War had been going on for almost five years. I was eighteen and had completed both regular school and a advanced school in engineering. I was home on Cloud before I submitted an application for the fleet marines. A lot here was still being researched because of the properties. I was three quarters amer indian and my father was the head warden for the major preserves.
I was sitting in his headquarters when the Mayday from a shuttle came in. I moved to the holograph board and watched the shuttle track down out of the atmosphere. I shook my head, “it is going into the Sky Islands.”
I looked at dad and he nodded, “and we do not have a ranger to go after them.”
I should mention my father lost both legs in combat and was still regrowing new ones. I looked at the holograph, “drop me with a glider and I will find them and walk them out.”
He frowned before finally nodding and moving his chair to a cabinet, “take my equipment vest.”
I smiled as I went to look before reaching for a standard vest and then his long bladed synth knife. They were unique in that they cut anything as if they were an energy knife. I had a small slim small one I normally carried. The long knife would work a lot better in the planet’s bush. Especially in the Sky Islands where a lot of tech gear did not work.
I headed out as dad called his flyer pilot. The only way to avoid the flyer from crashing because of the field properties in and around the Sky Islands is to fly at max attitude. I was wearing soft pants and a long shirt with leather mocs. I sat and began checking the synthetic silk shroud I would use to glide down to the area we thought the shuttle had wrecked in.
I glanced at the pilot when he turned and he grinned, “take a oxy mask, you will need it.”
I did not bother telling him it would only work for a few thousand meters before the field properties caused the electronics to fail. I checked our position before packing the shroud and standing. I slipped the mask on and moved to the door before sliding it back. I turned to watch the pilot and several minutes later he looked back and nodded.
I dove out and spread my arms and legs as I looked at the area below. I was searching for a hint of the shuttle as I released the shroud and it opened right behind my back. The straps yanked at my body and hips as I grabbed the two controls, one in each hand. I was still spread out as I turned towards a distant reflection.
I turned away when I realized it was just a large formation of synth crystals. I was at thirty five hundred meters when I saw the trail of broken vines between two floating islands. That was when I tore the mask off because it stopped working. I turned and headed down as I watched for signs of predators.
I had to shift and move around a few things as I went between the islands and then I saw the broken shuttle. I was still a thousand meters above and behind it and growled at the pack of wyvern wolves. I checked the wind and pulled a container of pepper spray. I dropped my feet and flared the shroud as I approached and landed on a wing.
The huge stubby winged wolves growled as they moved towards me and I released the spray. As soon as it hit them they coughed and started shaking as they backed off and then turned to run. I smiled as I released the shroud and turned to fold it and put it back into the pack it had come out of.
I moved to a hatch and used the manual release to open it. I stepped in and found broken seats and dried crash foam. I moved around and looked down the center isle and only a dozen men in suits looked back. I started towards them, “the pilot and copilot?”
A man pushed through the others and I saw the uniform with stars, “dead with the engineer.”
I nodded and began checking them, “anyone injured?”
They shook their heads as I moved through them and looked into the crushed cockpit. I turned, “okay this is what is happening. You crashed in a restricted area called Sky Islands. It is restricted because electronics do not work here and I am sure you saw the floating islands. What that means is we can not fly you out. There are several different predators so stay together.”
One cleared his throat, “if they can not fly us out how did you get here?”
I grinned, “I jumped from above twenty thousand meters and used a silk shroud to glide down.”
The general chuckled and I turned to gesture towards the door I had opened, “we have a long walk ahead of us.”
I walked to the hatch and looked out before moving onto the wing. I moved out and looked around as they came out. I went to the broken wingtip that was resting against a large tree and looked down before turning and starting down. I waited on the ground as they followed and looked at them, “stay close and do not wander away to pee on a tree.”
I pointed a dozen meters away, “especially those trees, they are alive and walk. We are not even sure they are trees and not animals.”
I turned and headed east, “Sky Islands is an area a couple of thousand kilometers across north to south and a thousand east to west. You crashed about a hundred and fifty from the east edge.”
I stopped when I saw the crawler and then started to circle around it as I pointed the eight meter millepede out, “those are poisonous. The poison paralyzes the victim and they eat it while it is still alive.”
I was constantly looking around and watching the men as well as what was around us. I stopped when I saw the large flock of jelly birds, “see the floating bags? We call them Jelly Birds because they are like old earth jelly fish in many ways. The hanging things below them have tiny barbed hooks that inject poison that will liquify a human in about six hours.”
Once the jelly birds had gone by I started walking again. We managed just over twenty kilometers before I stopped in a group of rocks. I slipped out and used the demo gun in the vest to kill an animal. I cleaned it and brought it back before starting a fire to cook it. The general watched me just as he had the whole way here.
He smiled, “ever think of joining the military?”
I grinned, “this is my vacation before I apply for officer training.”
He nodded, “you have schooling?”
I kept checking the openings into the rocks, “an advanced degree in engineering.”
He grinned, “we get out and I will personally get you in.”
I smiled and started handing sticks with meat to each man, “hold the meat and turn it so one side does not burn.”
Four days later I was swimming beside them as we crossed the last river before we were out of the dead zone around Sky Islands. I glanced back and up to see a wyvern and shook my head. I walked out first and quickly pulled the demo gun as I turned and walked backwards.
The others were coming out as the huge creature dropped out of the sky. I knew better than to try shooting through the hide, it was to thick and even a grav pulse rifle would not penetrate. The men were scrambling out as I aimed. The wyvern back winged with claws reaching for me as the last man ran past me.
It roared and that gave me the target I needed. I fired six times into its mouth and through the roof and into its brain. I back stepped as it jerked and then fell while convulsing. The wyvern wolves were distantly related to the wyvern which was why I had used the pepper spray. I looked at the huge creature as it died and waited before cutting off the claws on one forefoot.
I struggled to cut a huge piece of hide with the synth knife before rolling it up. I turned to look at the men and smiled as I started walking, “you just met one of the major predators here on Cloud. That was a Wyvern.”
I stopped a kilometer later when I saw the large slates of grav stones. They were covered in vines and debris or they would be floating a lot higher. I looked around, “we are setting up camp here.”
The general walked to one of the smaller stones and pushed on it, “what are these?”
I smiled, “grav stone.”
