Castle Roland

Adventure Quest

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 21

Published: 1 Sep 16

Adventure Quest
Kyle Aarons

Advanced Training

Cpl. Robin

Hazardous Earth Creatures, Hazardous Native creatures, Winter Survival, Primitive Survival

JrCpl. Gavin

Hazardous Native creatures, Grassland, Forest, Jungle

SrPvt. Fairfax

Advanced Geothermal Dangers, Winter Survival, Hazardous Earth Creatures, Primitive Survival

SrPvt. Ajax

Winter Survival, Near Ocean, Jungle, Primitive Survival

Spec. Oliver

Advanced Geothermal Dangers, Near Ocean, Mountain, Primitive Survival

Robin downed another ration pack as he made his way back to his team's building. The meeting with the Psi-Watch left him exhausted and very hungry. The tests they conducted over the four hours had utterly drained him while making him feel even more like some kind of science project. The fact he had somehow transferred some Psi-abilities over to his teammates had clearly stunned all of the others who had been in the meeting, only made the feeling worse.

However, there were a few good things to come out of the meeting. First and foremost, he was not alone in having some weird mind ability. Second, even though he had some control before coming to Zong, he seemed to have guessed right about the powers growing once he got to the planet. All of the others from the Psi-Watch said the exact same thing. If they had some abilities before first coming to Adventure Quest, their abilities got stronger and really broke loose shortly after they arrived on world. Those who had no clue they had an extra-sensory abilities started to realize they did while out on Adventure Quest the first time.

The next thing of interest was there were two basic powers to all Psionics. The first was telepathy, the ability to speak with the power of thought. The second was telekinesis, the ability to move things with force of thought and will. Those who had one ability had the other. The interesting thing was, even after repeated testing, those with Robin, who he had "gifted" with telepathy, had almost no ability with telekinesis. Gavin proved to be able to move a small pocketknife and change the facing of a pair of dice, but doing them totally wiped out his stepbrother. The others had all been able to move a single die, and both Ajax and Fairfax managed to make the knife wiggle, but nothing more.

On the other hand, their ability with telepathy was very strong. Even the weakest of the four, Oliver, could send and receive thoughts through multiple closed doors with no problem, as long as he really concentrated on it.

This seemed to stun all of the others, including Colonel Kent Pride, overall commander of the Psi-Watch. The normal "scale" of rating the kids and their psi-abilities who were in Robin's team didn't work. While their telepathy said they should be at least a classification of six, their telekinesis only rated Ajax, Fairfax, and Oliver as a one and Gavin as a two. On the other hand, the colonel decided to wait and retest before trying to classify the other four after they had spent more time around Robin.

The other thing Robin was taught was beyond the 'double T' abilities, there was a host of other possible mind powers. There was the hindsight which he had incredible mastery over and Jasper also had only to a lesser degree. Others had powers of over electronics. Cadet Kramer, for instance, could generate enough of an electric charge within himself to fire a shot out of a laser rifle without it even having a battery in it. Others, such as the Psi-Watch Commander could manipulate magnetic fields around himself and could even help speed up the clotting process of cuts by manipulating the iron in the blood.

Finally there were some who had some abilities with heat or cold, animal empathy, tectonic sensory, light bending, and a host of other minor tricks.

However, only the strongest Psionics could generate a telekinetic thrust and none of them had ever seen one capable of manifesting inside a room when the psionic was outside and couldn't see the target. Furthermore, none of them even fathomed anyone could have a telekinetic thrust with the intensity Robin managed to accidently demonstrate. Hearing this didn't help Robin, who couldn't help but feel even more like an aberration. This only worsened when he found out none of them had ever heard of a full vision being able to broadcast to others and as best as they could tell no psionic had ever been able to be a catalyst to open up latent psionic abilities in others.

The truth of the matter was, the government had spent untold billions trying to create drugs to create and or strengthen psionics for hundreds of years without decent and non-dangerous successes.

However, because of the abilities the kids on Robin's team were demonstrating, they all but begged for Robin to try to push psionics on a test subject, one who wouldn't be bumped as often and wouldn't be in such close proximity to Robin. After a several minute argument, Robin finally relented, but only did so if he could pick the test subject.

Cadet Dakota Sinclair was brought in and got to sit through another of Robin's visions. This one was centered on Dakota's first stint in ISTAZ and how he got to be a team leader. The vision was beyond vivid, as were the arguments within the team on if to quit or not after their original team leader broke both his leg and ankle in several spots. Everyone in the room couldn't help but laugh as, in the vision, Dakota told the others who didn't want to stick it out they were all a bunch of wusses even though he was the youngest one left in the group. It was clear from the vision Dakota was meant to be an explorer and loved Zong more than he loved anything else, including his own family.

The other thing the holding of hands link showed was Dakota was more than a willing test subject. After tasting the vision out in the woods, he wanted more and there was no question he didn't see Robin's abilities bad of freakish. Instead he saw then as awesome and really cool.

