Tomoko tugged on her black uniform blouse, clearly uncomfortable being in her formal AstroMarine Corp attire. She had always disliked how the uniform made her look stiff. Moments after Yuka, who stood in front of her also dressed in the same uniform, had rang the doorbell, an elderly woman answered the door.
"Yuka-chan..." The elder acknowledged her daughter's CO, from the tone of her voice she appeared to be half-surprised. Tomo could somehow sense that the mother was almost expecting, or rather, dreading, for this day to come. As far as she knew, every parent of a Special Forces member does.
"Mrs Otsuka.." The Major began, her voice trailing off, unsure how to break the news to the woman. "I'm so sorry..."
The old lady cupped her mouth, shaking her head vigorously as tears started streaming down from her eyes. "No..."
Yuka leaned in and tried to hug the older woman in a consoling embrace, but Mrs Otsuka fended off the officer's attempt. "Don't you DARE come in here and tell me my daughter's dead!"
"Ma'am" Yuka replied calmly and respectfully, although Tomo could clearly hear her CO's voice was on the verge of breaking. "She never left us. She hung on till the very end, Mrs Otsuka"
Somewhere in the deep recesses of her mind, Kanazawa Tomoko remembered an old adage dating back to the early formation of the Old Republic's Military Services. It had something to do with ghosts. Her mentors have warned her that at some point in her military career, she would have to live with them haunting her for the rest of her life. Starfleet ship Captains and Ground Forces Commanders and Colonels have at least one, surviving Flag Officers like Generals and Admirals, easily more than two. Once in a while. there will be a mission that will remind her of the tragic loss of one of their own, a loss she would vow to avenge and she is doomed into continue looking for that person whom she regard, if only in her own minds, as Missing in Action. If faced in such a situation, she is to take a step back, take stock of the situation, and move on, telling herself "This is just another routine mission" If only it were THAT simple
Her body felt another electrical jolt from the defibrillator.
"Was that how Yuka felt?" Tomo's subconscious was engaged in a raging debate with her own intellect. "Was Yuka trying to find a ghost of Corporal Otsuka Aina in that Temple of Momochi on Devron?, and now, am I following exactly in her footsteps, refusing to come to terms with the certainty she could've been dead by now?"No, it can't be. I, Lieutenant Kanazawa Tomoko, is a rational person..tyrannical at times, yes, but ALWAYS a rational officer
Another jolt rocked her back to a state of consciousness. She opened her eyes to see the bruised faces of her three NCOs.
"Welcome back" Uemura Akari smiled at her, propping the Lieutenant's head and resting it on her lap.
"Phew" Sayuki wiped the sweat off her forehead, setting down the paddles of the defib unit on the floor as she put her butt down on the floor. "You almost scared us there, LT. Don't ever do that again"
"I'll try" Tomoko smiled weakly. "Are you girls ok?"
"It could've been worse, if you hadn't punched in the autopilot at the very last minute, this shuttle would've been torn to pieces" Karin reported. "Though I'm not optimistic at all that we can fully get her operational and flying again"
"Shit... and I suppose we lost the hyperspace warp drive too, huh?"
Sayuki nodded thoughtfully. "Yup. Pretty much the story here"
Tomoko slowly got up, aided by Uemuu's steady hands. After getting her balance back, she headed to the 3D tactical viewscreen, calling up a holographic projection of the terrain they landed on.
"The good news is we pretty much landed somewhere where we're shielded from the most severe snowstorms by this mountain range north of our current position" Tomo studied the projection. "With a little luck, we might find a better shelter in the caves there for us to set up camp before nightfall when the storm front hits"
"The question is are they safe, LT? We don't know what animals may lay lurking inside them...waiting for a prey to stroll in. We'll be easy meat there for all we know" Akari suddenly felt a chill running down her spine. The last time she wrestled with a wampa with nothing but her bare hands, the unarmed combat specialist barely got out of the wampa's lair alive.
"There should be some probes in the supply cargo" Sayuki added. "I'll check and see if they're still intact and operational". Tomoko nodded approvingly at the sergeant's initiative.
"Errmmm...LT?" Karin suddenly pointed to a faint yellow dot on the projection screen. "It appears our sensor's are detecting a faint energy signature in that subterranean cave, just 2 clicks from our shuttle. Almost missed it because its too faint"
"I thought this planet is uninhabited...Level 1 quarantine. We didnt detect any lifeforms OR signs of civilization from orbital scans" Sayuki said.
"Well, the sensitivity is better now that we're in range. Besides, whatever it is that's down there, we may find something that'll help speed up this shuttle's repairs...saddle up and prepare to move in half in hour, people"
ONE HOUR LATER
After thirty minutes braving high winds, Tomoko and her team approached the mouth of the dark cave. The lieutenant looked at Sayuki, nodding her head to signal the Sergeant to release the probes.
"I'm not getting anything on the scope" Sayuki complained. "The probes are supposed to be working...I checked them out myself before we left the shuttle"
"Well, maybe there's interference down there" Tomoko sighed. "There's only one way to find out, isn''t it?"
"Wait a minute...you're not suggesting...." Karin stopped her subleader mid-sentence, but was silenced by Akari.
"What's the matter, Karin-chan?" the Corporal sneered. "You're chicken?"
"AM NOT!!" Karin slung her pulse laser rifle on her right shoulder, facing the Corporal and looked her in the eye. "I just have a bad feeling about this place"
"Well, suit yourself, Karin" Tomoko gave a mellowed response. "You can take point here and wait for us to return, alright?"
"Yes, Ma'am" Karin replied, standing guard with her rifle on the ready, watching her Team enter the cave. She waited for the last of their shadows to disappear before taking point.
Barely two minutes passed before the ground below her shook violently. Tremors, Karin thought, as she ran as fast as she could towards the mouth of the cave but before she could get inside, she noticed a wall of yellow scanning force field appearing ever so briefly, followed by the collapsing of the roof of the cave.
"NOOO!!" The Sergeant wailed out in despair. Her hopes of ever getting inside dashed as she could not risk using any explosives or her weapons to blow away the rocky debris, lest the explosive impact obliterate the bodies of Tomo, Akari and Sayuki inside.
Karin made a quick assessment of her situation as the tremors stopped. She had to find some other way inside, but how?