Solis Delacey and a landing party from the Kyann ship, the Kr’tl’tk are on shore leave on a forested planet called Urwald. Delacey has no trouble with the Guiranam engineers, but mistrusts her fellow humans, particularly a young man named Hathan whose advances she has found unsettling.

The Guiranam returned after dark. They were happier than Solis had ever seen them and they were boisterous and chattering about their day spent in the branches. Their cheerfulness was infectious and Solis felt happier than she had in a long time. The Kyann were more reserved but Solis could tell that they were pleased for their colleagues. When the Kyann smiled the sight was fearsome, but Solis was not intimidated, not since she learned that the Kyann no longer tore each other’s throats out to settle disputes.

The pre-fab’s stasis units were mostly depleted but there was more than enough left to feed their little group for longer than they planned to stay. An evening meal was soon prepared and the Guiranam and Kyann and Solis shared a table. Carstairs and Hathan ate at a separate table, huddled together in conversation.

The Kyann had a bottle of Rasha and Solis was given a glass and told to drink. It was a cloudy liquid with small white flecks floating among the murky depths. Solis took a hesitant sip. The stuff burned in her mouth and she swallowed instinctively and it burned the rest of the way down. She coughed violently and the Kyann and the Guiranam laughed uproariously.

They continued in good companionship for a short while longer. Solis nursed her Rasha but the Kyann and the Guiranam seemed to have no limit to the amount they could put away.

Urwald’s sun sank below the horizon and the Guiranam, tired from the day’s activities turned in one by one. Solis did not notice when Carstairs and Hathan had turned in but they were nowhere to be seen. The Kyann repaired to the communication alcove to report back to the Kr’tk’tk.

Solis wandered outside to enjoy the waning sunlight. The jungle seemed dark and cold in the darkness and it made her shiver. She hugged herself as she stared into the black mass of the dense greenery. The Guiranam had said that she sould join them when they went out again the next day. Solis would not be able to climb but she thought perhaps a hike through the trees might be pleasant. Looking at it now she was not so sure.

She re-entered the pre-fab. She was heading towards the stairs when saw the Kyann both hunched over the communication array, looks of intense consternation on their faces. Solis wandered over. They were intent on a communication. One of them increased the volume to the array’s speaker. The communication was coming through but it was garbled.

Solis felt a trickle of fear. She had spent enough time with the Kyann to recognize certain facial expressions and the expressions that these to wore now worried her.

The speaker gave forth a burst of static. She heard a voice shouting in Kyann — something about an approaching vessel. There was another squawk of static. Then a voice was demanding the intruder to identify itself. Another burst of static. Then shouted voices — a confusion of shouts and hurried commands.

Then silence.

The Kyann looked up, each regarding the other with shocked expressions. Solis felt fear like hot needles crawling in her stomach and over her scalp. “What’s happening?” she asked. Her voice sounded small in the sudden silence.

The two Kyann regarded her with haunted expressions. Before they could say anything there was a bright flash followed by a crack like thunder. The ground shook and Solis grabbed the back of a chair to steady herself.

The Kyann jumped up and ran to one of the pre-fab’s big windows. There was a flame in the distance. A patch of the grassland and part of the jungle was burning.

Solis saw shapes moving around the flames. Then came the unmistakable sound of weapons fire.

Suddenly the entire structure was awake. The Guiranam came racing down from the upper floors confused and shouting. The Kyann were shouting about weapons. “They’re in the shuttle!” the co-pilot shouted in Kyann. Without warning the Kyann raced out of the pre-fab.

Solis heard a staccato blast of weapons fire and saw the Kyann pilot fall into the long grass. In the stuttering light she could see dark figures in combat armor coming towards them.

The Guiranman were suddenly moving, fleeing the pre-fab. Solis found herself running with them. Weapons fire was deafening around her head as she ran out of the pre-fab and headed towards the dark jungle along with the rest of the screaming and hollering Guiranam.

She ran headlong and soon the dark jungle closed around her. The Guiranam took to the trees and soon she was on her own, a lone Terran on the ground running for her life and as frightened as she had ever been in her life.

As frightened as she had been of the dark jungle now it was her only sanctuary and she pushed as fast as she could, ignoring the branches and creepers and vines that whipped at her face, neck and shoulders and tried to keep her feet as the dense undergrowth threatened to trip her up again and again.

The sound of the weapons fire began to recede behind her but she could still see the occasional flash through the dense trees. She tried to calm her racing thoughts. What had happened? Had someone attacked the Kr’tk’tk? Had the ship been destroyed? But why? Why would anyone want to attack a Kyann ship? They weren’t on a military standing, it was just a routine Commonwealth mission? Why would someone attack them? And why would someone want to kill a group of engineers and one frightened cadet on the ground?

A root or a low branch caught her in the shin. Pain flared up her leg and she cried out as she went down. She held her hands out to break her fall, but it never came.

She felt hands grabbing her from behind and suddenly her stomach lurched as she felt herself being drawn upwards into the trees.

…to be continued…


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