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The Crystal Forest

Draker glanced at his watch.  Another hour to go.  They had been airborne for at least two hours.  Either they were going in deep, or they were lost.  He frowned as he watched the new faces huddled together in the small, dimly lit cabin.  Some were whispering excitedly, others were pale and quiet.  He had just returned from one mission where he had lost nearly half his men when he was told that his platoon had to be go out again immediately.  When he complained bitterly that his men had been decimated the commanding officer simply pointed to a group of fresh faced, young soldiers waiting by the door.


How many of them will survive this mission he wondered?  Probably, none.  Nowadays, he hardly knew the men in his platoon.  They simply did not live long enough.  He closed his eyes wearily and rested his head against the humming bulkhead of the cruiser.  The tough, battle scared face of Kozak grinned at him.  They had been through thick and thin together, pulled through some impossible situations.  But, not any more.  The last mission had seen to that.  He was behind Kozak when he screamed and fell over.  Desperately, he had drag him under the cover of a rock, fought to stem the outpouring of blood where an energy beam had pierced through his armour. 


Yolin woke up with a start.  Something had nudged her, a little ripple of disturbance along the edges of her consciousness.  An intrusion that did not fit the natural rightness of her universe.  It was still dark when she stepped out of her tree abode, but she sensed that the others were also up.  They too had picked up the alien presence.  Five cruisers had landed 20 kli away, in the valley below, and the humans had commenced a search for their hideout.  The fighting males and females were moving out to take up their positions, some will lay in ambush whilst others will try to lead the intruders astray or into traps.  Those remaining were starting to remove or camouflage all traces of their presence from the surroundings.


She rapidly cleared the area she was responsible for and returned to her tree dwelling, concealed in the upper reaches of the giant forest trees.  Adopting a relax position, she swiftly filtered out the many images and thoughts that swept back and forth amongst the hundred or so members of her tribe.  She called Kha's face into her mind.  Dark green eyes set in a strong, sharp face and crystalline patterns that dance when he smiles.  She felt a gentle stroke that caused her to arch in pleasure. 


Tall trees shrouded in the grey mists of dawn and the bracing scent of morning dew filled her senses.  She felt the rough bark against his back, the swirl of cold air around him, the hardness of the weapon he held in his hand.  She drew the soft, satiny pattern of their baby, asleep in his cradle, into their mind meld. Together they welcomed the rising sun as the forest canopy erupts into scintillating, golden flames.


Draker stopped to adjust the sensitivity of his goggles.  Even now, after so many forays into the crystal forests he was still astounded by the sheer beauty of the dazzling display of colours from the shimmering trees and rocks.  The war can't be going too well, he thought.  The Hxanites were proving more resilient than the Federation had expected.  Normally, all that was needed to make a planet safe for human occupation was to bomb the major centres of civilisation, followed by a quick mop up of any outlying pockets that resisted.  Subdued natives were then shipped off to work as expendable labour to mine the mineral rich asteroids. 


Initially, all had gone accordingly to plan.  The cities were quickly destroyed and the survivors, as expected, retreated into the vast crystal forests that covered most of the planet's land surface.  It was the strange crystal structures permeating all life forms on the planet that made Hxan different.  The result was a translucent landscape of constantly shifting shapes, light and colours which the Hxanites blended perfectly into.  He swore as a thin energy beam fell two of his men.  If he had his way he would nuked all the forests, but the Federation wanted the uniqueness and richness of Hxan's gene pool intact.


Yolin fought to suppress the fear clutching at her heart, to concentrate on the mind web that connected her tribe together.  She had watched the humans die in the early skirmishes but the springing of the ambush also revealed the position of her people.  One by one the defensive positions were destroyed and as her people die the web weakened.  Already the edges of the web were breaking up and Kha's crystalline pattern had suddenly darkened.  She knew he was badly hurt.  She wanted to reach out, to rush his aid.  With a visible effort she calmed herself down.  She was a web mender and she had job to do.  Other web menders will support Kha.  She had her sector to maintain.  She moved quickly to a point where the web had suddenly become frayed.


She sat back exhausted.  The humans had broken through and were less than one kli away.  The mind web had disintegrated into a seething sea of desperation and jumbled images.  She strapped her baby tightly against her chest and hoisted the small bag of provisions over her shoulders.  She picked up the small hand gun, jamming it between herself and the baby.  At the doorway she paused to make one last sweep for Kha. There was no trace of him.  She ran quickly through the forest, darted round a tree and stopped. 


They froze, watching each other intently.  Draker could have shot her straightaway, but for some reason he hesitated.  Maybe, it was the baby, maybe it was Kozak's grinning face, maybe he was getting tired of killing.  She felt the rawness of his unguarded emotions surge through her.  He saw swirls of dark, intense colours flicker over her.  One of her hands moved.  There was the glint of a weapon. 


He fired, a lance of energy particles that sliced through both mother and child. 

Draker turned and walked grimly away. 


He did not wait for their crumpled bodies to hit the ground. 

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