Well, I'm back from my trip to Europe - a fine trip if I do say so and now I'm back at work writing. I have the first sample chapter up here on the blog. If you want more than one sample chapter, join the mailing list! This is chapter one, by the way.
Our intrepid hero finds himself lost and stranded out in the desert.
Dawn's light limned mountains in rust orange and red hues. All around I was engulfed in seas of blood sand and regolith. Dark reddish variegated landscape of desert stretched out into infinity at every point around me, and me, a singular point, a speck of flesh and blood in a bloody looking land. I didn't see any sign of the harbeasts even though I'd just heard them a few minutes ago. I did have my guns with me and that was some small comfort.
But guns did nothing to relieve thirst and my fear of dying from lack of water out here before I could reach a station started to weigh on my mind.
My helmet's compass skewed and buzzed for a few seconds and then restarted its systems. I waited in anxious patience, listening out for the fearful roaring of those engineered big cats again. Finally, after righting itself I could read it properly. I needed to head north.
The overlay map in my helmet was still showing signs of slight malfunction with corrupted characters and images that would skew and fade out. I banged my helmet, as that was the only thing I could think of to deal with the issue out in the open hostile Martian air. Also I did so out of nervous frustration. It stopped misbehaving and malfunctioning, for the time being. It also indicated that the nearest way-station, or any sort of civilization for that matter was about seven days away, traveling on foot. I had no idea if I would be able to hold out that long without food and water. I'd had several moisture pills, along with a small meal pellet last night, which could help stave off the dangerous symptoms of dehydration and starvation as they also contained minerals and other minute elements of protein to keep death at bay, for a time. But moisture pills were no miracle nor a match for too many days in the Martian desert without more nutrition and at some point I knew that if I didn't keep a steady pace or find someone willing to help me before then, I would be in dire trouble.
Ahead in the distance directly in front of me I saw what seemed a small group of rocky foothills. I'd heard before that there were often criminal and political asylum hideouts hidden in these kinds of places. That was just as deadly as being stranded in the desert alone. Hideouts were usually the domain of dangerous folk. Perhaps enemies of the human race. But I couldn't afford to dwell on such thoughts now so I quickened my pace toward the hills. I had to make short, reachable goals and I'd decided that this was my first one. Just make it to the hills, man.
During my hike I kept looking back and checking my helmet. The helmet's view-screen processes were not working at optimal capacity and were putting most of its energy toward the breathing and air filtration processes, so I couldn't detect any living creatures through the sand. Strangely enough, I caught sight of a few bleached skeletons of unknown creatures and one from what looked like it may have been a Glia. It was startling to come upon. It's thin bone vertebrae protrusions in its back where the wings would have been formerly seemed to crumble into the air as I bypassed it.
The work of harbeasts, was my guess. Harbeasts, from my previous encounter with one seemed to blend in, in parts, with the surrounding environment. Very well engineered, if I had to say so. If they were there, and I knew they were, I couldn't detect them. The sneaky bastards were keeping their distance. Sure enough, as if to let me know that they were indeed present, I heard an aggressive roar from far off behind me. Far enough that I had time to get my weapons ready but close enough that I would never out run them to the hills if they decided to run me down.
They seemed intent on waiting, for some unknown reason. And I was hell bent on getting to what I saw as at least some scant protection in the foothills. Making my way for hours, striding through the sand I felt myself growing tired. I slowed down slightly and paced myself to conserve energy. Suddenly, I felt another presence approaching.. I whipped around, breathing hard, to see the form of one of the creatures striding casually after me. I would never out run it. It came to a halt as I did, turning around with my rifle in my hands, ready to fire. Was it toying with me? It's huge maw was open, baring obscenely long fangs, its red tongue lolling in and out of its mouth. There had to be another one around. I wondered if this was some ploy by the creatures to distract me with one at the front while another came at me from the rear. I whipped around in fear at the fleeting thought and then turned to see both creatures leaping toward me. The first one was almost upon me when I raised my rifle, aimed and fired. The harbeast, with lightening speed had swerved and flipped over in an arc, barely and gracefully missing my killing shot. It now stood boldly some yards away and stared me down. I aimed and fired a second shot. Only to find that the creature was now just out of shooting range. The other one it seemed had disappeared from my view like a phantom. Perhaps it was only a matter of minutes when I would feel its claws tearing into my suit, ripping into my skin underneath and ending it all. The beast strode proudly to the side, as if taunting me, all the while emitting a deep, menacing growl. Fiery nerve sparks of fear and excitement shot up and down my spine. Where was the other one?
