Nati smiled to herself as she prepared for the gauntlet of death she was about to manoeuvre through. The bark rubbing on her skin was rough but she was used to it as she slid up the root that was hiding her. Peering over the edge, she saw the momentous journey she faced; her destination was the mountain on the horizon which glinted multicoloured light at her in the parts not covered in snow. The challenge would be manoeuvring through the three storey building-sized alien-animals that populated the field before her. The tallest of the beasts sitting at thirty feet, there were approximately one hundred alien-animals lumbering through the field, and all different shapes and sizes. Determination not crumbling in the slightest, Nati rubbed dirt over her dark chocolate-coloured, sinewy skin. After a few deep breaths, Nati had vaulted over the human-sized root of the tree and was on a stealthy rampage through the field that stood in front of her.After just a few minutes of the alien gauntlet, buzzing in Nati’s ear startled her and almost threw her off balance as she slithered between two tree trunk-sized space animal legs.“Come in, civilian. This is Commander Aldrin. Report. Over.” Commander Rick Aldrin, the overzealous captain of the shuttle was constantly berating Nati for her unprofessionalism and lack of American heritage, she suspected.Regaining her balance and catching her breath momentarily underneath one of the lumbering giants that slowly made its way through the manicured grass, Nati had enough breath to growl at the Commander through her wrist microphone.“If I need you, I’ll contact you.” She took out the screaming Commander’s earpiece and tucked it into the pouch attached to her belt. She continued manoeuvring through the moving tree trunks of the elephant-looking monstrosity above her. With the grace of a leopard climbing a tree, Nati vaulted through the legs of the animal, making her way up the side of the beast onto its spiked back.The sight was unlike anything she had seen before. Only a few kilometres away was a gargantuan mountain covered in snow, its tip sticking into the clouds that it had created from its sheer height. The unbelievable part wasn’t the height but what lay underneath the snow. The entire mountain was made of a thick, lustrous glass, shining rainbows at her from the sun’s reflection. The shape of the mountain was so sheer that it looked like a 7 sided pyramid. Nati gazed at the mountain in awe, a hint of a smile on her lips.“So, it is true…”-“She thinks she can just up and leave whenever she wants?! There are rules! Guidelines! Checklists! This is an alien planet for Christ’s sake! Zhao, where does the GPS put her?” Commander Richard Aldrin, as the label on his flight suit proudly promoted, barked orders to his co-pilot and the only scientist on board. Dr Guiren Zhao held back a flurry of insults that had crept up into the forefront of his mind and focused on one of the multitudes of screens that filled two-thirds of the surveillance room on the space shuttle.“Maybe if you had just listened to her, she mightn’t have-“ Zhao was cut off by the Commander.“This is my ship, Zhao. I can’t have it running rampant with vagrants like Miss Mutombo. You want to go outside? You ask me.” Aldrin slowly advanced on Zhao. “You want to open a window? You ask me. You want to take a piss? You ask me. Understand?” He stopped his advance inches from Zhao’s face.The two stared for some time, neither backing down. Zhao was determined and unforgiving whilst Rick stared with a sense of entitlement, passed on from generation to generation of privileged families. A beep on the screen pulled both from their gazes. They’d found her.“Sonuvabitch. She’s nearly at the mountain.” Then Rick muttered under his breath. “It’s true.”A drone had found Nati and was following her at a distance, observing her atop the strange beast, gazing at the mountain that took up the bulk of the screen, the rainbow prism of light shining into the drone’s lens.Zhao leant back and blew out the breath he’d been holding in. He smiled to himself as he got out of the monitor chair and took out a cigarette. Lighting it, he pushed passed a mesmerised Rick who quickly took the seat and disappeared into his room.With Rick’s attention being occupied by the picturesque mountain, he didn’t notice the flurry of activity at the bottom of the screen. Two orange giraffe-looking animals, taller than the rest of the building-sized animals, were being circled by an unknown animal. Unknown because it was invisible, it looked like nothing was surrounding the giraffe aliens, the only telltale hint being the impressions their paws made on the soft grass. One of the giraffe-aliens went down in a fraction of a second, blood arcing in all directions from its neck, sending the other scurrying into the exponentially growing stampede that ran in the direction of the mountain.-What have those idiots done now? The hundred-strong stampede was heading right in Nati’s direction. The alien she had commandeered had 10 foot long boney spikes down its back that she slipped in between as the beast joined the thundering stampede, galloping towards the mountain.The stampede waned as they started to reach the base of the natural pyramid, aliens ducking into tunnels into the mountain or veering off into the forests to either side of the mountain. Nati sensed that it was time to dismount as the giant beast she was riding was heading straight for a limitless tunnel leading to the depths of the mountain. She leapt off the monster and landed onto the rock hard floor in a practised roll. She placed the earpiece back in her ear and found the right channel.