The Draedean Threat

{Year- 3090}
{Place-Upper Atmosphere, Planet Loctoe}
{Habitation: The Clepsydra}

Chapter 19 - Skinny Bodies and Rocky Rocks

Taylor felt the ship around him begin to jump and shudder, jolting him from side-to-side, the atmosphere attacking the ships metal hull. Sweat beaded up along his hairline and Taylor had to fight the urge to push it back; taking his attention away from the controls of his ship for even a moment could mean his death. As the ship continued to dip and roll, Taylor fighting it all the way with Clepsydra's aid, the outside of the starcraft began to glow an angry, throbbing red and heat up to immense temperatures. The ship's shields were the only thing between Taylor and incineration.

"Open the flaps! Port and starboard both!" Taylor's voice was already raw as he called out his orders, "Open main view-screen!"
A moment later Taylor was greeted with a densely packed layer of clouds that immediately gave way to a high up view of an immense continent that stretched over half the span of the planet, lush green in some spots, ugly brown and bronze in others. A large crystalline ocean glinted harshly from the far side of the planet, half bathed in darkness, along with the continent that he was to land on, small lights winking up at him from the black night.
"There Clep?"
"Yes Taylor sir."
With a resolute sigh, he pushed his ship onward, breaking through more cloud cover closer to the ground and asking various questions as he went, his ship's onboard computer answering him as well as she could. The thrusters roared in protest as Taylor pulled back hard, causing the ship to hover reluctantly in the forest, blowing debris across the ground before The Clepsydra finally settled down, a dull boom the only sound announcing it.
"Systems check Clep, just in case. I'm gonna go have a quick look around, get a feel for this place and pick a good hidey-hole…mom always said, 'better safe then sorry.'"
"That is good, Taylor sir." Clepsydra voiced in an unsure manner.
The young man jogged back into his room and grabbed his flashy green weapons belt, deciding it was better then purple or red or, or, or….
Taylor reached into his weapons closet and pulled free a white, curvy long-knife, a short stabbing dagger, and several small blasters. He slid the dagger and long-knife into sheathes on his weapons belt and slid the short-range blasters into various spots on his clothing, all easily hidden.
Taylor puffed his cheeks up and spun in a quick circle, making sure he didn't miss anything important or that he might need to scout around. Finding nothing, he jogged back out the door, down the long hallway, and took a final deep breath.
"Clep, I'll be right back alright? I want you on emergency stand-by, keep your engines warmed-up, and shields up as high as you can. Don't let anybody in except me, whether they have the codes or not. Understood?"
"Yes Taylor sir."
He nodded once and placed his hand over the palm-reader. The door whooshed open and Taylor gingerly stuck his arm out the door. He waited a moment and when his arm wasn't shot off he poked his head out the door and gave a quick glance around to gather his surroundings. The first thing he noticed was how thick the air felt, his hair drooping around his head, sweat already gathering at the base of his neck. His eyes scanned the edges of the trees and, suddenly, he sprang out of the door and sprinted for a stand of strange looking trees.
"Alright…this'll work for now…" His nostrils flared as he took in the scent of earth, of moisture, plants, and soil. He was so used to smelling his own body odor or the sterility of the ship that he treasured this scent, took a moment to immerse himself in it, stored it away in his memory for later. Glancing up, he spotted a rocky shelf jutting out of the forest that had low hanging branches. "Perfect to hide a skinny body like mine…" He thought. He decided he'd hide himself up there for a short while, maybe snipe a few of his enemies. He took one last look around before he peeked around the grouping of trees once more and ran full tilt for his ship.
"Open the door Clep." He jogged slowly through the doorway and back into his room.
"Damn it, cool the air down a bit…" He was ready to strip himself entirely but instead he chose to gather one more blaster from the weapon's closet, this time a long-range, so he could cut back as many of his pursuers as possible. From there it would all be hand-to-hand action. Taylor pushed his wet hair back over the top of his head, slinging the long-barreled rifle-blaster over his shoulder. He dropped down to his knees and dug into the very far corner, beneath the partially broken guns, knives, bomb parts, and other knick-knacks, and closed his hand around a scope for his gun. Taylor slid this in another loop at his waist and went back in for something else. This time he emerged with tronflex glasses and slid them on immediately. Eyes were of no use if they were shot out.
