The thing that held her in its grasp was moving at a faster clip, which meant they were either getting closer to their destination, or something had spooked it. Wherever it was taking her, she shuddered to think what it would do to her once it got there.

            Jelia held onto her weapon with every ounce of strength she could muster. It was her last and only hope at getting away from these things.

            At some point another tentacle grabbed her left ankle. It jerked her off her feet, until she was being dragged along on her back. Fortunately her suit and helmet were taking the brunt of the abuse. If there was an upside to being towed in this manner, it was that the creature was now clearing the way for her, reducing the amount of abuse she was having to take.

            She worried about her men. She hoped she would find them wherever this thing was taking her. It was the main reason why she didn’t fight to get herself free of its clutches. Even if she managed to get away from it, where would she go? It made more sense to bide her time and hope her hunch paid off. She had no way of knowing if her men would be where she’d end up, but she had to take that chance.

            She was unprepared for the creature suddenly stopping and releasing her. They were still in the middle of the field. The tall, willowy stalks nudged both sides of her body. Jelia started to get to her feet when she heard it. A low purr, like the sound of an engine, coming from overhead, above the plants.

            The creature rose up, lifting its head above the vegetation, and screeched at the approaching noise. Its raucous voice grated through the helmet’s sensors, shredding her already frazzled nerves. For the first time, she was able to glimpse what the thing looked like from the front. The long, thin head topped an equally prehensile neck, making it appear as if the thing was nothing more than a series of tentacles attached to a central body. A row of eyes ran the length of its face, the mouth a mere slit in the underside of its chin.

            The purring seemed to pause nearby. The sound of it being overhead led her to believe it may be hovering. The creature screamed again. Lifting two of its arms, it tried to reach out to the object when some kind of weapon swung around, slicing through one of the tentacles. Jelia gasped as the severed part landed next to her head. Jerking away from it, she got to her feet. With the creature’s attention on whatever was above her, she ran forward, toward the undulating body, her own weapon extended. Another shriek filled the air as creature and its opponent clashed again. With its attention diverted, she aimed her pistol at the thing and fired.

            The entity let out a sound that nearly burst her eardrums. Gritting her teeth, she continued to fire into it as the creature’s body boiled under the barrage. Reddish-black blood spewed from the separated limbs. Several large drops splattered her helmet and visor, including her safety suit.

            The creature flailed its remaining arms, but every time it raised one above the stalks, another piece was hacked off. Jelia took advantage of its confusion and pain and anger to increase her attack from ground level.

            The thing finally shuddered, slumping into a semi-liquefied mass. Jelia continued to stand over it, keeping a close eye on it until she was certain it wouldn’t rise again, when the purring sound got louder, and a shadow passed overhead.


            Looking upward, she saw what appeared to be a man extending his hand toward her. He was lying face-down aboard a hovering craft, but his face was obscured by some kind of mask.

            The man spread his fingers and waved his arm. “Hurry! Before more of them arrive!”

            “I need to find my squad!”

            “Who may already be dead! If we don’t leave now, we’ll be next. One Varnarian we can manage, but two or more…” He left the rest to her imagination.

            This was not the time to argue. He knew more about these things than she did, which meant she had to trust him.

            Holstering her weapon, she stepped back a couple of meters and took a running jump toward him. His hand grabbed her by the wrist, leaving her dangling as he battled with the machine to keep from tipping over.

            “Hold on!”

            Throwing her other arm upward, she was able to snag his wrist as he lifted the vehicle until she was clear of the plants. Slowly, the man turned them around, to head back to wherever he’d come from.

            Jelia glanced downward to see the remains of the thing that had been dragging her. From this perspective, she was able to get a clear view of the Varnarian, and realized it was far larger than she’d first imagined. There was no way she could have defeated it by herself. If this man hadn’t come to her aid, she may have ended up dead within hours.

            As they skimmed over the tops of the stalks, her boots brushed against them. She tried to lift her feet, but her actions threatened to negate the delicate balance the man was struggling to maintain over the machine. She was grateful that her glove was attached to her suit. Otherwise, she could have slipped out of the man’s grasp, in spite of the firm hold he had on her.

            She caught a movement at the edge of her visor. Another one of those vehicles was coming toward them. Before it reached them, it swerved to fly parallel to them. Like the guy holding onto her, that person lay belly-down on the wide seat.

            So it’s meant to be ridden that way. Odd.

            Wind whipped past her as he dragged her along. She focused her attention on the thick wrist, more specifically on the heavily-muscled arm. It was stained with the creature’s gore. The air was quickly drying it on the dark skin, including bits of flesh clinging to it. She watched as one piece eventually broke off and was whipped away.

            The engine’s purr changed tone. The machine slowed, and she felt herself being lowered. A check over her shoulder revealed a flat landscape rising up toward them. Looking in the opposite direction, she got a better view of the field she’d been engulfed in. From a distance, it was bigger and more intimidating. There was no sign of the huge creature they’d killed.

            The vehicle came to a stop, but remained hovering. The man gave his arm a little shake to get her attention. “I’m setting you down. Watch your feet.”

            As soon as she felt the ground, she let go of his arm. He also released her, and she moved back a step as he landed the machine. At the same time, two more of those hovercrafts joined them, and parked a few meters away.

            Tugging off her helmet, Jelia started to thank the man for coming to her rescue, but his gaze was riveted on his hand. The hand which had held onto her as he brought her out of the plants. She was unable to tell why he was staring at it, but his silence was starting to worry her as the other two people hurried over to join them.

            She cleared her throat. “Thank you.” She started to say more, when he reached up and pulled off the mask covering the upper half of his face. At the same time, his dark eyes bore into hers as his expression went from shock to scowl.

            “Who are you?” he gruffly demanded. “Who are you?