Presley had everybody crowded into the Officer's mess, and was standing at the head of the table trying very hard to calm down before he unleashed his frustrations upon the contact team, all of whom were standing at attention and staring straight ahead, perhaps hoping that the most rigid amongst them might not get singled out by the Captain for blame.
Finally, Presley spoke calmly and evenly.........."Fuck it, just sit down, except for you, Owens."
No one dared issue a sigh of relief as they all sat down and glanced sideways at the hapless Flight Officer who had been chosen to be raked over the coals first. The lander pilot remained at attention and stared straight ahead, his face as blank as he could possibly make it, not daring to express any emotion.
"Owens, first off, both you and your copilot were in charge of the base camp while we were away, and I distinctly remember saying out loud before we headed out to keep an eye on that fucking Chaplain! Second, I know damn well that a head count is called for, if nothing else than for weight and fuel management. Did you honestly expect us to do your God Damned checklist FOR YOU?!"
The Flight Officer stared straight ahead, and simply replied "No Sir!" as any good officer not looking to volunteer his faults would do. However, this particular pilot, whatever screw-ups he was responsible for, was damn lucky to have Presley for his Judge, jury, and executioner.
"Sit down Owens. Look, guys, I am responsible for the outcome of any mission under my command, and it's MY ass that's on the line if we lose the Padre. You know as well as I do, and it was aptly demonstrated down there on the planet, that the first thing that happens to any well thought out plan is that it falls apart as soon as you implement it, but that does NOT mean that we lose sight of the basic details, and that includes being responsible for one another. Not ONE of you looked around and noticed that the Chaplain was not with us when we lifted off, but neither did I, but even though you might think that means we're even, we are NOT! I know that each of you have specific responsibilities during this mission, but for Christ's sake people, let's not overlook the fucking OBVIOUS! Do you understand me!?"
A loud chorus of "Yes SIRS!" issued from the sullen ranks, and Presley moved on to the problem at hand. "OK, let's see if we can salvage this situation. "Townsend, did the drone catch any video of the camp that's of any use to us?"
The surveillance officer cleared his throat. "Ah, 'fraid not, Captain. We had it orbiting you guys while you were conducting the contact, and then we parked it at a higher altitude until and if we needed it again. We studied the archives and there's no record of what was going on back at base camp before you lifted off. Sorry, Cap."
"Shit", thought Presley to himself. That left them with two choices, either going back to the landing sight and tracking the Chaplain from there, if it was possible, or simply trying to contact the natives directly and inquiring about the human's whereabouts, which Presley was loath to do considering the natives' allergy to their presence altogether. "OK, then, I guess the best thing to do is program the drone to scan that road and see if we can either pick up some tracks or if we're lucky, the Padre himself. In the meantime, I want you, Gunny, to assemble a rescue team, only this time just forget about the optic camo, since it doesn't seem to work. We'll assemble in the dock in one hour. Townsend, I want every sensor you have locked on us at all times. And be sure to let me know immediately if the natives make any contact; I want to avoid any misunderstandings they might infer from us returning to the planet. I just want to get the Padre back in one piece and get the hell away from this side of the planet. We can worry about a second attempt at negotiations once we fix THIS mess we got ourselves into."
Presley dismissed them and headed for his stateroom to make a log entry concerning the day's activities, as was required by regulations. He didn't try to dress up the fiasco or try and place blame on any person under his command; he knew that if heads were going to roll it was going to be his, so he reported the facts, dry and without any window dressing. Hopefully, the next entry would negate the effects this one was sure to have on his career.
The Captain showed up at the dock precisely an hour later, and the Marine had his team assembled next to the lander as ordered, this time made up of a squad of 12 marines, all wearing the standard digital camo common to any land based grunt. Instead of the standard light weaponry, most were equipped with medium range stun weapons, and several of his best snipers were included. They were not out to start a war, just recover a man. Marines NEVER left a man behind, not even one who couldn't preach and chew gum at the same time. The Flight Officer, still chaffing from being chewed out by the Captain, gingerly briefed Presley on his flight plan, which would bring them down much further from the landing zone, in hopes of not alerting the locals of the town to their return, which would be much more visible in a night sky. He would fly them in low over the tree tops to the meadow and set down only several hours before sunrise. The Captain nodded his agreement, for lack of any better ideas.
As the hatch on the frigate opened and dropped the lander a second time, the object of their wasteful fuel expenditure was sleeping in a nice bed in the company of an alien race, having just enjoyed a strange and wonderful dinner served to him by his native hosts, instead of being shackled in some dungeon as he might have expected. As he slept, he dreamed of bringing Jesus to a world that didn't seem to know him. He slept the sleep of ignorance.