The organism's heart or stomach or center pulsed as it sucked the blood and lymph from Merritt's body. It had struck in him in an instant, pulling him down and inserting it's bladed, fleshy appendages through his Kevlar-lined excursion suit like it was paper. He was conscious but immobilized.
Delyth focused on the pulsing heart, not sure how to get to it without herself being caught in the trap but she was sure that it was vital. She took her axe from its sheath at her hip.
"No," Merritt said, his voice weak and strained over the intercom.
She lunged forward and sunk the axe deep into the heart and it burst open with Merritt's fluids and it's own, blue-green and stringy, and it spattered against her suit and visor. She wiped at it, and when she could see again the organism was still.
"Merritt," she said. "Merritt?"
"It has me," he whispered.
She knelt down at Merritt's head and pulled him under the arms away from the organism. He screamed, she let go.
"It's in me," said Merritt.
Delyth went to his legs and tried to pull on the appendages but the blades were barbed. She tried to disengage them but her gloves were too thick to allow her purchase. She put her hands to her helmet.
"No!" cried Merritt. "You'll be contaminated! You won't be able to go back to the ship."
"They'll quarantine me."
"They can't. There's no way to do it. You can't..."
Delyth broke the seal on her helmet and twisted it off. She could no longer hear Merritt through the intercom, but she could see him sobbing beneath his visor.
The air was extremely humid and smelled of pepper and methane. Delyth's eyes stung with the brightness of the unfiltered violet starlight. There was a chorus of high clicking sounds coming from the tall, diaphanous sponge-like organisms that rose like trees all around them. She spent only a moment taking in her senses and quickly undid her gloves and pulled them off.
She worked her fingers in next to the blades and tried to pull but they were surfaced like sandpaper and cut her. She removed her hands and was grateful that Merritt could not see her blood mingled with his.
Delyth took the axe and hacked away at the appendages, as close to Merritt's legs as she could without injuring him. It took only a few strikes to free each appendage. The stumps did not run with fluids.
"It's coagulating!" she yelled out, but Merritt couldn't see or hear her behind his visor.
She got up and pulled him under the arms and away from the dead organism. She leaned over his helmet.
"You're going to live!" she exclaimed.
He looked up at her despondently and spoke a few words that Delyth couldn't make out. She unsealed his helmet and pulled it off gently. His face was pale.
"We're both dead," said Merritt. "Contaminated."
"I don't agree with that," said Delyth. "Not much was ever learned by shutting the world away."
"It's a different world," said Merritt.
Delyth rolled Merritt onto his side, and pulled his arm around her shoulder. He screamed in pain, but she transferred his weight to her back and stood, taking hold of his other arm. His weight combined with the weight of his suit and her own was more than she had ever tried to carry and she staggered with the burden.
"You should leave me here," said Merritt.
"You should drag me then."
"I'd either have to pull you by your injured legs," she paused to catch her ragged breath, "or let them drag along, and both would be cruel."
She lurched along slowly, and their heads bobbed close together.
"Then kill me."
Delyth shook her head. She could no longer manage words.
"It's more than a mile," said Merritt.
Delyth stopped and breathed heavily, but did not put him down.
"They know what happened. They know where we are. They'll meet us in the rover."
She inhaled another deep breath and pushed forward again. Her face was cherry red.
"The oxygen," said Merritt. "There's more of it in the air than we are used to breathing. You're able to carry me because of the oxygen."
"Maybe I'm just strong," grunted Delyth.
"I'm not bleeding anymore," said Merritt. "Rest. We can do this slow."
Delyth knelt down, but kept Merritt on her back.
"I hope I can get up," she said, and they laughed together.
They spent a moment listening to the clicking around them, to their own breathing, a combination of sounds never before heard together. They were the first people to experience this world in its raw form, and without speaking of it to each other, they each knew the other understood the significance of it.
"I wouldn't be able to leave you either," said Merritt.
"I know," said Delyth.