It was the feet. Those broad soles and flat toes digging into the earth were made to move soundlessly. And the subtle green striping would probably help the creature to blend in amazingly with the foliage around us, if he wanted to.
Based on the way he stood, feet spread apart and four arms braced, two on the torso and two outward facing me, he wasn’t hiding at all. The planet did not have any structures or even ruins that indicated an advanced civilization or culture; nothing to show manufacturing or building.
No way to cover up making the textile industry responsible the smooth fabric covering the man’s torso and upper legs, hugging closely to thick muscles. Or the manufacturing for the metal wrapped around his arms or the very advanced weapon held in one of his hands pointed at me.
Or the ship we were trying unsuccessfully to hide from, for that matter.
Escape had failed us as well. No flight. No hiding. Fight? I snorted, then winced when the other two flinched. A stun wand against whatever that was in his hand? Unlikely, even if I was trained to fight, which I wasn’t. A stunner was a basic in self-defense against animals for a scientist for those rare cases in the field when a support team wasn’t around.
Well, rare when the idiot didn’t deliberately strand himself on a temperate planet that was supposed to be unoccupied by sentient beings and anything too dangerous.
“Hello,” I said. Oldie but goodie, maybe? A greeting, in a positive tone of voice, couldn’t go that bad.
Except it scared the crap out of Bouncer who—unsurprisingly—bounced against my body and then fell to the ground in the next instant as a white glow surrounded his form. His limbs splayed out and he was completely still.
“No!” I lunged for Bouncer, putting my hands on his sides. “Why did you do that?” I shouted. I scanned him frantically, looking for signs of life. The white light didn’t go away, and I couldn’t see any rise and fall of his big chest.
Tears pricked my eyes as anger surged through me. “He was just an innocent animal. He wasn’t trying to hurt you! He jumped, that’s all. I scared him.” It was my fault. All mine. I’d fed him, he’d followed me, and now he was laying lifeless in the dirt.
“He was lunging for you.”
“No he wasn’t! He was hiding under me because he was scared of you.” I knelt on the ground, one hand on Bouncer’s striped side. “He jumped and probably would have tried to find a better spot if I wasn’t so close to him. He’d been trying to warn me, to lead me away.”
“Cerops do not protect those outside of their packs.”
“I was a part of his pack! I fed him. He was mine! You had no right!” I lunged to my feet. “Killing animals because they are scared is wrong. That’s just… evil!” I thrust one arm toward him without considering the consequences.
Hisses and tapping punctuated the white fog. “The suit is typical of their material; it’s composition was no impediment. Ah, here it is.”
Cool air drifted over my face. I twitched and flared my nostrils. The air smelled of metal and salt, dry and cool. My hair flopped over my forehead and into my eyes.
“A hairy race. Strange, only two gripping limbs. He was very angry and loud.” There was a pause. “He is a he, right?”
“Well, let’s see.” The suit’s helmet had been retracted, and another few taps and the sound of the full release depressing broke the quiet. My body was limp, and I couldn’t move as the metal encasing me slid away. I could think, observe, but only hear and feel. My eyes were closed or blocked somehow by a white light.
“Our initial probe that caught his presence identified him as a Human male, yes.”
“This is far for their kind.”
“They have been coming closer, enough that research has been released to all clearing ships. Didn’t you update?”
“No, I was… busy.”
“Hmph.” That scoff sounded skeptical and derisive at the same time.
What was going on? Where was I? Who was talking about me and why couldn’t I see them? I desperately wanted to move.
“Oh, this is interesting. His brain waves are extremely active.”
“But he should be in stasis.”
“He was, but when you put him down, the increase in activity was immediate.”
“So he can hear us? See us?”
“I’m not exactly sure. Their medical data is hard to interpret. I don’t have the training for more than the basics.”
“He was angry and loud before. If he could yell at us, he probably would.”
“Oh, his body is definitely in stasis. His life signs are almost completely at what the update claims as their normal levels are. Even if he can hear us, stasis is keeping him calm.
Keeping him calm, did he mean keeping me calm? I wasn’t calm! I wasn’t anywhere close to calm. I was freaked out, scared, and yes, I was still mad. Nothing about what happened was okay.
I was not a first contact specialist. These were not primitive beings, and it sounded like they were pretty damn technologically advanced—enough to be spying on Allied space.
They were not an Allied race. I would have paid attention if I’d see a description like one of them before. Allied species came in all different shapes and sizes, but the humanoid races were actually few and far between.
I’d hoped to make some rare discovery of a new species on Ardra, but this was not what I wanted. And, if my hearing wasn’t fooling me, I’d somehow ended up in their medical lab—so the odds of becoming a rare specimen myself was growing.