“Guiren, it’s true, it’s all diamond,” Nati whispered whilst holding her hand against the cold tunnel wall, the slight prism of light rushing through from thousands of metres above her head.“Well, this being revolutionary, it definitely raises more problems than solutions.” A crackling in her ear meant that Guiren Zhao received her transmission and was safe in his cabin.“We can’t tell him.”“He knows.” Nati heard the crackling of a sigh coming through the earpiece.“So what do we do?”“Leave it with me, maybe I can speak some sense into him. In the meantime, get to the heart. If my theory is right, this structure isn’t here for no reason.”“What do you think is in here? That stampede wasn’t caused by nothing, do we have information on the predators or protectors of this planet?”“Sorry Nati, nothing yet. Something worth protecting will always find a way of protecting itself, we must trust nature on this one.”Silence from Nati meant her agreement of Zhao’s proverbial statement. It was time to adventure on through this labyrinth of super-hardened carbon, with the threat of some unknown predator waiting in the wings to find her weak spot. Which doesn’t exist. Thought Nati.-Rick paced the surveillance room, fervently checking the screens to ascertain there was no movement outside the mountain cave’s entrance. It was all quiet after Nati entered the passage and that made Rick tense. He knew there was something in the mountain, he just wasn’t sure whether he would ever know what it was.“Your pacing isn’t going to help Nati any more than your friends at NASA could stop the ozone layers from crumbling on our own heads.” Zhao was abruptly behind Rick, a lit cigarette in his mouth, not having made a sound at all when leaving his room.“NASA is not at fault for all of Earth’s problems, I remember the Chinese having some kind of pollution problem, Zhao.” Rick retorted, gritting his teeth.“The Chinese have their problems just as the Americans do, that is why we are here, Commander.” Zhao kept his cool as he always did.Rick ignored Zhao’s rebuttal and fixated himself on the screens as he sat down.“Listen, Rick, we have to hold off on letting Earth know what we have found here. It could spell doom for this planet and we don’t have the right to ruin another civilisation. If we do find something that could save Earth, at least let me study it before we make a judgement about the effects of its removal.” Zhao berated himself for blurting out the obvious but he needed to know Rick’s point of view on the matter.“You just concentrate on your gadgets, Zhao. I didn’t come all this way to give a damn about some asscrack planet over ours. This is my destiny.”“What do you know of destiny, Rick? Surely one’s own destiny cannot be the destruction of countless others’.” Zhao overstepped his bounds but didn’t care.“You and your proverbs. How about the lives on Earth? They obviously don’t matter to you anymore.” Rick wasn’t even looking at Zhao.Sensing no budging room in Rick’s conscience, Zhao resigned himself to his cabin. He sat down on his smaller-than-single sized bed, ran his hands through his straight black hair, took a few deep breaths to collect himself. He looked up into the mirror facing him, seeing his steely dark eyes and the conviction in them.He pulled out his communicator and pressed the talk button three times.An hour later, Zhao was walking through the field Nati had athletically manoeuvred through, although this time, it was completely barren, showing the plant-life that populated the field. Blood trickled from his left hand, which held another lit cigarette, onto the lush green grass which was eerily similar to Earth’s. The trees around him all felt familiar but so distant as he got used to the alien terrain.Zhao was making mental notes of his surroundings, cataloguing and detailing everything in his mind’s eye. He could feel the life force of this planet, he could sense there was a power that burned deep on the planet which fuelled life here, much like the sun on Earth, the only difference being, the sun on this planet was far more distant to this planet, it just seemed to survive without the need for the sun’s heat, unlike Earth. Determination in his eyes, he trudged toward the glistening mountain ahead.-Rick slowly opened his eyes as a sharp pain shot down his neck from the top of his skull. What had happened? Did he fall? Where was everyone? And then it hit him.“You SONUVABITCH!!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. A blood stained spanner was laying next to his head and a trail of blood lead from Zhao’s room to the shuttle entrance. Rick raced to the mirror to inspect his wound, it wasn’t that bad, a definite egg forming and a cut to go with it that shouldn’t hinder him with the adrenaline pumping through him. He noticed his eyes, bloodshot, wide-eyed, furious. I’m going to tear his eyes out and gut this fucking planet. After a few moments of reflection, Rick knew his plan of attack.He grabbed his Magnum from his cabin and set off after Zhao.-“How did it go?” Nati calmly asked as she heard Zhao’s footsteps through the tunnel.“As expected, I don’t know if he will be waking up anytime soon, there was a lot of blood.”