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Lilly

AragmarApr 30, 2018, 8:26:20 PM
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I spent the last decade conceptualizing my Alternate history Universe, and over the years it blossomed into an epic space opera. Starshatter is full of different, deep, and fleshed out characters, who are engaged in a desperate battle against all odds for the very survival of Humanity! Join them on their adventures and experience their emotional struggles along the way. The newly uplifted animal races bravely stand beside their Human creators and neither slavers nor pirates could break their spirit. Will they prove their worth? 

Buy Starshatter and find out for yourself!

This amazing art is created by @creytabell! Visit her channel and support her!

 

                                                        Chapter 1

                                                             Lilly

Fertile land; you could live off it and prosper or at least give it a good try.

The colonists who chose to settle the dangerous and unforgiving planets in Fringe space were of the adventurous type. Humans mostly, but there were other Terran races also; long-eared bunnies, quick furry hamsters, and tough gorillas all ventured together with their human patrons. Young families, whose futures were otherwise to be determined by the safety of the Core worlds.

Dangers like pirates, slavers, and hostile alien empires weren’t enough to hold the slow and unstoppable advance of those Terrans. The allure of starting from the ground up and succeeding by way of your own skill; that was the actual reason most settlers did it. It wasn’t for riches or renown, like many of the aliens thought.

Speaking of aliens, many of humanity’s allies could also be found traveling and sometimes living on those small colonies. Mighty, fifteen-feet-tall Asgardians could also be seen braving the Fringe on occasion. The enigmatic aliens who hailed from another dimension, traveled to Earth through their Rainbow bridge or Bifrost located in Finland. Long since their first meeting with humanity in hallowed antiquity had fueled legend and shaped religion on Earth, the Asgardians were now back and this time they intended to stay. Those powerful, war-like aliens, sent their young to live among the Terrans, learn more about this world and its technology.

Races like the long lived and mighty Kil’ra also encouraged their youth to prove themselves there. What was the reason many of them chose to settle permanently in Terran space? Most couldn’t say, but those with greater wisdom always spoke to others of the bonds between humans and their friends.

It wasn’t like anything they’d witnessed anywhere else and the Kil’ra had been traveling the whole galaxy for thousands of years – they’ve seen a lot. Some of the other sentient species that they’d made First Contact with were no longer amongst the living, many more had fallen into obscurity; yet those Terrans and their uplifted client races carried within them something new – their tiny empire prospered, despite all odds.

Friendly races and allies few and far between; enemies all around them, the intrepid Terrans suffered frequent attacks yet, stubbornly, they persisted.

The scorching rays of Carrola’s twin suns bathed large fields of green. Big, round, and striped Earth-native fruits called “watermelons” were planted all around her. Lilly fixed the big straw hat made of the local pink weed on her head, so that both her eyes and large ears were well protected from the light.

The two suns weren’t as forgiving as Earth’s star – but for the tropical fruits and other sun-hungry crops planted here, it was literally heaven. She carefully piloted her gravbike forward, one hand on the controls, while also holding her scanner. Had to check for problems like parasites, pests and possible damage to the field’s water sprinklers. All could ruin large quantities of their future yield and she was too good a farmer to allow this to happen.

Since early morning Lilly had been scanning the fields and on occasion, zapping with her laser pistol some of the local rat-like creatures called wozzies. That or fixing dented and broken water pipes by replacing the ripped ones. They had to replace the whole watering system’s pipes with new ones made from megasteel and encase them in vacfoam.

In a month the new watermelon crop would be ripe for harvest and then, after selling it, Lilly and her brother could finally invest more creds in their farm.

Perhaps they could buy one of those anti-grav capable farming drones? It would be really nice if she had more time on her hands to plan the growth of their business, while somebody else lasered those filthy wozzies. The tired and thirsty farmer wanted nothing more than to take a refreshing shower and enjoy one big, cold glass of watermelon cider. Better still, said drink should be accompanied by a side dish of cured-pork-and-potato salad.

Lilly’s mouth began to water just imagining the feast she and her brother would prepare after a long hard day’s work such as this. That’s when her hand holding the scanner slipped over the gravbike’s controls. Suddenly she swooshed upwards, the old machine’s grav-engine moaning with anger; Lilly heard an explosion and then felt fire burning her back.

The whole world swirled before her eyes in a kaleidoscope of bright, colorful lights, and her mind quickly faded into unconsciousness.

* * *

When the bunny woke up it was already dark; her nose immediately picked up the stench of burned vegetation and molten metal. Somehow, Lilly’s head wasn’t cracked, and despite some pain in her hip, she felt no broken bones when she picked herself up from the ground.

The same couldn’t be said about her old trusty gravbike; its frame was bent and the engine block was missing. Lilly limped around for a while in disbelief, until she found the grav-engine embedded in one of the large mumpa trees, completely trashed. She searched around the crash site with the faint hope of locating her hand scanner, stumbling for a couple more minutes until she realized: the smell wasn’t from her wrecked gravbike.

The evening breeze was blowing from the direction of the colony settlement, and Lilly turned her eyes towards it. Even taking into account how far away the village was and her weak rabbit eyesight, the huge, towering flames she saw were a frightening scene to behold. The young bunny watched this raging inferno in total disbelief, for in her disoriented mind there was no logical reason why such a thing should happen.

Lilly forgot the pain in her hip and ran towards the village with all of her strength. Her stride became almost animalistic, leaping and jumping over the crops she’d been inspecting earlier. With every passing minute of travel her fear grew, and by the time Lilly reached the butchered, gutted remains of her village, she was in a state of complete shock.

Passing by the sign “Murphy’s Landing – population 352”, she suddenly halted – someone had used red paint to cross out the population number.

No; it wasn’t paint!

Looking down, she saw a severed human hand that had been used as a grizzly paintbrush. Without even noticing her own actions, Lilly knelt and took the hand, slowly walking towards the smoldering ruins. The stench of death hit her like a fist in the face, and she desperately tried to cover her sensitive nose – to no avail.

