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Introduction:

This contains all the chapters
Chapter one

Passing the Test

I am Simon Joseph St James and sat in the speeding copter and thought about my life and what had brought me here to this time and place. I was twenty years old and the last four had been spent working to reach this point. First were the martial arts and then the science, well... biology and zoology. I had been on the planetary youth marksmanship team as well.

My goal was to become a ranger for our planet. The few rangers that came through were only here for a month or two before leaving. It was the ranger’s job to make sure the people of the colony were safe as well as the animals of the planet. It was also their job to preserve any ruins or artifacts on a planet. I sighed as the copter changed pitch and spun in a wide circle.

I could see a grove of giant home trees and a herd of Simeron’s slowly moving through under their huge expanse. The copter shifted and tilted the other way before seeming to drop through the branches to a small clearing. My survivor instructor Mr Perry leaned close, “All right kid, this is it. Still want to go through with it?”

I nodded as my hand tightened on my small pack, “Yes sir.”

He nodded and patted my shoulder, “Just follow your directions and do not get killed.”

I grinned and as the copter dipped I moved to the door and jumped the two meters to the ground. The copter barely hesitated before lifting back into the sky. A moment was all it took and then I was standing alone in the small clearing. I looked around and put the pack on before turning to walk into the brush on one side of the clearing.

I had only been in the brush for an hour when I heard the hissing sounds of distress. As much as I wanted to head away from what I knew was danger I did not. I moved closer and after a few minutes I was looking into the crushed bushes to see a Lenolyn trapped in the net like ground vines of a chameleon tree. I thought about just walking away.

The Lenolyn were not known as being nice to humans. More like they went out of their way to rip us apart or stomp us to paste. Then there was the fact that chameleon trees were extremely dangerous. I sighed and looked around before stepping out. The growling hiss from the Lenolyn was not exactly comforting. I took a breath and walked closer carefully.

The sticky vines were wrapped around the Lenolyn’s snout and I reached out to slap the side of its head, “Be quiet and stop moving.”

I was a little surprised when it quieted and only glared at me. I looked at all the vines holding it and up at the slowly descending sucker vines. I nodded and moved around to its side and knelt as I pulled my long mono knife. I carefully split the vine, ignoring the extremely high pitched scream of the chameleon tree. I used the seeping vine milk on the leg of the Lenolyn and it caused the vine to drop away.

When the leg was free it twitched but stayed still as I moved to the back leg. I did not bother glancing up as I sliced along the new vine and began working it loose from the Lenolyn. When it was free I moved to the head and looked in the huge eyes, “I need to work the vine off so do not bite.”

The only thing it did was snort, which I took as ascent. It did not take long to work the vine off the snout and I glanced up to see the suckers almost all the way down. I absently patted the side of the huge head, “When I say go, walk straight and do not stop until you are clear.”

I moved to the other side working as quickly as I could. I almost stepped in a net vine myself before moving to the last leg. As soon as the vine came free I checked the tail and then reached up to touch the upper leg, “Go!”

The Lenolyn did not hesitate in walking forward almost delicately. The chameleon tree’s scream of defeat made the surrounding forest go silent. I carefully made my way away from the chameleon tree and glanced back to see the Lenolyn looking at me. I nodded and turned away to slip into the surrounding brush. That evening I found a sheltered spot to camp.

I used a blow gun to kill a slow Grecal as it watched me from a low hanging limb. I cleaned the lizard skin as the meat sizzled over a small fire. The night came alive with the sounds of both predators and prey. The next morning I was moving cautiously through the last of the home trees in this grove when something caught my eye.

I should describe a home tree. They are around twenty meters thick and can grow to be almost two hundred meters tall. The lowest branch on a home tree is about a forty meters above the ground. While the leaves looked large and deciduous, the trees were a type of evergreen. I had noticed what almost appeared to be a path to the closest home tree.

I hesitated and then moved to the side and slowly and carefully left the brush and walked to the tree as quietly as I could. The area under a home tree was normally clear of brush or grass although most did tend to grow thick there. I stood a couple of feet away from the bark and looked at it carefully. It was a moment before I realized there seemed to be a pattern.

There was a section of bark about the size of my hand that looked worn as if from being touched. I reached out and placed my hand on it and hesitantly pushed. There was a very soft click and a section of bark two and a half meters tall and one and a half wide popped away from the tree. I slowly pulled it out to see a set of stairs going up and another going down.

So much for not being a cat. I started up the stairs and was surprised to see indirect lighting as if the light seeped through the bark. I was up to what I thought was the forth layer of branches when the stairs stopped. There was a doorway that should have led out. It turned out to be a room with jagged slit windows. There was a feeling of waiting about the room as I looked at soft skin couches and glossy tables.

There were two other doorways into the room and I began to explore. While there was a food preparation area, there did not look like there was anything to cook the food. I found two bedrooms with soft beds and light airy blankets. I even folded one of the blankets up to take with me. At the bottom of the stairs was a smooth stoned room about thirty meters under the ground.

Strangely, the walls glowed more than bright enough to see and I looked around. There were glyphs carved smoothly into the walls by each door. I followed one for a long way and came to another room with a spiraling staircase. I turned back and finally made my way up and out of the tree. The door made another soft click when I pushed it closed.

I paused and just listened before moving into the brush thinking about what I had just found. When the forest around me went still I stopped moving as well. I was long past the last home tree and in what we called new growth. The trees were only thirty to forty meters tall. They were also filled with more animals a lot of them very dangerous to lone humans.

I slowing reached for my long bush knife and glanced around. The brushed crashed towards me and I spun and took three running steps before leaping for a hanging branch from a ladder tree. I brought my feet up and around to stand on the branch. I jumped straight up to grab the next branch and swung up as the tree shook with the impact of the Croclin.

I did not bother to jump up again. I jumped to the adjacent branch, my hand grabbing the trunk to help spin me in and I jumped to another adjacent branch again. The tree continued to shake as the Croclin swarmed up the tree. As I landed I could see the back legs and most of the body of the Croclin as it followed me. My next jump brought me along side the animal against the tree trunk.

I pulled my mono knife and brought it down through the spine at the base of the skull. I shoved it in at an angle to penetrate the brain as the Croclin jerked and started convulsing. As it fell I grabbed onto the trunk. After the tree shopped shaking I looked down. The Croclin was about four meters long which meant it was about four years old.

The big ones that were full grown were over eight meters long. I cleaned my knife and put it away before dropping to the ground. The forest around us was quiet and I squatted and waited for the big animal to stop thrashing around. When it stopped moving I used a small knife and skinned it and cut off a large chunk of meat. I rolled the skin around the meat and slipped into the forest.

I stopped a couple of hours before the sun went down and made a fire in a hollow tree that had been struck by lightning. While the chunks of meat cooked I began scraping and cleaning the Croclin skin. I was up early and rolled the skin up and tied it to my pack before moving on. That afternoon I came to a large clear area with a mound of sticks and grass in the middle.

I was immediately on alert, this was a nest of a Simeron which meant mom and dad would be close by. Normally they were not aggressive but when they nest it was a different matter. I moved to a nearby ladder tree and started climbing. When I was high enough to move into one of the larger trees I did. Finally I started moving from tree to tree as I started around the nest area.

When the Drakonus drifted into the corner of my eye I froze. Drakonus were what the colonist called a large flying reptile that looked like the old earth drawings of dragons. I used my peripheral vision to watch as I moved in a wide circle around the nest site and then turned to head south. I waited a minute after it was gone before continuing to move from tree to tree.

When I was on the other side of the clearing I moved away. When I was far enough I climbed down and slipped into the brush. It was another week before I came to a grove of home trees. I had killed a Grecal and went to the trunk of the first home tree. I slowly walked around the tree and found what I was looking for. I pushed and a tall bark door popped open.

