The M1 colonization probe lands on Mars, and Captain Fred Thomas calls Colonel Hal Danvers at Earth Control to inform him that they've arrived safely. After leaving a message, he tells his other crewmate Lt. Jim Bowman that he's going out and agrees to stay in touch at all times. After donning his helmet, Fred climbs off the rocky escarpment that they've landed on and steps onto the Martian sand. He opens his helmet once he confirms that the air is breathable, and surveys the vast stretch of sand before him. When he starts to sink into the sand, Fred steps back and sits down on a rock.
Jim enters a log about Fred leaving the ship and then calls Fred. Fred reports that there's no sign of anything living, and Jim tells him to be careful as Fred says that he's circling back to the M1.
At Earth Control, Hal and General Winston listen to the delayed transmissions.
Jim continues the arrival report and confirms the three-and-a-half-minute radio delay. Fred suddenly screams over the radio, and Jim runs out to help him. There's no sign of Fred, and Jim goes out onto the sand.
On Earth, the officers listen to the delayed transmission. They hear Fred's screams and then Jim's a minute later.
Three Years Later
Hal brings in Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Jerome, to see Winston. They check their watches and confirm that the M2 will land on Mars in just under four hours. They meet with Jerome and review the procedural safety changes and the new laser communication method that will allow instantaneous communication. Hal explains their new computer "Tilly": TL3. They take Jerome to see the computer, and Winston explains that TL3 has stated that a ghost killed Fred and Jim. Major Chuck Merritt on M2 calls in, and Jerome remembers that Chuck saved five men under enemy fire.
On M2, Lt. Frank Johnson is shaving as the other three crewmen--Captain Jack Buckley, Captain Paul Lazarri, and Merritt--play cards. They end their game and prepare for landing. The ship comes down near M1 and Chuck calls in with an observational report. The sensors show that the planet will support life without helmet, and Winston tells them to secure M2 for the night. The next morning, Paul reviews is orders to gather up all evidence and stay in sight of the others, and then return to M2. Hal calls in and confirms that all precautions are taken, and Winston insists on them not deviating from procedure. Chuck agrees and Paul goes out.
Paul approaches the wreckage and finds no signs of life. He puts a balloon marker on the first piece of wreckage and Chuck glances away to follow its path upward. When Chuck looks back, Paul has disappeared. He emerges from behind the wreckage and says that there are strange marks on a piece of meal. Chuck tells him to bring it back, and Paul steps back out of sight to pick it up. He cuts his hand on the sharp metal, and his blood drips onto the sand. A huge fin swims through the sand toward the wreckage, and the three M2 crewmen hear Paul screaming.
The scream fade and Chuck prepares to go out after Paul. Jack and Frank stop him, and Winston asks what's going on. Chuck calms down and tells him that there's been a mishap, and requests permission to rescue him. Winston demands the facts first, and Chuck insists that as commander he has to do something about losing a man. The general refuses permission, and orders everyone to stay about M2. Jack asks to go, but Chuck tells Winston that he understands.
Winston reviews the tape of Paul's last words and TL3 suggests that they are facing an invisible enemy. The computer warns that there is an increased possibility that the enemy knows of the crew. Jerome wonders what they're going to do next, and Winston says that they'll destroy the enemy and gather information for the colonization of Mars. Jerome suggests that they reward, but Winston insists on going ahead and contacts M2. He tells Chuck to inform him of every step and tells him to place Frank halfway between the two ships while Jack goes to M1, and Frank to arm himself with a nuclear-tipped bazooka. The two men go out and Jack heads for M1. Chuck watches from M2 through binoculars, and Frank gets to position to see him once he leaves Chuck's sight.
Jack removes his and shoes and sticks to the rocks to make better time. He finds the metal that Paul described but no sign that Paul was ever there. Jack finds blood on the torn metal, and Chuck tells him to move back out into his sight. Once Jack does so, Chuck tells the two men to return to M2. He then calls Earth Control to give his reconnaissance report.
Frank descends from the rock and steps onto the sand, while Jack finds a flower. He reports it to Jack, who tells him not to use his hands. Jack extracts the flower with a tool and heads back.
