The colony is still recovering from its war with the Vemus, but now they face a new threat. Something is causing a major upheaval among the creatures of New Earth, and the Colonial Defense Force is in trouble.
A new discovery sheds light on what happened to the alien race that inhabited New Earth, and their fate may affect whether the colony survives. As the scientists race to unravel the mystery, hordes of super-predators are rushing toward colonial settlements, and Connor must find a way to stop them before all is lost!
Sanctuary is the fourth book in the First Colony military space opera series.
Release date: February 13, 2018
Publisher: Acoustical Books LLC
Print pages: 338
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During the year since the Vemus attack, Sanctuary had become a community in its own right. Connor had lived there for the last eight months and it was peaceful without being dull, a bit on the edge, rustic, but most importantly, it didn't have so many reminders of everyone he'd lost. Perhaps this was because of the foreign nature of the alien ruins, which were constructed of a bronze-colored alloy with long ramps that spiraled through most of the city. For some reason, the aliens that built Sanctuary hadn’t constructed anything like stairs, which led some scientists to speculate they must have had very short legs. The rounded architecture was tall enough for Connor to walk through, and some places were large enough to drive through, so Connor wasn’t sure about the whole “short-legged aliens” theory. Those short legs would have had to carry a large body, which led other scientists to believe the aliens were some type of highly-evolved insectoid, but he didn’t put much faith in that theory either. There were plenty of insects on New Earth, just not highly evolved ones. There was, however, an abundance of mammalian life-forms and an ecosystem of carbon-based life that Connor equated as a close cousin of Earth.
Connor spent most of his days in the ruins helping Lenora with her research and had begun to formulate his own theories about the intelligent alien race that had been native to New Earth. But his research duties had always been part-time at best, and he’d slowly transitioned into a point man for exploratory field-ops-type tasks. He’d also become an intermediary for the people living there. Dealing with other people’s problems wasn’t something he relished, but when it came to keeping Sanctuary’s residents safe, he’d rather they came to him.
After the war, he’d had to distance himself from Sierra—and the Colonial Defense Force, in particular—which left him feeling conflicted about walking away from something he’d worked so hard to build. Some days he felt like he’d abandoned the CDF despite knowing that, due to having been exposed to the Vemus Alpha, he’d been unfit for duty when he’d first awakened. The risk of contamination had been much too high, and after the danger had passed, he found it was better if he didn't return to the CDF for his own sake. Despite Ashley's assertions that he was okay, there were people in the colonial government who knew of Connor's exposure and still wondered if there was something latent going on inside him related to the Vemus. It didn't matter that Ashley, the former Chief of Medicine at Sierra, and interim colonial governor had cleared him. He couldn’t blame them since he’d spent quite a few nights dreading the same thing himself.
Connor had proposed the promotion of Nathan Hayes to General of the CDF based on his military career and Nathan’s own actions on Lunar Base that had greatly contributed to the colony’s survival. The colonial government had accepted Connor’s recommendation and Nathan was a fine officer who had done an excellent job with the CDF.
Nathan understood why Connor needed to distance himself, but they’d kept in touch when time allowed. Nathan was a father now and had married Colonel Savannah Cross shortly after the war with the Vemus. It had taken awhile for Savannah to forgive Connor for relieving her of duty, but when their daughter Olivia was born, Savannah let go of her anger toward Connor. In the end, Savannah’s presence during the defense of Sanctuary had been a deciding factor in the survival of a large portion of the colony’s population, and while Connor didn’t believe much in fate, he was still happy with the way things had worked out.
Connor’s wandering thoughts were interrupted as the door to the ATV he was driving opened and Ian Malone climbed in.
“The seismic monitors are fine,” Ian said.
“Matches with the quakes quieting down,” Connor replied, but Ian didn’t look convinced. “What is it?” Connor asked.
“Seismic activity doesn’t usually just stop. It should take some time to settle down first,” Ian said as he slipped into his seat in the ATV.
