Archive for January, 2013
Soon Arjuna saw that the ground was muddier than usual. With the humidity there was plenty of moisture in the forest but now the mud was thick. It clung to her boots. Eventually, she found a large watering hole. Despite the mud, Arjuna lay down in the brush and pulled out her viewfinder. Peering through them, she allowed the computer image to adjust to her vision. Sure enough, she spotted a small herd of those leathery creatures, perhaps four or five. They lay in the middle of the pond sunning themselves. She couldn’t make her move while they were in the water. Even if she did kill one, she would have to somehow drag it out of the water and she didn’t have the equipment. No matter. A good hunter knew how to wait for an opportune moment. Arjuna could be a very patient person when she wanted to be.
As the sun moved across the sky, she studied her surroundings but never once took her focus off the creatures in the pond. She noticed some movement in the bushes opposite her. She focused her viewfinder on the new arrival. Another hunter. A local Gaian by the looks of him.
She continued to lay out in the high midday sun, envying the creatures for having so much fun sunbathing in the cool water. It was hot. The air was more humid than she was used to in the Boentu System. Her stomach growled. She pulled out some provisions and began to eat while she waited. She needed to keep her body fuelled. Arjuna knew she didn’t concentrate well if she was hungry. As she tossed the empty wrapper back into her bag she noticed her fellow hunter had disappeared.
This came as no surprise. Some people didn’t like waiting. Not everyone could be trained in the ways of the Boentu. She didn’t give the hunter a second thought until she heard, too late, his approach from behind. Although caught off guard, Arjuna was quick to recover. She leaped to her feet and lunged at the visitor. Within seconds, she had him pinned to the ground, a knife to his neck, hissing in his ear, “What do you want stranger? Be truthful, or I will slit your throat.”
The stranger knew she was telling the truth and did not struggle. Instead, he watched her, just the barest hint of fear in his eyes, and responded, “I noticed you watching the wagdu out there. I thought we might team up.”
Arjuna pushed away from him and got to her feet. “Why should I believe you?”
Delphin Prime was a major hub of commerce in the Gaian System. Normally, this would be the type of place Dennethom wished to avoid. But circumstances beyond his control meant they had to stop there. The circumstance in question was the beautiful baby boy Drapaudi gave birth to at the local hospital. The new parents decided to name him Arkaya.
If it were up to Dennethom, he would take his wife and child and return to the ship immediately. But Arkaya had shots he needed to get first. So the family stayed on Delphin Prime for a few more days.
Arjuna didn’t think it was a bad planet to be stuck on. It was gigantic compared to any of the habitable worlds in the Boentu System and served as a busy port of call, with thousands of ships passing through every day, making it the perfect place to hide out in the open.
Arjuna was happy for Dennethom. Arkaya was a beautiful healthy boy, and she liked holding him. But, truth be told, she wasn’t much of a family person. She doubted very much she would ever have children of her own. She couldn’t imagine sitting around with other Boentu females discussing their children’s prowess. No. She much preferred being in the dirt, her sense’s alive as she hunted, or doing just about anything her mother would deem “dangerous.”
She hated being on the run. She missed the outdoors, and missed taking risks. Which was why, rather than accompany Jora and Xien to buy ship’s supplies, or watch Dennethom and Drapaudi dote over Arkaya, she decided to go out on her own.
She had invited Arro to come join her on an adventure, but Arro to her dismay, declined. He was spiralling into a depression which only seemed to get worse with the birth of Arkaya. She decided not to waste time trying to change his mind. Who knew how long they would stay there, and from the scans she had done of the planet, the southern hemisphere teemed with forestry perfect for hunting. An outdoors adventure was precisely the thing she needed.
She had Xien drop her off early in the day. That way she would be able to maximize her time. Dennethom ordered her to make regular contact with the ship, which she planned to do, but she wasn’t worried. With her volt cannon, a spearing knife, and a flaying knife, she had everything she needed in case of trouble.
If she were entirely honest with herself, she would even admit she welcomed a little trouble. Many moons had passed since their encounter with the kreon creature and, with the exception of the birth of her nephew, those were quiet, dull moons. Her body craved the sensation of danger. Her heart pounding, wondering what would happen next while planning her own counter strategy. She didn’t feel cut out for long term ship life.
