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SylvanScott
SylvanScott's Gallery (16)

Colony at Cat's Paw by Sylvan Scott

the Duelists of Menagerie:  Puzzles
colonyatcatspaw_final.rtf
Keywords male 615338, human 44101, alien 11448, macro 8168, lynx 7011, growth 4062, sci-fi 2460, science fiction 635, science-fiction 250, short-story 13


Colony at Cat’s Paw
          ©2013 Sylvan Scott


De-orbit burn exhausted, Stellar One arced like a silver fish across the choppy green-blue clouds above Bandis colony. The settlement, the fifth established post-clearance, looked like a tiny, steel bead on the smallest toe of a giant paw print. Three ocean inlets lay nestled between four blunt, coastal fjords. The first wave of cartographers had dubbed the series of bays “Cat’s Paw Coast”. The shuttle passed through the shadow of an atmospheric conversion ladder as it approached its destination. The world was already very Earth-like but it was human nature to change things to match desires exactly. The techs had approved the region for settlement two years before. Darian’s mother had been on the site selection team. Forehead against the cool glass, he watched with grey eyes as the land rose to meet him. Within the hour he was breathing strange air and standing on Bastasis’ surface.
The tech who met him resembled Mako.
Native to Earth’s Polynesian Conglomerate, he had hair as black as Darian’s and eyes a contrasting green. The two had been closer than anyone else on Platform Alpha but that hadn’t saved them from being ripped apart.
The dragon had seen to that.
Some, and always out of eachshot, referred to his mother as “the emerald dragon”. Her bio-engineer’s green longcoat and fierce temper strongly resembled the mythological beast. In Darian’s darker moments, he wondered if his mother had arranged their departure from Earth just to get away from his first boyfriend, Sean. Later, so soon after he’d found Mako, she received special dispensation for a non-tech like himself to join her on the surface. It ripped apart his budding relationship just as it had been getting started. He wasn’t sure if that had been her intent and the ambiguity frustrated him.
A tech drove him across the compound through the outer ring of Bandis Colony’s walls into Center Hex. The tall, white buildings reflected the dim, golden sunlight on their ten-meter-high windows. A few minutes later and colony security had updated Darian’s rebreather protocols and inoculations.
The sec representative had also looked like Mako.
Darian tried to put his ex-boyfriend’s face out of mind.
In the residential quarter he found his bag already there. His mother wasn’t. His room was small and box-shaped with a tiny, round window looking out at the street, below. A large array of equipment covered his bed and shelving. It looked as if his mother had been using his room for storage. He tossed his pack on the dresser and went to find her. She’d had the place to herself for a full Bastasian year but despite knowing for months that he was coming, still wasn’t ready.
Leaving, he caught a glimpse of himself in one of the many, polished surfaces as he headed towards the the Hex’s lab quarter. A scruffy, in-need-of-a-shave Mako looked back.
He added not looking at his reflection to his list of things to put Mako out of his mind.
Catching a glimpse of sky through a high window outside “Native Fauna 02”, he couldn’t see Platform One. It was up there along with Mako and everyone he’d come to know in the years since leaving Earth. More would come down over the coming years as the settlement was cleared for more non-techs to join it. That would take time; at least a decade populating all five colonies. Bastasis was now his home.
Walking into the lab, he was nearly run over by a pair of techs. They had just finished depositing a pile of crates, full of spare parts from other departments, under the scrutiny of the lab’s xeno-botanists and -biologists.
“We’re not a storage locker,” one was saying.
The last tech to leave the room snorted. “Obviously. Storage lockers don’t talk back.” He pushed past Darian. “The last shuttle brought too much crap; we’ll shift it all out by week’s end.”
The door slid shut with a hiss behind her.
“And who are you supposed to be?”
The sharp tone brought Darian’s attention to the lab’s attendants.
“Darian; Doctor Wein’s son. Is she here?”
Green leaf insignia over his left breast, the yellow-suited botanist simply frowned. “She’s still out on a field survey.”
“Should be back any time, though,” the blue-uniformed biologist next to him, added. “Feel free to wait.”
Darian nodded to the red-haired woman but noted the grey-haired botanist shoot her an annoyed look. Beyond the hastily-stacked crates the techs had left, the rest of the lab was full of equipment. Samples of all manner of flora and fauna (plus a few things which didn’t meet either classification) were crammed together in tight confines.
“I’ll try to stay out of your way,” he mumbled.
“And don’t touch anything,” the botanist said.
Darian nodded. He walked over to a stack of ship parts and sat down in a spare chair. Annoyed, he leaned against a lab table to wait.
Movement from his left, along with a low murmur like a pained sigh, caught his attention. Off to one side, in a cage on the floor, was a small, strange creature. The techs had stacked some of their equipment on the top of its container and it looked like it had been half-forgotten in the shuffle.
Thin and tattered, sitting in the bottom of its cage, the little alien resembled nothing as much as a type of cat. Its fur was a tawny golden-brown with spots on its lower half fading to faint stripes, barely visible, from its waist, upward. Lynx-like tufts of darker fur sprouted from its cheeks while long, shimmering whiskers extended from behind its black nose. He moved to get a better look. The creature’s eyes, large and green, looked at him through feline slits. Its ears, at the top of its head, swiveled towards him as Darian’s chair scraped against the floor. It looked as dejected and isolated as he felt.
The little creature looked back, shivering.
Darian glanced towards the rest of the lab and noted no one was paying attention. Both he and the small alien—barely the size of a terrier—had been forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind. There was a sense of injustice about it all, at being torn away from home and put in a strange place. It ate at the pit of his stomach. He decided he didn’t care about the “don’t touch anything” rule quite as much as he did a few minutes ago.
Gently, so as not to startle the animal nor alert the nearby staff, Darian pulled a trans-D thermal coil from one of the nearby tech crates and wrapped it in conduction cloth. It was expensive equipment, worth more than even his mother made in five years, but having been stored so haphazardly, he doubted anyone would care. Not wanting to let a strange animal loose, he slid the small piece of tech through the widest point of the cage bars, careful not to get his fingers or hands too close. He flipped the “on” switch just before sliding it all the way in. The creature backed away, nervous but curious.
Step by gradual step, it crept forward and extended one forepaw to touch the cloth-wrapped equipment. Darian realized that the little thing was somewhat bipedal. Like many of the primates back on Earth, it had an upright posture that it sometimes adopted when moving about. The creature sniffed at the coil and cocked its head to keep Darian in view. Then, feeling the heat radiating through the cloth, the alien moved forward and, tentatively, lay against it.
Darian smiled as he heard it make a low, growly-noise similar to a housecat’s purr.
Not foolish enough to assume this caged beast was tame, he nonetheless felt at home around it. The coil was used to shunt energy and regulate temperatures during space folds. It would easily keep the small alien warm in the cold lab. He rummaged around in his pocket for a protein bar and unwrapped it. As he took a bite, the cat perked up, sniffing the air. Darian smiled.
“When was the last time someone fed you?” he asked, idly.
The creature cocked its head and made faint noises in return.
Darian, after a moment thinking about it, held out the partially unwrapped bar. “Does this smell good to you?” he asked.
The creature crept a bit closer to the cage’s edge, away from its heat, and sniffed more. Its tongue, pink with faint black spots along the edges, ran along the front of its muzzle. Darian thought about the dangers of feeding an alien creature food from off-world but decided it would probably not think of it as “food” if it didn’t smell right. That wasn’t entirely accurate, he knew, but it was enough of a justification for him to snap the bar in half and poke it through the bars. As he ate his portion, the little cat picked up the proffered portion and licked it, experimentally. In moments it seemed to decide it was tasty and gobbled it down.
Darian smiled and finished his half, unwrapping another bar afterwards. “A full day’s nutrition,” he said, “but only a snack’s satisfaction.” He gave the bar to the creature before taking his last out of his pocket for himself. The alien finished the second bar as fast as the first and, after sniffing the air, made some more chirruping sounds before wandering back to its heated coil.
An hour later, Darian’s mother arrived.
“Ah, you’re here,” she said. She tossed an outdoors thinsulate coat over the top of one of the ubiquitous tech boxes. “I guess I got caught up with my work.”
Darian stood and hugged her. She was only a few centimeters shorter but her build was considerably slighter.
“My room’s not cleared,” he said.
She nodded. “I suppose we can get that done tonight, after dinner. I’m too busy, today, to give the apartment a proper sorting.”
“You’ve had months.”
His mother took a long, slow breath. She’d taught Darian about long breaths ever since he was a child. Whenever you were emotional, when the words about to come out of your mouth were too angry or too dangerous, take a deep breath and deal with them, later. Darian’s mother took a lot of deep breaths. At times he wondered if she was passive-aggressive or just really bad at handling adversity. Either way, it had become a sign that she was not willing to talk to him any further.
“Darian—”
“I get it; I'll meet you back home.” Without waiting for a response, he turned to depart. He fancied he could feel his mother’s eyes on the back of his scalp all the way out the door. As he made his way back to the apartment, mind on clearing a space off the couch, he thought back to the small, faux-feline in its cage. Abruptly, he knew how it felt.



