Simultaneously, thirteen flight harnesses disengaged and men and women whose sole purpose in life was dispatch violence exploded from the rear hatch of the ship. Fire in the bellies and rifles in their hands.
Fireteam Alpha was first.
They moved with purpose and conviction. Every step was calculated and four sets of eyes scanned their surroundings as efficiently as any radar could hope to achieve. Bullock and Greer, both armed with their pulse rifles, stayed glued to "Brick" and Mikhailov. Mikhailov brandished a heavy, articulated gauss cannon while "Brick" swept the area with a heavy set, grenade launcher; both of them ready to dispense death to anything that threatened them or the dropship.
But their reign was not challenged.
Moments later, the next two fireteams, Bravo and Charlie, emerged from the belly of the dropship. They moved to the left and right of Alpha team, with Staff Sergeant Coughlin taking up a position in the middle of all three.
But still nothing moved.
And for that, Coughlin let out a small sigh of relief.
Having the members of her squad around her was comforting. She wouldn't trade any one of them for a million recruits fresh out of boot. They were her armor and her weapons; her very extension of self. She knew they'd give their lives just as soon as she'd give hers to save them all and she could trust any of them to cover her back just as well as she could cover her own.
Luckily, there didn't seem to be a need.
The swampy area where they stood was less than appealing, but given the mention of "dangerous organisms" it was hard not to imagine hulking monsters emerging from the darkness as they landed. Instead, they were greeted by a gentle, almost serene night-time landscape.
The dropship had touched down on a large, dry area in the swamp that may very well have been some form of atoll. Surrounded by thickets of mangrove trees that jutted out of great pools and lagoons of sea water, her mind wandered briefly to the time she'd visited a similar salt-water swamp on Earth to see the sharks and rays that lived among roots of the strange trees.
Absently, Coughlin wondered if these pools held similar beasts as the lemon sharks back home.
She quickly perished the thought; focusing instead on the small lifeboat that was settled quietly in waist deep water a hundred meters away. It nearly blended into the background, shrouded by a thick fog and the heavy darkness provided by the mangrove trees, but the hard metal was difficult to miss once she focused on it.
Without a word, Coughlin pointed at the ship and all three fireteams moved through the murky surroundings with surprising silence given the wet environment. They formed up around the ship in a triangle that encompassed the little ship.
"Alpha team." she whispered into the mic. "You're on breaching duty. If it's closed, we don't want anything nasty waiting for us inside."
"Won't be necessary, sir."
A moment later, she saw why.
From their initial landing position, the little lifeboat appeared fine. Unpowered and dark, but no worse for wear short of sitting in a shallow pool of salt water.
The rear end was another matter.
The entire rear of the little ship where the rear-hatch should have been was demolished. The metal had been pushed and shredded outwards as if there had been some sort of explosion.
No. Not an explosion. The edges were too ragged. Too uneven and twisted. And there were bits of flesh and gore splattered across the broken edges of the bent metal.
"Looks like something ripped its way out." Greer commented; reflecting her own thought process.
The question was: was it still somewhere inside?
The ship was by no means large and it was obvious that something had come OUT of the ship, but that didn't mean that it didn't find the ship's interior more suitable than the surrounding swamps. Underestimating whatever these things were could get them all killed.
For all she knew, it had stepped out, changed its mind, and was hiding just inside the darkness of the downed lifeboat waiting for an unsuspecting marine to bumble their way in.
"Bravo and Charlie, secure the ramp. Alpha, clear the ship."
Again, the groups moved seamlessly. Bravo and Charlie appeared on either side of Coughlin at the bottom of the ramp as Alpha moved deliberately up towards the shredded hole in the ship's rear. Four chest-lamps ignited the dark interior and the blood streaked walls and seats. However, with the exception of surprising amount of dried blood and some serious structural damage, the lifeboat was empty.
There weren't even bodies.
"Empty, Staff Sergeant." Bullock confirmed.
"Whatever party happened here, we missed it." Brick agreed.
"B'ylad'..." Mikhailov muttered just loud enough for her mic to pick up.
Coughlin glanced around, taking in her surroundings once more. The deep, penetrating darkness of the forested night. The thick, winding trunks of the mangrove trees. The heavy fog. The salt water.
All the hiding places.
And then, as she stared, she saw a glow. It was hard to see through the fog, but against the dark backdrop, she could make out the faint lights from the nearby town.
Could whatever this creature have been seen those lights and moved towards it? Would it have been attracted to civilization? Or would it have sensed the light and, like a beast fleeing from fire, turned and gone the other way?
Coughlin looked over her should in the opposite direction. Another thicket of mangrove trees and probably even deeper salt water marshes lay there.
She really wished she knew what this organism was.
"Alright guys, let's find this son of a bitch. Calenburg is just a little over a couple miles from here. Myself and Alpha team will take the dropship and skim the area between here and there to see what we can find. In the meantime, Bravo and Charlie, you're to sweep this area for anything that might point us in the right direction."
"What exactly are we looking for, Staff Sergeant?" Kuroba asked cautiously.
"Something big, ugly, and mean enough that the brass don't want to tell us what it is."
A few brows arched as she and Alpha made their way away from the ruined lifeboat and back towards the dropship.
"And if we find it?" Dixon chimed in.
"You do what marines do best, Specialist."
"Ooo-rah." he mouthed with a smirk.