By Greg Dragon

Sci-Fi, Action & adventure

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10 mins

Memory 03 | First Grade

The Teradac-11 cruised low and silent above the stormy jungles of Qyeran—a city in the country of Flisx. This was a colony on the planet Geral, home of the lizard people—the same lizard people who had murdered Rafian’s father in their attempt to capture and eat his mother’s brain so many years ago.
This operation was an unusual one. Rafian was to be dropped into enemy territory and find a way out, then rendezvous with the ship, which would stay cloaked in orbit awaiting his return. The mission was to be completed within a week, or he would be left behind since they would have jumped to faster-than-light speed by then.
Rafian was more excited than afraid as he sat aboard the vessel, decked out in an all-black 3B suit with the Adaptus facemask firmly locked into his nostrils, ears, and mouth (to keep the Geralese atmosphere out). He was armed with an assortment of weapons, liquid-form food, and fluids that would keep him nourished for up to a week. The ship drifted in silently to avoid detection (a practice that many recon marines had mastered over the years), and with Qyeran being one of the low-tech countries on the planet, it was nothing for a skilled pilot to plant a young cadet onto her surface without any of the locals noticing.
Rafian nodded at his commander and Samoo, who had come along to wish his boy an extra bit of luck. Though they couldn’t see his face through the mask, Rafian shed a tear in appreciation of his teacher’s making the trip to see him off. The nod also told the pilot that he was ready to deploy as he folded his arms across his chest.
A hatch dropped from beneath him, and in an instant, he was falling rapidly towards the lush, green expanse of the planet. Rafian hoped this would be the beginning of an eventless adventure. The pilots had told him at his briefing that the way to remain undetected by the lizards was to delay deploying the chute until he was a few hundred feet above the trees.
The Geralos considered Vestalians to be an extremely tasty meal, so on discovery, they would not hesitate to tear him apart to snack on his innards. Rafian also had the seeker blood of his mother, and upon that discovery, his remains would probably be shipped to the top authorities for consumption—which may or may not happen while he remained alive and screaming in pain. After hearing all of this, Rafian decided he would eat his gun before risking capture by the Geralos. But until then, he would do what he was told to do and deploy his chute at the last possible second.
“The wind must be hot!” he thought as he fell, because his goggles became foggy rather quickly, and it took some time to adjust to the onslaught of humidity. His computer was set to trigger an alarm when he was at the lowest altitude possible for safe deployment, so he relaxed, awaiting its buzz to signal when to trigger his chute. The dark sky reminded him of nights on Genese when there was a full moon. It was dark, but light enough to see what was going on. However, he didn’t know if this was how it truly looked or if the goggles were just working their magic to allow him to see.
When the alarm buzzed, he delayed for two seconds and then deployed the chute, releasing the small wings, which flipped out from his backpack and forced his descent to turn into a glide. He flew circles, spiraling down towards the trees. The process was faster than he had expected, and before he knew it, he was on the ground of this strange planet. With his vilo-sword drawn and wrist map out (displaying details as to where he was), he plotted a route to the nearby city, where he would have to secure an escape to return to the ship.
Being able to breathe in his flight suit was hard due to the milliseconds it took to turn the thick chemicals of the planet’s atmosphere into clean, breathable air. It felt as if he was constantly out of breath and at the same time trying to breathe out of a straw. However, he couldn’t dwell on this discomfort, knowing the panic it could bring. So, putting breathing to the side, Rafian focused himself and kept his mind on the task at hand.
As soon as he calmed himself and set out towards the city, a rustling in the bushes caused him to spin around to witness the strangest creature he had ever seen. A herd of dhulon bulls had smelled him and sought after him out of curiosity. These animals had cowlike heads and humanoid bodies, but they walked on all fours and had eyes that seemed to flash fire. The alpha of the bunch immediately charged after Rafian, seeing him as a threat to the children. But Rafian jumped out of the way in time to beat a brisk sprint through the forest.
So much for stealth at this point! The bull was fast and bore down on him from the rear, so he dove out of the way to avoid being gored by the creature’s horns.
When he righted himself from the dive, Rafian let the blade of his vilo-sword arc towards the neck of the bull and took its head cleanly off. The heat of the blade cauterized the stump on both ends of the animal, so the blood, ichor, or whatever life fluid kept the beast alive was not splashed on him. The remainder of the dhulons retreated, and Rafian took the opportunity to move even faster between the trees.
He was on foot for the better part of an hour before he decided to stop. Rafian climbed a tree, secured himself tightly with straps, and activated his cloak to completely disappear from view. He slept for a few hours, and when he awoke, he was hungry, dehydrated, and disoriented.
Drawing a fluid-sustenance canister from his pack, he hooked it into place on his mask and sucked in the syrupy juices with much need and effort. It tasted like heaven, and he was good to go after a while. The skies had lightened, and the clouds lessened—which on Geral represented high noon, so he knew there would be people milling about, and he would have to be extra careful not to be detected.
Finding a better position at the top of a broad, massive branch on the tree, Rafian pulled out his binoculars to view the city in its entirety. From his observation, the lizard people seemed pretty civilized, and they dressed in very expensive-looking clothing. Their faces were extremely flat, but their heads held rough, bumpy ridges.
