Lyceldra Mycota, Second Bloom gave a gentle sigh that rippled along the vines that made up her body as she looked at the disaster that was once an Accord emergency food storage facility. Why the Terrans stockpiled food while so many living on the planet of Nebon-3 starved Lyce would never understand. Luckily, those poor Terrans living on this remote desert planet had been rescued by the mighty Affini Compact! Nebon-3 was small and strategically insignificant, and near the borders of Terran Accord space, so, as war came to the Sol system, and the Compact began their assault on Earth, what few Accord forces were spared to the planet were recalled. The miners and engineers who called the desert planet home were left defenseless, but luckily for them, surrender was the best option for them anyway. Lyce chuckled softly to herself despite her annoyance at the memory of all those adorable little sophonts,watching the Affini nervously as they landed only to cheer as they explained the new Affini way of doing things. Not 24 hours after the planet had been conquered, already habitation units and food distribution centers had been established the world over, and no Terran went hungry or without nice air-conditioned shelter! Or, well, at least in theory.
Lyce gently lifted a torn up box marked “Rations”, surrounded with ripped bags and carelessly spilled food. It looked like a wild animal had gotten in, or perhaps a small platoon of Accord soldiers had gone AWOL, but all the security camera had shown was a single Terran. Lyce knew right away that the Terran was in trouble. Their hair was matted and wild, cut short irregularly, as if cut by the crude stone daggers that the Terran wielded, one in each hand. Their clothes fit poorly, and looked faded with age, some too big and some too small, and unmatched, as if the Terran had raided a lost and found once. Their clothes, Lyce was relieved to notice, were at least clean. What really caught Lyce's attention however (and had her vines thrumming with fear and agitation) was watching the Terran's infiltration of the heavily guarded facility.
She watched the clip again with a mixture of wonder and horror. The Terran moved like a predator, darting from automated guard to automated guard, leaving nothing but scrap in their wake. In a moment that had Lyce feeling faint, the Terran ducked under a hail of bullets let out by a guardbot to close the distance between them, before driving their daggers into the robots chest, bringing it to the floor under them in a sparking heap. It moved with the ferocity of a wild animal, with the kind of speed and intent that she had seen in her fellow Affini agents incapacitating sophonts. The cold and lifeless look in its eyes as it methodically cut through the mechanical guards broke the Affini's heart. The thought of the poor, sweet sophont being left alone and allowed to regress to this state of...feralness, had Lyceldra's mushroom caps quivering, giving off a gentle dusting of silver, gleaming spores to the concrete ground around her. Lyceldra didn't know who this Terran was, but she knew no matter what she had to help them.
It allowed itself a triumphant smile as it lounged in the soft part of its cave, the part lined with all the fuzzy nice things it had found. It was a cunning creature, and it felt deeply self satisfied to have been able to demonstrate it, and it got so many supplies as well. It had been staking out the tin soldier's food cave for a long time, looking for an opening, and stealing the occasional crate from unattended shipments yet to be brought inside. It did always have a knack for staying unseen. This time, the tin soldiers were acting strange, nervous, like they were afraid of a larger predator in their territory. Their fear made them stupid, and they left their food unattended, guarded only by the stupid blind metal men they sometimes left in places they didn't want it to be. It was almost bored by the metal men, and the predictability of their movements, and soon enough it was inside, surrounded by food that could last it months, years maybe.
It allowed itself an indulgent wiggle, and sheathed its sharpened stone daggers before digging into the cornucopia before it. It wouldn't be able to carry it all home, so might as well fill up now. It tore into the food with abandon, the kind of aggressive eating of the once-starved, of those who know what it is to go hungry. Once it had it's fill, it laid out a tarp, and began to stack the foods it most liked, or that it felt would last longest in storage for the coming winter. The desert got freezing cold, and it got much harder to hunt. The long, heavy drag home was not going to be fun, but it grinned against the cool air of the desert night. It had proven itself Apex Predator, Tyrant of the Desert with its defeat of the stupid tin soldiers and the stupid Terrans they protected. It let out a glorious howl at the twin moons drifting lazily above, as it began to drag the heavy load of food across the desert. It hummed tunelessly to itself in overwhelmed glee as it considered the other benefits to its victory. The food! There was lots! Even just the amount it could drag home was enough to last months, and it might have to partition off more cave for storage as a result. Still, it could hardly complain.
It began to let out a soft, pleased grumbling sound deep in its throat, lulled into a sort of happy trance by the gentle walking and the soft sound of plastic tarp against sand, as the mountain ridge that housed her home cave slowly drifted into shadowed view through the darkness. The silence of the desert night was filled only with that and the gentle sound of wind and shifting dunes. The creature felt at peace with its place in nature, but more than that, it felt confident in its control of its surroundings. Truly, the Apex Predator of Nebon-3 thought to itself, nothing remains to challenge my dominance!
