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Chapter 2 >>
The Evolution of Vaughn is a work set in the same universe as What Zombies Fear, but hundreds of years in the future. Several key players from What Zombies Fear make appearances, including the E’Clei. If you have read that series, you will pick up on some of the Easter eggs, but having read it is NOT a requirement to fully enjoy this story.
Thanks for reading,
Before we begin. This is sci-fi, and there are often words that you may not recognize. Most of them, like Alcubierre Drive, do mean something, but if you don’t know the science I do try to leave enough contextual clues that it doesn’t matter.
Date: 432 Year of Emperor Valek Foger XXVI
Vaughn and his son Matthew walked across an empty desert of salt and sand. A slight breeze blew from the west. The sun was still an hour from rising, but the blue light reflected from a massive gas-giant that filled a third of the sky illuminated their path. Matthew was almost as tall as his father, both had long, powerfully built legs and a thick torso from hours spent in their gravity chamber.
Vaughn was carrying two fishing poles and a tackle box while his son pulled a small boat on massive balloon-style tires. In the low gravity of their home moon, it wasn’t a difficult task. But on any planet, it was a long walk.
It was a cool morning, but that would change quickly once the sun was up. Vaughn looked back at their tracks in the salty sand. “Do you know why the Fogerians love Humans so much, Matty?”
“No idea,” the teenager said.
Vaughn leapt high into the air, sailing more than five meters up before drifting back to the surface. “When we were a new species, back on our home world, we were the top predator on our planet, even before we had tools. Does that make any sense? We have no claws, dull teeth, and we’re not particularly fast on our two long legs.”
“How did we catch things?”
“We out-endured them,” Vaughn stated. He glanced over his shoulder at his son before continuing. “Our species has stamina unmatched in the galaxy. We can walk for days without stopping. When I was a soldier, I could run two hundred kilometers in a day. Sure, Fogerians are faster than we are. But after four or five kilometers, we’ll catch them when they have to stop to rest.”
“Two hundred kilometers in a day? Really Dad…” Matthew rolled his eyes.
“One time Uncle Holdan and I covered almost twice that in a day. Although part of the trip was in a transport. And the last fifty kilometers I only had one leg.” Matt snorted in disbelief. “Humans are the endurance champions of the universe,” his father continued. “We are stronger than most races, other than perhaps Geraldinians, but they have to eat every two hours.” Vaughn paused, watching his son’s reaction. “We are relative newcomers to this galaxy. We don’t have a planet of our own anymore, but several planets have allowed us to live on their home-worlds. This makes us second class to many people, but don’t ever let their attitudes convince you that we’re not as good. Every race in the cosmos has its strengths and weaknesses.”
“Is that why you fought the war? To get back at the E’Clei for blowing up our planet?”
Vaughn shook his head. “Nah, that was eons ago, and revenge never solves anything. I fought the war because the E’Clei are a threat to you and Mom. I fought them because they take over your body and turn you into one of them. And because someone had to stop them. If I didn’t volunteer, who would?”
“I don’t wanna go to war. I want to go to Foger and start a restaurant in the Human district. Find a girl, maybe two, and have some adventure.” Matthew said with a smile.
Vaughn laughed. “I’d come eat in your restaurant every day.” A moment passed in silence before Vaughn looked at his son. “I hope you don’t have to go to war. I fought as hard as I could so you wouldn’t have to ever do that. Adventure is overrated. I’ve had my share; I’ll take my normal, quiet life.”
The two approached the edge of the vast ocean that covered the majority of the moon. Vaughn set the tackle box he was carrying in the boat and handed a rod to Matthew. They both climbed up in the boat and cast their rods far out into the ocean.
As they sat, the water rose all around them. Matthew was unhooking his second fish when the boat lifted off the bottom. The pair drifted towards home with the tide, reeling in fish as they talked.
“So, tell me about her,” Vaughn said with a sly smile.
Matty turned red. “Who?”