I had killed a Tree Snipe and let the men collect wood to build a fire. While they worked I went to the slate stones and collected vines and found four large flat pieces I could use. I used cord from the vest and vines to link them together. I sat up all night thinking about what I was planning. While I was doing that I cleaned the four huge wyvern claws.
I used my small synth knife to bore holes and then added cord to hang them around my neck. I lay back and relaxed to wait for morning. I was up with the sun and grinned as I put men on each piece of slate. I started at the back and moved toward the front as I cut the vines holding the grav stones to the ground.
I jumped onto the first as it started to rise and glanced back to see the men clinging to the vines I had put on. I shifted around and pulled out the silk shroud as we rose above the trees, “ready to wind sail home?”
I flipped the shroud and it caught the morning breeze and filled out. I leaned back as it started pulling and towing us after it. It was not long before the men were laughing as we flew above the trees at about two hundred feet. The breeze was only about five or six kilometers an hour but it picked up once the sun rose higher.
Eight hours later we were out of the dead zone and I collapsed the shroud. I held it as we drifted and pulled out several items that snapped together. I squeezed the side handle a dozen times before opening the comm, “dad?”
“Very funny Star Hawk. Devlin should reach you in an hour.”
I grinned at the general, “I was tired of walking. Let the port know the pilot, copilot and engineer died on impact.”
I glanced around as we floated, “I had to kill a Wyvern.”
Dad was quiet for a long time, “I saw it attack and told the council.”
I put the comm down and relaxed and the general cleared his throat, “what was that about the Wyvern?”
I looked at him, “they are protected and only found in the Sky Islands. As far as we know there are only around a hundred. We tried catching and moving one but it just flew back and left a path of dead behind while it did it.”
An hour later a flyer hovered and dropped a line before landing. I grinned at the men, “hang on.”
Devlin, his copilot and engineer used a wench to pull us down and then used nets to hold the grav stones on the ground so they could be brought back later. It was a couple of days later that I walked into dad’s office and looked at the general when he turned. I smiled as I crossed to sit, “finished with your business sir?”
He smiled, “I was speaking with your father and waiting for you since I was told you would be here.”
I looked at dad as he sighed, “he has pulled a few strings. I gave him your application and he made a few calls.”
I looked at the general and he grinned, “you have a ticket waiting for the weekly shuttle and a slot at the marine officers course after you finish the basic training. I just need to hear your oath.”
Basic training was hard but not as bad as I thought. The officers course was a lot different than I thought but I finished third in my class. My ensign assignment was with a company that did a lot of scouting and recon. I fit in extremely well and left a year later as a lieutenant JG (or junior grade).
I fired as the enemy attacked again, “second pull back, third cover.”
My platoon was facing at least three companies with almost no support. I had lost three men earlier and barely managed to evac them. I heard the platoon sergeant, “second is set.”
I nodded, “first pull back, second cover.”
I shifted and rolling to my feet and moving back before kneeling behind a tree. I moved again and then shifted to drop beside the last man in third squad, “second we need smoke.”
I started firing again as several smoke grenades exploded behind us and first squad came on, “first set.”
I glanced to the left, “third pull back, first cover.”
We were trying to move back to break contact but the enemy was pressing us hard. Suddenly artillery began impacting in front of us, “about damn time FO.”
I gestured as I rolled to my feet and backing into the smoke with the rest of third squad. I do not remember the explosion that threw me back or the company of enemy soldiers that found me. I remember waking up in a room with a thick bandage around my head and another bloody one around my left hand. I looked around and saw other soldiers in narrow cots and then I saw the guard watching me.
I tried to sit up and it took a moment for the dizziness to pass. He grinned, “you have a hard head lieutenant.”
His accent was not bad but I recognized it, “where am I?”
He shrugged, “you are a prisoner in our field hospital.”
I looked down and saw all my gear gone. I was just in my filthy uniform and boots, “for how long?”
He turned and pushed a button, “well now that you are awake we can send you up and intel can talk to you.”
Four hours later I was aboard a ship in a small empty room. I was restrained to a table as a tall captain walked in. One of the things I had been able to determine was they had not found my tiny synth knife. The captain sat across from me, “good afternoon lieutenant.”
I nodded, “sir.”
He smiled as he put a comp screen on the table, “I know this is a waste. Line officers of your rank do not really have information we can use. I was looking at your capture report and you impress me.”
I waited as he tilted his head, “your platoon and that is what we determined it was, managed to take out two companies and stop the battalion that was trying to flank your regiment.”
I smiled, “I tried.”
He nodded and looked at the screen, “we also found that your individual comm was voice activated and had a type of freq burner if another tried to access it.”
I grinned, “I am an engineer and built it just in case.”
He nodded again, “we did not think it was military issue.”
He checked his screen, “we are sending you to Melburn prison planet.”
I straightened because it was a known prison planet but not its location, “for a junior grade lieutenant?”
He smiled as he stood, “we have decided we do not want someone with your abilities loose in one of the other military prisons. In fact we do not want you exchanged and back in the ranks against us.”
He walked out and a large guard came in and growled as he removed the restraint and yanked me up. He pulled both arms back and locked them behind me before shoving me towards the door. I was shoved into a room with several other junior officers and one turned me to undo the restraints before pushing them through the door slot, “welcome to junior officer prisoner transfer cell one.”
A couple of other officers chuckled as I looked around, “I am Star Hawk Stone. Anyone else going to Melburn?”
They stopped chuckling and a lieutenant cleared his throat, “they told you that?”
I nodded and he looked around, “none of us know where we are going.”
I shook my head as I moved to a wall and squatted down, “lovely.”
One lieutenant knelt in front of me, “you have family?”
I nodded, “My father.”
He nodded, “I will make sure he knows you are alive.”
I lifted an eyebrow and he shrugged, “if we are headed to a regular prison we get care packages and can send a letter home.”
I nodded and smiled, “just let him now I am headed for the center of Sky Island.”
He frowned, “where is that?”
I sat, “On Cloud. It is a kind of dead zone for all tech stuff.”
He nodded, “so he will know you can not contact him.”
I nodded and he stood, “I will let him know.”
A couple of hours later meal packs were pushed through the door slot. When the room lights flickered I sat and a minute later the lights went out. I felt my knife as I thought of ways to use it but left it hidden. We were fed in the morning and then two guards opened the door and one pointed to me. I stood and crossed to the door before turning and putting my arms behind my back.
