Breaking interstellar co.., p.8
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       Breaking Interstellar: Cosmic Lives Matter, p.8

           Michael Tobin
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  Chapter Seven: A harsh world

  Higher ground offers advantage to the hunted young humans, but not much. The sun grows hot; baking Titania Alpha, and most of its inhabitants. Mother toothy, sniffs the ground for her quarry, as steamy air-currents fail to bring home the bacon. Everything is quiet; except for the two small monsters, who should be paying attention. It’s difficult to concentrate, with juveniles snapping and growling at each other. Back and forth they squabble, totally unaware of mom’s thinning patience. Frustration reaches a fevered-pitch. Turning, she sets them straight yet again with a ferocious roar, shattering the nearby jungle with angry protest. Silence rules once again, as the diminutive monsters become as quiet as mice. Shrinking from their enraged mother, they grumblingly shake yet another salvo of saliva off their leathery heads. The tempest was always bad! Mom should offer a towel with her displeasures! They quickly fall back, following mom up the slope. All the while, sniffing the air, and grumbling at each other under their breaths.

  “Bryce, this is Gavin; do you copy?” The pilot calls, as he and Tara lift from the habitat enclosure. Turning to Tara, Gavin makes an educated guess. “I would bet a kilo of gold that one of the kids is none other than Nolan.” The boy can’t escape his growing reputation of being a troublemaker, the android thinks.

  “Gavin I copy; go ahead.” Bryce responds, as his heavy android frame crashes through the thick jungle foliage. He and Carla have taken the point, creating a path for Kimora and Jace. It’s slow going, but still a much more careless traverse through the jungle than any of them would normally consider. With so much on the line, speed is of an essence. Another terrifying roar up ahead sends chills through the circuits of the four fast moving androids.

  “Bryce, I’ve lifted from home-base, heading for table-rock mountain. I have Tara with me. I estimate we should be there in two-minutes.” Gavin reports, as he deftly manipulates the helicopters controls in just the right way for stable flight.

  “Copy that, Gavin!” Bryce yells into his radio, still on the run. “You’ll get there before us, so good luck.” He keeps it short, as he crashes through low hanging branches and tree roots that threaten his stability. He and his companions are halfway to the granite outcropping. Noises from the angry beasts ahead, rain down from above. Around them, a cacophony of desperate screeches, flapping wings and scurrying feet, as creatures, big and small, are frightened out of their wits as the bulldozing machines crash through their neighborhoods.

  On table-rock mountain, four wide-eyed children breathe heavily from the exertion of rapid ascent, as they flee from the hungry animals that stalk. Taking in great lungsful of air, they lean against one of many boulders piled-high at the top of the bald mountain. Trying to get their bearings, they look to Nolan for strength and leadership. While not too far below, mother toothy and cubs, reacquire the scent. With tremendously unnerving vocalizations, the monsters zero-in on their fleeing hot lunch!

  Now, mother senses that her young-ones have gotten the scent. She slows, allowing them to take the lead up the hill. They focus on what promises to be a tasty meal; bickering less, and cooperating more. They have visual, but the scent is new to their primitive brains. No ancient memory tells that the scent they track is something to eat, but the smell of fear is thick. And that’s good enough for them.... because, if something smells of fear.... it’s edible!

  At close to six-tons, the juvenile monsters are well on their way to independence. Mom knows this is an important opportunity for them to hone the necessary stalking skills that’ll be crucial, if they’re to survive in such a wild place. Up ahead she sees movement, alerting her young students to push harder. The going isn’t easy; the slick granite slope is steep. More than once, each of the towering beasts has lost footing. Caution is paramount. While food is important, surviving the hunt without injury, is right up there at the top.

  The young humans, position themselves with their backs against a granite wall. Time is running out! Soon, the beasts will be upon them! Not wishing to be torn asunder and eaten, Nolan frantically looks around for a way out of the mess he created. Behind him, the rock wall ascends for 30-feet before ending in a craggy spire. Many cracks in the rock-face, tell of places where hands and fingers can find purchase. But there’s only room at the top for two!