“The girl you’re talking to. What’s her name?”
“Oh. Uh…Seegu. She’s just a friend.” Matthew practically tripped over the words getting them out.
“I’ve had a few friends that made my cheeks turn that color too. Your mom was one of them.” Vaughn grinned at his son. “Seegu. That’s a Foger name, no? When I was about your age, I had the hugest crush on a Fogerian woman. What do you two talk about?”
“She’s a musician and plays in a gonse band. She’s so talented, Dad. She is talking to a guy who works for a producer. She’s really got a shot.” Any nervousness Matt had melted away as he talked about Seegu.
“Gonse, eh? Like ‘Fong Dolls?’ I dig that one song; what’s it called…”
“Forever Girl. That song’s like six months old.”
“Yeah, Forever Girl.” Vaughn started singing the chorus in an incredibly high falsetto. “Don’t you know, For all eternity, I’ll never go. So come on, let’s give it a whirl… I’ll be, your Forever Girl.”
“What? I’m a pretty good singer.”
“Yeah, but you’re wrecking the song! Now it’s going to be stuck in my head.”
“So what does Seegu sing?”
Matty had a far-away look in his eyes. “Oh, she’s not a singer. She plays the jusuede. She holds four mallets and she’s so fast! It’s really amazing to watch. And I’m pretty sure she can play any song ever written.”
“So,” said Vaughn, not really sure where to start. “You know Humans and Fogerians can’t…uh…Well, even though they look a lot like us on the outside, on the inside we are very different.”
“Dad, it’s not like that at all. We’re just friends.”
“Okay. But this is one of those conversations dads have to have with their sons.”
“Really. Dad… I have signal access. I’ve seen it done.” Matty shifted uncomfortably in his seat and tried to look everywhere except at his father.
“Whoa. Some of the things you see out there… They aren’t how it really is. Some of that stuff they do for the recorders is pretty crazy. Mostly, it’s about two people who love each other coming together. It brings new intimacy to the relationship, and that’s how children are created.”
“Dad, I’m going to swim home…”
“Okay… Fine. But if you ever have any questions, about anything, you know you can ask, right?”
“Sure, Dad. Whatever.”
“I love you Matty. I don’t often tell you this, but my life changed completely when you came into it, and I wouldn’t trade it for all the crench in the world. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“I love you too, Dad. Can we just fish now?”
Vaughn clapped his son on the back. He opened his mouth to reply, but his vision saw something bug move in the water below. “Shit,” Vaughn muttered, looking over the bow of the boat. “Don’t move. Quiet,” he whispered.
“Yeah, big.” Vaughn slowly reached for his tackle box. They’d seen shrolg before, but Vaughn hadn’t ever seen one this big. They were the apex predator in this ocean. The creatures boasted ten long tentacles with razor sharp tips that reached out from a huge, circular mouth lined with row after row of inward facing teeth. Vibrations in the water attracted their attention; their tentacles had sensors in them that could feel a single drop hitting the surface from half a mile away.
It was close, about four meters away with all of its arms pointing towards the boat. The beast was trying to decide if the boat was random junk floating on the surface or something edible. Vaughn carefully opened his fishing box and removed the tray, gently setting it down. In the bottom of the box, he carried a small ionic plasma gun. He drew the gun and waited. Except for the tips of their tentacles, shrolg meat wasn’t poisonous, but they tasted horrible; there was no reason to kill this one unless it was absolutely necessary.
Suddenly, Vaughn’s comm started vibrating in the bottom of the boat. The tentacles honed in on the vibration, and the shrolg lurched forward, driving its arms up through the bottom of the boat. Letting out a surprised shout, Matthew was thrown overboard.
Vaughn threw the gun to the side and dove into the water, pulling out a long thin bladed knife used for skinning and cutting fish. When he hit the water, one of the tentacles lashed out at him. The creature threw the boat high into the air, scattering its contents across the surface. The number of items hitting the water temporarily disoriented the creature and it let go of Matty to investigate. Vaughn slapped his hands on the water over and over, furthering the shrolg’s disorientation.
