On the surface of the jungle world, the Haul start to hunt Forne.




Surficial Problems

Rarr howled from joy. The Rabit was really giving her a good chase. To even out the odds and since she had plenty of time, she had disabled the tracker signals and was following the trail only by her skills. It turned out to be a dead end. Since the thicket was undisturbed, the Rabit must have walked back in his own steps. Rarr sniffed. There were traces of a scent, maybe some vacuum sealant or one of the deodorant which Rabits loved to apply in huge volume. She walked back, her senses alert. When the jungle cleared a bit, she stopped, looking around, taking the smells in. After walking a circle around the track, she was sure the Rabit hadn't left here, so she followed the path some more. At the second place where the Rabit could have left without disturbing a leaf, she found the smell again to the left of the track. Her fangs showed. The Rabit seemed to be smart. She liked that. Quietly, she followed the new trail.

* * *

Forne had been watching for several minutes but the alertness of the guards never faltered. He took aim. 'With best regards from Pantero.'

* * *

Rarr crept closer silently. The Rabit hadn't moved for quite some time. She wondered why. 'What is he doing?' She pushed the thought out of her head and checked the wind. She deactivated her shield to make sure the sound wouldn't give her away. 'Only a few more meters ...'

* * *

In orbit, the sensor operator watched Rarr creep closer to the Rabit who was sitting behind a tree for a while, now. While she wondered what Rarr was up to, the Rabit suddenly opened fire.

* * *

Forne fired three shots at the head of the left guard, before quickly switching targets. He had heard rumors that Haul could slap you before you noticed that they even moved, so he didn't want to give them a chance to move. A tree protected him against fire from the shuttle. After killing all four Haul here, his plan was to use the resulting confusion to lure the other four into individual traps, so he could kill them one at a time. The jungle was so dense, he was sure he could hide really close without them ever knowing he was there.

Five of the six shots were on target. Forne's eyes widened in horror when they had no impact at all besides covering the creatures in some kind of intense blue glow that flared up whenever a bullet hit them. 'No!' he thought aghast. 'That can't be!'

In desperation, he was about to empty the whole clip on one of them, when he heard a sharp bark right behind him. Adrenaline shot through his spine when he noticed a Haul almost upon him. Without thinking, he whirled around and jumped with all the strength of his legs. Time stretched. His right heel smashed into the tip of the Haul's muzzle. The beast tumbled slowly backwards, its arms flailing. When Forne was right above it, his left foot came down hard, sending the creature sprawling on the forest soil. As it fell, he fired a few rounds downwards without aiming. Without stopping to see if his attack had any effect, he dashed for the safety of the vegetation once more.

* * *

The sudden attack took Rarr by surprise. Searing pain shot through her chin when the boot smashed into her muzzle. Something snapped in her head with a deafening sound. Before she could regain her balance, a second impact on her head sent her down. The pain suppressor came online just in time as she braced the fall with her paws. 'He must have broken my jaw!' she realized as sharp stabs of pain ripped at her back.

She activated the radio with her implant. «Rabit attacked me. He is running back into the forest, bearing 630.» The status messages from her suit came into her virtual view. «Need medical assistance, back wounds.» The hunt was over for her. 'Strange creatures.' She activated the first aid unit of her suit to seal her wounds.

«Tried to sneak up on him?» came an amused voice back. Another Haul from the rescue party left the shuttle. «You know you should not do that.»

«Yes,» she replied while trying to assess the damage the surprise attack had caused. As far as she could tell with the med-unit of her suit, no vital organs or major veins were hit. «Be careful. He is acting oddly. Maybe he is already insane.»

His ears flicked his agreement. «Mission control, please transfer tracker.» A red dot appeared on the virtual map in his vision. «My life for the house.»

* * *

'How did they find me?' Forne wondered while running through the jungle once more. He backtracked several times, going around the shuttle to reach the backside. Once more, he cursed the bean counters at home which had eliminated any kind of explosive from his equipment. He really wished for a mine to surprise any pursuers.

After about three quarters of the way, he hid in a little hollow below a plant with big, fleshy leaves to see if he was still being trailed. 'Shit!' he cursed when a Haul appeared a few moments later. He took aim carefully.

His opponent stopped. 'Go on! Come on, just a little bit closer!'

It was as if the Haul was smelling the trap. The beast stared at Forne as if it could see him through the foliage. «Please follow me to the shuttle,» the creature called suddenly.

'No thanks!' thought Forne and opened fire. Bark and plants around the Haul were ripped to shreds as the creature just stood there, protective shield flaring, ignoring his futile attempts.

