Why hello there! Here is my second Starshatter story! Yet again I must warn you that almost all of it was written in one go, so there are bound to be some grammatical errors, which I will try to remove as soon as possible but again, I wanted to post this immediately so I can only hope that this doesn't detract from your enjoyment! So without further delay.....
Something skittered through the swamp, not too far from his hiding place, but the fog was too thick to figure out what it was. He considered the possibility of actively scanning to find the source of the sound but then decided against it. It was already hot enough and there was no need to turn the hot pot into a fryer.
If he had to be honest with himself, he enjoyed his predicament, it was fun and exciting, unlike the last couple of miserable days. The hamster slowly reached into one of his armor's pockets, took out a couple of roasted corn nuts and carefully started chewing. Each tiny crunch lost in the surrounding noises of the swamp - tiny raindrops splashing into the water, the occasional crack of one of the giant cypress-like trees, the rustling of the swamp grass and the buzzing of big insects. "Close your eyes and listen" - they had taught him - "let the sounds of your surroundings wash over you, adapt your hearing and you will be able to distinguish what is supposed to be there and what is unnatural. That knowledge will be the difference between life and death."
He sniffed the air again, but all he could smell was wet, dirty hamster fur. He started pondering yet again if being found and killed because of his smell was awfully funny or just awful, his train of thought was derailed by her mumbling. The hamster had to shush her and calm her down, for the past twenty-six hours Lyla had made it very clear that she is very unhappy with the fact that he had ignored her, choosing instead to use his vibrosword. She was his oldest, most trusted companion but sometimes the needler rifle could be a handful. They had already had this discussion once or twice, using his sword was the best way to kill them and not alert the rest of the tazzie scouts lurking around, looking for him. He had almost forgotten how much he loved this deadly game of seek-and-kill. Snuggled in this tiny cave, formed by the roots of the giant tree, Dinn almost felt at home.
Two months ago, on his 17th birthday, the the fluffy scout had left the Colonial Militia. After his last mission, where he had used the Stare, he felt very tired, the kind of tired that even a bag of the highest quality nuts, couldn't get rid of, and it was becoming harder to come up with new material for jokes, so he had resigned. After a well-deserved vacation on Applecrate, he headed for Cav, where he spent a couple of weeks looking around, wondering what to do next. The idea finally came to him when walking around the docks - a trader. Space truckin' seemed really fun and profitable. The hamster was so excited about his newly-found enterprise, he immediately went to the nearest clothing store and bought a cap of his favorite Freedom racing team - B&B.
A few days later Dinn had his ship of choice - a Mule - sturdy, reliable and pretty speedy. The hamster rolled up his sleeves and found an engineer who would be able to equip the ship with everything a space truckin' hamster would need. Firstly - an additional engine was installed, followed by a shield generator, although the ship would pack a punch, firepower was not the main priority of the vessel. Additional cargo space was added so now he could transport up to 40 tons at a time, Dinn also chose light armor as he didn't want to compromise the speed of the ship. Then came the fun part, a small torpedo launcher at the bow and a missile launcher at the stern, followed by 8 point defense laser cannons, six railgun turrets completed the picture. At the moment Dinn didn't have a crew, so he decided to invest the rest of his money into a targeting computer that could handle the weapon systems - not even close to an actual person operating them, but infinitely better than nothing. When everything was done, Dinn accepted his first contract - deliver food and spare parts to a small colony, roughly a week away, he even managed to get some passengers he would drop off on the way.
The next day IMS "Vicious Philanthropist" left Cav's docks on its first voyage. The two days spent with his passengers were lively and fun but only when he dropped them off and headed for his destination did Dinn recognize his grave mistake - he had no crew, not that he couldn't pilot the ship, no, the problem was that after just one day he was unequivocally, without a shadow of a doubt bored. Bored out of his mind with only the targeting computer as an audience for his jokes. He was saved by this never ending hell when he entered the C’los Pass System on his way to the next gate when his sensors picked up something. Five things to be precise - five small starships were duking it out in high orbit of the third planet in the system - Kala II. One belonged to the Colonial Navy and the rest, sensors told him, were taz'aran. Without a second to lose, Dinn changed course heading straight to the battle. The CN ship was holding its own against the superior numbers but it wasn't in good condition, the same could be said about two of the enemies. One of them broke off from the battle and set a course to intercept him. The targeting computer locked onto it and Dinn sent a greeting card from the Imperial Minarchy in the form of a torpedo. He didn't have time to enjoy the view of the beautiful explosion as he had more pressing matters to attend to, the Philanthropist's guns started to sing as the taz'arans were trying to regroup after the surprising vicious attack of the new ship. Then the hamster opened his comm and started speaking on an open channel - "Why hello there, not-so-dear tazzies! Picking on someone your own size is too easy, how about someone smaller and infinitely cuter, hmm? C'mon tazzies, do not rob me of the opportunity to turn those ugly unibrows of yours into beautiful, well-trimmed eyebrows with the help of my lasers!"
He was able to goad two of the remaining ships to follow him to the planet where he hoped to outmanoeuvre them in lower orbit. Sadly, as luck would have it,(or technically didn't) because Dinn refused to believe skill and taz'aran belonged in the same sentence, one of his pursuers managed to hit his engines and his ship started falling through the clouds. As if that wasn't enough, there seemed to be a thick fog covering everything on this part of the planet. With great skill he was able to make the best of a bad situation...yes, that sounded a lot better than "he narrowly avoided crash landing into the giant swamp below".The Philanthropist mewled sadly as she finally stopped between two giant trees and he started turning off systems - "I know, I know, just have to step out for awhile but I will be back, you did great, get some rest!". The hamster took his equipment, some rations and locked the ship, he wasn't about to make it any easier for his enemies and with any luck they would start chasing him straight away, as for the battle up top - if the CN ship managed to win, they would be able to follow his trail, if not well...he would take out as many of the tall green people as possible. He could hear the roar of the incoming ships and skittered through the trees while trying to leave a trail that would not look suspicious. It was harder than it looked but he was happy with the results - a bent small branch here, carefully stomped patch of grass there - they would follow the trail and he would be able to goad them in whichever direction he wanted, which would make his traversal much easier. Thankfully he swamp gasses made heat vision useless which combined with his thermo-optic camouflage and advanced PDA, made him practically invisible.
