights flickered and sputtered, sending shadows flying over the men like bats. Brownouts were a common occurrence at the base. Now Donaldson understood why. He thought he heard the thrumming of powerful machinery somewhere off in the distance.
Staff Sergeant Morgan opened the door at the end of the corridor and walked out under the roiling red sky of H-space. 'Going through' was as simple as that.
Donaldson stood on a hillside and stared into a sky that looked like blood flowing down a muddy stream. Rolling red and brown hills undulated into the distance like a rusty iron quilt.
He wasn't on Earth. That realisation was an enormity in itself, but even greater was the realisation that soon this would be as commonplace as driving to the supermarket to pick up a crate of beer.
A breeze washed past his face, fresh and completely untainted by any man-made pollutants. After spending a lifetime knowing no different, it was a shock to be aware of what fresh air actually smelt like.
He wondered how long that would last.
Donaldson walked around the side of the hill, slowly angling upwards. He carried a long red and white banded pole on his shoulder. Their assignment was to escort a team of surveyors while they made some preliminary maps of the terrain around the entry point. Stephens called it a 'bullshit babysitting exercise'.
Covenant, their surveyor, had stumbled and twisted his ankle. Stephens was watching over him while Donaldson walked the short distance to the top of the hill. While he didn't like splitting his party, this area had already been cleared by Special Forces. All he had to do anyway was plant the pole on the top of the hill while the other teams took readings from their vantage points.
It was a 'stone-age' approach as Covenant termed it, but apparently 'going through' did very bad things to all but the most basic of electrical equipment. That was a mystery for the scientists to ponder.
Right by the entry point were the ruins of a building, little more than a skeleton in the loose brown dirt. Looking back Donaldson was struck by how similar the ruins looked to their base back home. That was another mystery for the scientists. There were plenty of those.
Donaldson just had to hold up a pole on the top of a hill.
The side of the hill was covered in something similar to grass, except it was deep red in colour rather than green. The blades swayed in the breeze. Sometimes they seemed to sway in the opposite decoration. Donaldson decided it must be his eyes playing tricks on him.
Dotted on the ground at regular intervals were large green oval shapes. They came in all sizes ranging from some only as big as a pumpkin right up to some that were several feet across. Donaldson wasn't sure if they were alive or just rocks. He wasn't about to prod them to check either.
"Don't be dumb," was the advice they'd been given at the briefing. "Don't touch anything unless you have to and don't shoot anything unless it attacks you. We already have trained biologists out there so we don't need anybody thinking they're Steve Irwin."
So far, other than the occasional black speck in the sky too fast for his binoculars, Donaldson hadn't come across anything resembling an animal. Which was why, when he first saw the girl, it took a few moments to register.
Donaldson thought he must be hallucinating to start with. What was a girl — a completely naked girl at that — doing lying on a bed out here?
No it wasn't a girl, he realised, not a human one anyway. There were slight differences in the build of her body and her ears were long and pointed. Her eyes were larger than a human's and slanted a little like a cat's. Her irises were a bright, iridescent green. She looked a little like an elf from mythology Donaldson thought.
She wasn't lying on a bed either. One of the green pods had opened up to reveal a nearly flat surface of soft, pinkish-white tissue. The girl was lying on the cushioned surface as if it was a large round bed.
Fuck, so what happened now?
No one had said anything about a humanoid race, not in any of the briefings or in any of the rumours floating around the base.
Instinctively Donaldson dropped the pole and put both hands on his M16.
The girl gasped in fear, her big eyes wide, and backed away from him.
What the fuck are you doing, Donaldson thought? It was just a girl. Aside from the slight anatomical differences she looked just like the college co-eds back home. Not that he got many opportunities to see them naked.
This could be the big one, Donaldson thought. The really big one.
Donaldson knew he'd taken on a massive responsibility when he'd donned the uniform of the United States army, but this was far more massive than he could ever have imagined.
This was First Contact. This wasn't just how the rest of the world saw him as a representative of the United States; this was how a completely alien species saw him as a representative of the human race. That prospect terrified him as much as he was sure his appearance terrified the girl.
How had the Special Forces scouting teams managed to miss her? Were there others like her?
What should he do?
Donaldson looked at his gun; looked at the terrified girl.
He was about to do something he knew would send his training instructors livid with rage. No one really knew anything about H-space or its inhabitants. She could fire laser beams from her eyes or morph into a fanged horror in the blink of an eye for all he knew.
In which case his gun probably wouldn't be much use in any case.
