From Chapter One
Oldearth ARAM Encounter
Mud seeped between Aram’s toes. He shivered despite the sweat trickling down his spine. A shower of drops splattered across his face as he beat back the forest’s dangling vines and springy saplings. Exhaustion sapped his last bits of energy. With the back of his mud-smeared hand, he wiped his face.
Visions of a warm fire and venison haunches sizzling on spits caused his heart to momentarily fail. His weary limbs demanded rest, but he only shook his head. Not yet—but soon.
His people staggered in stupefaction. Their flight seemed never ending, their search futile. Danger lurked in every dark motion of the forest.
As his muscular body plodded through the root-gnarled muck of the late rainy season, a new light grew in his mind. He could still see the tawny-colored fur and glittering eyes of the beast as it snatched its first struggling, screaming victim. When he had heard the throaty growls and the moon’s glow had cast uneven shadows on the beast, he had frozen with horror in the face of the cat’s great size.
It had struck in twilight when light danced with utter blackness. His wife, Namah, hunch-backed and morose, had been directing the meal preparations. Her orders rang out shrill and abundant—as usual. The other women had obeyed with their typical, sullen compliance.
He had glanced at Namah as the mighty feline landed on its victim, and though her wide-eyed terror had matched his, she had thrown a rock at the retreating creature. Despite her crooked spine, she showed a strength of mind—not unlike that of the cat.
Even when he had thrown his spear and others joined in action with cries of fear and anguish, he knew it was too late. The night was too dark and the cat too mammoth to hunt in the gloomy forest.
Aram had known the youth well and agony had gripped his heart, but his mind would not respond to his grief—only to fear. If he gave his clan time to rest, their anguish might turn to madness. If he kept moving, they might outrun both beast and terror.
But they were past exhaustion now. The lands of their forefathers lay far behind them. They had entered lands unknown to his memory. They had always gained life from familiar trees, made suitable shelters, and found peace beneath their branches. The ancient woods gnarled together in a forest of immeasurable depth. But their frantic travels had led them into a foreign land.
—Ingoti are large beings originating from the planet Ingilium and range from six to seven feet tall. They are heavy due to their extensive weight and girth but are very fast and extremely powerful. They are never seen outside of their bulky techno-organic armor and breather helms.
—On Board an Ingoti Trading Vessel
Zuri, an Ingoti trader renowned for his clever deals, braced for impact, but there was little he could do to protect his co-pilot. Gem crouched, covering his head with his arms and hoped that the restraints would hold. The small trading vessel carved a deep furrow into the lush dirt and plowed into an Earthen hillside.
Blinking awake, Zuri considered his biomechanical techno-armor, and seeing it intact, he sighed in relief. Hobbling to the main console, he reviewed the status of the ship. Various systems blinked offline status, but life support held firm. Glancing back at the cargo hold, he ticked off the needed parts in his mind and stepped forward.
Gem lay sprawled across the floor, unconscious.
Crouching by his side, Zuri made a quick diagnostic review of Gem’s bio-suit and life signs. With a chuckle, he lightly slapped Gem’s ruddy cheek. “Get up, lazy fool. We’re already behind schedule, and Cresta’s are not known for their patience.”
Rising on his elbow with a groan, Gem shook his head like a confused Ingoti bullock. “I thought I was done for. What happened?”
Zuri stood and rubbed his back. “That replacement Orbital Maintenance you bought blew and sent us spiraling right into the atmosphere. Should’ve guessed. It was too cheap to be an honest deal.”
“Blast! I’ll pay them back for this; don’t worry.” Gem rose and started toward the console. “How long before we’re ready to set off again?”
His gaze rising to the ceiling, Zuri crossed his arms. “It’ll only take a few hours with both of us working on it. But, I’ve heard about this planet—how about we take a little tour?”
Gem scowled. “I’ve heard about humans, too. Primitive and—”
“I didn’t say anything about humans. By the Divide, if I wanted to go to the zoo, I’d visit the one on Helm.” He stroked his chin. “No, how about scouting around a little? There might be resources we could use. The Ingilum would pay dearly….”
A crooked smile crawled across Gem’s face.
While struggling through dense woodland, Gem wiped his sweaty brow. “How does anyone survive here? It’s not fit for habitation!”
Zuri shrugged. “Not where I would have chosen to land—”
A low growl stopped them both in their tracks.
Slowly, they turned. Zuri raised his Dustbuster and aimed as a tawny, four-legged beast drew near.
Gem swallowed. “That thing’s enormous!” Turning at the sound of human voices. He grinned. “Ah, it’s tracking them.” He pointed to a clearing where a large group of humans had settled down for rest.
Crouching low, Zuri peered between the branches until he could see the throng.
Men, women, and children crowded around a central figure, a tall muscled man with long, black hair.
Peering back at Gem, Zuri shook his head. “They’re practically naked—without any techno-armor at all. Amazing they’ve survived! They must be brighter than they look.” After stepping back, he sent low-power beam searing through the foliage near the huge, stalking cat, frightening the beast into the thick woods.
Gem scowled. “What’d you do that for? Let the whole planet know we’re here, why don’t you.”
Zuri pointed the Dustbuster at Gem. “Is there anything left of you—on the inside—I mean? We were once naked and helpless too. If the Cresta’s hadn’t taught us—”
“They used us in their studies. They weren’t being generous.”
“But we learned from them! That’s what counts.”
Gem stared at the Dustbuster in Zuri’s hand. “So, what’s your point?”
Shoving the weapon into his armor holster, Zuri shrugged. “I’m just giving them a chance to live and learn.” He stalked back toward the ship. “It’s time we left. I’ve got enough data to make up for the time we’ve lost.” He grinned as he swiped a branch out of his way. “The Cresta can pay us for both the cargo and the information.”
Gem marched behind. “And the Ingilum Supreme Command? What’ll they say?”
Zuri turned and, clasping Gem’s shoulder, he lifted his eyes to the sky. “Contrary to my expectations, I foresee a day when humans and their primitive world will be quite useful. We’re on an intercept course. In any case—information always pays.”
Novels by A. K. Frailey
Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg
Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN
Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm
Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg
Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu
Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r
The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5
The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Ringshttp://amzn.to/2lWBd00