Tears started rolling down her face as she neared her family’s farmhouse. There was a crater where the building was once standing, and in front of it, she found a charred human corpse with one hand missing. Lilly carefully left the severed hand near the body and sat on the ground. Then she spotted something else and she wailed, covering her mouth.

Beneath the ruins, one set of brown, spotted rabbit feet were sticking out and both had green work boots on them. Her little brother’s boots – the ones she had gifted him on his birthday just a month before. 

Bunnies are not that afraid of death; they can accept the natural order of things, since their lives are shorter than those of most races. But this lack of fear only applies to their own lives – not the lives of kin or friends. They take losing others very hard and such a personal cataclysm may change a rabbit individual forever, pushing them to extremes. 

Her eyes strayed away and back towards the one-handed corpse. He had a shovel still clenched in his intact fist, and from the looks of it, he had been shot from behind with a laser rifle. Lilly recognized the man: a good friend, and the owner of their local shop – Mr. Alberto. 

With shaking hands she searched the burned body and took the key card for his house. She knew the trader had an old rail carbine stashed in his safe – he was, after all, the man who had taught Lilly and her brother how to shoot when they were little kids. She quickly looked around, wiping her tears and trying to fight the overwhelming terror that engulfed her mind: 

“Move, you know what to do Lilly, get to a weapon quick! You need to survive long enough, until the response team from the nearby colony arrives.” 

She continuously reminded herself of the list of actions a colonist must take to ensure survival – weapon, food, equipment, shelter. 

The young bunny reached the center of her village without meeting any of the attackers, but she saw traces of their handiwork everywhere. The bodies of her fellow colonists littered the ground; some had tried to defend themselves, but it seems they had all been killed in the same fashion Alberto was – one laser shot from behind. 

How!? 

How did this happen – perhaps it was a sneak attack? 

Lilly looked around for any usable items, but the bodies had been picked clean; even their PDAs were missing. She had almost reached Alberto’s house when her ears caught the sounds of a pair of gruff alien voices. She quickly froze, hiding behind one of the broken mega-concrete walls. They were speaking in a strange dialect of Fringe-Speak, and she slowly began to translate their conversation:

“Ha! That was a most pitiful fight, Master Sergeant. The whole village was unable to put up even a meager resistance. I swear by the Empress’ mantle, one of those old farts stood against me with a shovel in hand!”

“Yes, it was rather pathetic. It seems that those famed Terrans and their clients weren’t all that scary and tough, as the pirates said they were.”

“But Sergeant, this was one of their main colonies and there were no major defenses! No reinforced bunkers, no anti-space cannons, not even proper soldiers. The Taz’aran Empire will take their territory quickly, and they will learn to call us their masters soon!”

The younger voice carried much enthusiasm and was speaking the name of his empire with elation. Lilly almost choked with anger and fear – they were mocking the memory of her dead friends, her brother! 

She saw an overturned pickup truck next to the place those two voices were. One of the three Danube trucks owned by the colony’s delivery company, “Slow Pokes” and it was the perfect cover. Lilly carefully crawled forwards and peeked from behind the truck’s front. 

The two Taz’aran soldiers were sitting idly on one of the village square benches, stuffing their faces with rations. Both looked stocky but were no taller than humans, with pale greenish skin and dark brown eyes. They had crummy laser rifles resting on their knees, an alien model she had never seen in her life. Nothing like the Imperial-issue laser rifle; these were obvious copies, and bad ones at best. 

Even though Lilly was a farmer, she knew a little bit about weapons too. You had to; in the Terran Minarchy it was obligatory for all citizens to learn how to defend themselves, and to have a basic knowledge of simple weapons and armor. These Taz’aran rifles didn’t even have a basic heatsink installed and their power packs were not designed with environmental protection! 

Oh, it was alright for now; but after a week spent in Carrola’s burning heat and humidity, they would experience weapon jams and even “violent” overheating. Lilly looked at their bulky, uncomfortable space suits and reached for her laser pistol. The range was perfect; she could take her time and aim carefully from behind the cover of this truck. 

Her hand grasped only air and Lilly, very much confused, glanced at her hip – the laser pistol wasn’t there! 

In the shock after her gravbike’s crashing, it must have fallen somewhere. She desperately looked over her belt and her person, but there wasn’t anything usable... save for her hand PDA. Lilly crept back behind the pickup truck and crawled under the fusion core with one ear still pointed at those soldiers. They were still patting each other on the back, congratulating themselves on how easy it was to conquer her colony. 

She slowly and gently opened the service lid over the core and removed her PDA. Ever so quietly, Lilly placed it between the plasma wires and began inputting an overload program that would turn the fusion core into an improvised bomb. A crappy one, with low yield and range, but more than enough to turn both of those murdering bastards into dust. Lilly punched in a two-minute time limit and started crawling away from the truck. 

Suddenly, she heard the metallic sounds of one Taz’aran walking in his suit towards her position! 

The bunny stilled, in her mind she counted the seconds left until her PDA’s now unstoppable overload. She heard the soldier call his sergeant to join him in pushing the truck back on its four tires. They had to take a final look and search for anything left that could be of use. 

Lilly tried desperately to sneak away as quietly as possible, yet she wasn’t fast enough. The two Taz’arans pushed the pickup over and it almost crushed her back. She managed to roll away in the last possible moment, but the soldiers saw her and raised their weapons. One of them crowed as he trained his rifle on her:

“Look what we have here, Sergeant – one of those fake sentients, with the long ears! Hey, should we capture it? We might get a reward for getting another one for the slave ship!”

“Bah! Shoot her mangy ass, we have all the young ones and they bring the best price at the markets. I bet you can’t kill her with one shot, Soldier! Let’s see... a day’s ration, agreed?”

Both grinned at each other aiming at Lilly, while she turned around and jumped with all her strength. The two Taz’arans were unable to press the trigger, nor was Lilly able to finish her jump. Exploding, the pickup truck turned both soldiers into mush and mercilessly slammed her small body in the nearby wall. For the second time that day, she lost consciousness.

* * *

She tasted blood in her mouth and tried to get up. Her dazed senses noted the two suns setting and Lilly, despite the pain in her limbs, began moving towards the south end of the village square. She checked her pockets this time, making sure the key card for Alberto’s home was still in her possession – thankfully, it was.

