March 7th 2013
Violet probably wasn’t a happy color. Exobiologists couldn’t determine whether the flashes of bioluminescent color were a form of communication between the Osoians or simply an external indicator of their mood.
Currently, Tonya was leaning towards the latter. The entire Osoian village had their weapons leveled at her as their foreheads all pulsed with the same churning violet.
Tonya weighed her options for a moment. Nothing really presented itself as a good idea so she decided on a dumb one.
“I have returned!” She said throwing her arms up in the air in her best faux-messiah pose. The Osoian all jumped back and hid behind their raised weapons. They looked at each other, the collective bioluminescence shifted to a paler blue. One turned green shortly before scurrying off.
The Osoian adorned with small trinkets pushed a few of the spears aside and stepped closer to Tonya. It made a low clicking noise that almost resembled a glottal stop as it jangled its staff at her.
“It is I … Kenlo!” She hoped invoking the chief engineer of the Artemis might do something. The elder/shaman perked up slightly. It angled its head and clicked at her again.
“Uh … behold my glory?” She looked around. The Osoians seemed to be exchanging glances. She turned and strode proudly into the cave.
The shaman cautiously followed Tonya. The rest of the village filed into the cave, some more guarded than others.
She was trying not to think about what kind of damage she was doing to this culture. In her defense, she wasn’t First Contact. The original Artemis had that distinction.
In the antechamber with the engine from the Artemis, Tonya found the pictograph with Kenlo. She turned back to the shaman who was staring at her. A dull red pulsed around its features. She mimicked the pose on the wall.
Suddenly the shaman turned green. It whirled around to the other Osoians and clicked feverishly. They clicked amongst themselves before raising themselves up onto the tips of their feet, fully extending themselves in some kind of salute.
The Osoian who had darted off earlier came rushing in clutching four handfuls of the same writhing grey worms Tonya had seen earlier in the forest. He shoved them at Tonya’s faceplate.
“Oh … great. Thank you.” Tonya waved them away. At least they weren’t killing her.
The shaman seemed to be in some kind of trance, swaying back and forth as it rhythmically clicked. The other Osoians echoed its clicks and flooded around Tonya, eager to lay their hands on a god.
“Easy there, guys.” Tonya tried to wriggle free but they were swarming her. She cranked the volume on the external speaker. “Stop!”
Her voice boomed through the cave. The Osoians scattered into hiding places. One of the bigger ones brought up its spear, waiting for her to attack.
The notion of running flashed through her mind, but considering how much the increased gravity slowed her down, she quickly realized that ‘running’ was an overstatement. If she made the Osoians angry, there was no chance she could outrun them, and slightly less of a chance she could fight all of them.
So she’d have to bide her time. The shaman had recoiled into a kneeling position and hidden its head from her. Tonya reached down and gently pet it, having no idea what else to do.
* * * *
Over the next few hours, the Osoians prepared a massive feast. The shaman scuttled around, directing the aliens in their tasks. From her rock of honor, Tonya kept a watchful eye on all the cooking pots to make sure that they weren’t planning on using her for any ingredients. Wriggling baby aliens were presented to her. Trinkets were fashioned for her.
The larger guard who stood its ground when Tonya shouted lurked in the shade of a nearby hut, watching her. She could tell it was not a fan of what was happening.
Tonya agreed. She wanted nothing more than to extricate herself from the place as quickly as possible. More than likely, Senzen was off and burning for Kallis System. She itemized her knowledge of the system, trying to figure out why the Artemis would go there.
Astrographically speaking, it was relatively close to Oso. Perhaps the original Janus and the Engineering crew had modified/improved their scanners and saw something she wasn’t aware of, something that indicated the possibility of a habitable planet. The problem was that since Kallis was younger in its development than any other known systems in the UEE or beyond, it had been under almost constant observation by a scientific community eager to study the formation of planets up close. Certainly one of them would have discovered any signs of an Artemis settlement. More than likely, Tonya would have to settle for another clue on the trail.
Again, this was all speculation. She needed to get there, assess the situation, and process the facts. If that was the Artemis’ destination, there were nine planets in that system. So that was a point in her favor — it was a lot of terrain for Senzen to cover.
