Authors: Ronan Frost
The troop carrier groaned, massive treads carrying
the iron flanked mass up the steep incline until engine roaring in
sudden relief it crested the hill and slammed horizontal upon tough
Orc-like troops rode within the dark cabin, ignoring
the massive jolts with impassivity borne only from military
hardness, half shrouded in the shadows of their helmets, wide
shouldered in full scale battle armour. Sitting deeper in the
shadows was an android, one hand twisted about an overhead strap
for stabilisation and its flawless, plastic outer skin glistening
faintly in the semi-darkness. Although resembling a living being
the android's icy eyes held an element of the supernatural; a
machine in the guise of man.
A red light suddenly flashed on the ceiling, casting
dancing flickering shadows over the dark interior. The android
swung into action, its voice precise and commanding.
"Approaching the drop zone, disembark upon my
The alien troops responded instantly to load and cock
their weapons. Mechanical armour hummed as joints sealed and locked
into place, a shaded visor moving down from the helmet to cover
their squat faces.
"Drop site forty seconds."
The carrier careened over rocky ground, dust spewing
in its wake. The tracks lost traction at frequent intervals,
sending clods of infertile clay into the air. The carrier crashed
through the dangerous terrain with brutal power, the navigation
computer skirting major barriers but unheeding to all else.
"Minus thirty seconds and counting."
The overhead sun shed little warmth on the land, its
heat lost through the atmospheric dust hanging heavy in the air.
The resulting pale orange light gave the landscape a surrealistic
look, as if nature had been slowed to near lifelessness.
The carrier travelled through an artificially cleared
region blasted clean of vegetation by a controlled nuclear
explosion, the result enabling the mother ship in orbit to send
troops down to the planet. This such troop carrier had begun its
arduous journey from the mother ship and was at last reaching the
fringe of forest surrounding the blasted zone. The carrier bounded
over an ashy landscape devoid of vegetation, the silhouettes of
burnt stripped trees appearing like wraiths through the swirling
mists and smoke.
"Minus eighteen seconds and counting."
At last it cleared the dust and entered forest.
Plants grew wild here, and a few seconds later the carrier was
surrounded by foliage; brightly coloured leaves flashing past, the
forest a blazing spectacle of vivid greens and deep purples. Huge
conical yellow flowers as big as a man shattered as the lip of the
tank shot past like a scythe, movement flickering in and out of the
undergrowth to either side as countless numbers of strange forest
creatures fled from the oncoming tank. The animals moved with quick
motions, eyes wild, their feet beating a rapid tattoo as they
The carrier's tracks crushed leaves and fallen
vegetation as it tore along a narrow trail through the trees. The
deeper it progressed into the forest the worse the track got and
the larger the trees became. The carrier's momentum propelled it
over sizeable logs and through river beds pooled with muddy water.
In its path were left two parallel tracks of destruction, the
undergrowth torn and saplings uprooted.
"Three, two, one," said the android, "mark!"
At this exact instant the hatch of the carrier
dropped open and the vehicle skidded to a halt. The ten troops
inside filed out, spreading to take cover in the thick purple and
green vegetation. They formed a growing semi-circle with weapons
held at the ready. Barely had the last troop dived out had the
carrier roared into life again and taken off back the way it had
The android surveyed the area in a millisecond, its
electronic eyes whirring softly in a moment of excited activity.
Satisfied, it took cover amongst the foliage.
Already the carrier was in the distance and heading
back to the landing area, its heavy whining receding to be replaced
The next few moments passed warily. The troops
scanned their surrounds looking for their enemy amongst the leaves.
Fingers were tense on triggers that if pressed would unleash a
deadly hail of explosive armour piercing missiles. Their dull black
armour reflected no light, making them near invisible as they
walked as shadows amongst shadows.
The android swept the forest, its attention totally
focused and precise. Switching through all frequencies of light,
from infra-red to x-ray, it did not miss the smallest detail.
A glint of metal flashed between the great trees and
the android made for it, the troops in arrow head formation behind.
Their march was stealthy and swift and soon had reached a small
"This is the spot," muttered a troop beneath his
In the clearing lay an overturned scout car, its dull
metal surface gouged with dents. The hatch was open, allowing the
motionless body of a man to spill out. Blood caked his clothing and
his face buried in the leaf strewn ground, his limbs splayed
unnaturally. The man had broad shoulders and squat neck, showing
himself to be of the same race as the troops.
The android scouted the area, electronic brain
gathering and filing information with incredible swiftness. The
android turned on its steel heels, pausing momentarily as a link
was established between it and the orbiting spacecraft overhead.
The inbuilt radio antenna buzzed for a moment, and a second later
had relayed an update to the spacecraft. There was a slight delay
as the message shot through the upper atmosphere and through thirty
thousand kilometres of space where the mothership lay in
geosynchronous orbit. Aboard this thirty million ton mothership lay
the main computer, embedded into every steel recess of its frame;
such was its presence it had a name - Avatar. The computer drew
from its many peta bytes of memory and computed the information,
and within moments relayed the result back to the planet.
"The bandits made off to the south-east," the android
transmitted to the troops as it approached the track of broken
foliage as subtle as a few bent blades of grass and a disturbed
spider's web. With this information the computer could tell that
path maker was humanoid of small stature and light weight. Heat
analysis revealed the trail was but four hours old.
