232 AO, September 2nd
If there's one thing I was certain of in the early morning hours, it's that real lizards or dinosaurs don't have eight legs. They have four legs. Therefore, the thing I was seeing must be either an hallucination or a dream. It wasn't moving, so my groggy mind had time to process. Lets see. Two meters long and wide, tip to tip. Eight legs - one, two, three...., yes eight. Clawed tips. Eyes? Only two. No wait, four mini eyes in each socket, so that made eight. Wide jaw with single lower mandible, and two prominent narrow fangs. No spider abdomen, only a flat abdomen between its lower and upper two appendages and a short tail. No creature I had ever heard of matched this description. Very nightmarish. But if this was a nightmare, I would be panicking by now. Therefore this is real. Therefore I should panic.
I slept with my gun in my arms*, so I slowly angled the barrel at the centre of the... Spider lizard? Splizard? Lider? Ugly. I fired. The shot ripped through flesh, and Ugly squealed in irate shock as he leapt away from me toward the entrance, tangling itself in the web it must have spun the night before. Ugly tried to scramble at me, moving its limbs fast enough that if it hadn't been tangled, I wouldn't have stood a chance. Overcoming my shock that a heartshot didn't stop it sooner, or cause more bleeding, I fired between its eyes, and watched it slump, still twitching its legs.
Short fight. And I was very lucky. I started to realize just how lucky I was as I took stock of my surroundings. The entrance was completely webbed off, making escape impossible. There was a large worm-shaped cocoon of Ugly-silk where Ugly had been focusing his attention before I shot him. I thought it was an egg-sac until I cut it open with my bayonet and found a still-breathing paralyzed 8m python. I killed it so it couldn't cause any trouble. The silk was not easy to cut through. It was sticky, stretchy, gummy and tougher than tendon. After working on the entrance until I could leave, I took a closer look at Ugly. He was very flat. He could have been hiding deep inside a crevice in the cave and despite his size I wouldn't have noticed. Caves were not safe. Out of curiosity I ran a tracker algorithm on the image of the ground in the cave and around the entrance currently compared to the night before.
As the reconstruction played, I saw Ugly arrive at the cave just as I was nodding off to sleep. The image sped up as he worked on the web to cover the entrance for over 2 hours and highlighted when the snake snuck past him, heading for my juicy sleeping body. Ugly must have noticed, because he stopped his construction long enough to paralyze the snake, and wrap him in silk. After Ugly finished sealing the entrance, he began snacking on the snake. I only slept for about 4 hours. If I had slept longer, I would have been wrapped up as well. If the snake hadn't shown up, I would have been dead. If Ugly hadn't shown up, I would have been dead. If Ugly wasn't a glutton, I would have been dead. The fates on Drako offer no forgiveness.
My comms static clicked and in a panicked voice Mertabhai shouted, "What just happenned?"
"Relax," I said, "nothing I couldn't handle."
"Nothing you couldn't handle? Your best defence against the night-stalking predators of this planet is to hide in a cave, and now as far as you know there are no safe caves. You'll have to risk sleeping out in the open for the next 7 nights in order to make it to Mt Drake."
"I have the Triple S tent. I'll be fine."
"Do you know how many combatants have died in their 3S tents? Plus, don't you think the crew members back at the base would like to know about this new threat?"
"They have their dome, and the other guardians. They're safe enough."
"And you're still convinced you can save our parents, so you won't even think about helping the people who you know could use your help?"
He went silent, so I reran the route finding algorithm negating the search for caves etc, favouring locales that would be away from common game trails. The new route shaved an extra 6 hours off the total journey time, so I set out right away. I saw the dead volcano, Mt. Drake peaking up from below the horizon, and I still had over 60km to travel today to make good time. I sent a dragonfly bot to scout the route ahead for wildlife. I didn't want to accidentally run into another carnotaurus. Or, frankly, anything else for that matter.
The rest of the day was quiet. My brother must have been in a mood, he didn't even try to talk to me. I made good time, and only stopped to eat when I came across a fruit-tree that tested good-to-eat. It must've had caffein in it, since for the first time since I landed I stopped craving coffee. As the suns dipped below the horizon, and the daytime lit up my homeworld, Pskaena I gazed into the sky. The Spiral continent in the southwest was awe inspiring. From the ground they were boring, monotonous swampy tracts of land between salt-marshes. From Drako they were like the first moments of the swirling pattern of milk being mixed into black coffee. I could just make out the islands of my ancestral home, Gaeli in the Northwest. I felt like the wolves of Gobland, and I wanted to howl in yearning anticipation for my homeland and the love of my family. But my desire to avoid attracting the attention of every hungry nocturnal predator for miles around quelled the thought.
I found a tall tree and began my climb toward a safe place near the top. A notification alert started bleeping in my peripheral vision, but I figured it was just my brother texting me, so I ignored it and silenced the alert. When I reached 45m up, I figured I was high enough, and I set up my 3S tent on a particularly thick branch.
My mornings were very unlucky. Perhaps it was the lack of caffeine. Perhaps the fates of Drako were grumpy that the fates of Pskaena could have coffee and they couldn't. Perhaps I should have checked the alert instead of silencing it. I might have chosen a different tree. In case you are wondering, the alert had been from my tracker app. It was warning me that a large opportunistic predator had made its bed on top of the jumbled roots of this tree. The nearby river was its primary hunting ground, but the gnawed Iguanadon bones hidden in the roots indicated that it would eat any prey dumb enough to chance by. I would probably fit its dietary criteria.
When I awoke and got out of my tent, I looked down on a 15m long heavily muscled alligator-like dinosaur. This was one of the largest species - a Spinosaurus.
~~~To be continued~~~
* All guardians were equipped with Vanlandic riffles which disassembled themselves to prevent reverse engineering if they were out of an authorized soldier's hands for more than 3 hours.