Hunting the Hunter

This Science Fiction short story is a lead-up to the book titled, Onyalum Wars. The book is part of the Science Fiction Onyalum Series written by NB VanYoos.

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Picture of Trilliu Hunter

Tklik was one of the best squadron leaders in his hive and even he couldn’t believe the capabilities of this fearsome species. They had already decimated half his squadron and were pursuing the rest with wild abandon. It wasn’t as if their technology was better, they simply were better pilots. That spoke volumes to a hunter like Tklik.

Ever since the rise of the hunters within the hive, battles had been easily won as the hunter’s uncanny abilities were set loose on the unsuspecting galaxy for which they fought. But here, they had met their match, and a retreat seemed prudent. However, that option currently eluded Tklik.

He kept executing random changes in direction as his pursuers followed without rest. Two had come in behind him and he could not shake them. He flew in close to one of the many moons and attempted to lose them in the moon’s atmosphere. His ship was designed for both space and atmosphere, but so were the enemy’s, and his maneuver had only slowed him down. It was now only a matter of time.

Still, he dove towards the moon’s surface covered in dense vegetation. Perhaps their aerial acrobatics were not as keen as his. He flew into the towering treetops and flew mercilessly between branch and trunk that should have made most pilots dizzy and sick, but his pursuers hounded him. He was running out of ideas.

He had one more maneuver but it was risky at his current speed. However, if he didn’t try he was done. He popped back up from beneath the canopy into the air his enemies followed in formation. He gunned all his remaining power and headed for a fresh stand of trees looking particularly dense. Shots from the pursuers burned past his ship as he suddenly pushed into a steep dive towards the stand of trees. Excellent, the enemy followed.

His timing would have to be perfect but even then he might fail. Once he was within a few thousand meters of the trees, he cut his engines and released his speed flaps to slow his descent. The two pursuers shot past him like bullets and tried to pull up from the looming trees. Tklik released his emergency chute as the trees rose up before him like deadly pikes.

His ship pitched wildly as the drag of his chute tried to bring him to an abrupt stop. He barely missed the two enemy ships exploding in the dense trees, their hulls shredded by the thick wood and intense speed with which they had entered. Tklik was pressed into his seat as the force of the stall pulled more g’s than an ordinary person could handle. Thankfully, he was a hunter.

He almost felt an emotion akin to joy as he thwarted his enemies, but the unmistakable shudder as his chute was ripped from his ship dashed that moment into the trees. He plunged tumbling into the thick stand of trees and his ship was ravaged by the vegetation. His body clung to the safety harnesses that kept him secure as his ship disintegrated around him. By now, even his hunter body was succumbing to the incredible forces that had been placed on it. Before the ship settled to its final resting place, Tklik was unconscious as instinctual self-preservation took over all bodily control.

What was left of Tklik’s ship hung several meters above the dark forest floor while the rest of the debris littered the canopy hundreds of meters above his current position. He woke to unbearable pain as his exoskeleton had been ruptured in several places. He had a first aid field kit on board, assuming it had not been ripped away with the rest of the ship. One of his lower limbs hung lifeless, a sure sign he had nerve damage. It would likely repair itself eventually, but no telling how long that would take.

Before releasing himself from his restraints, he looked around at what was left of his ship to see if anything could be salvaged. In particular, he wondered if any of the electronics might still work. He was stranded on this remote moon and might never be rescued if he couldn’t radio the hive and let them know where he was. He was equipped with a locator beacon, but its range was small and only useful if someone knew where to look for you.

His console was barely recognizable, but that didn’t necessarily mean the radio couldn’t be salvaged. He released himself and began checking his body for the damage that screamed for attention. His exoskeleton was thankfully intact, but it suffered multiple lacerations and fractures that would need attention. A cracked exoskeleton was death if it was not quickly treated. Infections were notorious for penetrating their normally impenetrable shell when it was significantly weakened.