  “Ashley.... you and Erica climb to the top of these rocks!” He takes her hand, placing it in a tiny fissure above her head and lifting her onto the rock to get her started. “There isn’t room up there for all of us, but at least you and Erica will be safe. Keith and me, we’ll find another place to hide. Go! Go!” .... Ashley climbs like a person possessed; Erica close behind. Another bellow from downslope.... After some scraped knees and elbows, the two girls are soon balanced on the narrow peak. They are safe, for now. Try as they may.... try as they might, the monsters that stalk won’t reach the girls for a bite!

  Nearby, the boys notice what might be a substantial crevasse in the rock-face. A thick pile of dead branches and other debris blocks entrance to the dark opening. Frantically, they attack the blockage. Each finds a robust stick with which to defend; or possibly supply the monsters with a tooth-pick for after the snack! Upon clearing the opening, Nolan quickly realizes that it might not be deep enough for both. The first one inside, must squeeze and force his way into the narrowing fissure, so as to leave room for the other. But, at least Keith will be safe! Another angry bellow; much closer this time. Nolan grabs his friend, pushing him into the opening.

  Juvie toothy’s, lead their mother as they arrive at the top of the mountain. The pack of hungry animals sniff the rock-face where the girls ascended. One look upward, tells mom that they are out of reach. Pushing with her snout, she directs the young-ones toward a more promising target. A hundred-feet away, two strange-looking animals are trying to escape into the rock-face. She roars maniacally, sending blood-curdling chills through all humans at the scene. The scent of fear hangs in the air like a signpost, telling of the meal up ahead. Her babies notice Nolan and Keith. Snapping at each other, they crouch low, stealthily advancing....

  Mother is satisfied with the way her offspring advance on the prey. She keeps back just enough so she could snare, if either prey tries to break away. She had never seen such strange creatures as these who swing sticks, but is confident that her babies will soon be eating a well-deserved meal. She too is hungry, but knows that these tiny animals would only be an appetizer for her immense needs. Looking back, she sees the two girls watching from their lofty perch. They yell noises down at her, oblivious of the fact that she just doesn’t care.

  “Okay Nolan, you got us into this mess, so what do we do now?” Keith asks desperately, as he pushes himself deeper into the narrowing crack. His stick pointing outward so he could poke at the creatures when they arrive.

  “Hey, I didn’t twist your arm! But now that you mention it, I’m sure glad you’re here to help!” He jokes, but his stomach churns with fear. “Now, get back as far as possible!”

  The monsters are upon them! Nolan swings, poking his stick at the monsters that snap so viciously, filling their fort with bad breath. Keith is still in the process of compressing himself deeper into the rock. Nolan jabs hard, drawing first blood! The creature screams bloody-murder! Falling back, it sneezes profusely, pawing at the painful wound on the end of its nose. Mother moves closer, angry that junior’s been struck. She’ll tear the mountain down, to get at the offender!

  Nolan pushes himself into the crevasse; squishing against his good friend that’s now safe. Just as he realizes that he might still be vulnerable, rocks begin falling from the sky. Ashley and Erica throw what they can gather from the meager arsenal that Mother Nature had left on top of the rocky-spire. “Hey you monster’s! Eat this!” Ashley screams at the top of her lungs as she throws another hefty rock. It hits its mark upside the head of one of the juvies. Shaking its head viciously, it vents frustration, not knowing from whence the attack came.

  “Get away from them!” Erica yells, throwin
g sandwiches when the supply of rocks ran dry. The food lands between the two young beasts, drawing their attention away from the main objective. Even through the cellophane wrappings, the terrible creatures can smell the food within. An easy meal that doesn’t poke you in the face, is always welcome to the little monsters.

  However, mother toothy is not fooled by such treachery. With a roar of anger, and a snapping charge, she gets to the thrown food first, claiming it for her own. Her hot anger brings renewed focus to the cubs. With grim determination, they turn back to the meal that fights back. More food from the sky, as mother chews the sandwiches, getting cellophane stuck in her massive fangs. She sneezes hard, as the never-before taste of mustard assaults her senses.

