The saucer descended through the rainbow-hued clouds of Krystos, leaving gossamer streaks of water vapor in its wake. The diamonds that covered the surface of the planet reflected the light of the sun into the atmosphere, creating a constant dance of light.
“Wow”, was all Jim could say.
To Zed, the planet looked like an acid-induced fantasy he’d had in high school. The surface was an ever-shifting sea of sparkling light, and as they flew in closer, he saw a forest of tree-like stalks rising high into the sky… each connected by an intricate web of green fibers which caught the light from all directions. Streams of crystal-clear water ran in ragged patterns through the white rocks and diamonds on the planet’s surface, where tufts of clear grass grew in random clumps here and there, swaying gently in the breeze.
“So we gotta find some kind of animal?” Zed asked Jim, breaking the trance-like awe that they both felt.
“Yeah”, Jim answered, “I used to hear about this place when I was young. Early space explorers claimed to have stumbled upon a planet covered in diamonds… said there were creatures who roamed the surface that digested their food for so long and with so much internal heat and pressure that they literally shit diamonds.”
“Diamonds? Seriously?”, Zed said, astonished.
“We all thought it was some bullshit legend”, Jim answered, “But here we are. The Keepers must’ve kept this place hidden to protect it. I can see why. There’s a fortune to be made here.”
The saucer glided quietly over the crest of a hill, and a large plain stretched out beneath them. The wind caught the expanse of grass-like vegetation, sweeping through the transparent stalks in soft waves. The surface sparkled brilliantly as they skimmed the surface, as billions of diamonds caught the sunlight. On the horizon, a herd of creatures came into view, grazing lazily in the morning light. To Zed, they looked like a cross between a Rhinoceros and a giant slug… long and slender with a thick hide and a small head which rested on the ground as it ate. As they drew closer, Zed could see that their grey, armor-plated bodies hid several pairs of thick, muscular legs.
“These the ones?”, Zed asked.
“I can’t tell for sure”, Jim answered, “But if the size and shape of the tank is any indicator, they look about right”.
“How big is the tank?”, Zed asked.
“Big”, Jim answered.
As Zed and Jim watched, one of the creatures lifted its tail, and a large diamond popped out of its body.
“There’s our answer!”, Jim said, his voice somewhat giddy. “Head down to the cargo bay. I’ll lift one into the ship, and you can coax it into the tank”.
“How the hell am I s’posed to do that?”, Zed asked.
“Don’t know”, Jim answered, “Never done it before”.
Zed hopped on the lift and made his way down to the cargo bay, grumbling as he went, just as the ship’s main portal doors spun open. The cool air of the plain rushed in, and for the first time, he saw the creatures up close. They were huge, at least forty feet long, and he heard the diamond-encrusted ground crumple beneath their feet as they grazed.
Jim’s voice buzzed to life over the ship’s intercom. “Do you see the tank?”
Zed looked across the cargo bay, and saw a large tank with crystalline walls in the shape of a pentagon. One of the walls folded downward like a ramp toward the saucer’s portal, and beside the ramp was a simple control panel with green and red buttons.
“I’m pulling one up”, Jim continued, “Get ready”.
The green beam burst to life, shooting down through the portal doors and encompassing one of the creatures. The creature rose a few feet off the ground, and began writhing and wailing with a high-pitched shriek. Zed could feel the ship sway from side to side with the weight.
“This son of a bitch is heavy”, Jim said, “I don’t think we’re gonna be able to do this the easy way”.
“What do you mean?”, Zed yelled back, “This doesn’t seem that easy to me!”
“I mean, I’m gonna land the ship, and you’re gonna have to go out there and herd one of those things up the ramp”.
“Are you crazy?!?”, Zed yelled back, “They're huge!”
“Zed, you killed an entire ship full of Zanarans. You can do this.”
The saucer descended slowly until it hovered just above the vast, diamond-studded plain… landing gear extending from the hull and touching down gently. Zed felt the weight of the ship settle into the gear, and saw the ramp extend downward.
Grumbling, he walked down the ramp and into the the grass of the open plain. The ground felt soft as his boots sank into the gravel of sparkling diamonds, and the strange transparent blades of grass bent away from him, as if sensing that something alien had stepped onto the surface of the planet.
