As we circumnavigated the hill, Malagor explained the rifle to me. For all its unearthly beauty, it was quite terrestrial in method of operation. The stock and the barrel were designed much like those of an AK-47, with a trigger and trigger guard in the usual location, but instead of a clip of ammunition projecting just in front of them, there was a slot where the power source plugged in. The sights were placed along the barrel, if such a term applies, just as with any rifle of earth. Malagor handed one of the weapons to me, and together we practiced plugging in the power source replacements. Then we slung the rifles over our shoulders and continued on our way.
When we had reached the other side of the hill, I had to stop and laugh. As far as berry picking was concerned, we had certainly chosen the poorer side of the hill. From where I now stood, the hills beyond were completely covered with the berry bushes. We were both in the mood for breakfast after having slept a long time, so we began wading through the thicket, picking the ripe berries and transferring them to our mouths. The little fruits were juicy and tart, and I am sure would not have been all that good if tasted at home with dinner, but here in the wilderness, picking them straight off the vine, they were delicious.
Malagor and I had moved apart as we picked. He was about thirty feet or so away, but there was nothing to be concerned about. We were two grown men, or in any case, two grown beings, in sight of one another. I must admit that I was not being all that watchful, and I suppose that Malagor wasn't either. Suddenly I heard a noise from him that I had never heard before. It was a lot like the startled yelp that a big dog makes when his tail is accidentally stepped on. Then a tremendous roar reverberated through the hills. I turned to a scene that made my pulse quicken.
There, standing above the berry bushes, a full fifteen feet tall, was the most frightening apparition that I have ever beheld. It was a huge beast. It might have seemed like a bear or a large ape at first, because it stood on its hind legs and had a shaggy but almost humanoid form, but it was neither bear nor ape nor any combination of the two. It was covered with long black fur, and it had a large head. Its eyes were large, round, multifaceted, insectoid orbs. It was obviously an omnivorous beast, having like humans a variety of tooth types, but at the moment I was concerned with only one type-- the great long fangs with which it was attempting to impale Malagor. The creature held him in a tight grip and was attempting to reach his throat with those great ivory tusks. For his part, Malagor was struggling to hold back the giant head and at the same time find a spot in which to employ his own considerable canines.
If I had thought about it, I am sure that I would not have bothered trying to use the light rifle; because I was fairly sure that there was no way that the power source could still be viable. But the fact is that I did not think, I just did. I put the weapon to my shoulder, took quick aim, and fired. The gun spit a thin stream of energy from its barrel. It was not like a laser or a beam. It was like molten sunshine that bubbled and churned as it flew through the air. It went past Malagor's shoulder and into the eye of the giant beast. Then with a big explosion, it blew a large hole out of the back of the thing's skull. The beast's head collapsed in a most disgusting way, and then it fell to the ground.
I ran over to where the monster had fallen. Malagor jumped up to his feet, as if to prove to me and to himself that he was all right. He looked at me with a blank expression.
"Finally, an animal I know." He said. "This is a stummada. It is not good to eat."
"I don't think he had the same opinion of you,” I replied.
"No it did not. But it is not a he. It is a female. The mate of this one may come along at any moment. Let us return to our side of the hill."
We started on our way home. I would like to if I might, interject a small commentary at this point. As I tell this story it must seem that I was well versed in the language of the Amatharians. I must confess that at the time I was not, although I count myself now, to be quite fluent in that beautiful language. For example, in the previous conversation between myself and Malagor, we had a great deal of trouble at first with the Amatharian terminology for the animal's mate, but after examining the context of the word, and a little impromptu tutelage by Malagor, I was able to piece together the meaning. So it was with a great deal of the language that I learned during my time with my alien friend. If I do not fully detail every element of my conversational education, please believe me when I say that it is not an intentional effort to make myself seem more intelligent. Rather it is just that in looking back I remember the content of our conversations rather than the exact wording.
Malagor and I made our way back around the mountain to our cliff camp. There we slept and then went out once again to fill our water skins from a small mountain brook, and to hunt for our dinner. This time Malagor let me stalk and hunt the game. He guided me, carefully giving me helpful instruction. I eventually managed to bring down a small rodent-like grazer which proved to be quite tasty.
During what seemed to me to be a few weeks, Malagor and I went hunting frequently and he seemed to take great pleasure in teaching me how to track and kill animals of all types. After a while I became relatively adept. I began to notice that when we hunted, we did not follow a random pattern. Each time, Malagor would choose a direction just to the left of the direction which we had taken upon the last hunt. While we hunted, he was surveying the land around us in a very systematic way, dividing it up like a giant pie, with us in the very center of the search pattern. On one occasion I asked him what we were searching for, but he seemed to clam up, and become positively morose for the rest of the trip, so I didn't ask him again. He had been very good to me, and indeed we had become close friends, so if there was something that bothered him too much to talk about, I wasn't going to pester him about it. After all, I had nothing else to do in the world of Ecos. So if Malagor wanted to conduct a search while we hunted for our game, what difference did it make to me?
One time when we out were hunting, we began tracking a particularly large bird-like animal about the size of a cow. Neither Malagor nor I had any idea whether it was edible, but we were beginning to tire of our usual catches, so we decided to experiment upon the unfortunate creature. We were still outside bow range of the beast, crouched in the tall grass, when the hair on the nape of my neck began to stand on end. I glanced at my arm and found that the small hairs there were acting in a similar fashion. Then I looked at my friend and almost laughed. He looked like he had just been blow-dried, every hair sticking straight out.
Malagor was looking at neither me nor our prey however. Then I noticed a distant hum and followed Malagor's gaze to discover its origin. Sailing along above the countryside at an altitude of about a thousand feet was the most remarkable vehicle that I have ever seen. It was many times the size of the largest modern aircraft carrier or battleship of earth, fully a mile long and nearly half that wide. It was only a few hundred feet tall over most of its span, but there was a tower rising a hundred or more stories from the top middle of the thing. The entire vehicle was painted black, and was bristling with weapons or instruments of some kind, and the closer it got, the more obvious it was that this was the source of the strange magnetism in the air. This was some kind of great cruiser riding through the air on a field of electrical energy.
"What is that thing?" I asked.
"It is a Zoasian Battleship,” replied Malagor.
"You never mentioned the Zoasians." I pointed out.
His voice became low.
"The Zoasians destroyed my people,” he said.