  “Keep going, Keith!” Nolan instructs, with desperation in his tone. The two boys wedge themselves deeper, away from snapping jaws. Keith pushes past uneven surfaces in the rocky walls, squeezing his body further into the depths. Now, he wonders of a new danger, as claustrophobia takes a bite into his psyche. He quickly realizes that extraction from such confines, will not occur without assistance.

  “I can’t go any further!” He yells desperately, as Nolan presses against him. Outside the fortress, the angry creatures try to reach the ever-jabbing target. They’re greatly intimidated by the long stick that Nolan pokes at their faces. Never, have they had to deal with such odd smelling creatures as these, who fight back so cunningly. The dominant juvie, moves in for the kill, receiving yet another painful wound in the gum-line.

  The young beast screeches with pain, backing off several feet. With its gum lacerated severely, it loses interest in such foolishness. Sensing weakness, the other snaps viciously at its wounded sibling, drawing more blood than the stick ever did. Mother toothy moves in, separating them before they take to eating each other. Cannibalism is always on the table, but not preferable. She also loses interest in these strange creatures, who fight so effectively. Looking into the crevasse, she vents one last bit of rage. Stretching her ample neck, she gets a toothy-grip on Nolan’s stick, yanking hard. The boy releases the weapon, preventing mom from pulling him onto the dinner plate. Luckily, he’s now out of range of the snapping jaws, but not the tempest of goo, that comes with mothers last great bellow! Ears ring, as the monsters turn to leave.

  From above, taunts and small rocks, continue falling. The monstrous trio, becomes frustrated at their lack of success. To make matters worse, the thick, humid air, begins to vibrate in her ears. Powerful thumping’s arrives at the scene, getting mothers undivided attention. She raises her head, sniffing. Never has she heard such strange vibrations. They beat into her very core, as the warning of danger sinks in. She turns towards the disturbance. A strange and huge dragonfly approaches from the sky! A great wind blows dirt into her eyes, making for some heavy squinting to properly analyze the threat. Meanwhile, the smaller monsters are oblivious to any threat from above. At least until blisters start forming on their rear haunches. Then, all hell breaks loose!

  Never, have the little monsters screamed so loudly! A burn from a laser might be clean, but the pain is excruciatingly horrible! Horrific thrashing and gnashing of the teeth, as mother snaps at the offender who hovers just out of reach, blasting her with wind and roar! 50-feet-above, Tara leans out the open door of the machine, firing bursts of concentrated energy. The scene below is frantic, she sees the girls, but still can’t make out if the boys are okay. Next to her primary targets, mother toothy stands tall and proud. Venting her horrific rage, she snaps and claws at the invader who remains elusive, just above her head. Without support from her massive tail, she would have toppled backwards, as she bellows at the sky.

  “Hold her still, Gavin. A few more shots will do the trick.” Tara takes aim yet again. More seething beams of energy hits home on the already well-blistered rumps of the young toothy’s. Tara had reduced power, so’s not to inflict fatal wounds. Enraged with pain, the two smaller monsters back away from the crevasse. Downhill they stumble, snapping viciously while blaming each other for their terrible woe’s.

  “Okay Tara, they’ve backed off! .... Please, get back in here and buckle-up!” Gavin yells loudly, as his machine is buffeted by strong winds. Circling around to gain better perspective of the situation, the android pilots spot the boys climbing from within the rock-face; waving.

  “There’s the boys.” Gavin calls out. Tara has already noticed.

  “Thank the stars and planets!” She exclaims loudly. Her anxiety lessens significantly. Gavin increases power, lifts gently on the collective, and ascends to 100-feet. He sees no place to land. But, hovering in place, allows Tara to unleash hell once again, if need arises. So far, it seems as if the toothy’s have had enough fun for one day.

  “Hey! .... They’re moving off!” Tara announces. Below, mother is nipping at the heels of her cubs, motivating them to continue the retreat. Nobody can bite like mom.... so they regain focus, quickly approaching the edge of the steamy jungle.

  “Yeah.... look at them high-tail it! .... Maybe you should dot the tail-end of the big one too. Just to be sure.” Gavin suggests, jokingly.

  “Maybe I should dot your tail-end.... just to be sure.” Tara retorts with a laugh, pinching Gavin on the cheek.