Approaching one of the creatures, Zed got a clear sense of its rimmense size, not unlike a whale back on Earth. As he walked around the body to its head, It continued to tear the strange grass out of the ground and paid no attention to him. Zed could hear its large jaw grinding the food, and smell the pungent aroma of its breath as it expelled air from a series of holes along the sides of its body.
What do I do now, Zed thought to himself, trying to come up with something.
“AHHHH”, Zed yelled suddenly, waving his arms as menacingly as possible. The giant creature ignored him, continuing to pull at the tufts of grass growing on the plain. Zed tried it a little louder, lunching at the creature’s head. Nothing.
Frustrated, Zed pushed against the creature, but it was like pressing against a stone wall. The creature disregarded him completely.
“Having trouble Zed?”, Jim asked over the saucer’s loudspeaker.
“Goddamned thing won’t budge!”, Zed yelled back, bending over to pull the blaster from his ankle holster.
“Zed, I wouldn’t do that”, Jim warned.
He lifted the blaster and pointed it at the creature.
“NO! DON’T DO IT!”, Jim yelled, frantic.
Zed pulled the trigger, and a burst of blaster fire slammed into the creature’s armored body.
The creature lifted its head, glanced back and forth across the plain, and returned to grazing. Though it had clearly seen Zed, it disregarded him completely.
“Fuck!”, Zed yelled, “Did you see that!?!”
“What do I do now?”, Zed asked.
“Give me a minute”, Jim returned, “I’ll come up with something.”
Zed walked around the creature, looking for a weak spot in the armor. Maybe if I can hurt it, he thought, I can urge it into the ship.
The segmented armor along the sides of its body looked flawless. Zed noticed an open ridge on its back, but the creature was too tall for him to see it clearly. Putting the blaster back in the holster, he decided to scramble up the side of the creature and check it out more closely.
“What are you doing bro?”, Jim asked.
“Looking for a way to motivate this big guy”, Zed answered, pulling himself to his feet on the back of the creature. The creatures back was as hard or harder than the ground, and Zed stepped carefully from segment to segment, looking for a weak spot in the armor. As he approached the open ridge, he heard and felt the creature exhaling through a hole on its back. He also felt a strange vibration that wasn’t there moments before.
“I think I found a weak spot”, Zed yelled, and pointed the blaster at it, “Lets hope this works”.
He pulled the trigger and fired on the open ridge. The creature’s head jolted upright and it let out a tremendous high pitched screech… moving a few steps forward and it glancing backward in a panic. Zed felt the vibration grow stronger.
“I think that’s working!” Jim said over the loudspeaker, “Try it again!”
Zed lifted the blaster again, but before he pulled the trigger, he noticed the other creatures in the herd lifting their heads and screeching as well. The vibration grew steadily stronger, and he heard a barely audible rumble appear in the distance. Glancing over his shoulder toward the source of the noise, Zed saw what looked like a distant dust storm heading in their direction. In the cloud of dirt, diamonds sparkled brightly as they flew through the air.
“What the hell?”, Zed muttered to himself.
Suddenly, the creature beneath him raised its head and let out a low growl. Without warning, It lifted itself off the ground, and broke into a sudden galloping run. Zed fell backward, and grabbed a ridge on its back, barely avoiding a tumble to the ground. The creature moved fast, and in his violent struggle to recover his balance, he saw the Jim’s grounded saucer receding into the distance. Though the creature bounced as it ran, and the wind rushed at his body, Zed pulled himself to a sitting position. A shadow crawled across the back of the creature, and he looked up to see the saucer hovering above him.
“You okay?”, Jim yelled over the intercom, “Those things are fast!”
“Yeah, I’m fine”, Zed yelled back, “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know”, Jim answered, “There’s something big headed this way. I’m going to fly low and try to get your creature to run up the ramp.”
The saucer descended in front of Zed and the running creature until it was only feet off the ground. Once again, the ramp extended downward, and as it touched the planets surface, it skidded and bounced and kicked dust and diamonds up into the air. Zed shielded his eyes, but even the confusion, he noticed the saucer slowing down to allow them to approach.
