Most Starfarers are loners and runaways, and unfortunately I am no exception (being both), though I do miss having a pack from time to time. It is difficult to make friends with the others here, even with how long our expeditions tend to take, so it was with relief that I departed from my normal berth aboard the ship to explore one of the local settlements. Because I frequently take this approach, I have a useful three-dimensional mapping device built into my time-keeping device, which is strapped to my wrist. I had already programmed the local 2-d maps into it, so I had something to start from. I regularly submit my own 3D maps to the ship’s AI every time I return to my berth so that other Starfarers can benefit. Often others do the same, so the maps expand rapidly.
Today I was headed to an underground cave system, purportedly used by people known locally as ‘Dragonkeepers.’ I was told to expect them to be a little shy and wary of outsiders, and warned that they may not allow me to approach at all. The challenge piqued my curiosity and the promise of small cuddly domesticated dragons appealed to me, since the planet I come from is home to thousand-foot tall horrifying behemoths who breathe a multitude of deadly things at anyone and anything which crosses their paths.
The entrance to the cave system was not clearly marked on my map, so I would probably be spending more time than I really cared to in the forest. About an hour or so into my trip, I was passed by a hovercraft heading in a slightly different direction. The noise wasn’t especially loud, but to me it seemed disruptive and unpleasant- I don’t like traveling by hovercraft- you miss so many things that you can only experience by being in the environment yourself. Besides, I travel nearly as fast as one of them on foot.
Three or four hours in, I passed another hovercraft and decided to change tactics a little. I shifted to my canine form and mentally made a note that my memory recording would start now [you can access those files using my file number (G12LUPE7692542)]. It is difficult to describe in words what I experience that way, since much of it is in scent and sound and not as much visual. My sense of time is a little screwed up, too, so when I smelled the roasting dinner of an unknown group, I was pretty surprised. I approached with some trepidation, since few creatures appreciate being disturbed while eating, and as a creature which eats only once every 30 days or so, I entirely respect the sentiment.
As I drew closer, I identified the scent of several of my fellow Starfarers, and recognizing that two of their number were strict herbivores, I prudently avoided their small camp. I’m told it is easy to miss a 160 pound wolf in a forest, but I have always found it strange that creatures as small as some of them can fail to notice what thousand-foot dragons can find from miles and miles away. Oh yes, my kind is definitely near the bottom of the food chain where I come from, but most of the Starfarers I travel with would certainly make good (and easy) meals if I was willing to consume sentient creatures (which I’m not by the way- one of the main reasons I left my home in the first place- I was viewed as weak, you see). The day was mostly a wash, unfortunately, and I ultimately returned to my berth on board with some reluctance when I finally tired. The sun did not set, and I found it difficult to sleep. I covered a great deal of ground, but failed to discover the caves which were my ultimate goal.
I did a lot of thinking while trying to sleep last ‘night’ and have decided to explore the forest while I am looking for the caves. Yesterday was an exercise in futility and if I am going to avoid frustration and attacks of temper, I’d better change my approach.
The trees in this forest are strange to me, since the trees on my home planet are dark, shooting straight to the sky and covered with things that resemble spines more than leaves. These trees are shorter, with light green trunks, gnarled and twisting, with thick succulent-like leaves the size of my head and larger which come in any number of shades of green. I used to hunt a great deal back home, so I thought I’d investigate the local wildlife – learn about how they react to a predator. My people are carnivores, so it goes without saying that I also eat only meat. I did try once to eat non-meat products, and was deathly ill for several months thereafter.
I ate only a few days ago, so any so-called hunting I do now will be purely recreational. Also, I never actually consume local creatures on these expeditions as they could very well be toxic to me. I hadn’t noticed any local fauna yesterday, but now that I stilled myself and really concentrated, the sounds and smells were everywhere. There was such an overpowering smell of fruit overlaying the creatures that I couldn’t pinpoint anything, and I wasn’t sure where to start.
I don’t know exactly how long I stood there, but I began to notice that some of the scents were getting stronger, and when something suddenly tickled my paw, I snapped at it instinctively. It went limp instantly in my jaws, and I dropped it immediately, concerned that I’d accidentally killed it. It fell to the ground, shook itself and cackled at me. It scampered around me, up one leg and over my back before leaping off to the ground again while I stood dumbfounded and gaped slack-jawed at it. It was the size of a creature called a ‘squirrel’, which comes from the G6 system on a planet which was once called ‘Earth’. The creatures looked more like a fluffy ball with a long thin tail, and giant curly whiskers, than like a squirrel, though the resemblance was a little odd. I shifted to my humanoid form to get a better look, and found that in colouration it was a mottled dark green, shot through with fluorescent blue, had large bright eyes of the same shade, and a little translucent blue ball at the tip of its tail. It was annoying and perplexing, because moments later there were hundreds of them, all in different cool colours and shot through with fluorescents ranging from the brilliant blue to orange to pink to yellow and some colours I couldn’t name if I tried. I’d be surprised if the little monsters didn’t glow in the dark. They were completely unafraid of me, even when I shifted back again and chased them around. They clearly thought I was playing, taunting me, scampering and eventually allowing me to catch them in my mouth like little toys. They always went instantly limp until I let them go, no matter how long I held one. I’ve never encountered a creature so strange in all my life. I spent the day ‘playing’ with them, and observing their bizarre reactions. I began to suspect that perhaps there are no predators here- but what about the dragons I was promised? They couldn’t possibly survive on a herbivorous diet, could they?