The first thing Adan felt was a burning pain in her chest. Instinctively, she moved her hand to the source of the pain, but what she felt made her eyes pop open in shock.
‘What the . . ?’
Opening her eyes, Adan looked down at her chest only to see a thumb-sized red crystal, deeply embedded just above her sternum. Adan frowned. She had seen plenty of shrapnel wounds before, but this was nothing like that; this sparkling, red crystal looked more like it . . . belonged there – kind of like how a nail looks on a finger. Another odd thing was that, although initially painful, the ache had already subsided, leaving only a comfortable warming sensation behind. Adan’s eyes traveled further down her body.
‘. . . and why am I naked?’
Confused, she lifted her hand to her neck, instantly finding the cold metal of the collar she always wore. It was still there. . . . Adan shook her head. This was not the time to worry about details – she had to make sure her sister was okay!
“Nadia!” Adan called as she shifted her aching body so that she could scan her surroundings, but if the crystal in her chest had shocked her, it was nothing compared to what she felt when she saw where she was.
Around her was nothing but trees – real, wild growing trees! Now, it was not as if Adan had never seen a forest before, far from it, but the planet she had been on, just moments before, had been 100% wasteland.
“Sai, what’s my location?” Adan asked, but no response came. Frowning, she glanced to the left, expecting to find the status screen for her most trusted ‘companion’, the Sub-dermal Artificial Intelligence system which had been implanted within her since birth, but what she found instead was a message she hadn’t seen in years: [Rebooting . . . 17% Complete].
Adan stared blankly at the message that was displayed directly on her cornea, seemingly hovering in thin air in front of her.
‘For Sai to have been shut down . . . I must really have come close to dying this time. . . .’ Adan smiled awkwardly. ‘At least that explains why I’m naked. As for the other mysteries. . . .’
Propping herself up into a seated position, Adan rested her chin in her hands and closed her eyes, slowly sorting through her memories from the past months – of course, ‘slowly’ was a relative term here; most people would never be able to replay their memories so quickly and with such accuracy as Adan was doing right now. However, usually her A.I. – named Sai – would help her with such recollections, so, for Adan, the current speed was indeed quite slow.
‘My squad was on a mission to transport the second sample of Materia X back to Tellus HQ when the sample container was hit and the sample became unstable. There was an explosion . . . but what happened after that?’
Adan remembered her latest mission clearly.
In the last segment of still unexplored space remaining in the universe, humanity had, oddly enough, found an unidentifiable substance which seemed to defy all previous notions of physics. Considering the endless possibilities of an the universe, it might not sound like such a strange thing to find a ‘unidentifiable’ substance. However, in time where modern technology could be used to explain pretty much everything about how the universe worked; in a time where humanity had long since solved problems such as intergalactic travel, designing perpetual energy sources and curing practically all diseases, ranging from the common cold to actual aging. . . . It was simply preposterous.
Only two samples had been found and the first one had unfortunately been destroyed during its extraction by an act of terrorism. Naturally, the Intergalactic Federation had been very concerned about the safety of the second sample and had therefore sent its most reliable troops to safeguard it, the squads of the so-called Amazon Platoon.
The Amazon Platoon was a military organization consisting of nine squads, solely staffed with BioGen human females who had all been genetically altered and perfected for combat.
All-female, all-human military divisions were fairly rare, but there were two reasons for this unique make-up of the platoon and it had nothing to do with culture or some other traditions. First, of all the races in the universe, humans were the ones most responsive to genetic alteration, allowing for greater changes without impeding the race’s own survival. Thus, all-human. Secondly, it turned out that the success of larger genetic alterations was directly linked to the number of changes that could be made to the X-chromosome. Due to the double X-chromosomes of females, larger and better integrated changes could be made, making them perfect for the most cutting edge technology in BioGen warfare. Thus, all-female.
As members of the ninth generation of altered Amazonians, Adan and her sister Nadia had been predestined to end up in the 1st Squad of the Amazon Platoon since before even their mother was born. Equipped with the best genes and the most advanced A.I. implants, every single girl in the 1st Squad was equivalent to a one-man-army, by historic standards, and were easily capable of determining the course of any war. Together they were unstoppable.
Or at least that was how it should have been.
Not unexpectedly, when the 1st Squad had been escorting the precious sample of Materia X the rebellion army responsible for the first attack had shown up. Normally, a squad like Adan’s would have had no problems simply forcing their way through such a battle front, but, their intel was wrong and, out of nowhere, the rebels had pulled new and incredibly powerful weapons.