Once the vision ended, the others from Robin's team then coached Dakota on how to start "mind thinking" as they continued to call it. They also showed him how to open and close the mental "doors" to cut off the ability and re-open it. Although he was nowhere near as strong as the others in Robin's group, he was able to start using Telepathy with everyone in the room. Colonel Pride decided to see how long it would last without a bump from Robin, but promised if the ability really started to diminish, he would allow Robin to give him boosts to prevent it from going away altogether. Instead he moved Dakota into the guest barracks so he could practice the new ability as often as he liked with those from the Psi-Watch.

One thing everyone noticed was how much more it took out of Robin to pull the vision and "gift" Dakota. Not only was Robin near starving by the time the vision ended, he was also considerably more mentally exhausted. In fact, he left the others and headed back to his team's building even as the others worked with Dakota on how to start using the abilities Robin had seemingly unlocked.

Robin all but collapsed into his bed and was out before his body came to a complete stop. Fortunately, he was allowed to sleep in. He woke barely in time to get to lunch. Just as he was about to enter the building, one of the gold plated flyers came in hard and fast.

He started to turn away and head in the direction of the flyer, only to have Jasper grab him by the shoulder and push him firmly through the door. "Go eat before they start breaking down the serving line, Robin."

Robin let out a sigh and nodded but even as he walked away from the man, he sent out a thought, 'Did they find more of the missing ISTAZ kids?'

'In a way of speaking, yes, you did. It just isn't the ones we need to find.'

Robin stopped dead in his tracks, 'Mrs. Anderson's teammates?'

'Yes, two of them. Six and a half years and they are still breathing… barely… but it is a miracle and you were right on the money. They were on that island and we never checked it because it is over a kilometer from the shore and it never occurred to us to give it a look. However, your involvement, beyond finding the spike, can't be known without raising way too many questions and directing a ton of attention directly on you. Trust me, though. We will find a way to reward you. Now go eat and let us take care of this.'

'What about the third member…'

'Not sure, but I don't think he made it since I am getting nothing about him in my mind. Now stop, eat, and relax; you have some new classes to get ready to take and I have some work to do!'

Robin broke contact and moved through the food line. It was pretty clear someone had told the cadets behind the line to give him extra because he ended up with a very full plate. Even as he ate and made small talk with Gavin and Ajax, he continued to look toward the door. When nothing happened and no one came running in with the news after several minutes he realized those who knew were keeping the whole thing very hushed up.

With a shrug Robin glanced over at the table where part of Team Fifteen were finishing up. He nodded at Troy, "Hey, where is Benjy?"

"He, Jason and Tasha along with Saul, Fairfax, and Oliver offered to test out some of the primitive camp survival stuff being set up by the four you found. I think the instructors figured if Saul and Benjy couldn't understand it after all they've been through, then they need to make it easier."

Robin nodded in agreement, "So how is he doing overall?"

"He's scared, Robin, but he has a big heart. More than anything he wants to help find enough of the others so he can go back to where they lost the others from his team. It sounds like him and a kid by the name of Ryan were real close and until he knows for sure…" Troy's words drifted off as he shook his head and sighed.

"Let him know we aren't going anywhere until we all get a chance to take a look above and below those cliffs. I don't care if we have to move the entire camp over there for a week or two!"

Colonel McKnight overheard the conversation from the instructor's table, stood up and moved over to stand between Robin and Troy, "You both know finding those who separated is low priority, right?"

Robin nodded, "Finding bigger groups gets you closer to your forty-four number faster, but I'm not leaving until we try to locate the rest of San-San Near Ocean Seven. Benjy, Dwight and Saul deserve it after being willing to come back down here…"

Colonel McKnight nodded, "You are absolutely right. To be honest if we find forty-four…"

"When, not if, sir." Robin stated with total conviction.

The interruption clearly annoyed the huge man, but the message certainly didn't. "I like your attitude, son, but don't go talking over your commanding officers. I know you haven't had academy training yet, but chain of command gives me the right to finish speaking, understood?"

Robin audibly gulped, "Yes sir."

"Good!" the man boomed out, "now as I was trying to say, if, but I'll relent and say when we find forty-four, I will give you all a chance to go after all the rest. If you want to place a priority on finding the rest of Near Ocean Seven, then I will give them priority as soon as we are up to forty-four found kids. Now have you had any other gut feelings or ideas?"

Troy started to say something but stopped before a sound even came out. Colonel McKnight, Ajax and Robin all noticed and looked over to him. The colonel was the first to speak, "What's going on between those two ears of yours, Senior Private?"

Troy took a deep breath and let it out, "I'm sure you already tried it."

"What?" Robin demanded to know.

Troy gave a shrug and started talking after getting an elbow from Shane, the youngest kid on his team. "Well, I've been thinking about it since Robin found those others. Both groups set up large fires to light up in case they saw a flyer. Have you ever looked for fires from the space stations?"