The shuttle was almost empty except for me, a colonel and an admiral. How they had captured him I do not know. We transferred to what I thought was a corvette. When a sneering petty officer started punching the admiral for no reason I shifted and snapped a kick that broke his knee. I spun as he fell and kicked out again, this time into the back of his neck.
The other guards leaped and slammed me to the deck but I was down and did not resist. I was yanked up and slammed into a wall with the colonel and admiral as a lieutenant appeared. One of the others was with the man I had kicked and he looked up, “he broke his neck.”
The lieutenant looked at me with his eyes narrowed. I smiled, “if you want to beat us to death like he was trying to do to the admiral I will fight back.”
The lieutenant looked at the other guards, “who touched the admiral?”
The crew looked at each other before one nodded to the one I had put down, “he was going to teach him manners.”
The lieutenant looked at the injured man, “space him and lock these prisoners up.”
We were in a tiny four bunk room minutes later and I turned and undid the restraints on the colonel before he released the admiral and then me. The admiral looked at me as he felt his ribs, “you took a chance lieutenant.”
I shrugged as I sat on a bunk, “if they think they can get away with it they will just keep doing it. Dead here or dead on Melburn, it does not make a lot of difference.”
The admiral looked at the colonel, “Melburn?”
The colonel nodded and the admiral sat, “Just great.”
I smiled, “how did they get you sir?”
The admiral grumped, “I was just promoted and shuttling to my ship when it was hit and we crashed.”
The colonel shook his head, “they caught me when the Trent was destroyed and we abandoned.”
I leaned back and rubbed my injured hand, “I guess I pissed them off because my platoon held their battalion and keep them from destroying the regiment. I am not sure how they captured me, the last I remember was artillery finally giving us priority fire.”
The colonel gestured and gently removed the bandage from my head, “scalp wound so maybe a concussion.”
He left the bandage off and removed the one on my hand. I looked at the long scar above my wrist and flexed my hand slowly, “tendons seem to work.”
He nodded, “it hurt?”
I smiled, “since we do not have meds it does not matter.”
We were led out once a day to walk around the ship for exercise and I sat and did a kind of isometric exercise. The ship’s captain appeared the second day and apologized to the admiral for the rating. He held a comp screen, “this does not connect to my ship AI. I put the planet data on Melburn in.”
He gave it to the admiral who nodded, “thank you sir.”
We crowded around and spent our time looking at the screen. The planet was wild and hazardous, not only were the animals dangerous they were poisonous to eat. They had a tree call admantum because it was as dense as steel. Most of the plant or animal life was silicon based. One was called a Chinese Dragon because it was huge and lizard like with no wings.
Another was called a Werewolf because of the way it moved but weighted at least as much as a draft horse. I looked at everything and saw more then I was sure they would want me to see. Two months later a guard opened the door and we looked up from the card game between the admiral and the colonel. He grinned, “time to leave sirs.”
He looked at me, “I was told to make sure you were put in restraints first lieutenant.”
I stood and turned before backing to him, “I will miss our walks sergeant.”
He secured the restraints and pulled me back and out where another crewman took my arm. A minute later the colonel was with me and then the admiral as the sergeant led us to the transfer tube. I was pulled through and into a shuttle where two soldiers grabbed me and shoved me down in a window seat. The colonel and admiral were treated the same.
I glanced out the window and watched as we dropped into the atmosphere.
We were pulled and pushed off the shuttle and onto the tarmac where an enemy colonel was waiting. He was small man that sneered at admiral Green as he looked him over. He gestured and a guard turned and slugged the admiral in the stomach. He folded and I shifted to kick when a guard behind me put the muzzle of his weapon to my head, “go ahead.”
Colonel Noble looked at me as I turned to look at the guard. The admiral straightened, “as you were lieutenant.”
I looked at the admiral as he stood and relaxed, “aye sir.”
The enemy colonel laughed and gestured again. The guard struck the admiral and I turned and stomped before spinning around and kicking. The guard folded when I stomped on his foot and I kick him in the head before I took a step and kicked forward. The enemy colonel folded and went flying back as the other guards tackled me. I kneed one in the groin and head butted another in the face.
I was yanked down by my hair and the muzzle of a pistol put against my forehead. I glared, “kill me or treat me as a prisoner.”
The enemy colonel staggered towards me with his weapon out. He gestured, “get them up! Take them to Doom.”
He stepped close when I was on my feet, “lets see how you are in three months.”
I smiled, “I will be free in three months and you will be dead.”
He slugged me and I went with it as four guards held me. He hit me several times before stepping back, “take them away.”
I straightened and the guards pulled us away and to a transport. Colonel Noble looked at me from across the cargo hold, “you okay?”
I looked at the guards, “yeah, he hits like a girl.”
The guard grinned and then laughed before shaking his head, “you have stones kid.”
I leaned back and turned my head as if I were sleeping but looked out the tiny window, “I would stay away from him if I were you.”
When the transport hovered two guard climbed into gun turrets. We were pulled up and a bag was shoved into our hands. We were shoved out and a guard remove admiral Green’s restraints and then the colonel’s. The guard put his pistol to my head as another removed mine, “see you in a few days Stones.”
He laughed as he shoved me out and we walked towards the large crowd of prisoners in ragged uniforms. The transport lifted and sped off as a large man stepped out, “I am in charge here. You do what your told and...”
I kicked and he went flying back and others caught him. I looked at all the high ranking officers but did not see anyone higher ranking than the admiral, “ATTENTION!”
They shifted and slowly came to attention. I walked forward and grabbed the captain that had spoken. I grabbed his long hair and yanked him up, “on your feet!”
I shoved him back and looked around before walking back to admiral Green, “what the hell is wrong with you? You are officers.”
I came to attention and saluted the admiral, “sir.”
He returned my salute and looked around, “who is in command?”
The captain shifted as I turned to look and cleared his throat, “there is no military here.”
I took a step, “wrong. I am here and you will behave as an officer should. Now who is the ranking officer?”
A colonel stepped out, “I am.”
I nodded and looked at the admiral and he smiled, “so you can brief us.”
The colonel snorted, “you are in a prison with no way out.”
I cleared my throat, “I have someone I have to see and do not intend to disappoint him. Now colonel who is planning an escape?”