Fumbling and with bones aching, Lilly crossed the small crater left from the exploding Danube truck and finally reached Alberto’s store. It was ransacked; just as she expected the greedy invader had taken even the store shelves. Limping, she reached the inner door, placed the key card over its handle and one satisfying click later it slid aside, letting her in.

Lilly made only a few steps when her eyes were attacked by a flash of light – old man Alberto had set the house lighting to turn on automatically when the door was opened during nighttime! She found the master holo panel and turned the house lights off, but the damage was already done. Even if the Taz’arans weren’t looking for their missing soldiers after that explosion, they would certainly send someone to investigate the house. Lilly, despite the pain, limped up the stairs to the second floor as fast as she was able and opened the weapons-closet door.

Yes, the carbine was there, in its case and there was even a bug-out backpack!

She quickly grabbed everything, checked if the rail carbine’s power pack was full – it was – then reached into the case to pick up the spares. Once again her hand grasped air, there were none! Lilly thought for about a second about thoroughly searching the back of the weapon’s closet, but quickly changed her mind. Her keen hearing alerted her that a big grav-vehicle was closing in on the house.

She ran towards the back window of Alberto’s home, opened it and, even with her injuries, leaped down without looking. At the same time behind, an armored boot kicked down the door and a couple of laser rifles fired through the house, aiming at her. Beams hit the air where she stood seconds before and then her feet met the ground.

Lilly almost fainted from the pain – a fifteen-foot-plus jump was way too much for a bunny in her condition. She grabbed the fence with one arm and started limping towards old man Alberto’s garage. She had almost reached the door when a bright yellow laser beam splashed the ground left of her. In a second the fear almost took over again, and her entire body froze. One Taz’aran shouted: 

“Surrender to us, rodent, and we will be merciful! Your life will be spared, drop your weapon!”

In her mind Lilly shouted to herself, Move your rabbit ass! With a force she never knew she had, Lilly jumped towards the garage and screamed at the Taz’arans:

“Eat space! Try catching me, you murderous bastards!”

She rolled on the ground while two more beams melted holes in the garage doors, scorching her back. The pain almost made her lose consciousness again, but she managed to block it out and reach the parked combine. One short leap later and the bunny was inside the vehicle, short hands reaching for its controls, she whimpered when her burned back touched the seat.

Another yellow beam hit the garage doors and through the holes, Lilly saw two Taz’aran soldiers running at her. She smiled despite the ever-growing pain and punched the start button – the old combine’s Tesla engine roared and Lilly pushed the accelerator to the max.

Big and heavy, Alberto’s vintage combine smashed through the garage doors and with its flailing grappling arm Lilly attacked her pursuers. Designed not just to gather crops, the old combine had a long and powerful “arm,” so that the operator could safely remove mumpa trees. As it turned out, the Taz’aran soldiers’ space suits were far more brittle than the bark of said trees.

While the second invader disappeared screaming beneath the combine’s left tread, she dropped the first soldier’s lifeless body aside and again pushed the accelerator. The large machine speedily rolled forward; Lilly turned south and started moving towards the mumpa forest. It was at least four kilometers away and she desperately looked behind, almost expecting her pursuers to shoot at her with a tank.

No sooner had she left the garage and moved away from the village, than a long-range guided missile hit Alberto’s house, and with a big reddish explosion, wiped away everything within at least five hundred meters. The shock wave reached the combine, but since it was so heavy, she only temporary lost her hearing.

Looking down at the controls, Lilly saw that her nose was bleeding – the entire steering wheel covered in blood. She rummaged through the backpack hoping that Alberto had stacked some meds in it. There were three medsprays in a small box and she pressed one of them at her neck, pushing the injector’s button. The bleeding stopped at least, but most of the pain she felt in her back lingered.

She placed the spent medspray back into its box and looked at her rear holo screen. A single alien armored vehicle emerged through the smoldering ruins of Alberto’s house, and stopped on the ridge behind her. Its turret tracked her combine, and Lilly instantly pressed the brake while turning left.

One single pulse from their beam gun melted the ground where her vehicle was supposed to be if she was still moving. She frantically pushed the accelerator again and started zigzagging, all the while looking intensely at her rear holo screen. The next beam almost melted the back side of the combine, and Lilly heard the Tesla engine giving out a high-pitched noise. The combine’s control panel showed her a red warning sign: the entire drive system was overheating!

She stopped zig-zagging, locked the accelerator forward and leaped from the driver’s cabin and onto the ground, rolling to the side to cushion the blow. No sooner than she did this, Alberto’s vehicle was hit again by the alien beam gun and exploded, pushing her body to the ground.

Lilly crawled, choking on the fumes, her eyes starting to bleed – those mumpa trees seemed so far away!

The young bunny started limping towards the tree line, hoping that the smoke from the smoldering wreck of the combine would cover her movements for at least a few seconds longer. Her ears caught the sound of armored feet meeting the ground and the hiss of laser beams – the Taz’arans were shooting at the remains of the combine. She reached a mega-concrete pyramid marker, the one that said:

“Mumpa Forest, No Entry Without Survival Gear!”

Lilly found time for a sarcastic smile; a skilled farmer, she was an exobiologist too, but even her knowledge of the planet’s ecosystem was limited. Nobody had had time to completely explore that forest and since Terrans were always respectful towards local wildlife and plants, it was considered essential to have one’s own supplies so as to not overharvest resources. Except the tests and scans her teachers did to determine that these mumpa trees were not poisonous, the colonists had left their neighbors at peace.

She heard the Taz’arans shout behind her – “Here she is! Shoot to kill!” – and the buzzing of laser fire.

Somehow Lilly found the strength to roll behind the marker; the mega-concrete saved her life, a few accurate shots hit it and melted big chunks off its surface. She gathered all of her remaining stamina and made a run towards the trees. A stray yellow laser beam glanced her left shoulder and she fell, face hitting the soft, muddy ground, screaming in pain.

The trees were so close, yet the Taz’aran soldiers were even closer and their suits clanked while they ran ever nearer, laser rifles pointed at her. Lilly grabbed her rail carbine and, rolling to the side, took a pot shot at one of the Taz’aran soldiers while the second fired his own gun at her.