Officially, they called it a “Bastasian Pseudo-Mammal, Highlands Alpha, Proto-Sapient, Third-Class”. Someone in the lab had dubbed it the Bastasian Highlands Lynx despite it not being a true feline and no one knowing the animal’s full ecological range on Bastasis. Colonies of the creatures were thought to live beneath the sparse forest canopies north and inland covering the slopes of Mount Carlisle. Orbital survey satellites and automated reconnaissance drones confirmed their presence in small numbers. Despite the unscientific nickname, it had stuck with everyone but Darian’s mother. She preferred its survey designation or “Proto-Sapient 3” for short. The specimen in the lab had been found nosing around a survey ship while its crew worked on field repairs. They’d brought it back after catching it rummaging through their supplies.
“Sorry, Proto,” Darian said, tapping the bars of the cage. “Bet you miss your home.”
The small creature was looking healthier than it had three days prior and had even developed a faint, almost luminescent green sheen to its fur. It chirrupped and made a few clicks in the back of its throat as Darian fed it another protein bar. The creature was larger. Proto had swelled to half-again his original height. He looked stronger and healthier, despite its cage being, now, somewhat cramped.
That the scientists in the lab hadn’t noticed didn’t surprise Darian. Not only had the temporary crate storage issue not been resolved but more of the boxes and equipment had been added to the first batch. Flooding in Sub-Basement Two forced an evacuation of all moisture-sensitive equipment to above-ground areas.
Proto chirruped again and wrapped his tiny fingers around the bars of its cage. The trans-D coil was still in the cage but had been worked into a makeshift nest in one corner. Clearly, the lynx appreciated the warmth.
Darian had brought a dozen protein bars but already eaten one. Unwrapping another, he slipped it to Proto.
He’d moved into his room and settled in to a general routine. His mother was gone most of the time. Dinners, though, were spent in the apartment with her. She never missed a meal with him. That much, he decided, was a good thing. She was probably, on some level, trying to make it up to him for breaking up his relationship. During dinner she would ask him if he’d found work, yet, and what he’d been up to. Being a non-tech meant that he, like the small percentage of planetside colonists who weren’t already assigned tech stations, had to find work as best as he could. There were job postings and even an employment page on the LocalNet, but non-technical tasks were rare. He’d helped out in the commissary after one of the cooks came down with a strange bacterial infection forcing them to quarantine her and shift all food-preparation to a newly-sterilized location. But the lab techs quickly sequenced the genes for the invasive micro-organism and it was no longer a threat to the colony. Darian’s job had lasted less than a day.
About all he could do was go to the labs and volunteer to shift things around. He was strong and muscular and didn’t complain when asked to move Crate A to Corner B or help a tech unpack a recent shipment of approved botanical specimens. It wasn’t much, but it counted as work.
It also kept him close to Proto.
He’d taken a liking to the small creature and had started thinking of him as a pet. He’d gotten passing approval from a bio-tech to give the creature water and food; Darian had ignored the prescribed diet and kept providing nutrient bars. The Bastasian Highlands Lynx was not, it seemed, sufficiently exotic when compared to other lifeforms they’d collected, to warrant daily—or even weekly—observation. He felt pretty sure they’d have been surprised by the creature’s health and size, now.
Caring for Proto was something he could concentrate on to shake his thoughts of Mako. At least he’d stopped seeing his ex-boyfriend’s face everywhere.
“Darian; could you help us get this stuff over to Lab 6?” One of the tech’s, Austin, was pointing to a pallet of recently delivered plant specimens. “They delivered the coastal stuff to us, again, rather than to saltwater research.”
Darian nodded and rose. “Yeah, sure,” he said.
He waved to Proto and turned, not seeing as the tiny creature wave back. He left his coat with all its pocketed protein bars next to the cage.
Days passed and the labs became busier as more equipment got mis-delivered or stored “temporarily”. The bio-techs had to shuffle things around while others worked on the flooding problem in the basements. With the seasonal changes coming, the intermittent rains were only going to make things worse, soon. All new descents from orbit had been cancelled. Darian didn’t mind. The work kept his brain occupied.
Proto only grew bigger and stronger and, a week later, Darian was surprised to see the little thing had nearly filled its cage. He chewed his lower lip and thought about telling one of his numerous, always-changing bosses. Part of him was worried, though, that by feeding Proto so much he may have contributed to this little … problem. But at the same time, he couldn’t keep the alien trapped in a cage, buried behind small mountains of equipment.
“Uh, let’s see if I can’t get you a new cage, okay, Proto?” He gave the faux-cat more protein bars to keep it busy and went to find a tech who, he hoped, wouldn’t inform his mother about what he was about to reveal. The last thing he needed was a talking-to about proper lab procedure.
He tracked down Austin.
“Say, do we have a larger animal specimen cage?”
“For what?”
“Uh, for Proto; the lynx.”
Austin paused in his manual inventory checking and looked at Darian with curiosity. “Proto?”
“It’s, uh, a nickname. And he seems to be out-growing his … containment.”
The tech furrowed his brow. “Show me.”
Darian led Austin through the mounds of equipment on the south edge of the lab. Ahead, a low groaning sound, like straining metal, grew louder. The tech slowed, eyeing the over-full pallets stacked nearly all the way to the twenty-five foot ceiling. Darian left the tech behind and dashed forward. Rounding the corner, he entered the small clearing he’d made for the live specimens entrusted to his care. The sound peaked in an eruption and a crash. He skidded to a halt and stared. Austin came up from behind.
Proto, bleeding from small cuts beneath its fur, was shaking off the burst remnants of its cage.
“What th—?” The tech caught up.
“So, like I was saying about a larger cage...”
A strange, strained voice interrupted Darian.
“Sor-ry…”
The stilted word both interrupted the tech’s surprised response and startled Darian. He’d been about to explain that he’d been building up the open space for living plant and animal specimens and that none of this was really his fault. But the gravely, near incoherent word dashed those thoughts.
Proto had spoken.
“What?” Darian stepped forward towards a creature that, sitting down, was a quarter-meter taller than him.
Proto looked back with its enormous eyes. “Sor-ry,” it said slowly. The alien looked, for all the world, like an embarrassed child.
Darian swallowed hard. He cast a guilty look at the scattering of protien bar wrappers in the wreckage of the cage and the now-smashed trans-D coil beneath the lynx’s rear. Cautiously, he stepped forward. Proto didn’t move but only looked down at him with an almost human, bemused expression on its face. Gently, Darian retrieved the shattered technology and stood back up, cradling it in his hands.
The emerald dragon was definitely going to roar at him for this.



