These giant snails then came towards us. They looked just like Earth snails, except two-and-a-half metres tall. Their shells appeared to shine in whatever light is around us, like metal plating on armour. They were fast moving, able to slither their way over to us from down on the edge of the village in just a couple of minutes. The snails had some seats on top of them and were made for riding. 

“The lava gives them what they need to make these unique shells of theirs. They could survive a blast from an explosion if they had to.” I nodded, impressed. It would make for a unique ride to the wall. That was a sure thing. The seats on their backs looked quite large and comfortable. Something you could sit back and recline in. There were even some steps down the side for us to get up.

Once on the snail, I felt protected. I was looking down on the world like a king looking down from his throne. I had the luxury of sitting at the front of the snail and didn’t have any other with me. Caroline rid at the front of the other snail with Ave sitting behind her. We were soon on our way, saying our farewells to Oculis. It was a brief visit we had in the village, but I was glad to be leaving in this luxurious comfort. Blanket over me, cushions adding extra comfort and a large seat wrapping around me. I felt like sleeping, but forced myself to stay awake.

The ride was quite comfortable, and I heard the mutterings of the two women in the background. I just relaxed since I couldn’t see so well. Closing my eyes for just a while and failing to stay awake. 

When I opened them again, I found I could see much better in the woodland. The tree’s being lit by the dust in the air. The snails continued to glide silently through the forest. I saw some movement in the corner of my eye and panicked for a short time. I didn’t panic long since Caroline and Ave’s snail came over to comfort me. Of course, she knew with her psychic abilities. 

“Don’t worry, James, that’s just one of my many wolves.” She squinted into the darkness. “Not sure which one, though. It is hard to keep track when I am guiding so many.”

Even though the situation was strange, it made sense, and I relaxed again. However, not long after, that also ended with the sight of drones. Many small drones searching the forest. Must have been twenty of them spread out in front of us. I heard Ave ask Caroline, “What do we do?”

For a moment, Caroline didn’t know what to do. “Keep the animal’s back!” I said. “I’ll check it out!” For the first time, I felt brave and bold enough to face the unknown. I got down from the seat on the snail and pain shot up my legs as I landed a little too hard. A friendly reminder that I wasn’t completely strong yet. I took my weapon and went forward to assess the scene. I heard rustling in the surrounding bushes.

The other snail was next to me. “James, what are you doing!?” Caroline asked. “If you get killed, then that is it for you!” 

“Someone has to check it out!” I explained.

“I have many wolves around us. They are here to protect us. I can see that they spread the drones out in front of us. They are creating a barrier preventing us from getting to the wall. I can’t see any people, though!”

I stared into the forest, trying to think. There was no way of sneaking past them with these giant snails, and I couldn’t think of any way of fighting them off. The drones were moving in random directions, even though they were staying within an area. Without us realising, a drone had found a way behind us and had snuck up on us. Shining a light down on us, blinding us for a moment. 

I looked up, dazzled, as the drone stopped in front of me. It hovered there for a moment just before it dived straight at me. At that very moment, it exploded around a metre from my face. I stood there, startled and blind from the light. My face turned black from the soot. Caroline had drawn her weapon and shot the drone down before it touched me. 

“James! Shoot these things out of the sky!” she shouted to me as she got down from the snail and began shooting the drones that came near us. I did the same, thankful for those times I played computer games back on Earth. To begin with, I was missing a lot. Unless it was diving towards me. But I soon got used to the weapon handling and was shooting the drones from the sky, one by one. 

A few cut me after avoiding shots from my rifle. They continued to lunge for us until we took them all out of the sky. I have to admit. It felt exciting to do so.

We were glad that these weren’t military drones as we shot the last few and they exploded. But we knew the fight wasn’t over yet. I turned to rest for a moment and could see the snails had hidden in their shells during this battle. I thought about how lucky they were to be able to hide away like that. 

“The battle is not over!” I said like a quote from some movie. 

“I agree, but let’s keep moving!” Ave said as she climbed onto the snail’s back. Caroline followed just behind her. I turned and jumped up as well. The snails unfurled and came out from their shells. We began moving again. This time, we were more wary of what was around us.

“Do we know how far we are from the wall?” I asked. 

“Not far!” Ave said in reply. “Around ten minutes if the snails went as fast as they could and nothing gets in our way!” 

I was happy that we were close to making it to the wall. I sat down on the snail’s back with my weapon drawn. Wary that they could attack us at any moment. I was squinting into the forest, attempting to see what was around me in the darkness. Of course I saw little. Within a few moments, the snail I was riding was shot. Ave screamed out in pain for a moment. I got down from the dead snail. The other curled up and went into its shell. 

I could hear the wolves in the wood around me running as bushes were shaking and then a thump of a body being slammed to the ground. I drew my weapon and went in that direction. There was a Tuhingan on the floor, twisting round to throw off the wolf, then shooting it. Again Ave screamed out. The Tuhingan couldn’t see me as I snuck up on him and placed the end of my rifle against his head.

“Freeze!” I said to him.

“Ahh, James. You wouldn’t shoot me, would you?” The Tuhingan asked. The Tuhingan was fast. He ducked down to get his head away from my weapon. Then twisted to shoot me. He fired the shot into my leg and I screamed out in agony. Caroline came over from behind me and then shot the Tuhingan between the eyes. 

It was a gruesome sight as I saw the explosive weapon do its work. Half of his head ended up missing. The other half we recognised as Nuntium. 

