232 AO, September 1st
Bullface had narrowed the gap, but I wasn't happy with the targets he was offering. So at enhanced speed, I charged. At the last moment, when I knew it would be too late for him to shift his momentum, I dodged to the right, and spun toward the prime target of his heart. Well, he shouldn't have been able to change his momentum, but he did. He whiplashed his neck to his left, slamming his open jaw into my chest, cracking my ribs and puncturing the skin in the process. Pain flowered from the impact, blinding me momentarily. Pain suppressants and coagulants pumped through my system, temporarily allowing me to continue the fight. Bullface's tactic would have debilitated a normal human sized prey. It just offered me a clear shot. As my back slammed into the ground and I skidded to a stop, I took general aim, relying on the autotargeting to hone in on the vitals and let loose 2 silent armour piercing rounds. I didn't expect to see a change in the beast's features, but the look of surprise was unmistakable.
Nevertheless he didn't give up as quickly as I had hoped. He wasn't going to fall before he managed to chomp me where I lay, so I sprang to a crouch and launched myself to maneuver behind a nearby tree. I turned and watched as Bullface, splattering gore in his last desperate stomps, futilely sought his final revenge. He fell on the other side of the tree, and finally stopped breathing and kicking, his open eyes staring at me as the light faded.
Sensing a levelling off of my adrenaline, the pain suppressants eased off enough to remind me that I needed to see to my survival before I moved on. I applied field bandages, allowing the minimedics† to do their job while I prepared to find shelter.
On Pskaena, when surviving in the wild, it is best to light a fire as soon as you can in order to scare away nocturnal predators. On Drako, that would be a very bad idea. Instead, I flipped my visor down and switched on my HUD display to find the nearest shelter‡. There was a nearby craggy outcropping with a shallow cave which would suffice, so I sliced off some dino-beef, found my way to the shelter and flamelessly cooked supper.
The suns dipped below the horizon and darkness descended. I pulled up my map of Drako, projecting it on my visor so that it appeared to be behind the blank rock wall I was staring at, and reviewed my progress to the goal. Not great, but not terrible. At a reasonable unrushed pace I could be at the base of Mt. Drake in a little over a week. Of course that would be over a week in the most deadly, inhospitable territory ever encountered by mankind since the expulsion of dragonkind from Pskaena.
As I was picking out possible routes between conveniently located caves and crevices, I heard my comms static click on, followed by the voice of my brother, Mertabhai, "Yo!"
"Merty, how are you?"
"Not bad. I'm glad to see your heart's still beating."
"Ha, you know I wouldn't let a bit of wildlife stand in the way of my goal."
"No, you always were a bit bullheaded. But in all seriousness how are you?"
"I've been better. I was attacked by Carnotaurus. Nothing I couldn't handle, but I underestimated him a bit. I won't make that mistake again."
"Good. Did you check to see if the drones were collecting data on the dinos inhabiting this area?"
"Merty, please. Of course I did."
"And there's nothing. Most of them have been taken out. I guess the locals think they're meaty flying snacks, instead of valuable information gathering spies."
"Skan it! How are you supposed to be prepared if you don't know what to defend against?"
"Don't worry, bro, I got it covered. The drones did manage to gather some intel first, and infrared satellite imagery has given us an idea of the population density around here. I know what to watch out for, and I know how to deal with it when trouble comes." I didn't have any clue. It was a lie and we both knew it, but it was comforting for both of us too. No GPR could have detected the horror and no flying drone could have seen the terror that lurked in my unpeaceful morning to come.
Mertabhai said, "I don't think you can handle all of the trouble headed your way - the trouble that you are bringing on yourself."
"Merty, don't start with that-"
"Listen! You don't have to do this! You shouldn't do this, it's not right. What would mom say?"
"How would I know what mom would say? For that matter how would you know? I'm doing this because I have no choice, Mertabhai."
"There is always a choice. Turn back now. Go back to the dome, and claim you were separated from the group by accident. Tell them you were scouting ahead and your nav equipment malfunctioned. They'll be grateful enough to have an extra gun, they'll purposely not look any deeper."
"It's too late."
"Brother, it's never too late."
"Yes it is! It's too late for mom, it's too late for dad, and its certainly too late for me."
"I understand. I had to try. Please don't kill yourself in the process."
"If that's what it takes... I'll do what I have to do, to do what I know must be done."
"Your courage of conviction certainly isn't lacking."
"What will you do if you fail?"
"Failure is not an option."
We chatted a little while after that, until I fell asleep. Eight double jointed scaly grey legs stalked around the opening.
~~~To be continued~~~
* Exoarmour was invented 465 years ago in 1964 AD. The dome was programmed to begin construction of exoarmour for the use of the guardians, but said armour was only available to the guardians who entered the dome to put it on.
† Minimedics are cybernetic micro-organisms engineered in 2045 AD to aid the rebellion by speeding up repair of wounds.
‡ Miniature AT drones had been sent out in advance of the dome landing, to map out caves and crevices using GPR. In the absence of any nearby shelter, all survival packs were equipped with Triple S Tents which masked scent, sight, and sound.