(Flash fiction set around 100 years before the events in Drifters Rising.)

CetusSoloRunCade crossed the bridge over the River Parese and kept running. He planned to beat the fifty kilometers a day average round trip. He stopped just east of the snow belves territory. The creatures resembled a cross between a bear and a wolf on Old Earth, and didn’t seem to mind humans running through the edge of their territory.

It was the work of a moment for Cade to set up camp for the evening. Six months as a runner and he was secure in his skills. This was his final test, a solo run through the settlements in five days.

The night was cool, but not enough to need the sleeping bag. Cade stretched out on top of his roll with his head on his backpack, chewing on fish jerky. Old Earth had been so polluted the sun was barely visible, forget stargazing. Here, with a small moon to brighten the night sky and few settlement lights, the night sky glowed. The light from the glowing plants wasn’t bright enough to block the stars.

He was so intent on the night sky, Cade almost missed the sound of something small scurrying through the bushes. He reached out and grabbed his walking stick. It was probably a rodent or one of the small dragonettes the researchers trained as carrier pigeons, but it was better to be prepared.

Cade watched the bushes continue to rustle until a small kitten stepped out of the bush. Bosh! That kitten would grow to be 280 kilograms of sabertooth, the largest feline on the planet. The name came from the two protruding front teeth the kitten would have as an adult. Cade dropped his staff and reached for his bow and arrow. The mother had to be nearby. He couldn’t fight an adult and live. His only hope would be an arrow right into the adult’s brain. At least the cats were solitary, so there would be only one.

The mother sabertooth rounded a rock and roared.

Cade’s hand shook as he raised himself up on one knee and aimed his arrow. When another roar came from behind him, he nearly dropped his bow. Three adult snow belves lumbered past him and faced the cat.

Not sure what to do, Cade stood. When the belves and mother cat ignored him, he gathered his supplies and walked backwards, away from them. One of the belves looked back and appeared to nod in approval. Back on the trail, Cade eased into a slow jog, guided by the light of the beacon trees with their glowing bulbs. The humans had made their trail by the trees where possible to use their light at night.

A couple of hours later he stopped, but didn’t make camp. Cade leaned back on his pack and tried to rest. With every sound he reached for his weapons. Finally, exhausted, he nodded off with his bow and arrow in one hand and his staff in the other.

Cade opened his eyes when the sun rose over the mountains. From his vantage point on the ridge, he could see the snow belves in the valley. One watched him. Thinking it might be the one who nodded the night before, Cade waved and thanked him for the help… and immediately felt foolish. The belve couldn’t hear him from this distance or understand him. Besides, there was no way the belves took on that cat to help him. It was probably too close to their territory and they were warning it away. He wasn’t sure why they didn’t warn him away as well, but he was grateful.

He turned and headed toward Mynview. As Cade approached the settlement he debated if he should report what had happened. He decided not. Some adults thought teenage runners were too young for the job and he didn’t want to give them ammunition to stop the program. Besides he wasn’t sure what had happened. In the light of day his fears from the night before faded.

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