The Trilisk Supersedure - By Michael McCloskey

Jack DeVries scanned the alien landscape from the overhang that concealed his tiny starship. Chigran Callnir Four looked like a combination of a rocky highland and a jungle. He saw heavy vegetation, or at least things that resembled trees and plants, though they apparently didn’t shed leaves or branches since they grew out of gaps in the naked red rocks nearby with no sign of detritus.

DeVries didn’t know anything about the planet except that it was one of the open worlds, meaning it could have picked up a settlement or two, provided there wasn’t some deadly menace hiding among the rocks. DeVries didn’t care much one way or the other. He just had to hang low for a few Earth Standard Months until the space force gave up searching for him. And whatever might be out there, he figured he was probably deadlier.

The last operation had been a messy one. He’d gotten away with the AI core just as planned. The only snag had been that he’d had to kill fifty-seven citizens to do it. Eight of them with his bare hands. DeVries did not look particularly strong or threatening, but that just added to his effectiveness.

DeVries slipped a water sensor out of his Veer skinsuit and gave the horizon a quick go over. He frowned. Nothing special out there, but at least he detected a large water source within three kilometers. There was also a speckling of water on the readings in his PV, which could be smaller pools or creatures largely composed of water. From his experience, they looked like Terran-sized collections of water, but he could not be sure.

He pocketed the scanner and made his way down the rocky hillside. A homogenous batch of plants dotted the way. Each had a thick trunk emerging from the rocks, which split into three branches, then each of those split again into three more until finally sprouting out into a flower or complex leaf that looked like a patch of green hair.

The plentiful plant stalks eased his descent, providing him with dozens of ready handles to steady him as he scrambled down the sharp rocks. Each of the stalks originated from a deep fissure in the rock along with ten or twenty others. If he did fall, he felt his suit would protect him as long as he didn’t smash his head.

I wonder if the lack of accumulated leaves or branches on the ground is because something eats it all. But then I’d expect to see a bed of dung.

He peered into a hole where many stalks emerged. It was too dark to see inside.

Maybe the rain washes everything down these holes. Oh well. What do I care?

A red ribbon wrapped around a plant just ahead caught his attention. The strip of color shifted. DeVries struggled to resolve the image. The creature was half red and half diaphanous, resembling a snake or eel. Its translucent parts made it hard to see as it shifted position, fooling the eyes. It was much larger than it first appeared. DeVries was instantly wary.

He pulled out a light plastic dagger and altered course.

No point in messing with it unless it’s coming after me.

The creature flowed to the top of its plant, then rose up even higher. Its upper body waved half a meter into the air as DeVries sidetracked it. He couldn’t see any eyes or a mouth, but obviously it had detected his approach.

Danger display? Or is it just curious?

He could not help but compare it to similar creatures he knew about: large snakes and eels. He thought of constriction and poison. He considered drawing the stunner, but instead he simply kept moving steadily, climbing to one side. DeVries knew he had at least one thing going for him: whatever that thing’s natural prey was, chances were he did not match its appearance or behavior. That meant the feeding action of the animal most likely would not trigger on him.

Unless that thing just eats everything that moves.

The tense moment passed as he put several stalks between himself and the creature. It relaxed back into its previous pose, wrapped lazily around a plant or two. DeVries left the thing behind as he slipped the rest of the way down from the formation that concealed his ship. Then the ground angled back up again, toward the side of the next long, rocky hill. A line of vegetation limited his view down toward the valley he had examined from above. The water source was higher, between two