Connor hated it when Ian did that. Ian was known for speaking only half of what he was thinking, leaving Connor the task of pulling the rest of it out of him.
“Spit it out. How bad could it be? Is Sanctuary at risk?” Connor asked.
As if he’d been pulled from his thoughts, Ian blinked several times and shook his head. “I don’t think so. I mean, it’s possible that pressure could be building, but we’d see evidence of that. The aliens built a geothermal power-tap here because of its proximity to the fault line. Millions of years ago this was likely a supervolcano, or at least had the potential to be one.”
Connor frowned. “Somehow this doesn’t make me feel any better.”
Ian snorted. “Remember Yellowstone National Park?”
“Yeah, but if I recall correctly, Yellowstone was much more active, what with Old Faithful and the hot springs,” Connor said.
Ian glanced at him. “You’re really wound up today. Let me be clear. We’re not going to blow up in a supervolcano—at least not today or in the next hundred years . . . probably.”
“Thanks,” Connor said. He glanced at the controls on the dashboard before setting off again and noted that the engine batteries were down to a thirty-percent charge—not ideal for a supply run to the remote caches but far from dangerously low.
In the eight years since he'd lived on New Earth, he’d taken so many things for granted about the sheer raw beauty of their home—humanity's home now since there was no one left back on Earth. Some scientists held out hope that there could still be people who had successfully stayed hidden from the Vemus on Earth, but Connor didn’t believe it. The Vemus had been a ruthless, efficient weapon that had grown beyond its creator’s control.
Though he kept his distance from the rebuilding of Sierra, he’d still been apprised of the latest theories for how the Vemus had survived the journey to reach New Earth—a combination of suspended animation and consumption of biological resources for the long voyage, which was science-speak for the Vemus cannibalizing themselves in order to survive. Connor had been around enough scientists to know they couldn’t help their curiosity, but he’d rather forget one of mankind’s darkest chapters.
Connor set the ATV at a comfortable pace as they drove down the path to the next supply cache. They were fifty kilometers from Sanctuary and heading farther afield for this supply run. Supply caches had been set up for remote teams to use when fieldwork prevented them from returning to Sanctuary, and routine checks were required since some of the local fauna had taken to raiding the caches on occasion. These small, rodent-sized, nocturnal raiders were highly adept at sniffing out improperly secured caches. Connor had seen images of the pesky critters. They were brown, furry creatures with large rounded eyes and hands that were similar to humans but with only four fingers plus the claws. Most wild creatures on New Earth had claws that were incredibly tough.
Ian settled back and pulled his wide-brimmed hat over his face in order to nap. Connor could have engaged the auto-drive function of the ATV but preferred to drive it himself, and he liked the quiet.
For the past eight years he'd been consumed with the Vemus threat, and now that he finally had a moment's peace he couldn’t understand why the hell he was so restless. These past months living with Lenora were among the happiest of his life. Since being reunited, they had connected on a much deeper level than he’d ever anticipated. So why was he still haunted by nightmares? Sometimes he dreamed he was stuck in a sea of Vemus sludge while Wayne's combat suit stared at him, lifeless and intimidating, like the Flying Dutchman emerging from the gloom. Dark shapes of Vemus soldiers surrounded him and he was alone, suffocating. Just when he felt he couldn't take it anymore, he’d wake up with a gasp, shocked and sweaty. He had scars—the ones you couldn't see. He wouldn’t have been able to face what he'd faced and walk away unscathed.
Lenora had her share of nightmares, but she tackled things a bit differently than he did. She had her research to focus on and Connor helped her with that. The work they were doing at Sanctuary—learning all they could about the intelligent indigenous species that had mysteriously disappeared—was more than enough to stimulate their imaginations. Lenora had been right. What they were doing here suited him, but at the same time he felt a growing frustration in the back of his mind.
