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Old March 6th, 2016, 11:31 PM
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14 degree axial tilt, north in summer. 81% surface water, 19% surface land, ice caps, well within water habitable zone, good albedo, an almost ideal range of human-habitable temperatures, moon low and fast, heavy tides and obvious geological activity. Two lumpy continents colliding against some kind of obstructions, long and high mountain ranges, island chains, several active volcanoes, it looked like God had dragged his finger across the planet like a child might plow up some mud from a puddle. Slightly heavy atmophere, O2 at 20%. O2 ranges always seemed to stabilize near that value, Adam supposed Helga could explain why. The storms would be real killers, all that ocean over which to build up and then dump their load of water, he could see two hurricanes, one in each hemisphere, playing out, have to avoid them and keep an eye on any new storms that developed.

He drifted the maneuver drive and set orbit right over the middle of the primary continent. Two mountain ranges, high and continuous in the north and moderate and broken in the south, ran the entire length of the land, enclosing a vast plain with a river running east to west down the middle, fed regularly by tributaries along its entire length. Even from up orbit it was readily visible, it must be huge. The flora ranged from high temperate scrub along the mountains to temperate rain forest north of the river, and rampant jungle to the south all the way to the mountains again. Clouds pushed in from the western sea, piling up against the peaks and dropping their load of water and snow.

No-one said anything. Adam had a slight smile.

They drifted endlessly east over the river. Hills, lakes, endless forest. To the south they passed the large bay at which lived the few humans in this world. Adam lined up the nav scope and looked along its coast and shore waters, then put the scope away. Helga looked at him. "Haze," Adam reported.

"What ... is ... that?" Natasha pointed.

A portion of the forest had been cleared, in a sort of rain drop pattern, with the trailing edge only lightly disturbed and growing more empty until reaching a head perhaps a dozen kilometers in diameter that seemed to be bare dirt.

"Meteor strike?" offered Laseiag.

"No," answered Helga, pointing further on, "another is there." This one seemed older, re-filling with forest, but even so the curve in its path was obvious. "Not meteor."

Natasha looked at Adam. He shrugged. "Every ecosystem is different."

The forest was breaking up, giving way to mixed hills and grasslands. From the marks on the terrain it was clear that very large herds roamed here, and it seemed some were large enough to be visible even from their height.

The river continued on into higher lands. Adam pointed at it and looked to Helga. "Third largest in Spinward Marches sector," she said. "Only," he grinned in awe.

Further to the east was a volcano, moderately active, producing a thin column of smoke that dissipated into the vast ocean that could be seen through the final gap in the mountains.

A light shifted on Natasha's panel. She played with her settings for a moment. "I have a signal," she announced.

"Well that was quick," murmered Adam. "Purdue?"

"It is unusually weak but it is transmitting on the right frequency." She transferred the data to Adam's panel. "There." Well away from the inhabited bay, in a transition region between the plains and an eastern forested area.

Helga glanced at the data. "Correct choice of landing zone."

"OK, let's drop in for a visit," Adam announced. "Chief Laseiag I'll try to go straight in but I may hover to look around and get Helga's input and track for Natasha, so please be ready aft." The man nodded and slid out the bridge. "Helga do you want to watch from here or on your display in your cabin?"


"OK." He keyed engineering on internal. Chief Laseiag, down on 50."

"At station," Laseiag sang out.

Adam rolled the Flower to take advantage of what aerodynamics it had and spiraled down toward the signal coordinate, lightly applying the gravitic maneuver drive. The ship wafted on the increasing air resistance and he corrected for the west to east prevailing wind. Adam preferred space-going ships but he could see why some pilots preferred aircraft, interacting with the atmosphere was physically exciting. The horizon slowly rose and pulled in as the world approached.

A flock of avians was crossing underneath them. Adam drifted to one side to avoid it. A great mass of animals, mostly blue with flashing white wings, long tails. A contingent broke away from the mass and circled Flower's vector as it passed them by, then they continued on with the flock. Helga switched on an external speaker system and piped it to the ship's intercomm system. The avians were chirping and popping to each other.

She watched them through a pair of binocculars. "Monkey birds," she said.

"It is landing beacon identifying as ISS Purdue," Natasha announced.

A hilly region, a flat within it, above the surrounding countryside. Yep, perfect spot for a landing. He eased the approach to full maneuver support and circled the area. No ship obviously visible. Trees, grasses, definitely terran, a few odd ... biological structures? ... on the slopes. He couldn't identify them, and he had to watch his engineering readings and gage the terrain itself.

"Can anyone see the beacon? I don't want to land on it," Adam called.

"No," called Helga, scanning with her binocculars. "Ach, very large animal to north."


"Unknown. Yes."

"Beacon is here," Natasha called, passing the trianglulation data to his panel's display of the terrain.

He scanned engineering readings and the location, and picked a spot. "OK, we're putting down, head's up aliens," Adam said. He wheeled the Flower around over the spot, heeled up, and eased down carefully, trying to feel the ground underneath the ship. Satisfied at how it felt, he set down fully and realigned the maneuver drive to full neutral. "Chief Laseiag let's leave the plant on-line for now."

"Five minutes to full recovery," Laseiag responded.

"OK," Adam replied. "Flower, outhull safety protocols."

"Outhull safety protocols enacted," the machine responded.

"Alright Helga, where's our friend?"

"There," she said handing the binocculars to him.

He focused on the animal. It was quite a distance from the landing but definitely had noticed the Flower. Gray, stumpy legs, a big Y-shaped horn on its massive face, it was the size of a ground vehicle. "What is that?"

"I have no data," she happily replied. A new item for her inventory.

"Well let's make sure we don't collect any data on how hard it hits with that horn," he grinned. He started to say something to Natasha but stopped. Her eyes were wide, looking around at the countryside rolling off into the distance. The groundside view from the high flat was awesome and clearly it was having an effect on her. "Here," he said, handing over the binocculars. It seemed she had never used the tool before but knew what to do, and she started scanning the landscape.

Adam keyed engineering to include Laseiag. "Helga, do a baseline atmo survey and we'll pop the hatch. Natasha and I will find the beacon, you can do what you want but stay close, no bike yet, bring your weapon. Chief Laseiag please bring your shotgun and stand overwatch on the hull for us for now. Everybody grab your comm links."

Helga moved off.

"That hill is full of animals," Natasha announced. It startled Adam - she sounded unconfident.

He took the binocculars and looked where she pointed. A large dirt mound, perforated by burrows. A large number of little heads poked out, beady eyes staring at the Flower. The mound looked artificial.

"Some kind of plains animal," he told her. "Looks like they build their home as an observation platform, so they can see farther. It's unlikely they're any kind of hunter." She seemed unreassured. "C'mon, link up, let's go find out what's going on with the Purdue beacon." Big bad city tough girl in the wilderness.

In his cabin he belted on his revolver. Low power rounds up, a reloader full of heavy. He charged up the other reloader with the laser pop rounds, just in case. Join the scouts, visit alien worlds, try not to kill everything ....

"Atmosphere acceptable with no observed hazards," Helga reported.

Adam stepped out in front of Laseiag. He was carrying his shotgun safely and casually, as if he were setting out for a day's hunting. "OK, Natasha out front, pop the hatch and lead us out," Adam called.

She looked nervous - Adam smiled - but she pushed past Helga into the airlock. He could hear her cycle the pressure relief, everyone's ears popped slightly, and she opened the upper airlock exit and climbed slowly up. Helga was right behind her, and Adam moved up behind her.

He never got used to it. The sun, the moving air on his eyes, the far-away sounds, the smells, the horizon. Not virtual, not through a glass. Real. Garden of Eden.