This particular race had very sensitive tails; webbed feet, which helped them swim the lakes of their planet; and scaly skin, which looked to be rough to the touch.
When he had dropped payload on them via the simulator, Rafian had never imagined that he would ever see Geralos up close. He was now looking at them as they lived out their lives very much like human beings, and it dawned on him that the Geralos were people and not the monsters that he always thought of them to be. He imagined the soldiers who had chased his mother down and the death they had dealt his father. However, the rage he wanted those thoughts to stir within him didn’t happen. He figured his parents were a casualty of war and raiding, and he would soon be doing the same to some baby Geralos’s family once he completed his mission and proved himself worthy of becoming a marine.
His joints were on fire from the position in which he lay in the tree high above the ground. There was heavy traffic below him now, and he was forced to stay in the tree for a couple of days until it was safe to climb down.
In terms of waste, the suit was wonderful and efficient, as there was no cause to take it off. He needed only to urinate or defecate as usual, and the suit would filter the waste into a reservoir. As soon as things settled down, he could empty it at any time. The reservoir could hold five bowel movements and a gallon of urine, but he was hoping that he wouldn’t have to accumulate anywhere near that amount before he could leave.
As he continued to spy on the city, one of the more exciting happenings of his day was when a hunter brought out the head of the dhulon for the other hunters to inspect. They stood around it for a long time, possibly wondering how it had gotten decapitated so cleanly. The head seemed to tell them a lot, as uniformed officers got involved and began making a lot of ruckus. Rafian realized that his time on Geral would end up being much less than a week because he would have to get out of there fast or be found and consumed.
When it got darker and the streets of the city thinned out, a team of Geralos assembled with intent to search the jungle from where the head had been discovered. One of them seemed to be a tracker. Rafian hoped he would not start tracking until they were much deeper in, since it would mean he would be discovered. He concentrated on the task at hand, which was to get into the city and commandeer a space ship fast. The other dilemma he faced was that the battery on his cloaking device was charging, and he was at the moment very much in the open and visible.
The hunting party was about two hundred yards from where he was perching, and if any of them thought to scan the trees, he would be discovered within the minute. There was a path that led from the city into the forest, and it cut through a large expanse of tall grass and flowers.
Rafian slid down the tree to the forest floor and then sneaked through the grass, angling away from the approaching hunting party. When he reached the city wall, he climbed it effortlessly using the suction technology of his suit’s gloves and boots.
Once atop the walls and crouched low, Rafian descended the other side into what appeared to be a market. He then thought what his next move should be.
The city was a small one and appeared to be shaped like a circle, surrounded by a thick metal wall. A few sentries were patrolling the wall, and Rafian felt extremely lucky, since a more high-tech city would have an installed dome camera tracking every single thing that moved. As he thought about his strategy, an older Geralos began shouting at him. He had discovered the stranger’s movement as he tore down his stall for the day.
The language was foreign, but Rafian didn’t need to understand. His discovery would mean the end of a career, so the cadet rushed the old man and then bound and gagged him within minutes. Next he found the rooftops and began dashing along them recklessly in search of a ship or some sort of vessel to help him escape the planet.
When he finally found what he was looking for, he realized that it was in the worst possible place—the center of a military barracks. This compound, as small as it seemed, was packed with angry lizards that were well-trained, armed, and extremely dangerous. It was in the center of the city and had towers facing to the north, south, west, and east. The walls were mere chain link fences that emitted a strange blue glow that Rafian assumed would be death if he got anywhere near them.
The towers were laden with bricks and could be scaled easily with his suit, so he would only need to get to one of them to be inside within a matter of minutes. Rafian hopped down from the roof into an alley that ran perpendicular to the barracks. He made his way towards the nearest tower and used his knife to take out one of the guards who got too close as Rafian exited the alleyway.
He dragged the body to a pile of discarded boxes, hid it beneath them, and kicked dirt over the blood that stained the earth. Rafian then climbed the tower and hung near the edge, waiting for a guard to get close. When a lizard was close enough, he stuck his blade into the soft area of his neck and pierced his brain. The Geralos died silently, and Rafian vaulted into the tower’s station, stripped the lizard of his clothes, and then placed them over his own.
The clothes were meant to camouflage his looks from the other soldiers who could only see him from a distance. When he was done with the disguise, Rafian placed an acid pill into the naked lizard’s mouth, and the body quickly dissolved into liquid, which flowed silently down the edges of the tower.
From his observations of the past days, Rafian knew that the Geralos kept a few guards on watch all night long, and they rarely used their ship to leave the surface. He hoped the ship would actually fly, because it would really be a bummer if he risked melting a man and wearing his clothes only to find out that his ship was inoperable.
He counted at least twenty guards walking the grounds and doing their duties. The only ones he had to worry about were the ones in the tower, who appeared to be armed with high-powered weapons. He thought about it for a minute and realized there was one small snag he hadn’t considered.