Colonel McKnight nodded, "Yeah, the first couple of months was pretty much focused on finding camp fires and it worked to a degree, but unless someone tries to pull Gavin's trick of directing the light toward one of the space stations, it is kind of like finding a particular grain of sand on a beach. Lightning strikes start fires quite often on Zong, so we spent a whole lot of time chasing down false hits. We did get lucky and find a pair of teams and we are always on the lookout, however.

"The real problem is, most small campfires don't stick out unless we happen to fly really close and most of the teams are probably building them in or close to shelters by now, so there is even less of a signature to find."

The other team member from Team Fifteen who was sitting at the table cocked her head to the side, "Big ones would though."

"Yes, but a big one is what we see when we get a lightning strike fire." Colonel McKnight reminded Tiffany.

Shane's brow scrunched up as he thought it over for a few seconds, "Um, sir?"

"Come up with something else?"

"Not really… Um, just kind of building on Troy's idea really…"

"Toss it out there, son."

"If they do have big fires ready, they wouldn't use them unless there was a good reason to. Fire safety is too big for any of us to always build big fires and hope. I just don't know what reason we could give them when we don't know where they are."

Gavin glanced over, "Shane's right. Besides putting out a big fire with limited equipment would be hard. What if we gave them a reason to light them if they do have them ready?"

"How?" Colonel McKnight asked sharply, clearly liking what he was hearing.

Troy pointed out the window as he spoke, "Those gold flyers really stick out and the sound a flyer makes is real obvious. If they all flew low over an area and crisscrossed each other a few times it might get a response since they are so shiny and make the normal flyer noises."

Tiffany joined in, "Yeah, good thinking Troy. If pilots went over a small area each day, then we could look for fires only in the area the Corps flew over."

Shane nodded, "Yeah, then we would have a much better chance of pinpointing a new man-made fire, since, if it was in the overfly area, it would be more likely to be from someone trying to signal one of the flyers. If they are really big fires, like the others say they built and had ready, they would still be burning at night, even if they lit them during the day."

Ajax glanced up at the colonel, "Better than nothing, right?"

Colonel McKnight rubbed his chin for a few seconds before nodding. "Way, way better than nothing." He glanced over at Robin, even though he was speaking to all the kids. "OK, guys, get me a few areas and I'll have my pilots give it a shot over the next week or so while you are taking your Advanced classes. We will need visual to see the fires though, and the gold flyers can't get me a visual, so it will be a couple of days before we can give it a go. All of you are totally correct, however. It can't hurt to give this a shot and it isn't something we have tried yet."

As the massive man walked away, Robin grinned, "Nice thinking guys, and better yet I had nothing to do with it!"

"Tired of being the hero?" Troy teased.

"Kind'a, and really happy you all took his attention off of me. The look I got when I interrupted him was realllllllly scary!"

Shane snickered, "Yeah, Robin, what were you thinking? He's way too big for me to ever want him to be mad at me!"

Robin forced a grin and shrugged, "Mom always said I have a big mouth."

Even as the kids laughed and changed topics over to trying to figure out the best places to try the overfly idea, several others finishing up lunch moved over and tossed out their own ideas on where they thought the best places to send the flyer. By the time everyone finished eating, the first set of classes had been set up and instructors pointed kids to the sign-up tables for the various classes. Once the class lists were set and each team had the various required subjects covered, academy cadets then directed them to areas to begin Advanced training in all sorts of survival related topics.

Even though he had talked over with the rest of his team what classes needed to be taken, and they had quickly settled on what they wanted to take, Robin's primary interests centered on wildlife. Seeing the bears and the wolves had made taking Hazardous Earth Creatures as his first choice. His second followed suit with Hazardous Native Creatures. Since no one else in his team really thought they sounded like interesting classes to take, there was no argument at all with him being the primary on both. Still, because they were going out into Advanced ISTAZ areas, the team was required to have two take the courses and at least one of them had to pass. His last two classes were also things he was very interested in, those being Winter Survival and the still in development Primitive Survival class.

Because the instructors required two kids take the hazardous creatures classes before the team could be one of the primary's to go into after the missing Advanced ISTAZ team, Gavin took Hazardous Native as one of his courses and Fairfax reluctantly agreed to be the second on Hazardous Earth Creatures, arguing the whole time the most dangerous earth creature was humans. With this, Ajax whole-heartedly agreed.

On the other hand, because Fairfax agreed to take a class he really didn't want to take, he was given free rein to pick two classes he definitely wanted to take. He didn't hesitate to latch onto Advanced Geothermal Dangers and the still being put together Primitive Survival. Since he had to take three but was allowed to take four total classes he decided to fill one of the Winter Survival required slots. His thoughts were the class would be a cakewalk. Living at street level in Chi-Troit during the winter was brutal, so he figured he could handle anything the instructors could toss at him as far as cold weather was concerned.