Taylor stood up to leave but something stopped him. A dull boom, the sound of a ship breaking the sound barrier. His instincts kicked in and he tore out of his room again, heading for the door for a quick look. He knew his ship was shielded from most sensors and was easily camouflaged from anybody looking down. Heat sensors would pick up on The Clepsydra's raging-hot engines and Taylor's own body heat. But his ship would be safe as long as he wasn't on it. He ran to the middle of the small clearing the ship was in and used his ears to find the position of the machine flying overhead. It was going to land and nearby and quite soon. And then it started.
Taylor felt the earth shake sternly as a fairly large starcraft landed clumsily, though swiftly on the ground. He closed his eyes briefly. "Sankt…" The shaking beneath his feet continued as the ship settled itself, Taylor running to Clepsydra. He hit the entrance full tilt, ordering his ship to let him in.
"Clep, if Sankt gets me, you take off and get on Denabux. You know where the farm is. If they're not there, go to the next few places in the databank. You got my com-link so you'll know if he gets me." Taylor's boots clanked against the grated floor loudly as he ran down the length of his ship to get to his room for one last thing. His heart was still pounding slowly, as if he had only run a short distance, he was perfectly calm. Taylor pulled out a long leather strap that wrapped around his palm. On the side of the strap that rested against the top of his hand were several metal spikes that resembled talons of a bird of prey. They faced the same directions as his fingers but were a hundred times more lethal. To one hand he tied this device, skillfully avoiding slashing himself or anything around him. He felt the entire ship jump as Sankt's craft finally came to a rest, its great bulk growling through the Clepsydra as it's weight felt this planet's gravity. Taylor cringed at the size of the great ship, his own cruiser puny in comparison.
The talons he wore wouldn't hinder him in any way when it came to shooting but they could, and would, cause great damage to any soft bodied individual that was on Taylor's bad side.
Clepsydra finally spoke after Taylor's concentration was fully restored, "Taylor sir, I can not leave you to be taken by Sankt. It is against my programming to let my owner and captain kill themselves."
Taylor heaved his gun over to his other shoulder and grinned, "True, but you're also required to listen to my orders at all times. So you will listen to this one. I'll be fine. But just in case, I want you to let Zac and Ike know what happened."
"Yes Taylor sir." The voice sounded slightly defeated now, but complaisant.
"Thank you."
On his way out of his ship, he came to a stop next to the metal door, petting it lovingly, praying that this wouldn't be the last time he ever had a chance to do so. With a reluctant sigh, he palmed open the door, and raced out onto the path below him and made for the small rock outcropping he'd scouted out. Taylor made a break for the woods, ducking the long limbs at the edge of the brush before finally immersing himself fully in the shadows.
Tree branches grabbed for his hair, pulled at his skin while he ran for his secluded spot. Through all of the noise he was making, he could hear the irritated yelling of a very large, very angry Draedean. Taylor gave a quick glance up, risking his footing as he made sure he was still heading for the correct spot. Once assured, he plowed on, heedless of the multitude of tiny scratches that were springing up on his cheeks and neck. He knew he couldn't let anything get in his way and that he couldn't let himself be caught. The scratches would heal with time, Sankt's rage would not and it was best to keep away from dangers such as that.
Without warning, a branch seemed to shoot out of nowhere and lash out at his head. Taylor ducked back enough to avoid being seriously injured, but the edge of the branch, covered in spiny thorns, caught the top edge of his eyebrow, cutting deep.
Taylor gave a loud moan, desperately trying to conceal his presence from the enemy, and crouched into a compact ball. He brought his hand up to his forehead, already feeling the blood well up from the cut. Taylor hoped to high hell that there were no insects on this planet that were attracted to blood or body odor… because if it did, he was screwed on both counts.
Using his sleeve to stem the blood flow, he jumped back up to his feet and dashed off back into the bushes.