  “Okay, okay.... I know better than to tease a sure-shot who holds a laser rifle in her lap.” He responds, laughingly. He changes control settings and buzzes the three animals who didn’t need any more motivation. Within moments, the immediate threat to the young humans is gone. Now they just have to survive the wrath of Carla and Bryce, when they arrive on scene.

  “Hey Tara, what direction do you think Bryce and the others are coming in from?”

  “Well, let’s see....” She takes a few moments to observe the surrounding jungle. Off in the distance, she sees the only other rocky-plateau within a mile of their location. However, the direction of the plateau causes her to stiffen with shock. “Oh my circuits, Gavin!” She exclaims. “Those monsters are headed in Bryce’s direction!” She quickly reaches for the radio.

  “Bryce; do you copy?” She transmits frantically. “Bryce; do you copy? Oh, please come in!” She calls again, panic setting in.

  “Calm down and give them a chance to answer, Tara.” He tries to comfort, but realizes the seriousness involved. Normally, toothy’s are just dangerous. But, when pissed off, rampaging toothy’s are surely much worse than that.... by many magnitudes of hurt.

  “Tara.... this is Bryce; go ahead; over.” He finally answers. They’ve stopped for a breather under a dark and particularly thick canopy of jungle growth. Hot steamy air surrounds, as they all sit to cool their overworked muscles and CPU’s.

  “Bryce.... Listen good!” Tara instructs. “We’ve found the children! They’re safe on top of the mountain! But, now the toothy’s are headed your way. It looks like a mother and two cubs. They’re really pissed off and moving fast, so hunker down behind something substantial and be ready!” She offers her best advice.... “Do you copy?”

  A short delay.... then Bryce whispers into his radio. “Thanks for the warning, Tara. We have large animals moving through the jungle now. They’re moving in our direction. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Bryce, out.” A chill goes through Tara’s circuits, as she thinks of those large brutes meeting up with her friends below.

  Bryce checks the setting on his rifle, adjusting the power level to maximum. Something large moves closer, smashing everything along the way. “Okay everyone, those animals are coming this way, so stay low and hope we don’t have to fry their bacon.” He quietly warns. The group of androids hunker down beside a thick clump of vegetation. Fear increases, as the threat closes the distance. Luckily, fear within an electronic brain, doesn’t trigger biologic responses that might be noticed by the approaching beasts.

  The ground trembles! Bryce, braves a glance! Vegetation, too thick for a clear view. However, he deducts from the movement, that the calamity has a high probability of passing them by. He holds his weapon close, thankful for the terri
ble energy within. Momma toothy and her brood have calmed. The intense smashing of the jungle has reduced to whispers of sound; as the brush is pushed to the side, instead of being bulldozed. Every so often a branch or twig will snap, but things have calmed. Whimpers of self-pity make their way to the androids, as the young juvenile’s feel their painful wounds. Mom leads the way, oblivious of the new danger that lurks. Soon, she and cubs pass the nested androids, continuing the migration to better pastures.

  “I think they’re going past us.” Bryce whispers his professional opinion to the others.

  “Yeah, I think so too.” Jace, supports the claim. Anxious moments pass. Soon, it becomes apparent that they’ll be able to continue forward to the granite highland. Much relief flows through their circuits, knowing the kids are safe.

  “They’re moving away now.” Bryce announces as he thumbs down the power-level on his laser, engaging the safety before calling on the radio. “Tara, do you copy?”

  “I copy, Bryce; go ahead.”

  “Those beasties have passed. We’re okay. .... continuing to the mountain. Are you sure the kids aren’t hurt?” He asks, expectantly.

  “Yes, they all seem fine.” Tara informs, adding. “We can’t land this bird here, so I dropped them a note instructing them to stay put. We’ll keep circling until you get here.”

  “Copy that. Thanks, Tara! .... Thanks, Gavin!” He exclaims joyfully, helping Carla onto her feet. With the children safe, they head off with lighter circuits. The going is easier now. A path of broken and smashed jungle, leads straight towards the destination.

