The ship touched down on the surface without complication. Unbeknownst to Radek, for an hour the other inmates had been waking slowly, being prepared for drop off. Prison guards were opening the tubes one at a time, getting the prisoners suited up in one of the old power suits and then shoving them off the ship. Radek and Tasker had been the only two bound and gagged, and they would be last to be released.
He watched as Jenkins seemed comfortable in the suit and put it on himself for the most part. There had been only one other prisoner who was also ex-military, but he was nearing his seventies, Radek doubted he would be of much use. He laughed inwardly as they fought with Bull Dog for twenty minutes to get the suit on and then onto the platform to be lowered to the ground. For two hours he waited for his turn, but to his dismay he would be the last off the ship. Tasker was being released first. He watched as the guards untied his arms from behind his back and then his feet. They opened the lock to the bit in his mouth and he removed it with care because it hurt so much and only Radek knew the pain. Tasker stared back at him while the guards put the suit on him. Tasker's buzz cut looked greasy and not at all appealing, but Radek was sweating rather profusely himself. Radek's bald head had sprouted tiny hairs that barely outlined his hair line, and because he couldn't reach it yet it was itching madly.
Tasker stared at him all the way to the platform where the guards left him as it lowered. They walked up to Radek's tube and opened it. They pulled him out rather carlessly and let him fall to the floor. They untied his arms and his legs and unlocked the bit. He too pulled it out of his mouth with care. The skin inside his mouth had started to heal around the bit, and it tore open further when he pulled it out. They helped him with the suit while the feeling in his arms started to come back. One of the guards helped him up while giving instruction to the other one, "Go tell the pilot to prepare for take off, I'll take this one to the platform."
The other guard clicked his heels together in a salute and ran off towards the very well guarded cockpit. Radek found it hard to walk and felt like he was being dragged. He was placed on the platform and could hardly keep on his feet. The guard approached him and handed him a pistol. "Hide this where ever you can, it's not much, but it's all the Colonel would allow. You have your orders. The rendevous point has been downloaded into your suits mainframe. You have 48 hours to complete your mission. The ship will stay on the surface for a window of 15 minutes, if you're not back within the alloted time the ship will leave without you whether or not you have completed your assignment. Good luck Radek, you're going to need it."
He weakly smiled as the platform lowered. As he looked out over the bleak land with its orange haze he reminded himself that this wasn't permanent for him, or at least he had more hope than the others. The bunker wasn't a total 50 yards from the landing site. It was embedded into the face of a mountain, and as he had suspected there was no welcoming party. Most had gone into the bunker already, but there were a few lingering outside. Before he realized it he was being rushed and shoved back onto the platform. Among the ten or so who in a last desperate attempt to get back onto the ship was Tasker and Bull Dog. As the platform started to raise they all stared up as a panel was already covering it. It must have been made as a precaution for this sort of attempt, because if they lingered they'd be squashed between the hydraulics of the platform and the metal plate above them. One by one they jumped off, but Radek was having a hard time getting his body to move. He crawled over to the side as fast as he could, but he felt like he wasn't moving at all. In the last few seconds of life and death he managed to roll off the side still holding on with his fingers. In his delay he was now dangling twenty feet off the ground, and if he didn't let go he'd be burned up in take off. If he managed to survive he'd asphixiate on the way back to Earth. Hesitantly he let go and dropped like pudding to the ground. He lay still as he watched the ship take off while trying to regain his breath which had been knocked out of him.
Seconds later Tasker's faceplate was against his own, "What is your name paydirt?"
"Can't you read? My helmet says Hook, and I'm a Lieutenant, now go be useful and clean your boots or something."
Tasker grinned with obvious evil intent, "We've got ourselves a funny man here, tell me funny man, why should I let you live?"
Radek slowly got to his knees looking pale and withdrawn, "Because you'll never survive day one without me."
Tasker slapped him hard on the back in a patronizing manner, "Funny man says I need him to survive. Listen funny man, I'm the one calling the shots, I'm the one who's in charge here, so you've got very little room for error, understand?"
Radek drew to his feet to face Tasker, "It'll be a short lived reign. It doesn't matter if you kill me or not really, we've got little chance of living on this planet for long."
"Oh really? Now you're an expert of Klendathu huh? I've got quite a few buddies here that would just love you for a chew toy."
"Even with nine friends, your still up a creek without a paddle against seventy. You think everyone here is going to just fall and bow down to you?"
Tasker tapped on Radek's faceplate a few times, "Hello, weren't you at the Warden's farewell speach? There've been over 200 prisoners dropped on this planet, in which most owe me favors. You don't stand a chance funny man."
"Then where are they? Didn't seem to give a damn that you're here. I haven't seen one 'Welcome Home Tasker' banner, and I say welcome home because you'll never leave this place alive."
Tasker glanced over at the bunker for a second, "There's no communications on this planet, they just don't know I'm here yet."
Radek started to laugh, "We were waiting two hours in those tubes, you think none of the other prisoners wouldn't have announced your arrival before you were released? The reason is they're all dead."
Tasker shook his head, not willing to believe, "Unless they all killed each other, but food and supplies are dropped once every month. They've probably just moved on."
"Away from the landing site and the supply drop? Doesn't seem like very sound reasoning to me. The bugs killed them."
Tasker and his support group all laughed, "The bugs are dead funny man, finished off during the war."
"You can assume that's what happened if you want. I'll enjoy watching you get shred apart by an arachnid, or burn agonizingly by a tanker, or better yet, watch your head get autopsied by a brain while you're still alive. I'm not going to be caught off guard though."
Tasker grabbed Radek's throat and set up to punch him, but he was stopped by an exceptionally tall T'Phettian. "If you deem it important to quarrel with him Tasker, you will also find me rather quarrelsome. Do you understand?"
Tasker let him go, afraid of the T'Phettian like most, but he pointed at Radek, "You won't always have your friends around."
Radek watched as he left and then approached the T'Phettian, "T'Olis I presume. I thank you for your help, but I'm also confused, I doubt we have ever met before."
"We have not, but Carl Jenkins has. He was an ambassador after the war for Tophet between our people. He has done much to preserve our honor, and is one of the few humans who has truly tried to understand our people. A friend of his is a friend of mine. I think it is a terrible waste that he must endure this fate upon Klendathu."
Jenkins advanced upon them, a troubled look upon his face, "Ra...Porter, I think you should come see this."
Both Radek and T'Olis followed him round a bend on the west side of the mountain the bunker was jutting out from. They walked for some distance before they reached a small rise that looked down into a small crater only about a 100 meters wide. Inside were square looking boulders, but as they got closer realized they were crates. Dust and dirt had caked onto them. Radek could chip away the crust on them easily, but they had to have been there for some time to look the way they did. "These are the supply crates, but they've been here for months untouched. Those ones over there look like they've been here for years."
Jenkins nodded, "The prison system must know that there's something here killing off the prisoners if they've stopped dropping supplies."
T'Olis disagreed, "Perhaps this is the old supply drop, perhaps there is a new one somewhere else."
Radek shook his head, "You above anyone else shouldn't have that much faith in the Terran," and Radek used a rock to beat off one of the sides of the crate.
Inside the supplies lay unused. They stared at each other for a few seconds knowing what was on the other's mind. Radek pulled out a tray, "I say we gather as much as we can carry and then get as far away from here as possible. I bet that bunker's a tomb."