Captain Ray Gunn and the Planet of Illusion

A small rocket ship entered the star system of its target: Sheldon IV. From the cockpit, there was a square jawed, blonde haired man of the Star Corps. He wore a space suit with a fishbowl styled helmet and the Star Corps star and rocket insignia on the chest. On his arm was a patch reading "Captain Ray Gunn." On his hip was a holster holding a sleek, chrome death ray pistol.

The primary star was almost identical to Earth's, and the planet he had been sent to investigate was confirmed to be an Earth-like one. Gravity would be identical. From the distance, the spaceman could see the blue and green of the planet. Ensuring all systems were working, he headed for the planet and turned on his flight recorder.

"Star date is 18.731.4. Ahead of me is a world marked for colonization, Sheldon IV," he recorded. "Investigating reports of the vanished colony, Landon 22. Designated landing zone in Sector 10, just north of colony."

He guided the scout ship in through the atmosphere, and turned on the antigravity pads to prepare for a landing. The ship headed over a green continent, with verdant forests and expansive grasslands. A blue, pristine ocean and bay became larger as he drew closer towards the colony. Descending to the surface of a planet was not as impressive after the first hundred times. Ray tried making radio contact, but no reply came from the colony.

As the ground became larger, he could see the metal dome of the Landon 22 colony. A landing pad had been set up, but several empty space ships dotted the makeshift space port.

"No response or activity on all frequencies," he spoke into his in-helmet recorder. "Yet there is still power in the colony. Lights are on, but no one's home."

The rocket ship coasted to an easy stop, extending its landing legs as it made contact with the ground. He instinctively drew his death ray pistol, pointing the flared tip out. He kept his helmet and spacesuit on, not wanting to expose himself to the atmosphere. Early reports suggested no dangerous substances or organisms in the air, but Ray was not taking any chances. It could have been some previously undiscovered organism that caused some disease amongst the colonists.

He kept his weapon out, approached the airlock, and again hailed from the radio in his suit. "Hello, is anyone here?" he radioed out in all directions.

Again, no response. Swiping his Star Corps ID card, he opened the airlock to the colony. He entered the airlock and looked around. It was the same sterile metal corridor as he had seen in countless other prefabricated colony modules. Inside, he saw nothing but sterile metal and electric lights on in all directions. "Hello?" he shouted through the speaker in his spacesuit. He scanned the air. No foreign pathogens were detected, but there was an increased amount of carbon dioxide in the air. On a rack to the side hung several empty spacesuits.

Ray decided to head to the colony's control room, and see if anything of note was recorded. He walked down the empty metal corridor, half expecting some hideous alien monster, raving human, or killer robot to jump out and ambush him. However, there was nothing, just a horrid, perfect stillness down the corridor. Ray Gunn thought it was more unnerving than all the combat he had faced. Strangely, there was clothing scattered all around, as if everyone had stripped naked before leaving. Personal items were also strewn about, as if someone had ransacked the place. Ray picked up a discarded datapad and scanned it. There were no signs of pathogen or contamination on it. He did the same to some random jumpsuits, a few photographs, and a few casually strewn about holsters and ray guns.

By the time he reached the bulkhead to open the office door, he had somewhat relaxed his guard. Quickly, he looked around the room. There was a primary computer console, and a small lab bench with a microscope. Ray Gunn focused his attention on the console, and began entering his security code. He checked out the latest recorded file, dated a month ago.

The image of a black-haired man appeared on the console screen. He had a packed look on his face, and red swelling around his neck. He was also stark naked, but the limits of the camera prevented anything from beneath his waist from being shown. "It's worse than we first thought!" he exclaimed. "They're everywhere! They could be in this lab, listening! We've called for evacuation. The evac pods should be here in a few hours."

Just then, a woman appeared in the background, covering her chest with her hands. "Doctor Klein! We're ready to go!" she nodded. "Everyone's undressed, and the pods are here!"

"Well, that's a bit early, don't you think? We didn't even give them formal permission to land yet," he let out a sigh of relief. "But no matter. If anyone hears this, know this. We couldn't detect them at first, since they're some form of gigantic single-celled creature. They use some form of psychic energy to appear as objects you'd prefer to find. My own microscope just tried to strangle me, so I blasted it and found it was one of them. For some reason, they only take the form of inorganic objects of varying sizes. If you find one, they can be killed by standard issue ray guns. Just be sure it's a weapon that you're holding."

"Come on, Doctor! They're not going to wait all day!" the woman chided. "Everyone else has already stripped down and is boarding the escape shuttles!"

"I hope no one thinks of colonizing this awful planet after we leave," Doctor Klein moved to turn of the camera. "I hope never to see this world again." It was there the recording ended.

Recalling what he had seen, Captain Ray Gunn tried to make sense of it. Some kind of shapeshifting predator lurked on this planet. It could take the form of any inorganic object, hence why they had stripped naked before leaving. However, Ray knew that no one had been evacuated from the colony. The rescue ships had waited in orbit, found no one living in their scans, and put the planet under quarantine until he could investigate. Ray Gunn suddenly realized what happened to the colonists. It was not escape pods they had entered.

Ray Gunn looked back at the lab bench. The microscope had moved slightly. Ray Gunn fired his sidearm at it, causing it to start melting into a transparent pool while emitting a high pitched wailing. He fired again, vaporizing the He kept his weapon ready, and decided to leave as fast as he could. Ray darted down the main corridor of the colony, occasionally looking behind him. He could see various random articles of clothing, such as socks, jumpsuits, and belts moving behind him with surprising speed. He fired randomly over his shoulder, hoping to blast as many of them as he could. The space suit was hard enough to run in, but Ray had done it several times in the past to be used to it by now.

Suddenly, at the end of the corridor, Ray could see the airlock door. Suddenly, some of the empty space suits got up, each apparently one of the mimics. The Captain fired his ray gun at them, reducing them to pools of chittering slime. He barreled through the airlock, slamming the door behind him. He blasted the remaining empty space suits just to be on the safe side, and then opened the door to the outside.

However, as he surveyed the landing zone, he saw there was more than one of his ship. Several exact duplicates of his space ship were parked around the field. He had to choose the right one, or else he would become dinner for some shape-shifting space amoeba. Realizing how armed his ship was, he trained his pistol on each of the replicas. He fired randomly at a few, reducing them to pools of transparent goo. After blasting all of them, he found the original one only had some burn marks on the side. He shot it again just to be sure, and saw only more burn marks.

Ray jumped into the cockpit. He lifted off the ground, and armed his craft's weapons. Once he was in the upper atmosphere, he fired the tactical neutron bomb down at the site of the Landon 22 colony. Before leaving the orbit of the planet, he sent a last message over the radio. "Future colonization of Sheldon IV is not recommended," Ray spoke into the device. "Permanent quarantine has been placed on the planet by order of Captain Ray Gunn of the Star Corps."

The rocket ship left the star system, and its pilot awaited his next orders. Hopefully the next ones would not result in getting chased by random articles of clothing.