Through brush, low hanging branches, and over thick roots, he ran. The forrest had an unfamiliar smell to it, the plants and trees an unfamiliar appearance. The tree bark was thick and hard like oak, but almost flesh-like tan in appearance, the leaves were all pointed four leaf clovers or perhaps flowers of some kind. The roots of each tree suspended the trunk a few inches from the ground, moving out sideways before turning downwards to pierce the soil, creating a dangerous tripping hazard. Especially when running at a full sprint.
Terry yet sprinted onward despite the danger, using armoured forearms to prevent those branches from slapping his face. Once, when his foot caught on one of the roots, his boot ripped the root up from the ground before splitting it in two. The gold trim of his silver armour ‘might’ scuff a bit from the impact. Not that he had time to think on that, as a tremendous roar shook the forrest enough that those four clove leaves closed up as a flower might in the rain. If terry was on Earth he would have suspected that to have been a bear.
Had he been on Earth, that roar would surely have been an animal.
Instead he was on the planet Cyrus, and he was being chased by something more than human. Terry dared not look over his shoulder, that would certainly be the end of him.
“Cease your flight, metal man!” The pursuers voice boomed. “You are aware escape shall not be yours this day!”
Terry would beg to differ, but didn’t have the breath to wax rhetoric with his pursuer. He was also mildly frustrated that he was being chased by someone who could maintain this pace, and still be chatty about it.
The forrest came to an abrupt end and Terry burst forth from the tree line. It cheered his spirits to see that open plain spread before him, now he could really cut loose and show that super human chasing him a thing or two. Seems along arms and legs split and opened up a short ways, as if relaxing and breathing more easily rather than being constricted. Terry began to move faster, his breathing settled down a bit as air flow caressed the components underneath the armour plating of his cybernetic prosthetics, cooling them down.
“I’m afraid I shall take a rain check on my capture this day.” Terry called out, not even looking over his shoulder at his pursuer. Terry’s voice carried a tinny quality to it, his voice carried well enough and clearly had a synthetic quality to it. The men had not actually seen each others faces, and Terry intended to keep it that way.
With cybernetic muscles now able to stretch out properly Terry sped out across the plain. As much as he felt his escape to be guaranteed, Terry hated to admit that he still did not have his freedom. His ship had been shot down, a terrible stroke of poor luck, and he had been forced to abandon it when the super humans had come. The distress beacon was on at least, but while the men would be unable to access or use anything on his craft, the components were designed to self destruct if tampered with to prevent theft of its secrets. If they caught on, who knew what they would do to his ship?
Coming to a river forced Terry from his thoughts and onto more pressing matters. Crossing would be simple, despite the raging current. But was that the right plan? He wanted to be difficult to follow, after all.
With eyes focused on the rushing waters of the river, Terry spotted a bread heel floating downstream. The sight caused his stomach to gurgle in desire, the intense pace of all his running had worked up an appetite in him despite the inherent advantages of his cybernetic limbs. Making up his mind to move upstream quickly, Terry sealed his legs once more and strode into the river, moving in until it reached mid-thigh, to conceal his tracks.
After a few hours of careful travel Terry arrived at a town. The river split the town right down the middle, the two sides were clearly different. One side was filled with fairly modern buildings that stretched roughly ten to twenty stories tall. The side Terry yet shared had buildings he would best describe as rustic. The largest appeared three stories tall, and most of them appeared to be made of wood. -Wood of all things! What a novel idea.-
Unfamiliar with the society and cultures of the planet, it seemed no choice was better than an other. Terry made his way, along the shore now, to the more rustic side of town. Maybe it was because he was a metal man but he noticed quickly that people around him barely gave him a second thought, rapidly averting their eyes and not returning his polite smile. The local language that signs were written in was not one familiar to Terry, but as if luck was with him he smelled the delightful scent of fresh bread.