* * *

«My life for the house. Report,» came the command from the executing office right after the body curves of the Haul jumped.

«My life for the house. The Rabit pilot was lying behind a plant. I tried to call him but for an unknown reason, he does not want to talk. Rarr did warn me the Rabit was acting strangely. Therefore, I kept a distance when I noticed he had stopped moving. He fired his weapon several times in my direction. I have no explanation as to why he did it.»

«Maybe his death wish?»

«Then why did he not shoot himself? Maybe he wants me to leave him alone but why does he not simply say so?»

The officer consulted the psychological simulation which the computer network had created for the Rabit. Unfortunately, the models for the simulation were still very simple and incomplete. Therefore, the computer could only advise to proceed with caution.

«We are almost finished with gathering the other survivors. Proceed with appropriate caution but catch this madman within one hour. We have already wasted enough time here. My life for the house.»

«Roger. My life for the house.» The Haul on the surface checked the position of the Rabit on his map and set out to intercept him once more.

* * *

A short distance from the havoc he had cause, Forne noticed a blinking indicator. 'My rescue beacon is still active!' Forne cursed himself for his stupidity. He cut the signal, unable to comprehend how he could have made such a major mistake, and backtracked again several times. It took him almost an hour to reach the backside of the Haul ship. The guards were still as alert as he had left them.

The Rabit just stayed where he was, collecting strength for the mad dash towards the ship. Since killing the guards obviously didn't work, he changed his plan to try to attach his grappling hook to the shuttle just after lift-off. Taking the ride outside maybe wouldn't be very comfortable but since the ship had no exhausts, it might be safe and his suit would prevent him from suffocation for another 80 hours.

A sudden call made him whirl around. The Haul had found him once more. With a cry of anguish, he dashed sideways, back into the jungle.

This time, the Haul was glued to his heels. Forne broke through the vegetation as fast as he could. Sap ran down his space suit in wide streams. A root felled him. He pushed himself up with shaking arms. His hearts felt like they were going to explode. His legs felt as if filled with lead. The whole universe didn't seem to contain enough air to fill his burning lungs. He longed to rip his space suit away but the sticky air outside would be even worse. And a tiny bit of reason at the back of his head didn't grow tired to repeat that he'd need the suit if he ever wanted to leave the planet.

Behind him, the beast howled. The animal sound sent a chill down his spine, drove him forward. He broke through a kind of fern when suddenly, the ground fell away. He followed suit. With a muffled cry, he crashed into a shallow river. Pain shot through his lower left knee despite the padding of his suit. He had barely the strength left to pull himself out of the sticky mud and turn on his back. Mud slowly dripped off the repellent surface of his visor.

In the gap of the vegetation, a Haul appeared. Even through the dark helmet, Forne could see the bared fangs.

* * *

Since the Haul didn't know enough of the Rabit language, he used his implant to translate the words. «Hello!» he called down to the fallen Rabit. «Are you quite done?»

* * *

The Haul dropped out of sight when Forne opened fire with a scream of hatred on his lips.

* * *

The executing officer of the pickup operation was not surprised when he was called from the surface: «Rabit is again firing combat rounds at me. Request permission to take him out.»

'And another one,' she thought. Just a few moments ago, he had seen a report of another Rabit pilot who had started shooting at anything that moved like a madman after they had towed a burning fighter into the central hangar. The crew had instantly dealt with the threat and there had been no damages or injuries. It was is if the Rabit didn't want to be rescued. 'I wonder why the universe did create such stupid creatures!'

She opened a connection. «Understood. Permission granted to take him out.»

«Roger,» came the reply.

* * *

With shaking paws, Forne aimed at the edge of the river bank behind which the Haul had taken cover. There was no sound and he couldn't say if any of his desperate shots had hit or if the had had any effect. Just to make sure the Haul would keep its head down, he fired a few more rounds and slammed a new clip in his gun. Carefully, he tried to move his leg. 'Probably just a sprained lower knee. Get up, you fool. When his friends come to the party, ...'

He forced himself up against the pull of the mud. It made obscene slurping sounds before reluctantly letting him go.

Something small came over edge. Forne realized with a strange clarity he would never make it up the riverbanks in time. He lunged at it to throw it back but his injured knee failed him. Just out of reach, the grenade fell in the mud with a plop. He scrambled after it, fighting with the sludge, reached out.

It blew up. Light blinded him. Forne felt a shock as if every cell of his body was hit by lightning at once. 'Not my ...' His last thought was drowned in darkness.


The title of the scene is an obvious play on words: Superficial and surface.


Table of Contents Last Changes Characters Places Items Wiki

Other languages: Deutsch