Suppose I were to tell you there are things in this world that even your ancestors don’t understand— places that have no explanation, and people that hide their true intentions. Suppose I were to tell you my story: one filled with the things that go bump in the night and thunder by day. I wonder if then I would be understood, perhaps even heralded as a hero. My name is Vex, and this is my side of the story.
When the blue sunray struck my visor, I know it is time to rise. I glance up at the sun and feel it mock me as only my deceased sister had ever done. Another day, another monster to hunt. Perhaps today is the day my guts end up on the ground, and not my prey’s. That would be a perfectly viable solution to the mundane existence that has become my life. By the time the morning buzzer goes off, I am already fully dressed in my battlesuit.
Poking my head out of the tent marked “X,” I am met with the distinct smell of cinnamon. A rarity on this cesspool of a planet. “Navigator.”
“I keep telling you, Vex, it’s ok to call me by my first name. It’s Allison, in case you forgot.”
“Navigator,” I repeat.
“Yes, Vex. I’m here, as always.”
“How are the oxygen levels of the planet, and what’s for the breaking-of-fast?”
“Oxygen is at 1.5, the same level it was yesterday, the day before, and the day before that. Breakfast for striker classification is cornmeal porridge with a dash of cinnamon and hard dough bread.”
“Navigator on standby.”
Approaching the communal dining area, my eyes lock onto the giant pot of cornmeal porridge for strikers. Increasing the frequency of my strides, I approach as if stalking prey, each step carefully laid on the ground with silent zeal. When I reach the front of the line, a heaping portion is poured for me, along with two servings of bread. A meal for a champion if there ever was one.
As usual, I hear my troupe calling me over to sit with them. Pretending not to hear them, I sit in my usual spot in the corner of the large dining tent. It’s a good spot. A spot that allows me to analyze the group that made it to the lush planet known as Marda.
In the distance is the number-two-ranked striker Tyrant with his troupe, a group as cutthroat as he is. I’ve had a few run-ins with him on my hunts. With his reinforced battle-suit, destructive phenome, and assortment of grenade and rocket launchers, he is a force to be reckoned with. I’m proud to say that I’ve stolen a couple of his kills. One would suppose that would make us rivals, though he doesn’t pay me any mind most of the time. He is too focused on the mysterious Chaos.
My eyes survey the area to locate Chaos, but she is nowhere to be found. As the top-ranking striker in the Interplanetary Galactic Force Eclectic Division, or the IGF, she has certain privileges. The first is to be served her breaking of the fast in her troupe’s quarters.
What purpose a troupe’s quarters have, I wouldn’t know. Never been, nor do I have plans to visit. My time is better used…
“Allison to Vex, Allison to Vex.”
“An A-grade Sea Hound has been spotted approximately fifteen kilometers northwest from your location. Conditions are highly hostile, will need underwater attachments.”
“Yeah. Copy that.”
After activating the thrusters on my sky board, I return to my tent to see that it has been ransacked for the third time this year. Fortunately for me, my underwater attachments were left untouched. I’ll have to track down the culprit one of these days, but right now the priority is keeping my rank on that leaderboard. While putting them on, I begin my journey towards the location of this new form of monster. How these monsters keep popping up— and why— no one knows. All I know is that it’s my job to eliminate them as they appear. The navigator would have marked my hunting area on the map so the other strikers know that it’s my territory. To enter another striker’s territory without permission usually activates a kill on sight protocol. Not something someone wants on their back when hunting.
Hovering over the webbed tracks of the Sea Hound, I disengage my sky board. With a tap of my wrist, the chip is activated, displaying a screen with the profile of this wild beast. The computer relays the notes on the Sea Hound.
This monster is an amphibian that can stay on land for prolonged periods of time due to the thick scales that cover its body. Once the scales have become saturated with sunlight it will return to the sea, where it is twice as fast and twice as deadly. Weakness: Although it has no eyes to see with, its senses are sharp. Hunts strictly by scent and sound.