The storm lashed the coast with flashes of lightning ripping the sky. Darian’s exile was harder than he had anticipated. His turmoil was actively painful. When he’d arrived, he wanted to be anywhere but the labs. Now all he could think about was Proto and what the bio-techs were doing to it. He even dreamed about the little creature.
Not-so-little creature.
Proto, from what he’d gathered, had continued growing.
“It’s probably something in the protein bars,” his mother had said, “what were you thinking, breaking protocol like that?”
The arguments had never been worse.
Before, they had been about his interest in poetry or being part of a theater troupe:  pastimes she felt were “impractical”. In retrospect, his accepting a job, halfway across the galactic arm in her figurative (if not literal) backyard, and then messing it up was probably an even greater betrayal of his potential in her mind. He tended to leap, first,and only look once he was already plummeting off the cliff. He knew his life wouldn’t be as full of spiraling lows or soaring highs if he as responsible as the dragon wanted.
“It needed food; what was I supposed to do?”
“You know what you were supposed to do:  follow the bio-team’s care protocols!”
“They had their hands full and, clearly, he wasn’t getting enough!”
“That’s not for you to decide! Diet is determined by—”
“I know who determines them; I just … didn’t … care.”
“He’s gotten cleverer, you know; his neural processing is off the charts. You can’t just violate…”
He tried to ignore her. He’d been trying to ignore her every minute of every day for the past week. At least with the other staff he didn’t have to see them. He could stay in the apartment. But the dragon had access.
“...Will have to terminate it, if we can’t figure out where the extra mass is coming from.”
Her words broke through his stony facade.
“What?”
She didn’t repeat herself and kept on talking. “You know the protocols; you studied them before getting clearance to come down. You need to be…”
“Wait:  ‘terminate’? What for? It’s just a little animal.”
“It’s an alien with an apparent ability to mimic others; its intelligence is unknown. That’s more of a danger than the unexpected … growth.”
“But you can’t!”
She didn’t engage him. She never engaged him.
Every day he spent in the apartment and every night he avoided her, sulking. Dinner was a chore. Arguments swirled around each bite of food. The one-sided conversations made his previous problems with his mother’s perfectionism and control seem trivial by comparison.
That Proto could talk, that it had picked up English in a matter of weeks, if not days, was what had most people astonished. Its growth was a side-issue. From what he gathered, the lynx was now some two meters tall with broad paws that they had to keep bound in order to prevent it from moving around too quickly. It irked him that he had to get this information second-hand.
Language wasn’t the only indicator of Proto’s intelligence and, now, the whole basis of the colony was being thrown into question. A colony couldn’t be established on a world with an existing, sapient lifeform.
His mother might not care as much about that as she did about his violation of her precious protocols but he knew what the impact was. If the Bastasian Highlands Lynx was found to be sentient and sapient, the colony would have to be reconsidered … possibly scrapped. But he’d seen enough news to know that when colonies encountered this sort of problem elsewhere in the galaxy, the cause of the problem tended to go away.
They may have had their principles but in the face of humanity’s expansion and rivalries with other spacefaring races, those principles were expendable.
But even that didn’t bother him half as much as his thoughts of Proto being put back on a starvation diet, poked and prodded with medical instruments, and treated like a lab rat.
Outside, tall trees whipped to and fro while shuddering moans through the vents sounded like a horde of ghosts being tortured within the compound’s walls. Storms were natural this time of year but augmented by the terraforming process. The world, within a decade or two, would become “Earth-normal”. Until that time, the weather would dance drunkenly like a mad marionette.
Despite how similar Bastasis already was to Earth, Proto wouldn’t recognize the world then … even if it could survive the transition.
A deep, shuddering groan echoed through the apartment. In the next room, his mother slept in a medication-induced slumber. The stressful days had taken their toll on everyone.
He looked at his comm. The adjusted time read “2:02 antemeridian”.
Darian got out of bed. He couldn’t stay. Shrugging on his vest and hooded sweater, he stole out into the halls.
Without consciously planning it, he found himself coming the far away around to the labs. He was tired yet wide-awake:  a perfect combination for irrational thinking. The bio-lab, like all the buildings, was connected via a series of underground tunnels and skyways. He’d taken to walking there when he had nothing else to do. For the past week, that was several times, daily.
Even with his judgment compromised by stress and insomnia he knew he shouldn’t be here. He knew he should turn around, go back to the apartment, and try to sleep. He knew they wouldn’t be torturing Proto—he hoped their experiments wouldn’t be torture—but he couldn’t get the lynx’s wide-eyed look out of his mind. He couldn’t get the word, “sorry”, out of his memory. Proto had sounded honestly remorseful. If it had not just picked up language but also subtle, human expression, that was huge. It meant that this alien being not only was smarter than any living thing humanity had encountered but a social chameleon capable of intrinsic understanding of its surroundings. That was bigger than “huge”.
He imagined Proto in its tiny cage. He shuddered.
A tech left the lab from its basement entry. He was carrying a small crate and proceeded down corridor C, not noticing Darian in the shadows of the intersecting tunnel.
His decision, he realized, had been made long before arriving here. It wasn’t even a decision:  it was inevitability. As the door hissed towards closed, he dashed forward and slipped into the lab.
It wasn’t hard to find Proto.
They’d taken out a portion of the first-floor superstructure and created a large cage on the basement level that stretched up into the main lab. It was about ten meters high, nearly touching the ceiling on the first floor, and approximately six meters across. The bars looked cold and heavy and cruel. They were dark grey, like primitive iron, and would not have been out-of-place in a medieval dungeon. Between their slats, sat Proto.
Proto was nearly five meters tall.
The alien’s expressive, green eyes stared at him intently as he approached between some crates. He could hear researchers upstairs on the first floor. Down at the base of the cage, Darian was alone. Proto’s eyes followed him as he approached.
The green tint in the giant alien’s golden-brown fur had become deep green stripes that swirled down from the base of its neck across its shoulders and arms. A similar cluster of spirals emanated from its hips up both flanks and down its legs. It looked nothing like a terrestrial feline, now, save for a few of its facial features. The tufts of fur around its short, blunt muzzle still reminded Darian of an Earthly lynx. In the cage, a new trans-D coil was there providing heat.
Proto’s whiskers flicked as Darian walked up, cautiously, to the foot of the cage.
For a long while he had no idea what to do. He just stood there, his grey eyes meeting the alien’s green.
Slowly, he put his hand up to the bars and, then, between them.
“Sorry,” he said.
It was the one word he knew, for sure, Proto would understand.
The towering lynx cocked its head and, after a moment, nodded in a slow, hesitating fashion.
For the first time in weeks, Darian felt a stinging at the corner of his eyes. He’d caused this. It was all on him. Even though the techs had captured Proto and put it in this cage, this was all on him. It had been the same with Mako. He could have resisted his mother’s orders; he could have made a case to the orbital council and stayed. He could have taken the harder path and not come down to the surface. It would have incurred his mother’s wrath, but it would have been right. But he’d feared being singed by the dragon more than he feared hurting Mako.
“Sorry. I’m so sorry, Proto.”
He hung his head for several long minutes. Then, a green-tipped paw reached through the bars and, gently, dabbed at the corners of his eyes.
“Don’t … cry…” Proto said, slowly.
Darian looked up as a thunder echoed through the lab. The lights flickered briefly and he knew what he had to do.
Proto had been experimented on; that was clear. There were few patches in his fur where leads had been attached. Probably due to his amazing growth, they’d probably had to keep removing and reattaching them. At the moment, though, all he bore were the scars of previous attempts. Darian resolved to never let them get another chance.
“Wait there,” he said. He started quietly and quickly rummaging through crates. Within a few minutes he found it:  a storage box with other trans-D coils.
Taking one out he turned it on and checked its diagnostics. Just enough energy for a single burst-use, outside of a ship. He grabbed two more and quickly set one by the outside wall, angled upwards towards the surface. One, he slipped into an environmental suit’s pack, and slipped the protective gear on. The final one he brought with him back to Proto’s cage.
Darian cast a glance up at the first floor. He could still hear people up there but they were the late shift and probably distracted, crunching numbers.
Quickly, he aligned the coil in his hands with the one he set up by the wall. He fixed it to the bars of the cage and motioned for Proto to lean down.
“Okay,” he whispered into one of the lynx’s giant, green, tufted ears, “this isn’t going to last long:  you’ll have to be fast.”
He hoped the complex sentence was understandable. The alien, however, nodded in an all-too-human fashion.
Darian flipped the switch.
There was a quiet “whoomph” of air as the portal opened around the two coils and a stream of light connected them. The sound of rain and moaning wind crashed through the suddenly open aperture. The gateway opened around the cage and the secondary coil relayed its exit point outside to the surface.
Proto looked confused for a moment and Darian made frantic gestures with his hands. “Go! Quickly! Get out of here!”
The giant looked down quizzically.
“Go on! I’ll follow! Get out!”
Upstairs, the techs shouted for someone to close the outer hatch.
They had little time. The coils, without a starship feeding them energy, would only work for a few seconds.
“Go!”
Proto, with his large, soulful eyes staring only once more at Darian, turned to look through the aperture to the storm-tossed world outside Center Hex. Then, with a mass-induced shudder through the floor, the giant creature quickly lumbered through the portal.
Darian watched as the coils shut down moments later, their energy:  depleted.
He ran for the exit.