Gavin was not really thrilled with the idea of more classes and didn't see anything of interest other than Jungle Survival. Because of this, he decided to take the Jungle course, then help the team out with the requirements set by the instructors, by dealing with Grassland Survival and Forest Survival. As long as he didn't have to deal with the really cold weather courses of Winter Survival or High Mountain Survival he was basically content.

Oliver agreed to take Near Ocean and High Mountain Survival to cover those requirements within the team as long as he got to take Advanced Geothermal Dangers even though the team only needed one kid to take it. The others in the team, knowing Oliver was all but drooling over the idea of the extra Geology class, quickly relented. Since Oliver didn't want to be seen as slacking with only taking three classes he decided to add in the new Primitive Survival course to his list, since it was something almost no one else would have as a uniform ribbon in the entire academy and was actually wondering what it was all about.

Out of all the kids, Ajax was actually the most open to take whatever was needed to fill out the group, but he did have the same thoughts as Fairfax did about Winter Survival being easy after living on the streets of Chi-Troit. But one thing he did find out was, the kids in the missing Advanced ISTAZ teams were located on jungle islands so he decided to help by filling in as a second in Near Ocean Survival and Jungle Survival. Finally, since all the others were going to sign up for four classes Ajax didn't want to look like a wimp so he decided Oliver had a good point. It would be interesting to find out what Primitive Survival was all about and what the instructors would come up with.

As Robin made his way over to learn more about dangerous Zong wildlife, he couldn't help but snicker as Fairfax and Oliver all but ran to the Geothermal class. He did pause, however, to look what directions the three kids from Near Ocean Seven were heading. Saul was the first one he noticed. The boy was heading over to Jasper, who was leading the Jungle Survival class. Benjy was sticking next to Jason, and Robin guessed, correctly, the kid would be with either Troy or Jason for every class. In this case Jason was leading him over to Mr. Reid, who was the instructor for Forest Survival.

It took a couple of seconds before Robin realized Dwight was actually right behind him, heading the same direction he was going. With a smile, he glanced over, "Are you interested in animals too?"

"Yeah," Dwight spoke softly so the raspiness of his voice couldn't be heard. "While we were stuck out there we came across all sorts of animal, and one of them bit Nile one night. The others think it was a coincidence, but I think it make him even sicker. I am kind of hoping to know what it was, so I am taking both Earth and Native. Who knows, there may even be a way to treat for it if I find out what it is."

"Well I am taking both, too, so if you happen to come across it, let me know."

Dwight nodded, took in a deep breath and let it out, "Can I ask you something?"

Robin felt his heart speed up, figuring the kid had seen a bit too much and was starting to guess there was something weird going on. On the other hand, Robin didn't really feel like he had a right to lie about his abilities to a kid he really respected. Because of this he reluctantly nodded, "Ask away."

Dwight cocked his head to the side and studied Robin for a second. "Hey, it's nothing bad. I just want to know why you did what you did."

Robin could sense the boy had a ton of deeper questions, but was holding back. The problem was Robin really didn't understand the question Dwight asked, "Um, what did I do?"

Dwight waved his left arm out in front of him, gesturing to the whole camp, "I have been hearing from everyone it was you who brought the whole camp together. You and you alone held a meeting and gave classes to the others, even offering them to kids you didn't like and junk. Why?"

Robin shrugged, "To be honest, it was a combination of feeling bad for the other teams and a bit of not wanting to deal with the jealousy of my team passing so many tests so fast. Making it worse, I got an Outstanding on my first test, so by the time dinner hit, and I had my second Outstanding and my team was way in front of the others with passing grades, I could almost feel the anger in the air.

"At the same time, I really started to feel bad for some of the other teams. Not only had we lost Oliver's team, I heard a few others talking about quitting. It didn't seem right not to do something."

"Oh you did something, alright. Before Oliver flew us down, before we even met Oliver, the Explorer Corps crew on the space station were talking about your whole team and your name, not just your number was being mentioned by most of them. They even watched the vids of your tests and junk, trying to find things the instructors missed. I heard the Medical Lieutenant, who is in charge of the nerve treatments for my hand, even talk about how no one could find anything you did wrong. He even said they were going to find a way to get you into the Corps no matter what."

Robin couldn't help but snicker, "They were ready to bribe me with all sorts of stuff, mostly for my family." He grinned rather devilishly, "So I let them, even though I wanted to go to the academy for as long as I could remember."

This got a slight chuckle out of Dwight, "Hey, my dad always says to take what I can get."

"Oh, I took." Robin admitted. "Both my mom and my dad are getting promoted and moved into a nicer tower. I also hinted that they wanted a larger kid allotment, so they added three more to our allowed family size without penalties."

Dwight's eyes went wide, "Wow, three more?"

"Yeah, I was pretty much blown away by it too. I figured I would have to all but beg for two, but hey, I know my mom, and she will take full advantage of it."

"Well, since you will not be home for a while, it may mean you come home to some new brothers and sisters."

