Chapter 5:


Badass (8-4D-455)

Location: Wild woods
Health: 90%
Energy reserves: 1%

Walking through the woods, Badass kept his eyes open for a potential weapon. The short time he had spent on this planet had shown him that he could perish easily if barehanded. He soon found a sturdier branch and took it for his walking stick. The surrounding forest differed from all the educational nature videos he had seen on the spaceship. There were some familiar plants and he could recall many of their names, such as oak, fir and birch – after all, he had been the best of his class in natural sciences. But the ship's education programs hadn't shown the firs growing three trunks, or oaks with glowing green leaves and acorns adorned with wicked thorns. They couldn't have, because the materials had been meant for introducing Earth nature, but Space only knew what planet this was and who had sown these seeds. Still, some plants were familiar, so humans must have visited at some point. Probably long ago, as the vegetation they had brought had thoroughly mutated.

As he got further, the trees receded and the blue, shimmering lake, with its distant dark island, flickered between them. He heard the shrill cries of angry birds in the distance and, from time to time, low and threatening croaking from the reeds. As the frogs croaked, Badass crouched low and moved as quietly as he could. It worked surprisingly well: his stomach growled more loudly than his quiet steps.

Suddenly the reeds rustled beside him and a disturbed bird took flight, squealing shrilly. It startled Badass, who raised his stick. The bird was of the same mean species that had attacked him during landing. Only now the bird started circling over the spot it had been hiding in, cawing loudly. Keeping an eye on the sky just in case, a curious Badass stepped into the reeds to see what the bird had been doing there. He found a small feathered nest with three eggs. He picked them up greedily and cracked them against the nearest rock. The yolk of the first egg ran through his fingers onto the rock, but the second and third found their way to his stomach. They tasted terrible, but the stomach was thankful. Having discovered this affordable food source, Badass started stalking through the reeds until he scared a couple more birds, found their nests and robbed them of their eggs. As his hunger was sated and the thrill of the hunt took hold, he forgot all caution. A hard hit on the head caught him completely by surprise. Badass quickly grabbed his stick and turned around. He didn't see anyone. The reeds swayed and birds cried anxiously in the sky. Something cracked on his head once again and this time Badass had the sense to look up.

The sky above was dark with angry birds, screeching with all their might, clearly not pleased with their nests being ransacked. The cry of the birds summoned their brethren from further away and one of the nests' owners dove again, beak stretched toward him. Badass swung desperately with his stick; the bird dodged at the last minute and rose up into the sky. But another attacker was already approaching and, after it, a third and a fourth. Waving his stick around, Badass retreated out of the reeds. He had clearly invoked the flock's anger and they were going to break him, just like they had broken his suit during landing. Badass ran back into the forest. The treetops hampered the birds' attacks and they withdrew noisily, high into the sky.

Badass felt his head, bloodying his fingers; the skin pulsed. These birds weren't joking around. Listening to their angry cries that showed no sign of abating, Badass decided it wasn't safe to move out of the woods.

Nothing to it: his stomach was full, he had the stick to defend himself and the path to the lake was blocked. With no other choice, he headed towards where he had seen the wall of mountains tower over the trees, where the mysterious Iron Merchant was said to roam.

Following the game trails, Badass thought about what might await him. Almost all local life-forms had been hostile to him so far. Was there any chance of encountering friendly creatures on this wild planet? And then he recalled his companions whom he had seen descending. The one whose parachute didn't open had fallen somewhere over here. They must have died, but their equipment could still be intact. A suit! He could use it to charge his implants. Badass quickened his pace and started to look for a tall tree to climb, to get a better look at the landscape. Soon a monumental five-pronged fir caught his attention, a true king of the forest, rising hundreds of metres high above the surrounding trees. At least six people would have had to hold hands to encircle this giant, and yet it was one of the smaller ones of its species.

The fir's thick branches reached quite low and seemed made for climbing. Without a moment's hesitation, Badass leaned his stick on the trunk and started climbing fast, up to the treetop. The fir was indeed magnificent: a small house could have been built at the intersection where its trunk split. Once, he was startled by a two-headed black-and-white bird, sitting on a branch and observing him closely with both pairs of eyes. Badass tore a large cone from the branch and threw it at the bird to scare it away. He had had enough of birds for one day.

Reaching the top, Badass carefully observed his surroundings. The trees formed a thick canopy below him, every single one fighting for its chance to share in the sunshine. He soon noticed a strange hole in the greenery, not very far off, surrounded by freshly broken branches. That must have been where his unfortunate shipmate fell. But even more interestingly, at the foothills of the distant mountains, a column of smoke rose into the sky. A settlement! He couldn't tell from here whether they were humans or another intelligent species, but Badass had a direction now. Still, first, the dead comrade and their equipment. Luckily the crash site was on his way. Badass climbed down, grabbed his walking stick and set off toward the hole in the trees.

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