Somehow they had made great advancements in their fire power and even the Amazon BioArmor – which could normally resist the impact of a nuclear detonation – were showing signs of damage. Nonetheless, the girls of the 1st Squad were no pushovers; it should only have been a matter of time before victory was theirs.
However, at a crucial point in the battle, a single high-powered ultraplasm shot was fired at them – getting hit by that would mean instant death. Either by design or miracle, none of the girls were hit – the Materia X container, on the other hand, was.
Instantly, the container itself had evaporated, revealing the glowing lump of Materia X inside. The lump had hovered momentarily in the air before the previously stable glow became erratic.
Adan, who had taken part of the report from the first time this odd substance had been destroyed, at once realized the destruction that would follow. Protocol at that point was to ‘prioritize individual survival’ and quickly distance oneself from the soon exploding substance, but Adan also knew that there was no way she and the girls would get far enough in time.
Adan had never been one to follow protocol anyway.
The last thing she remembered was flashing her baby sister a playful wink before giving the latter a hard kick, instantly propelling the shocked sister nearly a hundred meters away from the container. Milliseconds later, Adan dove for the glowing orb, firmly embracing it with all her might. She activated the highest defense her Amazon BioArmor could achieve, just as the explosion finally came.
‘I can’t remember anything after that. . . . How come I didn’t die? And how did I end up here?’
If she had survived the blast, then the rest of the women in her squad had most definitely done the same, but if that was the case, then where were they? They would definitely not abandon one of their own like this; naked and unarmed in the middle of nowhere. There was also the issue of the forest; as far as Adan knew, the closest planet with any plant-life whatsoever was over a million light-years away. Given the equipment her squad had brought with them to the extraction site, such distances could not be traveled.
Adan once more glanced at the status window for her A.I.
[Rebooting . . . 19% Complete]
‘At least Sai seems to be rebooting at the expected rate, so she can’t be too badly damaged . . . It should be, what, fifty minutes until she wakes up again?’ Tentatively, Adan stretched out her body, making sure that all of the previous aches had passed. ‘Might as well try to ascertain my location on my own while I wait.’
Adan got to her feet and, with no concerns about her apparent lack of clothes, swiftly dashed towards the tallest tree in her vicinity. Within seconds she had started climbing said tree, effortlessly springing from branch to branch. The bark of the tree was rough and uneven; unmodified humans would likely have started bleeding simply from grazing against such a tree, but Adan was completely unfazed.
Her skin, like that of all the women in the Amazon Platoon, was a dark, golden brown which even had a metallic sheen to it, if closely examined. Most considered the tone quite beautiful and Adan would have agreed if it hadn’t been a constant reminder of the life of military service that she was born into. As it was, Adan’s skin – just like everything else about her – was tailor-designed to aid her survival and battle capabilities. This alteration gave her skin a higher resistance not only to the elements but also to direct injury; if someone were to stab Adan with a regular steel knife, the blade was unlikely even to prick her.
It didn’t take long for Adan to reach the top of the tree. She stretched her neck and gazed out over her surroundings as a light breeze ruffled her platinum-blonde hair. By regulation, Adan’s perpetually unruly hair was kept short and off her shoulders, practically no strand of hair longer than half a decimeter.
Adan couldn’t help but be a bit amazed by the scenery that greeted her. Through her work, Adan had seen her fair share of forests – everything from the pink forests of Eial, to the crystal mangroves of Jeuarlk – but while this place had none of those ‘otherworldly’ qualities to it, there was an odd sense of calm and tranquility about it that somehow felt familiar.
‘The Intergalactic Health Department would swoop down on this place faster than I can say ‘spa hideout’,’ snickered Adan to herself before straining her eyes and ears to further observe her surroundings. She couldn’t help but frown and click her tongue. “Tsk, this is so much harder when Sai isn’t around – I can barely pick up anything!”
Once again, it was a question of relativity. The operatives of the 1st Squad in the Amazon Platoon had been genetically altered to have almost the best sight and hearing in the universe, capable of registering pulses all the way from the infra-long to the ultra-short spectrum, both audibly and visually. Even magnetic fields could be registered by her.
This was, however, somewhat of a sensory overload for the brain, and so one of the tasks for the Sub-dermal Artificial Intelligence system – S.A.I. for short – was to work as a buffer for all of the incoming sensory data, sorting out only the necessary information. If a Sub-dermal A.I. broke down, the Amazonian’s senses would be restricted down to almost ‘normal human values’ as a safety measure. Consequently, Adan’s scouting capabilities were currently truly limited when compared to her normal standards.