“You did the right thing, I know that must have been hard.” She put a hand on his shoulder to console him but he shrugged her hand off, gave her a steely look and gestured toward the light at the end of the tunnel, they were halfway through.As they neared the end of the tunnel, they could hear a bass-powered hum coming from the blinding white light. They averted their eyes as the brightness overwhelmed them and trudged on, watching their footing.The entrance was getting closer and closer as the light engulfed them and the sound was reverberating around their skulls like butterflies in a jar. The archway at the end of the tunnel looked to be naturally carved from millennia of ebbing power emanating from this room. Not expecting what they’d find, they walked in and the light instantly dissipated into a warmer, mood lighting. In the middle of the hall-sized room was a fist-sized crystal, splashing light on the diamond walls all around, creating rainbows and prisms of colour like tie-dye.“Don’t touch it. This kind of power was never meant for human hands. The monks said that when we got here, we would know what to do… but I’m at a loss, Nati.” Zhao had crumbled to his knees in the wake of the raw energy that was emitting from this crystal.Nati was looking back behind her, her sensitive hearing had picked up footsteps. “Guiren, get behind me.” She unsheathed her extendable spear as she saw a figure emerging from the shadows.Rick shuffled through the archway to see Nati and Zhao barricading him from the crystal. His face was scrunched into a scowl, his eyes directed at Zhao, over Nati’s shoulder.“Face me, coward!” Rick was disoriented from the wound on his head, he was swaying but he was much larger than Zhao and Nati, he had the brutish, unpredictable force that he would need to reach the crystal if he needed.“Rick, you must see how this planet survives. It is a phenomenon we have never encountered as a race, this crystal powers the whole planet! Surely you have some compassion for the innocent.” Zhao took a step toward Rick as he spoke.“And there aren’t people on Earth that are innocent?!” Rick stumbled and caught himself on the wall. “My daughter looks up to me! She has done nothing! She deserves a second chance just like the rest of humanity!”“I’m sorry, Rick.” Nati’s head drooped down as she struggled internally. “Not at the expense of an entire planet. I will stop you.” She crouched into fighting position as Rick got more enraged.“You piece of shit! Nobody can stop me, this is my destiny!” Rick started creeping toward Nati, getting ready to react to the spear. “I have to save Earth.”His hand shot behind his back and before Nati or Zhao were ready, he had already pulled out his Magnum and laid a slug each into Nati’s shoulder and Zhao’s leg. The sound reverberating around the dome room, echoing through the tunnels and causing a literal shudder.“You damn traditionalists.” Rick picked his way over their bodies which were writhing in agony on the diamond floor. “Never bring a knife to a gunfight, didn’t your mother teach you anything?” he gloated as he inspected the crystal.“You are dooming this planet, Rick!” Zhao grunted through the pain.“I’m dooming you and any hope of your precious monk cult surviving the next week.” his eyes narrowed as he looked straight into Zhao’s terrified eyes. “Yeah, we know all about your little mission, Zhao.”Zhao said nothing back but all the contempt for Rick in his eyes told his story for him. Nati was keeping her cool, controlling her breathing and heart rate to slow the blood loss as she watched Rick pick up the crystal. The change was instantaneous, Rick stood up straight, he bristled with an energy he had never felt before. The cut on his head disappeared as he shook his limbs, getting a feel for the newfound power. He picked his way over the bodies on the floor.“Ah, what the hell.” Rick stopped under the archway and turned around, gun in one hand, crystal in the other. He walked up to Zhao and held the gun up to his head. Zhao stared him in the eyes, pushing his head forward onto the gun barrel. Rick cocked the hammer back, a grin forming on his lips and pulled the trigger. But he missed.Nati had reached the spear that she had dropped and yanked it around in an arc to plunge it deep into Rick’s back. He instantly dropped the crystal and the gun, the bullet ricocheted around the room and flattened itself against the mass of superheated carbon.The sickening sound emanated from his chest as he looked down and saw the blade of a spear had perforated his chest cavity. Blood lined the blade and dripped onto the crystal which continued to shine a bright white light on Rick’s face. Nati picked herself up, holding her wounded shoulder. She stumbled over to Rick’s body which was slowly but surely dropping to the ground. Standing above his body, she stared coldly deep into Rick’s desperate eyes.“Humans had their chance. We destroyed our ecosystems, we killed our animals, we doomed our world. Nobody from a doomed planet has the right to take the life of the innocent. NASA will never know what happened here, and if they send anyone to come for you, we will end them just as we did you, you ignorant, life-sucking pest.” Nati had nothing but pure hate etched on her face as she kicked Rick square in the nose, making him fall back on the spear. She gripped it and yanked it out, savouring the sweet sound of Rick’s last dying breaths.Blood pouring out of his nose and chest, pooling on the floor, Rick looked at Nati with his last breath he whispered: “You’re a… tr-traitor to your own species.”“You’re a traitor to life itself,” Zhao whispered.