I closed the door after I went in and climbed to what looked like another Tron home. In the food preparation area I put some stuff together and used my small solar heater. I was using one of the old Tron bowls to heat water and the cut up Grecal. I added several plants I had found during the day and waited patiently for the stew to finish cooking.

I walked to what looked like a crack in the wall and it just peeled back as I got close. I was looking out at the flat top of a large branch. I glanced down to the ground far below and saw a large full grown Croclin walking around the base of the tree. The way it moved told me it had been following my scent. I was glad I had managed to find the entrance to the home tree.

I washed in one of their rain rooms and slept comfortably in their soft bed. I woke early to a scratching sound and looked at the wall. I could hear the zap of an electric charge and slowly went to check it out. The wall opened as I approached and I stepped closer and then looked down the tree in the dawn light. At the base of the tree was the body of a grown Croclin, probable the same one I had seen yesterday.

I gathered my things and climbed down the stairs. After making sure the entrance was closed, I moved into the brush. I moved silently and was soon lost in a mist as it sprang up. I knew that meant I was close to a river. From the map I had memorized I knew where I was. The brush began getting thicker and I had a choice, follow a game trail or force my way through.

Following game trails near water was extremely dangerous. I forced my way between two thick bushes and slowly worked deeper into the thick brush. When a huge home tree popped up suddenly I was more than ready to take a break. The thick fog had just started lifting as I moved slowly around looking for the doorway. When I opened it, I closed it behind me but instead of going up I went down.

The stairs went down further than before and when they stopped I saw a glyph over what was a door in the direction of the river. Strangely the glyph looked like wavy lines that made me think of water. I headed towards the doorway and started walking. After what I guessed was six kilometers, I came to another room. I grinned and started up the stairs.

I went all the way up to the home in the tree and walked in to rest on cushions. I relaxed and ate some roots I had found and thought about everything I had done so far. I still had three hundred kilometers to go before I reached the ranger station. I finally stood and made my way down. I opened the door and closed it behind me before standing still and listening.

I finally crossed the open space around the tree and slipped into the brush. It was two weeks before I looked out of the thick brush surrounding the lone building. It stood alone in a clearing with tall sonic posts around it. I finally slipped out of the brush to walk across the clearing and through the sonic screen. When I opened the door to the building I saw Mr Perry sitting at the table eating dinner.


Chapter two

Invasion

Our flight back the next morning seemed shorter than the one out. Mr Perry was thinking about my story concerning the home trees and what I found inside them. We landed at the colony landing pads to see people running everywhere. As soon as we stepped out we found out why. A large Cariss warship was insystem headed for the planet.

We all knew that meant they were here to strip the planet before anyone could come to help us. Cariss was one race that was always warlike. They only fought as a clan in a single warship or small fleets. I followed Mr Perry as he headed for the comm building. The crowd around the building was demanding to know what to do. He pushed his way through the crowd and into the building.

I looked at the crowd and shook my head before remembering I was the one that wanted to be a Ranger. I yelled for quiet and they turned to look at me in my dirty clothes. I looked at them and then started pointing to people, sending them for weapons or other things we would need to defend the landing pads. I sent more out to warn everyone else and have them gather on the other side of the settlement.

I sent others to different places to make fighting positions. When Mr Perry came out his lips were tight together, “We can not get through.”

I thought about it and finally nodded as a plan came to me, “Get Mr Harris and whoever you need to take everything out of the building. Move it to the other side of the city where the women and children are gathering. Set the radio up using the nearest generator for power.”

I looked up at the sky above us wondering how long we had, “Set up a relay with the satellites. When the Cariss start to orbit, use the satellites to send the signal, it should get through.”

Mr Perry nodded as he finally understood and several of the men around us grinned. I looked around, “We need to hold the Cariss here. They always send in their best fighters before they even reach orbit and we need to buy time.”

That sobered everyone as they realized no one would come to save us and we would have to fight the Cariss on our own. I headed towards the pads and grabbed a long barreled laser rifle with a belt of charged battery packs. I set my pack and rifle aside and began moving heavy crates beside the thick brush near the closet pad.

When I finished, I grabbed the rifle and started going around checking the other positions. The men seemed resigned but firm in their commitment to protect the rest of the colony. When I checked the comm building I found it empty. I moved around to the positions and told each man where to go when we withdrew. After I had talked to everyone, I headed back to my position and waited.

It was a couple of hours before three large assault shuttles sped over the trees. I was ready and took aim at the engines of one as everyone just started firing. The shuttles were flaring as they braked and my long burst with the rifle went through the engine housing on the portside of the shuttle. It suddenly lurched and spun as it over flew the pad and crashed into the trees.

I put another long burst through the tiny exposed spot behind the engines and it exploded in white hot flames. I shifted to another shuttle that was already on the ground. Armored Cariss were spilling out the back as I aimed and fired at the tiny area where the fuel feed was behind the engines. As the shuttled exploded throwing Cariss away like broken rag dolls I came under fire.

I drop and aimed through a small opening I had made at the last shuttle as it started to lift. As the third shuttle exploded the Cariss started concentrating their fire on my position. I dropped and crawled backwards and slipped into a larger collection of huge crates before moving to the side. There were probable only forty Cariss that had managed to get off the shuttles.

One stepped around a crate in front of me and I fired and watched it fall backwards. I kept moving to change position. I fired around another crate at a Cariss that was pulling a rocket launcher out of a pack. He toppled and another took his place. I had to duck back as the crate I was using began to shred under the impact of bullets.

I rolled behind the crate next to the one I had been using as a loud explosion rocked the pad. I peeked around another crate and shot three Cariss that were close together and then there seemed to be a silence. I carefully looked around and then began to move. I checked the pads to find only dead Cariss and a three colonist bodies.

I looked at the burning shuttles and opened a local comm device, “Mr Peter?”

There was a long silent pause, “Here. It looks like they are just reaching orbit…”

There was another pause, “Simon we have multiple shuttle launches. The signal is being punched around their ship now.”

I nodded, “As soon as it is sent get everyone together and start for the nearest Home Trees to the east.”

I turned the comm device off and looked around, “Aim for the shuttle engines! When they land break contact and start for Mr Alder’s greenhouses!”

I heard several men shout that they understood and walked out to the pack I had seen the Cariss pull the launcher from. I grinned and grabbed the pack and launcher before moving back to the large stack of crates behind my shredded position. I held the launcher and lifted it to my shoulder. We heard the shuttles before we saw them.

I was ready and aiming in that direction as the first one appeared and fired. I knelt as it exploded from the kinetic warhead. I loaded another missile and turned to aim at a shuttle that was heading for a distant pad and fired. As it exploded two more joined it and another crashed. I took out a third as it touched down on a pad and it exploded making that pad useless.

I shot down a fourth as two more shuttles crashed. Cariss started climbing out of the wrecked ships and I knew we did not have much longer. I destroyed another as three shuttles landed off the pads. I dropped the launcher and grabbed my rifle, “Pull back!”

I saw men start moving back into the brush and shot two Cariss wearing bright officer plums. I slipped back behind the crates just in time. The crates in front exploded and sent plastic splinters flying. I shot two more Cariss as they rushed around the back crates and then sprinted the ten meters to the nearest tree. I spun around the tree as it shook under the impact of slugs and lasers.

I fired back into the group shooting at me and dropped three and scattered the rest. I looked around the pads and did not see anyone else. I slipped back into the brush and headed towards Mr Alder’s greenhouses. I used a brush choked route I knew and stopped at a spot that overlooked the main road into the colony. I fired into the Cariss moving down the road.