The rainy season hadn’t started yet. The satellites put into orbit decades before the survey ships arrived, decades before the colonists first saw the planet, had documented the weather in detail. Bandis Colony had chosen the site for a generally mild set of seasons with access to a wide range of meteorological extremes within a short distance. The highlands became dusted with snow in the winter but the low valleys and coastal fjords near the settlement stayed fairly green, year-round. Heading into the relatively short autumn that this elevation, geography, and latitude provided, there would be a brief period of storms coming in about two or three more weeks which would last less than a month. Then things would settle down for the mild winter and—later—a corresponding set of storms in early spring.
The weather that concealed their escape was only a precursor.
Darian knew he could survive it. He had passed the environmental regimen. And even though the atmosphere and geochemistry was ninety-eight-percent terran, the biological diversity was unprecedented. Dealing with that, as well as learning all the hostile life forms, plants, infectious agents, and microbes, had taken up the bulk of his survival training.
The trees on Bastasis were tall and thin. They pulled iron out of the soil and used it to reinforce their trunks and branches. While they were not true plants in the terran sense of the word, they were close enough. Trees were found on almost every world and shared a remarkable set of characteristics. Exobotanists had confirmed that the general template of “plant” was the most common form of macroscopic life in the galaxy, if not the universe. On Bastasis, the trees were titans. They rose nearly fifty meters, on average, and spread their long, slender branches like sheltering arms in broad arcs. Beneath them, smaller, younger trees would fight for decades, sometimes centuries, to pierce that veil.
Looking up at Proto beneath the storm-tossed sky, he realized just how much the alien lynx would need to eat. He had enough protein bars to last a few weeks but for Proto? He suddenly realized he had no idea what the faux-feline ate. Apart from slipping him nutritional supplements, he didn’t know the creature’s natural diet. As he grew tired, as the sun set, Darian half-imagined that he might resemble some tasty morsel to the once-tiny creature.
He doubted it, but didn’t ask lest he put the idea into Proto’s head. Instead, the alien took the lead, heading towards the highlands. Up there, many kilometers away, perhaps he could find peace and evade capture. Darian would be in trouble when he got back, but at least Proto would be alive. Even as big as he’d gotten, the creature could conceal himself fairly well.
At least that was Darian’s hope.
How much bigger could he grow?
There had to be others like him; perhaps full-grown adults a little bit bigger. Proto’s species probably grew this fast in spurts. The surveys hadn’t found anything like giant-sized lynxes, before, but  it was conceivable that the ten-year search pattern had missed something. Perhaps Proto’s race only lived on the highlands when they were young and migrated to some place the probes hadn’t documented once they grew.
Trees lashed in the wild winds as spray from the distant ocean shores filled the tumultuous skies. It pattered against his environment suit reminding him of the sounds of spring rain back home. The suit, while thick and protective, made the sounds outside echo slightly through its audio pick-ups.
The thought of Earth, of the storms that would roll in over his childhood home, only served to augment his fears. An act of rebellion was one thing but this was an actual crime. And a part of him, the part that had read all those crime dramas and watched those caper films back in his school days, thought that this had been too easy.
He kept his eye on the skies for any patrols and even ventured some attempts at conversation with Proto about keeping out of sight from above.
The giant lumbered on. He was agile; that much was certain. But he seemed so much more ungainly at his five-meter height.
Or was it five meters? Perhaps it was closer to six.
Had he gotten bigger in the time since they’d fled?
The mental image of a goldfish in a bowl, growing bigger when moved into a larger bowl, flashed before Darian’s eyes. The lynx growing big enough to fill all of the great outdoors was an absurd idea but one that had just enough of a seed of possibility that it rattled Darian’s imagination.
The long shadows of night crept from mountains and highlands, alike, with the dawn. The two travelers gradually strayed from the shore. As the rainy day progressed, so did the elevation. Soon they were making their way between the giant, highland trees. Night came again and Darian indicated to Proto that they should stop for the night.
“Yes,” Proto rumbled, “we stop…” The alien paused and then re-phrased his words. “We should stop,” Proto said. “You need rest.”
The rumbling words were loud enough that they seemed to echo in the Darian’s mind. He was impressed. While Proto’s muzzle and lips still fumbled with words, he was definitely learning. Additionally, Darian was certain that Proto was larger:  perhaps six-and-a-half meters tall.
His suit’s gauges reported no infectious vectors, so he removed its helmet. The atmospheric cannisters began to recharge faster. Darian unwrapped a protein bar and offered one to Proto. Proto shook his head (another human gesture) and, instead, turned his attentions to some of the nearby trees. Lumbering over, the giant pawed through and shook the branches, dislodging a rain of heavy, fist-sized fruits. Carefully, with fingers like tweezers, Proto began to peel and pop them into his mouth like peanuts.
Darian settled in for the night at the base of one of the non-fruit trees. He left his helmet off. The cool, wind-swept air smelled different and fresher than on Earth. A day’s hiking left him more exhausted than he’d thought. He spoke with Proto periodically but the giant didn’t seem vocal while he ate. The giant just sat at the base of the trees, looking at flashes of lightning over the far-off mountains above the highlands.
By sunset, it had grown much colder. Although there were no flakes of snow, Darian’s environment suit told him it was cold enough. Still, he didn’t put the helmet back on. The cold wind was bracing and, different from his normally climate-controlled world, comforting. Soon, he drifted to sleep:  shivering, but happy.
A small, warm tremor roused him. Darian looked up to find Proto wrapped around him like a cat with a kitten. To his sleep-addled mind, he found it disturbing at first. But the giant’s fur had dried since the rain had stopped and he smelled nice. It was warm and safe and, after a few more minutes, Darian drifted back to sleep.
 By dawn, everything had changed. A light layer of frost covered all the plants and, on the distant peaks, the white demarcation of snow had crept visibly down-slope.  Proto was seven meters tall; he probably weighed four thousand, maybe forty-five hundred, kilos. His build had filled out noticeably as if to support his expanded mass. His muscles had bulked-out while even his fur coat was thicker. His chest was barrelled and he seemed to breathe more easily. As he got up, unwrapping himself from Darian to stand, his paws left deep imprints in the soft patches of earth between the trees.
“I don’t think we’ll have to go as far as the mountains,” Darian said, looking up at his giant charge. “Look, do you understand me? Can you tell me where you want to go … where you’ll be safe?”
Proto looked down, not speaking. Slowly, the giant nodded.
Darian reached up and patted his companion on the knee. “Then lead the way.”
He put his helmet back on and checked the LocalNet.
Nothing.
Surely someone had noticed they were gone. Or was the “prison break” being kept from public knowledge?
He reattached his headgear and set the filters to cycle fresh air rather than rely completely upon the cannisters. It warmed, but was still nicely chilled. The two walked on.
By noon the cold front had brought dark clouds off the now-distant coast. The northernmost stretch crept up and devoured the mountain tops. Long, grey streaks filled the sky as the setting sun lit the oncoming storm.