Both shots met their marks; one of the enemy soldiers’ faces vanished, as the rail carbine’s pellet turned it into red paste. The laser beam from her enemy’s rifle burned a small hole into the right side of Lilly’s chest and for a second her breathing stopped from the shock of the wound.

She spat blood and her vision almost faded, while the second Taz’aran soldier frantically ran back towards his vehicle, screaming and shooting aimlessly. Her mind fading away, Lilly reached for her backpack and with limp hands tried to use her last two medsprays. She shoved the injectors into the wound and pressed both buttons...

* * *

The rest of the Taz’aran soldiers took cover around their unit’s Armored Personnel Carrier, laser rifles pointed beyond the still-burning combine and their scanners pinning the location of the last living Terran colonist on Carrola.

The APC commander, a pompous fellow, screamed at the soldier who ran away – “Idiot! Wretch! How dare you run away from that puny creature! I’ll have you shot for cowardice!” – and slapped him across the face with his gloved hand.

The stunned taz’aran rolled on the ground, holding his jaw and spitting blood. The officer turned towards the rest of the section under his command – “Form a firing line and move forward; she isn’t far away and heavily wounded! Use that piece of junk for cover!” – he pointed at the combine – “Encircle her and suppress, then grenade the bitch. Got it?”

His soldiers slightly bowed, shouted – “Yes, Your Excellency!” – and ran, laser rifles leveled forward.

Their APC section was one of the newer ones in the unit and all of them without exception were force-drafted from core worlds in their empire. The minimal training those soldiers had received was at least three standard months, mostly marching and shooting at static targets. The big problem was that those targets didn’t fire back, and none of them had experienced the frantic nature of battle.

While they advanced one of them was shot in the leg, his limb disappearing in a spatter of flesh and metal pieces. The soldier fell dead on the spot, with a look of great surprise on his face. Taz’aran infantrymen continued to advance despite what they’ve just witnessed, under the intimidating gaze of their commander.

The noble officer looked at his driver and snapped another command – “Prepare to slowly move forward at my order” – he winced a little bit when another soldier of his section lost an arm and fell screaming to the ground – “and give me my sniper rifle!”

The driver nodded timidly and complied. The rest of his section crawled ahead and began firing sporadically at... something. He saw one of them aiming carefully with his laser rifle – and then something hit it, blowing the gun to pieces. The soldier’s corpse limped over the still-burning hull of the combine, parts of the rifle sticking out from his eye sockets and mouth.

That was half of his section dead already and the officer sighed annoyed. He was left with six men total and would have to buy more of them to replenish his unit. Thankfully, most of their equipment was salvageable, he thought to himself with a smile – it was far cheaper to buy new force-drafted soldiers than weapons and armor.

“Forward!, you failures!” – He screamed in the comms unit.

“Driver, move around the wreck, slowly!, and use the soldiers as cover. I don’t want the fresh paint on my APC to get damaged!”

The officer prepared his sniper rifle; it was an old particle beam gun, engraved with his family’s crest. This venerable weapon was used by many of his ascendants to kill enemies of the Taz’aran Imperium. His people valued nobility before the common rabble and that rifle perhaps had taken more of his own race’s lives than alien ones. He was poised to change that on this tour of duty.

The holo scope flickered to life and he switched it to heat-vision. It showed the body of their enemy crawling on the ground, already between the second tree line. He increased the zoom on the scope; the Terran had left a small blood trail in the mud, and her lower limbs were desperately flailing. She was pushing herself to reach the nearest big tree, and his mouth turned into a crooked smile while taking aim.

His holo scope gave correction for the target’s movement and the taz’aran, confident in his aim, pressed the trigger. Red, glowing particle beam shot out of the muzzle. To his surprise, one thick tree branch moved and was hit by the beam, instead of the head of his target. 

Accursed plants!

He corrected his aim and shot another beam at her. The exact same branch, moving randomly by the wind it seemed, was hit, and fell smoldering in the mud. This defective Terran managed to somehow crawl behind the tree yet, there was something else. As he watched her through the scope, she doesn’t seem to have been able to crawl that fast – it was as if the plant itself moved in an instant, blocking his aim!

He gasped angrily and checked his scope; perhaps it wasn’t his vision at fault, but equipment?

No, both the weapon and its attachment were in perfect condition. What, By The Empress’ Mantle was going on?!

“Soldiers, move forward! We’ve rendered our enemy unconscious and she is suffering from heavy wounds. Bring her dying body to me, so that I can claim the kill!” – he commanded.

There was no sense in wasting the power pack of his sniper rifle; the soldiers could finish the job instead. The officer lowered the weapon back inside his APC and picked a range-sight unit up. He observed as the rest of the section entered the forest and passed the second tree line. What was left of his APC section quickly converged towards their target’s last known location and surrounded the Terran from all sides. He heard a scream in his comms and looked to the side, to his personal status screen – one of the soldiers was missing!

“Sensors, show me, where is that soldier?!” – he shouted at his second driver.

“N-nowhere Your Excellency! He has disappeared from our scopes!”

His soldier looked at him with a confused expression and he leaned over to check the screen with his own two eyes. While he himself watched the screen, another one of his soldier’s links blipped out, completely vanishing off the sensors! Popping his head out of the APC command hatch, he quickly looked around with the ranged-sight unit, trying to locate the rest of his troops. One of the comm’s links flickered with life and he heard:

“I... can’t feel my legs... ughrl...”

The rest turned into incoherent, short, painful screams and the Taz’aran commander shouted in the comms:

“Retreat you morons, quickly! Your lives aren’t more important than the equipment you wear! Back, I say!” – he looked at his gunner with anger:

“Start firing the particle beam gun at the treeline now!” – he then closed the hatch and sat in his command chair.

As he sat back down, he was almost fuming with anger. Somebody was responsible for this failure and it wasn’t going to be him! He looked around and his sight rested on the second driver. Yes, he was manning the scanner, he should’ve warned him! It was a failure to perform one’s duty while in combat and the officer blurted out another order:

“You! You are guilty of treason, Second Driver!” – he pointed at the other soldier – “Arrest him! He will face the firing squad later and pay for failing me!”