Walking past the front of the building allowed Terry to admire the woodwork -which he knew little about- as well as the diamond patterned, multi-colour, stained glass windows. He also noted the smell of some kind of salty meat being cooked inside. The alluring smells, and rather attractive building front, drew Terry inside. There were an array of tables, set at a height for easy sitting, with individual stools at some and long benches at others. At the back was a stone fire place with a spit over it and an animal roasting over the contained fire. Along the wall to the right of the fire place was a bar with more stools in front of it. Terry noticed now that while those stools were smooth toped wood with a fairly robust leg, there was no cushion to them.
What struck Terry even more was that the only person here, other than himself, that didn’t look incredibly well aged was the man behind the bar. Each of the five older men glanced at Terry, then looked away, deciding they had no interest in him. The bartender didn’t seem to have much more interest in Terry either.
Unfazed, Terry strode right up to the bar to sit on the stool directly in front of the bartender. “Good day, sir. I hope you’re doing well?”
The bartender eyed Terry warily. “I fare well, noble sir. I must beg your pardon, but what draws a nobleman such as yourself to my humble establishment?”
There was a moment of silence as Terry considered the bartenders words. “What… makes you think I’m-“ Terry glanced down to his arms, crossed on the bar top, “this isn’t silver and gold.”
“Then I must inform you that I’m still a bit miffed, sir, and still awaiting my answer.” The bartenders tone had been rather casual, despite his choice of words being demanding.
Terry found it a bit off putting actually. “I crash landed my ship due to an unfortunate mishap. As I climbed out I heard something I couldn’t see roar and just started running. Now I’m here, and starving.”
“You crashed?” The bartender echoed. “Do tell, what kind of failure did your craft suffer?”
Terry had to think about how to answer that question, he wasn’t sure if word was out about himself yet. Luckily this bartender seemed to have his interest piqued, which allowed Terry a moment to play off that he was surprised by the blatant interest.
“Build up of foreign material in my thrusters caused erratic movement when adjusting around dangerous obstacles. Attempted a roll that also caused me to pitch and got a wing torn off. From there I entered atmosphere and successfully didn’t die.” It was a very true story. Terry just left out losing his wing to bullet fire and the thruster being filled with either asteroid dust, or chaff.
Accidentally jumping into, and then remaining hidden in, an asteroid field, then leaving to approach the planet, without broad casting any message, while driving a low profile fighter craft, had not been the smartest thing Terry had done in his life. It ranked rather high on the stupidity chart.
“There is a suspicion I have yet, and I do hope I’m wrong. You have no dinars?”
Terry merely shook his head in defeat. “Astute. I had been hoping you accepted G-cred. If not, I’ll happily trade my labours for a meal.”
“Galactic Credits. The Swiss banks set it up some time ago. I thought they were in use all over. Anyhow, is there anything I can do in favour of a meal?”
The bartender straightened his back, crossing his left arm to cup the right elbow, raising his right arm to stroke his chin. “There is a concern I cannot neglect to raise. There is a good deal of time necessary to work off a meal. You don’t have that much time, and I cannot afford to be caught assisting you.” The bartender turned to the side and started to walk to the other side of the bar, making an odd tomp sound with every second step. “So you best be off.”
Terry ignored the last bit, and leaned himself over the bar top to see what the strange noise was. It was the strangest cybernetic leg he had ever seen. Just above the knee there was a round cap that folded over the flesh, then a long shaft that tapered down to the ground with one last cap at the end.
“What in the galaxy kind of leg is that?” It didn’t bend at the knee, causing walking to look incredibly awkward. Wood was a terrible material to build cybernetics with, due to rot. Terry also couldn’t really tell if it was really connected to the limb properly.
The bartender stopped to look at Terry in plain amusement. “Have you never witnessed a man walk with a peg leg, sir?”
“A peg? Like the leg of a chair? Why should a soldier be treated to such a wild injustice as that clunky thing?!”
Terry’s sudden emotional outburst drew all attention directly to the pair. While neither were aware of the scrutiny that bartender could only stammer out “s-sir! I am n-no soldier.”
“No. You’re right. I apologize.” Terry held up a hand. “You’re either a pilot or a helmsman - ah! Don’t deny it! I saw your eyes as I talked about my flight. You paid keen attention, your eyes are sharp like a knife. You flew something between a fighter and a corvette in size, I’m sure.”