"I kind of hope so. Mom is going to need someone to take care of and with any luck it will distract her some from me not being around, cause I know both my mom and dad are going to be less than happy with me for taking this offer without their permission."

"Well if you and your gut can find more of us from San-San, then you can tell them it was all about getting others back to their parents and I bet they'll understand if they love kids as much as it sound like they do."

"Yeah, I am going to make sure my parents know what we are doing as soon as I can. But until we find at least forty more, Colonel McKnight doesn't want any of this getting out."

"Yeah I know." Dwight sighed. "The whole reason we have not been shipped back to Earth is to keep things hushed up. I have even heard they double-check our vid messages to make sure we don't tell the anyone back home about all the missing ISTAZ kids."

"Do they have a cover story or something?"

"Yeah, all of us are 'trapped here' until the star storms calm down since it is a rough transit now and we are still listed as injured, even Saul's and Benjy's parents are being told the same thing. The kids who were on normal AQ were sent home in a 'calm period', but I heard rumors the wormhole was purposefully made a little less stable and the ride back for most of them was really nasty. Some of the Explorer officers joked about being lucky not to be on those transports one night. The story goes it is OK to get here, but getting back is not as easy and would be hard on anyone with injuries, so rest of us need to wait it out."

"I can't believe they are getting away with lying…"

"I could care less since being here, even up at the medical space station, is like five hundred times better than living in my apartment in San-San. To be honest, I can't wait to hear what response my parents send back with me telling them I want to stay here longer and am joining the academy. They both told me horror stories about this place!"

"Same with my folks." Robin chuckled as he looked down at a table with fifty small holo-projector balls.

Before more could be said, Mr. Collins cleared his throat and looked at the eight kids taking the class. "I want to get as much of the projector stuff out of the why now, while we have a lull in the star storm, so we need to get started." He paused as he eyed his class. "All boys huh?"

Timothy, from Team Seventeen, grinned, "It looked like most the girls were headed to Near Ocean, talking about wanting to get on one of the beaches."

Mr. Collins snickered, "Wait till they have to learn about making a shelter and digging sand, they'll wish they were here."

This got some laughter out of the eight boys, but was soon replaced with wide eyes as one of the holo-projectors lit up with a very large centipede looking thing with a nasty stinker on the tail and large, sharp looking, mandibles.

Mr. Collins looked at the expressions on the eight faces and had to fight to not smile. There was no question he had the attention of all of them. "Welcome to Hazardous Native Creatures boys. I want you to break up into pairs, and I want you paired off with someone not on your team."

Gavin didn't look happy not to get to sit with Robin but quickly found Timothy nodding in his direction. At the same time Robin quickly paired off with Dwight.

Mr. Collins nodded in approval. "For the next few days, when in my class, you are to stick with your partner. While the final test is a full team thing, there are quizzes after each section and you have to pass three of the four to even be allowed to go out on the final. The quizzes are taken in pairs, giving you someone to talk them over with; which is why I don't want two from the same team paired off, since there is a better chance of at least one from a team passing three if they aren't together to begin with."

"Now, in front of you is one of the scarier looking things native to this world, a not so little gal we call the Rust Runner. It gets its name from the dark reddish-black color and the speed at which it moves. A fully grown one, like the one you are looking at, can run slightly faster than five kilometers per hour for long periods of time and has a burst speed of over eight kilometers per hour. While the mandibles look dangerous, they really aren't too bad. They can break the skin, but nothing more. The real problem is the tail."

The image spun and focused in on the tale structure so the kids could get a good look. "The Rust Runner uses the tail to lay eggs. Because of this, only the females have the tail structure. However, this is not a nice mama. It injects her eggs into living tissue of other creatures. The eggs then quickly hatch and the lava feed on the host until they burrow out, drop to the ground and go on their merry way."

Seeing the eyes of all eight boys go even wider with this information, Mr. Collins nodded, "And, yes, we can be a host. Should you come across a Rust Runner, kill it, shoot it, throw a rock and crush it, burn it with a long flaming stick, but do NOT try to step on it. It is fast, agile and if you stomp too close and miss, you give it a good target for its tail to jab into your leg.

"Should you get stung by one, first off you will know it. From reports I have heard, it is kind of like getting a plast-steel securing spike slammed into you. It then quickly pops in between one and three eggs and turns to run away. Do not, if you are stung, kill it while its stinger is in you. The juices from its body can go down the egg tube and enter the body. This will make you more than a little sick. Instead let it run then shoot it. At this point you will feel a cyst like thing in the tissue where it stung you. Don't wait for medical help; it takes less than an hour before those eggs hatch in a warm body. Instead, squeeze until the eggs pop out. It hurts but nowhere near as much as what the stinger going in hurt.

"You will see a greenish liquid at first. Keep squeezing until you don't have a cyst feeling anymore and blood comes out. My recommendation is to keep squeezing even longer just to remind yourselves never to let yourself get stung by one again."