Always trying to get back in.
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Old March 14th, 2016, 12:28 AM
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He stood on the hull, doing his usual slow full circle of the horizon. The air smelled good, slightly damp, a heavy rainstorm to the north dipping below the horizon, rising hills all the way to meet the clouds, high mountain peaks looking above the curve of the world. The wind pulled at his clothes, other than that there was almost no sound. The local moon was in view to the south, he could almost see it moving. Not cold, a few hours to sunset.

Oh yeah.

This is not Eden.

Close enough.

Helga was taking in the sights as well, alternating between looking at the immediate surroundings and through her binoculars, occasionally making an entry in her data pad. Laseiag cradled his gun in his arms and surveyed the scene calmly, upright, proudly, his eyes seeming to look beyond the horizon as if recalling empire - he seemed a living stone memorial, a piece of the past. Natasha was standing still, hair in the wind, arms around herself, clearly nervous. He stepped over to her and looked where she was looking. It was the mountain mole things, they were all staring at her.

Adam raised his hand to them. "We come in peace!"

One of them chirped and they all disappeared into their castle. "They don't believe me. But they like you," he told Natasha. Her eyes narrowed.

No Purdue.

He could see where it, or something, had landed at one time. Grasses and weeds, or whatever they were, were filling in the ship's full-body footprint on the terrain, but the impression remained readily visible. Gone for a while now. He scanned the terrain a little more objectively. Mostly terran flora, imported at some time, along with some obvious native ground ... growth.


"No inobvious hazards reported previously and none are in view," she answered. "I believe we are safe for now. Except for him." She pointed to the huge gray quadruped beast. It was staring at them from a good distance, but there was no telling how fast it could run. It had tiny eyes, and the wind was blowing from him to them, so it would have only a limited basis for any decision it came to. Usually in something so large that meant default attack, but for now it was just standing there.

"Hey! Take us to your leader!" Adam called. It didn't move. "I guess he's the leader. OK Natasha, where's the transmitter, I don't see it."

"There," she pointed, towards a copse of ... some kind of trees, all with spiky crowns bowed in different directions. "Helga what are those?"

"Worship trees. Ambulatory vegetation."

Natasha turned to her. "What?"

"The tops are seed pods. As pod develops the trunk bows down and plants the seed pod. The other trunk end detaches from previous planting and elevates to grow new seed pod and repeat process. The trunk ambulates across terrain planting pods."

Adam stared at the "trees". "Symbiants?"

"I have no data. Very possible."

"But ... they are clumped up here. And there. And there are none standing alone." Natasha pointed.

"Yes. They require more study."

"OK, Natasha, let's go look. Chief Laseiag, cover us."

Laseiag pointed at the huge animal with his shotgun. "This weapon is inadequate for that creature."

"Yeah, just ... cover us, OK?" Adam swung himself onto the hull-flush ladder and slipped down. He put his foot carefully on the dirt, it was compacted and firm, and he stepped off the ladder onto the landscape. A little dry but not dusty, good conditions. Natasha stepped off carefully, looking around, then seemed to gather herself up. "There," she pointed. Helga followed them down and continued to examine the terrain, comparing what she observed with what was displayed in her data pad.

Adam and Natasha approached the worship trees. Long stalks of sinuous longitudinal fibres, bush-like structure at the bottom, another one developing up top. He touched a trunk. It would make good building material, if he could cut it. He looked around. Yep, there's the beacon, tipped over and stuck between the plants, it's solar cell not aligned correctly.

Adam pulled it out and stood it up. "ISS Purdue" was stenciled on one side.

"Well, they were here, and they're still here, somewhere," Adam said, "I guess. But I don't know why they'd leave this just standing in this location."

"They have survey robot," Natasha said. "That is why they leave beacon here, for point of reference."

"Can you find the bot?"

"I can scan for it, yes, but I cannot say if that will locate it."

"If we set this back up, would the bot come here?"

She shrugged. "I do not know."

"Well, worth a try." He stood the beacon upright and realigned its solar cell. Then he strode over to where the Purdue had landed. The sign in the dirt and vegetation was unmistakeable, typical S-class outline, but while he couldn't read the native vegetation properly the mixed terran vegetation was well recovered. "Been a while."

"You can tell how long?"

"I'm not a tracker but I can recognize short time and long time." He gazed around as if expecting to see the Purdue flying up. "Well wherever they are they've been there a while, and we got no signal on the way in, so either their ship is destroyed or they're dead I'm guessing," Adam said unhappily.

"You give up already?" Natasha asked suspiciously.

"No. We'll just have to search manually, that's all, and I'm hoping Helga there," he pointed to her as she was recording a video of a set of "flowers", "can narrow our search a bit."

"I can," Helga called without looking up.


Narrow it how much?

"We have some time, so make it a good list of places," he added pleasantly.


"Will that be a problem," Natasha asked uncertainly, pointing up at the sky.

Adam looked up. A weather system was developing, rapidly, dark clouds moving in. "No, just some rain." She cocked her head looking at it. Adam was surprised. "You've never seen rain?"

"I have not."

"Well. Now you will. Might even be a thunderstorm."

At that moment an avian landed in one of the worship tree seed pod tops. Natasha stepped back involuntarily, watching it warily. Adam couldn't help but watch Natasha first, then he faced the animal. It was what Helga had called a monkey bird, and the name fit. All feathers and limbs, bright blue dorsal and white ventral coloration, a face with a strong beak, and narrow hands on its wings, it swung around on the tree like a simian and shaking out its wings. It pulled something organic from out between the spikes and bit pieces off, looking at Natasha, it's thin tail curled over its head like a question mark. Natasha seemed fascinated, and took a step towards it. The monkey bird however didn't seem to think much of her and threw its food in her general direction. She looked incredulous for a moment, then stepped casually over to the tossed item, studying it. The monkey bird watched her, curious. She picked it up, seemed to inspect it, then suddenly threw it at the monkey bird with such economy of motion she surprised the animal entirely and hit it. The creature popped angrily and flew away, rattling its feathers.

Adam laughed. "We came in peace but it looks like you started a war. And without the Emperor's permission."

Laseiag suddenly called out, "The gray animal is approaching."

"Up! Now!" Adam directed Natasha to the ladder. "Helga!"


"Very fast!" Laseiag called with alarm.

Helga beat Natasha to the ladder and gracefully mounted to the top as if gravity-assisted. Natasha was quick but deliberate and Adam pushed right up behind her very close and personal, and she was annoyed, but the look vanished from her face as the animal rounded the bow in a great thundering cloud of dirt and headed for them. She bounded up like an angel and Adam hurled himself rolling onto the roof of the ship.

It was huge. Its legs were like piers, its skin was like imperial marine battledress armor, its head like an ancient battering ram. It considered them with beady eyes, then swung its Y horn against the Maus's hull. It was immediately apparent that it could not damage the ship with the horn, but it then turned its butt to the hull, reared forward, and kicked with its hind feet. It was a tremendous blow, and while the ship did not rock Adam could feel the hit through the thick steel all too well.

"OK enough of this!" Adam stood up, unholstered his revolver, and stepped to the rolling edge of the roof, making sure he had a leg back so he didn't stupidly fall off. "Hey! Knock it off!" Loud command voice. He fired a round into the air.

At first nothing happened. The animal just stood there. Laseiag and Natasha and Helga joined him at the edge, peeking down at the huge mass of flesh. Helga was recording the scene with her data pad.

"Oh let me guess, I scared it and now it's going to keel over dead," Adam muttered.

The animal didn't die. Instead it suddenly expelled a great rushing gout of urine onto the Maus hull, followed by a horrifically voluminous fountain of colorful feces. The entire lower half of the ladder was mucked over out of sight and a vast steaming pond of hellish goo collected at its base.

Adam was completely stunned and just stood there with his mouth open, his revolver pointed in the air. Natasha was beyond stunned, she had no idea how to react. Helga began to giggle, then laughed uproariously, then collapsed onto the roof pounding it with a fist and unable to speak.