A large group of people had elected to stay at Sanctuary after they could have returned to the main colonial encampments. Even so, Sanctuary wasn't a huge community, but it was close-knit. Most of the people who stayed just wanted to live on the fringes. Connor thought that some of them, like himself, didn’t want to be reminded of what they’d lost, and he couldn’t blame them. He’d committed himself to making sure those who lived in their community were as safe as possible, which sometimes led to him stepping on a few toes.
There was a lot of rebuilding and resurgence going on in the colonial cities, and cleanup efforts near the Lunar Base were almost complete. The derelict Vemus ships and large pieces of wreckage had been put on a course to intercept the sun. That way, nature would take over and none of the Vemus would survive to threaten humanity ever again.
Sometimes he thought about the billions of lives that had been lost back on Earth. Was it an accident of fate that those on New Earth had survived? Connor didn't think so. They'd stood upon the shoulders of giants and were able to claw a victory from certain death. When he stopped and thought about it, which he often did, it was a miracle they were still alive despite all they'd endured. He supposed the fact that they'd come here to New Earth and found something to help with their fight against the Vemus would be construed as providence by some, but Connor didn't necessarily agree with that. They’d put the pieces together and then done the work. Regardless, it had been a close thing, and no one would ever forget it.
He'd seen the rebuilding efforts going on at Sierra. Ashley was an excellent governor, though her term would be up within a few months and they would elect a new colonial governor. Ashley often complained about serving as governor, and her tenure had been intended as a temporary solution, but the fact of the matter was that if she chose to put her hat in the pot, she’d garner a lot of support from the colonists. She claimed that she wasn't Tobias, who’d been excellent at his job, but perhaps her long-term marriage to Tobias including during his two terms as governor had rubbed off on her. But Connor didn't think Ashley, whose first love was her career as a physician, would run a campaign to hold onto the governor’s office, so there would be a few new candidates for the coming election. Connor had even received a small number of messages suggesting that he put his candidacy forward which he refused to even consider. He didn't want to run things. He’d served his time, both here at the colony and before he came to New Earth. This was his time now, his new beginning to make his life what he wanted it to be. And what he wanted was to live quietly, or as quietly as he could with an archaeologist who loved to discover and explore.
* * *
For the next forty minutes, Connor kept the ATV on course following the winding pathway to the supply cache. Ian snored next to him, completely oblivious. This far from Sanctuary the lands were heavily forested. Occasionally, he heard sharp blasts of air from the landrunners that sometimes made their paths through the forests instead of sticking to the wide-open plains. He glanced to the side and saw their thick, muscular bodies covered in long shaggy brown hair. The biggest of the group swung its head toward the ATV. The short tentacles along its mouth gave it a bearded look. The landrunner blew out a blast of air and several more came from around the trees to look at the ATV while Connor drove past. He didn’t worry about them attacking. The landrunners’ greatest strength was the high speed they were capable of due to their exceptionally long legs.
Connor left them behind and checked the recon drones on patrol. They would note whether any local predators were in the area and provide data updates to Field Ops. An occasional pack of berwolfs would move through the area, but they rarely came close to Sanctuary—with one notable exception. Lenora had cared for a berwolf cub she'd named Bull. Bull was now fully grown and moved with the agility of a wolf but was the size of a grizzly bear. The drones had shown Bull traveling with his own pack and his visits to Sanctuary were becoming less frequent.
Incredibly, the berwolves had actually attacked the Vemus during the assault on Sanctuary. Connor guessed they were natural enemies of sorts, or it could have been because of Bull’s loyalty to Lenora; either way, Connor was thankful for the animals’ actions. According to his friend Noah, it had been a very close thing.
The recon drones’ status updates showed that there were no ryklars in the area. After their initial brush with the ryklars when they'd first pulled Connor out of stasis all those years ago, the colony had only needed deterrence systems to keep them away from the settlements. Once the ultrahigh-frequency signals that had drawn them to Sanctuary were suppressed, the ryklars had migrated away from colonial settlements, following the herds and essentially acting like normal predators.