This got a round of nervous laughter, which Mr. Collins did smile about before continuing. "While this has never been found in the areas you will be going to, it is still possible it hitched a ride on a flyer at some point. Because of this, you need to know it and will be tested on it. It is also for the same reason we are going to go over all the dangerous beasties on this rock."

Timothy cocked his head to the side, "Mr. Collins, if they could hitch a ride, why didn't we have them in our Basic ISTAZ class."

"Had you chosen Jungle as a first year, you would have had a briefing on them in Basic ISTAZ because of the possibility of them hitchhiking on one of our science shuttles. Fortunately, they can't handle high altitude or cold weather, but those going to jungle areas may find a rogue one. If you do, kill it. We really don't want them getting established in areas we send kids to." Mr. Collins shot the six boys a wicked looking smile, "Unless you all happen to stick around and become third year ISTAZers. Then all bets are off."

Mr. Collins let this sink in for a few moments before he continued, "Next up is one of Mr. Allen's least favorite problem children, the Snake-pede." At the same time, the holo-player showing the Rust Runner faded out and the one next to it lit up. This time it showed a very similar creature. The difference was, this one didn't have the mandibles or the stinger. Instead it had a more snake-like head and obvious fangs.

As the figure in front of the boys' tables spun to give them a view of every angle, Mr. Collins typed on his note-puter, causing the fangs to be highlighted. "These guys like body heat. As a matter of fact they like any heat. Like many Earth snakes, they are cold blooded so they seek extra warmth at night. This means a partially unzipped shelter, night bag with you in it, warm rocks after you put out the night's campfire, or all sort of other heat sources. As a matter of fact, more kids get bit by these things in the camp showers than any other time, since the solar heaters makes the water warm and these guys also like dampness.

"While not deadly, their bite does cause sickness including disorientation and serious light sensitivity to the eyes. Because there are dozens of bites from these every Advanced ISTAZ cycle, all ISTAZ emergency beacons, even basic ISTAZ beacons, carry a dose of the anti-toxin. But the effects will linger for a few days, and the space station will send an alert out, if you get bit by one so they can send you down a new beacon with another dose of anti-toxin. Now these things do not care for bright light and back away from loud and threatening sounds directed at them. As long as there is an escape route they will take it, given the chance. The other thing of note is they are great at controlling several types of mice-like creatures and even a few snakes and the much more toxic ten-legged arachnids Zong has, so we prefer you not kill them.

"The big thing to remember is to keep an eye on your teammates should they get bit, because they tend to do really stupid stuff, like… Oh, let's see. Last cycle a kid picked up the grate over the campfire with his bare hand, another sharpened his knife pulling it toward himself and slipped with it, and a girl climbed a tree and then jumped at a pretty bird. It flew, she didn't."

Next to Robin, Dwight muttered, "Ouch."

Allen, from Team Nineteen, shook his head, "I'm not sure what is worse, the girl thinking she could fly or her team not stopping her from climbing the tree when she was sick."

Mr. Collins gave Allen a thumb up gesture, "And there is kind of a good point, young man. Academy command was not happy with anyone on the team, so they got pulled out of Advanced ISTAZ and dropped off in a Basic zone for the rest of the time. The girl went home in a full electrostatic body cast, and may or may not walk again."

Timothy cringed, "Sir, can I ask something?"


"Is this whole course going to be looking at vids?"

A rather nasty smirk crossed Mr. Collins' face, "You want to see the real things?"

"Um… I mean this is interesting and all, but…"

"Oh, don't worry, Senior Private. The test for this, just like for Dangerous Earth Creatures, will be done in an area where a few of these nasties will be seen and you all will have to deal with them… properly… as a team. Furthermore, once I get you through all fifty holo-projections on the tables in front of you all, we will be going out to find some."

"Nice!" Curtis, from Team Eleven stated softly, getting nods of agreement from all seven of the others.

Mr. Collin's couldn't help buck chuckle. "Well, Robin must be rubbing off on all of you. This is the first Advanced Dangerous Creatures class I have ever taught where the prior statement didn't cause a couple to back out of the class."

Timothy shook his head, "After the way you all ratcheted up the tests, I think we would all have been disappointed if it wasn't something along those lines."

"We shall see just how much you can all handle then." Mr. Collins stated as the Snake-pede vanished and the one of the larger holo-projectors lit up showing a massive beetle. It was shown next to a rabbit and was easily four times larger than the bunny. Its front pincers were multi-ridged and appeared to have thorns in on them. "Boys, let me start out by saying this is Zong's most dangerous critter. We call it a Cactus Beetle. If you see one of these it needs to die, shoot it multiple times, then shoot it a few more. Once it is dead, shoot it again and then contact the station. We will pull you out of the area and send in a detachment of marines. Quite simply this is the only native creature on Zong we want eradicated…"

Inside the mess hall, Oliver sat next to Fairfax as a large holo-player in the front of the room showed an erupting geyser. The kids in the class watched with a sense of awe. Mr. Allen studied the eyes of the kids and let out a sigh. Still he forced himself to smile, "Pretty spectacular huh?"