While the stunned soldier was being shackled to his chair, the officer again looked at his sniper rifle. What By the Throne’s Steps was happening here?! The last three surviving troopers of his section entered from the back ramp and the APC’s engine whined, while the driver pulled back, away from the forest and towards the ruins of the Terran village. The officer looked at his soldiers’ faces when they raised their helmet faceplates and saw nothing but terror...

* * *

Lilly awoke and almost jumped to her feet – she had been unconscious for Patrons only know how long. Her arms grabbed the rail carbine and she nervously looked around, licking her parched mouth. The suns were low and her butt was comfortably resting on one of the mumpa tree’s roots, while the branches were shielding her body from the scorching heat.

She noticed that one of the tree’s branches was missing; its end severely burned, a greenish juice oozed from the wound. It looked almost blood-like, and the scientist in her reached for her scanner which remained still absent from her side.

Too late she noticed the smoldering crater at the end of the tree line; the Taz’arans had fired and at least a couple of times it seems, perhaps trying to finish her.

How was she still alive?!

She remembered crawling behind this tree, but it hadn’t been this far away from the tree line. Lilly sighed; having been tired and confused, not to mention almost dying from her injuries, perhaps her memory wasn’t that accurate. She looked at her chest, checking the laser rifle wound but saw only a circular scar. Her brown, short fur was missing, and there were two more, smaller scars, most probably left from the two medspray injectors.

Man, those meds were awesome!

She had one spent casing left in her backpack, and vowed to some day find the person who made them – most fine craftsmanship that was. Standing up, Lilly suddenly realized that her burned back didn’t hurt that much anymore. She tried to carefully touch her wounds, but alas, bunny hands weren’t long by design and she counted her blessings.

The bunny picked up her backpack and checked its contents, noting how much food she had. Rations for ten days, water purification pills and some bio-bandages. There was also a rain cloak folded neatly at the bottom and she pulled it out, checking its size – it was one of those old Earth-army camouflage cloaks.

Lilly quickly adjusted its size, put it on herself and then checked its jungle stripes by laying part of it on the bark of the mumpa tree next to her. It didn’t match, but it was far better than nothing.

A drop of tree juice fell on her hand, stinging oddly and she looked up at the wounded branch. Lilly smiled and took one of her bandages – it was only fair to aid the tree, since it had shielded her from enemy fire. That branch had, after all, been shot by the very laser rifles aiming to kill her.

She climbed easily and reached for the burned end, carefully wrapping it with the bio bandage. The space tech absorbed all of those tree juices and closed the wound. Strangely enough, she felt as though the branch moved a little bit, so she could reach it easier.

Lilly climbed down and checked the shots left in her rail carbine’s power pack – she frowned when the counter showed eleven. So all that careful aiming was for naught? At least she killed three soldiers with it, lucky shots most likely.

While contemplating on what to do next, her ears caught the sound of high-powered grav engines and looked up. In the air, coming from the direction of her village, she saw the vague form of a big flying vehicle. It looked either like a dropship or a shuttle, but the aliens were using military grade vehicles and with her luck, it was most likely a Grav Attack Vehicle or GAV for short.

A fast, low flying machine, armed to the teeth and probably carrying a section of well-armed soldiers. Lilly explored the deep, dark forest with her eyes, wasted another couple of seconds while her ears soaked its chaotic ambiance and then ran. Soon her small silhouette was swallowed by the shadowy jungle and when the Taz’aran GAV flew by, she was nowhere to be seen. 

* * *

A month had passed and Lilly was still alive – her rations were gone and the rail carbine had one more shot left in its power pack. She had miraculously found an old vibrodagger buried in the mud, one day, while preparing her camp site. It was still working and what was even stranger, the internal power pack was almost fully charged!

Knowing the local flora and fauna wasn’t enough for a person to automatically become a good hunter, as she quickly found out. Lilly spent five full days almost dying of hunger, but at the end her perseverance was rewarded. She learned how to hunt down the very same rat creatures that had once plagued her farm, who also gnawed the mumpa trees’ roots.

It had seemed to her, at first, that they were a local species, but the more Lilly killed them and examined their bodies, the more she thought that they did not belong here. Regardless, the “pinkies,” as she began calling them, had plenty of high-protein meat, and she even began to enjoy hunting.

At least, as an exobiologist, she was preserving the local ecology by fighting an invasive species. Lilly was absolutely sure that no Terran colonist would ever let loose such an animal, or any other thing to prey on the local ecosystem. With each passing day, the sneaky suspicion that somebody else, perhaps those filthy Taz’arans had arranged for the wozzie presence here, festered in the back of her mind.

That GAV she first saw a month prior was quickly becoming her archenemy.

It was fast, it was mean, and its scanners tracked her easily. Lilly had narrowly escaped with her life from her last two showdowns with it. Firing her rail carbine at the cockpit was useless, as she found out, but at least managed to scare the pilot off.

When she was again tracked by it, Lilly ran away; running it seemed was something she was really good at, as she discovered soon enough. The GAV flew around her, spewing barrages of yellow laser beams, but she was always fast or lucky enough to either dodge them or find a good hole to duck in. But for the last three days, she had also noticed the vehicle deploying at least two sections of soldiers per day in the forest near her.

Lilly was continuously contemplating how to deal with this situation. If the Taz’arans were planning to deploy even one more section, that would be an entire squad surrounding her, at least by Imperial Minarchy count.

She felt desperation choking her and thought even more of simply charging their search line. Dying like a proper hero usually had no allure, since rabbits didn’t believe much in heroics and were mostly pragmatic. Despite that, after all her loved ones had been subject to, a death like that started to look very tempting to her.

Lilly prepared herself for battle; she slung the rail carbine on her back, unsheathed the vibrodagger and wrapped with the camo cloak, silently stepped into the shadows. It now seemed that the mumpa trees had exactly the same stripes that her cloak had. This was rather surprising since the first trees she checked it against weren’t a match whatsoever.