The captain stalked towards me, “you little shit...”
I shifted and he snapped a kick I caught and pushed up. I followed him down to the ground as I brought the synth knife out and touched his throat, “any idea what a synth knife wound looks like sir?”
He froze and swallowed as colonel Noble stepped forward, “lieutenant.”
I stood and looked around, “if you surrender hope then you have truly given up. Now I am going to escape and I need men to come with us.”
The captain stood, “you do not know what you are saying.”
I smiled, “everything outside this camp is dangerous. We are just over two thousand kilometers from the enemy base. There is a courier ship at the port and only sats around the planet.”
I looked around again, “it will take me maybe three weeks before we leave.”
I looked at the admiral, “any idea how many men crew a courier?”
He blinked and looked around and a commander cleared his throat, “ten I think.”
I nodded, “that means I need at least two pilots.”
A captain pushed his way out, “I can pilot a courier.”
I waited and a commander pushed his way out, “I will go.”
I looked around again, “we need at least two ship engineers.”
Two pushed their way out and a colonel cleared his throat, “we will go.”
I looked at the captain, “we need three or four combat soldiers as crew.”
He shook his head but then nodded, “I am in.”
Three more stepped out and I nodded, “excellent. Now I need a way through the sonic barrier.”
I looked at the admiral, “sir, if you and colonel Noble could have someone brief you I will get with you. We need details on the towers, the sensor net and the power cells. I also need exact details on where and when each transport lands each time they come.”
He smiled, “ambitious.”
I grinned, “I am out of that damn ship cabin and we have a lot to do.”
He grinned as the crowd laughed. I looked at the captain, “a way through the sonic barrier?”
He led me through improvised shelters to what looked like a pond in a stream, “you have to swim all the way under water.”
I looked at him, “no gates or walkthroughs?”
He grinned, “a prison remember? There is a gate you can use to go out but not return.”
I looked at the water, “we will need to check it and disable any sensor. A man can be stationed at the gate when anyone goes out.”
He looked at me, “why go out?”
I started walking into the water, “because everything you need for shelter and survival is outside the camp.”
I dove forward and under the water as I began to swim. I went all the way to the other side before surfacing outside the sonic barrier. I walked out of the water and started across the cleared area to the trees. The one I picked was an admantum tree. I looked up at the thick limbs and started climbing. Five meters above the ground I knelt on a thick branch.
All the smaller branches tended to grow straight for a distance before reaching for the sky. I looked across the cleared area before selecting a straight two meter branch that was under four centimeters across. I cut it with the synth knife as I listened to the forest and kept glancing around. I started at the thick end and peeled two thirds of a meter down on each side until it was only ten millimeters thick.
I glanced into the forest as I heard something moving closer. I shaped the tip into a point and the sides until they were sharp. I stripped the rest of the thin bark off as a huge beast moved out into the cleared area. It was almost three meters tall at the shoulder as it sniffed the air. The head looked like a huge hound or wolf and then it stood on its rear legs.
I blinked as it looked around before stalking towards the tree I was in. I glanced around and shifted slightly. The werewolf’s eyes snapped to me and it roared as it leaped and grabbed a branch. It swarmed up and roared as it leaped straight towards me. I moved a hand back on the spear I had made and lunged. I stabbed the spear tip straight through its mouth and it slammed into the skull.
I jumped aside as the beast crashed into the branch I was on before falling. It was spasming and convulsing when it landed on the ground. I watched it for a minute before turning to cut another branch. I made another long spear as I listened and watched and then a short sword type of machete. After that was several different knives and then a thick curved branch.
I climbed down and went to another tree, this one was not an admantum but has a lot of straight slim branches about three meters long. I cut a couple of dozen before carrying everything to the water and tossing it in with a lot of tiny vines I had found. I went back to the werewolf and skinned it with one of the knives I had made and took the claws from one foot.
Surprisingly the hide floated across the water easily and I saw the captain with all the branches I had cut. I slipped into the water and dove before swimming down and across. When I walked out on the other side he was grinning, “I thought that werewolf had you.”
I rolled up the hide and took the admantum spears before heading towards the center of the camp and the admiral. He was sitting cross legged with a dozen others as I dropped what I was carrying. I turned to take the slim branches and dropped most of them, “another reason to go out is to help provide shelter. Everyone is just out in the open and exposed.”
I used the tiny vines to tie ends together until I had the frame of a hut. I finally sat and reached for the bag I had dropped after leaving the shuttle, “ready to hear my plan?”
While I ate a ration I started explaining, “first the reader they let us see showed the continents. It was a sat look down but had elevations markers. They also gave away which continent we would be on so that narrowed it further.”
I glanced around, “I will need to make a few cups.”
I shook my head as they chuckled and continued, “I was looking out a window when we came down and the enemy base is on the large peninsula on the west coast. I also saw the courier ship sitting on a pad.”
I thought as I took a couple of bites, “anyone know what a gilly is?”
Several men raised their hands and I smiled, “I am going to make a gilly and if the transport lands in the same place each time I will sneak aboard.”
The men hissed but I ignored it, “the hard part will be to open the access panel in the forward landing gear bay without setting off an alarm. Just inside and behind the transport bridge is one of the bulkheads with the emergency packs.”
I looked around and grinned, “if I am careful they will never know I took them. I close the access panel and hide under the transport until it leaves.”
I looked around at the men looking at each other, “inside each bag is one hundred ration bars.”
The admiral chuckled, “enough to get us to the port.”
I nodded, “and I will make spears and bows to protect us along the way. The next step may be harder, the ship key. If it is not in the ship the base commander will have it which means I will have to slip in and convince the good commander to give it to me.”
They laughed and I grinned, “I will also need to smash or find a way to destroy the star comm.”
The admiral shifted, “okay now that we have the plan it is time to make it work. Commander Morris has told us the transport always lands in the same place. They man the turrets so you are going to have to be under it when it lands.”
He looked around, “I do not know why you needed it but the sensor net only extends from the barrier to the trees. The towers have solar cells and just outside and down stream is the fusion reactor to power the sonic barrier.”
I grinned, “each tower has a directional sonic emitter. Remember the reader? If we climb up and reset the emitter it can be used like a lance. We can link the sensor net and adjust it to make a targeting system.”