His breath was beginning to become more difficult to take in as the steep incline of the hill took its toll on his muscles and stamina. Taylor wanted to look up again, to see if this tortuous run was nearly at its end, but his last run-in with the trees had given him a whole new respect for the plant-life this planet harbored and he planned on keeping his eyes on that instead.
Suddenly, the trees began to thin out and Taylor knew he was nearly where he needed to be. Feeling somewhat safer now that the trees were farther apart, he looked up and saw the outcropping right in front of him. The only problem with that was that the rock was in plain view of any and all that chose that moment to look up. So Taylor decided to carefully skirt the clearing and approach the rock from behind, through more of the grabby trees.
"Hell… I'm a spacer, not a dirt-side… what am I doing down here?" He complained quietly to himself.
Stealthily approaching the backside of the boulder, Taylor gave a quick glance back to be sure there was nothing there, and threw himself into the tree branches ahead. Scrambling over the upraised roots and rotting piles of vegetation, he made good time and suddenly found himself at the rock.
Taylor pressed the com-link in his jaw, "Clep, can I get a quick read out of thermal temperatures around where Sankt's ship landed?"
No verbal answer came, but Taylor felt the pushing sensation against his eyelids and forced himself to block out the bright sun of the planet and focus on the information Clepsydra had sent him.
"That little hike took seven minutes…thirty unidentified beings, two morphers, one unknown sapient being, and one really big, really pissed Draedean in the ship. This doesn't feel right…there should be more."
He pushed against his jaw again and whispered, "Is that it Clep? Have anymore come into the woods…anything you can read in the ship?"
His vision hazed again as the readouts came once again and told him the same thing they had before. He blinked and the image was gone.
"Works for me…"
Taylor looked up and saw several long branches, heavily covered in foliage. He bit his lip and reached up to tug at the limb nearest him. When the tree didn't try to eat him or shoot poisonous thorns at him he gave a harder yank with the same results. With a smile at his luck, Taylor deftly pulled his long-knife from its sheath and lopped off several of the nearest tree branches. His eyes locked on the limbs that were already hanging over his rock and he quickly set to work securing the thicker branches to the smaller ones.
He pressed his jaw and pulled up a small clock. Twelve minutes total. "Time to quit bull-shittin' around and get this show on the road."
Taylor got on his stomach and crawled worm-style through the mucky underbrush, watching little creatures and bugs squirm out of his way, and pulled himself carefully up onto the outcropping. He used his arms to move his body up along the rock until he was at the edge of his branchy-cover and lifted his head. His mouth hung open.
Sankt had put his ship in the middle of a massive clearing and all of the aliens were standing in lines, as though they were being debriefed. At the front of that circle was the strange being that had tried to stop him on The Gheldeth, the one he mistook for a gentle creature only wanting to help. Sankt was nowhere to be seen.
Taylor used one arm to take the scope from his belt and carefully slid it into place after he had slung his gun off of his shoulder. He checked the settings and set his laser-size to the largest in hopes that he could take out more then one alien with each shot. This done, he positioned the gun against his shoulder and looked through the scope, measuring up the distance and placement of each being. Concentrating fully on the task at hand became impossible as the drip-drip of sweat down his neck, back, and sides made themselves known. His face felt the temperature the most and endless rivulets of moisture flowed down his face. Taylor used a sleeve to wipe the sweat away from one side of his face and bent back down the scope. His eyes trained on a dark spot on his sleeve.
"Damn it!" Taylor realized that the muggy air and heat were preventing his eyebrow wound from stemming the blood flow, "Clep, train one of the optical sensors at me up here and send me the image."
Less then a second later Taylor saw himself from his ship's vantage point and magnified the image until he could clearly see his own face. A thin stream of blood was still flowing from his cut eyebrow and down his cheek. His collar was stained red and was rapidly spreading down to his shirtfront. He blinked and the image was no more.
Cursing softly, Taylor took a long strip from the bottom of his shirt and used his long-knife to create a bandage and a block to keep the sweat from his eyes.
This done, Taylor felt a hundred times better. He bent over and resumed his position; ready and able to fire.

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