I moved back and quickly slipped away as the area I had been in was torn apart. I came to the greenhouses to see men standing around nervously. I saw a few that had been wounded and pushed a couple of other towards them, “All right time to go. Try to stay quiet and head to the edge of the colony. When we meet the women and children I will lead everyone someplace safe.”


Chapter three

Leading the way

I knew where to go but it would take at least four days to get there from the colony. I led the men to the edge of the colony using small pathways. When we found the women and children, Mr Perry and Mr Harris were watching for us. They both held laser rifles and were relieved when they saw us. It took a couple of minutes to get things sorted.

We had lost a few men at the pads and their wives or parents cried but they were colony people and knew life was hard. I put men or women on the side or back and headed into the forest. Mr Perry had told me they had punched the message through and Fleet had acknowledged it. I knew that only meant it would take awhile for them to get fleet ships here.

We were only in the forest a few hours when the first Croclin attacked. We had been taking hourly breaks to rest and everyone was huddled together. I had four men with weapons watching the surroundings. My time in the forest alone was what made me jerk up at the sudden change of sounds. I expected the smell of wounded to bring in predators but not this soon.

I moved past the guard that was watching and raised my rifle. The Croclin seemed to almost appear out of the low brush. I shot it through the head and then pulled my rifle to the side as I yanked out my mono knife. I did not need it as the Croclin crashed to the ground. I looked around at all the white faces and pointed out three men, “come help me butcher it.”

They helped me clean it and we used the tough skin to make rough carrying packs for the meat. I led the way out with people who were more aware of some of the dangers. The second attack came as we were crossing a small stream. I was on the other side watching down the stream when I heard this slight sound from behind.

I spun, lifting my rifle as the Croclin sprang at one of the smaller children walking towards the stream to get water. I shot the Croclin through the mouth and lunged to grab the little boy. I was to late but the Croclin was dead and only crashed into him knocking him away as it thrashed around. That night they crowded around in a cave I had found in the side of a low ridge.

I had two men on watch at the entrance and sat behind them nodding. I was trying to think of ways to hide and feed everyone. The night outside the cave went silent and my eyes snapped open. I moved to the two men, “be alert it is not a Croclin.”

My rifle snapped up but I did not fire. The shape that slowly moved out of the shadows had me touching the two men and whispering, “do not fire.”

It was a Lenolyn and it paused at my whisper before looking towards us and sniffing. It nodded its great head and then turned to walk into the night. I relaxed thinking that was strange, the two men were looking at me strangely so I knew they thought it was to. I relaxed as the normal night sounds returned. I did not sleep that much, I was thinking about our situation.

After the sun had come up I led everyone out. This time our route was more winding and through thicker brush. The men that had been wounded seemed a little better. The sound of two rifles firing brought me running to see another Croclin killed. I had the skin kept intact and the meat packed away. Just after midday I stopped and started a smokeless fire and had the meat from the Croclin cooked.

From a nearby stream we refreshed our water supply. We were attacked twice more by Croclin before we stopped for the night. This time in a large set of caves the colony knew about. It even had a large fresh water stream running through a lower galley. I pulled several of the older men and women away and opened my map. I pointed out where we were and where we were going.

An older woman name Becky Trembal who was the colony doctor looked at me, “Home Trees?”

I nodded and saw Mr Perry look interested as he grinned. I looked around at everyone, “Home Tree are where the ETs lived. They have hidden doors and stairs going up to living quarters. There are stairs that go down and branch out to tunnels that go to other trees. The ones I have been in have been preserved as if they just left. They are also protected by some type of zap shield. I saw a fully grown Croclin kill by it.”

They looked at each other and I pointed on the map, “see the river on the edge of the grove?”

They nodded as I looked at them, “I had a larger river beside a grove. It had a tree on the other side and a deep tunnel that went under the river.”

They looked at each other and then grinned. I stood and folded my map, “It still will not be easy. We have two more days in the forest.”

They nodded and headed back to talk to others and explain what I had told them. I took first watch and sat in the dark trying to plan our route the next day. I could hear quiet talking as men and women cleaned and scrapped the Croclin hides. In the quiet of the night I heard the slight scrape of scales and claws and the trembling shaking in the ground.

I shifted and hesitantly used the thermal imager on the rifle. The huge shape of a Rex extending its nose towards me was terrifying. I fired rapidly through its throat and head as it roared. I scrambled back as it lunged forward and fired again through its open cave like mouth. It crashed to the ground just a meter from me as I backed away.

A Rex was named after a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Not because it looked like it but because it was the largest land predator on the planet. I watched as this one jerked and thrashed around while it died. The others gathered around slowly and then looked at me. I nodded before turning, “Would someone mind cleaning it? I need to go… clean myself.”

They all laughed as I walked away. I was shaken by what happened, I spent a little while calming down before going back to where the Rex had been. Ten men and women were scraping the huge hide and I almost told them to leave it but it seemed to have given them something that revived them. The meat had been cut up and some was cooking, the rest of the body had been pulled away to the entrance.

The sounds of Croclin eating the remains kept most of us up that night. We were able to slip past the full animals around the dead Rex the next morning. Again I tried to keep everyone under cover as we walked. It was not until afternoon that we killed a small Croclin. It had slipped past the outer guards and lunged for a child when her brother shot it through the head four times with a rail pistol.

That woke everyone up to realize we were far enough away from the Rex for other predators to pay attention to us again. That was the only attack though and I killed four large Grecal for food that night. I had not found another cave and was using a very large grove of spine trees. They grow very close so larger animals would not be able to enter.

The only thing was the inside of the grove normally held a sweet smelling bush with a large flowering bell above it. The bush attracted smaller animals and if they started eating or touched the bush the bell flower gave off a gas that killed them. The bush would then slowly extend tendrils that pulled the body under the bush and sucked the nutrients out of the body, it was related to the chameleon tree.

I had cut the bell flower off, it would take the bush at least a week to regrow a new bell flower and the tendrils would remain wrapped around the inner bush during that time. We were up early to watch a large herd of Simeron slowly make their way past. As it grew lighter, I climbed a ladder tree and looked in the direction we needed to go.

The crown of a distant Home Tree was barely visible in the distance. I killed a fully grown Croclin not even an hour after we left. It had come straight out of a clump of bushes in front of us and charged at me. After skinning it and starting off again we were attacked twice more. Just after noon we reached the home tree. We could all see the grove across the river.

Everyone watched as I slowly walked around the tree. I grinned when I saw the door and had each person look at it so they would recognize it on another tree. I opened it and let them go in. Everyone went up, I think they were just tired and wanted to rest. I closed the door behind Mr Perry and stopped him, “I am going to check the tunnels. Keep everyone here until I return.”

He nodded and then started up grinning. I shook my head and started down the winding stairs. What surprised me was the second tunnel at the bottom with the glyph of stacked squares. I turned to the other one with wavy lines and started following it. Twenty minutes later I came to the hub with stairs leading up. I went up to check the tree and then started back.

I found everyone crowded into the home tree relaxing, a few dozing off. It took a few minutes to get everyone back on their feet and get them going. At the other tree I sent everyone up after telling them to eat. I spent the day with several men following tunnels to other trees and making notes of the glyphs. By the next morning I had spread everyone out in the other nineteen trees.

I left the one on the other side of the river empty. I ate and slept on a soft couch before heading back to the first tree. In the lower chamber I looked at the glyph with the stacked squares and finally headed into the tunnel. It went straight for a distance and then it went deeper. The tunnel turned into stairs that continued to go down. I estimated I was at least a couple of hundred meters under ground before the stairs stopped.

I was in a small chamber with another arched entrance. I stepped through and the huge cavernous space came alive with bright light. Row after row of crates filled the space. I looked to the left at what looked like some type of work station. I stopped at the first row of crates and checked it. It looked like it had been made from some type of plastic.

