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   Chapter 8 No.8

Distant Origins: An Anki Legacies Science Fantasy for Young Adults By S Shane Thomas Characters: 28244

Updated: 2018-01-25 12:04


Travis Dershell, Simon Urlitz, and Bobby Rogers talked among themselves in a line with over a hundred other Colonial Security Force officers awaiting their supply officers. Admiral Grunden had completed the initial safety inspection of shugarra they had recovered from the towers. Wooril, Despin, and Dourge, a Saitaran, were demonstrating the functions and capabilities. The group had assembled near the beach to take advantage of the water for the shugarra's underwater capabilities as well as to cushion the fall of anyone who encountered difficulties learning to fly. Men and women donned the devices in eager anticipation.

"These would have been handy when Anderson became a goo devil's lunch, " Simon said.

Bobby and Travis scoffed and shook their heads.

"Too soon? Did you even know him?"

"No man, it's just poor taste to joke about that, " Travis said.

"Alright, let's talk about your love lives, " Simon prodded.

His comrades gave the command for their shugarra to activate, and the mask wrapped their faces while wings enveloped their arms. The two leaped into the air and began flapping wings that each extended thrice the length of their bodies. They flew over the lake and began practicing maneuvers. Soon some of the other officers joined them. Simon struggled with the pronunciation of the command and sought out Despin. After an hour nearly all the officers had become airborne with varying degrees of success.

Wooril gathered the trainees around and demonstrated the shugarra's burrowing capabilities. She uttered a command and the wings reformed into massive claws while the tail wrapped around her figure. She knelt and struck the soil beneath her with a straight motion that twisted when retracting. She rose and her students peered into a hole her single swipe had formed. A child could easily have crouched in it without his head poking out. Wooril resumed her burrowing and within seconds had disappeared underground, leaving no trace behind but a small mound of loose soil. A few minutes went by and the officers began to look around wondering if she needed help.

An eruption of dirt and grass plumed into the sky, off in the distant field near the woods. Wooril burst into the air. With a shake, the soil knocked free and her shugarra formed wings. She flew back to her mound in the center of the assembled officers and began explaining some of the capabilities of the shugarra when in burrowing form. As soon as the wearer is underground the mask's vision detects heat, enabling the user to track life forms and also avoid large stones which tend to be cooler than soil. She made motions and described how one could form a cavern by hard packing the walls instead of simply backfilling to travel underground. Next she burrowed straight down and formed a cavern the size of a room. Each officer took a turn digging down to the cavern and reinforcing their entry hole with the techniques she demonstrated. When one officer popped up on the far side of the group, another plunged into the earth.

Dourge took small groups of officers into the lake when they completed their burrowing lessons. While his Saitaran anatomy allowed him to breathe underwater, he explained that the shugarra's mask also served to pull oxygen from the water, allowing beings without gills to remain under the surface indefinitely. He gave a command that turned shugarra's wings into rounded paddles and its tail wrapped the lower limbs forming flippers. Groups of ten accompanied him under the surface and he demonstrated the motions for swimming and fighting underwater. Travis enjoyed the underwater lessons and thought about re-matching Elsaap and I while he donned shugarra. We were outstanding swimmers but he was sure he could at least match our speed with the device's help.

Despin led the groups that finished their aquatic training into the woods. He demonstrated the shugarra's capability to provide a camouflage with the use of a command. The suit normally shone metallic silver, but while Despin continued speaking the shugarra seemed to melt into the brush. He explained that humans and other species simply had to wrap their wings around their bodies to completely blend, otherwise their revealed portions would give away their location. He tested their skill by allowing them to hide while he retrieved the next group. After the initial explanation the hidden officers revealed themselves, often to the surprise of the new group. Simon let out a high pitched squeal when Bobby clutched his shoulder to reveal himself. The officers who witnessed his shriek imitated the sound when they ran into him for weeks after the incident, much to his frustration.

They broke for lunch on the beach and spent a half hour relaxing and discussing what they had learned. A handful of officers had become lodged underground while burrowing and described their panic and Wooril's rescue efforts. The device had safeguards against deactivating its flight and aquatic features when in the air and underwater otherwise there would likely have been anecdotes about falling or drowning.

In the afternoon the officers formed one large group and the three instructors demonstrated shugarra's ground combat mode. A command transformed the wearer into a heavily muscled juggernaut. The wearer's neck literally disappeared under a massive back and shoulders. Limbs bulked to triple their natural size and fists bore thick bony protrusions over knuckles. Wooril smashed through a tree trunk that was thicker than a Minotaur. She grabbed two men and lifted them above her head, one in each hand. Next Wooril demonstrated the energy weapon located on each palm. Its blast was effective up to one hundred feet, harmless to inanimate objects and electronics, and would send a debilitating shock to its recipient. Anyone struck with a blast, not protected by shugarra, would likely die. While wearing shugarra, a blast was like a hard punch.

Admiral Grunden took a shuttle from the propulsion ring in Nibiru's orbit down to the colony to see the group's progress in the late afternoon. Knots of officers were spread across the field sparring with one another. A flock of officers chased one another through the air over the lake. Grunden spent a few minutes looking for a group hiding in the tree line. Others bore under the surface creating their own chambers and seeking one another out with their thermal vision. A few officers swam the entire distance of the lake under its surface in a matter of minutes.