The bartender looked away from Terry, touching a knuckle to his lips in thought. Or perhaps recalling a memory. “You… are correct, sir. Indeed I was a dropship pilot, and a fine one at that. All it takes though is one bad mission sometimes.”
“I can certainly relate. But, why were you not supplied a cybernetic limb replacement? You can still serve if you have one.“
The bartender first shook his head and turned towards Terry once more, the peg leg making it’s tomp. “you must come to realize, sir, that we do not deal in cybernetics. We unlocked the secrets of the brain and the body so that we could think and act faster and have more control of ourselves. Not so we could plug machines into it.”
“That explains a few things, then. So you… think and react faster than average?”
“Generations ago, his majesty had all newborn children modified to adapt strongly to their experiences, as well as having increased physical and mental prowess. This change is carried on through our children and childrens children and so on.”
“That’s…” Terry took some time to think on that. “That’s really clever, actually. I’ve never heard of anything like it. His majesty was a very forward thinking man. But you have no ability to walk again with a leg, however.”
“There is an answer. But it is up to us to overcome our challenges, not his majesty to provide. We are a strong people because his majesty wanted us to be strong, but if we are given too much we will become soft and weak.”
The ideology was familiar to Terry, though he subscribed to a difference one, he could very well respect it. He himself was certainly in a position where he was overcoming the challenge of returning home by himself. But that didn’t mean he had to be alone or decline help. “You mentioned there was an answer still. I’m curious what that might be.”
“It…” the bartender paused to think for a moment. “It does not matter. I have no issue giving a fellow pilot a meal and a drink.” The bartender moved from around the bar, the peg leg clumping with each step. Terry now saw the marks on the floor that indicated where the man usually walked, and he knew that he would never find himself in the same situation. His leg would either be replaced - as it already had been - or he would likely be dead. The thought could have widened the gulf of difference between the two men, yet Terry’s thankfulness at the bartenders offer, and the way the two had shared their stories, instead brought Terry to focus more on what the two had in common. It reminded him that he felt this bartender deserved more than his current lot in life.
“Sure you’ll allow me to do something for you in return.”
“I would think not.” The bartender replied plainly, clearly having expected the question. “Pilots need to stick together, those army boys don’t go easy on us. I suppose it may be different for you back home, that may be reasonable. But here, the pilots help each other as best we can.”
Things were quite different for Terry back home. He didn’t really want to say it, but he was an army boy as well as a pilot. There was no separation in his training. The thought led him to ponder specialization via training, but since he was trained as a single man unit it didn’t make good sense.
The bartender put a plate of the salty smelling meat, and some local vegetation, in front of Terry. Graciously and gratefully, Terry picked up a metal utensil that he would best describe as a cross between a fork and a spoon and started to eat. The meat tasted like it was somehow related to Earth pork, and the vegetables didn’t appear in any way related to Earth vegetation. As he decided that the vegetables were fairly earthy and bitter in flavour he asked “so, the army boys you were mentioning, they’re those tall, wide, really built guys then? Are they… uh… more modified?”
“No, they’re usually quite wirey, really. They’re like you or myself in size when they join, usually, but training tends to make their muscles more dense so they slim down and thin out. The really muscular and tall ones are the Lords. They are the greatest of his Majesties bio-engineered creations. They are our administrators, shock troops, and best marines. You’ll never encounter anything so dangerous with a human face. Maybe even of non-human creatures, you’ll find no compare.”
One of the older men in the room leaned over to as, “why do you ask about them? Were you chased by one?”
Terry choked on a yellow tuber as the question entered his ear. Thumping his chest a couple times dislodged the vegetable, then he coughed a few times for good measure to clear his throat. “Yes, actually. How did you guess? I mean, I guess it was a touch obvious at this point.”
“I see one coming up the street right now, in his war gear, with an entourage of army men.”
Terry tensed and closed his eyes tight, hissing the start of a curse before letting the word die in his throat. “Is it a problem for you if I bought this meal?” Terry looked up to the bartender for the answer.
“I thought you said you had no money.”
“I don’t, but since I crash landed I’m technically a fugitive with no passport.”