A crack echoed through the canyon. The Osoians glanced up at the canopy of trees shielding them from the sky and then went back to their work. Tonya would know that sound anywhere.
Someone had just broken atmo.
A spark of optimism fluttered in her heart. Perhaps Senzen had only just left. Maybe she wasn’t too far behind after all.
The optimism quickly faded when she heard six more cracks echo down through the trees from every direction.
That was not good. That could only mean one thing …
The military was here.
Tonya slowly rose from her rock throne with her eyes fixed on the sky. She heard the rumble of heavy thrusters approaching. The massive trees began to sway in the churning wind. More than likely, Senzen had given them her exact position on his way out of the system.
The shaman quickly approached, respectfully trying to usher her back toward her rock. The larger guard raised its weapons, looking back and forth between Tonya and the sky.
“Thanks but I should probably get going.” She started backing away from the Osoians, many of whom were now staring in the direction of the ominous noises coming from beyond the canopy.
The guard blocked Tonya’s path, both its weapons aimed at her. The shaman rushed between them, clicking feverishly at the guard and swatting the stone blades away with its staff.
“Stop!” a sonically augmented voice shouted from the top of the canyon by the cave. Tonya looked up. It was a UEE soldier in an exosuit. More and more soldiers emerged at the top of the canyon. The Osoians scattered in a desperate panic at the sight of the strange new monsters in black military armor. “You are in violation of the Fair Chance Act section –“
A rock ricocheted off the soldier’s helmet. He yelped, more out of surprise than pain, and ducked behind cover. Some of the Osoians started hurling spears and rocks at the other soldiers. The few primitive weapons that hit bounced harmlessly off of the modern armor.
Tonya used the distraction to take off as fast as she could and plunge into the dense forest.
Waves of terrified alien creatures fled from the thunderous engine noise. Tonya trudged her way through the thick foliage. She heard zaps from stun weapons discharging in the village behind her.
“Hey, you!” a voice yelled far to Tonya’s right. She locked eyes with a soldier a few dozen meters away. The rest of his unit was in a staggered advance position, heading toward the village.
Tonya started ‘running.’ The soldier did too, moving to intercept her. Even as her limbs ached from the strained movement, she had to acknowledge how bizarre this chase would look to the outside observer; as hard as they pushed, they both looked like they were moving in slow motion.
An energy blast suddenly zipped past Tonya and burned into a tree trunk.
“Dammit, stop!” the soldier yelled and aimed for a second shot.
Tonya stopped. She couldn’t go on and hated getting shocked. She turned and raised her hands. Sweat poured down her face and the faceplate was fighting to keep the barrier clear from fog.
She could hear the soldier’s labored breathing over his speakers. He even struggled to keep the gun level as he closed the distance to her.
“This is Blackbriar-Two-Nine, I have suspect in custody,” he said over his comm. “Sending position –”
Suddenly, the Osoian shaman leapt from the dense underbrush. It swung its staff and cracked it across the soldier’s midsection.
“What the hell?” The soldier started to aim at the shaman when the guard emerged on the other side and grabbed the rifle. All three toppled to the ground and wrestled for the gun.
Tonya caught the Osoian guard’s eye for a second. She gave it a nod and a smile then took off.
After forty minutes of massive exertion and a few liters of sweat, Tonya finally got back to where the Beacon II was hidden. She stomped into the airlock and sealed it. The antechamber began to pressurize as vents sprayed decontamination mist. She couldn’t wait to get out of this environment suit. She’d probably have to burn it from all the sweat.
Finally the inner door popped open. Tonya stepped inside her ship. She grabbed a towel and wiped her face as she made her way through the cargo hold.
“Hey Janus, feel like flying for a bit? I might go to sleep for a week.”
No response. Tonya climbed up toward the cockpit. She slowed to a stop. A UEE soldier had dozed off in the pilot’s chair.
She heard footfalls on the grate behind her. Tonya glanced back. Two more soldiers. One was shoveling some of her food-snacks into his mouth. The other soldier casually aimed her rifle at Tonya.
The soldier in the pilot chair woke up at the sound of the soldier eating. He stretched his arms and yawned before looking at her.