At the end of the day Grunden announced the permanent assignment of the shugarra to each of the colonial security force officers who had learned its use. The division would be called the Shugarra Corps and the equipment would allow them more extensive abilities while defending science teams and exploring Nibiru and the Anki ruins. Bobby, Simon, and Travis approved of the upgrade in protection and firepower. They had all endured situations that would have been far less dire if they were wearing shugarra. There were one hundred fifty members of the shugarra corps along including a few Saitarans, Minotaur, Exendel, Grisdorans, and Gilgamesh's people. Training with the equipment would occupy a few hours of each shift with the exception of mission days. The Shugarra Corps would be responsible for training the LARC scientists and engineers on the basic use of the devices prior to their excursions. There were over sixty devices that would be shared among the science teams.

******

Sam Martin awoke at his desk as he had every morning since he had relocated one of the Grisdoran tower's stasis chambers, the portions of viewing screen, and a shugarra. He attempted to remove the outer casing from the shugarra and breaking away periodically to note the effects the stasis chamber had on various organic items. If he could just understand what makes these machines function then recreating them would be possible. As he and thousands of other engineers and scientists had learned by exploring the remnants of Atlantis, each item had the potential to advance humanity's science and mechanical capabilities in a hundred different ways. Components from the shugarra could revolutionize the textile industry, personal travel, construction, and deep sea exploration to name only a few. The material from the mask and wings could filter air from underwater, soften to create a snug fit over any individual, stiffen hard enough to bore

ant brush. Gilgamesh and his men rushed on it. The arrow had struck the animal in its eye, the shaft buried several inches. Gilgamesh quickly slit its throat to end any unnecessary suffering.

The hunters each grabbed a hoof and began to drag the catch back near camp. It took a good part of the early afternoon to get the prize back. Upon their return Gabagal began cleaning the kill as it hung up in a nearby tree. Helena began preparing the fire and started a stew from their provisions and some vegetation they had encountered on their trek. Gilgamesh and Elroy doubled back to check their western traps while Enkidu and Sam did the same in the east.

Sam savored the thick cut of steak, grilled over the open flame. He could hardly remember the taste of beef, but knew this was superior. The Lancetts and the Sumerians also sat around the fire, dining on steak and vegetable stew. Helena wrapped herself in a freshly tanned hide, which Enkidu gave her as a gift. The bulk of their kill, cleaned and packed into bundles, hung in a tree a short walk from their camp. An effort to keep any unwanted predators from disturbing their rest. Gilgamesh asked Elroy to tell the tale of his trip to Haran and the encounter with the Pneuma. While he spoke Sam was careful to give the impression of drinking the whiskey as it came around without setting himself up for a second rough morning. They spent a few hours sharing stories and reminiscing before turning in under the starry night sky.

In the morning the group breakfasted on scavenged eggs and broke down their camp. Since they had a large kill to carry back as well as smaller game from the previous night, Gilgamesh said they should collect anything currently in their traps and disable them. Breaking up their trip home between two days would enable them to enjoy their travel rather than pushing hard and sweating all the while. The hunters had completed their work well before midday and began arranging the meat on their packs to evenly distribute the weight among the six.

Following a stream down its course they began their trek. A thundering sound began to rumble in the distance. Gabagal looked up to see a clear blue day. A fierce animal bellow joined the thundering sound. Sam paused and turned, there was a cloud of dust approaching from near where their camp had been. Dr. Helena Lancett pulled in a sharp gasp as she realized that the same creatures they had hunted and dined upon were going to be crashing through her path in a few short seconds. She grasped Elroy's arm. He tensed and then relaxed, head swiveling from left to right taking in the dust cloud that approached from both their sides and their rear.

"Run! It flanks us, " Gilgamesh said and prodded group into retreat. Their boots splashed through the shallow stream and crashed through brush as the hunters abandoned caution and ran in a dead heat. Thundering hooves crushed earth beneath the six legged beasts as they drove their masses directly toward the hunters. Helena had an eerie suspicion that their path was deliberate and intended to avenge their killed companion. A glance over her shoulder revealed over a hundred of the animals closing the distance and definitely boxing them in on three sides. She noted the sweat lathered on the flanks of the animals, their wide eyed hateful stares, and the foam working up on their muzzles. Only moments remained before the hunters and the stampede converged.

Their frantic escape came to an abrupt end as they reached the lip of a cliff. Hundreds of feet below them the water crashed into a pool that became the river leading into the colony. Hoof crashes and the bleating yells of the stampede rushed toward Gilgamesh and the hunters.

"Here we will make our stand, " the ancient King said, "Form a wedge behind me, use packs for shields and angle every spear toward the center to drive them to our sides."

No one questioned or even spoke acceptance. There were only seconds before the stampede drove over them. In a tight knot with Gilgamesh at its point, they formed an arrow shaped cluster, packs clutched in their outside hands and spears angled toward center. Elroy Lancett was the odd man and stood in the center with his back to the group, bracing them against the crush and hoping to prevent them from spilling over.

Dust shrouded the scene and the noise of men yelling, animals roaring and hooves crashing overwhelmed. Only a stone's throw remained between them as Sam Martin squinted through the haze. At the front of the frenzy was a beast much like the rest except that midstride, its head, front set of hooves, and chest changed into the shape of a man. Sam blinked hard. Perhaps the strain of the situation had unhinged them… He refocused his vision on the half beast, half man leading the charge. It was still covered in the dull orange fur, but its features were definitely not a hallucination. The beast man opened his mouth and roared "Death to the king of men!" in Sumerian.

Gilgamesh's spear thrust into the creature's belly as the herd collided with the hunters. In the same instant its fists both crashed into the underside of the ancient king sending him flying through the air over the heads of his companions and off the edge. A dozen beasts began crushing in on the remaining five hunters. Elroy scooped up his spear and thrust it between the man beast's front legs, twisting and causing it to fall on its front, sliding into the hunters. At the same moment, the crush of the herd pushed them further still until all five lost footing and fell over the chasm along with the half man and a handful of his herd.

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