Rhythmic shocks along my spine pull me from a dreamless oblivion; disoriented, I slowly register the shocks as a proximity alert. Rolling onto my stomach, I pull up the orbital stream, my right eye rolling towards the back of my skull to investigate the alert. I find the video segment I need, projecting the image onto the ceiling of my home.
At the time of light’s waking, or “0500 hours” per my retinal display, a stealth fighter slipped through the lower atmosphere, touching down about four hundred paces from the Nso Ohia, the Elysian forest. Drone images show a one-man craft, built for speed over strength; minimal artillery; likely to have a larger drop ship and support team in orbit.
Poachers. I sigh, annoyed by both the news and my the tingling in my still-sleeping limbs.
The off-worlder’s proximity to Nso Ohia worries me. There are a dozen reasons why a hunter would be drawn to that region, a few more concerning than the rest. My world has long called to those who seek to turn a profit off of holiness.
My left eye gingerly bats open but doesn’t immediately focus. Reaching up to poke it, I feel the stiff iris dilate and, after a dizzying zoom adjustment, the world becomes clear. I’ve had problems with the gold iris reacting to light variation in the past, but that’s inevitable given their age.
Rising, I do a series of stretches while running diagnostics on my augmentations, pleased when they all report optimum functionality. My augs have to be dated by now, and I can’t expect them to last forever. As long as they keep functioning I won’t worry. When they stop functioning…well, there’s a storage facility for backups, though the idea of repeatedly cutting into my own flesh makes me queasy.
My organic parts, no, my body I remind myself sternly, are stiff but otherwise fine. One of my augs runs timed electric pulses through my muscle tissue while I sleep to prevent atrophy; still, stretching feels incredible and I very nearly purr as my limbs loosen for the first time in almost a year. It’s a blessing the implantation process didn’t knock out my ability to process physical sensation. I’d been warned of that possibility when I was approved from the remaining Ibago to be the Onye isi Agha, the Elysian guard.
Looking around the spartan chamber, my eyes catch on a photo of my mother and father, gazing at each other adoringly. They hadn’t realized I’d taken the picture, and it had been the only keepsake I chose to break up the boab planks insulating the walls. I run my finger reverently along the image’s edge before indulging in a brief shower that does more than the spinal shocks to make me feel alive again.
After twisting my waist-length braids into a knot at my crown, I tap the raised scar tissue behind my right ear. My armor’s emerald scales shimmer into existence, the color bright against the darkness of my skin. The shape of the armor is of my own design, chosen when I reached womanhood and ceremonially became a hunter amongst my tribe. The scales form the shape of wings molded down my chest and back; I pray to the gods that I am as fleet as the birds they are modeled for, as I step into the wilds.
Jogging through fern leaves as long as a man is tall, I head for the Nkume Owara, a series of tunnels created by the Ibago before our race dwindled into memory. The ever present- humidity has my skin beading sweat within the few minutes it takes to reach the tunnel mouth. My stomach tightens with nerves as I approach the lightless cavern; being underground makes me uncomfortable. I shove such thoughts aside. Comfort is irrelevant in the face of duty.
After hours of navigating the planet-wide labyrinth through feel and memory alone, my destination is still a near full day’s walk through the tunnels and I worry about the speed of my progress. I remind myself that life on Ne Uwa, my home world, is largely nocturnal and it’s unlikely the poacher has already tracked their prey. While I’m familiar with the tunnel-system, the faster I move the more likely it is I’ll miss the small markers stamped in the stone walls. Picking up my pace, I take the risk.
When I finally emerge it’s the time of flowering skies (“1800 hours”) and I pause a moment to breathe in my surroundings. The planet of Ne Uwa is lit by a distant sun, but the light is indistinct and appears as a fine mist, hanging in the air. There are no artificial noises, as I am the last of the Ibago and the few agricultural machines we used mostly ceased functioning decades ago. The ancient baobabs of the Nso Ohia reach over a thousand paces into the sky; their shade falling long across the languid lotuses of the Acha Uhie Sea, whose lapping shores skirt the forest edge. The briny smell commands my senses and wakens a fierceness in my belly. My fondness for fresh fish has not lessened with the years.