Laseiag seemed calm. Adam faced him, mouth still open. Laseiag glanced at him. "Our empire was vast. This is nothing new." Adam blinked. Laseiag added, "But never I have seen this myself." As Laseiag turned away Adam could tell he was beginning to laugh.

Welcome to Eden.
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Old March 14th, 2016, 10:58 AM
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Really enjoying this. When's the novel due out? ;-)
David "Hyphen" Jaques-Watson
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Old March 21st, 2016, 12:52 AM
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The weatherfront moved in as the local star set behind it. The rain wasn't heavy enough to wash away the beast's expulsion but was merely pleasant. Lightning fell in the hills to the north, sometimes emitting rolling thunder. The beast stood nearby, steam rising from its back, seeming to listen to the thunder as if to a fellow beast. Adam sat on the bow watching the lightning and listening to the wind rushing overhead and the rain patter on his foul weather gear as the starlight and clouds mingled in the deepening twilight over the valley stretching far away below.

Through the bridge window he could see Natasha in her seat. Occasionally she would check or alter a setting on the comm systems but he could tell she mostly was watching the weather from behind her glass. The first few thunder rolls she actually had flinched. City girl. He saw Helga enter the bridge and make some adjustments to the sensor suite on his panel - he watched her closely, territorial habit - then she and Natasha spoke for a while. Helga seemed less animated than usual.

The mountain moles were bedding down for the night, safe in their castle. Adam could identify their leader by his chirp, with each crash of thunder he would sing out and all the others would answer in a rolling patter of chirps that sounded like a short symphony. The symphony got quieter and shorter each time, as if they were falling asleep.

He heard someone open the hatch behind him. Looking he saw Natasha. Well, surprise. She moved hesitantly up, onto the roof, looking somehow clumsy in her foul weather jacket and scanning the sky as if she didn't trust it. He watched her very carefully, trying to share her new-found experience.

As she turned to him he slapped the hull next to himself. She stepped over slowly, carefully looking around at the mountain moles and the beast and the lightning falling in the hills, and sat next to him as he watched her. He looked back out and waved his hand slowly over the landscape, smiling. Look upon this, could there be anything better?

Yes. You forget that.

"You join scouts for this?" she whispered.

"Oh yes. No deck, no life support, no virtual ... fake. Just the world." He held out his hand to feel the rain.

"At jump precipitation, it is so small."

"From there it's not real. It's data. Here it is real. You and it are as God intended. On Trin we remember when a man invented the first telescope and showed the church what was in the heavens. They didn't believe him and asked, 'Why would God make something that man couldn't see?'" Adam waved to the landscape again. "But He didn't." He ....

A spark of lighning flashed in the distance, and she jumped slightly. He held his hand out to her and started counting off the seconds one finger at a time. "Here, you can tell how far away it is, four seconds per kilometer, four, five, six, seven ...."

The thunder arrived, hard and rolling. The mountain mole chieftain sounded off, and a diminishing number of the others responded in their musical tones. She shuddered and looked down, pulling her gear more closely about herself.

He almost snapped at her. Back up. Back up. Back ... oh.

He waited for her.

She glanced at him and saw him staring.

"On Aki while I grow up, yasuka raids docks. In one raid port authority thinks they can corner yasuka teams. They release police robot dogs, so many of them, but programming fails or central computer loses control and they attack everybody. We all try to run but it all follows us, yasuka is setting off emp grenades but more dogs keep coming, yasuka shoots them but when dogs are too damaged to run they release wasps and that is worse. We all run to lower levels then dogs catch yasuka and start detonating. Everywhere. They burst water and drainage systems and vent structure so all security doors close, there is water falling everywhere and lower levels flood. Many people pick up equipment and try to batter down security doors, but they fail, great striking hits, I hear them shouting to get out after each strike ...."

He almost said, "This is not that." But it occurred to him that it was.

He slid closer to her and pointed to the mountain moles. "You're on Aki and not here. Listen to what they are." Another peal of thunder rolled by. The chieftain sang out again, sleepily, and was answered by only a handful of moles. "They're falling asleep. The leader is calling out, are you all in bed? And they're all answering him, yes, as long as they're awake." After a few moments another peal of thunder, softer, winding down, rolled by, and there were nothing but a few chirps. She listened very quietly.

At that moment the star eased below the cloud level and lit up the bottom of the storm front. A vast purple-pink haze competed with the gray overcast and all of the rain coming down was visible in faded rainbow sheets.

They both were looking up. After a while he was looking at her. She was beginning to comprehend what she saw.

It only lasted a moment, and then the star was below the horizon. Full darkness settled in quickly. The last act of the day was the gray beast laying down in the mud where he stood. He dropped his face with a heavy spash, emitted a vast wind-tunnel sigh, and closed his beady eyes.

There was nothing left but the sound of the rain and the wind. By the light of a few bridge indicators he could barely see her, listening.

She stood up and turned to the hatch. She reached out and touched him on the head. "I ...." She suddenly stepped to the hatch, seized the ladder, and started down. She stopped halfway, and looked him in the eye. "Thank you."

"And tomorrow might be even better."

She slid down the ladder.

He sat a little longer, listening. After a while the gray beast started to snore.

Are you still going to do this?

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Old March 27th, 2016, 09:39 PM
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He jerked awake. What was that? He waited, for ... something. Must have been nothing. He rolled out of bed and sat up. He had been dreaming about ... lightning? Something. He looked at his vid display, aligned to external sensors to view the anticipated starrise. Right on schedule, rolling over and lighting up the valley. Oh yeah, have to get out into that today. God bless.


The internal comm system lit off. "Bridge, Chief Laseiag, was there an event?"

Adam hit a link button. "Not that I know of. But woke me up too," he bleared. He cycled the external to perimeter, nothing obvious. "Don't see anything."

"I will check engineering shortly then," Laseiag answered. Adam could hear him yawn. He delinked the comm and headed for the toilet module. Oh yeah, socks, laundry ....

Another shock reverberated through the hull. Not terrible but a good solid hit.

He burst out the toilet module and hit the internal general link. "Crew up!" He threw on flight coveralls.

Helga came back blearily, "What is event?"

"Our friend is kicking the hull again. Chief Laseiag full light-off ready to lift. Natasha?"

"Up." Lots of shuffling noises as she threw on clothes.

"Lighting off," Laseiag called.

Adam threw open his cabin door and moved straight to the bridge and buckled in, lighting off his panel, zipping up pockets and collars as he went. Everything coming up. He looked out the window, nice patchy cloudy day, everything lighting up, and the big gray beast standing by to port with his beady eyes evaluating the Flower's threat to his domain. Natasha slid in and looked out the window as well, buckling in, Helga right behind her. Helga had her data pad and was using it to align the Flower's external camera system to watch the beast.

"Can it damage hull?" Natasha asked.

"Maybe, let's not find out, line up to lift." Looking out the window again he saw the beast amble off a short distance to the worship trees.

"Is an emergency start necessary?" Laseiag asked through the internal comm panel.

Adam considered the beast. "No, I think we have a minute, normal light-off." He left the panel on speak-mode.

"Acknowledging normal light-off."

As Adam watched the beast lined up its y-horn under the top of a worship tree and popped off the seed pod smoothly and expertly. The pod landed nearby, spikes down and pod up, and the beast ambled over to chew on the pod.

"Helga what is that thing? Do you really have no data on it?"

"Previous missions make no mention of anything like this," she seemed puzzled, "and I find nothing related to it."

"It is a terran prehistoric animal," Laseiag sounded off from the internal comm panel.

"It's terran?" asked Adam dubiously. "Not like anything I saw in school."

"How come you to know this?" Helga inquired, almost officially.

"The terran population launched many colonization and terraforming expeditions into the empire, including some that involved extinct flora and fauna recovered from terra's ecosystem history. I do not know this one's name but it resembles some that I recall."

