Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

The leaves of the overhanging canopy cast a restless pattern of light and dark on the forest floor. The soft trill of flying animals and the occasional flutter of branches as some unseen creature passed on it’s arboreal thoroughfare were the only sounds to intrude upon the tomblike solemnity of the forest.

Moving silently below, a group of black clad men made their way, careful not to disturb a single twig. Inaudible within their armoured helmets, the men still spoke quietly into their com-links.

“It came from this direction,” Sergeant Sakharov’s hushed voice rasped over the net.

“What the hell was it,” PFC Josten asked, the flow of adrenalin evident in his voice. Growing up during the early years of the Martian Rebellion, Mark Joston was a born soldier.

“Judging by the size of these tracks, whatever it is, it’s big.” Corporal Schmidt remarked with a casual air. He was Earth born, and lived in a world a little more rarefied than the other six men of the strike group. Such things were barely within his sphere of concern. He had joined the Corps on a whim “for the adventure“. Something to tell the boys back home of his days among “the little people”.

The ravages of the rebellion had escaped the confines of the Martian atmosphere and spread to the rest of the colonies in the system. Mother Earth had been spared the carnage. Partially due to her position as the cradle of humanity, but more notably for her impenetrable string of Planetary Defense Satellites, the PleiaDeS, and her massive swarms of HK ships, bristling with plasma cannons and nova clusters. So, with no where else to turn, the next phase of the ongoing war had spread to the Morning Star. Venus.

“What do you think it is? Some sort of Allied secret weapon?” Pvt. Zalar was green, fresh from boot. The seasoned marines laughed derisively, concealing their own fears.

“Nah,” replied Sgt. Sakharov testily, “if there were any slopes around I’d smell ‘em. Even through the scrubbers. Whatever it is, it ain’t Allied.” Fatigued by the heat, and the weight of the cumbersome armour, Sakharov called a halt.

The men were exhausted, sweltering in the early morning sun despite the cooling mechanisms of their armour. The men walked in a staggered “V” pattern, invisible to each other through the dense foliage, though separated by mere meters. Their locations, as well as a 360* view of their environs was projected directly into their eyes by the opaque faceless helms.

Lcpl Pohl on point, squealed sharply. “Hey, there’s something directly on our twelve… something big.”

Sgt. Sakharov spoke up. “Where? There’s nothing on my scan… Oh shit…” His voice trailed into silence.

A thunderous bellow blasted through the trees. The heavy dampening effect of the lush undergrowth did nothing to squelch the deafening explosion of sound. The birdlike creatures and the scurrying denizens of the upper branches scattered like leaves before a hurricane.

Rising above them on legs thicker than any surrounding tree stood a beast resembling a nightmare predating mans very existence. Without an order given, or necessary, all seven men simultaneously opened fire with their blasters. Seven individual tongues of green plasma bathed the beast with little noticeable affect.

Stunned into immobility, the men stood and stared as the monster reared back to take a massive lungful of air, and swiftly stooped down showering the men with a sticky gel like substance that ignited instantly upon contact with air.

The anguished cries of the par broiled men were silenced as the dragon bowed to devour his prey.

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