It was more likely she was a young woman of an alien, possibly intelligent, race. Did he really want her first impression of the human race to be of gun-carrying bringers of violence? This was a new dimension and an opportunity to start anew.
Slowly Donaldson lowered his gun to the floor and stood up with his hands outstretched.
"It's okay miss. I mean you no harm," Donaldson said.
"Where are you from and why are you here?" The girl stunned Donaldson by speaking back to him in English. How was that possible?
"You can speak my language?" Donaldson said.
"Of course," the girl laughed. "What other language would I speak?"
That was another one for the scientists to figure out, Donaldson thought.
"I'm Reed Donaldson of the United States Infantry. I'm," there didn't seem to be an easier way to say it, "not from this world."
"I'm Utricula," the girl said. Now that he'd put the gun down she'd lost her fear and instead watched him with bright curiosity.
As he looked at her Donaldson was slightly embarrassed to realise her naked form aroused him. She had a similarly proportioned body to the cheerleaders Donaldson was always too shy to approach back in college. Her breasts were large in comparison to the slim lines of her athletic body. She didn't seem to feel the same embarrassment over her nakedness a human would. Between her legs Donaldson could clearly see the narrow slit of her vagina. Utricula didn't seem bothered in the slightest.
"Are there more of you?" Donaldson asked.
Utricula nodded. "Far from here," she said.
That probably explained why none of the other exploratory teams had encountered any of her race yet.
"The polypomp pods only open once a year for their breeding season," Utricula explained, laying her hand flat on the soft tissue next to her. "They're really comfortable to lie on, like the softest bed. I like to come up here to lie back and watch the sky. It's so peaceful."
It did look comfortable, Donaldson thought.
"Why don't you join me?" she asked, her iridescent eyes shining brightly.
A breeze brushed through Donaldson's hair, bringing with it a sweet aroma that tickled his nostrils. It brought to mind the lazy spring days he used to spend as a child in the woods around his home. Those were carefree days, before the complications of the real world had inserted themselves into his life.
Right then he envied Utricula. She could take pleasure in an activity as ingenuous as sitting on a hillside and watching the clouds flow past in the sky. Oh to be so carefree again.
But so could he. If he wanted.
His hill was smaller than the others. It would still be a while before the other teams reached their peaks. And this was First Contact for fuck's sake. Giving the right impression here was way more important than sticking some silly pole in the ground.
Donaldson shrugged off his kit bag and belt and walked towards her. He put a hand on the soft surface of the pod and was about to jump up to join her when she suddenly reared up with her arms outstretched to block him, a concerned expression on her face.
"No," she said. "You need to remove your clothes first. They'll irritate the polypomp otherwise."
Donaldson stopped and looked at the delicate lines of Utricula's face.
"You want me to take my clothes off?" he asked.
Utricula smiled and nodded her head.
"You want me to be completely naked?" Donaldson asked.
"Yes, just like me," Utricula smiled. Her expression wasn't totally innocent.
Was she flirting with him?
Close up to the polypomp Donaldson became aware of a sickly sweet smell, like perfume, but so strong as to be nearly overpowering. He wondered if it was having an effect on him as inhaling it sent a warm glow through his body that settled in his crotch.
Or it could just be Utricula. If you ignored the elfin ears and cat-like eyes her body was really hot.
The things you do for Uncle Sam, Donaldson thought. He stripped off his shirt and trousers and moved onto his undergarments. He told himself he was doing it to further better relations with an alien species. It was freaking First Contact after all, the first time the human race had encountered another intelligent life form. His superiors would understand.
Donaldson was slim compared to most of the other soldiers, but kept his body in very good shape, enough for the muscles of his chest and abdomen to be clearly delineated. Utricula clearly liked what she saw. Her iridescent eyes looked up and down his body — paying special attention to his cock — with what looked a little like hunger.
"Do your males look like this?" Donaldson asked, motioning down his body.
"Do your females look like this?" Utricula responded, motioning down the lush curves of her body.
"Yeah," Donaldson said, "The good ones do anyway."
"We must have been the same race before the gods split our worlds asunder," Utricula said.
It could be possible, Donaldson thought. Yet another question for the scientists.
He climbed onto the polypomp's surface. It was soft, but not soft enough for him to sink all the way in. A beanbag made out of soft flesh was the closest comparison Donaldson could think of. Utricula had settled in a natural hollow at the polypomp's centre, the soft tissue billowing out on either side of her like a solidified cloud. She moved over to make room for him, but not enough that he couldn't lie down without lying partly on her as well. She didn't seem to mind.