Chapter 7:


Badass (8-4D-455)

Location: Wild woods
Health: 100%
Energy reserves: 3%

Badass continued on his way, the two-headed magpie screeching its farewell. As the path led gently uphill, the surrounding landscape and vegetation was transformed. He saw more and more horsetails taller than people, and shrubs with brightly coloured leaves. The bushes were full of invitingly heavy and juicy berry clusters. Badass stopped to pick some. The poisonous juice stung his fingertips. The plants on this planet were no different from the animals: also ready to kill a space traveller at the earliest opportunity. Badass cautiously decided to try only the plants he saw some local life form eat and survive. Death by poison was no better than the frog's tongue or the wolverine's claws. The nanobots in his body would be able to neutralise poisons, to an extent, if they had been charged. If only... He abandoned the berries with regret and walked on.

More and more strange birds and giant insects appeared. Fortunately, they didn't seem dangerous, but they were pretty loud. The trilling of birds and the thrumming of bugs swallowed even the sigh of the trees in the strong wind. The ground changed also. The dirt was the same, but more and more, the ruins of some ancient civilisation peeked from beneath the grass, the moss and the sand. Unknown artefacts stuck out of bushes, the roots of trees had grown around deformed objects and collapsed buildings. Once, when climbing a rock, Badass accidentally scraped off some moss and revealed a metal plate with lettering, rendered practically unreadable by the elements.

But among old junk, he noticed newer remains that made him cautious: the bones and skulls of different creatures. A predator was active nearby. Badass didn't know whether to speed up or slow down, whether to run through the dangerous area or sneak along quietly and carefully. He stopped, hesitating and glanced around. Now he saw some light grey gossamer bundles between the horsetails. They were giant spiderwebs, and once – he didn't step closer to investigate – he spied a cocoon hanging from a horsetail, from which protruded limbs akin to those of the badgers. Badass inched forward carefully, keeping an eye on the surroundings.

Suddenly he froze – a gossamer web stretched over the path just a hand's breadth away from his nose. Badass exhaled slowly and backed away.

Some new sounds reached his ears through the buzz of insects and the tweeting of birds. They alternated between whines and barks and some human shouts, without a doubt. The voices were anxious, yelling. Badass listened, determined the direction and turned into the brush. The closer he got, the more he realised that a battle for life and death raged ahead.

Finally, as he peeked out from between horsetails and berry bushes, a desperate battlefield lay before him.

A giant fir rose in the middle of a small clearing. Small hovels of plastic and rusty sheet metal had been erected between its diverging trunks. Around ten humans in coarse, self-made clothes of plant matter, equipped with weapons made from different natural materials, were driving off an attack by some quite fearsome creatures. The beasts reminded him of a cross between a spider and a rat. They had grey fur, tall worm-like bodies, two-pronged tails, six paws, sharp snouts, a whole lot of eyes and jaws full of sharp teeth.

They swarmed in a large throng around the fir trees, trying to climb up. They shot string from glands on their heads and climbed swiftly up toward the humans, while the latter threw down rocks and javelins and tried cutting the threads with stone axes. The beasts were far from invincible. Two piles of tails and legs already lay under the trees and, as Badass watched, another joined them, its head squashed by a large rock thrown from above. That seemed too much for the creatures, for they backed off, skittering back to the forest on their many legs. They dragged along their fallen comrades. Badass guessed that those would be hung up on a horsetail in cocoons and left to age.

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