An alert appeared on the ATV’s heads-up display indicating they were approaching the beacon for the supply cache and rousing Ian from his slumber. A comlink call chimed on the ATV’s HUD.
“Hey, Connor,” Chloe said. “I hate to bother you, but we've got an overdue survey team that’s not far from you and I was hoping you could check it out.”
Field Ops maintained a small squad at Sanctuary, but they were short-staffed and Connor had been called on more than one occasion to help with these sorts of requests.
“I thought Ramsey was on duty in the area. Can he check it out?” Connor replied.
“He was, but he's escorting another team and they're pretty far away. We received a distress beacon with a vehicle tracking ID of AC-217,” Chloe said, then paused.
The tracking ID indicated it was an ATV assigned to Lenora’s team, but Connor knew Lenora was working in the alien archives back at Sanctuary.
“It's Dash DeWitt's ID tag in the distress call,” Chloe continued.
Connor blew out a breath. Dash, he thought and groaned. “I get it, Chloe. Send me the coordinates and we’ll go check it out.”
“Thanks. I really appreciate it. Normally I'd hate to bother you with this, but you did say you wanted to know if Dash gets into trouble again,” Chloe said with a hint of amusement.
Connor massaged his forehead. “I know, and we’ll see what's going on.”
He closed the comlink and Ian rubbed his eyes.
“Well, I take it we're not going to stop at the supply cache, then,” Ian said.
“No, we can stop there,” Connor said and looked at the report Chloe had sent over. It was just an automated distress signal and any number of things could have happened to trip it off. Dash knew better than to not call it in though, which made Connor wonder if there was just a problem with the ATV's comms system.
“That kid always seems to find trouble,” Ian said.
“Don’t I know it,” Connor agreed.
Dash DeWitt was a student archaeologist eager to make a name for himself.
“I wonder what he's up to now,” Ian said and took a sip of water from his canteen. “Last time, he thought they'd found another site of undiscovered buildings.”
“He's eager to prove himself, which would be fine if he wasn’t so reckless,” Connor said.
“So says every father, and I’m sure Dash’s father said the same thing on more than one occasion,” Ian said.
Dash’s father had died during the war with the Vemus. There were a lot of orphaned children whose ages ranged from the very young to those on the cusp of adulthood. Some were students who rotated through various colony locations, including forward operating research bases called FORBs as well as the encampments. One thing Ashley safeguarded was the education of their youngest colonists. This was all in service of moving forward, and it gave the youngest colonists something to focus on other than rebuilding. All senior research scientists, like Lenora, were required to educate the next crop of young scientists. Because they hadn't gotten to fight in the war, and given that such a short time ago they'd almost died, some of the colonists on the cusp of adulthood had a burning desire to prove themselves.
Dash DeWitt had just turned eighteen. He was smart, competent, and contending with the loss of his parents. Coupled with a healthy dose of youthful vigor and a significant propensity for recklessness, these traits threatened to lead Dash into an early grave. Connor was familiar with the type and had been one of those eager young men himself a long time ago. Dash had come to Sanctuary six months earlier, and by now he should understand some of the dangers they had to deal with, such as the fact that help wasn't readily available due to the remoteness of their location.
Connor used his implants to send a signal to the recon drone so it would scout ahead toward the distress beacon.
Ian pulled up his own holoscreen and then brought up the supply cache’s status. “The cache looks intact so I don't think we need to stop and do a full inspection. We should probably just head on over to the distress beacon.”
Connor glanced at the status update and agreed. He was getting tired of babysitting Dash. What was it going to take for that kid to learn not to get in over his head?
Connor plugged in the new coordinates and increased their velocity. He hoped it was just a mechanical problem with the ATV, but with Dash's history, it really could be anything.
Connor suppressed a sigh and told himself to stop gritting his teeth. Lenora was always getting on him about that.
“Probably best to make sure our CAR-74's are fully charged,” Connor said.
Ian glanced at him and then shrugged. He twisted around and opened the field case behind them.