Helga cycled through her pad's data sets. "Well, this unexpected. There it is." She linked the data to the ship systems so the others could see. It was nothing more than a passing reference to and a few graphics of extinct relatives of baseline species, not even a name, but there was his lordship, y-shaped horn and all.

Natasha was astounded. "Surely dropping such large creature into previously existing life system will have unexpected results?"

"That may have been the intentional point," Laseiag answered. "They inserted a great many organisms anywhere and everywhere, often with no coordination or record. Many failed but this appears to have been fortuitously successful, at least for the terran animal."

Adam watched the beast pop off another worship tree seed pod. "Well he seems to fit right in and he thinks we don't. Everything looks up to speed from here for a lift. Helga you have a place for us to go?"


"Engineering concurs," Laseiag answered.

"Natasha, take us up. And don't hit the mountain moles."

Natasha aligned her panel, checked sensors for overhead clearance - good girl again - and moved to lift.

Nothing happened. Adam could feel the drives' gravitic shift, but the boat did not lift.

"High overload," Laseiag called.

"Natasha ease down. Yeah, ground's muddy, we have suction," Adam answered. Natasha looked at him, What now? "Here's what you do ...."

"Here it comes," Helga announced. The beast was galloping up to the Flower's bow. It turned around, gracefully, like a balerina, and kicked the hull with its hind feet, another solid blow. Adam felt the ship move but it seemed a little givy, did the animal kick a panel? Probably. Great.

"Spin clockwise and counter, yaw and vector zero during counter," Adam said through his teeth, hoping that the Karin yard had installed the keel skids properly and wishing he had thought to check. Natasha tried again and after some hesitation the boat lurched up and gained altitude. Well, looked like they did. The overload already was at 85%. "Gain airspeed, ease up slowly." He glanced down, the beast shook its head as if pleased with itself, and then it was falling behind and the ship was rising above the hills and plain. He watched the aerodynamic lift factors, such as they were, then looked at Natasha. She was realigning to 1G ordinary, good. "Well, I guess that's the reason the Purdue didn't stay on that spot. By the way Natasha, any signal from them? And Helga, where away? And Chief Laseiag, that last hit seemed to be on one of our panels, can you run an integrity pressure check in there?" He was looking out the window, watching the clouds come down to meet the ship.

"Integrity check in progress," Laseiag answered. Good man.

"We should start here," Helga replied, linking some coordinate data to the Flower.

"No signal," reported Natasha. "Beacon is on-line, signal strength increasing. No response to robot ping."

"OK." He looked over the site delineated by Helga. "What, middle of the forest?" Oh yeah, like to see that.

"It is one of more overgrown bare spots we observed on the way in."

"Was it bare when they were here?"

"Unknown, but is very strange landscape feature and well-worth investigating, and may be within the proper time frame."

He noticed a rainstorm nearby. "OK, next stop the deep dark forest, a bit trailing so we'll do a few other things so we don't get there before local sunrise. Chief Laseiag, test?"

"Slight leak in compartment 1A, but I believe it is watertight."

Great. Well, what's done is done. "OK, we'll check it later. Natasha, take us through the rain there, see if we can make sure our ladder and keel are washed off." She nodded and altered course to intercept. Helga lined up the sensor suite to perform a weather survey, then slid out the bridge. In a moment the clouds filled the view out the window with solid gray and the rainwater was sheening over the glass. Though she had no experience with rain Natasha clearly understood the concept, she varied the vector to generate a good water blast to the hull and slewed the approach aspect to hit port and ventral, sometimes dropping a few hundred feet on losing what little aerodynamics the ship had. The storm had some air pockets too adding to what would have been a rough ride, but the in-hull compensators corrected for the drops and the turbulence.

Natasha dialed down the bridge compensators. Adam looked at her. "So I can verify ship performance by feel," she said. "Yeah," he answered, half-smiling. Feels like flying ....

Eventually they had moved through the rain front. "OK, I'll take this while you go eat, then come back and relieve me," Adam said. "I have the conn."

Slight hesitation. "You have the conn." Adam eased above the entire front until there was nothing but bright white clouds below, distant green forest on the horizon, dark blue sky above, and the local star looking down on it all. He settled the boat into an easy wafting loop, letting Helga's program gather its data. Natasha watched the view for a while, then slipped off the bridge.

"Chief Laseiag, stable flight regime, might want to eat."


Adam relaxed, gazing out the window, the world slowly spinning beneath him and the local star turning great circles in the sky.
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Old April 3rd, 2016, 11:23 PM
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Adam wafted the ship over the terrain, the local star rising here. Passing beneath them was ever-diminishing vegetation, and approaching was a region of very little growth, almost circular and several kilometers in diameter. Outside was a sudden border of primeval forest, seemingly untouched.

"Any sign?" he asked.

Helga was in the co-pilot's seat, Natasha standing right behind her, watching the comm systems and sensor suite. "No transmissions and no sensor indications and no response to ping."

He checked his engineering reads, maneuver was stressing. "OK Helga, where do we land?"

"Here." Helga spotted a location on the ship's sensors and relayed the coordinates to Adam's panel.

"Roger that." He swung the boat around, circled to the indicated spot, a few hundred meters from the ... treeline, looks good, wait, broken partial tree trunks, settle between, engineering stress way up ease down now ... got it, zero vector to ordinary, down. The boat settled a few degrees to starboard, then stabilized. "Ladies and gentlemen another casualty-free landing, Chief Laseiag we're not likely to go anywhere for a while so let's do a standby shutdown. Everyone gear up and let's go play."

After checking that engineering was drawing down properly Adam shut down his panel and looked up. "Well ladies, shall we?"

The both were staring out the starboard window. He peeked between them, and blinked, frowning.

A tree trunk was nearby. The tree had been stripped of all bark down to the dirt line, then chewed down to a stub, the top splintered where the upper section had broken and fallen away. Adam looked around for the rest of the tree, branches, leaves, anything. Besides some new growth here and there nothing but dirt remained. Several other trunks further away showed signs of the same event. The destruction stretched away to the treeline to starboard and unrelievedly off into the distance to port.

"Uh ... Helga?"

"I have no data. Obvious ecosystem imbalance." She seemed awed.

Adam glanced from the trunk to the treeline. "Dynamically stable."

"Yes," Helga concurred.

Laseiag piped up on the ship's internal comm panel. "Shall I break out the grav bike toys?"

"Uh, let's wait on that just a minute Chief Laseiag, we'll need to check outhull first. Whatever happened here obviously it's not happening now but Natasha do a full visual 360 anyway. All hands gear up including weapons, let's do a roof exit again for an eyes-on before debarking."

Helga pushed past Natasha, who slid into the nav seat and aligned the sensor suite to landing zone and swung it around the ship. Adam watched the read-out display copied to his panel. Nothing significant - a few bugs of some kind, a small animal slithering between some trunks, some white gossamer webbing drifting in the breeze. Not much else.

"Nothing relevant," Natasha opined.

"Well then. Up we go. 'To boldly face the unknown'", Adam quoted the scout motto.

"We know it has teeth," Natasha pointed out.

Adam waved his hand dismissively. "That's a given. But your wilderness skills are developing. Good! Flower, outhull safety protocols."

"Outhull safety protocols enacted," the machine responded.

Natasha shut down her panel and they both exited the bridge. Adam donned his comm link and a duty belt with his revolver and several pouches of other gear, Natasha donned something similar. Helga had a full combat vest with her auto pistol, several reloads, and a range of equipment, while Laseiag appeared with his shotgun again and a hunting vest. Helga reported to him what they had seen out the window and he seemed to take it in stride. Adam drew his weapon, popped the hatch, listened, then eased out looking full circle as he stepped onto the hull. The rest followed.

