Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Letchen moved slowly but steadily through the dense jungle. In his right hand spun a blade, broad, flat and wickedly sharp, tethered by a length of cable. Even though the modified nunchaku cleared a wide path through which to walk, the more violent foliage still tore at him, leaving welts and open wounds on exposed flesh. In his other hand Letchen held a blunt nose automatic, always at the ready.

He’d inherited the blade from a mentor, a three year native who’d shown him how to track game meat for the outpost. They hunted together for months before becoming separated during one perilous expedition. Letchen had found the blade, discarded in a pool of blood. He never found his friend’s body, but he’d chased his killer for days, tracking it relentlessly before cornering the beast, exhausted and mortally wounded near the fresh carcass of another. He tore it apart in a wild fit of revenge fueled anger.

Thrashing ahead drew his attention, as the dark form of his quarry tore across his path. Letchen broke into a sprint, veering onto the trail partially cleared by the frightened beast. They’d been coming closer to the compound lately, becoming more brazen and frightening the station inhabitants, but to Letchen that just meant a hundred kilos of game meat he didn’t have to carry nearly as far. The creature screeched over its shoulder at him, black lips curled back from massive white teeth. It leapt into the air, arms extended, grasped a low hanging vine and began pulling itself hand over hand towards the canopy, curling it’s legs upwards to clutch with it’s hand-like feet, accelerating its ascent. Letchen raised his weapon and fired, the thunder-crack setting off a cacophony of sound as every other living creature nearby took notice. The wounded beast stopped, struggled futily to maintain its grip before letting go, falling hard to the ground where it lay motionless. Letchen closed the distance quickly, and with a sweeping overhead strike, decapitated the beast. He wasn’t taking chances, and it would save him carrying twenty meatless kilos he couldn’t eat.

He wrestled the carcass into a sitting position, and pulling one carbon black arm down over his own chest, and hooking his other arm through its legs, he managed to shoulder his kill and stand. Letchen started what he knew would be a long slow trek back to the compound, warm blood oozing down his back as the beast bled out, the fluid mingling with the blood of his own wounds.

The walk was arduous at first, but gradually he felt reenergized, his stride lengthened and he found himself almost bounding through the dense greenery. The carcass on his back must have bled out completely, as it felt almost weightless now. Letchen leapt at a low hanging vine, grasping it with his left hand and letting momentum carry him off his feet through several meters of jungle. His adrenal glands undoubtedly had gone into overdrive, he’d never felt this invigorated after a hunt before.

He could see the walls of the compound rising up through the jungle and he broke into a sprint. The relative calm was suddenly shattered by a barrage of gunfire, tracer rounds flashing past him, large calibre slugs masticating the dense jungle. Letchen opened his mouth to yell as the gunner paused to reload, but no words escaped, just a screeching sound that chilled him to the bone. Letchen stared at his outstretched arm, noticing for the first time the blackening of his skin, and the fluid rippling of the muscle straining beneath it. His cells were flooded with new commands, but the overpowering one now was ‘run’. The headless carcass fell to the ground, as a newly heightened survival instinct drove Letchen to abandon his kill and his weapons and flee upwards into the trees, and into utter darkness.

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