While the young bunny was sneaking towards the closest Taz’aran search line, at the back of her mind there was an ever-growing suspicion. Something in this forest wasn’t right, and it had nothing to do with the pinkies, but more like the trees themselves. She had lately been noticing one tree that was strangely familiar, and multiple times at that.

Lilly heard the annoying clunk of Taz’aran armored suits and slowly crept behind the closest tree, raising her dagger, ready to strike. Soon she saw two soldiers who clutched onto their crappy laser rifles, legs stumbling. Both looked tired and their faceplates were up; she could hear them breathing heavily and even the clunk of the suits had changed. It sounded as if they had trouble moving at their best speed or even walking normally, in general.

Also, their laser rifles were wrapped with some spongy, green tape – it seems that the Taz’arans had trouble with both equipment and weapons. Luckily for her, that had begun to wreak havoc on their operational readiness. The looks on their faces were ones of extreme discomfort, pain even, and Lilly imagined that something else might be troubling her Taz’aran enemies. She waited, biding her time, dagger still raised in the air.

One of the soldiers suddenly started choking and fell in the mud, his rifle to one side. The other had his back to her and Lilly stepped out from the side of the mumpa tree. She held the dagger with both hands and with one rapid motion stabbed at the soldier’s neck. With a swishing sound the vibrodagger sliced through the suit’s neck joint, flesh, bone and the soldier fell dead on the spot.

Horrified, the second Taz’aran tried to shout, but whatever he was choking on prevented him from calling for help. His right hand reached for his laser rifle and in her desperation Lilly threw the dagger, aiming at his chest. It was from point blank range, and she still missed.

She tried reaching for her rail carbine, but it was too late. Still choking, the soldier grabbed his muddy laser rifle and pressed the trigger – there was a flash and then an explosion. Lilly leaped to the side, but when she raised her head, the soldier’s body was smoldering, his hands turned into bloody lumps.

The nearby Taz’arans, hearing all of this, clunked towards her position and she had to decide in a split second what action to take. Lilly quickly grabbed her dagger from the mud and using the blade on the nearest soldier’s utility belt, she nipped his ammo pouch and gun kit. There was a grenade on the belt too and using her ears to determine their position, Lilly prepared and threw it at them.

In hindsight she shouldn’t have used the highest setting, but that was her first time using an alien ordinance. The powerful, violent explosion sent her small body flying into the air. Somehow her hand grabbed a mumpa branch and instead of breaking her bones by hitting the ground, she dangled from it unharmed, fifteen feet in the air.

Holding onto the tree as hard as she could, Lilly clicked both looted packs onto her own belt and with the aid of her other hand climbed up, hiding in the tree’s foliage. She saw the charred corpses of two other Taz’arans as the rest were carrying them away, most probably back to their base camp. If her poor eyesight didn’t lie these soldiers looked even more scared and tired.

“Where are the rest of them?!” – one of the troopers asked into a handset with a shaking voice – “My Lord, we were told an entire squad was deployed here, and we have only two sections!”

Somebody answered in his comms system:

“I care not for your failure, Soldier! You were given adequate support and equipment. Inability to deal with one tiny Terran creature proves that you and your soldiers are all pathetic excuses for men! The GAV will be sent to extract you soon, prepare those idiots in your charge and don’t forget to recover all of the dead ones’ gear!” – The comm was suddenly cut, and Lilly saw the soldier’s face twist in anger and fear.

What was left of their section moved right under the mumpa tree Lilly was hiding in and she could examine them better. They were disheartened and exhausted; there were strange, dark-green rashes, deep lesions covering their otherwise pale-greenish skin. Lilly pushed her knowledge of Carrola to the limit, trying to remember anything she’d possibly read about an illness which manifested itself by rashes like those, but to no avail. After the soldiers tiredly marched away, she climbed quickly down from the tree, using the very same branch that saved her life.

While lowering down, her hand got stuck in something and she pulled gently, trying not to harm the foliage. To her surprise, after she’d gotten her feet on the ground, she found remnants of bio bandage stuck on her hands. She was under duress, however, and quickly forgot about it.

Lilly ran for at least an hour while that accursed GAV was blasting away the whole area with laser fire. She was sure her bio sign wasn’t inside its scan range, but even if that was true, better safe than sorry. Her nose sensed the smell of tree juice and fire from a distance and she cursed the invaders in her mind.

The bunny found another deep, safe-looking hole, which held the remnants of a long dead mumpa tree and hid in it.

Helpless to do anything else, Lilly decided to check her loot and opened both belt’s packs. They had spare power packs, four of them – the last had a simplified, standard gun kit. As soon as the laser spewing GAV flew away, she used what was left of the day modifying her enemies’ power packs. Somehow Lilly was successful and jerry-rigged all, but one of them.

Using the salvaged packs, she now had more than ninety shots for her rail carbine – a crooked, almost happy smile bloomed on her face. Lilly turned around and walked towards the edge of the forest; now, with enough ammo, she could fire back and stop running all the time. Perhaps if she could get her hands on a grenade or two, Lilly thought of something that might aid her against that GAV.

* * *

The Taz’aran commander looked at his files; all reports from the last three months were abysmal!

Eleven soldiers lost due to faulty gear and rampant weapon malfunctions, twenty-two more died in the jungle while tracking that small elusive Terran. The lost equipment list was as long as his leg and even though his engineers managed to do something short-term for the laser rifles, they couldn’t overcome the initial design errors.

The armored space suits that his soldiers were using weren’t built to be fielded in such an environment. While in outer space they would’ve provided a protection beyond adequate, here in this scorching heat and humidity, they were all but useless. Heavy and bulky, they slowed and tired the soldiers to such an extent, that most were dog-tired after even a few kilometers walking.

Sure, they could vac the suits and then the heat and humidity wouldn’t bother them, but the weight issue remained. Also, as good as a space suit’s life support was, it couldn’t work forever. A suit’s main power pack had to be renewed after a couple of hours, at least.

The commander skimmed over some holo slides of soldiers killed in action – armor plating didn’t work, not in the least. As a matter of fact, when the plating was hit, it splintered in such a way that nearby soldiers were injured by shrapnel.