Nothing. A solitary avian kited high overhead, a small black bug climbed on one of the devastated trees, something called lonely and solitary from far away. No obvious threat.

"OK, whatever happend here, it's gone," Adam announced, holstering his revolver. He looked down the hull ladder, noted the muck had been cleaned off by the flight through the rainstorm, and laddered down to the dirt. He stepped over to one of the tree trunks, kicking up dusty soil. The thing had been chewed alright, thoroughly, all the way around, by obvious teeth maybe a quarter of an inch wide. Some new growth was pushing up from the existing roots, sprouting wide green leaves, but the main trunk was well and truly killed. Other trunks in a similar state could be seen stretching off into the distance. No trunks or branches were laying anywhere on the ground, it was like the place had been logged by hyperactive squirrels on slow drug and then abandoned.

"OK, Helga, why are we here?" She had followed him, Natasha was standing to one side, Laseiag had remained on the ship hull.

"I estimate that this region was at max clearing at time of Purdue's arrival and that they might have examined this location. Evaluation of this new growth confirms the estimate accuracy. I believe this location is most likely for them but it could have been anywhere within a kilometer, or further."

"Well, they're not here now, and I'm not sure I'd want to take the time necessary to find their footprint in this bare dirt. Or confirm it absent. I suppose you will want to gather data here first?"

"Yes. One seldom observes a recovering ecosystem with participants functioning in isolation." She pointed at a bug struggling to climb out of the dirt and onto one of the new growth trees sprouting from an unseen root.

"Then Natasha and I will take the bikes out and scout the treeline. Chief Laseiag, if you'll pop the garage." Laseiag nodded and dropped back into the hull.

"I will call them down," said Helga.

"You'll what?"

"They are highly responsive," Helga smiled.

"I know nothing of such equipment," said Natasha.

"Is easy. I will show," Helga answered.

They strode aft of the Flower as Laseiag opened the garage hatch. Helga called up, "Extend throttle and push red button." He did, and the machines hummed to life. He delatched them, Helga whistled, and on their own they eased out of the bay and dropped down to either side of her.

"Do they have names?" Adam joked.

"Hansel und Gretel," Helga answered, completely straight-faced.

"I was ... OK," recovered Adam. "I'll take Hansel." One of the machines immediately moved up to him making itself available for mounting. Friendly thing. It had been a while since Adam had operated with responsive equipment. "Hansel, identify accerator control," Adam experimented. The machine flexed one of its handlebar controls and the machine hummed a little louder each time. "OK, identify brake." A pair of handlebar mounts flicked, the machine's hum dipping each time. Adam brightened at a thought. "Hansel, set operations level to novice." A light blinked on a suddenly evident display panel, and Adam looked it over. Operations 1. Outstanding. He looked over the rest of the display. Collision Avoidance 5. Altitude 1. Terrain Following 5. Vector Dithering 5. Other settings. A lot here. Probably should have spent more jump time looking over the user's manual.

Natasha had watched Adam carefully, obviously not familiar with responsive equipment, then repeated the same steps with Gretel. Even though it responded to her she still seemed suspicious.

"They don't detonate," Said Adam.

Helga seemed puzzled. "No, they are ... not ... explosive," she said, looking between Adam and Natasha. Natasha seemed suddenly to abandon suspicion and step up to the task. Good girl. She climbed on and felt the machine shift under her. "What is inertial loading?" she asked Helga.

"One of me, two of you, with full equipment loading, at 6G. Novice setting is 1G," Helga grinned. Laseiag had tossed down the helmets and she handed them to Adam and Natasha. Adam saw it had inherent comms and removed his, placing it in a flight suit pocket. He found the fitter and carefully slipped the helmet on, adjusting the fit drive until the internals conformed to his head. The face shield was obviously HUD.

"Heads Up."

The display appeared on his face shield. Terrain display, grav bike status, weight. Vector status was blank.


"Up," replied the system.

"Link ICS Dainty Flower, ID Adam Warren, link data base, link comms, inertial vector reference ICS Dainty Flower and local magnetic north, HUD ID ICS Dainty Flower and comms and Hansel und ... and Gretel."

"Linked." The system suddenly filled in the vector and displayed an outline of the Flower and the bikes and a dot for each comm link present and associated with Flower. He saw Natasha's coming up, she was unfamiliar with such tech and Helga was orienting her to the system. "I dislike helmets," he heard Natasha say. "If you fall you will be glad it is there," Helga explained like a parent. "I know," Natasha answered reluctantly.
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Old April 10th, 2016, 10:51 PM
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Adam revved up Hansel slightly and eased it forward. It responded readily but deliberately, as if he were a child. Fine with him. He brought it up to max height, four feet or so, then coasted down as he maneuvered to the Flower's port bow.

Yep, a panel was dented in. A reasonably strong design but it wasn't meant to withstand a kick by a multi-ton animal. Gaskets seemed still to be set properly but there had been a leak.

"Chief Laseiag if you get a minute check 1A here, I think integrity is OK but some of the mounting bolts look bent so if we have to fix anything in there we might need to drill out and remount the fittings."


Natasha drifted up, getting a feel for Gretel.

"Born to be wild?", Adam grinned into his HUD at her.

"What?" Blank face plate turned towards him.

He double-checked his revolver and reloads. "Have your medical bag?"


"Let's go."

"You two be good and be home before dark," Helga announced.

"Yes Mrs. Braun. Hansel und ... and Gretel, give us a trail of bread crumbs so we can find our way home again." Helga laughed.

"Please restate," the helmet queried.

"Record data track and visual to ICS Dainty Flower," he updated.


He set out for the tree line in the distance. Natasha eased in after him. The trip required some attention constantly dodging chewed tree trunks but it was good practice for controlling the bikes and Adam took to it well. Natasha seemed to be coming up to speed too, though after a while she figured out how to slave Gretel to Hansel's path letting her focus on cycling through the bike's sensor capabilities, entering instructions manually and verbally.

The destruction became less total as they approached the treeline. The trunks were less chewed and broken, some were even alive and re-growing, and branches littered the ground. Even so the treeline was fairly distinguishable, a sudden border of untouched vegetation. Clearly terran, broadleaf trees, tall and most of them very old. The overhead canopy was heavy and except where the rising star shown through the treeline the forest interior was dark. Orange and dark yellow undergrowth girded the base of each tree, close enough to fill the ground level.

Adam came to a halt and gazed into the depths of the forest. After a while Natasha looked at him. He considered her and pointed up the treeline. "The terrain dips a bit over there, might be a water course." She nodded and they moved along the treeline, watching and listening.

The treeline suddenly opened up into shallow hills with mixed green meadows and a stream falling over rocks. Yellow flowers gleamed in the morning light, intermingled with some kind of spiral vegetation that flouresced purple. Both seemed to grow more readily in the other's presence, forming raised clumps together. Several kinds of avian bugs plied the fields. One danced daintily from one yellow flower to the next. Another preferred the purple, spiraling in like some kind of guided missile to the center. And another avoided both patches, seeming to find something interesting in the less overgrown areas between them. The stream bubbled down from the rise. Adam followed it up its ravine, Natasha trailing along behind. They passed over numerous broad courses, and Natasha set something on her helmet and watched the water.

"There are numerous aquatic animals, from several inches to two feet. Those along the edges have feet and spikes."

"They only come out at night," Adam grinned. She looked at him, then back towards the stream. She was getting used to him.

They crested a rise and entered a larger meadow interspersed with tree copses. This one was filled with grasses and a few clumps of the same growth they had seen at the base of the deep forest trees. Standing alone these clumps seemed to cower up into a ball, flowers poking out like spears from a primitive infantry phalanx. Looking around Adam saw a large pond in the middle of the meadow and headed for it.