Oliver was the first to speak, "Totally cool."

"So, Specialist, why do you think I am showing you this? Is it to get you excited, to show you something cool, or to try to teach you something?"

"All of the above?" Oliver asked.

This got some chuckles out of everyone including Mr. Allen. "OK, smarty, there was a very good answer. So, should you encounter a highly geologically active area and see one of these, what do you think you should be looking out for?"

Realizing all eyes were on him, Oliver took a deep breath, "Well the first thing is the steam tells me it is probably really hot. Also, since there is no vegetation around it, maybe it is poisonous or something."

"Anyone else?"

Off to the side Sara raised her hand and got a nod from Mr. Allen, "Sir, the cone around it is kind of like a volcano only a mini one, so if we see the cone we should know to stay clear."

"Another good answer." Mr. Allen admitted. "Keep thinking out loud, though. We are paying you all and you all have real explorer ranks so use those heads."

Lynn spoke up, "Well, if we see it at all I'd think we'd have to really look at wind direction. We wouldn't want the wind to push the water toward us."

"Now we are talking!" Mr. Allen praised Lynn. "Some of these geysers shoot up acidic and very hot water. While the drift will cool some, the acid will still be part of the droplets. Also, if you are too close the wind could blow the steam into you. If this happens, you could be cooked. Steam at the vent mouth of the one I will take you to see later this week exceeds 175 degrees Celsius, then rapidly cools and condenses into rain-like drops rapidly. However, two years ago we lost two boys and didn't find a third from a steam eruption. The heat also blinded the other two from the team."

Before more could be said, Mr. Allen hit a button and the distress call came over the speakers in the room. It started with an adult's voice, "Advanced Team Twelve we have detected all your emergency beacons activated but are not giving us good data, what is your situation?"

The sounds of a girl's screams was the only response at first, so the woman's voice from the space station spoke again. "Team Twelve we have dispatched emergency shuttles. If you can please advise of the situation as best you can." The voice took on a much more compassionate tone as the woman added, "Help is on the way sweetheart."

"I can't see! My face is burning! I can't see!"

"Did you get something in your eyes?"

"Something exploded in front of us! I can't see! I can hear Gerty, she needs help too! Help! I can't see and my skin is on fire!"

Mr. Allen clicked off the speakers. "The rest only gets worse and I think you get the idea. Making matters even worse, their beacons were all damaged because of the heat and pH of the water. We were lucky they were able to get us voice and a fix on their position. The difference between life and death in this case was a matter of a few meters. The two who were only a trio of meters closer were cooked alive and were dead within minutes.

"The truly awful part about this incident was it was not only avoidable, it had even been discussed. Vid taken, just before this by the girl talking, showed the whole team moving up on a series of geothermal features. All of them talked of wanting to get a good look except the one missing teammate who tried to tell them they should back off and wait for the wind to change and not get too close. His voice is not heard on any of the subsequent radio transmissions either.

"In addition to this team leader being blinded, she suffered blistering burns over her face and hands. We are hopeful we can give her eye implants but it does not look good since the acidic water did damage to the nerves inside the eye sockets as well. If we can ever get her to see again, it will probably be in black and white only."

Lynn closed her eyes and shuddered which prompted Jared to put an arm over the girl's shoulders. Those seeing this couldn't help but wonder if Jared was drawing some comfort for himself, while giving what support he could.

Fairfax shook his head, "Why didn't they listen to their teammate?"

"Good question. The audio on the vid made it clear they made fun of the boy for being… and I quote, 'A Basic Adventure Quest want-to-be'. Also of some note, the geyser they got hit with was not one of the ones they were looking at. Instead it came out of a vent fifty meters from the actual cones."

Mr. Allen changed the vid to show a new area. "This is where the note-puter was dropped. We got this footage by sending in a bot. If you look closely, you will see pockets of steam well out from the three big cones. For some reason they ignored this warning sign or simply were so curious they didn't notice. Finally, and Lynn you are right on the mark, the wind was in their faces, so the steam and acid water blew right into them."

"So, do you all want a break or are you ready to really dig into Advanced Geothermal Dangers?"

Over in the woods on the north side of camp, Ajax was taking his time getting yet another new list of dangerous plants he would have to learn to identify. After getting a readout on another thirty plants he would have to learn as part of Advanced Jungle Survival, he noticed a note at the end of the list saying the class also included some things he had never heard of before.

Jasper gave a visual rundown on all the plants with samples, then motioned for the five kids taking his Advanced Jungle Survival class to move forward and stand around a huge table. Once they were all in position, Jasper removed the top and pointed to what was actually a large and very full Plast-steel container. The five kids eyed the tub then looked at each other with befuddled looks.