He slammed his fist on the table – those damned Terran rail guns!

The Taz’aran Imperium had to have them or at least some basic copies for research. That was a backwards arms race, he suddenly thought to himself; instead of fielding particle-beam guns like most civilized sentients, those slimy Terrans used barbaric tech. The trouble was that it was highly effective, both against their armor and weapons.

He remembered how two of his pilots were scared shitless, because the Terran creature’s rail gun almost pierced the GAV’s cockpit. He had to shoot one of them for cowardice and the other, for desertion. 

The commander sighed and sent his new orders to the troops: remove the suits’ feet and arms plating, affix bayonets to the rifles, and lower the beam power. 

He was waiting for their supply ship to return shortly – on it, there would be a section of better-trained Taz’aran Imperial Army scouts. Finally, he could send somebody capable into the accursed jungle, and be sure that that filthy little Terran would die! 

He directed other, more secretive orders to his personal Noble Guards – they had to locate this colony’s Dead Man’s Scanner and download all information from it. In the event that Terrans did counterattack, he did not want him and his troops chased after. These filthy barbarians were vengeful, moreover, they loved using nuclear weapons...

* * *

Soon enough, the long-awaited supply ship arrived on Carrola. Fully laden with spare parts, rations and equipment, from its ramp also descended a section of veteran Taz’arans ready for battle. Without any tarrying around they boarded the GAV and flew in the direction of Carrola’s jungle.

Its pilot held his craft’s hover controls steady while the scout section rappelled down, deep into the green, exactly where the last reported position of their enemy was. Encased in light field armor covered with camouflage stripes, those shifty and athletic soldiers were armed with snub particle-beam rifles called Rapid Beam Guns. They even had short vibroswords and grapplers integrated in their suits.

Surely this time the Terran was doomed, the overstressed pilot thought to himself!

The section soon vanished out of his sight and deep into the forest, therefore he moved his hand ever so slightly. He began increasing his craft’s height, careful not to fly too close to the nearby rock formation.

Suddenly the pilot saw a blip on his sensor screen and for a second he was frozen with fear. The blip had been identified by his computer as the small Terran, and panicking, the pilot pulled back rapidly from his previous hover position. The GAV flew unintentionally closer and closer towards the rocks.

The blip again appeared on the screen, but this time, it was behind him – he rapidly turned the craft’s nose and pressed the trigger of his G-type laser guns. Multiple yellow beams shredded the foliage and set a couple of trees on fire.

Nothing!

The blip was still there... Over the comms he heard the quieted voice of one very angry Taz’aran officer: 

“What are you shooting at, Pilot?! Be careful, we are still deploying down there! I swear if you hit any of my men, not even your mother will recognize the corpse they will show her!

This threat was as real as they get, but GAV pilots were trained to safeguard their vehicles first, not their own lives. He was so preoccupied with this that the second, almost transparent blip on his screen completely eluded him.

A tiny silhouette was loading a grenade in an improvised sling and when he saw this, much too late, his jaw dropped. He watched petrified as the Terran launched the grenade at his craft, while balancing atop the tree, holding on to it with her legs. The explosion consumed his cockpit and made mincemeat of him.

Its cockpit gone, the now pilot-less GAV soundly crashed into the ground – all of its ammunition and fuel instantly blew up. The large explosion ended up blasting three of the scouts to bits yet, no matter how furious the Taz’aran scout leader was, he remained motionless and hidden.

His active camo cloak almost completely melded with all surrounding plant life – no sudden gestures or comm links sent. The thermo optic camouflage or TOC turned its user nigh invisible, when used properly and by an experienced trooper. There was no possible way to detect neither him, nor the rest of his section, not unless you had a high-grade scanner and were an expert in using it.

His posture was excellent and the RBG tightly gripped, one finger ready on the activation switch. If anything was moving and not in the predetermined coordinates, he would shoot it down instantly. An empowered beam chamber and an advanced heatsink ensured that his weapon would not only function in this harsh climate, but provide the team with the much-needed victory against the last enemy here.

The man was a non-noble officer; through backstabbing, murder, and intrigue he managed to achieve that high a status. A good judge of character and excellent survivalist, his adoptive noble house placed great hopes on his career in the Taz’aran Imperial Army.

Carefully looking around, twisting his head centimeter by centimeter, the scout leader saw a metallic shine right next to one of his soldier’s positions. Looking closely and inspecting it for more than a minute, he suddenly realized that it was a thin metallic wire.

Cold sweat began running down his spine, despite his jungle armor’s extended life support. He contemplated sending a link to his scouts, but then he stopped himself mid-thought – they were all professionals. Certainly, if there were traps, his men would act in a manner according with their extensive training regimen and experience.

This was their second campaign, and in Taz’aran armies, such soldiers were considered seasoned veterans.

His audio sensors picked up a strange sound from the tree nearby – it was both natural and metallic. The sub-commander’s reflexes were that of an elite, as was his sixth sense. He leaped forwards and tumbled in the air, just as most of the tree branches suddenly became part of an intricate and deadly net of micro-wire, slicing everything in its way.

He heard the screams of his men and then, there were the explosions.

The ground itself flew in the air, rock shrapnel shredding more of his scouts to death. He overcame the initial shock and ran towards the wreck of the GAV, correctly assuming that even if the entire area was prepared and blanketed with simplified traps, the crashing machine would’ve cleaned most, if not all of them. His keen senses warned him of someone lurking within the wreck itself, and the sub-commander raised his RBG, flicking the power on.

A burst of tiny particle beams destroyed what was left of the ruined machine, causing yet another explosion.

Just when he thought he had finished it, a small figure wrapped with a flaming camo cloak leaped at him from inside of the fire. In mid-jump she disposed of her cloak and with still-burning fur slashed at him with deadly precision.

He dashed back, using his now-empty gun to absorb the first hit. Part of her blade screeched over the chestplate of his armor and the sub-commander swiftly pulled his short sword, whose elegant and deadly edge blocked her second attack. The violent clash of the two vibroblades produced a small shock wave, blasting small plants and trash away from the two fighters.

He was stronger and faster; experience was on his side and it showed.