The pond had a small gravel beach. Adam pulled up and halted at the water's edge, took off his helmet, and sat looking around, smiling but analytical. Level spot right there, full view, wood available, obvious fishing ....

Oh yeah. This could work.

And Trin?

As Natasha moved up Adam could hear a quiet beep from Gretel's systems. After some fumbling Natasha backed up the bike somewhat, looking at the ground with her HUD. Adam watched her. Natasha parked Gretel, got off, and reached down to the ground to pick up something. She raised her visor and looked at it carefully, then handed it to Adam.

A bullet.

Standard scout revolver light bullet. Lead core, copper jacket, grooves from the rifle lands, flattened on one side where it hit a rock or something. The copper was not green.

"Well. They were here," Adam commented. He looked around. "And now they're not."

"At what would they shoot?"

Adam shrugged. "All the regular reasons. We haven't seen any kind of major predator yet but there will be something, and maybe they saw one. Or maybe they were just practicing." He linked his comm. "Helga, you copy?"

"Copy," she came back.

"They were here. Score one for you."

"Yes," she answered. Adam laughed.

"Any sign of ship or personnel?" asked Laseiag.

"Nope, just a bullet, that's all. Natasha really knows her sensor systems. We'll look around a bit, but that's probably all we'll see. Break." He nulled the link and waved around the rest of the meadow. "Well, shall we?"

Natasha was staring at the edge of the grasses. Adam looked. A small animal, probably terran, had shuffled out into the open. Large upright ears, small puffy tail.

"That is rabbit," said Natasha.

"Yeah, it is. Good habitat for it," Adam commented.

Natasha seemed very interested in it. She took a few steps forward, and the animal did not run away. In fact it seemed unable to perceive her, as if something like a human did not register in its mind. It looked around, then found a piece of grass to chew on. She stepped carefully right up to it, then kneeled down beside it. It kept eating, as if blind to her. She reached out carefully and petted it, hesitantly, as if doing something she had only heard about. The animal looked around, and suddenly thumped the ground with its back running feet. She started back and hesitated, then petted it again, and it thumped the ground again.

Adam watched her closely. "You've never seen one, have you?"

"No. I read about them in education, I had thought I would like to see one. Aki has zoo, but I could never go there." She pet it again, friendly.

Adam blinked to see her being friendly to anything. He dismounted Hansel and walked slowly over, knelt down, and touched the rabbit's head. It thumped the ground yet again, but clearly was a simple creature and kept eating its grass. It seemed to Adam that the animal had an unusually stout head and strong neck muscles. He pulled out a flashlight from his equipment and carefully lifted the animal's lip, looking a little more closely at its mouth.

The teeth were amazing. Heavy duty jaw, teeth thick at the base tapering to an efficient chisel point, about a quarter inch wide.

He looked back down the stream at the deforested area beyond the treeline. No way. He pointed at the bare region and addressed the rabbit. "Did you do all that?"

Natasha seemed taken back. "What?"

Adam was about to answer when they both heard a thumping nearby. Some more rabbits had emerged from the grass a short distance away and alternated between chewing on grass and thumping the ground with their back feet.

"OK I don't like this let's go," Adam announced, standing up and holding out his hand to her.

Natasha seemed disappointed. She pet the rabbit one more time, then took Adam's hand and stood up and turned around and gasped in shock.

Adam whirled around. An avian was perched on his grav bike. Big, maybe four foot wingspan, white and blue, reptilian, long neck and head, hissing between long curved teeth. Not at him or Natasha, at the rabbit. At all the rabbits. More rabbits were pouring out of the grass, thumping and moving forward. Another avian landed on Natasha's grav bike, almost as big, also looking at the rabbits. They drew themselves up, wings out, claws on their wings, as if anticipating an attack. As if daring an attack.

"Hey! Get off the bikes!" Loud command voice. The avians suddenly seemed to become aware of him and looked at him, shocked.

A rabbit leaped up and bit the avian on Natasha's bike. It reeled, reoriented, and clawed the rabbit. Another rabbit leaped up and bit Hansel, making good progress against the heavy rubber footrest. Oh not good.

Natasha was hurling handfuls of gravel at the avian on Gretel, savagely yet gracefully efficient. Adam suddenly remembered his revolver. Draw weaver point lock pull and

Don't shoot the animal.

fired a shot past the avian. It started, both of them started, popping up into the air on their wings as the rabbits launched themselves like rockets at the avians and the grav bikes. "Go!" He and Natasha leaped onto their bikes and pulled them around, starting back down the stream at novice speed.
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Old April 17th, 2016, 11:50 PM
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He could hear them running behind the bikes, sort of a soft-rabbit-furred muffled thunder. The two avians were overhead, circling, out of peripheral vision he could see more. He guided Hansel between two of the spear bushes, he didn't think anything chasing was slowed down.

"Hansel! Advanced setting!" He could see the indicator panel blink red a few times, but nothing else happened. "Increase speed!" Same thing.

He glanced back. Hundreds of rabbits right behind Natasha, maybe a few thousand total moving in, several dozen avians spiraling down from overhead. One of the avians, different, smaller and mostly white, sped past Natasha raking its claws across her helmet. She yelped in shock. Several rabbits leaped at the avian as it swooped too low, it was carried down and swarmed and disappeared in the moving mass. Several more rabbits leaped at Natasha, one landed and she slapped it off as it flashed its chisel teeth.

"Slave your bike!" he yelled. He tried to get his helmet back on but had to jerk the bike controls to avoid a hillock. He passed onto the stream, hoping that would slow them down.

He looked back again. Gretel was following Hansel exactly and Natasha had completely reversed on her seat. She was ripping off the passenger cushion and mounting it on her left arm. One of the darker blue avians was maneuvering to her from behind, aiming, claws out. Adam drew his revolver, off-balance, point-aimed, took a moment, oh yeah on target, fired, hit it, it went down. Natasha didn't hear, she seemed to notice something about the seat construction, she yanked out a metal rod maybe two feet long. The passenger seat fell apart and the rider seat became unstable, but she held it all together.

He glanced forward and jerked Hansel to the right to avoid an overhanging tree, Gretel following and throwing Natasha off balance. He clumisily steered with one hand and linked his comm with the other. "Helga! Chief! Under attack, returning, lots of company!"

"Standing by," Laseiag answered calmly.

"What is nature of attacker?" Helga queried.


Some hesitation. "Rabbits?"

"And something flying how do I make these bikes go faster!"

"From novice requires full shutdown and restart to adjust competence setting."

Adam glanced behind him. Natasha was standing high on the stirrups batting off rabbits with her seat shield and swinging viciously with the metal rod at avians diving past her. She hit one and took its head off. The rabbits and avians seemed equally eager to engage each other as well.

"No way!"

"Standing by," Helga answered simply.

They moved past the treeline into the barren area. It was a ways but Adam could see the Flower without the helmet and he pulled between the tree stumps heading for it. The rabbits followed, out into the open, a collection of the avians circling quite close now, picking off rabbits and probing Natasha, Adam suddenly wondering why he was not being swarmed himself.

"Dorsal hatch open. Large avian assemblage moving in over you," Laseiag reported.

Between dodging treestumps Adam glanced up. Over a hundred, mostly the small white ones but some of the larger blue ones mixed in. In fact it looked like the blue ones were leading groups of white.

The flock stooped, in individual flights, a blue avian leading each. Several at the rabbits, one at Natasha, one at Adam.

Adam gripped his revolver. 4 shots. "Natasha! Incoming!" Either she didn't hear him or was too busy beating off rabbits and aerial assaults.

The first flights arrived, mixing it up with the rabbits in the rear. The other two dived on Natasha and Adam simultaneously.

He decided. He guided Hansel as best he could towards a clear path approaching the Flower, swung around, drew his revolver again, and aimed at the blue lead on the flight diving at Natasha. Both hands weaver set point ... point ... hammer, lock, fire, miss, hammer, lock, fire, miss, hammer, lock, fire, hit. The blue avian seemed to lose all will and control and simply folded up in mid-air and fell. The white avians with it seemed to hesitate, break up, turn.