He moved to the back of his ship and looked for the compartment which held his first aid kit. After moving some of the debris, he finally located it and pulled the pack out. His first order of business was his exoskeleton and he liberally applied the ointment everywhere he could. The medicine would penetrate all weak spots in his exoskeleton to provide a shield against infection. It would then begin to harden to provide a temporary skeleton while his repaired itself.

The pain as the ointment penetrated let him know how badly his exoskeleton had been damaged. He was lucky to be alive. Any other creature would have been crushed by the experience. He imagined his enemies could not have survived the crashes at full speed. Using the first aid pack, he began to gather what electronics he could salvage. It might take him awhile, but he was determined to get a working radio.

When he could find nothing more worth taking, he crawled through the large tear in his ship and into the dense vegetation that held him high above the ground. Normally, he could drop from this height with ease, but the damage to his exoskeleton was serious enough that he dared not press his luck. He moved slowly to the main trunk of the tree and crawled his way to the ground.

The forest floor was covered in a thick mat of decaying vegetation that reeked of death. It was nearly too thick to move through, but his powerful legs pushed into the green and red growth as he searched for a clearing where he would have sufficient light to survey his electronics. Ultimately, he would have to return to the ship to cobble together a power supply, but that wouldn’t help him if he didn’t first get the radio put together.

His ship had little in the way of survival supplies, something he rather regretted at the moment. He would make do with what he could scavenge in the forest. The atmosphere was breathable thanks to the vegetation, and it was an orbital body capable of supporting some sort of life forms. He only hoped there weren’t larger and more powerful than him.

His rear leg dragged uselessly along the ground but left a scent trail he could later follow to relocate his ship. Of course it might also provide a trail for other creatures to find him for a meal. He put those thoughts aside and continued moving through the dense vegetation.

After a while, he came out of the thick trees onto a rolling plain of high grasses and open skies. Thick clouds obscured the light from the distant sun, but it was sufficient for him to see his electronics. He pressed the grass down to make a small enclosure within which he could work and laid out his supplies in an organized manner. When it was all spread out before him, he got to work.

Several hours rolled by when he finally gave up on the radio. The control board was so badly damaged there was nothing he could do to repair it. He was stranded. Even though he had activated his emergency beacon, it would likely run out of power before anyone came searching. If he possessed such an emotion as fear he might have succumbed to his dire situation, but instead, he began thinking through how he might survive on this alien world.

Though he would not need water anytime soon, he would need food, especially protein to help heal his body. The only source that came to mind was that of his enemies. From his current position, he had no idea where they would have crashed. Likewise, he had no idea what, if any, of them had survived. Still he had to try and locate them to scavenge any parts of them that might be left.

He left his little enclave in the grasses behind and began following the tree line in a direction he believed might be where they had entered the forest. It was possible he was on the other side of the trees from where they had entered, but he didn’t let that stop him. After several kilometers, he located a black, scorched piece of metal that was clearly not native to this planet. As he surveyed the tree tops overhead, he noticed some scorching in the canopy. One of the ships had come through here.

He found what almost could be mistaken for a trail and entered the forest once more. He tore through the vegetation as he searched in vain for some evidence of the remains of a ship. All he found were small pieces of scorched debris, evidence of a fiery end to his enemy. Even if he found larger parts of the ship, it seemed unlikely anything of his enemy would remain. He was about to turn back and return to the plains when he came upon a rare opening in the canopy overhead.

The open area was about fifty meters in diameter and a large dark scorch mark indicated something hot had come down from above. He searched through the vegetation around the open area and was finally rewarded with the remains of one of the enemy’s engines, the twisted metal still glowing hot from the destruction. It would not provide sustenance.

He eyed his surroundings and finally took note of the lack of sounds. No insects, small animals, nor calls of any kind. Perhaps this was a dead world where only plants ruled. He searched on the ground, lifting up the decaying vegetation in search of any insects. Though insectoid himself, he was not immune from feasting on those more inferior to him. He dug and dug, but nothing. He looked up once more and eyed the towering canopy. It was possible that any life that existed might only live in the tree tops.

