Richard found he very much liked studying various forms of life. Perhaps that was related to his energy body, and his ability to modify himself… but it was hard to know for sure. If he had somehow been born with the same base DNA as he’d had most of his life, maybe he would feel the same way. Maybe it was his upbringing… but it didn’t matter. He liked studying plants, animals, and people.
The forest here was so full of life. He couldn’t move without stepping on some new form of life he’d never seen, sometimes literally. It was different from reading about it in books. Words and pictures didn’t really do things justice. Even three dimensional video with surround sound audio only worked so far. He couldn’t touch or smell things there… sometimes for good reason. There were already a number of things Richard knew he shouldn’t touch. Frogs with deadly oils on their skin were among them, but they were brightly colored and easy to avoid. Some plants looked safe to touch, but had toxic powder on their leaves. Thus, Richard mostly avoided actually touching anything, but the point was that he could.
There was another benefit he got from seeing things in person that even the most sophisticated systems couldn’t replicate, even if they had tactile and olfactory components. This was how his energy body felt about them. It was a sense of their DNA, among other things. Richard tried to take everything in, but it was pretty overwhelming. Still, he did keep track of some traits. He probably didn’t need toxic oils on his skin, and if he did Noxian DNA would probably be more compatible, so he ignored things like that. He also probably would never need to have four legs or two tails, but there were some monkeys that had such as well as two arms. The extras didn’t seem to help much, but he didn’t have that long to study them.
Richard had remained mostly human, even though he had the ability to transform himself. This was more out of a sense of familiarity with being a human than a feeling of superiority. He was no longer afraid of trying to mix new traits… but he was aware of how much effort would be involved. If he was going to do so, he wanted to do it right, and to do that he needed to know what he really wanted. If he wanted to go on nature expeditions and study new life… well, he could already do that. Anything with actually new life would probably be on a planet with harsher environments, but there would be gear that could protect him there whether he was human or something else. In that regard, it didn’t really matter what he was, as long as he kept to a humanoid shape and somewhat normal size.
Richard chopped at the plants in front of him with a sword. Well, he supposed it was called a machete, and could also be considered a long knife, but it was as much a sword as anything he’d ever held. He was near the front of the group, and was currently helping to widen the path for the rest of those following behind. The initial part was done by the guide, but with more people it was easier to clear a bit of a wider path. Though the guide was taking them through familiar area, the rampant vitality of the forest meant that any path cut wouldn’t remain for more than a week or so before once again being overgrown. Richard found that it was a fun but also exhausting job. Jot could probably have kept it up forever, since he didn’t seem to feel the weight of the blade nor any resistance from the vines. Still, Richard liked to take a turn.
Richard’s parents seemed inexhaustible as well. His mother used the machete with quick and effortless flicks that cut down anything she wanted. His father… didn’t use a machete. Instead, he had a long, thin object that looked almost like… a piece of straw? Not a straw like the drinking implement, but like a dried stalk of grain. However, it was sharp like a blade, and it sometimes carried the sheen of metal, so perhaps it was some sort of exotic dagger. He could ask, but it was somewhat more fun to speculate.
Several days passed without incident. Richard was always on the lookout for trouble, though if he didn’t have two minds to keep track of things he knew he wouldn’t have been able to keep that up. Even if there were some kind of accident or animal attack, any consequences were preventable. Others were keeping a look out too, so Richard felt rather safe.
Even so, trouble still found them. Richard first noticed something was going on when Hiroshi drifted away from the group. He exchanged some kind of a glance with Jessica just before that, but Richard wasn’t sure what it meant. Perhaps he had to go to the bathroom, but when his mother went off into the jungle as well, he knew something was going on. He could tell everyone around him was tensed, though they were trying not to show it. Susan didn’t even have any special senses, and she seemed to be half a step ahead. Richard wanted to say something, but he thought if he did he might give something away, so he looked around for cover.
Finding cover was easy. Trivial, really. There were trees and shrubs and vines everywhere. The only issue was finding the right cover. What direction did he need cover from? Richard wasn’t sure, but he soon found himself nestling in a large, wrinkly tree that covered a bit more than just one side. He hadn’t spotted any sort of enemy yet, which mostly just meant they weren’t that close. Richard tried to control his breathing. They would have guns… and unlike all of his training, he probably wouldn’t survive if he got shot in the head or the heart. Then, a gunshot rang out, and Richard saw where one of the enemies was… and he also saw him fall to the ground, hopefully dead. Then, shots rang out from all around, and everything devolved into chaos.