They were remote from Sanctuary, so everyone had to be armed. At least Connor wasn't carrying the ordinary civilian version of the assault rifle. He’d modified his so it was a bit more powerful—not as powerful as his old AR-71, but it would get the job done and had enough stopping power to put even a berwolf in its place.
“They’re fully charged,” Ian said and turned back around.
Going faster made the ride much more uncomfortable, which irked Connor even more. He didn’t want anything to be really wrong, but he hoped Dash had a damn good excuse for his latest mishap.
Liking the almost prickly feel of his recent haircut on his fingertips, Dash rubbed the back of his head. He felt a bit of dampness from the sweat he’d worked up as they hiked through a canyon to reach this location. A quick glance at Jim showed him checking his CAR-74 hunting rifle for the umpteenth time.
Jim saw him looking. “We should head back to the ATV.”
Dash suppressed a sigh and glanced at his friend. “We’re just about to the other side and you want to turn back around? Seriously, Jim?”
Jim smiled guiltily and shrugged the narrow shoulders of his tall, lanky frame. Dash knew Jim wasn’t tired at all. He could easily keep up with Dash on long hikes, but remote field surveys left him a bit nervous. Dash expected Jim’s jitters at remote fieldwork would go away after a few more months; otherwise, why would anyone stay at Sanctuary, which was as far removed from the main colonial settlements as one could get these days?
Dash swung his gaze toward the other half of the impromptu survey team. “Do you guys want to turn back now?”
Selena Wilson looked up from the path and frowned. She glanced over at Merissa, who’d stopped next to her. “We haven’t even reached the target location yet,” Selena said.
Selena was in the middle of an educational track toward field biology in hopes of gaining approval to continue in the advanced colonial education program, and Dash knew there would be no lack of enthusiasm from her. She was almost as eager as he was about discovering something new.
Merissa gave Jim a sympathetic look. “We’re fine, Jim.”
Merissa was already in the advanced colonial education system for planetary scientific studies, and her rotation to Sanctuary was highly sought after because it was a competitive program. In the colony, the individual education programs were customized to play to a person's strengths, but it was the fieldwork that would allow a student to be awarded top-tier selections for their designated fields of study. This was the primary reason Dash had pushed so hard to come to Sanctuary and study under Dr. Lenora Bishop.
Dash’s aptitude scores showed a strong inclination toward engineering. He loved figuring stuff out, unraveling the mysteries of the world around them, and there were no shortages of unknowns on New Earth. He had been highly sought after by the colonial rebuilding efforts, but he’d chosen archaeology. The intelligent species of aliens that had built a civilization here on New Earth and then disappeared was the ultimate mystery. This appealed to him much more than rebuilding what they’d lost during the war with the Vemus. He was more than just another engineer.
Selena and Merissa walked on ahead of them and Dash gave Jim a playful swat on the shoulder.
“I was just checking,” Jim said.
Dash leaned over so only Jim could hear. “She noticed, buddy. Your concern was . . . well received.”
Jim jabbed his elbow into Dash’s side, catching him off-guard. Dash laughed.
Jim had only been living at Sanctuary for a month and volunteered in the Field Ops office there, which didn’t qualify him for fieldwork yet, but Dash thought Jim could use some fresh air and a break from his internship.
Dash took out his PDA and checked the information he’d copied from the alien archives discovered at Sanctuary.
“The map says there should be something at the end of the canyon,” Dash said.
“There better be; otherwise, this field trip is a bust. As it is, we’ll not get back before nightfall,” Merissa said with a hint of annoyance.
They’d left before sunrise and it had taken most of the morning to reach this location. They were over a hundred kilometers from Sanctuary, which didn’t sound very far except that there were no roads or marked paths they could follow to get out here. When they’d come upon the canyon, they realized that going around might have added days to the survey, which they weren’t equipped to deal with, and carried the extra bonus for Dash of incurring the wrath of Connor Gates. Connor would likely be angry with him for this little field trip, but Connor was always irritated by something these days, so Dash considered it a breakeven proposition.