His opponent was a female Terran, one of the inferior client races – a bunny. Brown fur with white spots, hazel green eyes, and a face covered with multiple scars. As a matter of fact, her entire body was scarred, burned, and her fur had bald patches.

With a flick of his wrist, he pierced the inferior creature’s defense and stabbed right at her chest, covered with round scars. His victorious smile was soon wiped away by a series of desperate attacks by his young enemy.

He couldn’t understand – he’d already stabbed her and she was coughing blood!

How could she even stay on her feet, let alone continue resisting?

Soon the Scout Leader found out that his estimation, the hasty assumption he made of his enemy, was dead wrong. Not only had she traded blows, but even managed to cut him, chopping away some of the armored plates and damaging vital armor systems.

First he lost his PDA, then the upper part of his helmet and now, the Taz’aran had to look at her face directly, instead from the comfort of his faceplate’s holo-display. He began inhaling the raw, unfiltered atmosphere of the planet and felt the humidity.

The dance of death continued and while he had the upper hand, that creature, even while bloodied, stabbed, and with second-degree burns, still persevered. The sub-commander looked in her eyes and tried desperately to find something, a weakness perhaps, anything that would give him the killing blow. Deep in her hazel eyes he found not hate, but sadness and... pity.

He lost it.

How dare she!? A mere animal, given sentience by the barbaric and stupid Terrans, pity him!? He was a soon-to-be-great Taz’aran noble, far superior in mind, body, and skill. The sub-commander threw himself at her burning with rage, wielding his sword with all the possible strength he could muster.

Finally, after his last blow, the creature’s blade was knocked out of her hand; it flew to the side and impaled a nearby tree. The Terran panicked as she suddenly tumbled away from him and towards it.

“No! You won’t get your blade back, you primitive!”

He jumped, kicking her squarely in the back. Coughing blood and painfully crawling towards the tree, the creature’s breathing became sporadic. He closed his hands on the hilt of his weapon and raised it to deliver the final blow. As he did so, the bunny turned around and with hand on her chest, whispered:

“Before... ugh... you strike me dead... I wish to... remove that... ughhh...”

She had trouble breathing and her hands were shaking; it didn’t take a doctor to see that the bunny was dying. Torturously, she continued:

“P-p-please... ohh... the blade from tree... remove it, it is in pain!”

The sub-commander removed his sliced and useless helmet and looked upon his enemy with disgust. Not for mercy had she begged him, but to save a stupid tree! What madness was this?! 

With an evil smile, he placed his short sword back in its sheath and reached for his enemy’s dagger. Effortlessly, he pulled it out of the trunk, thick tree juice now flowing down.

“Know, pitiful one, that I have magnanimously fulfilled your idiotic wish, and now you will await the killing blow that will end your dirty existence!” – he gloated.

The Taz’aran lowered his head while raising his enemy’s blade. He slowly aimed for her throat and waited for a few more seconds, enjoying the last moments of suffering this dying Terran was going through. Then, after his lust for pain was satisfied, he swung down.

His attack never connected and whatever dreams of greatness this invader had, they would remain here, buried with his rotting body, feeding the trees. One large branch crushed the Taz’aran’s skull and his lifeless body was quickly pulled underground by a thick, muddy root. The earth closed around his corpse with a loud eerie, slurping sound, as if taking the food offered gladly.

Green had no eyes, nor ears, but it felt and knew what was around it. Could move ever so slowly and if aided by other creatures, with protection and nourishment, traverse the mud. Green now felt a great connection with the flesh life beside its roots; protection for protection, nourishment for nourishment... a life for a life.

It broke off the appendage this creature had healed, allowing its life to ebb away from its green shell and into the fleshy other. There was no sadness, no fear, exactly the same lesson it had planted by its spores in the creature, when its blood had first spilled onto it. Protected it with its appendages, and nourished it by confusing those death-bringing fleshy parasites upon Nature, for it to hunt and consume.

The more its life waned, the better that creature felt. Green sensed its wounds closing and fleshy appendages returning to normal; losing its senses altogether, it remembered the eternal circle – flesh to green and green to flesh...

* * *

In the air above what had until recently been a jungle battlefield, a single dropship hovered, its engines booming. One of its side doors opened and a humanoid figure rappelled down, wearing heavy exoskeleton armor with integrated engines. The person slowly walked towards the body of a young rabbit female and then gently picked her up.

His faceplate slid up as he looked around at the still-smoldering Taz’aran GAV wreck. Just one of his powerful arms were enough to tenderly hold the small bunny as he surveyed the scene. The man’s face became sad, tears ran down his cheeks and black, bushy beard, dropping on the edge of his helmet.

A second Terran landed next to him and searched the area, using an integrated scanner. He soon returned, carrying an old rail carbine and a vibrodagger. Both of them looked mournfully around one last time, their ship’s sensors projecting a holo of the ruined local colony settlement. Before he returned back to their craft after his partner, the man holding the battered rabbit looked at her scars and with pain in his voice, said:

“We failed you so much, young ones...”

He choked on his tears while once again inspecting her injuries and suddenly, one of her scars vanished before his very eyes. The man looked in amazement; he turned back, gazing at the forest, then slowly wiped his tears away and mumbled to himself:

“Life perseveres, and as it seems, brave Bunny, your time is not over in this Universe of ours...”

He jumped upwards, activating his suit’s engines, boots mag-locking on the deck of the dropship. The two Terrans took one final look at the jungle and again surveyed the distant destroyed colony village, before the vehicle’s door slid back. Their pilot pulled the ship’s nose up, and they quickly flew out of Carrola’s atmosphere and around the burning hulls of annihilated Taz’aran ships in orbit. The heavily-armored man addressed his pilot:

“Take the hyper-nav marker to Cav. I have work there and besides, we can’t leave her with nothing –” he smiled “– my friend there will help her heal. Also, we need to hear her tale! A story about a bunny, who knew nothing else but growing watermelons, and then became a warrior.”

The dropship’s wings folded and its hyper-engine charged, creating a glowing field around the hull. The entire vessel vanished into a fold in space-time, traveling without moving, even as the twin suns of Carrola continued to move in the sky.