The next couple of hours were spent in a game of unibrowed cat and hamster. Dinn was able to determine that he was dealing with taz'aran scouts which were less stupid than the regular tazzies, but tazzies nonetheless. Their first of many mistakes was looking for him on the ground, so one of them didn't see the deadly fluffball rappelling from a tree branch with his grappling hook and sticking his vibrosword in their neck. Dinn quickly took the data crystal from the enemy PDA and dashed through the foliage. Another one was introduced to the novel concept of throwing small rocks in the direction you want your enemy to look in, for that they paid with a vibrosword through the knee and were quickly finished off. After that, they finally wised up and started looking for him in pairs. That was how he ended up in this tiny cave as the day slowly turned into night and darkness swallowed the swamp. In the meantime, Dinn had tried to find their comm channel but to no avail, either he was tired or these tazzies had at least two channels. But although significant, they were not his main concern. There was something off about this place, he could taste it in the air and feel it in his black-dotted white fur. This feeling was getting stronger as the day progressed and now it had filled him completely. His main concern was that the CN or some other terran ship would come looking for him and they would put their lives in danger. He had to at least send a signal or a message for any terran out there to be careful. Lost in thought he just now heard the tiny, almost indistinguishable splash. They were here or at least - some of them. He readied Lyla, even though his hiding place was hard to find, when the approaching enemy set off the "alarm", he would no longer be safe here. He listened carefully as the scouts approached, then heard the distinct sound of a foot activating a tripwire. That was is cue. Poor, poor tazzies, they had probably spent the entire day scanning, looking around being careful, yet one of them was undone by a simple string attached one of his grenades. There was an alcove of smaller trees in front of the entrance of his hiding spot, ideal for setting simple traps. Dinn activated his scanner and jumped out with Lyla at the ready. Particle beams buzzed by his head as he fired his rejoicing weapon at the only taz'aran crouching a few feet away from the smoking remains of his teammate. On of the enemy shots hit him in the shoulder and another one dead-on, the hamster responded in kind and hit the tazzie in the right elbow. No longer able to fire his weapon, he reached for his belt and took out a grenade which he lobbed at the hamster. Dinn tried to jump out of the way but was not able to go far enough and the blast wave sent him flying. He was quickly able to get on his wobbly feet, everything was hurting but that was good, that meant that all his bits and pieces were with him. Through his blurred vision, he could see the charging scout, holding a power mace. The hamster took out his vibrosword and more so stumbled out of reach than sidestepping the attack but it worked. The hamster instinctively swung his sword, looking for the leg of his opponent but missed by a few inches. The taz'aran tried an overhead swing, as if trying to crush his hated enemy and that was the window that the experienced terran needed. Letting himself get grazed by the power weapon, the hamster jumped forward and his sword found the enemy's abdomen. The taz'aran stumbled backwards and fell on his back. Not willing to risk it, Dinn immediately stepped next to him and cut his throat, then sat down and took a deep breath. He knew he had to move as the explosions would attract the rest of them. He got up and suddenly realized something was very wrong - the swamp had gotten very quiet, no animal could be heard, even the trees seemed to be standing still. Then the first scream came, then the second - taz'aran, no doubt. The sound that followed however, did not belong to any taz'aran he'd ever heard - something between a high-pitched wail and a roar. Whatever it was, he had gotten its attention and it was coming closer, and he would bet his fuzzy butt that it wasn't about to ask for some nuts. Still a little dazed he started running in the general direction of his ship. Using his engines and his grappling hook he was able to jump from tree to tree, he could hear the wailing coming closer and closer followed by the sound of toppled trees. The hamster allowed himself to quickly look over his shoulder - he could only see a large, blurred shadow and a lot of teeth. That's all he needed to know, he was sure he was close to the ship and tried to double-time it, but the recent battle made that almost impossible. Then the creature did something he wasn't expecting, somehow it had moved right behind him, in the crown of the tree, it swung with its claw or whatever extremity it had and just missed him but it made the tree branch he was jumping off of into splinters. In a last desperate attempt he was able to use his engines and propel himself into a clearing from which he saw his ship in the distance. "Now that's unlucky", he thought as he planted face first into the wet soil. Dinn only had time to turn and see what his demise looked like, trying desperately to say the Last Joke as fast as possible. The creature was as large as a truck, standing on two feet it had four long claws and two additional extremities which ended with sharpened bones, presumably to pin its pray, it had a long neck and a head, with a giant mouth, filled with two or three rows of teeth. It was dark in color and it seemed to be covered in what looked like a layer of carapace. Then the most beautiful sound pierced the air - the roar of a spaceship engine followed by railgun fire. The creature wailed one last time and ran off followed by more fire. Dinn's comm crackled to life - "This is CNS Ajax, thank you for the "flare" signal "Philanthropist", we weren't sure where to look for ya. When CNS Beagle didn't report back, we were sent to investigate. Glad we were able to get here in time!"
"Yes my good Patron, it was just in time, executed with great style, what more could a hamster ask for! Well...I wouldn't say no to a sammich or two if you have them!"