I looked around, “we may escape or not but using what you have will provide you with animal hides to sleep on or to use as roofs.”
They grinned and nodded and I sighed, “I need a smaller hide to make a map.”
I stood and looked around as I held the trash from the ration. A commander held out his hand, “I will take care of that.”
I handed it to him before looking at captain Zane, “we are going to need a lot more from outside.”
He smiled and stood with one of the spears, “lead on lieutenant.”
This time he swam out with me and several men waited inside by the pond. I moved to another admantum tree and we climbed up. I cut and fashioned another spear and he gestured to the men inside the barrier and one swam out. He was also watching the forest around us so we would not be surprised. Colonel Baker climbed into the tree and Zane tossed the new spear to him as I worked on another.
It was a couple of hours before the forest went quiet. There were seven men in the tree with me and I stopped what I was doing and looked around slowly. The Chinese Dragon came out of the forest silently for such a large animal. The head was easily three feet across with a slim body twenty meters long and six pairs of legs. It was not headed for us and went past as it moved to the sonic barrier.
The men on the other side moved back as it hissed loudly and moved back and forth. It finally turned and started back into the forest but this time it was moving straight for us or under the tree we were in. I shifted the spear I held and looked at Zane to see his eyes widen before he shook his head. I smiled and looked down and waited before dropping off the branch.
I dropped silently with the spear aimed and then stabbed before I struck the dragon. The spear slammed through behind the head and sank into the neck and stuck in the spine. I hit and rolled off before coming to my feet with the machete in my hand. The dragon was writhing around on the ground but I could see it was paralyzed. I moved closer and started swinging and chopping at the throat.
The gush of blood made me move away before I started climbing, “we need the hide so do not let anything eat it.”
Commander Sara chuckled, “son you must be crazy.”
I smiled as I moved back to the branch I had been on and everyone else laughed. I worked on knives and a few machetes and an hour later several men went down and skinned the huge animal before we moved to another tree. Over a dozen men were with me when I stopped and glanced at the setting sun. We had killed several animals and the hides had been taken into the camp.
More men had come out to collect huge piles of branches and large leaves. We even had a man at the one way gate to let us back into the camp. I led the way in and noticed how different everyone seemed. I found the admiral and colonel Noble by the frame I had made. It had leaves covering the roof so there was shade as I sat to eat. The admiral grinned as I set two spears and a set of knives for each of them down.
He gestured, “your idea of making sonic lances was a good one. We looked the emitters and sensor net over and as soon as we have light we are going to make a few changes.”
I nodded as I ate and started to scrape and clean a small hide, “we need to leave the landing area alone so the gilly suit will not stand out.”
The colonel chuckled, “four men are already working on it.”
I nodded and glanced at the admiral, “it is not going to be an easy walk.”
He nodded, “I thought about it while you were out and I will make it.”
I nodded and went back to work. When it was to dark to see I stopped working and stretched out to think of home. I was up with the sun and sat to finish the small hide, after that I started on a long branch and carefully carved a crude bow. I glanced up as captain Zane and colonel Baker stopped and sat. The captain grinned, “what is the plan for today?”
I smiled, “find someone that knows how to trap and make snares. We need hides to make packs and mocs and bird snares for the feathers. We also need shorter straight branches for arrows.”
He nodded and the colonel stood, “I think I know just the men.”
I looked at the captain, “we also need someone that can cut the larger hides into slim leather strips to braid into rope.”
He stood, “meet me at the walkout gate in a few minutes.”
I smiled at the change in him and colonel Noble chuckled. I looked at the admiral before standing, “think we could pull an emitter down with a solar cell and use it?”
He looked at the barrier and the towers, “I do not know, I do not think we could store the energy and use the emitter.”
He smiled, “I will ask one of the engineer types.”
I turned to walk away and looked back, “if they have the fusion reactor why have solar cells?”
He blinked as I carried a spear and walked away. A lot of men were already up and moving around as if they had purpose. Several were watching as some gathered more of the leaves and a few used machetes to cut slim branches. I spent the day making more spears, machetes, knives and ribs for a long canoe type boat. I also cut a lot of extra admantum branches before coming back into camp.
I left them and the synth knife with three men who said they knew how to carve. Men were still cleaning and scraping the Chinese dragon hide. More men were building shelters with branches as frames and leaves as the roof. I sat and started a fire using wood scraps, when it was going I used the heated edge of my buckle to etch a map into the small hide I had cleaned.
A man sat to watch and grinned, “you sure your memory is accurate?”
I nodded but did not take my attention away from what I was doing. I set the buckle in the fire and looked at him, “I have an edict memory.”
I glanced at all the men moving around with new life, “you know how to build a canoe?”
He blinked and shook his head. I used my finger to draw the ribs and supports. I nodded to the large dragon hide, “I need a way to seal the ends so it does not leak.”
He sat back and looked at the hide and then turned to look into the forest, “maybe refined tree sap or...”
He stood and started walking and I smiled as I went back to what I was doing. The gilly suit took two days to finish and by then the camp had neat rows of framed shelters. We killed a dozen werewolves and two more dragons as well as dozens of smaller animals and birds. Each day men lined up with me to practice with crude bows and they were not to bad.
The spears made a lot of difference and so did the machetes and knives. The evening before the transport was due everything was hidden and the shelters carefully taken apart. I wore the gilly suit and laid in the landing area for over half the night. It was late morning when the transport appeared and I watched as it hovered. As it started dropping I waited and then shifted away from the front landing gear.
It settled to the ground and I moved into the landing gear bay. I slipped the suit off before moving up and listening to the panel. I looked at the connection and grinned, one of the engineers had told me how to bypass it. I switched the setting and then twisted the four ends of the panel sealers. I held two and carefully tilted it as I listened and then pushed it out.
I moved forward and into the transport and heard the guards at the back as they made prisoners come in two at a time to carry out bags of rations. I looked towards the bridge and crawled between pallets of bags to the bulkhead. I removed the two front emergency panels and grinned at the four bags. It took a few minutes to move them and then replace the panels.
I hesitated to crawl into the landing gear bay when I saw the weapon harness. They would do sat look downs and possibly even a search if I took the pistol but... I moved carefully and made sure no one was watching as I reached up and pulled out the energy knife. I slipped back into the landing gear bay and closed it. I replaced the sealers into position to hold the panel before fixing the alarm connection.