When I managed to pry one open that was sitting on a lower shelf, I found hundreds of packages. I opened one and was surprised to find some type of a prepared meal. I gathered several and took them back with me. As soon as I walked back through the arched entrance the lights in the room went out. I made my way back to the others and looked for Mr Perry and Doctor Trembal.

It took a few simple tests for the doctor to pronounce them eatable. I led several people back to the Tron warehouse and opened a couple more crates. While they carried the crates of prepared meals back to the others I headed to the work station. The seat was more of a bench with a hood that was above it. I was just going to sit down to look things over.


Chapter four

A journey into the past

I sat on the bench and looked at the lights and displays as they suddenly came alive. I started to move but it was to late. The room seemed to darken and I began to glow. Suddenly there was a pain! Sharp, penetrating pain straight into my head, it run out and went through my body. It felt like white hot knives slicing through my limbs, it was over and I sat in the dark.

The surrounding darkness began to get lighter. Suddenly I was outside in full daylight. The being walking past me looked almost reptilian. I was intrigued and started following him. He walked to one of the Home Trees and entered. I was surprised when I reached out and my hand went through the door. I hesitated and then just walked through the door.

I stood on the stairs and glanced down to see the Tron heading down. I followed and he led me down a long tunnel and then down a winding stair. After going through an arched doorway he turned to face me, “Follow and watch, I will teach you what you want most.”

That surprised me because I thought this was just some type of recording. I nodded and the Tron turned to walk towards the far end of the warehouse. I glanced at the work station and followed him. He stopped beside what looked like a long thin crate and opened it easily. Inside lay what looked like a gleaming rifle with a couple of dozen small ovals.

He touched the butt of the rifle where I saw a slight depression, “This is where the power charges go. Each charge is good for one hundred releases.”

I glanced at the rifle and he picked up one of the small ovals. He slipped one into the rifle and turned to start walking. He went through a doorway and lifted the rifle to point at a target a little way down the tunnel and to the side. He pressed a small stud on the left side and a holographic site appeared above the barrel. When he fired there was not much noise but the target appeared to just shatter.

He nodded and walked back into the warehouse with me following. He pushed another button on the side of the rifle above the loading slot and the oval came back out. He set the rifle back in the crate and closed it. Above the crate on the next shelf was several smaller crates and he took one down. In it was a small compact weapon I thought was a pistol.

It looked light and slim but I thought I would still be able to use it. The oval power charge went into the butt of the pistol and again he walked to the tunnel and showed me how to use the pistol. After putting the pistol away he walked to the other side of the warehouse and pressed a glyph on the wall. The wall seemed to slid back and then move to the side.

Inside the new room was something I never suspected the Tron had. I saw racks of what looked like short winged gliders. He pressed a button and one on a lower rack slid out. I watched as he carefully went through what was plainly a start up sequence. Nothing happened and he turned to a crate along the wall. From the crate he pulled out what looked like another oval power charge.

Except this one was a little bigger than my fist. I watched as he pressed a hidden button and a section between the wings slid open. He dropped the oval in and closed it before going back through the sequence. This time the glider actually lifted off the floor and he showed me how to lay on top of the wing and guide it. When he reached out and touched me, it was like a spark ran through my body.

The next thing I knew I was on the glider approaching a wall. It split and disappeared just before I crashed into it and I was flashing up a steep tunnel. Suddenly I was in open air and opened the throttle wide. I was swooping and turning as I sped through huge trees with hanging vines. These were tree I had never seen here on the colony planet.

The speeding birdlike bats that followed screamed and I knew that if they caught me, I would be killed and eaten. I rolled the glider and spiraled around a huge tree, flashing through hanging vines. At the last minute I straightened out and passed under a fallen tree before looping and turning the glider. The bats fell behind as I dropped towards the ground and pressed a blue button.

A wide opening appeared and I went down through it into a steep sloping tunnel. I slowed as I approached the other end of the tunnel and came out in the warehouse. I slowed more and came to a stop before sliding off the glider. I shut the glider down and walked to the other end of the warehouse. I sat and the holographic display came up. I touched an icon and it grew to display the information about that item.

I began searching, food, weapons and anything else I could think of. I finally sat back and then I brought up the menu again, this time looking for maps. I sat back after memorizing the map I needed and then I reached up to shut the hood off. I blinked as I realized I was myself sitting in front of the workstation. I moved off the bench and started walking to the back of the warehouse.

The crates I was looking for were easy to find. I opened one with a rifle and stripped it of extra power ovals before picking up the rifle. I tucked the extra power ovals into my pack. Next were a pistol and more power ovals. I slipped the pistol under my belt and the power ovals in my pack with the others. I opened a case with large power ovals and slipped one in my pack and took a second.

I walked across the room to what I knew was a doorway. The wall opened as I approached and I was again standing in the room with Tron gliders. I moved to a rack and pulled a glider out before putting the power oval in. I went through the start up sequence and it hummed to life and floated a meter off the floor. I carefully placed the rifle between my pack and my back.

I tightening the straps to hold it in place as I lay on the glider. I looked at the far wall and opened the throttle. The wall opened at the last moment and I shot up a steep tunnel. I could not see any light at the end but a moment later I burst out. It was night as I flipped the glider and brought it around in a sharp turn. I dropped down almost to the ground as I headed across the river.

I was crossing the river when a huge Alliefish erupted out of the water. I shudder to think what would happen if I had to swim across a river with Alliefish. I flew into the grove of home trees and settled to the ground beside the one Mr Perry was staying in. I went through the shut down sequence and slipped off. I pulled the rifle off and carried it as I entered the tree and climbed to the house far above.

It was quiet as I entered and moved to a couch to lie down after dropping my pack and the rifle to the floor beside the couch. I woke to sounds in the food preparation area. I slipped off the bed and walked in to see Mr Perry opening cabinets. I smiled and walked to a counter, “See the glyph?”

He crossed and looked down on the counter, “yes.”

I looked at him and touched the glyph and turned my finger, “this is the heating or cooling element. The glyph means heat. Touch it and turn your finger to the left and the counter gets hotter. Turning it to the right makes it get cooler.”

He grinned, “How did you find out?”

I smiled and shut the element off. I pulled out my pad of paper and tore off several sheets. I drew several glyphs while he watched, “These glyphs are for different types of food in the warehouse. They are safe to eat for humans.”

I drew the glyph for the crates of rifles and pistols. I put a description beneath each on how they worked and how to clean them, “These are for weapons. I have to go back to the port to keep an eye on the Cariss. Keep everyone here and in the trees. If you can, set up the comm equipment we brought so we will know when help comes.”

He nodded, “Be careful?”

I smiled, “Probably not.”

I left and picked up the rifle and my pack on my way out, Mr Perry followed down to the door. He was surprised when I did not keep going down to the tunnel under the river. I walked to the glider and started the start up sequence. I looked at him as I tucked the rifle under the pack, “I do not know if it will be safe for anyone to sit at or use the Tron work area. Keep everyone safe.”

He nodded as I moved to lie on the glider. I looked at him and then opened the throttle and took off fast. I turned and headed for the distant port staying only about ten or twenty meters above the forest.


Chapter five

Striking back

I was thinking as I flew and knew I could not just fly into the port. It took thirty minute to reach the edge of the colony and I slowed and made a turn to the north. There was a cliff not to far from the port and that was where I was headed. I slowed more when they came into sight. I settled carefully to the ground and shut the glider down. The power reading showed I had barely used any.