The bartender understood and nodded. Terry had correctly guessed that helping a fugitive was a punishable crime. “You admitted you were chased, was your face seen?”
“Only my back… why?”
“I suggest you turn around then.”
Terry turned in his chair to face the door, the word “why” halfway rolling off his lips when the entry door crashed inwards with a call of “barkeep! A drink for all my men, and three for myself!” It was then that Terry realized just how oversized the door and the room really was. The silhouette of the man in the door was an extra foot or two taller than the average, but had the stocky build typical of a man a foot shorter than average.
The Lord had a square jaw, a sharp - and repeatedly broken - hawk-like nose, and shoulder length, dark brown, wavy hair. A wide grin showed some large yellowed teeth. Confidence seem to simply radiate from the man, so much that Terry almost found it difficult to pay attention to the equally large frame that carried that confidence. For while his legs were appropriately long, and thick for such a tall and wide frame, the Lords arms defied the human standard by loosely hanging to knee height instead of upper thigh. It was hard to tell with the armour, but those arms seemed appropriately muscled to a gorilla than a human body.
Terry was drawn to the memory of his being chased through the woods, he had merely assumed that one of these men had been pursuing him, but it seemed to fit. The biological upgrading would push the Lord past the brink of human capacity, the same as Terry’s cybernetics did. The only question in Terry’s mind was that if it came to a fight where did each of them sit? When in protective mode Terry’s limbs merely push past the envelope of an athlete, but protective mode was designed to reduce damage from environmental hazards and shock. In the unlocked state he easily be upping the ante. The other consideration was whether or not he could risk taking a blow from those ape-like arms without the protection mode?
The bartender had also mentioned a brain boost, making someone smarter was easy, but to make someone think faster was dangerous. Faster reaction and quick thinking was a big thing in combat, and a inherent biological method seemed the better way of doing it.
it took a bit for Terry to realize he was being addressed, as he’d been so deep in his musings that only when the Lord snapped his fingers in front of Terry’s face did Terry blink and focus. “Oh! Sorry, I was… thinking. Can I help you?” While it was sincere, if awkward, Terry wondered if he required a more proper etiquette to talk to this super human with.
“I was curious, why you wore armour like that, to such a relaxing establishment as this one?”
It was one of those things Terry didn’t often think on, but when his arms and legs were in their natural mode the protective plates pushed out and had an almost armoured appearance to them. The silver with gold look the materials had probably didn’t help any. Back home though it was incredibly commonplace, so it often never occurred to him. In their protective setting, which was for keeping water out and absorbing shocks and damage, they shaped more noticeably like a normal human limb.
“It’s… I guess it just felt natural. I supposed that might be a little weird, but I don’t intend to inconvenience myself over something like appearance.”
“One might say it would be inconvenient to remain armoured all the time.”
Terry began to wonder just how carefully he needed to watch his words. “I’ve not felt too inconvenienced by it.” he offered with a plain shrug, wondering if he was convincing or not.
“Then you are clearly a metal man.” the Lord stated, frowning at Terry in disgust and a bit of irritation.
“I-yes. I have cybernetic limbs, if that is what you mean.”
The super human leaned in to loom over Terry threateningly. “What brings you here?” The man’s voice was flat, chillingly so.
“I’m from Earth. I’ve been piloting a single man crafted for a bit through the stars, and heard that there was some very robust plant life on this planet that recycled toxins easily. When I arrived I got caught up in how clean the air here was and wandered some.”
“Earth? The dead planet?”
“The cradle of humanity is far from dead. It is … recovering.” Pollution, plagues, natural disasters, and wars. Some say the planet simply didn’t survive, but even more simply; too many people just turned their backs on it. Lots of augmentation was required to survive on the planet now. Terry’s was a whole clan of manufacturers and caretakers, making plenty of capital and funnelling it all back int restoration. The need for such intense augmentation was also the reason he had some of the best in the known galaxy.
“it is a shadow, and thus, unimportant.”