After nearly three minutes Saul finally spoke. "Why are we all staring at a big box with sand and a rock in the middle of it?"

"You really think it is sand, son?" Jasper asked with a raised eyebrow.

While the others in the class knew this meant they were missing something by Jasper's body language, Saul had not been around long enough to pick up on this clue. Instead he shrugged, "I walked on enough beaches over the past few months to know sand when I see it."

This only caused Jasper to smirk and put his hands on his hips, "You sure about this?"

"It's sand!" Saul all but shouted. The other four, including Ajax, all cringed. All of them knew Jasper's current posture was meant as a warning, one Saul was totally ignoring. The four kids were beyond certain Saul was about to get a bit embarrassed, but the lesson would be a good one.

Jasper glanced up shook his head then reached into the back of his pack and pulled out a clear box with holes in it. Inside was small Zong rodent much like an earth chipmunk. "Saul, since you are so certain you know what you are looking at, would you mind doing us a favor and put this little guy on the rock in the middle of the tub?"

By this time Saul was a getting aggravated. Partially because of the tone of Jasper's voice, but more because the others were looking at him like he was stupid. Without hesitation he grabbed the little creature by the tail and dropped it on the rock. "There, happy?"

Jasper kept a neutral voice, "Now put some of these seeds on the edge of the box, over on the corner by you."

Saul let out an audible sigh, "Sure, whatever." He took the offered bag of seeds and put them onto a lightly raised triangular corner right by him.

The little rodent got up on its hind legs sniffed the air, eyed the seeds and jumped off the rock. As soon as it hit the 'sand' it sank in and disappeared.

"What the!" Saul gasped as he quickly reached in to where the rodent had disappeared. His hand went right in, almost like it was liquid, only thicker. His hand quickly found the struggling creature and he pulled it out. With wide eyes and some clear guilt he started stroking the shaking, terrified little ball of fuzz. "You wanted me to kill it!"

"No, not at all." Jasper stated as he knelt in front of the boy who now had tears threatening to spill out of his eyes. "Actually you reacted faster than I expected. I would have gotten it out if you had not."

Ajax ignored Jasper and Saul. Instead he moved up and pushed his hand into the sand. "It's liquid!"

Jasper glanced up and noticed the others were also sticking their hands in the specially designed crate."What you are feeling is the most dangerous feature in the jungles of this world and is found on Earth as well."

"What is it?" Dena demanded to know as she pushed her hand deep into the substance.

"It's called quicksand." Jasper stated. "Now while Saul and I make sure our little furry friend is OK, I need a volunteer."

Ajax let out a long breath, "Something tells me I am going to regret this, but I'll bite."

With one arm around Saul who was still very shaken at almost killing the cute little rodent, Jasper pushed a button on the table. Directly behind him a large panel popped up and slid back. All the kids looked at what appeared to be more sand.

Ajax's eyes went wide, "You want me to jump in there, don't you!"

Jasper simply smiled and nodded. He then sent a thought over, 'Do yourself a favor and strip down to your undershorts first. Otherwise you will have wet sandy clothing, which will not come totally clean in the camp wash. You really don't want to have to deal with sand all over your stuff, especially when we only have a pair of uniforms for each of you until the station can make more in your size.'

'I already was going to. Next time remind me with think talk to keep my big mouth shut though!' Ajax thought back as he moved over to the 'sand' and looked down. Without much thought he backed off a couple of steps and pulled off all his clothing including his under clothing while speaking. "As nasty as this stuff is on my hand, there is no way I am jumping in there with clothing on."

Jasper couldn't help but snicker at the others, who suddenly looked way more embarrassed at seeing Ajax nude than being worried about the rodent. "Just step in. There are steps going down, then it will be deeper than you are. Just don't struggle too much and if you start to go under, close your eyes tight and hold your breath. I will get you out."

"As Robin likes to say, if you don't I will haunt you."

This got some very nervous giggles out of the others, including Saul.

Ajax stepped in and sank to his ankles. The next step took the quicksand up to his knees and the next onto his mid thighs. "This is like walking through… deep snow at street level in Chi-Troit… only thicker," three more steps and he suddenly found his feet couldn't touch the bottom. Natural instinct made him try to swim. It did no good and he started to sink further.

"Ajax, stop moving!" Jasper commanded while at the same time sending the nearly panicked boy some soothing thoughts.

With a trembling lip Ajax forced himself to stop, all the while expecting to go under. Only it didn't happen. Instead the liquefied sand seemed to firm up around him some. He stopped sinking.

Jasper pulled out a long pole with a loop around it. "We can get you out with this Ajax, so just settle down for a minute while I explain what we are dealing with…"

Hours later Team Five reentered their building looking wiped out. Robin glanced over as Ajax came in, dripping wet from the showers and fell face first into his bed, "Man, you OK?"

"Advanced Training is crazy hard!" The exhausted boy grumbled.

"Yeah," Oliver agreed, "and this is only Day One of it!"

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