After a steady descent into the canyon the path narrowed considerably, which had instigated the discussion of heading back, but Dash wasn’t too serious about that. Going through the canyon would be the quickest way. Their ATV couldn’t fit through and the path hadn’t widened as he’d hoped it would. They’d decided to take their field kits and hunting rifles and push on by foot. He’d set an hourly check-in beacon for the ATV so they could easily find their way back once they’d finished scouting the area. This whole effort would have been much easier if they could've flown one of the C-cat transports.
“Okay, let’s go over this again,” Merissa said as they walked along the path.
“It’s the same as before,” Dash said.
Merissa arched a dark eyebrow, but her smooth, golden features remained impassive as always. She was a poker player; there was no doubt about that.
“As if you don’t want to talk about what you found again,” Merissa chided.
Dash snorted. “You got me,” he said and stuck his PDA into his backpack. “In the archives, I found a reference to the layout of Sanctuary, like a city schematic, but on it were structures beyond the city borders. The locations were marked, but there was no other mention of what they were or how they were used. A few of the locations have been scouted, but nothing was found. Dr. Kabbot thought they might have been marked as future sites for where the NEIIS intended to expand the city.”
Merissa shook her head and rolled her hazel-colored eyes. “I never liked that name for them.”
“New Earth Indigenous Intelligent Species is more of a mouthful,” Dash replied.
“I know. Believe me, I know,” Merissa said.
“We can call them Bobs if you want,” Dash offered.
“Or Janes,” Selena offered gleefully.
“So much for creativity,” Merissa said.
“You can call them whatever you want, but it doesn’t change anything,” Dash said.
“The reason this site is important—”
“Uh, the reason you think it’s important,” Jim chimed in.
“Thanks, appreciate that, buddy,” Dash said dryly. “—is that it’s the most remote and it heads away from any other settlement we’ve found to date. Since we don’t know what’s beyond, it's incredibly interesting. Worth checking, in my estimation.”
“I thought you said the reference was obscure,” Merissa said.
“It is, but why would they put something all the way out here if it didn’t lead anywhere?”
This drew silent stares from the others.
“Think about it. Why do we place something in a remote location? It could be something used for safekeeping, another storage facility, or a backup site. The possibilities are endless,” Dash said.
“Or it could be as Dr. Kabbot already said—it was marked as a future site for something else and they never did anything with it,” Merissa replied.
Dash shook his head. He’d seen the data and had been around the NEIIS architecture enough to know they didn’t do anything without a reason. “Either way, we’ll find out shortly.”
“What did Dr. Bishop think of all this?” Merissa asked.
Dash's brow wrinkled as he glanced up at the canyon ridge.
Merissa repeated herself and Dash cursed inwardly. He should have known she wouldn’t let up.
Dash looked back at them. “I didn’t tell her about it.”
Merissa frowned in consternation. “What!”
Selena gasped. “You didn’t say anything to her? I thought Dr. Bishop knew about the site.”
“She knows about the site. At least I think she does,” Dash said quickly. “No, she does; I’m sure of it.”
“Does she know we’re out here?” Merissa asked.
Jim gave Dash a helpless look. Jim already knew that no one had given Dash actual permission for this field survey mission.
“Not exactly,” Dash admitted and quickened his pace.
“Let me get this straight,” Merissa said as she caught up with him. “The archaeological team of which you’re a part falls under Dr. Bishop’s domain, but you think that if you make this new discovery you’ll get some credit for the contribution?”
Dash shook his head. “No, it’s not like that at all. Technically, any discoveries made in the vicinity of Sanctuary would be associated with Dr. Bishop.”
Merissa twisted her lips into an unconvinced frown. “So what’s the rush then?”