I stood and pulled the rifle out. I went to the edge of the cliff and slipped down to a narrow ledge I knew was there. I had been here many times and it was not long before I reached the forest floor. I moved into the forest quietly and headed for the colony. When I reached the edge I stood and watched as the Cariss moved around stripping the houses.

I could see the large stack of what looked like food and other supplies sitting in the middle of the main street into the colony. I quietly moved through the brush until I reached the port and the landing pads. The wreckage had been pushed to one side and I saw their huge supply shuttle sitting on the pad closest to the port building.

There were several Cariss walking around in battle armor but they were not very alert. I took a chance and brought the sight up on my rifle. I aimed at a crate that had the Cariss symbol for explosives and pressed the firing stud. The crate shattered and then exploded, ripping the other crates apart. That caused several other crates to explode.

I switched and fired into the back of the shuttle at where the fuel cell should be. The result was immediate and more than expected. The whole shuttle exploded and was ripped apart. I shot five Cariss rapidly before moving back into the brush. I headed towards the colony and the stack of supplies I had seen. Behind me the Cariss were reacting rapidly.

A faint sound made me stop beside a thick tree. A moment later a Cariss in battle armor walked passed the tree. I drew my mono knife and stepped up behind him before shoving the knife into the base of his skull. I yanked it out and started walking as the dead body fell to the ground and started convulsing in death. Before I reached the colony the Cariss began sweeping the forest with patrols.

I crawled under a thick root in a spiny bush and lay quietly as the forest was filled with crashing sounds. I knew the sounds would attract predators and waited. When a six meter Croclin silently moved passed my position I knew the Cariss were in for trouble. It was only a few moments before there was a scream and then shots.

I slid out and headed away, I almost walked into a three person patrol and ducked behind a tall ladder tree. I was deciding what to do when one of the Cariss screamed. I peaked around the tree and moved away from the two meter Croclin ripping through the three Cariss. I reached the colony and moved up next to a house. I peeked around a corner and then brought the rifle up.

I fired rapidly into the large group of civilian Cariss by the colony medical office. I spun and sprinted along the back of the building before crossing to another building. This was the colony survey office and I quickly slipped in the back door. The whole place looked like they had ransacked it. I moved to the counter terminal and brought up the surrounding area.

I checked the feed tube for the extruder and printed out the map. I folded it and tucked it away before heading for the side door. A check showed the area clear and I slipped out. I moved away and crossed to another building. I crawled around to the front and then in the shattered door. I came back to my feet and moved to look out a window.

I could see down the colony street and saw the small gathering of Cariss officers. I moved to the door and checked the other way before slipping out and moving to the far corner. I turned and switched on the sights as I brought up the rifle. I fired rapidly into the officers before spinning and running. I barely reached the far corner of the house when the corner I had fired from exploded.

I continued to run across the clear area to the forest and spun around a large tree. I was already bringing my rifle up as the group of combat soldiers appeared. I fired into them and as they scramble to find cover, I turned and ran. I slowed to a walk as shots searched the woods behind me. I stayed in the brush knowing any trail would be very dangerous.

I finally turned and headed back to the other side of the colony. I stopped behind a tree and peeked around the trunk at the road. In the middle was the pile of supplies and no one was around. I dropped to my knees and crawled to the edge of the road and looked both ways. I quickly moved to the pile and searched through it before finding fusion batteries.

I checked to make sure no one was watching and did some tinkering before turning to run. I had maybe twenty minutes to get as far away as I could. I heard a shot as I reached the far tree line but continued to run. I was breathing hard ten minutes later as I ran past a full grown Croclin. It twisted around and started chasing me. In the distance I heard a shuttle lift and then the world exploded.

I dove into a depression beside a group of Spine Trees. A rush of heat and debris quickly swept over me. I saw the body of the Craclin pass me as it was ripped apart from the force of the distant explosion. It was a minute after the explosion was over before I could move. I rose shakily and looked back at the shredded and burning forest.

The sound of a shuttle approaching made me turn and carefully push into the broken brush.


Chapter six

Attack and fade away

I had just reached the undamaged forest when a shuttle shrieked down to crash through the brush behind me. I turned to watch as Cariss in battle suits burst out and spun to start running. They fired into the forest but the trees and brush stopped anything from reaching me. I slowed and started walking as I changed direction slightly. It was a little later that I heard them still following.

They must be using a sniffer to follow my scent. I glanced around and moved through the brush into an open area. I smiled as I carefully crossed the vine heavy clearing with the chameleon tree looming above. I slipped into the bushes on the far side and headed for a tall ladder tree. I climbed halfway up the tree before looking back at the chameleon tree.

I shifted around to the far side and lifted the rifle to aim into the clearing. It was only moments before the Cariss crashed through into the clearing and started across. I recognized their leader as he looked into a devise that must be their sniffer. Two of the Cariss cried out when they became stuck to vines. While everyone was looking at them, I shot the leader.

The patrol reacted by throwing themselves down and waving weapons around. Unfortunately for them several more had landed on vines. I stayed behind the trunk of the tree, glancing around it to watch as they tried to organize themselves. What they did not do was look up. When the descending vines finally reached the trapped Cariss that was when the screaming started.

I climbed down out of the ladder tree and headed off. I knew they would follow and started looking for things they would walk into. The tiny hissing sound of an Antasurus hive drew me closer. I was very careful as I quickly crossed and ran to a nearby hanging branch. I jumped and swung up before glancing down at the small army of lizards.

I moved higher before heading to the trunk and then around and out another limb. I made my way down and checked to make sure the hive was not there before dropping to the ground almost twenty meters from where I went up. I jogged away before any stray hive member saw me. It was a half hour before I heard the screams. I changed directions as the shots rang out and then explosions.

I knew the Cariss would be calling for more troops and moved to a low bluff. I could see back the way I had come and saw a huge cloud of smoke. I shook my head, “Wrong thing to do.”

An approaching shuttle fired missiles to one side of the smoke. The forest shuddered as it was ripped apart by explosions. I waited until the shuttle was on the ground and turned on my rifle sight. I took a breath and calmly aimed at the distant back of the shuttle. The back ramp dropped and a cloud of smoke obscured my vision. When it cleared, I fired into the distant shuttle at the exposed fuel cell and watched it explode.

I pulled back as the other Caress started firing at me. I stayed under heavier cover as I began to circle around. When the first shadow drifted over me, I glanced up at a large Drakonus that glided past watching the forest below. It was not long before more began arriving. I turned to head for a distant river and glanced at the sky as dozens of shuttles flew over headed for the distant colony.

I cursed and kept moving as I heard the shots behind me. When I reached the large clearing with the mound in the center at the river’s edge I hesitated. My eyes scanned everything, from the mound to the far treeline with small Grecal eating the freshly piled up dead brush. I started across at a run, I had only taken a few steps when I heard the Alliefish as they broke the surface of the river.

I went up and over the mound before heading for the far treeline. I did not even slow when I hit the brush. I ducked and dove through as I continued to run ignoring the sounds of the Alliefish as they came out of the river. I kept going and changed directions until I had reached a low bluff where a fire had burned part of the forest a few years before.

From my vantage I could see the clearing as the large Alliefish slipped back into the water after checking their nest. I glanced around and squatted down to watch. Ten minutes later the Cariss entered the clearing and started across. I saw the ripples under the surface of the river as I aimed at a Cariss in the middle and fired. I turned as they dropped and started searching for me.

The dozen Alliefish must have caught them by surprise because I heard screams before they started firing. I headed north as I crossed the new growth springing up after the fire. I had to swing around a large herd of Simeron as they headed south. I turned to head away from the river and back towards the colony. I slowed to move more carefully and a little later stopped as the forest around me went quiet.