He wasn’t sure he had the strength for such a climb but was beginning to believe it might be his only option. He rested a bit longer when he heard the rustling of leaves as something moved in the forest around him. He focused his sensory organs to zero in on where the sound came from. He quickly adapted a camouflage that helped him blend in with the surrounding vegetation and lowered to the ground.

He pinpointed the location of the sound and realized it came from the trail he’d cut through the forest. Something was tracking his scent. He waited what seemed like hours before he spotted movement in the waning light. Fortunately, his eyes were adapted to see infrared when visible light faded, and the bright orange-red of a warm blooded creature appeared at the edge of the clearing. It moved slowly and cautiously.

As a trained hunter, Tklik would wait until the prey moved closer. To all appearances, he was nothing more than part of the scenery even if his scent was strong. Even his infrared signature would register as background as his body cooled itself in anticipation of the kill. He coiled his muscles as he prepared for the attack. The small creature was cautious, but didn’t seem to see him lying in wait. It entered the clearing and stood up on hind legs as it sniffed the air for the scent it had been following.

It finally turned towards Tklik and surveyed the area searching for that which was giving off so much scent. Convinced nothing was there, it moved slowly towards his position. He was like a rock as the orange-red object moved closer. Tklik surveyed the creature and decided it was unarmed. It possessed neither crafted nor natural objects that could put up any significant defense. He was ready.

The creature would move several steps before stopping. Then it would sniff the air again before moving once more. It moved in this cautious way as it made its way across the clearing to his position. When it was within ten meters, Tklik felt confident even his injured body would be capable of catching it. He waited while it sniffed the air once more. It began to move forward when Tklik made his move. The speed as he released his coiled muscles was blinding, and the creature didn’t even have time to react before it was dead.

He released the creature from his mandibles and surveyed it on the ground before him. He used his sensory organs to smell the creature and feel its texture. It had fur or light feathers to protect it from the elements. Its body was small, maybe a meter in length, but it was strong and would provide sufficient protein for his needs. Normally within the hive, hunters ate the pre-digested food that everyone in the hive ate, but hunters were a special breed adapted to survive on long hunts away from the hive. He was capable of eating raw food and digesting it within his stomach. However, he had never cared for such tough food and regurgitated digestive enzymes on the creature to soften it up.

He waited while the enzymes did their magic and tried to determine if this creature was only an animal or whether it had any form of intelligence. It was completely naked, though so was he so not really a strong indicator. He searched for any device that it might have been carrying, but found nothing. It wouldn’t have mattered to him anyway, but it was always nice to know what you were up against should he meet more of the same species. He concluded it was an animal and nothing more.

After his meal, he felt stronger and began thinking about his situation. Unlike others within the hive, hunters were self-sufficient and didn’t need the company of others. In some ways, living alone on this forest world was nearly exciting. It stirred ancient instincts, a chance to prove what kind of hunter he really was. He would survive on this world maybe even thrive.

He set out into the forest. If there was one creature, there was a food chain, though it seemed odd insects were not part of it. He forged through kilometers of forest before the darkness even tested his eyes. He used his infrared vision to eye the canopy overhead and spotted glowing spots that indicated something warm. Could be plant, but could be animal. He chose a large tree and shimmied up the side. After he was thirty meters up, he found a large branch and rested.

All around him, orange-red bodies glowed against the dark background and the forest came alive with sounds. He didn’t recognize the sounds, but some that filtered through sounded like insects. This was his new home and he slept with the knowledge there was food. The noises from below woke Tklik as it clashed with the now silent tree top canopy. It sounded like a large creature or maybe many creatures moving through the undergrowth beneath his tree.

He camouflaged himself and eyed downward from his perch. The vegetation was too thick to spot anything, and the visible light was drowning out his infrared abilities. He was blind. He dared not move as he heard something begin climbing the tree from below. He grew tense as he realized something was hunting him. He made no move until he could see what sought him, but his body tensed in preparation for fight or flight.