The scent of some type of fungus fills my lungs while I carefully lay every step down in silence. My approach is steady yet swift. Nothing will be left to chance. The plasma rifle in my hands is primed to eliminate anything that stands against me. I clasp the grip gently, sure to keep my eyes alert and my breathing on pace. Tiny critters scatter as I near the hot spot.
Large pools of water cause me to divert my steps. Going around a large puddle, I notice several bubbles emerging. I roll backwards just as a webbed claw nicks my visor, lifting my hood in the process.
Before me stands a four-legged beast about my size. The blue-and-green creature has fins atop its head and back, with a long green tail. The front legs are muscular, with sharp fins at the back for slicing. This beast is C-grade at best. Nonetheless it will meet its demise at the end of my plasma rifle.
I raise the weapon to eye level and fire a three-shot burst. The pleasant buzzing sound of the plasma beams fill my ears. The first two beams strike the hound on the nose, the third on the neck. It drops to the ground with a whining noise.
“How anticlimactic,” I whisper.
“Navigator! What kind of nonsense was this? Get your head in the rankings. That was barely a C-grade beast. How am I supposed to pass that scoundrel Tyrant when you’re sending me on missions like these?”
“Still detecting life forms in your territory, picking up on an A-grade Sea Hound deeper within, maybe near the edge.”
“That’s more like it. Send in the scav to pick up the teeth and the fins. Might as well get what we can from that kill.”
I check my right wrist to see the time before my territory is up for grabs and take a deep breath. More than twenty minutes left— plenty of time. I arrive at an open clearing with four massive puddles. Instinctively, I pull out my flutter bomb: a handheld bomb with wings and motion detectors. If there was anything in my arsenal that could fish out the amphibious beast, this would be it.
After tossing the flutter bomb in a nearby pool of water, a wave of shivers wash over me. They are followed by an eerie thought.
Shaking off the ridiculous thought, I crouch down on one knee and wait for the bomb to maneuver its way through the underground waterways. All I can hope is that this beast arrives, and arrives soon.
I wait some more.
Finally, I hear a thunderous roar that shakes me to my core. The ground shudders; cracks form in the mud. Ripples in the largest puddle are followed by a massive beast four times my person. The creature shoots a large blast of water in my direction just as I unleash a barrage of plasma bullets.
The frigid water overwhelms the plasma energy, striking me in the chest. I’m thrown in the air and land with a loud thud. Sharp pain shoots through my right shoulder. I get up sluggishly when the Sea Hound jumps into the air. I look up to see the shadow looming over me. Silently I curse my luck that I would need such assistance on this mission, but I place my fingers to my temple and summon my phenome.
A large fox made of wind shadow, with a glowing tail and glowing claws, emerges from a realm supposedly constructed by my own psyche. Tirade launches herself at the Sea Hound, gripping it by the throat. While the two are entangled, I gather my senses and pull out my psionic blades. With one in each hand I charge forward, wary of the Sea Hound’s lashing tail.
I jam my two blades into the back of the Sea Hound’s neck, and it dashes backwards into the water. Dragging Tirade and myself with it. Underwater the beast increases its speed to the point that I feel sick. I manage to hold on, knowing that my life hangs on by a sliver, as it has many times before.
My thoughts buzz, leaving my instincts to seize the day. Removing both blades, I take two flutter bombs and jam them in the holes the blades left. Pushing off, I activate them prematurely, causing a massive explosion under water. I watch as the Sea Hound squirms its way to the opening, as though that could make a difference. The beast climbs on land as if it were running away from me.
Such peculiar behavior.
Stalking my prey, my blades have no room for mercy. Slinking towards the neck of the beast, I caress its scales and whisper the words I have said on many occasions. Words that have no meaning to me, yet which we are trained to say.
“Thou fought bravely; may you find peace in death where life could not.”
End of Chapter 1