Within an hour small flakes were falling. Within two, the trees of the highland were coated with a light dusting as howling winds blasted between the tall trunks and moaned through the tree’s lashing branches. It was hard enough for Darian to walk against such force but for Proto it seemed more difficult. The giant scowled and chuffed at the winds as ice formed in his iridescent, green-tinged fur. The lynx-like tufts around his muzzle began to sport small icicles.
Occasionally, the giant looked back at Darian with apparent concern.
As the sun set and dark consumed the landscape, Proto paused. “You need shelter.”
Darian shook his head as he turned up the heat on his suit. “We have to get you further away,” he said. “We’ve barely gone forty kilometers.”
The giant nodded but, eventually, stopped again. “What are you running from?” Proto asked.
The question made Darian stop. It was so nuanced, so filled with double-meaning, that it struck a chord. He looked up at the giant and saw concern in Proto’s eyes.
“I’m not running; I’m saving you.”
“I’m already saved,” Proto said. “What are you running from?”
The storm was getting worse and whorls of white spun between the towering trees’ branches. Despite the sweeping canopy overhead, the trees still allowed plenty of precipitation to reach the ground. A sloppy accumulation some twelve centimeters thick sloshed around Darian’s booted feet. He was tired; exhausted. He was about to snap back, demanding what Proto could possibly know about “running away”, when a splitting crack filled the air.
A cluster of branches, their high-up leaves laden with ice and small-but-heavy fruits, came tumbling to the ground. Darian heard it but not fast enough to move. Instants before the near kilotonne of wood and ice and flora could crush him, Proto leaped in a blur of action.
The giant knocked Darian down, bracing all four limbs over the surprised human. The branches struck the lynx on his back and nearly flattened him. Despite his size, the impact was terrifying. Proto’s massive body came crushing down.
Darian, having missed the initial danger, barely had time to roll to one side to avoid being crushed.
For a while, there was silence. Then, with a groan, the giant shifted. One giant paw gripped the snowy ground, digging long furrows with his claws.
“I … am injured,” he rumbled. He tried to shift the weight from his back, groaning as he moved.
Using both hands Darian helped shift the fallen, frozen flora from his companion’s body.
There was no blood; Darian could see that much. But Proto was having trouble standing up. It wasn’t nightfall, not yet, but dark was coming. The temperature had risen and was holding steady. The readings in his environment suit told Darian the cold front that brought the storm was passing. By dawn, it should be clear and warmer.
“We’ll set up camp, here,” he said. “I think we can risk it.”
Proto just nodded.
The act of “setting up camp” involved finding a cluster of trees with a canopy so dense that almost no snow had reached the ground. The hillock out of which the plants grew kept them above the sloppy, slushy mess of the highlands terrain. Proto leaned against the tree trunks and tried to rest. Darian ate another protein bar and, then, went on a short scouting expedition for any more of those fruits that Proto had eaten the day before. He found some and managed to retrieve an armful, but they were hardly more than a snack for him.
Still, the eight-meter-tall alien was grateful.
As darkness fell, Darian fell asleep for the second time in the wilds of Bastasis, with Proto holding him close.
This time the darkness was isolating and smothering. It chilled and haunted Darian with the spectre of the unknown, watching from every angle. For the first time since leaving Center Hex, Darian felt … scared. Even Proto’s comforting bulk became just another patch of darkness. The day-long hike coupled with his fears eventually got the better of him. Darian didn’t know when he fell asleep, but it had been to the sounds of wind howling over the bitter, white peaks and the occasional crack of frozen branches crashing to the highlands floor.
The gentle and quiet reach of orange and yellow lit the horizon through Darian’s shut eyes. He felt the frost on his lashes before blinking himself awake. Melting blankets of snow greeted his vision. About eighty meters to his left, the ground fell away in a cliff looking down on a vast plain through which icy streams wound towards the storm-tossed seas. The clouds were broken and falling away to reveal a clear sky beyond the bad weather. They’d made it.
His entire body ached. He hadn’t felt like this since the basic survival training. He rose and checked on Proto. The lynx was sleeping, eyes closed and breathing softly, against the base of three trees. Darian stared, mouth agape, as he took in the alien’s size.
Just one of Proto’s paws was the size of Darian’s entire body. One finger was the length of a human leg and thicker than his waist. The claws, while seemingly blunt at their current scale, were like shovels. For a moment, only a moment, Darian was nervous. He’d come all this way, on an alien world, following a being he didn’t truly know on a whim. While Darian was exhausting himself, Proto was just getting stronger.
The giant’s eyes flickered open. Darian saw him wince as he tried to move.
Darian stroked Proto’s fur.
“Stay put,” he said. “I’ll be right back,”
It took the better part of an hour, but Darian managed to gather enough nearly-frozen fruit to feed his titanic friend. He threw in a few more protien bars to add variety and hoped the meal would last.
Proto was appreciative.
They sat in silence for a long while.
“She’s a monster,” Darian finally said.
Proto cocked his head. It was so human a gesture that even on a being six times his own height, it made the alien immediately relatable. If humanity’s greatest advantage was its adaptability, they were completely out-stripped by Proto’s species.
“My mother,” he continued. Looking up into the giant’s eyes, he shook his head. “I mean, she doesn’t eat babies or torture people or anything but…”
“She’s cold,” Proto said.
Darian nodded. “Yeah. Driven by work and wanting me to be the same. I guess I would be if I liked the sort of things she thinks of as ‘work’. I know that I’m supposed to rebel against my parents; everyone is. But how do you rebel when you’re taken off-planet and halfway across the galaxy to another world far from everyone you knew and loved?”
“You … are scared of her?”
“Aren’t you?”
The alien looked introspective for a moment but then nodded. Darian didn’t know what was more chilling:  the weather, the conversation, or the affirmation that this nine-or-ten-meter-tall being was afraid of his mother.
“Sometimes,” Proto said, eventually, “it’s best to run.”
“But for how long? I mean, eventually, I’ll have to go back. I can’t just … live out here.”
“Why not?”
The question sank in. In that moment, Proto was fully alien again. Sure, for him living out here in the wilds was normal. Maybe even being a giant was normal; Darian didn’t know. But the suggestion that he give up the comforts of home … of everything he knew … frightened him. The suggestion made Proto seem more alien.
“I’d die out here,” he said. “I’m not like you; I’m not … strong.”
“Strong enough to run,” Proto said.
Darian chuckled, wryly. “It doesn’t take strength to run,” he said. “If I were truly strong, I’d have stayed.”
Proto shook his head. “That’s not always strength.”
He nodded, slowly, pondering it.
Darian forced a smile through his faceplate and put a gloved hand on Proto’s thigh. “Don’t worry,” he said, trying to sound reassuring, “I won’t leave you until we get you home.” He frowned, then, and realized he still didn’t know where they were going.
He was about to ask when his environment suit’s sensors threw up an alert. Three drone patrols were coming into range from the southwest. A chill ran down his spine that had nothing to do with the weather.
“Proto, we’ve got to go,” he said. On the LocalNet he began seeing security crawls about Proto’s escape. They were searching for them … they’d found his track.
Proto looked up at the sky, not understanding. But, at the same time, the giant seemed to trust Darian. Slowly, probably due to his aching back, he stood. Darian swallowed at seeing just how big his companion was. One, giant paw, alone, left a print a meter across. If they weren’t staying beneath the few highland trees, any flier could find them by Proto’s tracks, alone.
Aching and sore, Darian instructed his suit to inject him with painkillers. Then, breaking into a jog, he and Proto took off into the hills.