I dropped the four bags out before putting the suit on and climbing out. I laid on the bags and waited until the transport lifted and accelerated away. After it was gone I stood and started stripping out of the heavy suit as men came to grab the bags. I tossed the knife to a colonel who caught it and grinned, “we can recharge this with one of the solar cells.”
It was almost like a party that afternoon as we put the shelters up again and brought everything out. That evening the admiral stood with everyone around him, “we have more than enough to make a try. After we leave keep using what you can, like the emitter and the lance. We will come back for you so no falling back.”
He looked around and the men nodded before he sat and looked at me, “are you sure lieutenant?”
I nodded, “we have packs and supplies and weapons and a map. The map was even copied so they have one here.”
He looked at the others around us and finally nodded, “we leave first thing in the morning.”
The whole camp was up and walked us out the gate. I led the way and nocked an arrow as I slipped into the brush. The first obstacle came twenty kilometers away when we reached a river. The admiral looked at me and I grinned as I began pulling ribs out of packs to put the long canoe together. We had tested it in the pond but this would be the real test.
I moved to the prow as we climbed in and started watching. As we started across I saw a few ripples and got the bow ready. We were almost to the other bank when the large amphibian attacked and I put an arrow straight into one eye and into its brain. Everyone almost panicked until the admiral cleared his throat, “nice shot lieutenant.”
Captain Zane laughed, “bloody perfect shot lieutenant, as soon as I clean my pants I will recommend you for the expert bowmenship award.”
The others laughed and we landed and started taking the canoe apart after checking it for leaks. It was perfect and we put it away before starting to walk. We almost walked into the Chinese Dragon later that day and I froze before gesturing everyone back. It was feeding as we slowly circled it and moved away. The sun was starting to go down when we climbed into a tree.
We slept as close to the top as we could get but took shifts listening and guarding. When the sun rose we sat together and ate one ration before climbing down. At the first stream colonel Caress used the wooden container and filter and we all drank and filled our water bottles, (a hollowed out thick branch). I checked the direction before we waded across and started walking.
The werewolf attacked that afternoon when we were climbing a ridge. Commander Morris reacted perfectly, as if he had done this a hundred times. The beast leaped and he shoved commander Adams as he planted the butt of his spear. The werewolf hit the spear as he let it go and rolled away. Commander Sara lunged to stab his spear into its neck but Morris had aimed his and it was already dying.
We climbed a tree that evening at the base of a small cliff. I watched as the sun set and knew we had been lucky so far. I reached up to hit a foot when I heard something and started peering into the darkness. The animal that came out was like an old earth bear but with wicked claws like a sloth. It had huge fangs and three spiraling antler like horns that sprang up from the forehead.
It sniffed and I realized it was following our trail. I glanced up and gestured as I quietly shifted. The bear thing’s head snapped up and I heard the growl as it stalked towards us. I shook my head and dropped several branches and then swung down and dropped to the ground. It rushed me and I rolled away and sprang to my feet as it missed.
I lunged with the spear and the blade grated as it sank into its back. I yanked it out as the bear turned and stood on its back legs like the werewolf. I shifted and side stepped and it followed while swiping with a paw. It was in front of the tree when it leaped and I aimed the spear. It hit and the spear sank into its broad chest as I dropped and rolled.
I pulled my machete as the animal turned and shook itself. It clawed at the spear but started moving towards me as it dropped to all four feet. I was waiting for the rush as I circled and moved back and several minutes later it came. The spear was dragging under the animal and pulling it down which slowed it. I leaped aside and spun to bring the machete down.
It struck behind the front shoulders and there was the jarring impact as the blade hit the spine. I twisted and yanked it back as its back legs dropped. I moved around the enraged animal as it continued to struggle and moved in suddenly and struck. This time I hit the neck and blood fountained out as I backed away and waited. Zane dropped out of the tree, “lieutenant you are one crazy bastard.”
I smiled but did not look away as the animal died, “it was tracking us.”
I finally looked at the captain, “it was not something I wanted to play with in the tree.”
He snorted and glanced around, “do you think there are anymore?”
I shook my head as I moved forward, “I doubt it.”
I cut the claws off and then pulled the fangs and then cut the antlers off. I followed Zane back into the tree after checking the spear. Scavengers kept us up most of the night but ran when we climbed down in the morning. We ate and when we had enough light climbed the cliff before continuing. We had to cross four streams or rivers during the day and came to some plains.
The admiral shook his head, “we spend the night in a tree and start across in the morning.”
The others nodded we started looking for a tree. The one we found was like an admantum tree but had foot long thorns on the trunk. Once we were higher I cut a couple of dozen thorns since the points were so sharp. I looked at the map with captain Trent and commander Davis. Davis touched a river out in the plains, “do you remember the map markings for this river?”
I closed my eyes, “no markings for falls or rapids.”
I opened my eyes and he grinned, “it might be dangerous but faster to use the river.”
I looked at the admiral above us with colonel Nobel, “what do you think sir?”
He glanced out at the plains, “it is worth thinking about. Wait until we reach the river, by then we will have plenty of time to think about it.”
I nodded and put the map away. The night was not an easy one with constant yawling and howls and screams, all seemed to come from the plains we would have to cross. A few predators came close to the tree but none were willing to risk the thorns. When I climbed down it was barely light and I cut thorns all the way down. We started walking and eating before the sun was completely up.
The tall grass had me worried but we did not see anything all day as we waded through it. It was a couple of hours before we came to the river. It was wide but not fast and we could see it was not to deep. I looked at the admiral and he nodded, “I would rather be on the water at night than sleeping in this tall grass.”
I looked at the others, “two awake and paddling, we switch every two hours?”
Captain Zane chuckled, “suck eggs lieutenant, we know.”
I grinned as we removed packs and started putting the long canoe together. I had handed the thorns out so everyone had several beside the other weapons we had made. As it grew dark we started moving, I watched the river bank for awhile until it became to dark. The howls and screams started a little later but the river remained calm.
I was awaken in the middle of the night for my turn paddling. Five days we canoed down the river stopping during the day to stretch our legs. We were attacked three times by amphibians but it was always during the day. The morning of the sixth day we reached the forest on the other side of the plains where the river turned. We packed the canoe away and started walking again.
