Entry: 00-011: The Wilds Part 1 of 2 - The Huntress
The Wilds Part 1 of 2: The Huntress
Illustration by David Melvin
Story by Wedge, Co-Creator
"I'm going to piss on Twelve's weed garden when we get back to The Overwatch," said Hock.
Even though Mata was strapped to his chest she managed to twist her head around to face him displaying a predatory grin "What's wrong soldier boy, afraid of heights?"
"No, I wanted to get a closer look at the top of this tree because I was considering buying property here," Hock struggled against the twisted cords sending both of them spinning.
"You were the one in control of the steering lines, it wasn't Twelve's fault that you picked the biggest tree in sight to slam into."
"This kind of parachute isn't designed for more than one person," Hock leveled an implicating stare at Mata, "besides what kind of robot packs only one into a transport shuttle that seats eight?"
"All things considered I can think of more than a few who might enjoy trading places with you," Mata's tail swung around and tickled the bottom of Hock's chin playfully.
"So hanging upside down tangled in a freakishly tall tree covered in cuts and bruises is a turn-on now?"
"Well it does get the blood flowing..."
Cursing Hock resumed his thrashing and the two of them spun helplessly through the air strapped to one another in the remains of the ruined tandem parachute.
"All your flailing is just making it worse," said Mata.
Hock momentarily stopped straining "listen my right arm has a blade in the gauntlet but I can't feel that half of my body at the moment so if you've got any suggestions then you have my full attention."
"Well if you wanted my help all you had to do was ask." Mata produced a kunai and bent her arm backwards to cut through the straps binding them together.
"Watch where you stick that thing girly."
Mata curled her tail around one of the remaining cords that held them suspended from the tree and sliced herself free. She then rotated around to face Hock full in the face "Do you prefer to go down head first or feet first?"
A grim smirk crossed Hocks split lip "You are about to grin your way through my last nerve Mata."
"You are so touchy - and not in a good way" with a wink Mata snagged a length of dangling rope and effortlessly swung down to land on the thick branch a few yards below where Hock hung. Proceeding to loop the rope around the meaty part of the branch she tied it off and shouted up "ready?"
Mata drew a flat convex blade with a hidden hinge at the top from her thigh and flicked it open into an asymmetrical V shape. Slinging the blade with an underhanded throw the weapon arced through the air cleanly slicing the remaining parachute binding Hock sending him hurtling towards the ground like a pendulum crashing into a patch of thick bushes on the jungle floor. Mata snatched the weapon out of the air as it completed its orbit and peered down through the foliage to see that Hock already freeing himself from the tattered harness.
Mata swung effortlessly through the branches, bouncing off massive disc like fungi radiating out of the tree's broad trunk, and when she reached solid ground she found Hock fussing over his gear. She was struck by the humor of seeing the hulking seven and a half foot man covered in scrapes, plant debris, and mud fussing over smudges on his favorite plasma rifle.
"Were you able to find out anymore about what made the shuttle go down?" Hock asked sub-vocally.
"The ship experienced no external or internal damage, the power to all systems failed simultaneously," said Spirit Crusher's voice inside Hock's left inner ear.
Hock let out a frustrated grunt, "what about this planet, what should we expect?"
"This planet's fauna is rated I6, and it even has some flora at I4 level, I recommend we fortify our current position and wait for reinforcements before retrieving Ripsis," answered Spirit Crusher.
Apparently satisfied Hock engaged his link with The Overwatch. "Mata and I made it down in one piece, any word from Ripsis since the crash?"
"Negative, although in the event that he did survive the crash it is likely he is unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate" said the voice of Dust from Hock's communicator.
"Hes as tough as they come, but we need to get to him fast all the same, when can you send down another ship - this time hopefully with an armed escort?"
"I fear that is the problem, I've already dispatched another drop ship with Daxim, Alizara and Kinaso flying fighter escort, but factoring in the extra level of precautions necessary for a safe flight path through hostile territory and the relative position of The Overwatch's current orbit..."
"Dust, how long?"
"Approximately six and a half local hours."
"Understood, we will..." Hock caught movement from the corner of his eye as a finger sized flying bug landed on his neck and emitted a bright flare from its abdomen. Abruptly Hock's link to The Overwatch cut off and the Spirit Crusher powered down. Hock grabbed the creature and crushed it oozing orange goop from between his fingers. "What the hell was that?"
Sauntering over Mata examined the lifeless plasma rifle "Looks like a Zapper. Its a fly that emits a small EMP field that causes all kinds of nasty damage to electronics. You should seriously consider turning off your toys when you aren't using them."
Hock's face looked ashen "No powered weapons?" he managed listlessly.
At full height Mata stood even with Hock's navel but she wrapped a steadying arm around his waist and said "you should be able to use some electronics in short bursts, just remember to keep them off unless absolutely necessary, these things seem to be attracted to the field it generates." Hock shook his head and seemed to regain his composure. Mata continued, "and apparently they also can cause dizziness so close to your head, even one as thick as yours."
Hock ignored the jab and returned the Spirit Crusher to it's cradle on his back. "I wonder if that's what made the shuttle crash, we didn't detect any weapons fire."
Considering this for a moment Mata said, "we were flying pretty low, if we ran into a swarm of those things it probably could have taken the whole ship down."
"Does your N-Lab link still work? We need to warn the others before they join us down here."
Running her hands through her tangled hair Mata shook her head, "I lost my transmitter sometime during the fall. Maybe we could find one in the shuttle wreckage, and we need to get to Ripsis fast. I saw a thin column of smoke to the North East when I was up in the tree."
Warily scanning the jungle around him Hock retrieved a ancient looking scatter gun from his pack "this planet's home to some nasty critters, and all I've got this antique shotgun. This should be fun."