Terry almost leapt from his seat. The Lord, and his men, read the clear intent on Terry’s face. The men readied themselves while the Lord simply smirked. But Terry didn’t jump from his chair, and he didn’t punch this man in his smug face. “You are entitled to your pinion. It is a shame that you look at what was, instead of what can be.” Terry growled through gritted teeth, reminding himself he was being goaded. His voice lightened at the end of the sentence, imagining a green landscape. “Can I help you with anything else?”
“Yes. Your passport.”
“I don’t have my papers on me.”
“Your ship designation.”
It was almost too fast, Terry caught the smirk then a switch of the shoulder. He leaned right backwards and a massive hand with gorilla arm passed right over him to grip the counter. Terry attempting to roll away, but the Lord then back handed him to send him across the floor towards the door.
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“I am a terrible liar.” Terry gasped in surprise. “So why do you think I’m lying?” Terry got back to his feet, realizing the tree army men were around him now.
But the Lord was ignoring him now, and had turned to the barkeep to say they would not be having their meal, then to give a stern lecture about feeding a wanted man. He’d been dismissed. Then it seemed a good time to leave. Yet those three guards were surrounding him.
“Look, I can tell where I’m not wanted, I’ll find a meal elsewhere.” Terry turned to the door, but one of the guards stepped in front of him.” You seriously don’t want to do this in here.” Terry added, motioning out the door. “Let’s take this outside.”
The soldier simply shook his head and the other two put their hand son Terry’s arms. Briefly did Terry consider throwing them through a wall, but that would damage the bartenders establishment, and he didn’t like the idea at all. The soldiers began to lead him out, where Terry could turn this around on them.
It was then Terry noticed the arguing. Looking over his shoulder he saw the Lord and the bartender were getting into it. Even Terry had to admit that in the bartenders situation he wouldn’t be arguing like that. The Lord brought a fist up high, then brought it crashing down, to shatter the bar counter. Terry couldn’t believe it.
The audacity of that man, to willfully destroy someone else’s property. A citizen’s property.
One of the soldiers opened the doors so the trio could lead Terry out. All three of them found themselves suddenly flying out and into the street. The argument paused between the Lord and the bartender.
Terry stood with his back to the two, his arms out to the sides slightly with hands clenched into fists. “Don’t know you it is a grave crime to destroy another man’s property? Back home it is the same attacking his person.” Energy visibly flowed along the length of Terry’s cybernetic limbs, underneath the protective plates. “And I am always happy to protect a good man.” he looked over his shoulder to focus one eye on the Lord. “You may have to apologize for destroying the bar.”
The super human frowned, then his lips curled back to reveal gritted teeth. “You should give up, metal man.”
Terry turned back towards the Lord, the bartender, and the shattered bar. “You should apologize, and pay up, for that bar. But as it is I’m curious. Is it more important for you to shout down a man who was making a buck, or to assault the man who threw your guards out the door?”
The Lord snarled as he leapt at Terry with hands outstretched. Terry instead grabbed the Lords wrists, fell backwards while putting a foot up to the super human’s midsection, and threw the Lord out the door. There was a moment where Terry felt triumph, and then a curious weightlessness. As he felt himself start to flip end over end he locked his limb plates back into the protective position, causing his wrist to slip free of the Lords grip. Both men tumbled in a mess across the street, tangled together on the roadway, in broad daylight. Terry could only start laughing as he pull himself from the bigger man and stood up. “I’d heard your people were biologically designed to think faster, but wow you were sharp!” Terry continued to laugh. “You went from a counter throw to successfully grabbing my wrist and launching me along with you, in mid-flight. I see you weren’t quite ready for my arm to shrink partway though.”
The Lord jumped to his feet, raising his arms with hands open. Terry almost didn’t see it, the super human swing a fist to strike Terry square in the chest.
Terry wasn’t sure how far his body flew rather than fell, his landing involved a lot of rolling before settling out on his back. Slowly he rose to his feet, glad he’d kept his limbs locked and the damage minimal. But the damage was far from little. Judging from the pain in his chest the bone lacing that was supposed to keep his ribs from breaking hadn’t been enough, he couldn’t be sure, maybe his sternum had actually been shattered? The force behind that punch might very well have put a hole in a regular human. Terry was positive he couldn’t take a second one of those.
