A Tale of Two Colonies
Four hundred years earlier the great spaceships had departed from Terra to colonize distant planets. Few ships reached their destinations; their sporadic signals waned and disappeared. No one knew whether the colonists survived. Now, construction of a new generation of hyperdrive ships was scheduled at one every five years. Planet Delta was selected as the next target for survey because the arrival of a brief signal suggested the descendants of the colonists were alive.
Tiger Lily longs for freedom. In her fight to escape the subterranean slums of Terra, Lily competes to join the scout team selected for the next spaceship along with a new set of prospective colonists. Their mission to discover the lost colony faces the challenges posed by the voracious predators of the planet. In the mountains, they encounter Conley, a grim warrior who longs to escape the confines of his isolated valley. Has Tiger Lily met her match in this tortured warrior? But, where is he leading them? Danger lies ahead, and conflicts between humans and aliens. Can they ensure the safety of the new human colonists, or must they retreat to Terra?
In the isolated peninsula beyond the great mountain range, a tall man stood alone on a rock staring out across the ocean. Waves flicked foam onto the rock by his feet, and swirled over the stony beach. The man wore a black shell of armor and bore a long sword at his belt. He swung his gaze from side to side, seeing no movement bar the crashing waves. No other sound interrupted the repeated surge and splash of waves on the stones. He jumped lightly off the rock and strode into the sea, testing the waters.
When he was knee deep, a monstrous grey head with curved teeth rose smoothly out of the deep water beyond the rocks. Its huge eyes swiveled to regard him, and then, its enormous body looped out of the water, plunged back and sank, vanishing beneath the surface again.
The man paused, scanning around for danger. He did not go further into the sea; rather, he splashed through the shallows, moving parallel to the narrow stretch of beach.
A long tentacle coiled out and wound around his ankle, tugging him off balance. He staggered and quickly recovered, putting his weight on his free leg and shaking the tethered foot. In the next instant, he slipped his sword from the sheath and slashed off the end of the tentacle to free his leg.
He leaped back out of the frothing waves. Two more tentacles snaked from the sea toward him, and were rapidly sliced apart. More tentacles shot toward him, and a bulbous orange body emerged from the sea. A hard beak snapped open as it moved into shallow water.
He backed away warily, aiming for the safety of higher ground. The tentacled beast crept after him, soundless and inexorable.
Abruptly, it screeched frightfully, as the first, larger monster broke the surface and grabbed the tentacles in its scimitar-like fangs. The huge grey beast clamped its jaws and drew the orange tentacled creature deeper into the ocean.
The man stepped back onto dry land. There was no escape here, no passage through the ocean, teeming with such deadly monsters. He shouldered his heavy pack, which he had left well out of reach of the incoming waves, and strode north along the coast toward the distant hills.
Three days later, he stood beside a vertical cliff, rising a hundred feet above him. He slid the pack to the ground and stared up at the precipitous rock face, searching for footholds. He placed his booted toe onto a small projection, pulled his body up using his fingers to grip into a tiny crevice, and laboriously climbed fifteen feet up the cliff. Suddenly, the jutting piece of rock he was grasping broke off, and his foot slipped. He fell, skidding awkwardly to the ground, clutching at rough edges to slow his decent, and landed agilely on his feet.
The man gazed up once more, and found no better hand or foot holds leading to the top. He shook his head and leaned against the cliff, bowing his head in despair. Now, he was sure there was no safe way out of the valley!
He had made a complete circuit of the land. The perilous seas bordered the territory in three directions, and this vertical rock blocked the fourth edge. He had tested for escape routes along the coast and mountains bordering the valley. What was left? In his mood of bitter despondency, he imagined climbing high into the mountains, as he had done earlier, and leaping off the top of the tallest peak. The sheer vertical drop on the far side would kill him and his misery would end.
He sighed in resignation, raising his head to stare into the blue-green sky. The top of the tremendous cliff was invisible, hidden by rolling grey clouds. He was not yet desperate. But, he had no choice except to return to the princesses. Else, they would track him down and kill him, or worse, for his betrayal. He collected his belongings and set out, inland and away from the coast.
Five days later, he strode into the colorful camp in the fading light of evening. Tents with bright banners flying were arranged in a circle around the bonfire. Men bustled about, preparing the meal, collecting fuel for the fire, or checking their weapons. He passed by them, tall and stern, steeling himself for the certainty of insults.
His usual nemesis, Princess Verona, strode away from the fire and accosted him. “Guard Conley, where have you strayed from this time?”
He froze his face into a blank expression with eyes lowered respectfully, and answered bluntly, “Patrol borders by permission of Princess Priscilla.” He was well aware of her distrust. It seemed nothing he did could alter the hatred of the princesses.
“Travel alone is forbidden!” she admonished.
He bowed his head in patient obedience, thrusting rebellious thoughts to the recesses of his mind for fear she would sense them and punish him.
She swung around, scanning the nearest faces and pronounced decisively, “Take one of the Guards-in-training. They need combat and survival skills.”
He followed her gaze over to the group of young men lounging quietly beside the fire, their pale faces gleaming in the flames. Their softness and lax attitude appalled him. It was another subtle punishment, saddling him with one of these pathetic youths. He assumed the princess desired to restrict his travels. It was a pity there were no worthy companions among the men. Still, the Guards-in-training were not capable of hindering his explorations.