Lyceldra gently rubbed her temples as she regarded the human in front of her. She couldn't get headaches per say, but still the motions felt soothing while dealing with this frustrating man. “So, again, you HAVE seen this sophont before?” she asked in her usual gentle, fragile tone, like the most delicate of wallflowers. The man nodded again.
“Yep, seem 'im. He came by every once in a while, stole a fuckin' crate or two. We'd catch him on the cameras afterward, but we never caught 'im in the act, so we couldn't really do much about it. Top brass kept bringing in more guards and drones to swing their dicks around but the bastard just always seemed to dodge us. Slippery little asshole.” the once-security guard of the food storage facility confided. “Eventually, I think brass decided the loss was just...worth it. It wasn't like the little bastard was gonna make it inside! Except...” he squinted at the picture. “Well damn! That little bastard is inside! How'd he do that?” the guard marveled.
Lyceldra smiled tersely, not touching the wood around her eyes. “You mean to tell me your response to a feral human stealing food to survive was to hire more people to shoot at them. Yes, that fits with the Accord I've heard about. And do you know where they stay, where they make their home?” she asked, leaning forward to let her luminous, sickly yellow eyes fill the man's vision, with pretty silver flecks twisting in the pale yellow of her gaze. Maybe with something to focus on, she could get a straight answer out of him.
“Um, uh, yeah-” he said, blinking dizzily. “Well, uh, kinda. I mean, he's gotta be living in the fuckin' caves. There's a rock ridge about a mile east into the desert, it's usually hidden behind dunes, but, uh, it's full of caves. If I was some feral cave dude, that's where I'd go.” the man shrugged.
Lyce smiled, a real one this time, that touches her eyes and had her leaning in with glee as her hand gently cupped his face, keeping his eyes on hers. “Thank you, petal~” she said, laying on the charm, as she watched his eyes glitter, reflecting Lyce's eye's light back at her. His soft expression slowly turned to a glassy one, leading Lyce to raise an eyebrow before she realized. “Oops, sorry, looks like I let out some spores!” she giggled, eyeing the thin layer of white surrounding him, like a soft layer of freshly fallen snow. She gently stroked the boy's hair, laughing as he smiled blissfully, and tried to nuzzle into the hand. “Oh, what a sweetie. Let's get you back to your Affini.” she says teasingly, the dozey, spored up sophont too dazed to realize he was being teased.
She ushered him out the door to her makeshift office, built out of what was once a dismal employee break shack. No amount of stylish Affini decor could make the cheap walls and bad carpeting look appealing, but it would work in a pinch. It was the home base of Lyce's week long investigation into this mysterious Terran. However, information on the Terran was slow coming. Few, if any, had seen them.
Over time, however, Lyce heard tales of something else. She heard whispers from people of a beast that hunts the night. She heard of cattle found torn to shreds, of drunkards startled by a dark shape darting between shacks. She heard tales of enforcers and managers struggling to capture the beast, and always being outmaneuvered. She heard a name, El Culebrón, based on some old Terran legend, a serpentine beast that hoards treasure and swallows victims whole. It wasn't hard to make the mental connection to her Terran.
Luckily, she finally had a breakthrough once she got in contact with the Affini who had taken the Accord guard who worked the depot as her ward to watch for possible signs of resistance in light of his past allegiances, named Narcia. Narcia was happy to allow them to meet, and Lyceldra picked up an instant distaste for him when he entered her office saying “Wow, what a fucking dump!” to the embarrassment of his Affini handler. Still, despite his crassness and the distasteful way he had tried to hurt the Terran she so desperately wished to protect, he was helpful, and Narcia left beaming with pride. If the Affini Compact had any concept of money to bet with, she'd bet that man would beg to be Narcia's floret within a week. Maybe she could clean up that potty mouth.
Lyceldra Mycota, Second Bloom slumped back in her chair, letting some of the pale white vines that wound into her feminine form unfurl into an undignified lump on her chair, her wooden mask-like face plopped exhausted on top like a tired cherry. She focused on the rhythm of her body, the gently thrumming pulse unique to her, grounding her as she meditated on what she had learned. There was a lost Terran in the caves to the east, she knew that now, and she knew she needed to save them. All there was left was to prepare her 'arsenal' of xenodrugs, and prepare for battle. She had seen the feral little Terran in action, and she knew that there wasn't going to be any attempt at capture without a fight.