“Ah! There are signs of civilization to the south, some . . . four klicks away,” Adan exclaimed as she noted a larger clearing in the forest where several pillars of smoke stretched towards the mid-day sun, high in the sky. Judging by the trees around that area, there were likely quite a few roads leading to and from the clearing as well.
‘Time to learn more about this planet’s level of development.’
Adan smiled as she simply stepped out from the branch she had been standing on; the drop was roughly 30 meters, but Adan still landed soundlessly on the ground, her legs bending down in a half crouch. When she moved away from where she had landed, barely a footprint could be seen in the soft ground beneath her feet.
Even without rushing, Adan made the four-kilometer journey to the detected settlement in just over thirty minutes. Along the way she had seen several animals who all where surprisingly similar to animals that would be found on humanity’s origin-planet, Earth. Back on Earth – or Tellus – most of these species were extinct by now, but Adan had seen digital reconstructions of animals such as ‘deer’ and ‘wolf’, and was beyond shocked to find them both here; for two separate planets to develop what looked to be identical creatures was extraordinarily rare.
As Adan approached the area of the settlement she slowed her pace, sticking closely to the shadows provided by the trees and bushes in the forest. She was not yet close enough to be able to see it, but judging by what she could hear, and smell, the settlement was most likely a busy, but fairly rural, town; there was the rattling of wooden charts rolling along dirt roads, the lively sounds of grazing livestock and the stench of poorly irrigated latrines, barely covered by an oddly sweet smell – probably from some sort of cooking.
There was also the hustle and bustle normally associated with a market or the like.
“Ja’t vwa’s! Vukkufr vwa’s!”
“Do’wlja wa’jiw, gakca twulor vawa usaf!”
Plenty of voices could be heard, calling out what sounded like selling pitches to passing customers.
‘I don’t recognize the language,’ Adan noted as she slowed her pace even further, creeping forward slowly. She wasn’t particularly surprised by her lack of understanding though; there were countless languages in the universe and without her A.I. to help her with the translations, Adan could only manage the hundred or so human languages, as well as the Main Seven’s tongues, which were the official languages spoken within the Intergalactic Federation.
At last, Adan reached the edge of the forest and got her first clear view of the little forest-town that she had found. It was a well-ordered place. There were plenty of carefully crafted wooden houses arranged in neat lines, each with its own little patch of grassland, and well-kept roads made travel through the town easy. What truly astonished Adan however was the town’s inhabitants.
‘Is this place actually a human settlement?’ she wondered as she watched the seemingly normal human beings moving up and down the town streets. Their complexions were pale but healthy and their clothes – albeit a bit simple in style – were clean and well made; clearly this town was doing rather well for itself.
Nonetheless, Adan frowned. ‘If this town is anything to go by, then it would appear that this planet is still a Type O, probably D Class planet . . . I didn’t think there were any human settlements that underdeveloped!’
Adan pondered this a bit more before finally shaking her head. Her A.I. would know more about what was going on once it got back online, so there was no point thinking about it now.
‘At least,’ Adan mused, ‘as a human settlement, Tellus HQ is bound to have surveillance over this place; they will find me in no time.’
Operatives of the Amazon Platoon, or Amazonians, were considered to be the most valuable military resource in the universe; naturally, Adan had several trackers implanted within her which would allow Adan’s superiors to find her if she ever went missing.
[Rebooting . . . 67,6% Complete]
A quick glance to the left told her that it would still be another twenty minutes before her A.I. would be done rebooting. Considering her options, Adan finally chose to, yet again, climb a nearby tree and simply wait. Meanwhile, she quietly continued to observe the town before her, taking careful note of the people within it.
Adan might not be a stickler for protocol, but when it came to first-time interaction with an unknown planet’s inhabitants, she always followed it to the letter – or at least she tried to. Wrongful interactions with natives were very complicated; if one wasn’t careful, the appearance of an interstellar traveler might significantly alter the development of said planet. This was something that had to be avoided at all costs.
The most important point, regulation-wise, was to be as inconspicuous as possible. Considering that Adan was: one, not sure where she was; two, unfamiliar with this planet’s customs and language; and three, butt-naked, ‘conspicuous’ was practically her middle name at the moment.
She needed assistance, and thus, she waited.