  On the mountain, Nolan and Keith brush dirt off their torn clothing after extracting themselves from the narrow fissure. They see the girls climbing down from the pinnacle of rocks, and move to help them with the final bit of descent. They all know the great trouble they’re now in. Sure, the toothy nightmare is past, but the real threat is coming up the hill. With great trepidation, they wait patiently for retribution, as the mechanical bird circles overhead. Soon, four, heated and dirty androids, make their way up the steep rocky slope that leads to the group of misbehaved youngsters.

  Overheated electro-polymer muscles, strain and complain, as they’re pushed for more exertion. Rest must wait just a little longer, as the safety of the children is always paramount. Somebody up ahead had better have a good reason for causing this emergency, all four androids think to themselves as they climb.

  Four youngsters wait with dread, as the helicopter holds its position above their heads. “Boy Nolan, you really did it now!” Ashley places blame squarely where it belongs, even though she and the rest were easily influenced by the boy’s charismatic personality.

  Erica doesn’t give Nolan a chance to respond, before she sides with her good friend. “Yeah Nolan! Jeez, we’re in big-time trouble now! Thanks a lot!” She exclaims, just as Bryce and the others break into the open, ascending toward the wayward youths. Nolan has no words.... he’s too busy trying to figure out a believable excuse for his actions.

  The adults arrive at the scene, plopping down exhaustedly next to the youngsters. “Do you kids have any idea what trouble you’ve caused us this fine day?” Bryce inquires, as he gives all four youngsters the sternest look he has in his arsenal. He could quickly see that none of them are seriously injured, and while he’s thankful for that, the situation could have ended much differently.... Gruesomely worse!

  Three of the youngsters want to point, placing blame squarely on Nolan. But they keep their fingers down, and mouths shut. With lowered heads, they avoid eye contact with the angry androids. Nolan knows he’s the one that must take the heat. He raises his head, standing defiantly with his own stern look. He’s sure his statement will get him destroyed, but a boy can only take confinement for so long! Behavioral anomalies, be damned!

  “I’m very sorry, Bryce, for getting my friends involved with such danger.” A good start, he thinks. “By taking them beyond the fence, I put our lives at risk.” Then, resisting the urge to apologize further, the boy allows defiance to rise and shine. “But we can’t stay cooped up in there, Bryce! Not when such a big world, calls for us out here!” He blurts the words that Bryce didn’t want to hear. “And, you never take us outside! .... EVER! We’re not little children any longer! We need less classroom, and more .... of this!” He exclaims, sweeping his arm across the wide-open expanse of the world beyond the fence.

  Bryce and the others are speechless. The young man stands his ground. Ashley and Erica look up with tearful eyes, realizing that the heat has been redirected. They’re in shock that Nolan fessed up, taking the bullet for them, even though it might not work so well when they get home to their own parents. But for now, their hero has stepped up, putting his cards on the table, and in a forceful manner too! An awkward moment forms .... Nolan’s bold display, runs against the android’s logic circuitry. The boy spoke volumes, with a small amount of words.

  Bryce gets a grip on his emotions, realizing that any tyrannical outburst, will only drive the boy to put up his own security fence. A fence built of rebellion and resentment, that’ll drive a wedge between the needs of the maturing young man, and desires of parents that only wish to keep him safe. After an awkward pause, Bryce stands, approaching the boy who awaits destruction. Offering a wide smile, he responds. “Okay, Nolan. I think I understand where you’re coming from” .... Bryce states calmly, trying to indicate that he actually heard the words that Nolan was speaking. “You feel that life is too restrictive inside the security fence. That I’ve been neglecting your need for adventure and growth.” He states, warmly. “Well.... if you promise to stay inside the fence until properly trained, I promise to teach you and your friends the finer points for surviving in the wilderness. And I mean we start right now.... Deal?”

  Shocked at not being destroyed in front of his friends, Nolan wipes tears that were forming. “You mean it, Bryce?” He sniffles. “No foolin?”

  “No fooling, young man.” He embraces the boy. “No fooling.... all I ask for, is patience. Because, without that, nature will surely kill you out here. That’s your first lesson, remember it well.”