“I’m not rushing,” Dash replied, and glanced at the others. “The field is where the real work is done. They’ve had plenty of people devoting all their time to Sanctuary and the archives. With the constraints on Field Ops escorts, it would have been months before anyone would even consider coming out here. So I figured, why not gather some of the top people here for a little field trip and perhaps we’ll find something interesting—something that will get the attention this new site deserves.”
Merissa seemed to consider this for a moment and some of her ire appeared to dissipate.
“See, you agree with me,” Dash said.
Merissa sighed. “I wouldn’t go that far,” she said and glanced at Selena.
“Dash isn’t wrong about the timeframe for Field Ops,” Jim said. “I hear Captain Ramsey talk about it a lot. Personnel available for field missions are restricted because of the colonial rebuilding efforts going on at the main city sites.”
Selena nodded. “Dr. Wilson talks about it too. We had to wait almost three weeks for escorts for a standard field biological excursion.”
“See?” Dash said. “We’re all being kept under lock and key, doing busy work. The Vemus are gone. I understand that we need to rebuild and that safety is a number-one priority. You can’t be around Connor Gates and not get that message, but still, there comes a time when we just need to get back out there and explore our new home.”
Merissa gave him a long look and then smiled. “Do you feel better now that you’ve gotten that off your chest?”
Dash’s eyebrows drew upward in surprise. “You knew?”
“Of course I knew, and I also knew you’d go anyway,” Merissa said.
“And you’re curious, too,” Dash said.
Merissa cocked her head to the side. “I wouldn’t have come all the way out here if I wasn’t. You’re not as clever as you think you are.”
Jim frowned at them. “Curious about what?”
Merissa didn’t answer but instead met Dash’s challenging gaze.
“Merissa’s research track in planetary sciences includes a specialization in ecosystems,” Dash replied.
“I’m not following,” Jim said.
“It means that since we’re restricted to the colonial city sites or Sanctuary, there’s been a shortage of people willing to put resources toward FORBs. Sanctuary is as close as we can get to research bases out in the field for the foreseeable future,” Dash said.
“You’re remarkably well informed,” Merissa said.
“Not really, just cleverer than I look it seems,” Dash said with a smile. “It’s the same reason I busted my butt to get out here. The reason I came to all of you is because I knew you’d be interested and it could really help us all in the long run.”
Merissa laughed. “Stop acting as if you put this together for everyone else’s benefit. You wanted to come out here to make a name for yourself. You simply needed our help to do it.”
Dash shook his head. “That’s part of it. If that’s how you want to see it, then by all means. Regardless, we’re here. Might as well see what we’ve found.”
Dash walked ahead and the others followed, noting that the canyon had been opening up as they approached the end of it. Dash used his implants to check his PDA again and the coordinates appeared on his internal heads-up display. The marker highlighted a point just over the trees beyond the area where they stood. He tried to peer through the forest but couldn’t see any structures, so he sent a signal to the recon drone he had scouting the area. After a few seconds, he saw the small drone fly overhead. Dash took his rifle from its sling and the others did the same. He kept the safety on, but it didn’t hurt to be prepared. All field teams were armed with at least some kind of weapon; New Earth wasn’t safe enough without them, with the exception of the cities and encampments.
The recon drone sent back a video feed and Dash shared it with the others. The four of them stood in place while they watched, since walking while watching a video feed wasn’t recommended. The drone was in survey mode, which made for smoother flying at slower speeds. The targeting systems cataloged anomalies until they could be identified. Dash studied the video feed, taking in all the details, and saw an area ahead of the drone that looked like a nest of long, thick vines.
“That’s it,” Dash said.
“How can you tell?” Merissa asked.
Dash took a snapshot of the image and set the drone to survey the area. “Because vines like those grow over and around existing structures. That formation isn’t natural. See the curvature?”
Dash highlighted the area on the image on his heads-up display and shared it with the others.
Jim blew out a breath. “Good eye, Dash,” he said, sounding impressed.
Merissa regarded him for a moment before giving him a nod.
“Let’s go see what we’ve found,” Dash said.
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