Finally, as the sounds of climbing grew nearer, he spotted his hunter. It was the same type of creature that he had eaten the day before, but this one wore rudimentary clothing and had crude weapons. It was easily twice the size of the one yesterday and possessed formidable muscles and likely strength. He lay still as it stopped to sniff the air, presumably it had been following his scent. Its eyes looked in his direction, but his camouflage seemed to confuse the creature. Its eyes saw nothing, but its nose knew he was there. He’d killed one of their own and they were out for revenge.

It was furry like the other one but was furless in the face. It had large eyes and very large, sharp claws that it used to easily climb the tree. Its color was white with brown spots and it was easily visible against the brown and green backdrop. That meant it was a predator that didn’t need to hide. It had a large tail that appeared prehensile, and Tklik didn’t remember a large tail on the one from yesterday. That meant he had consumed a child of this species. Its tribe would be out for blood.

It turned its head to look down and made sounds to those waiting below. Sounds drifted up from the hunting party, and Tklik thought quickly about what to do. If the creature continued its climb, he would have to kill it before it spotted him. The others below still wouldn’t know what they were hunting and would likely be more cautious after one of them was killed. He tensed as the creature moved closer but still too far for Tklik to attack. He waited patiently, but the creature seemed to begin seeing his outline against the branch as it screamed down unintelligible sounds to those below.

He had to move now if he was to kill this creature. He was about to spring when the creature swung a rudimentary bow around from its back and notched an arrow aimed at him. He couldn’t attack and moved quickly out of the way. The arrow just missed and struck the trunk as the creature screamed to the others below. Sounds of climbing from multiple trees spurred Tkilk into action and he moved through the canopy with deft and agility. These things would not stop until he was dead.

As branches began to thin, he made an enormous leap to the neighboring tree barely catching a branch that would support him. He scrambled into the new tree to the cacophony of the creatures bearing down on him. He increased his altitude and speed and nearly fell several times as he moved too quickly in his weakened state. He was a hundred meters up and seemed to be putting distance between him and the hunters. At least in the canopy his scent would be harder to find especially as he moved from one tree to another.

The sounds of his pursuers were growing distant and Tkilk decided to use that opportunity to move back to the ground. It would be easier to track him, but he could make better time on solid footing. If ever there was a test of a hunter, this was it. He nearly crashed to the forest floor in his haste and his body protested the strain he put on it, especially the damaged parts of his exoskeleton. In the light gravity, his speed and power were stronger than anything this world had shown so far, but he was still vulnerable if there were hundreds of them.

He hit the ground running and didn’t stop for at least an hour. When he finally cleared the forest and entered the grassy plains, he felt relief. The sounds of the pursuers had stopped, but he knew they would find his trail again and continue the hunt. He set out across the plains and hoped something larger didn’t hunt these grounds. Only once he heard a sound like something large moving through the grass, but it appeared he had startled it and it moved quickly away from him. He thought about pursuing it as he was in need of food, but decided to continue putting distance between himself and his hunters.

Ironic that the hunter was the one being hunted, but it was not uncommon. As part of the Trilliu, they had been hunted for centuries as a food source for other animals. But time and a generous Creator had evolved the Trilliu into the hunters they now were. In his soul he felt confident they would win this battle against the Acriend and eventually all other species sent to destroy them. They would win the ultimate contest for their god and reap the benefits for themselves.

He was tired and hungry when he finally stopped at the edge of another forest. He edged in a few hundred meters and found a tree to hide in. He climbed into the canopy once more and hopped over a few trees to make his scent harder to locate. He would know they were here long before they knew where he was. He needed food and was happy to see the light fading into darkness. The shorter days were to his advantage as he imagined the locals likely preferred daylight.