He felt Hansel maneuver. Auto-evade. A tree trunk whipped by as they passed it.

He turned to face the flight incoming on him, revolver up, one shot left. As he turned the blue lead right on top of him suddenly broke apart in midair. Laseiag expertly chambered another round and fired again, bringing down the white closest to Adam, again, again, focused, hard, he'd never seen a vilani look like that.

Adam hauled up Hansel at the ladder and dismounted anticipating Natasha's arrival. Gretel pulled up short, Natasha lost her balance, Adam caught her and pushed her towards the ladder as he fired off-handed at one of the few rabbits still pursuing, hitting it. More rabbits came, Helga picking off each one with single shots from her autopistol. "Shut down!" he yelled at the machines, and they settled onto the dirt. Adam scrambled up the ladder and down the hatch after Natasha, Helga followed, Laseiag fired off one more shotshell at an avian before dropping down and shutting the hatch.

Laseiag turned to face the others, weapon cradled casually in his arms, relaxed expression. "I think the animals here dislike humans."

Adam leaned against the bulkhead, looking at his revolver. "I thought this would be enough." He almost threw it down, but holstered it instead. He tried to keep his hands from shaking. "Nice shootin', Tex," he said to Laseiag.


Don't throw up, don't throw up ... "Are you OK?" Adam asked Natasha. Helga was helping her remove her helmet.

"I am bitten," she said as the helmet came off. Hard, balanced, probably ready to fight again. Blood running down her left leg from just above the knee. Helga and Adam half-carried her to the lounge, pushed her back onto the bench with her left leg sticking out, and folded the table half back, unzipping Natasha's flight suit at the ankle and pulling it back to her hip. Two bites, a significant laceration above the knee and a minor one on the calf, deep but no chunks missing.

"Looks like you don't taste as good as a tree. Where is the ...." Adam started to ask. Laseiag handed over the full medbag. "I entered your cabin," he straight-facedly apologized to Natasha, who just nodded.

Between Natasha's instructions on how to treat the injuries, Helga said, "The avians are intelligent."

"Yeah, looked like it," said Adam. "You have no data on that?"

"None. This is major observation."

"Yeah. Rough first contact."

Laseiag asked, "Perhaps Purdue's first contact was unsatisfactory and that is why they attacked you?"

Adam thought. "I don't think so. I think we just got caught between some kind of war between the rabbits and the avians. The rabbits thought we were avians and the avians thought we were rabbits. I wonder if our grav bikes confused them."

Adam was watching Natasha. She was looking off to one side, thinking. Yeah you're a tough girl, but .... He stood up. "Well, let's pursue it. Helga, you're the professional, when you're ready let's go say hi."

Helga nodded decisively. "Ja!"

"If they are intelligent they will not appreciate their recent casualties," Laseiag pointed out.

"All the more reason to talk now."

"And intelligent does not mean reasonable."

"Which is why we will go out carefully and you will cover us. I trust you with that gun but I'm hoping that this time we can do this without shooting tribal elders. Helga say when."


Adam moved onto the bridge. He covered his eyes with his hand and he almost spit on the deck. Later. Later later later ....

How much later?

He looked out the bridge window.

Little skirmishes were still occuring here and there. A single rabbit was no match for an avian, but several seemed able to deal with one. The whites seemed to do most of the fighting, the blues were sitting on the tree trunk stubs watching and sounding off. Quite a few broken animals lay on the ground.

He moved to his cabin and obtained a few more light duty rounds for his revolver. He almost threw it down again, but holstered it instead again.



He gathered up his light jacket and stepped back out.

Helga was ready. Laseiag was right behind her.

He looked around the corner into the lounge. Natasha was still on the bench seat, expertly-applied bandages on her left leg, looking off to one side.


"I will live." Quiet. Adam pushed past Laseiag and Helga and into the airlock. He gathered himself up, popped the hatch, and climbed up.
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Old April 24th, 2016, 09:19 PM
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Adam scanned the sky but couldn't see anything airborne except for a group that was receding towards the treeline, stooping down on what must be the remainder of the rabbits running for the woods. He eased out and stood on the hull, making room for the others as they came up, surveying the scene on the ground.

Rabbits everywhere, some dying but mostly dead, killed by single clawstrokes or bites it seemed. Quite a few of the white avians, mostly looking chewed to death. He noticed a blue avian leaping down and killing a stray wounded rabbit, then leaping up to the top of a tree trunk stub and looking around, then leaping down to kill another wounded rabbit. Not a natural flyer but very energetic. He watched it closely. Yep, definitely reptilian in appearance, except even at this distance each scale was outlined and readily apparent, not gaudily but subtle. Not a strong creature but the head on its long neck was very agile and it seemed to be adept at biting or thrusting it forward in some kind of stabbing motion. Have to watch out for that. He studied the motion, and noticed that the avian always grabbed its target first either with the claws on its wings or with its feet which seemed to have no claws. Well, avoid being grabbed and that might do it.

Helga was beside him. He pointed to the stabbing motion by the avian. "See that?"


"And what shall we call them?"

"Draco Soldati and Draco Centurio," she answered immediately.

"Sounds dramatic but OK."

"There," said Laseiag, pointing with his shotgun.

A blue draco lay on the ground, dead or dying. Two more blue dracos were standing over it, heads together, rocking back and forth slightly.

"Helga?" asked Adam.

Helga lifted binocculars and studied the dracos for a moment. "Unknown. But perhaps good opportunity. We go." She started down the hull ladder, full equipment vest, data pad, autopistol.

Hope she knows what she's doing, and oh I hope not. He hesitated, then called down into the ship. "Natasha. Please stand by with the med kit."

A delay. "Lining up," she called back.

Good girl. "Chief Laseiag?"

"On overwatch," he answered easily, turning slowly for a full scan of the horizon and facing the downed draco again. "But recall I cannot shoot far."

"Recalled." Adam scuttled down the ladder. He and Helga started for the dracos. He noticed she was walking slowly.

"This going to work?" he asked.

"92 percent of first encounters for last three hundred years establish ongoing relations within one minute," she answered. "I try to remember my training." She set her data pad to record and mounted it to view the scene.

"Yeah, I know the statistic, I'm wondering about this particular instance, I've already shot enough things today."

"I trained for humans."

"Oh great." Three hundred years of 92 percent probably jump to 93 today.

They stepped over and around the torn and battered bodies, cut rabbits and chewed dracos. It looked like the Second Ground Campaign for Cipango. They all seemed to stare at him. He looked up and closed his eyes, then back down. Here and now. Focus on the living. Don't get angry again ....

He took a deep breath. Here and now. Focus on the living.

She turned at looked at him, questioning. He nodded. She turned back.

Helga approached the dracos slowly and quietly, listening. They were about three feet tall, beautiful creatures, their scales delineated by so many shades of blue in the sun, long tails trailing together. They were making some kind of high pitched noise, rocking over the downed draco, their heads and necks partially intertwined, their eyes shut. Keening. Definitely keening. The draco on the ground was alive, but had several severe bites and a broken wing and didn't look good.

They stopped several paces away. Adam could hear Helga very quietly testing her voice, trying to imitate the sound the dracos were making. Oh this will be interesting, crashing a funeral with pidgen draco.

The draco on the dirt noticed Helga and Adam, and turned its long narrow head to stare with one eye. It seemed lethargic and confused, as if having difficulty understanding what it was seeing. It chirped and clicked its teeth clumsily. The other two dracos looked up, looked right past Adam and Helga, and then seemed suddenly to see the humans.

Their jaws dropped. Long teeth flashing slackly in the sun.