I silently slipped into a large group of spine trees and moved around to the far side of the bush. The Croclin that just seemed to appear at the opening looked around. It was fully grown and a full eight meters long. I slowly knelt so that the bush was between us. It was a few moments before the Croclin left and the sounds of life returned.

I continued to wait and was rewarded when a shifting of color announced a shift suited Cariss. It moved closer and suddenly the bush belched gas. I moved quickly to leave as the Cariss tried to bring a weapon up before it dropped to the ground. I cleared the spine trees and took a big breath before heading towards the colony again.

I finally stopped behind a thick trunk of a ladder tree and glanced around at the wreckage from the explosions. There was already a huge pile of military supplies on the edge of the pads. I dropped to the ground and started crawling. When I reached the stacked crates it took me a few minutes to find what I needed. I pulled out three cases of explosives and set timers before turning to crawl away.

I stood and moved towards the colony and the massive damage I had caused. I had to swing wide around the five hundred meter crater and shattered forest before I reached what was left of the colony. I knelt beside a fallen tree and scanned what I could see it. They were carrying stuff out of what had been our emergency clinic. I took aim at two Cariss standing to the side and watching.

I fired twice and even as I started moving back hidden Cariss soldiers fired at where I had been. I moved quickly heading west at a trot before swinging to the northwest where I remembered a colony warning about web grass. When I came to the edge of the new growth I climbed a ladder tree and started out a limb. I took a couple of running steps before leaping to another branch in another tree.

I moved to the trunk and quickly slipped around to look for another nearby tree. I went from tree to tree until they were to far apart. I was past the grass so I dropped to the ground and headed north. The yelling behind me told me they had started across the grass and it had fired poisoned darts into some of them. I moved around a sink hole and glanced back to see brush moving.

I raised the rifle and as the first Cariss stepped out, I shot him. I faded back into the forest as they reacted and started moving a little faster, that almost got me killed. I barely stopped when I saw the Millasnake before slowly and carefully moving sideways. I had finally gotten past it before moving away when the Cariss blundered into it.

I shook my head, a Millasnake was five meters long with a mouth at both ends. It was one of the most poisonous creatures on the planet. It was a long time before the forest behind me became quiet. I entered an area that was mostly hugely tall grasses and flowering bushes.


Chapter seven

Lenolyn lending a… hoof? Claw?

I knew I could not turn back and began to head north at a trot. I used the bushes to hide me from sight and hoped they would not bring any shuttles in. I passed another herd of Simeron eating bushes and kept going. I rounded a bush and froze before backing up. It was a group of four Lenolyn eating beside a wide stream. I looked around and then slowly started heading west.

I began a wide circle around the Lenolyn and finally started moving a little faster. The second group of Lenolyn was not as much of a surprise. I turned and started to head around them as I heard a shuttle heading this way. I did not hesitate and dove towards a thick bush. Even as I wiggled deeper into the bush a huge Lanolyn came around it and stopped above me to rip the top leaves off.

I froze and a moment later the shuttle flashed overhead. The Lanolyn looked up and bellowed before moving away. I moved out from under the bush and headed away. I made it another mile before I heard another shuttle. I crawled under another bush as it flew over and then crawled out to started jogging. I heard them before I saw them, all I had time for was to dive for a bush.

The large group of Cariss came around another bush and came closer. Before I could think of firing a group of four Lenolyn was suddenly roaring into the group. The Cariss never had a chance, they were ripped apart. Even after they were dead the Lenolyn stomped them into a bloody paste. One actually glanced at me before they wandered away.

I rolled out from under the bush and started off again. I was under a bush by a herd of Grecan when the next shuttle went over. I left quickly, heading east and had only gone a couple of miles before I stopped. I moved into a thick clump of bushes to see a large group of Lenolyn on the other side. The group of Cariss that suddenly appeared aimed at the animals as if to start shooting.

I did not hesitate, I started shooting the Cariss. They were caught completely by surprise and dropped to the ground looking for me. They did two things wrong, they could not find me and they forgot about the Lenolyn. The giant Lenolyn spun and charged as the Cariss panicked. Only one got a shot off at a Lenolyn and it did not even hit anything.

With the death of the last Cariss I pushed back through the bush and started jogging east again. I hit open forest a few minutes later and slowed to a fast walk. I turned to head back to the south, staying in the open forest. I heard the Cariss before I saw them and moved towards a thicker patch of brush. When I stepped through the line of brush I froze.

In front of me were four Lenolyn young in a shallow pond. When the Cariss started into the brush I dropped to the ground and brought up the sights on my rifle. I knew they would try to kill the young Lenolyn. When the first armored Cariss stepped through the screen of brush he brought up his rifle to shoot into the pond. I aimed and fired before he could kill any of the young ones.

As he died the other Cariss fanned out and rushed through the brush. I killed each one as the Lenolyn young roared and then sank under the water. After the last Cariss fell, I was up and running just in case momma Lenolyn was close. I was thinking about how many Lenolyn I had run into lately and shook my head. Normally you only saw a few but I had already seen a dozen times the normal number.

I finally made it back to the cliffs north of the colony. I was tempted to take the flier and head back to the other refuges. I crawled into a narrow crack between the rocks on the cliff face and relaxed. I sipped water from a bottle I carried and chewed some smoked Grecal. I woke to darkness and the slight crackle of my comm. “Simon?”

I hesitated before answering, afraid it was a trick, “Yeah.”

“There is a fleet scout headed towards the landing pads.”


Chapter eight

Making a stand

I shook my head as I crawled out and moved to the flier. I went through the start up and lifted off smoothly in the dawns light. I banked sharply and headed towards the colony landing pads at full speed. I dropped to just above the treetops. It was not long before I dropped into the huge pad clearing and shut off the flier even before I landed and stopped.

I rolled off the flier and brought the rifle over my head. I switched on the sights as I aimed across the pads and started firing. I shot anything that moved as they began to react. So far only a few shoots came towards me but that would change. I engaged a group of armored Cariss as they rushed into the pad area from the direction of the colony.

One was a brightly decorated officer who was quick to duck behind cover. I fire at those exposed as well as the ones that tried to fire over their protection. I shifted at a distant sound that approached and fired into the cover the officer was hiding behind. When the shuttle flashed over and dropped to the far pad it startled me. Even as it started settling to the pad I fired into one of the engines.

It belched smoke and flame before exploding and tossing the shuttle sideway into the far trees. I shifted and shot three Cariss as they moved out from behind cover heading for the shuttle wreck. I fired at anything that moved and when they began to move at the same time, I concentrated on one at a time. The sudden roar of engines deafened everyone as the scout ship descended to a pad to my right.

The Cariss started taking shots at the ship but the armored hull was to thick. I killed several Cariss before they realized I was the danger and not the ship. A warning beep from the rifle had me removing a dead looking oval before pushing a fresh one in to replace it. Several Cariss were rushing closer and I fired into them rapidly. I do not know what was taking so long but the entrance hatch on the ship remained closed.

When a fresh group of Cariss rushed into the pad area I switched to shoot at them. I killed two officers that seemed to think they were immune to my firing. Suddenly several shots exploded among the Cariss and they scrambled to escape. I glanced at the ship’s hatch to see it open and a long barrel sticking out. The Cariss quickly pulled back and I knew they were probably calling a armor breaker down for the ship.

The scout poked her head out as the Cariss disappeared and then quickly swung out onto the side of the ship and started down. I stood keeping my rifle aimed at the road leading to the colony until the scout was on the ground and walking towards me. I spun and knelt to change the settings on the flyer before standing and turning to the scout, “We need to get away from here.”

She nodded and pulled a small device and pointed it at her ship. She turned to me as the ship began rumbling as if getting ready to lift. I headed towards the east and into the forest. I turned at the trees to aim and fire at several Cariss that had returned. The ship began lifting as the scout headed deeper into the woods. I shook my head and spun to follow.

