Hobal had been on the surface of the planet and had explored much of that surface for three cycles of the planet's single moon. The Chofri scout was convinced that this world would make a suitable refuge for his people. It might require some slight changes to his race's biochemistry, routine for a race as well versed in bioengineering as the Chofri, but overall it was almost ideal. The flora and fauna were carbon based and the dominant sapient species, while warlike, was so primitive as to pose no threat. They were also intelligent enough to offer hope of negotiated peace.

His current location, near the anti-spinward coast of the smaller of two major landmasses located in this hemisphere, seemed ideal, as the local indigenous people were even more primitive than on the larger continent, though some of the latter were beginning to explore the area...

The scoutship and the mothership both concurred with his assessment. Like all Manufactured Intelligences, however, they held more reservations than he did. No matter: Time was running out for his homeworld, and this seemed the Chofri's best hope to escape the ravages of the invading Gorz.

When they had first appeared on long-range detectors twenty-seven of his planet's cycles around its primary ago, the Gorz had seemed to offer no threat to a race as advanced as the Chofri. The Gorz traveled between stars at sub-light speeds and their weapons were of a technology discarded by Hobal's people hundreds of cycles in the past. Had the Chofri known at first meeting what they had since learned, they might have taken a different view of their new enemy. The Gorz survived by the simple expedient of crushing the population of each inhabited planet in their path, stealing what technology they could, and enslaving the surviving members of the defeated races.

Initial attempts on the part of the Chofri to make peaceful contact failed, but the first skirmishes of the war seemed to prove beyond a doubt the superiority of the Chofri weapons. Over time, though, technological superiority proved not to be enough.

The invaders scoured planets, asteroids, and moons throughout the homeworld system for the resources to keep replenishing their fleet, while Hobal's people, through overconfidence, lack of foresight, and a number of other errors in judgment, had not thought to secure sources of material other than those available on the homeworld, not having expected the contest to last as long as it had. The result was that as fast as they blew the enemy ships out of space, the Gorz replaced them with new ones, and despite the differences in technology, the occasional Chofri ship was destroyed at a ratio of about one Chofri ship to ten Gorz ships.

To make matters worse, Hobal's people had very low birth rates and their population grew very slowly in the best of times. It had only been within the last hundred cycles of their three hundred sixty thousand cycle recorded history that Chofri scientists had begun predicting problems with overpopulation.

Thanks to these low birth rates, as crews were lost with the ships, it became increasingly difficult to replace them. By the time Hobal had departed on his mission, many members of warship crews were virtually children. The invaders, on the other hand, seemed to have an endless supply of cannon fodder. No matter how many Gorz the Chofri killed, there were more to replace them. If they could not find a new planet that was far enough from the path of the invaders, the end of Hobal's race was assured.

What had previously been a lackluster exploration program to ease population pressures suddenly took on a desperate urgency. New, hyperspace capable exploration ships were built. These newer models were small, fast, stealthy, and heavily armed. If one was detected trying to run the Gorz blockade, it could fight off the enemy long enough to reach hyperspace. Each exploration vessel carried a single scoutship that was also heavily armed. There was no guarantee that one of the worlds they discovered wasn't already in Gorz hands, and the scouts were given everything within reason to enhance their chances of escaping, including the latest in stealth capable combat armor.

What now gave Hobal sleepless nights was that no one had answered his message to Chofri'at, detailing his discovery. The mothership had been retransmitting periodically over the last several rotations of the planet, but had received no acknowledgment, and Hobal was losing hope.

"I am going to do a bit more exploring in the vicinity, Scoutship. Please notify me as soon as Chofri'at responds." Hobal spoke these words as he headed for the scoutship's hatch.

"You are not wearing your armor," the scoutship replied. "You know that regulations require wearing full armor when outside the scoutship!"

Hobal gave the four-armed equivalent of a shrug in response to the scoutship's nagging.

"There's nothing out there that my implants can't take care of. You know that I am stronger and faster than anything on this continent — including that big hair covered beast with all the claws and teeth. I think I overheard one of the lighter-skinned natives call it a 'bear.' In addition, Mothership has immunized me against any microbial agent this world can produce. Besides, if we are to colonize this planet, we need to know with certainty that we can survive it. I'm going to observe the natives in the valley and see if I can learn more of their language."

"I can tell you're in one of your stubborn moods and I won't be able to talk you out of it. However, my objections are going in the mission log. Please be careful!" Hobal, had he been physically capable of it, would have smiled at the almost motherly concern in the voice of the scoutship's Manufactured Intelligence.

The Chofri explorer made his way to the floor of the valley, taking care to leave no discernible trail. The natives were quite adept at following the slightest trace of his passage and it wouldn't do for them to stumble onto the scoutship. As he passed near a stagnant pool of water on his way to the native village, a tiny insect, one of myriads of insects he had studied as part of his assessment of the planet, alighted unnoticed on the bare skin at the back of his head.

The insect's proboscis extended, penetrating Hobal's skin. The bug injected a minute amount of a substance that, in species native to this planet, acted as a thinner for the bodily fluids that the tiny creature ingested for its sustenance. The effect on Hobal's alien chemistry was instantaneous. Instead of thinning just the blood in the immediate vicinity of the puncture, the substance acted as a catalyst that created a chain reaction and spread throughout Hobal's body in seconds, turning his own blood into a deadly toxin. The nano-agents in his bloodstream, though programmed to localize and neutralize ingested, infused, or injected poisons, had no defense against this sort of invasion. Hobal was dead before he hit the ground, his body already beginning to dissolve from the effects of the poison.

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