“I knew there was something off with that guy!” Caroline said as I screamed out in pain. “Ahh, sorry, James.” She said as she came to attend to me. “Maybe now we could call in for the drones, since the threat seems to have been eliminated?”

“I don’t think he was working alone!” Ave said. “You don’t know what they have hacked. I wouldn’t trust them!” 

“What I would do for some Galactic Union drones right now!” Caroline continued. She knelt down to look at the wound. She began feeling my leg to see what was damaged. It was a painful process, however. She realised that the heat of the weapon projectile had caused my wound to cauterise. There wasn’t any bleeding. I was very lucky.

However, I didn’t feel lucky with one leg being mangled. The pain subsided as the BCI took control and numbed the leg. However, it made it difficult to operate the other leg as well, and they found it difficult to lift me into the chair on the snail’s back. I sat there wondering how we will get anywhere. Caroline jumped into the back of the snail with Ave and I could hear that they felt quite uncomfortable. Once again, we set off. 

The rest of the brief journey to the wall felt like a lifetime. My mouth cracked into an enormous smile when I saw this great, tall object towering over us. On this quick journey, Caroline had contacted security and gave them an update. They promised to allow our BCI IDs the ability to open the doors. We arrived, and of course, the doors would not open.

After some time of communicating with security, they overrode the system after a restart. It took some time and the horror of seeing my leg mangled shocked me as the light grew brighter. They had promised to have a medical crew waiting on the other side of the wall. All the messages sent back and forth were encrypted through The Core and Caroline promised it to be of the highest encryption. I didn’t care, just as long as I got the medical care I needed. 

We moved the snail through the tunnel. The doors opened one by one as we went through. It surprised me to see how accommodating these tunnels could be. We were soon coming out of the other side. I was glad to see the dim light coming from the EMC machine giving The Liberty its power. It felt like I had reached civilisation. When I saw the medical crew, I threw myself down, falling to the ground, and allowed them to see me. 

They took me into an ambulance and the rest was a blur as they rushed me and Caroline in secret through to a pod that went to The Bridge. Ave stayed behind as she was speaking to security. We were up there for many hours as they figured out human anatomy from the small pieces of data they gathered when I had the virus. Plus some data from Caroline and my other leg. They were trying to give me a new leg. 

I was in there for two days. Caroline stayed by my side throughout and we had some pleasant conversations. However, she continued to avoid talking about what happened to us in the dark forest, so some conversations got stale. 

I spent some time looking at the news articles about myself. After being in the wilderness scared for my life. The nasty things the articles said about me seemed so small. It often made me wonder how they could say anything about me without knowing me. Some of them were false. ‘James has a ritual where he marks his next victims out on a primitive whiteboard in his motorhome! His companion is sworn to secrecy by an uncaring Core. Why did we allow this onto The Liberty?’ One reported.

They all wrote like I was a psychopath dedicated to wiping out the Tuhingan race. Many wrote that I have no resemblance to the Rehew and all the claims I was Rehew were false. Apparently I claimed this because I am a Galactic Union agent sent to infiltrate and eliminate all Tuhingan life on The Liberty.

In many of the articles, I surprised myself as I considered them humorous and ridiculous. It also shocked me by how paranoid the Tuhingans could become. After a while, I put them all away and went to sleep. The next day, as me and Caroline were having breakfast, we had a visitor. It was Fabula.

“Did you find my article?” he asked me, gleeful, like a small boy entering a sweet shop.

“No, I haven’t.” I replied.

“Good, because there is so much more I can add to it and much more I can do better. I felt like I rushed it a little too much.”

“What’s it about?” I asked.

“Nothing but good things and now I think I could portray you as the hero that rescued the child!”

“I’m no hero!”

“Ah, James. You’re modest. You are a hero, only people wanted to see the villain in you! There had to be a reason Periclum liked you.”

My hairs stood up on the back of my neck as he gave me these false compliments. I just shook my head and when he asked for another interview, I accepted and told him what he wanted to hear. I may have been cruel, but found it amusing to mess with him a little.

It had been an exhausting time being in that hospital bed. I tried to sleep the previous night but couldn’t. It was stressful to guess what was coming next. It was uncomfortable to be left with my thoughts in those moments of boredom. I could have played games in that amazing virtual reality and I tried. But the thoughts were still there. I wanted to talk to people. I wanted to do things, yet they kept me in bed.

It was only the last hour when they used an EMC machine to materialise a leg on my body. It was a weird sensation as I watched the old leg disintegrate and a new one materialise in front of my eyes. At first, there was a small amount of pain, soon offset by the BCI chip. Then I was ready to walk. 

The leg felt great. I realised I didn’t need to train it. It felt good as I got up and walked with Caroline without crutches. It was a really positive surprise for me. I only stumbled a few times as we went out. They scanned my newly complete body. The Core encrypting mine and Caroline’s data, and we were soon ready to go.

On the way back to our small motorhome, I felt thankful that Caroline had looked after me so well. I made her aware of my thankfulness. She was trying to push it away as being nothing. But it meant a lot to me. The journey back didn’t feel hard at all, especially considering what we had been through. I was excited to be home, and it wasn’t long before we were. I never felt so happy to see that small plot of messy land and that motorhome. Then when I could go to bed, after all our hygiene routines and eating our meals. It felt so warm and cosy to be pulling the covers over me and getting the sleep I truly needed.

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