It led Terry to take stock. He was positive he was stronger, and probably physically faster, but he didn’t have the reaction time. The chest wound probably wouldn’t slow him down yet. The difference in formal training was yet to be revealed. Terry had been trained to fend of wild animals before learning how to fight humans, and he understood the Lord had probably been taught war from a young age. Maybe it would be a better idea of thinking of this as a fight with a mutated gorilla.
With deliberate steps the Lord strode down the street toward Terry. While it looked terribly cocky, Terry had to admit the super human had earned the right to be after that punch. As the man’s guard was down Terry decided it would be a fine time to even the score.
When the distance had shortened up, and the Lord was about to set his feet, Terry lunged forwards. An open mouthed look of surprise overcame the Lords face asTerry drove his fist into the mans kidneys. With an uppercut that mouth closed up with a loud clack and the super humans eyes turned skyward. Despite the elation of his success so far pushing Terry to keep swinging he stopped and stepped back. Something was off and he didn’t know what.
Slowly, the Lord lowered his chin to look at Terry, a leer crossing his face.
Ah, that was it. Terry hadn’t hit the guy hard enough, clearly. Not even a visible crack in any teeth. Regular humans would have been short some teeth after the shot in the jaw Terry had delivered.
Difference in durability suddenly came to Terry’s mind. So far he had outright lost the trades of blows. Terry having been sent rolling and the Lord having feigned being hurt. Maybe the strength comparison Terry had made was off by a bit.
A pair of swift punches came Terry’s way, forcing him to back up a step. A kick flew in from the left. In reaction Terry closed his left arms protective panels and blocked the high kick easily, quickly noting the kick to have been very sloppy by comparison to the punches. Maybe the Lord only practiced regular boxing for hand to hand?
It was a cute thought, but a guess that could very well have been a feint once more. However Terry found himself dodging more and more swings from various angles that became progressively more difficult to avoid. Under the growing pressure he figured a risk to be necessary.
The next kick came. Both Terry’s arms snapped into open mode as he reached out and grasped the man’s ankle. The look of surprise on both their faces was probably priceless. At the same time the Lord attempted to pull his leg back while Terry lifted the man from the ground, spun him in the air, then swing him back down into the road surface.
With a loud boom the road impacted and the Lord had his own crater, then the world went still. Terry almost could believe that had worked. As he let out the breath he’d been holding the big man stirred. Terry immediately jumped on him and started to punch the Lord in the temples with gradually increasing pressure. He only stopped when the Lord stopped moving once more.
“By the once blue home… I’m going to-“
Static briefly sounded in Terry’s ear. “This is the tugship Nova Scotia, I have picked up the Reave Deep Space Fighter in operation by one Terry Reaver. Terry, where the hell are you?”
“I’m going to survive this planet after all!” Terry whooped before pressing a button behind his ear. “Nova Scotia, this is Terry, am I glad to hear from you. Had some trouble with the local military and ended up in a nearby town. Can I get a pick up?”
“Terry, nearby to your wreck is a bit of a stretch. I need landmarks please.”
“A town split by a river, one side is developed while the other is quite rustic.” Terry loved the way that word sounded.
“Copy that, Terry. I’ll be there in a half an hour, galactic standard, with your ship. Meet me at the down stream side of town for pick up. Do I have to worry about military intervention?”
Terry thought about it, looking from the Lord to the soldiers who had stood up and watched their leader get pounded into the pavement. “I… don’t think so? Maybe just be prepared. I’ll meet you there.” Half an hour in galactic standard was a fairly big time frame, actually. Earth’s daily cycle was only just over eight and a half hours long in galactic standard time. With a shake of his head Terry decided to head back to the inn he had eaten at. he wanted to offer the bartender his thanks for the man’s hospitality.
“And from there, I ended up convincing the bartender to come with me to Earth. Thus, you now know how I met this wonderful gentleman I travel with.”
“That doesn’t explain how you both got landed here though.”
“Oh! Well my new friend, that is a different story now, isn’t it? I’ll happily tell you in a bit, once we deal with the guard and break free from this cell.”