Despite rising warmth, the white on the peaks had neither advanced nor retreated. The sky roiled between the changing seasons below and the landscape’s changeover from hills to mountains. Every few hours, another swath of weather would inundate the highlands. Either rain or the increasingly less-common dusting of snow fell with rising frequency. The winds, thankfully, had died down. Even with Proto as a makeshift windbreak, Darian had had trouble moving against the gusts they had initially encountered.
No one had found them. He wished he knew why.
With all the technology available to the techs at Center Hex, it should have been child’s play to locate a single human on an otherwise inhuman planet. Accompanying a ten-meter-tall, greenish-gold lynx lumbering just beneath a sparse canopy of trees should make it easier. And the fact that he had an appropriated, on-comm environment suit should have ended all pursuit almost as soon as it had begun. While Darian had instructed the suit to perform a near-endless diagnostic of the locator beacon, thus taking it mostly offline, even the minimal energy output of the suit should have been traceable. The fact that they hadn’t found him was … perplexing.
In two days, there had been no sign of pursuit. While suspicious, part of him was proud. He didn’t understand why, but it seemed he’d succeeded. He had never thought he was that clever. But maybe this success was indicative of his true skills.
Perhaps he had gotten lucky. Everyone in Center Hex, especially security, was stretched thin.
He was doing well. Even low on food and drinking only snow-reclaimed water, Darian wasn’t having too rough a time of it. He trusted to his environment suit to regulate heat and waste while ameliorating the harsh wilderness.
He felt like an outdoorsman from the old world.
As the two rose higher, crossing the highlands, they passed small streams cutting across the hillock-studded landscape. Periodic tall, willowy fruit trees dotted the hilly plain. Darian started seeing signs of burrows. Not on any survey map he’d studied, there was even evidence of animal colonies in possibly large numbers. At dawn on the fourth day after their escape, he even thought he saw—just for a moment—another Bastasis lynx.
It had been as small as Proto had been at their first meeting and peered from under one of the small mounds between the trees. He hadn’t thought they lived this far off the mountains but initial surveys always got a few things wrong. There were so many burrows he wondered if there was a subterranean network connecting them.
But when he asked Proto, however, the giant just shrugged and lumbered on.
“Not here,” he said. “Not yet.”
The survey ships weren’t perfect. The cost of creating and operating them was high. Their job was to create the basic template for a colony; to gather information so that humans could do all the heavy-lifting. Clearly, even this close to the Center Hex, the colonists had a lot to learn about their environs. Connected or not, it was a virtual city of mounds scattered beneath the trees across the highlands. The lynx’s ability to hide their homes in plain sight made the small aliens seem even more intelligent.
“Proto, how do your people live? I mean … are they all subterranean?” When the giant didn’t answer, he changed his words. “I mean, do they all live underground?”
The giant looked down at him with those big, expressive eyes. Cocking his head, he rumbled, “Those who can, do.”
It was vague and, for the first time, Darian started to wonder if he was being used. Where was this giant alien leading him? Darian may have initiated their escape but now Proto was in charge. Why was he still doing this?
He knew the answer, of course:  fear and rebellion. Resentment of his mother kept him going.
How many young adults did the same thing:  ran away and struck out on their own? It was evolution, wasn’t it? Down deep, in his primate past, this was how all members of his species developed independance. But how many had crossed interstellar distances to do it?
Even if he could justify his behavior, seeds of doubt had been sown.
Where was Proto taking him?
Morning clouds broke into thin strips against the hills. Tired and still walking, Darian got annoyed.
He stopped by a rounded boulder and took off his helmet. The air smelled of freshly-turned earth.
“Damn it, Proto:  where are we going?”
The giant turned.
The lynx was so huge that Darian only came up to the alien’s calf. If he reached and jumped, he supposed he could reach Proto’s knee.
“Home,” the giant said.
Darian frowned. “That’s not an answer.” He started feeling like he did when his mother laid down the law without telling him why. “I’m not a child:  I need answers!”
Proto looked pained. His muzzle wrinkled and he cocked his head as if formulating a response. “It is not easy; it would not help to tell you. It is still … forming.”
“Forming? What’s forming?” Darian climbed the boulder to stand at a level with the giant’s waist. “Listen, “I need more than that or I’m going to… I’ll just head back!”
Proto seemed to digest his words, slowly nodding. “Is that what you want?”
Darian wasn’t used to arguments that asked him about his feelings. Before he could respond, he saw movement from his new vantage point.
The trees had been thinning. During the past hour, the lynx-mounds had grown increasingly sparse. What he saw belied their scarcity. Emerging from a cluster of trees, concealed by a mound of boulders, was a large cluster of the small creatures. Each was no taller than Darian’s knees and walked with some trepidation towards the unconventional pair.
Darian glanced up at Proto as the giant slowly lumbered to greet them.
Three dozen of the small, alien felines fanned out in a semicircle as Proto came to a stop within a stone’s throw of their gathering.
For a long while, none of them moved. Darian held his breath, nervously. When none of them started speaking or, in fact, making any noise, he began to wonder what was happening. They moved, making  slight motions with hands and tails, but made no sounds. After a moment he realized that they were, nonetheless, communicating. It was silent but communication, nonetheless.
Darian felt left out and increasingly nervous. What were they saying and how? Was it all in those subtle, tiny gestures?
After a few minutes, a group of the aliens broke off from Proto and wandered, hesitantly, towards Darian’s boulder. They clustered around its base, keeping beyond the distance he could conceivably reach in a single bound, and examined him with their large eyes. He looked back, breathing the cold, earthy air, and tried not to look nervous. They seemed little more than animals. Their movements were small and subtle but not indicative of intelligence. Perhaps they were an entirely different species that only resembled Proto’s original form.
One stood up, tall and thin. Darian’s breath caught in his throat. For a moment, the creature looked like it was about to say something. A flurry of movement surprised Darian as another lynx snuck up and grabbed the Trans-D coil he’d had hanging from the environment suit’s belt. The alien bounded away, holding the warm box to its body.
“Hey!”
The group disbanded, quickly, and scampered away from Darian and Proto. Darian was about to jump down from his perch and give chase, when he saw it.
Far away, over the distant coast, a flash of silver soared northwards. It was slender and accompanied by a small, white orb flying alongside it. The orb was a survey pod and the silver was a patrol ship. They were about two kilometers away but as he watched, another pod came from the north to join the first. Then, the three vessels changed course and started heading directly across the highlands towards Darian and Proto. Another pod approached from the south. While mostly smooth, small recessed jets for attitude control whined as it hovered in trans-dimensional, bent-space fields.
Their escape was over.
“Proto! Run!”
But the giant did not.
He lumbered surprisingly swiftly towards Darian. However, rather than continuing after him once the human had jumped from his perch, the lynx reached down and, straining, pulled the boulder from the ground. Snarling in a feral display Darian had never seen in him, Proto gritted his fangs, turned, and hurled the rock at the nearest, incoming pod with both hands. As he did so, he grew larger.
His giant paws sank further into the semi-frozen turf and his body bulked up. He grew both taller and more muscular. In that single surge, he expanded past twelve meters high. The boulder sailed nearly twenty meters, catching the first probe as it soared within striking distance.
Its poly-bonded hull cracked with internal components sparking. It released caustic-smelling fumes as it crashed.
During the exchange, the last of the normal-sized lynxes scattered to their burrows.
The other two pods held back as the larger, sixty-meter silver ship approached. Proto shot a wan, almost protective look at Darian before snarling, crouching, and diving into the fray. Again, as if with exertion, he grew. Signs of injury were gone. His body bulked and strained as it expanded. Soon, he’d grown to a size about half-again as tall as he’d been at dawn. Fifteen meters in height, the giant forced the two white pods to veer away. But they weren’t his target.
The ship turned and rose as Proto neared. Built to withstand powerful weather and be a protective fortress for those within, it was not overly agile. It banked as the giant thundered closer. Rising, the silver hull of the survey vessel reflected the green-hued, snarling visage in its lower gravity plates as Proto jumped.
“Wait! Don’t!” Darian shouted.
But it was too late.
Less than a third the ship’s size, the alien feline was still like an engine of destruction. The muscles along his thighs and upper arms were the size of small boulders and the expanse of his chest was easily as big as a walk-in closet. Proto flexed as he leaped, claws extending wickedly. He had to be sixteen or seventeen meters tall when he hit.
No matter how huge, his claws did little. The giant clung to the forward nose of the craft. He wrapped his arms around it and squeezed. It was chilling to watch. The massive engine of destruction that Proto had become was unlike anything he’d seen outside of a movie. But even though he expected the ship to fire its drilling weaponry or deploy defensive shielding, it did neither.
The ship dipped forward, its external plating whining as internal Trans-D batteries worked to compensate for the sudden, extra mass. It groaned and descended as Proto swung his legs up underneath the vessel. Claws on his feet raked the underside of the ship, mostly doing nothing. Darian could imagine the pilots inside, terrified by the unexpected combat but arrogantly laughing off the primitive monster’s assault on their flying fortress. Then, Proto’s feet raked across the craft’s jets.
Claws caught and held. In seconds, Proto ripped loose both a hatch and a maneuvering port from the bottom. Sparks flew as metal twisted. Darian’s mouth hung open as he watched smoke pour from the survey ship. He imagined the occupants scurrying about, frantically trying to put out fires and stop their descent.
They couldn’t.
It arced to the ground, rear propulsion jets still firing and trying to compensate for those lost along its bottom hull.
Then the hull electrified.
It was possibly a shield malfunction or maybe a tech’s brilliant idea, but suddenly arcs of blue lightning ran along the outside of the ship, coming from the Trans-D coils, and through the gravity plating. Proto arched his back and howled in pain. The giant, swelling past eighteen meters tall, fell.
The impact was like a small meteor. Proto fell twice his body height in moments and the crash knocked Darian off of his feet. Both fugitives hit the ground as the ship descended in a plume of smoke from its underside.
Darian got to his feet.
He watched as Proto rolled over. His huge size and relatively small distance to fall was offset by his incredible mass. He’d clearly hurt himself and was favoring his right leg as he tried to rise.
The ship, nose first, crashed into the grassy slopes a few hundred meters away.
Darian knew there would be injuries. Still, with an eye towards the downed craft, he raced to Proto’s side. He was just getting near when he saw a flash of white out of the corner of his eye.
The two remaining pods raced past and soared over Proto as he struggled to stand. Each deployed a cloud of yellow fog, covering Proto. The giant staggered and roared sucking in the powerful anesthetic. Numbed and disoriented, he staggered as he rose, took three steps, and collapsed.
“Proto!”
Everything happened so quickly. By the time he reached the twenty-meter giant, Proto was half-conscious. Darian put his gloved hands in Proto’s warm fur and shook him. “Don’t fall asleep; whatever you do:  don’t pass out!”
Proto was disoriented and confused.
Sorry…
The thought in his head, arising unbidden, struck him like a truck. He’d failed Proto; failed him completely.
Within minutes, armed security forces swarmed out of the downed ship and surrounded them. Darian raised his hands in surrender. Striding through the troops in a green environment suit, was his mother.
The dragon had arrived.
She neither removed her helmet nor addressed Darian. Instead she walked to where Proto lay in a daze. She waded through the mist and stopped a few meters away. Had she been less than sure of her position, she never would have gotten that close. Finally, over a short-range broadcast, she said, “Collect it; bind it and use the inhibitor protocol adjusted for his new mass. Call back-ups one and two:  have them start scouring the burrows.”
Darian’s mother turned; her gaze fell on her only son. Her expression was strangely placid and non-judgmental. There wasn’t even disappointment. She didn’t come closer. She switched her suit’s communications to point-to-point transmission. The gulf between them belied the personal nature of the contact. From half a football field’s distance away, she spoke in quiet, even tones.
“Thank you. I know you won’t understand this now, perhaps not for a long time, but thank you. You did well.”
Darian blinked. “What do you mean? I—”
“Once I saw your overly emotional attachment to the alien, I knew I could prod you into letting it go. Then, we could follow it home and uncover what environmental elements influence its incredible growth and neurological development.” She turned and started towards the ship. In the distance, two more were approaching along with a third—even larger—geology ship:  the kind used for excavation and mining. Its lower loading bay was open. Darian could just see the techs inside with cables and hooks. “I always knew that sooner or later you’d be of use to this mission.”
Darian watched as the geoship hovered over Proto and lowered its payload.
“No! You can’t do this!”
“Clearly,” she said, “I can. And don’t worry about your betrayal:  it was always part of my plan. No need to feel ashamed.”
“Fuck you!” he shouted. Even one of the nearby security team heard that, despite his sealed helmet. “You can’t have engineered this! That’s … monstrous!”
“No,” she said, getting into her craft. “Monstrous is not knowing what to do with someone who clearly is wasting their talents and life. At least I’ve finally solved that particular problem.” With that, she shut off her comm and no matter how Darian instructed his suit to break in, she remained silent.
The security and survey teams spread out as Proto was slowly winched up into the bowels of the geoship. The human colonists marched across the field of burrows and began digging into each as Darian was led away.