  With the first lesson given, Carla and Kimora gather the girls into their arms. “You two sure gave us a fright! My goodness, but you were brave to follow Nolan out of the fence.” Kimora offers a modicum of praise, instead of a heap of scolding. The young ladies quickly regain composure, wiping the last of tears. Soon, they even have themselves fooled into believing that the adventure was worth it. Why, those horrible toothy’s would’ve been in real trouble, had the helicopter not arrived when it did!.... they think. In a world of violent unknowns, it sometimes helps to be slightly delusional, so that one can face day-to-day living, without cowering in fear.

  “You know Kimora,” Erica confides, quietly, “we were about to get primitive on those mean old toothy’s, but the helicopter scared them off.” She jokingly exaggerates. “Or perhaps, it was the lasers that got to them. We could sure use some of those.” Another joke, to ease the stress.

  “Well Erica, if you and the others are going to be schooled in survival techniques, I imagine that laser ownership is in your future.” Kimora agrees. “But don’t rush it. Those tools must be treated with great respect.... or you’ll shoot your eye out!” She finishes with a sinister laugh, leaving the girls wondering if she was serious, or not.

  Bryce checks the time, seeing the hour is getting late. They had better be heading back or risk the jungle after dark. Not an option for the lighthearted. He considered having the helicopter come back and take the children. It couldn’t land properly, but could hover close enough to allow the kids to climb aboard. However, if the time for teaching the youngsters to survive outside the enclosure has arrived, he had better not ruin it by forcing them to be safe, yet again. Nolan, just wouldn’t stand for it!

  “Well everyone, it’s time to get a move on. We definitely don’t want to get caught outside the fence after dark.” He warns, hoping that Nolan and the other kids pick up on
the second lesson for surviving on this primitive planet. There are many lurking dangers on this part of Titania Alpha. Some of the worst, only come out at night, and are insidiously more dangerous than the toothy’s. They wake up hungry, aggressive and toxic. Other concerns, are the plethora of poisonous plants that abound. But, the children are taught about those at an early age.

  The group of humans and machines, make their way toward the jungle, and home. As they descend the slope, Bryce puts his arm around Nolan’s shoulder, squeezing the boy in a fashion that communicates all is still good with their sometimes-rocky relationship. “Well my boy, are you taking any lessons away from this adventure you had today?” He asks, in a fatherly fashion.

  Nolan, being a blossoming alpha-male, answers in the only way that truly makes sense in his mind. “Oh yes, Bryce. I learned a good lesson.... next time, I need to bring a bigger stick!” He points to the weapon that’s slung over the android’s shoulder. “Like, that one!” He responds jokingly, if not inappropriately. To his surprise, Bryce offers a laugh. He’s happy to be back on the boys’ good side. Even if sarcasm rules, it’s the beginning of his becoming more mature.

  “And more sandwiches, Nolan!” Ashley interjects. “After losing some along the way, those mean old toothy’s ate the rest!” The group has a great laugh, just as the rocky slope ends, and the darkening jungle swallows them up.

  For a while, the group follows the broken trail of foliage created by the rampaging beasts. But soon, that trail must be abandoned, as the habitat is in a slightly different direction. Hoping to win some points from the maturing boy, Bryce offers Nolan his laser rifle; which is duly accepted with wide-eyes and a smile from ear to ear. “Really Bryce? .... Wow!” Is all the boy can manage to say through the shock. Bryce halts the column of travelers, directing Nolan’s attention to the weapon.

  “Okay Nolan, put your right fingertips on the data-screen.” The boy does as instructed, and Bryce enters a code. Nolan’s fingerprints are analyzed by the lasers biometric logarithms and stored in memory. His fingerprints will now activate the rifle to his commands.

  Bryce had never allowed the children to handle the lasers. But their way of life on Titania Alpha, demanded such devices. Soon, the young-ones won’t be so young any longer. They had been trained to not touch the dangerous weapons, but now the time has come to trust the eldest of the humans with such power. A milestone has finally arrived; where one dominate species, graciously moves to the side, allowing room for another species to co-dominate. Hopefully; with peace between them. After all, moving to the side, does not mean moving to the sidelines....

  “You are now linked with this rifle, Nolan.” Bryce announces words only dreamed about by the young man. “Remember, the safety is your new best friend. Live by it, or suffer the wrath of destruction.” Pointing, he explains the workings of the weapon. “Now, don’t shoot your eye out!” He finishes with some inappropriate levity, ruffling the boys hair.