We stood at length for what seemed an eternity, weighing each others circumstances, studying each other until to my left at the corner of my eye, against the hazy backdrop of the Tholis Elysium mountain range I finally caught the swift movement of the other beast stalking me but it was too far off to shoot down. The other one now sat on its haunches with its large, ringed tail curled around it like a cat in repose, the tail whipping out every few seconds, beating the sand in front of it. The beast had a tough hide that looked a mixture of lichenified rhinoceros armor and shaggy tufts of thick fur around its limbs and joints. It looked something like a cross between an African lion and a sabre-toothed tiger. Or a liger with huge protruding fangs and a hard tough exterior skin. A strange sight indeed and terrifying.
I moved backward my only safety and oasis, the hills. The harbeast in front of me didn't move as I expected it to, but merely watched me with its keen, fiery orange eyes in probable amusement, like a cat would watch a mouse who thinks itself escaping cruel death.
Except this mouse had two guns at his disposal. I watched for any signs from my helmet for the other creature farther out but it was not my main concern right now. Remembering an old story I'd read when I was young about a man who had gone through a portal and suddenly found himself on Mars and found through his own body mass on Earth that he could leap high into the air on Mars. In excitement at this sudden thought I turned in a flight of adrenaline rush and ran toward the hills, jumping and leaping up high in the air, buoyed by the thin atmosphere. While I didn't leap nearly as high as I would have liked to it was sufficient enough for me to get a far enough lead on my enemies. Behind me as I looked back I saw the creature now standing and waiting and I wondered why and then suddenly it roared bounded forward in great leaps. I made it to the foot of the hill rocks and aimed and fired again, a blaze of laser fire exploding that it early sent me reeling back but I held steady. This action only served the frustrate me as the creature seemed to know, preternaturally, when I would fire and where the aim might hit and it dashed off to the left and rolled backwards, just beyond the reach of my atomic rifle's range. I fired again quickly and could tell by the sound that the rifle was running down on low laser power. The energy from the laser fire exploded in a small boulder next to the harbeast, shearing off and exploding shards of rock out into the air. Dust settled down in fine, thin strands. Ragged from exertion, coughing and feeling a deep thirst for water rising, I slung my rifle upon my back and scrambled up the rocks. The rifle grew warm and I felt it vibrate through my back. I swung it around and looked down at its energy counter only to see that it had nearly run out of energy and needed charging up should I need to use it again. And I would need to use it again.
I saw the first beast circle round the base of the rock and then slip across eastward around the foothills. The second one, which to my eye now that I had climbed up high enough out of reach, was larger than the first with a grand mane around its head and I surmised it was the mate of the other. With growing fear and horror I saw the two then climb up the rocks, nearly nimble as mountain goats on the other side of the hill from me. I watched closely, not taking my eyes from them as they slipped into a small crevice. With my binoculars I could see movement of a small creature near the other two harbeasts. It was a cub. In fact, as I watched I saw that there were several cubs. This was a family of harbeasts and the parents were hunting for food for their young. I turned and climbed, stumbling along as fast as I could in the opposite direction. As I made my way up, scrabbling and struggling, I could feel the presence of something coming at me again. One of the beasts, the female I assumed was bounding after me after having checked on her young cubs. Nothing like a protective mother on the attack! Unfortunately, I found myself now an invader in their territory. If I hadn't known better I'd think I'd landed in an episode of Cosmic Geographic. But I had no intentions of being anyone's dinner.
She landed several yards away from me on a small, rocky plateau. She growled low and powerful, her teeth and terrible looking fangs bared. Saliva dripped from her mouth. Her eyes were orange slits now as she gathered her haunches ready to pounce and tear me apart. I could see the powerful muscles in her forelegs rippling through the skin armor and fur. I grabbed my rifle and looked around desperately for a hiding place. I had only a few more shots before the rifle would be rendered useless.
This time the rifle did not seem to give her pause at all. I leaped up onto a higher plateau, turned and fired. I hit a bolder at the edge of the plateau. Part of it cracked and slid off. The harbeast had nearly cleared the bolder but its hind leg caught on it and it slipped and fell along with the boulder. Even as she fell she twisted with the lethal grace of a cat in mid-air. I watched in fascination as she fell back toward the lower plateau. Again, she leaped in for the kill and had swiped her paw, her cruel claws extending out and barely missing the barrel of the rifle. While I'd pressed the trigger to kill the loss of energy caused the reaction time of the weapon to slow down considerably and what would have killed her had missed. However, the last, singing blast of the rifle threw me back and had blown another large piece from the boulder. I forced myself up and climbed farther, half leaping, half climbing until I reached a small cave. Thankfully, its opening was so small that only one person at a time could get through. I sat down with my guns in front of me. The atomic rifle was completely spent of energy and without an extra power supply it was only useful now as a stick or a makeshift bat as a weapon. But I still had my dragon left which I would need to use judiciously. I peered up at the orange sky and the shimmering white sun now low on the horizon, getting ready to set. I heard the bone chilling, full-throated roar of the female harbeast outside the cave and the answer from her mate farther away. And I wondered what to do next.