It was two weeks before we reached the ocean and the hardest part of the escape. I was very careful as I unpacked the shroud made from a extremely thin scrapped dragon hide. It had braided leather cords that I held as the wind filled it and I let it out more. It was not long before the canoe was racing across the top of the waves as we tried to keep ourselves on course.
We saw huge fish breach the surface many times but always behind us. It took almost nine hours before we reached the other shore and I was exhausted by then. We took the canoe apart and slept in the rocks on the shore. We woke to storm clouds and wind and ate as we started walking to warm up.
We turned south several hours later and stayed under the trees as much as we could. Strangely we did not see any of the larger predators and two days later reached the sonic barrier around the base.
Freeing a slave
We watched from the brush just outside the barrier before moving to the east where a shallow stream went under. We waited until dark and I went first and went into the water and half swam as I went under the barrier before moving to the side and waiting for the others. One by one they came through until we were all in.
I glanced at the Zane, “I will meet you at the ship.”
He nodded as he started crawling and the others followed. I turned to crawl away in a different direction. They were going to capture the courier ship while I was going to ask the commander of the enemy where the ship key was just in case. I finally reached the prefabricated buildings beside the shuttle and transport landing area. My first stop was a large building with sat antennas.
I peeked and slipping in and moved down a hall. I glanced through a small door window at a single man standing watch on the star comm. I looked into a side office and went in before going to the back and side. There was a large vent screen and I carefully opened it and removed the filter before crawling in. I stopped before I got to far and opened my pack.
I removed the other filter on another vent before struggling to remove the vent screen itself. Once the vent screen and filter were out of the way I moved half out of the vent. I was behind the large planetary sat comm console and began quietly removing the fasteners to open the back. Once I had them all I listened to the man muttering to himself before pulling the panel off.
I started tossing handfuls of moss that was actually a type of fungal mold. It was wet from the stream which we had wanted. I knew within a day the mold would have spread and expanded to almost fill the space. The mold properties would kill the star comm system within hours. I closed the panel and tightened the fasteners before moving back into the vent.
I replaced the vent screen and then backed out and carefully closed the other vent screen. I moved to the door to listen and looked out. I snuck out of the building and silently began my search for the commander. I had to avoid several of the enemy as they walked around and finally found the buildings that were the officers quarters. I had heard laughing and women screaming many times.
To one side of the housing area was a camp with a sonic fence and towers and stun canons. It was filled with women prisoners and I was almost sick because I knew why it was here and not with the other prisoners. I moved back and away before going to look for the commander. When I saw the two guards beside a door and heard a woman scream from inside I knew I had found him.
I had left the bow and spear with the others and only had a knife and machete. I moved around a set of quarters until I was at the corner of the commander’s. I waited and watched until they turned to look the other way. I was up and moving close to the wall as I closed on the guards. The one closest to me turned as I reached him and I stabbed under his ear and into his brain as I went past and swung the machete.
It took the other guard in the throat and then I was yanking one around and placing his palm on the door plate. The door slid open and I moved in to look around the common area. I could hear the woman screaming from the other room as I turned to pull both dead guards into the room. The door closed and I headed for the other room with the knife in my hand.
When I walked in the commander was on a woman raping her. I walked straight to the bed and grabbed his hair and yanked him off and put the knife blade to his throat, “move or make a sound and you are dead.”
He began whining and begging and I shook him, “quiet.”
I looked at the woman who was curled up on the bed, “we can not stay.”
She shuddered and lifted her head to look at me before nodding. I yanked the commander around as I started for the other room, “where is your safe?”
He stiffened, “you are dead.”
I reached down and sliced his thigh open, “the safe.”
He screamed and I shoved him against a wall. The woman touched my shoulder, “through the back door is his office, it should be in there.”
I grabbed his hair and started pushing him towards the door. The woman hit the open plate and it slid aside. I moved forward and looked at the other door before looking around. I saw the safe and pushed him to it, “open it.”
He stiffened, “no.”
I brought the knife down and against his privates, “I will not ask again.”
He jerked and hissed before putting his hand on the pad, “Commander Allison.”
The safe clicked as it unlocked and I held the knife out to the woman, “we can not leave him.”
She growled as she accepted the knife and the commander twisted. She stabbed him in the groin and ripped the blade up as he gasped for breath. She pulled the blade out and cut his throat before he could fall. I opened the safe and ignored her as she knelt to stab him a few more times. I found the ship key in the safe as well as a code decryption key before closing the safe.
I turned and caught the woman’s hand with the knife and pulled her up, “time to go.”
I looked at her naked body, “your clothes?”
She growled, “female prisoners are not allowed clothes.”
I shook my head, “go find some from his quarters.”
She glared and I shook her, “go before I leave you.”
She took a breath and nodded before running for the other room. I followed and waited in the common room. She returned in pants and a shirt with a belt holding a pistol and an energy knife. I nodded and moved to the outer door. I opened it and glanced out before moving out and down to a corner with the woman right behind me. I stayed in the darker shadows and she hissed, “where are you going?”
I was looking around at a common area in the quarters before shaking my head. I turned to go back and around, “the landing pad with the courier ship.”
She caught up a minute later, “you need people to fly that.”
I glanced at her and she gave me a feral grin, “I am a pilot.”
I nodded before continuing to move and finally reached the side of the shuttle and transport landing area. I stayed low as I kept moving until I reached the pad the courier was sitting on. I hissed and commander Sara appeared, “took you long enough.”
I grinned, “we still have to wait a couple of hours to give the moss time to spread.”
He looked at the woman and I glanced back, “the commander was raping her so I let her come with me.”
He nodded and gestured, “everyone is waiting.”
I glanced towards the base before standing and walking towards the courier lift. I watched the base the whole time the lift moved us up and into the ship. I set the controls to bring the lift in and lock the airlock. I glanced at Sara, “where is the bridge?”
The woman snorted as she went into the ship from the airlock, “follow me.”
Everyone was crowded in and around when we reached the tiny bridge and I had to push through. I grinned at the admiral in the command chair and handed him the ship key and the code decryption key, “we may need this as well.”
He looked at it and grinned, “we will when we come back.”
He slipped the ship key into the slot and all the displays came alive. He grinned, “how long before the moss will kill the sat comm?”
I looked at commander Morris and he grinned, “three maybe four hours if the moss was wet.”
I nodded, “it was wet.”
