“Let’s go, people, you need an invitation? Saddle up,” said Brackett, as he walked past his seated scout party still viewing the scenery.
“Fifty years in the making,” said Doc Hunnicutt. He unbuckled his harness and rose from his seat.
Brackett unlocked the arms locker and swung the doors open. One by one, the Freelancers armed themselves, then made way for the one behind them.
Billy Gilroy, standing next to Renita Cortez, jumped up and down twice checking for loose equipment. He poked Cortez and nodded toward the arms locker where Charlie Two Sons was applying camouflage to his face.
They watched him dip his finger into a small tin of the face paint and make a broad stripe from his hairline, down his forehead to the tip of his nose. Then, he dipped two fingers into the tin, spread his fingers into a vee and made two broad stripes from his nose, across his cheek to his ear. He repeated the process on his other cheek.
“He’s putting on war paint,” whispered Cortez.
Gilroy slowly turned his head away from Two Sons and looked at Cortez. “I ain’t ever seen him do that before. I hope he don’t start dancin’ around.”
Two Sons loosened the tie binding his hair, let it fall to his shoulders, then tied a camouflage bandana around his forehead. Finally, he took a broad blade hunting knife from the locker, slipped it in the scabbard on his belt and closed the locker doors.
“You think he’s plannin’on takin’scalps?” asked Gilroy.
Cortez rolled her eyes at Billy and gave him a push toward the shuttle hatch where Sergeant Brackett waited patiently watching his locked and loaded scout party assemble in front of him.
“All right, people, let’s do this. We don’t know what to expect out there, so stay alert,” he said and punched the panel on the wall beside the hatch.
The hot, humid jungle air rushed around the lowering ramp and into the faces of the scout party. Brackett was the first one down the ramp and surveyed the clearing until his troops assembled around him. He pressed the mic to his throat.
“We have boots on the ground, Mister Miles,” said Brackett.
“Very well, Sergeant,” Gordon Miles crackled back, “Keep us posted on your progress.”
“Copy that,” replied Brackett.
He looked over at Charlie Two Sons when the big Indian walked by him and out to the edge of the clearing. Charlie looked up into the trees, tilting his head as if to hone in on the sounds of the jungle.
“Charlie is really startin’ to creep me out,” said Billy Gilroy, standing behind Brackett.
“Set up a perimeter,” said Brackett, ignoring Billy’s comment. When Billy returned to the shuttle, Brackett walked toward Charlie.
“What’s wrong, Charlie?” he asked when he walked up beside the Indian.
Charlie Two Son’s eyes never stop scanning the treetops. He looked down to try to catch what scurried through the dense jungle ahead of him. A loud, bellowing roar suddenly echoed through the jungle flushing hundreds of birds from their hidden perches. The Indian watched until the birds settled back into the trees.
“You've not seen the likes of the dangers that stalk this planet.” Charlie looked at Brackett. “You may wish you’d taken your chances back on earth.”
Charlie returned his gaze back to the jungle and focused on the slight movement in the jungle ahead of him.
“I see you,” he whispered as a small shadow moved deeper into cover.
Charlie turned and looked at Brackett as he walked back toward the shuttle where Billy Gilroy, Renita Cortez and Doc Hunnicutt were busy setting up their camp.
Brackett looked up at the birds flitting around in the trees, then down at the spot where Charlie saw the small shadow. A flicker of movement caught his eye. He looked up again at the trees, then turned and followed Charlie back to the shuttle.