As Frank steps out on the sand, the creature approaches him and extends its claws.
Jack climbs back up to the rock and sees a piece of diamond. He pockets it and finds more lying about. As he gathers them, he moves out of Chuck's sight and chuck orders him via the radio to move back out. When Jack reaches M2, he starts to show Chuck the diamonds and Chuck asks where Frank is. They try to reach him on the radio but get no response,
Later, Winston tells Chuck and Frank that they will be leaving in an hour and they're not to leave M2. Jack admits that it's his fault, and Chuck tells him that it takes a team effort. The younger man shows Chuck the diamond and insists that it's priceless, and suggests that they can use them to help out the families of the missing men. Chuck tells him that the diamonds belong to their employers and takes a nap. Jack contemplates a diamond and imagines the sand as an ocean back on Earth. He gets an idea and realizes the enemy isn't invisible, and then goes out on his own rather than wake Chuck... leaving his radio behind.
Jack goes to the edge of the sand, cuts his finger with a knife, and smears the blood on a glove. He then tosses the glove out onto the sand, and the creature emerges, swallows the glove, and sinks beneath the sand. He wonders how many there are and runs off.
On Earth, Hal brings Winston and Jerome coffee and then calls M2. Chuck responds and discovers that Jack is gone. He tells Earth Control that Jack may be up in the control cabin and will report back later, and looks outside. There's no sign of Jack and Chuck can't raise him on the radio.
Jack sticks to the rocks and gathers more diamonds.
Chuck tells Winston that Jack went out against orders and he left his radio behind. The commander goes out to find Jack, disobeying Winston's orders to stay on M2, and Winston warns him that the incident will be noted in Chuck's record. Chuck goes out and steps out onto the sand, and Jack spots him and tells him not to move. The commander doesn't hear him and trips, and the creature approaches. Jack sees it and yells at Chuck to get out of the sand. Chuck sees the creature approaching and crawls to a rock in the middle of the sand. He makes it just in time and the creature, unable to reach him, descends under the sand. Jack calls out an explanation, and it's 48 minutes until blastoff.
Hal: The computer always reveals the obvious with the felicity of an elephant.
The claws that emerge from the "sand" to grasp Paul and later Frank are noticeably dripping with water. In several other shots, the water beneath the "sand" is visible as the creature moves.
Chuck communicates with Earth via his radio, and says that the sand is rising like a tide. Winston confirms that the blastoff time can't be changed, and Chuck warns that he only has a foot of rock left. Jack cuts in from the cabin, taking the blame for losing Frank and putting Chuck at risk. He wishes that it was him instead of Chuck out there.
With twenty-six minutes left until blastoff, Earth Control tries to chart a proper course of action. Winston informs Jerome that Jack will have to abandon Chuck if he can't rescue him in time, and if they wait then they'll sacrifice both men and the information that they've gathered. Hal agrees with Winston, but Jerome says that he wouldn't abandon Chuck and the public would feel the same. He admits that he wouldn't want the responsibility of making the decision and they call M2. They get no response from Jack.
Jack paces on the edge of the sand, trying to figure out a way to rescue Chuck. Chuck responds and says that Jack is with him and won't go back to M2. He tells Winston not to hold Jack's refusal against him, and Winston asks him to inform Jack that Jack is now officially appointed to replace Chuck and blast off on time.
The creature rises briefly above the sand, and Jack gets an idea. He tells Chuck that he'll run into the sand at an angle and decoy the creature away from Chuck. Jack heads off and the creature goes after him. Chuck cuts himself and smears the blood on his radio belt, and throws it to draw the creature away from Jack. Jack and Chuck both run to the rocks and make it to safety just in time. They find Frank's discard nuclear bazooka and Jack fires it, killing the creature. More creatures emerge from the sand.
A few minutes later, Chuck reports to Earth Control. Winston tells them that they have six minutes until blastoff. Chuck and Jack reports that they're ready for blastoff, and Jack claims that he was just kidding about what he said earlier. He contends that the diamonds belong to the crews of M1 and M2. Six minutes later, M2 takes off on time.
Written by Gadfly on Jan 12, 2018