Mata's eyes shifted from a deep orange to red "We hunt," she intoned.
Gesturing to follow Mata loosened the two kukri strapped inverted across her back and sprung down a worn game trail that provided an opening in the thick ground cover. The path was inconsistent, changing angles with no discernible reason, and sometimes it disappeared altogether for several yards leaving her to pick her way through the thick brush before it reappeared. The dense jungle canopy played tricks with the light, casting wild patterns through the foliage seeming to take on a life of its own. Alien creatures hooted, brayed, and chirped all around, outlining their territory, seeking mates, and busying themselves with the demands of life. The oxygen rich air was stocked with the smells of life all around her and Mata was filled with a reckless rush. She had been cooped up on the lifeless starship too long. It was time to stretch her legs and feel the thick damp loam of earth between her toes. And to hunt.
Mata's measured gait turned into a leg sprawling sprint leaping over knotted roots and evading thorny stalks the wind in her wake left only the barest hint of her passage. She ran on like this until she lost all other thought, drunk on the joy of simply living.
A flattened patch of grass.
Deep scoring on a tree.
A formidable whiff of secretion.
Mata instincts told her that she had entered the territory of a higher food chain predator. She began to slow her pace and pick her paths more carefully. The game trail would be watched by any other hunter. A bay in the distance stopped her in her tracks. Palming the handles of her kukri she crouched and slowed her breath. An answering bay sounded from back the way she had come, closer. The triangulating bay came too far to her left to be closing in on her position... what then were they hunting?
The realization struck her as her rational mind tore through the shroud her animal instincts had caped over her brain: Hock.
She had forgot all about him in her heady plunge through the jungle and now he was likely stomping his way along the game trail in an attempt to keep up. Mata retraced her steps settling into the huntresses mindset, but this time keeping a leash on its intoxicating call. The baying was coming more frequent now, and she could follow their sound like way points to her comrade.
The unmistakable recoil of a gunpowder propelled firearm split the air.
Mata bowed her head and surged forward.
She came upon the corpse of a creature that was approximately six foot long and looked like half of its skin had been blasted into a bloody pulp. Snarls, baying, and the unrivaled stream of curses told her she reached her destination. Mata cartwheeled sideways between two closely growing trunks to find Hock thundering out of a batch of thorny brambles wielding his apparently empty weapon like a club on his pursuer. Catching the beast on the edge of one of its horns it's head snapped around and it staggered.
Mata drew her two kukri and leaped towards the disoriented beast in a single motion descending upon it and embedding her blades deep into the monster's back before it could regain its footing.
Three more animals erupted from the brush at once and converging on the source of the spilled blood where Mata stood. The beasts were bi-pedal, sporting long grasping arms that terminated in a cruel sickle claw, and a wide face with a jaw that seemed to be hinged too wide framed in a halo of horns. Their beady eyes seemed to assess Mata's threat for an instant. They circled her for a few heartbeats.
Then beast behind Mata took some unspoken queue and lashed out.
Mata turned and parried the claw with her left blade, but the creature recoiled, and there was no power behind the strike. A feint. The other two beasts darted towards her now exposed sides, but Mata chose to follow through with her counter attack on the retreating enemy. Her second blade bit deep into the meaty arm she had batted aside so easily, but she had no time to pull the weapon free before an overhand swipe forced her to duck and roll along the side of the wounded beast to place herself behind it and using him as a barrier between the other hunters.
They still had the advantage and Mata needed to even the odds. She hurled the last remaining kukri at one of the healthy creatures in a flash landing right between its eyes and splitting open the creatures head. Empty handed Mata turned and leaped, stretching her body out like a diver, she soared through a rotted hollow bole of a nearby tree. Coming out the other side she caught a green sapling and circled it before landing back on the ground. The two remaining beasts came around either side of the tree she jumped through and closed in driving Mata back.
Only one option left, no matter how much additional attention it might attract from the Zappers, Mata flipped on her double sided ballistic shielding and the familiar thrum of electricity spread through her entire body making her hairs stand on end. Sinking into her unarmed fighting stance Mata welcomed the hunters attacks.
The beasts converged on her, and her limbs snapped out with blurring speed. The snapping sound of her energized shield filled the air each time she turned the creatures attacks with her bare arms and legs. Each of her strikes had to be lightning fast and timed perfectly to engage the ballistic speed shield, otherwise her skin would be as soft as the damp ground they struggled over.
Horns and spikes caught Mata at unexpected angles, causing her to drip blood.
She pushed on.
Her right leg found an opening in one of the creatures defenses and the force of the strike enhanced by the engaged shielding turned her toes into daggers sinking into the neck of the creature and sending it spinning off to die.
Yet Mata remained locked in combat with the final creature, and she could see her kukri jutting from its arm, but the beast only seemed to be spurred on by the pain and fought with a singular determination knowing its life depended on it. It was all she could do to hold her own.
A deep boom pealed through the air and tiny steel pellets ricocheted an inch from Mata's face as her ballistic shield snapped on. The beast wavered and Mata used the opportunity to retrieve the kukri with a energized strike, taking the handle of the weapon she brought it all the way through the arm severing it entirely, and with a underhand swing she brought the blade back around to cut off the remaining hand at the wrist which even now quested towards her soft belly.
The creature collapsed in a heap and Mata stumbled over to lay on a large exposed root gasping for breath.
Hock stood ten yards behind the fallen creature the barrel of his scatter gun smoking.
"Takes so long to reload this thing - its a wonder anyone ever survived long enough to do it," Hock was covered in more wounds than before, but he had the biggest smile on his face that Mata had seen all day "still though, there is something rather satisfying about shooting it."