  “Okay, let’s see if the device has linked to you in a meaningful way. Scroll through and find the power setting. Make sure it’s set to mid-range.”

  The boy checks, finding the setting ready. “Okay, Bryce. It’s set.”

  “Great. Now see that big tree over there?” Pointing, he indicates a target.

  “Yeah, I see it.” Nolan answers, widening his stance for better stability.

  “Okay, bring the laser up and take aim five-feet from the ground. Then squeeze off a two-second burst.” The proud android, directs.

  Nolan lifts the rifle, taking aim at the tree. With the lightest squeeze of the trigger, a brilliant-red beam of concentrated photons, slam the tree trunk with authority. Flames instantly erupt from the devastating wound. Steam and smoke, violently shoot forth. The beam tries, without success, to hypnotize the boy into keeping the trigger depressed longer than instructed. But, with strong will-power, he releases the trigger. An exhilarating feeling flows through the lads psyche! Something new! Something.... wonderful. Humans just love power at their fingertips! “Wow! That’s incredible, Bryce!” The boy exclaims, noticing looks of admiration from Ashley and Erica. They’ve never witnessed one of their own kind wield such power, and are stunned by the display of destructive force.

  “Nice aim, my boy!” Bryce congratulates, where congratulations are due. “Now, don’t forget about....” He stops short, as the young man is already engaging the safety. “Keep an eye out for danger. Those toothy’s might decide to backtrack.”

  Nolan’s mind is already there. Bryce need not remind him to be on the lookout. He’s now armed and dangerous. Everything he sees, seems like a good target. He quietly dares nature to force his hand! Walking stealthily, his eyes tactically sweep the area ahead. A subconscious sense of heightened bravado, fills his psyche. The terrible power he wields, pulls on his temptations. The urge to fire at anything that moves, is almost overwhelming for the young man. But, he knows the wrath of Bryce would be upon him quickly, if he acted the fool.

  Nolan and Bryce lead the way. Progress is much slower now, as many sturdy ferns and vines, impede forward movement. The path cut during the outbound journey helps, but darkness grows. Many creatures flee the scene, as humans and machines once again invade their territory. The world of Titania Alpha, is going to be a difficult planet to tame, due to the nature of many of its indigenous creatures. But as the human population grows and expands, many of the more dangerous animals will get the proverbial ‘elbow in the face’ from a species of animal that doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer!

  “Hey Nolan, check your compass reading.” Bryce whispers, as he notices that the boy is slowly going off-course from their intended path. One of the nice things about being an android, is that certain luxuries, such as spatial-orientation, is built into their logic software. He slows, allowing Nolan to check his compass.

  “Okay, we need to change course just a little.” Nolan announces with a whisper, heading off on a slightly different track. Bryce and the others follow the young man. He’ll make a good leader someday. Once he refines his emotions, focusing on critical details will become second nature. Bryce, beams with pride as the perimeter fence comes into view. His boy had lead them home safely. It had been a terrible situation, that ended well. A good bonding experience, that was long overdue. Once inside the fence, Bryce takes possession of the laser once again, reminding the children that there will still be consequences for their careless action.

  “Now don’t you kids think for one moment that you’re going to get away with sneaking out today.” He warns, gathering the four youngsters to his side. “Ashley, Erica, Keith, your parents already know about this little stunt you pulled today, so don’t be surprised if they react harshly when you get home. I’m sure you’ll get a nice speech, and hopefully a lot of extra chores to deal with in the coming days.” He smiles warmly, sending them on their way.

  Carla comes over, joining her partner and son. “And YOU, young man, are going to be filling in a big hole under the fence! I’m guessing that’s how you got out. Or did you find a way to hack the gate system?” She inquires, knowing that either is well within his devious capabilities.

  “No mam, I didn’t hack the gate. But, now that you mention it, that’s not a bad idea!” He jokes, receiving the look from both of his parental figures. “Um, sorry.... I’ll get a shovel and get to work.” Off he goes, glad that his days of sneaking under the fence have ended. He’s one of the adults now, and must act accordingly.... or die trying.

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