He searched his tree high and low for any creatures and located two small animals that barely satisfied his needs. He now longed for the larger creature on the plains that he had let escape, and he knew he wouldn’t last long without more sustenance. His exoskeleton ached and he wished for painkillers to help ease his suffering. Still, a part of him relished the situation. He felt alive and invigorated despite his pain and hunger, and his instincts came alive as he evaded his enemies once more.

He rested but didn’t sleep as the night wore on. He was roused from his light slumber by sounds below. He heard the creatures talking back and forth and saw occasional glimmers of orange-red body heat through breaks in the vegetation. They had found where he had entered the forest and were discussing how best to locate him.

He tensed in preparation, waiting to reveal his position until he had to. From their sounds, they were spread out below him, small groups taking positions at the base of many of the trees. He couldn’t tell what they were doing, but none had started climbing yet. Their voices spoke animatedly throughout the forest and were louder than the cacophony of insect or animal sounds already present.

Tklik was startled by the explosion several trees away that lit the forest canopy. He couldn’t believe they had explosives. Another sounded off to his right and then another even closer to his tree. He was ready to spring into action when the sound of a propelled device came up from below. The explosion was large and blinded him momentarily.

When his vision cleared, everything around him, including himself, glowed a pale green color. They were using a phosphorous substance to light the forest and him so they could track him. He sprang into action and the creatures below screamed as they heard his movement. Once again he moved like lightning through the tree tops, not caring as he crashed from one tree to the next.

He knew in the darkness he was lit like a beacon and they followed his trail on both the ground and in the tree tops. His natural ability to hide had been taken away and he fled for his life. He realized he had to get back to the ground as he felt he could move faster than these creatures on foot. He crashed down the tree and landed hard, his exoskeleton protesting with sharp pains that took his breath away. But he moved on through the undergrowth, slashing his way further away from the death that waited.

He had no plan other than to flee and his mind grew focused as his instincts took over. He was making good time, but he could hear them pursuing, still giving chase and making good time. His body began to protest the stresses he placed on it, and he slowed as the exertions took their toll. He suddenly burst into an opening and stopped short as he spotted small dwellings made with wood and grasses. He had stumbled into their village.

It took only a moment to realize that was what they had been hoping for. He was being herded just like hunters sometimes did. He found an opening through the primitive huts and made a dash for it as villagers suddenly noticed the monster in their mitts. He ran between two huts and darted for the forest’s edge when something hit his forelimb making him stumble. He looked at the arrow sticking out of his appendage and swore as he tore it out and got up to move.

The pain was barely tolerable, but he made do as he ducked into the foliage. He felt another sting as something pierced his exoskeleton from above. This one hurt and he nearly fell once more. More and more stings pierced him as he struggled to move deeper into the trees, but something in the stings were slowing him down. Poison. They were poison tipped arrows and he was amazed they so easily pierced his protective exoskeleton. His foreign body chemistry was no match for this unusual toxin and he finally collapsed on the ground unable to move. The hunt was over.

His sensory organs still worked as he heard their voices and feet shuffle cautiously towards his lifeless form. If he could have, he would have put up one final stand, but his muscles no longer responded to any of his mental commands. He was dead, though his mind still functioned. He now understood what Trilliu prey would feel like when the hive processed them alive for storage.

The tribe of creatures surrounded him and prodded him with spears, but his body was inert. A rather tall and brutish creature walked around in front and looked him in the eyes. Though Trilliu didn’t show emotion, they knew what it was. This creature was angry as it looked down at its quarry. The creature had won and it gloated like a victor should.

It spoke loudly to the gathered crowd and they whooped and screamed in response to whatever he said. Tklik no longer cared. His life had been fulfilling, and he had advanced the cause of his hive and his Creator proudly. To die doing that was nobler than anything else. He had fulfilled his purpose and his time was now at an end. If he knew what happiness was, he would have felt it, but instead he simply felt satisfied. The last sound he heard was the crunch of his exoskeleton as the spearhead pierced his head and silenced his mind.

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