I had barely caught up when everything around us started bursting into flame. I grabbed her arm and pulled as I started to run. The small river I was heading for was not far but time seemed to slow. Bullets from overhead began landing all around us and bushes and trees exploded in flame. I glanced at the scout as we got close to the river, “Dive in and hold your breath as long as you can.”

She tossed her rifle and dove as I glanced back towards the landing pads and then followed her. The water was cold and clear as I headed towards the bottom. The light above the stream turned reddish orange as another explosion of flame swept out from the pads. I continued to hold my breath and look towards the scout who seemed to be doing well.

When the tint of orange disappeared, I grabbed the rifle from the bottom and headed towards the surface. I did not hesitate in climbing out, I pulled on the scout as soon as she appeared and yanked her out of the water.


Chapter nine

Making the scout understand

I glanced around at the stream before heading into the burning forest. I knew the fire would not burn to long with all the moisture but we needed to get further away from the colony. The animals might or might not respond to the fire this time but the Cariss sure would. I started a long circle back to the south and glanced at the scout, “Stay behind me. If I stop, you stop.”

She opened her mouth but I was already moving again. I moved through the brush as quietly as I could. The scout on the other hand was making enough noise to attract every Croclin in the area. I stopped in a small open area and turned to look at the scout, “If you keep crashing around every dangerous animal on the planet is going to try to eat you.”

She looked at me strangely, “Dangerous animals?”

I shook my head, “You are a scout right?”

She blushed, “Well... I was actually just couriering the ship when I got the fleet call and…”

I groaned and turned back to start moving again, “Just try to watch where you step and what you touch.”

I had only taken one step when a large Croclin burst through the brush across from us. It looked scorched and pissed. I aimed and fired and the lizard’s head exploded. I glanced at the white faced woman and started moving. I moved past the convulsing body and into the brush. The next clearing made me stop and turn to go around.

The women started across and I spun to grab her arm, “See that small mound on the other side of the clearing? That is an Antasurus hive. Unless you have a death wish stay away from them and try not to let any see you.”

I nodded in the direction I was headed and she turned to start off. I shook my head and caught up and stirred her through the brush. It was not long before a crush made me pulled her to a stop as I listened. I shook my head and turned to move away from the sound. A break in the brush let me look into a clearing to see several Simeron.

Facing them was a Rex and it did not look happy. I squeezed the woman’s hand and quietly pulled her after me. I move as fast as we could walk without making to much noise. When I stopped beside a group of Spine Trees the woman moved as if to get closer to the bush inside and I yanked her back and hissed, “Do not even think about it.”

I looked around and headed towards a tall ladder tree, “Come with me.”

I had to give her a hand up to the lowest branch before jumping and swinging up. Fifteen minutes later we were close to the very top of the tree. I moved a little higher and cut a few upper branches before weaving them through the lower ones. I finally sat back after positioning the woman, “What is your name?”

She looked away from the ground to look at me, “Dawn.”

I smiled, “Nice name, I am Simon. This world can kill someone not paying attention Dawn. Beside the Dangerous animals there are dangerous plants. Stay close to me and try not to make to much noise. Do not touch anything that you think is pretty or smells nice, more than likely it is a trap.”

I looked down into the forest, “The Cariss do not know it but they are fighting two enemies, us and the planet. The Croclin are the most dangerous because there are more of them.”

I turned as she yawned, “Rest for now. The Cariss are still trying to find out what happened.”

She sat back and closed her eyes, I relaxed but kept watch. When the Cariss patrol walked under the tree I touched Dawn. Her eyes snapped open and I gestured for her to stay silent. Before she could answer or do anything an adult Croclin screamed and ripped into them. I shifted and watched the carnage below us until the Croclin pulled a Cariss warrior after it into the brush.

I looked at the white faced Dawn and back down to the few Cariss still alive. I sighed and took aim, I fired rapidly and killed the few survivors before starting down the tree, “Time to go.”

Dawn scrambled down after me and followed as I led her away from where the Croclin had gone. She seemed subdued as I moved through the forest carefully. I whispered a description to her about plants or animals when I could. It was several hours before I heard the firing behind us as Cariss encountered something. I was going south, a direction not explored much.

The constant firing behind us told me the Cariss were back to using a sniffer as they followed me. Now it would become harder. When Dawn began stumbling in the semi dark I helped her up into the branches of a ladder tree. I helped her move higher and made a nest before sitting back against the trunk. I closed my eyes but kept my pistol in my lap.

I woke to the faint hint of the rising sun. Dawn was curled up in the make shift nest I had made, sleeping peacefully. I checked the area below and around tree before waking her. I helped her down and we started walking again. I collected berries and a few other eatable plants and we ate as we walked. I had angled slightly to the southwest.

Two hours later I stepped into a sight I never expected to see, a Home tree shattered and laying on the ground. From the look it had happened a long time ago. The tree I was looking at was just a rotting shell. I looked at Dawn and headed towards the base of the tree. I moved around it slowly until I found the door. I pushed and it barely opened.

I forced it the rest of the way open and pushed Dawn in before pulling it closed. Tree rot and debris littered the floor and the stairs down were partially blocked. I moved down slowly and carefully and finally reached the bottom. Unlike above, it was almost untouched and the walls still glowed. I looked at the signs and took one of the three tunnels.

The symbols were like the ones in other grove and I followed them down until I stood in the doorway to another huge storage area. I moved forward and the room came alive with light. Dawn was staring around with wide eyes as I led her to a crate of food. We sat on the floor and she wolfed everything down as if she was starving.

After eating I packed a few rations away in my pack and led her towards the back where I thought the weapons might be. I found them and started showing Dawn how to use them. While she practiced I used a few pieces of material to make her a belt and holster as well as slings for the rifles. I was thankful she caught on quickly and headed towards the wall I thought might hide the gliders.

The wall opened to show racks of gliders and I moved to pull two down. I found several power ovals and began teaching Dawn. She seemed very adept and I realized it might be because she was a pilot already. When I faced the wall I thought was the way out it flashed red. I hesitated thinking it might be blocked. The holographic image that appeared was of a Drakonus though.

I looked at Dawn behind me knowing the Cariss would be close and looking for us, “Stay close and watch for the flying lizards.”

She nodded and I started for the wall. It opened before I reached it and then I was accelerating up the ramp towards open sky. I burst out and rose quickly and spun to see Dawn flash out behind me with a huge grin on her face. I smiled and then twisted as a large Drakonus lunged up towards me. I dropped lower as the dragon started after me and began dodging trees.

A glance showed Dawn white faced as she avoided two chasing her. I dodged a large trunk of a home tree and stood the glider on its wing tip to spin around the trunk. The loud crash told me the Drakonus had turned to sharply and hit the trunk. I flipped the glider the other way and opened the throttle as I headed for Dawn.

She was turning and dodging the two Dragonus and it was only a matter of time before one caught her. As she dropped suddenly and spun towards me, I pulled my pistol and fired at the Dragonus that had turned and snapped its head towards me. The head exploded and I flashed passed as the other Dragonus spun away from what it thought was a threat.

I thought we were free and clear before suddenly two more Dragonus rose up in front of us. Dawn banked hard and dropped lower. I grinned as I sped up, “Get down close to the ground!”

She glanced back and then dodged under a large reaching branch. I followed and it became a game of dodging trees and reaching limbs. The Dragonus were almost a secondary threat. I surged ahead of Dawn and began leading the way. More Dragonus began appearing and I almost cursed as I banked and tried another way out. I could hear shots in the distance and knew the Cariss had reached the grove.