Robbing a craft, flying it out into space, and rendezvousing with the ship was the task, but the marine ship Helysian was cloaked—since his mission was to be a secret—and this meant that he could not have Geralese space vessels chasing him when he managed to dock. He was supposed to escape undetected, and it was starting to feel like an impossible mission.
The city of Qyeran was powered by Zynerian crystals, which were pushing out fuel from a plant built deep underground. Rafian knew this because it was how planets like Geral made sure living areas had unlimited light and power.
The thought of shutting down the city’s power in order to escape was a no-go. His other option was to kill them all, but how could one man take out twenty when they had the advantage of knowing their terrain and calling in backup on alarm? He could stealthily take them out they way he had that poor puddle of muck, but how long could he go before a random soldier looked around and figured out that all of his buddies were missing? What was the answer?
The solution came to him faster than he expected, and he was fine with trying it despite the odds.
Sneaking down to the ground level and into the parked vessel, Rafian found an area in the rear to hunker down and hide. He began waiting for someone to enter. Taking the opportunity to catch his breath, Rafian ejected the refuse canister from his suit and sighed in relief at the knowledge that he wouldn’t have to sit in his own feces—if his wait lasted a day.
He took in some fluid from his reserves and then closed his eyes to calm himself from the excitement of the past few hours. Much time passed, and the next day, the city came alive with panic as a tracker figured out their city had been invaded. Even worse, the panicked old man had told the tracker about the shadow who had bound and gagged him by his stall.
A soldier was found dead and another was missing, with traces of his DNA all over the tower he had manned just the night before. Rafian could imagine the Geralos thinking he was some hellish creature that had come up from the jungle to kill their people. Despite himself, he smiled at the chaos he had wrought in only a few hours. Everything was working according to plan, and he knew in time they would take the ship above the city to do a manhunt. Rafian didn’t have much longer to wait, as two loud Geralos came onboard. The engines came alive, and the ship began to rise.
He took out a las-gun that was rigged with a silencer and attached an elemental selector. He watched the pilot intently to see if he could figure out the controls and was relieved to see that it was not unlike the ones he had used on the simulation ships.
When they were airborne and circling the city, Rafian moved the elemental dial to ice and shot the passenger in the head, which rendered him bone-stiff as his innards froze in a slow, painful death.
Next he slipped behind the other pilot, cut his throat in one motion, and pushed him over to the passenger seat. He took over the controls and righted the stalling vessel. He knew that anything would look suspicious if he moved to escape too quickly, so he continued to circle the city as the deceased pilots would have.
While Rafian circled three times, he established some familiarity with the various switches of the HUD, pointed the nose of the ship upwards, and jettisoned the engines to launch into space.
The whole process of killing the pilots, flying circles, and breaking into space took less than an hour. Yet for the tense teenager whose nerves were like icepicks, it seemed like an entire day.
Once in orbit and with no trace of anyone following him, Rafian signaled the Helysian, and it materialized in front of him. He managed to dock the alien vessel—albeit roughly—aboard the ship and was then rushed into the decontamination center, where he was immediately scanned for parasites and biological weapons. While this was standard protocol for planet jumpers, the process was one that you never get used to.
Rafian felt a twinge of relief as the boom of the engines let him know that they had jumped into deep space and out of range of the Geralos horde. He was made to sit in the chamber for a couple of hours as various scientists and doctors looked over his suit and body to make sure he was not a danger to the crew. Once cleared, he was given a uniform he didn’t recognize and met by none other than the beautiful Vani, who was tasked to escort him to the bridge. Rafian felt the entire situation was bizarre, since Vani was being nice and actually talking to him. She had always been so rude and cold before, but now she was talking to him excitedly as if they were old friends. She was praising him, but the events of the past day were still so fresh in his mind that he just could not focus on her.
She was saying things about how amazing he was and how they all felt he would not return. However, his thoughts were on how his racing heart had felt as if it were bursting as he flew up and out of that city, knowing that a tracking ray could tear his ship apart once the Geralos realized what was going on.
The couple emerged from the detox station through glass sliding doors and was met by five thousand people—practically everyone onboard—cheering and clapping for Rafian. Vani was pulled out of the way as photos were taken, holos recorded, and congratulations were issued to the ship’s outcast stowaway now turned recon graduate. From the crowd emerged the cadet commander and the ship’s commander in full decoration to stand in front of the tall, slightly embarrassed Rafian, who could do nothing but salute.
“Congratulations, Colonel,” the commanders said in concert, and the ship’s commander pinned a badge to Rafian’s chest that had the symbol of a phoenix rising from an orb.
“Colonel Rafian has been awarded the topmost rank and designation of first class for doing the impossible for the greater good of the galaxy,” the commander bellowed.
Then the cadet commander followed up by saying, “We sent you into certain death, but just like the phoenix, you rose bright, terrible, and victorious. Congratulations, Raf! You did it!” And it was as if she had forgotten all protocol because she ran up and hugged him tightly.



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