The ramp bounced as it sent sparks flying in all directions, and Zed and the creature grew closer and closer. He spared a glance over his shoulder to get another look at the approaching dust storm, and nearly lost his balance again.
It wasn’t a storm at all. It was the biggest creature Zed had ever laid eyes on. It was slightly reptilian, with a complex pattern of spines on its shoulders and legs that made the horrendous creature look deadly. It roared through a mouth that opened like that of an insect, revealing rows upon rows of long curved teeth and sending streams of drool slapping against its body and the plain below.
“Holy shit Jim! Get us in the ship and get us out of here!”
Just then, the creature’s foot landed on the deck of the ramp, and Zed and the creature rushed upward a couple steps until the entire platform was ripped from the ship’s hull. The saucer wobbled out of control for a moment, one side skidding against the planet’s surface. The fast gallop of Zed’s creature was interrupted momentarily, putting them in the rear of the tight-knit herd… just feet in front of the tremendous, closing predator.
Zed could no longer afford to stay where he was, and he ran down the length of the creature’s body and jumped from its head onto the tail of the creature before them. As he landed, holding on for dear life, he heard the sound breaking bones and ripping flesh behind him. The monster had struck, and Zed had barely escaped being devoured!
Scrambling up the creatures back and getting to his feet once again, he scanned the surroundings for any sign of Jim. There was no saucer in sight, but what Zed did see caused his heart to leap in his chest.
The herd, still frightened and running blindly, was headed straight for the edge of a deep ravine. In a panic, Zed fired a couple shots into the air-hole on the creature’s back, but it was too little too late, and the herd of creatures plunged over the edge of the cliff and into an impossibly deep canyon. Zed felt his stomach leave him, and suddenly, he was in open air, tumbling uncontrollably as the air rushed up to greet him. He lost his grip on the creature, and the two fell side by side as the remainder of the herd tumbled beneath them, one hitting the cliff wall and spiraling into the others. Before Zed had time to think about his situation, the saucer appeared suddenly, flying straight down into the ravine. The familiar portal doors spun open, and the green beam pulled Zed and the large creature sideways into the cargo bay.
As soon as the cargo doors spun closed and the gravity returned, Zed fell toward the floor, and it became quickly apparent that something was wrong. The saucer continued to plunge, and Zed could feel that it was out of control.
“Zed, you in?”, Jim asked over the intercom.
“Yeah, what’s happening!”
“The creature’s too heavy for the ship!”, he answered, “We gotta get it in the tank. The Keepers would have planned for this!”
Zed ran toward the open crystalline tank, and saw that it was lined with the transparent grass that the creatures fed on. He pulled a tuft out of the ground, and held it up to the creature, who went from a state of panic to interest in a few seconds.
Zed led the creature into the tank, walking backwards into the cage as it followed. At the door of the tank, the creature glanced around suspiciously, and paused.
“Zed, get out of the way!”, Jim said, and the saucer tilted sharply, causing the creature to tumble headlong into the tank.
Untold tons of armored flesh tumbled toward Zed, and he jumped upward as the creature’s head slammed into the crystal walls below him. He scrambled up the long body, making his way toward the door of the tank while the creature wailed in panic, flipping its body dangerously. Just as he approached the door, the creatures tail whipped across the tank and slammed Zed against the wall. He heard several of his ribs snap, and fell to the ground, struggling to breath.
“Zed, get that tank closed, now!”, Jim pleaded.
Zed crawled out of the tank, and hit the green button on the control panel. The tank lit up brightly as the door slid closed, and he saw the creatures body lift a little as if floating gently off the ground.
The ship regained control, and Zed could feel the ship pull out of its downward spiral and begin an ascent.
“Yeah!”, Jim yelled in victry, “We did it!”
Coughing suddenly, blood sprayed out of Zed’s mouth and splattered against the beautiful walls of the crystalline tank. Through the blood, he noticed that the creature had stopped writhing and began eating the grass which seemed to grow from thin air at the end of the tank.
Zed laid his head on the floor of the cargo bay, and as he did so, two large diamonds fell out of folds in his clothing.
Jim’s voice reappeared over the intercom, panicked. “Zed, you’re bleeding! You okay?!?”
“The creature shit on me”, he said, coughing through his words.
The world began to fade to brown, and Zed lost consciousness.