"Single file," the android ordered. Its words were
abrupt. "Arms at the ready. Shoot to kill."
The troops reacted instantly, and in moments were hot
on the trail of their ill-fated prey.
Shata-Bera held the heavy weapon at his side, its
bulk unfamiliar to him. He was a simple man, his features fine and
delicate. As with all of his race he was small, only five feet
high, yet this was considered exceptionally tall among his
He was a member of a race known as Currach, human
like in appearance yet more adapted to philosophy than warfare. He
wore loose fitting robes that were ripped and torn from arduous
forest trekking, on his feet flimsy sandals. His inadequate
clothing revealing the haste to which he had taken flight into the
trees. Shata-Bera's torso was oddly shaped, a wide chest narrowing
quickly, his hips wide and angular like a pair of wings at his
side. The small alien's wide, pupil-less, lidless and almost insect
like eyes moved quickly beneath thin brows, his breath catching
raggedly in his throat; the small man was nervous and started at
every sound that the breathing forest made.
He called to his companions who were struggling with
a backpack almost matched their own body weight.
"We can't go any further," gasped Hoplor. Hoplor had
been a farmer a few weeks ago - until the alien invasion had turned
him into a rebel. His muscled frame was drenched in sweat and his
hair was plastered to his forehead. His clothing was in tatters and
his face and forearms scratched as a result of running through
thick forest at wild speeds.
Shata-Bera nodded in understanding.
"Take strength from the natural world," he said.
"Draw in the forest's energy and remember your teachings."
Hoplor spat. "Teachings? A lot of good they've
Shata-Bera lowered his head, all-too aware that they
were on the verge of complete breakdown. As if it wasn't enough, it
was not only the alien invaders against his band but the entire
In leading his band in the act of defiance which had
killed two of the invaders he had broken the sacred laws of the
Currach - to take the life of another creature.
"We shall rest here," Shata called. Sighing
gratifyingly the Currach unloaded their haul of bizarre weaponry.
The creatures at last gave in to exhaustion and fell to the moist
K'iop, Shata's adviser, was not so quick to relax.
His aged face and parched skin bore testament to his age, his brown
Currach eyes glistening with knowledge and experience. He stood
with one foot upon a log, his head perked and scanning the thick
green forest around them. The great orange cloud of dust of the
dropsite was far behind them, now seen as a billowing mass of dirty
cumulus clouds stacked upon the horizon. The air here was clear and
the sun warm over the thick lush purple vegetation.
K'iop was dressed in a long hunter's cloak and sturdy
leather bound thongs. A hood was pulled over his head, bathing his
weathered face in shadow. He held a laser rifle in his small hands,
its butt propped at his waist and the muzzle pointed skywards. By
nature the Currach's splayed four fingered hands were unsuited to
the alien's weapons but K'iop had adapted quickly, and now held the
laser rifle that they had stolen with unconscious ease, making it
looked as if it had been moulded to his form. Shata-Bera
approached. "Do you think they will follow us?"
K'iop gave him a worn wry smile.
"I hope not. If they have found us we are as good as
dead." K'iop waved his many jointed hand in disgust at his fatigued
comrades. Spreadeagled, they drank greedily from canteens
containing precious stream water. Some were to tired even for this
and had simply flaked out in the small clearing.
Shata-Bera came to their defence. "They have spent
two weeks in this jungle close to death. They have a right to be
"I am not blaming them," K'iop said. "I just wish my
buddies from the Oversea War were here."
"So you fought in the War," mused Shata-Bera. He had
not had much of a chance to speak with this man since they had met
under unusual circumstances in the forest. As a result many aspects
of the man were still a mystery to him. The old veteran had banded
with Shata's company a week ago, united against a common enemy -
the men from the stars.
"I have lived in this jungle probably more years than
you have spent on this earth, Shata. I have fought for this land
yet those fools in the cities will not allow my entry."
Shata reddened. Before he had taken to the forest he
had been a Church Administrator and had been a part of placing the
ban on mercenaries entering the city. He had once thought that the
it was for the best that the citizen's be kept free of such a
tainting influence. Now he saw that he had alienated people and
forced them into the wild.
"The Church should never ha-"
K'iop cut him short.
"Bah!" he scoffed. "It's over, and we have graver
concerns. Those creatures could be all over us in a matter of
hours; we have no time to speak of history. You are no longer in
your library, Reverence, and no longer are your children at your
Shata flushed in anger. "Don't mention my children!"
He breathed deeply and quickly brought his temper under
K'iop quietened, his voice low with concern. "What
happened back there?" he asked.
Shata-Bera would not answer.
K'iop shook his head sadly. "I have seen many men go
over the edge in war, and I am afraid I see the signs in you. You
trouble yourself too much."
Shata nodded slightly. His body was aching with
tension and strain, physically and mentally. Images of his dead
children and family kept flashing in his mind's eye, haunting the
man. Shata found revulsion and hate rise within him; he wanted
This deep passion was the same that had forced him
from the city, from the apathetic Grand Council who would do
nothing against the Star-creatures. He had rebelled from the system
to quench his thirst for vengeance.