Regardless of his mother’s assurances that she was pleased with him, Darian did not go unsupervised. Nor was he brought back to the apartment. Instead, chipped with a monitor and put in a small, windowless room adjacent to central security, he was as good as consigned to a prison. His mother had not deigned to visit. No doubt this span of silence was all part of her calculations to allow him to come back into alignment with her plans and personality. She’d given him the silent treatment, before, and always after he had displayed some form of defiance. No doubt she thought he would use the time to accept her way of thinking.
She was wrong.
This time, she was wrong.
As he sat, eating a nutrient bar, he silently vowed to leave Bastasis. There were no ships going back to Earth—no one in their right mind wanted to go there—but other colony worlds existed. Every few years a ship making an automated run would come by. He planned to be on one of those ships, regardless of his mother’s wishes.
I’m sorry… The thought echoed through his head quietly and unbidden. When talking to himself he used a somber tone:  something he’d learned while taking one of those many acting classes back home that his mother disapproved of. I’m sorry this has happened. Just bide your time;  be strong. All will be well, eventually.
Darian felt a bit dizzy. The thought felt like his own but was confusingly alien; external to himself. Everyone had internal conversations now and then, often without real rhyme or reason to what was being said. The more emotional, the less it all made sense. In the three days he’d been back in the Center Hex, he’d been understandably stressed.
They’re coming for you, his inner monologue said again. But this time, the voice sounded deeper and more earthy. It shook him the same way that Proto did when he rumbled in that deep, vibrating voice of his. Be ready, Darian:  all is not lost.
The voice was not his own.
Proto? he thought.
There was no answer. Was he losing his mind; conjuring imaginary voices to comfort himself?
A boom shook the walls and Darian jumped.
The walls of Center Hex shouldn’t shake. Even when hurricanes swept in off of the bay, the superstructure ran deep into granite and bedrock. The colony was the safest, more secure place in the world. They’d made it that way.
But then another shudder vibrated through the walls and the lights in his room went red with alarm. An alert began to whine, low and sonorous, from the omnipresent speakers in the room. His internal chip send a message to his visual cortex.
[WARNING:  Alien Lifeform Incursion.]
He swallowed as another boom shook the chamber and the walls of the hallways outside. Mingling with the rumble came the sound of a survey ship crashing. The echo of twisting metal mingled with that of crumbling stone. The rumble lasted far too long for thunder and got louder before it faded into another boom.
The colony was under attack.
Deep down, Darian thought he knew why.
He ran to his door; under secure lock-down, it was sealed. He pounded on it and called for the guards to let him out. No one answered.
There were several dinosaur-sized lifeforms on Bastasis—big, shaggy beasts that walked quasi-upright like bears with four horns and four eyes—but their habitat was on a different continent. Nothing on the landmass of Landing Site Alpha could explain what he was hearing…
...Except for one thing.
Another boom shook the walls and sent him staggering back. The impacts got closer. They felt like what he imagined mortar shells must have felt like.
Desperate, he tried to beg more information from the datafeed in his chip. But all it did was inform him to go to the safest point in his room and stay there. If there was a lockdown, there was a lockdown. No if’s, and’s, or but’s. Darian was stuck until a human being could let him out.
Another boom rocked him. This time, it sent him sprawling on the floor. Some of the plasticine drop-ceiling tiles fell. Lights flickered and went out save for a few emergency floods over the door and by the bathroom.
[WARNING:  Alien Lifeform Incursion … WARNING:  Alien Lifeform Incursion … WARNING:  Alien Lifeform Incursion.]
He wished he could shut off the chip they’d put into him. It was getting in the way of his vision and providing nothing useful.
A series of lesser booms shook the building. Like titanic footsteps echoing through the halls of Center Hex, they confirmed Darian’s suspicions.
The booms peaked in volume and stopped. A second later, the door buckled in the shape of a massive fist. Stumbling back, Darian’s hopes surged. The poly-bonded metal-and-plastic buckled on the second strike. A third blow never came. Instead, giant, greenish-brown, furred fingers tipped in claws pushed through the bent-back top of the door and began to pry it out of its warped frame. In seconds, the door was gone. A brief shower of sparks filled the door before darkness descended. Silence, except for distant booms, descended. The red lighting flickered on.
Beyond the door, a darker patch of shadow loomed close. In the dim illumination the colors looked wrong but Darian still knew the giant, green eyes that looked in on him. Proto’s face filled the door.
He thought about crying out the creature’s name but that seemed far too cinema. He was surprised to feel wetness on his cheeks and realized tears were running down his face. Even in the midst of all the destruction, his spirits had never been higher.
“Darian?” The rumbling voice was like a barely-constrained earthquake. “Are you unhurt?”
On shaking legs Darian walked towards the opening. “I … well…” He didn’t know what to say.
“What did they do to you?” the giant rumbled.
Darian felt embarrassed. Clearly Proto thought the lack of a response was indicative of something dire.
“I’m ... fine,” he managed. “Just surprised.” He smiled and, getting control of himself, ran forward. He threw himself around the forearm of the giant.
Proto knelt in the transit corridor outside. Most of the ceiling had collapsed exposing the level, above. His friend was as large as ever:  a monstrous twenty-or-so meters tall. As other booms rocked the building Darian suddenly wondered at their source. Before he could ask, though, Proto reached down and picked him up. Massive fingers, clad in tawny fur with the iconic green sheen to it, wrapped warmly but softly around the relatively tiny human. Darian’s stomach tumbled as Proto stood. Even with the missing ceiling, the alien had to hunch over. He walked slowly lest he damage the floor and drop into the sub-floors. In minutes, they were outside.
Darian’s eyes grew wide.
Through the pre-dawn darkness, thirty of Proto’s race were attacking Center Hex. Each of them were giants at least ten-meters tall with a couple even approaching Proto’s height. The settlement was in shambles except for the docking port and the shoreward residential quarters.
“Holy shit…” Darian stared at the destruction, aghast.
“We spare the people,” Proto rumbled. “But they must know, each one of them must learn, that they cannot bring their alien ways here without arousing the native population.” He cast his eyes down at Darian and looked entirely too serious. “Should you wish to live alongside us, you will have to recognize our prior claims to this land; our right to our own culture. Your people will have to understand that.”
Darian nodded.
He watched a cadre of giant lynxes rip down the walls of the bio-research wing and winced. Although he could see them being careful, he knew it must be terrifying for the inhabitants. And yet, he didn’t feel particularly bad about it.
“So, your people are naturally giants,” he finally said. “Why didn’t anyone figure this out earlier?
“We are not,” Proto said. Four lynxes pulled down more walls and began extracting tiny, screaming humans from the bio-wing. “No,” he rumbled. He waved his hand to encompass the entire scene. “This is your doing.”
For a moment Darian thought he meant the attack as a whole. It took him a second to realize that the giant meant his size, and that of his companions, was due to human influence.
“How? Some kind of chemical byproduct of our ships’ engines .. something getting into the air or water supply is making you grow?”
Proto looked down at him, eyes glistening, and extended a single digit to point at the center of Darian’s chest. “No. You—specifically you, Darian Wein—made this happen.”
For a moment Darian just stood there. He shivered in the cold but felt an even deeper source of his unconscious movements. Suddenly, he felt … terrified.
“Me?”
The giant nodded. “There are tales,” he said, “of giants among our people in the distant past. Perhaps the trait of growth was always there. But the dimensioning properties of your coil, put so close to me, along with providing a diet with massive amounts of energy intended for a being many times my original mass ... it seems to have combined with a whole host of factors to make me grow. This is why I had to make certain my people got the Trans-D coil. Without it, our uprising wouldn’t have been possible.”
A wave of shame and responsibility swept through Darian. His mouth worked, soundlessly, as he tried to find something to say. But nothing came out. Proto looked down at him and nodded. “Come:  we must end this. And I will explain.”
With that he stepped over several shattered walls and began striding towards where the human security forces were being rounded up. Darian gritted his teeth as he was carried. As they approached, he felt a chill. He saw his mother, small and strangely vulnerable, among the towering aliens. Guilt flooded him.
What had he done?
“Darian!” Her shout sounded neither angry nor relieved. But her voice had to be raised to reach over the sounds of destruction, even as they tapered to a dull roar of crackling flames and collapsing masonry. Proto knelt near her, forcing her to back off, and lowered Darian to the ground. But even when he went to hug her, she did not return the gesture. “Don’t worry; we’ll get out of this.”
“Indeed?” Proto rumbled. “And are you referring to the presence of us or your own duplicity towards your son? Because neither is something you shall escape. You brought this on yourself Doctor Wein ... it is time for an accounting.”
She looked up at the giant, defiance in her eyes. Her self-control, to her credit, never shattered. She set her jaw and walked forward. “I’m not ashamed of what I did. That you are sapient, that your people possess some sort of enhanced adaptability in your learning and neurological processes, is irrelevant. My job is to assess and prepare this colony for expansion. I did what I had to.”
“Including using your son to free me and, then, follow him to where the rest of my kind were? Your manipulations of him are troubling and a betrayal of an offspring’s trust.”
Darian frowned. Slowly, he backed away.
She looked at him, unremorseful.
“You know I had to, Darian:  it was for the good of everyone. You had a rapport that no one else—”
“I showed concern and care for a single, small, scared creature and you used that.”
“The initial surveys had been incomplete,” she said, coolly. Her rational words stung with each syllable. “Once we realized the creature could learn language by being exposed to our conversations, that they could grow to enormous sizes, we had to find where they came from.”
Darian’s feelings of betrayal returned. All the things his mother had done, her interferences in his personal life, they had always been in keeping with her view of “for your own good” but this…
This was a manipulation of Machiavellian proportions.
The momentary gladness at seeing her, unharmed, was now completely gone. “And what were you going to do when you found them?” he demanded. “Wipe them out?”
“They are a danger,” she said. She gestured at the destruction around them. “You can’t see that?”
“Only because you started treating them like animals! Even after you thought they could learn and reason, you did this! Hell, you did this because they could learn and reason!” He turned to Proto. “But you used me, too. You knew this … somehow, you knew.”
Yes:  I knew. The words echoed in Darian’s own voice inside his head. It took him a moment to realize what had happened.
“Telepathy? Your race is telepathic?”
It is how we learn, Proto sent to him. Although before humans came, there was so much less to know. Then, switching back to his audible voice, added, “I apologize for using you to turn your mother’s plans against her. I know I have undermined your trust in me and, for that, I apologize. I vow, should similar circumstances arise, to never do such a thing again. I can only beg your forgiveness and ask that you understand why I did it.”
Darian looked at his mother. Arms crossed, she was looking up at the giant. “Telepathy is never interspecies; neurological structures are not compatible. I don’t know why you continue to pander to my son but none of that is relevant, now. What are your demands?” Her tone was cold and barren.
Proto looked down at her. “Live in peace,” he rumbled.
A tiny moment of confusion crossed her face. “What?”
“Our demands are that you live here in peace or not at all.” The towering alien crossed his arms, mimicking Darian’s mother’s stance. “You have a ship in orbit with considerable technology. You have more tools and weapons than we can acquire in a short time. We know you can turn our advantage into a defeat. It is what humans do, is it not? But we come here to make this point:  you abandon your principles as soon as they are inconvenient to you. We would have you stick to them.”
Darian’s mother looked like she didn’t know what to say. It was something of a first.
“You lecture us on our principles? What do you know about humans?”
Everything, Proto sent into everyone’s minds.
Darian could sense his mother becoming intractable. “He means the articles about native, intelligent life. We have to respect them; shut down the atmospheric converters and terraforming ladders. We have to negotiate. It’s not like this planet is terribly far-off Earth-normal anyway.”
“Stopping our work now would cause all our changes from the past five Bastasian years to collapse. Stopping our changes is not the same as flipping a switch!”
“I know that. Mother, please:  there’s an intelligent species on this planet. It’s what we’re supposed to do!”
“They are only intelligent because of us,” she said. “The statutes don’t apply…”
“We were intelligent long before you came,” Proto rumbled. “While we may not have possessed your language or science, we had our culture. Is city-building your criteria? We have those, far beneath the ground. Is it plays and song? You may not hear them, but that is because you are not open to our minds. We have been sapient for a very long time. We ask you to abide by your own strictures.”
Darian’s mother set her jaw. “You’re nothing more than biological artificial intelligence; you are not a true race.”
“That’s enough!” Darian shouted. He strode forward and put his face within centimeters of his mother’s. “Listen to you! Can you ever be wrong? You both played me—used me—but only one of you keeps trying to justify, keeps trying to control, keeps trying to have everything!” He balled his hands into fists to keep them from shaking. “You’re not even in command, here! There are four other colonies on Bastasis and each of them reports to the Trinary. If Commander Zale is out of commission, you still don’t get the last word.” He paused, narrowing his eyes in disgust. “For once, you’re not the final arbiter.”
Darian turned and looked up to Proto. “I accept your apology. And I’ll help.”
“Darian!”
“Shut-up, mother,” he said. Then, still looking up at the giant, he added, “All I ask is that you never lie to me again. Just … let me find my place in this world. Okay?”
The giant nodded slowly and knelt. He extended his giant hand and gave two fingers to Darian to shake. “I so swear,” he rumbled.
“Darian:  you don’t have the authority—”
“Over my own life?” he snapped. He turned back to her and crossed his arms, mimicking her posture. “Y’know something, mother? At long last, I do.”
And with that, he turned and walked away through the ruins of Center Hex. The giants let him go, standing above them all. Techs and security followed the firm but gentle instructions of the alien lynx population and sent out word that negotiations would have to begin. And in the distance, the sun began to rise.