Adam almost burst out laughing, the look was so comically human.

The dracos recovered immediately. One popped up onto the side of a nearby tree trunk stub. The other crouched protectively over the fallen draco. Both curled their necks and hissed ferociously, simultaneously. They seemed to have the same voice. Adam suddenly thought they had some kind of parental relationship with the downed draco.

At first Helga didn't react, she merely looked from one to the other staring at their eyes. This appeared to confuse them for a moment, but they hissed again more quietly and moved closer to her. Adam drew his revolver but kept it lowered.

Helga turned to him slightly and waved him down, deliberately, in view of the dracos. Turning back she slowly kneeled down, extended her left hand to the injured draco, and started keening. It sounded awful at first but after a few seconds she got the hang of it and was passably replicating the draco keen.

They were completely stunned. They drew their heads back, they twitched, they looked at each other.

Helga shuffled forward, towards the injured draco, and keened again, holding her left hand up.

They just looked at her.

She shuffled forward again, left hand up, and keened again.

The draco standing guard over the fallen one pulled back slightly.

Helga shuffled forward again, almost over the injured draco. The one standing guard postured and snapped at her, very fast, Adam almost drew down on it. Helga didn't even twitch, she just started keening again, left hand up.

The injured draco chirped and clicked. The one standing guard looked down at it, clicked, looked at Helga, and started keening with her. After a moment the draco on the tree stump wafted down and stood looking at the two of them, glanced at Adam, and then moved in, laying it's neck alongside that of the other and keening. Very slowly Helga put her head close to theirs and laid her arm to join with them.
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Old May 1st, 2016, 11:02 PM
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He stood watching them. Probably read about this in some updated scout textbook someday. He looked about the battlefield at all the other animals, untended. No funeral for them. These here must be upper caste.

The injured draco no longer was moving. It was gone. The two standing dracos keened more softly, then stopped, Helga following their lead ceasing with them and pulling her arm back. The two looked around as if seeking something, then they mounted up into the air, circling up in a tight spiral. Helga stood and looked up with them. They rose higher and higher, their spiral growing wider, Adam and Helga watching. It took some minutes but eventually they became difficult to see in the sky and were gone. Adam looked at the draco crumpled on the ground.

Eventually Helga said, "They spoke."

"Yeah, noticed that."

"And they take flight ...."

"... to follow this one's spirit," Adam pointed to the dead draco centurio, "yeah. And knowingly or not they appear to be taking steps to control their ecosystem," he added, pointing around at the tree trunk stubs. "Congratulations, looks like you've made contact with a complex race."

He heard his comm link, muffled in his pocket. He pulled it out. "Yeah?"

"There is one behind you," Natasha said.

Adam smoothly drew and pivoted on his left foot, coming back on his right to a weaver stance, weapon up, orienting to the draco as he saw it. The blue draco on the tree trunk stub two paces behind Adam had been looking at the Flower but seeing Adam's gun it suddenly dipped low, displacing out of the line of fire. Adam adjusted to keep the draco covered but it hung off to one side of the trunk staying out of aim, one wing clutching the trunk and one half-extended as if ready to fly.

Adam stopped tracking the draco and it stopped displacing. They stared at each other. This draco was a little larger than the other two. It had directional ears, they were oriented towards Adam. He could see numerous injuries on the creature's body.

"So you understand guns, do you?" Adam probed.

The draco glanced at the weapon, then back to Adam's eye over the barrel.

He carefully pulled back a hand and linked his comm. "How long was it watching me?"

"About half a minute," Laseiag replied. "It was studying you."

The draco had shifted its gaze to Adam's comm link, but when Laseiag spoke it looked back towards the Flower.

No way. "Natasha, cycle your comm link but don't say anything."

He heard the click, and as it clicked the draco glanced back at the Flower again, one ear flicking in that direction as well.

"Helga, you see that?"


He decided. "OK centurio, we can talk." He holstered his weapon and stood straight, glancing back at Helga. "You want this?"

"I observe."

The draco eased up slightly, a little straighter, and eyed Adam and Helga carefully, top to bottom. It very carefully moved to the forward edge of the trunk stub and leaned forward slightly, favoring one side as if some of its injuries bothered it.

Adam slowly stepped up to it. Boldly going where many sacrificial victims have gone before ....

The creature extended its neck slightly, head towards him, and sniffed, eye to eye. It snaked its neck forward and looked over his uniform, seemingly interested in the scout service patch on his left shoulder, then turned its attention to his equipment belt, gazing sideways at the revolver holster. Lastly it seemed intrigued by his comm link. Keeping its eyes on Adam's it reached out and touched the device with the claws on its wings. Adam held it out carefully.

"Keep ahold of it," Helga advised.

Adam kept a finger looped around the headpiece. The creature seemed to understand Adam's intent and simply moved it around, carefully examining all sides of it.

"You see its emissions, don't you?" Adam said.

While it was looking he noticed an injured rabbit hobble shakily around the tree trunk, one leg damaged, one ear cut. Oh yeah, you'll do.

When the draco finished Adam put the comm link on and turned slightly aside. "Chief Laseiag, Natasha, we'll be returning, with a guest so stand by, Natasha with your medical kit."

"Standing by."

The draco glanced between Adam and the Flower, then suddenly looked at Adam as if realizing something. It chirped and clicked.

"You wish to end this now?" Helga asked.

"Let's see what it does," Adam replied. He stepped carefully over to the rabbit and kneeled down to touch it. The creature seemed unaware of him, but the draco noticed it and hissed angrily. Adam gathered the rabbit up into his jacket as carefully as he could. The draco ruffled its wings and shook its head.

He reached across to his left shoulder with his free hand and gently eased off his Imperial Scout Service logo patch from its velcro mounting on his flight suit and extended it to the draco. The creature hesitantly reached out with its wing claws and took it, carefully, by one edge, looking at it and then at Adam.

"Let's go," he said to Helga, and started returning to the Flower. Helga looked at the draco and followed Adam.

He could see Natasha watching them with binocculars. She withdrew down the hatch, clearly favoring her left leg. As they approached the Flower Laseiag did a full circle scan then laid down his shotgun to help Adam, who climbed up clumsily half-way before Laseiag took the rabbit.


"Sample." He looked back to the draco, which was still standing on the trunk stump watching them. He slid down the hatch ladder and reached up to take the bundled rabbit from Laseiag. He called up. "Tell you what, you and Helga come on down and leave the hatch open." Laseiag looked at the draco and nodded, and waited. Helga waited too.

He backed out of the airlock and walked down the corridor to the crew lounge. Natasha was sitting at the re-extended table, hands folded, med bag on the deck next to her. She did not look at him.

He considered her for a moment.

"I'm hoping you can do something for this rabbit."

"You patronize me."

"It's here for two reasons. One, it seems a variant of normal rabbits and it's obviously having a large impact on this eco-system so I'm thinking Helga may wish to study it more closely for her report. Two, I thought you might like it."

She said nothing. He waited.

"In the overhead compartment is a medical drop-cloth."

He reached up and found it, and handed it to her. She ripped open the package and spread the protective cover on the lounge table. He set the bundle down at the end of the table while she put on gloves, then she opened the jacket. She looked the rabbit over, then carefully lifted it up and set it in front of her. The animal cowered into a ball, eyes completely unfocused, holding still while she examined its torn ear but jerking slightly when she tried to look at the lacerated foreleg. She tried to calm it by stroking it, but it remained jittery about the limb.

"I am not veterinarian."

"It's still a terran mammal. Mostly. Probably."

She pulled a syringe kit out of the bag, mounted a needle, chose a bottle of something, and started to draw a dose. She considered the rabbit, then abbreviated the dose to a tiny amount. She looked at the animal's hindquarters, then it's shoulder, then shrugged her shoulders and pulled up a pinch of skin and injected whatever it was into the fold.
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