It was a minute later that we flashed over them and spun around the trunk of a shattered home tree. This one actually had a single branch still on it. I dropped almost to the ground with Dawn right behind me and went under the branches of a huge old ladder tree. The Dragonus that had surged in from the side crushed through the branches.

I spun around a group of Spine trees and then out of the corner of my eye I saw the huge branches of a Chameleon tree. I glanced back when it was clear, “Follow me but whatever you do, do not touch any vines!”

I saw her nod as I banked sharply and began weaving in and out through the trees. I dropped over the line of brush that marked the outer area of the Chameleon tree and headed towards one side of the trunk. I banked around it missing several vines before heading out at a different angle. Dawn was right behind me but the following Dragonus were further back.

They tried to cut the gap on the angle and screamed as they started hitting vines that yanked them to a stop. I moved away and gestured back for Dawn to come up beside me. I stayed just above the trees and turned east. It was a couple of hours before I circled the single Home Tree on this side of the river and followed the beacon down towards the ground.


Chapter ten

Preparing for the fleet

Everyone was more than happy to see me. They had been listening to the Cariss signals and cheering each time I led them into trouble. The women pulled Dawn aside and I went to rest. For the next three days I stayed with the colony and the fleet sent a signal burst that broke through. It was encrypted and Mr Harris began decrypting it by hand.

He finally looked around at everyone waiting, “The fleet will be here within a day.”

Everyone was cheering but I was thinking of the welcome they could expect on the ground. I knew fleet and they would destroy the Cariss warship in obit before coming down. The Cariss left here would attack the shuttles as soon as they saw them. I turned to slip away and saw Mr Perry watching me. I shrugged and headed down to the tunnels.

I was looking at the power ovals for a Tron glider when he found me, “what are you planning?”

I smiled as a plan came to me, “A surprise for the Cariss. When Fleet lands they are going to fight to the last man.”

Mr Perry nodded, “Fleet can…”

I shook my head, “I can sneak back and plant some of these power ovals set to over power and explode to distract the Cariss so Fleet can land safely before they have to fight.”

He frowned but finally nodded, “what do you need?”

I looked around, “A way to carry them.”

Mr Perry grinned, “Give me a couple of minutes. We have a couple of Croclin skin packs. You should be able to use one.”

I waited and thirty minutes later he was back with a large pack. It already held several rations and a couple of skins of water. I added a dozen power ovals and closed the pack. I walked to the glider I had used and put the sling over my shoulder before nodding to Mr Perry and turning it on and climbing on. The glider came out of the tunnel fast and I banked sharply.

I dropped to the tree tops and opened it up to go as fast as it could. I stayed low the whole way and turned when I got close. I circled to the north and the cliffs. I slowed and landed in a clear space. I slipped off and removed the power oval before hiding it. I climbed down the cliff as fast as I safely could and moved into the brush.

I moved carefully and silently until I reached the landing pads. I checked the time before carefully moving around the burnt and ripped apart area where landing pads had once been. I knelt beside the stump of a tree and waited. The Cariss had already repaired and set up several landing pads. As it began to get dark I went to my stomach and crawled towards the nearest pad.

At the edge I stopped and pulled out an oval. I looked at it and touched it in the middle where it lit up. I used a small twig to poke into the tiny hole that appeared. I pushed it under the edge of the pad before crawling towards the next one. When I finished with the last one I crawled away. Along the path to the colony I dropped more ovals until I ran out.

I slipped away and as soon as I could started running. I reached the cliff in the darkness and hesitated before starting to climb. I barely slipped over the top before the night was shattered by the exploding power ovals. I turned to watch and then glanced at the comm I had left on the glider as it went off, “come in Simon!”

I moved to it and answered, “Go.”

“About time. We got through to the fleet. They are coming down to the east on the other side of the colony. They warned us the Cariss warship just sent down more shuttles.”

I shook my head, “Copy.”

I glanced out at the smoke from the explosions before replacing the oval and climbing onto the glider. I knew that was the only way I would get there in time. I started it and it lifted smoothly before I went over the cliff and dove for the trees below. I turned to head east as the glider flashed over the tree tops. When I was past the colony I banked and went south.

I dropped down to almost touch the ground we had cleared for farmland. When I was east of the colony I banked and headed straight in. I dropped at the last minute and shut the glider off before sliding off. I stayed low as I crawled to a stone wall and moved down to the gate. I aimed into the colony as the Cariss shuttles passed over on the other side of it.

The Cariss are a race with a limited mindset. The shuttles hovered over ruined pads before shifting west. They landed on the furthest pads amidst wreckage and ruin. There was a flash from above and then a shuttle lifted only to explode as a kinetic missile from an assault shuttle slammed into it. The assault shuttles roared as they came in behind me.

The Cariss boiled out of the colony and I began to fire. I took the ones closest to me and then just kept aiming and firing. It almost seemed like forever before the fleet marines came out. I changed the power oval and went back to shooting when I saw an elaborately dressed Cariss leading several soldiers towards the side heading to the north.

More and more of the marines landed and attacked the colony. I turned and stayed low as I moved quickly to the north. At the next field I glanced down the wall and saw the soldiers setting up a plasma cannon. I did not hesitate and rushed towards them as I fired. I surprised them completely and three soldier were killed before I reached them.

I dropped the rifle and pulled my mono knife as I kicked the leader. I sliced across a soldier’s throat and twisted away from a lunging knife. I brought my knife down and cut the arm off before stabbing the last soldier through the throat. I spun to see the leader curled up and knelt to yank its weapons away. I slapped it and pulled it to its feet before shoving it in front of me as I started back towards the marines and the shuttles.

The Cariss still fighting stopped when they saw me with my prisoner. The marines quickly moved in and disarmed them.


Chapter eleven

Becoming a Ranger

It took a few weeks to get things sorted out. Almost half of the colony decided to stay in the home trees. I spent a lot of time in debriefings about what I knew of the Tron. Of course the colony had the job of cleaning up the mess I had made but they did not seem to mind. A month after the Cariss were taken away I was helping Mr Mabil up north.

We were watching and protecting a Lenolyn female as she gave birth. Several males had made threatening postures when we arrived but I walked straight to one, “we are here to help and protect.”

It snorted and turned its head until one large eye looked at me. It finally nodded and turned back to the distressed female. I moved around the edge smoothly with Mr Mabil until the ground began shaking. I stirred and turned to look at the female Lenolyn giving birth, “shit.”

Mr Mabil looked at me as I lifted the Tron rifle and started away from the birthing circle. I saw the head and shoulders of the Rex before it moved around the huge bush between us. It roared and lunged towards me and I lifted and fired the rifle through its mouth. I froze as its whole head shattered and the body dropped to the ground convulsing and twitching.

A male Lenolyn was suddenly at my shoulder and snorted before bumping me and turning to move back to the others. I watched it walk away and Mr Mabil chuckled, “you made a friend.”

I sighed, “now I need to skin this monster.”

He grinned before turning to go back to patrolling around the female. I hesitated before following and an hour later the new member of the Lenolyn clan was on her feet. After the small herd moved away I went back and started skinning the Rex as Mr Mabil watched. He helped carry the rolled up hide to the utility vehicle. We saw the scout ship landing at the colony as we headed back.

Mr Mabil helped carry the huge Rex hide. We used a hover cart and I started pulling it towards Mr Perry’s house. Three people were out in front Mr Perry, Mr Harris and a tall older woman in the uniform of a Ranger commander. She smiled, “hunting?”

I shook my head, “protecting a Lenolyn while it gave birth. I think we need to check their intelligence.”

She nodded and glanced at the others before looking at me, “actually I came to see you. I have reviewed your tests and your qualifications.”

She pulled a small case out and opened it to show the shiny emblem of a ranger, “welcome to the Rangers.”
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