“Matty, are you hurt?” he yelled.
“I’m okay. My leg is cut, but it’s not bad.”
Narrowing in on the sound, the creature converged on Vaughn, wrapping him up in its arms. Vaughn hacked furiously at it, severing every tentacle he could.
The massive shrolg pulled him towards its mouth.
Vaughn realized that dismembering the creature wasn’t stopping it. As it drew him closer to its gaping mouth, Vaughn arched backwards and drove his knife into the creature’s head. Instantly, the tentacles went slack.
“Matty, there’s a lot of blood in the water. Other predators will be drawn. We have to swim for it. Can you swim?”
“I can’t feel my leg, Dad!” Matthew was having trouble keeping his head above water. The shrolg’s paralyzing venom was coursing through his son. Soon it would reach his arms, and then Matty would no longer be able to swim.
Vaughn paddled over to the container they used to keep the fish cool in the hot sun. It was large enough to float Matthew. “Hang on, Matty. I’m coming,” he called to his son. “Relax and try to float!”
Vaughn pulled his son up onto the container, looped the carry strap over the teenager and started dragging him towards their home, which was just barely visible in the distance. If he didn’t get there soon, the tide would start going out, and they’d be washed out into the ocean.
“How you doing, bud? You okay? How are your fingers?”
“Okay. I can still feel them.”
Vaughn swam harder. After forty minutes of hard swimming, Vaughn’s feet touched the bottom. He stood and dragged his son out onto the sand. “The venom will pass. It just takes some time but you’re going to feel like hell tomorrow. Just try to relax.”
Vaughn tapped his ear. “Halle, can you connect me to Sarah’s comm?”
“Yes Captain. Are you alright?”
“Vaughn, are you okay?” It was Sarah’s panicked voice now. “How’s Matty? When you didn’t answer my call, I got worried. Why are you calling through Halle?”
“We ran into a shrolg. It’s dead now and everything is fine, but Matty got stung in the leg and we’re on shore. Can you bring a table? I’m going to need some help getting him to the house.”
“I’ll be right there,” she said and disconnected the line.
Minutes later, Sarah approached at a dead run, pushing a floating platform in front of her. Vaughn rolled over in the sand and stood to meet her. “Mom’s here, Matty.”
“Mm sgood,” Matthew replied through numb lips.
Vaughn picked up his son and set him on the table. “Oh, Matty! We need to get you into the house,” Sarah said. “Once we get you dried off, you’ll feel much better.”
The two parents pushed their son back to the house. Vaughn spoke quietly. “I’ve never seen one that big, Sarah, especially not that close to shore. We were only in two or three meters of water. I killed it, but we’ll have to figure out what one so big was doing in the tide.”
Vaughn knew there were massive creatures in the deep ocean, but the speed of the tidal changes and the distance covered by the rising water usually kept them way off shore, where water conditions were more stable and large prey was abundant. The fish that used the tidal surge to feed were usually small, fast moving fish that could get in to feed on the mollusks, clams and plants that lived in the tidal field, and then get out before the tide receded.
“I’ll put off my trip until late tomorrow, but I have to make the delivery,” Vaughn said. “Making sure Matty is okay is more important.”
Sarah turned and put her hand on Vaughn’s face. “It’s just a shrolg sting, Vaughn. Handle your business; we’ll be okay here at home. Matt’s going to be fine.”
Vaughn pulled her tightly to him and kissed her. “I love you, Sarah Troupe. You’re the most amazing woman. You know that, right?”
“I do know that,” she said, between kisses. “I just try to be as amazing as you. You really took out a shrolg with a fillet knife?”
“Don’t mess with my kid,” replied Vaughn, puffing his chest and grinning. “I’ll cut your heart out with a spoon.”
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