The wait was agonizing as we waited and then the admiral sat up, “time. Commander Davis please get us of this rock.”
The commander grinned as he turned and hit the intercom, “when you are ready Colonel.”
The reactor went online and then Davis switched on the anti gravs and the internal gravity. A minute later we lifted on the anti gravs and began moving. It did not take long before the ship began to climb and several long minutes later we left the atmosphere. I looked at the admiral as he watched the scan intently before sitting up, “clear.”
We shared space in the cramped courier almost without complaint. The exception was commander Marie Anne White, she startled easily. On the third day I finally pulled her into the tiny cabin I shared with captain Zane. I stood by the door, “strip.”
Her eyes widened, “what?”
I pointed to the fresher cabinet, “strip and wash. I will guard you and captain Zane will use the recycler to clean your clothes.”
She reddened as she looked away and I stepped close to lift her face, “I will not allow you to be touched or harmed.”
She looked into my eyes before finally nodding and I stepped back. She undressed and stepped into the fresher and closed the hatch. I took her clothes and opened the cabin hatch, “sir?”
Zane grinned, “I knew you would charm her.”
He slipped away to clean the clothes as I closed the hatch and waited. It was awhile before Zane knocked and I accepted her clothes. It was even longer before the fresher hatch opened. I waited and she stepped out and stood trembling. I handed her clothes to her and waited for her to dress before pointing to the bed, “sleep.”
She smiled, “this is not...”
I held up my hand, “the admiral’s orders ma’am, sleep.”
She nodded and slowly laid down before closing her eyes. It was a few minutes before her breathing changed. After that I would watch her each day as she washed and slept and the complaints and tempers settled down. Two months later the courier slowed beside the huge battleship. Captain Trent eased the ship closer and then ratings in hard suits were docking us.
Two straight days of debriefings had a lot of people very upset over the treatment we had received, especially the women. I walked aboard the huge troop transport that was almost completely empty. It was one of three and only one had troops. We had the battleship, four cruisers and eight destroyers as escorts when we left. I glanced at the hatch to my cabin when it open and stood, “ma’am?”
Commander now captain White stepped in, “it looks like we are sharing the cabin commander.”
That had been a surprise, I had been promoted and jumped over full lieutenant to lieutenant commander. I blinked, “Share ma’am?”
She smiled, “relax Star. You helped me more than anyone and probable more than you know. Once we return they are separating me.”
I shook my head, “why...”
She stepped close and touched my shoulder, “you more than anyone know why.”
I nodded and she glanced around, “A little larger than our last cabin.”
I looked around, “a little.”
She set her kit bag on a bunk, “so...”
I smiled, “ever been on a troop transport?”
She shook her head and I led her out to explore. Two months later we sat in jump seats and watched as combat shuttles dropped away from another transport and streaked down into the atmosphere. I stood, “permission to head to the shuttle sir.”
The captain glanced back, “granted commander.”
I looked at captain White, “see you later?”
She smiled, “yes.”
I turned and strode out and moved quickly down to the shuttle bays. Empty shuttles were prepped to begin prisoner rescue and I climbed aboard the one headed to camp Doom. I nodded to the shuttle crew chief and he grinned, “ready to go.”
The shuttle jarred and then there was a moment of acceleration before the compensators caught up. Later I stood as the crew chief signaled and moved to the hatch. A moment later the shuttle settled to the ground and I opened the hatch and hit the ramp. I walked out to see the men we had left, “anyone want a ride home?”
They grinned and then the colonel in charge began getting them lined up and moving them in. I stayed as the shuttle left and listened to the sat comm reporting the enemy base secure. Another shuttle landed and almost all the prisoners climbed aboard to leave. I went with the last shuttle up and it dropped me at the enemy base before loading some of the female prisoners.
I watched it leave before turning to walk through the base and to the line of enemy prisoners. Eighty percent knew what would happen and fought to the death. I nodded to the lieutenant in charge and looked at the prisoners, “split them into three groups, officers, NCOs and enlisted. Strip them and issue the red jump suits and make sure they do not have anything after you strip them.”
The lieutenant nodded as I turned and headed towards the female prison. The female trauma teams were with the worst cases and the few guards protecting them glared. I ignored them as I slowly looked around before gesturing to a female master chief that was one of the guards. She strode to me, “What?”
I looked at her and smiled slightly, “first master chief I was one of the prisoners. Second I want all the bastards that did this too. And third, I see at least a dozen surveillance vid cameras. I want any recording from them showing any enemy.”
She shook herself, “sorry sir.”
She looked around before gesturing, “Davis, Adams!”
She moved aside as I gestured to another guard. She walked to me and I turned to face her, “find a vid camera. I want everything you see in this compound on a vid. Beds, what little shelters they had and the latrines. Vid everything so we have a record to hang these bastards.”
She relaxed and nodded, “yes sir.”
I went to the medical teams and waited for an angry commander to turn, “ma’am you need to move them to the field even if you have to sedate them. We need to finish and get off this rock, they have spent enough time here.”
She took a breath before nodding as I left and headed to the commander’s office. An intel team was already inside working when I stepped in, “finish or take it with us.”
They looked up and then nodded before going back to work. I went to the landing area and made a check of shuttles left and those leaving as the last of the female prisoners were loaded. The colonel in charge of the raider battalion walked up and I came to attention, “almost ready sir.”
He nodded and looked around, “nasty business this. When this gets out things are going to change.”
The master chief from the compound led her guards towards the last shuttle and stopped to hand me a vid camera, “hang the bastards sir.”
I nodded and watched them before looking at the platoon of intel men jogging towards us. I turned to follow and rode the shuttle up. An hour later the fleet was heading out and I was knocking on admiral Green’s quarters. The men captured were tried by an impartial tribunal we had brought and all but one was sentenced to death. Two months later we were back in our own territory and already the news was spreading.
Two dozen systems went over to us as well as another six surrendering outright. Four of their twelve fleets changed sides within weeks and two others scuttled all their ships. The couple of battles had been brutal with both fleets damaged so bad neither would ever leave the system. The end came with kinetic strikes on the enemy capital system planet by four new battleships.
I was given leave and headed home, I did not go alone. Besides all the men that had escaped with me, captain White was coming as my wife. When I walked off the shuttle my father was waiting and smiled, “your late Star Hawk.”