Epilogue

Years were irrelevant. Time was irrelevant. For a while, he tried to fully absorb the differences between his experiences back home and those on Bastasis. Trying to convert hours-in-a-day and days-in-a-year between the two worlds gave him headaches. In the end, it had no impact on how he lived his life.
The last of the atmospheric conversion ladders was being disassembled. In the fifty years it had been operating, it had scrubbed ten percent of the planet’s atmosphere. It would be a century before everything reverted. Even then, some changes were permanent. All down its length, from orbit to a kilometer above the surface, the colonists were dismantling it. They stacked its component pieces in the Kassam Wastes. There, automated nano machine colonies would digest them, break them down, and return their component minerals to the environment. The kilometer-wide, hundred-meter-tall links looked like construction-yellow spinal bones from some giant, ancient animal.
Darian watched the progress in a relaxed fugue. Lying in nothing but his underwear, propped up on his elbows, his grey eyes watched the images on the monitor. Bastasis would never be exactly like Earth.
It didn’t have to be.
He would have to wear breathing apparatus every now and then or undergo genetic re-sequencing along with cellular surgery. It was a small price to pay. He found where he belonged.
Joint Hex was up and running. His colossal home, with its arched ceilings some twenty-five meters overhead, felt close and comfortable. Despite the vast spaces inside, it didn’t feel expansive or empty. He’d filled it with his hopes and dreams.
The warm fur upon which he lay rustled, slightly.
He rolled over with the mild tremor and smiled. “Need to get up?”
A giant hand reached down and stroked the top of his head. No; just shifting positions.
The ideas and concepts that the Bastasian lynxes head learned from their “impossible” links with humans had changed everything. Fully seventy percent of the colonists had elected to leave … and nearly twice their number were coming from Earth to join the synthesized colony. The world would change but at a far more gradual pace.
Darian sat up and looked up the expanse of Proto’s chest to his face. Large, green eyes sparkled back at him. “Think we have time before the president’s speech?” he asked.
Undoubtedly, the lynx thought to him.
He crawled up to a position just below Proto’s chin and wrapped his arms around as much of his neck as he could. The soft, warm fur invigorated him. Proto’s body heat suffused itself into his skin, warming him in the large room. Again, he looked deeply into his eyes.
The waves of the alien’s mind washed over him and, in moments, they were one.
Lines from Act Two swam through his thoughts as they considered all parts of the project. The two edited the collaborative work, their minds working in tandem. Sometimes they lingered over the same sections while, at others, they drew forth new ideas in completely different parts of the play. It all happened at the speed of thought. While they had been done for weeks, the play for the Founding Day commemoration would never truly be finished.
But that’s how art was:  never completed, only abandoned.
Darian had taken to the telepathic links better than anyone. Sometimes he thought it was because his heart was totally in it. The rest of the time, he thought it was all the practice he got.
The story of how Bastasis got its human name, of how the joint colony came to be, would be ideal. Some names had been changed, certainly. There was no need to create demons out of real people … even if they had been real demons. All of those had left. What remained were the ordinary people; the techs and the artists … the security and the explorers … the humans and the lynx.
They had a world to discover … together.
It was only fitting that this first play written on their homeworld would be forged in the minds of these two participants in history.
Darian nestled himself into the ruff under Proto’s neck. The giant’s fingers caressed his back, gently. He’d never felt more at peace … more confident in who he was. He found his way. He was on the right road. He’d found the person he would walk it with. He found himself.
Nine thousand light years from Earth, he’d found his home.


End
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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First in pool
Last in pool
This story was written as a commission for :iconKwandry: of FurAffinity. The world-setting (containing Bandis Colony, Cat’s Paw Cove, Bastasis, and other landmarks within this story’s context), and the characters of Darian Wein, Dr. Cassandra Wein, and Proto are owned by myself.

This story was requested to be macro but without the typical sexual situations we see in that type of tale. Rather, the commissioner wanted something on an alien world, something with a human/anthro interaction, and gradual growth.

What I ended up developing was something of a "coming of age" story ... with giants.

I hope you enjoy it. Please fave and let others know what you think!

Keywords
male 615,338, human 44,101, alien 11,448, macro 8,168, lynx 7,011, growth 4,062, sci-fi 2,460, science fiction 635, science-fiction 250, short-story 13
Details
Type: Writing - Document
Published: 4 years, 8 months ago
Rating: General

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