Feeling the crunch of leaves beneath her feet, she relished the sound of it, even though she had to change her footing. She wouldn’t catch anything while stomping through the forests. She breathed in the smell of the rainforest. The humidity. The dewy exotic scent that enveloped her. Brightly coloured animals soared over head. She attached a sight to her volt cannon and took aim. She might easily take one down. But she wouldn’t. They were protected by local laws, and besides, they didn’t look like they would make good food.
She spent her first couple of hours in the forest getting her bearings and discovering the local wildlife. Small, furry creatures clung to the trees. They fed on fruits and nuts. She carefully laid out a couple of traps at the base of some trees, laying out fallen fruit as a lure. They looked a little too smart to fall for the trap, but maybe. Arjuna then lay some rocks close to the trees so she could easily spot the traps. She would, of course, lay the coordinates out in her mapper, but she liked doing things the old fashioned way.
Arjuna strolled on in search of bigger game. She had read about some large horned creatures, often hunted for meat. She didn’t recall their name. They had leathery skin which might also fetch a few pennies but they were most prized for their meat. Arjuna always did her homework before a hunt. She knew the creatures were herbivores. Just one of them would provide enough meat for several weeks. They were large enough and dangerous enough to give her the thrill of the hunt she desired. The best way to find one of these creatures would be to locate a watering hole.
Quani didn’t know what to say. Up until this moment he didn’t think it was possible for his leader and old friend to suspect Lossepharr. But before he could find some sort of response, he watched as doubt once again flooded Katha’s face. “I don’t know,” he sighed. “My son is power hungry, of that I am aware. But is he capable of killing so many of his own kin? It sounds preposterous.”
Quani’s claws extended in disappointment. The Steward was not just physically blind but also blinded by love. “My lord, if you have any doubt in your mind about the death of your nephews and niece, perhaps you should reopen the investigation. It will put your mind at ease.”
Katha was already shaking his head before Quani had a chance to finish. “What if it’s true, Quani?”
“Then, son or no, you are the Boentu Leader and must see justice is dealt.”
Katha shuddered and clutched his gut. “He’s my son Quani. Besides, how will it effect the system? If it becomes known Lossepharr murdered the line of Boentu successors, his own blood, it could lead to a revolt.”
Quani was stunned. Could Katha truly be so willing to sweep everything under the rug? “My liege, you must do what’s right for the system.”
“What’s right for the system,” Katha muttered. “What’s right is we never look too closely. Because I promise you Quani, the people will destroy everything we have built if this news come to light.”
Quani sat stunned. He couldn’t force Katha to launch an investigation. There was no evidence of wrong doings, only suspicions. Was Katha right? Would the Boentu System be torn apart by civil war if the news got out? He didn’t think so. He wondered why Katha had even told him of his doubts. Then, taking him by surprise, Katha took Quani’s hands in his own and thanked him.
“You have been a true friend.”
“I’m ever your servant, my Lord,” Quani murmured.
Katha smiled. “I’m sure I don’t have to remind you to keep this discussion to yourself.
“Of course,” Quani replied.
“Good,” Katha murmured, letting out a yawn. “I am tired Quani. I think I might retire to bed.”
Quani recognised a dismissal when he heard one. He got up to leave as Katha leaned back in his chair, breathing a sigh of relief.
The door to his office chimed and Quani identified himself. Katha gave a verbal acknowledgement for the doors to open and his old advisor entered.
“You wanted to see me?” he asked.
Katha cringed. Quani’s voice had held the same tone of concern ever since Regat.
It didn’t escaped Quani’s attention that Katha’s health had deteriorated these past few moons. He understood Katha well enough to know it was more than just the death of his kin which bothered him. Quani watched Katha carefully, almost pitifully. Dark circles now peaked through the soft fur beneath the Steward’s eyes.
Katha motioned for his faithful friend to sit. Quani did so. Something in the resolve on Katha’s face told him that the Steward might finally reveal what was going on.
After several long minutes of uncomfortable silence, Katha finally spoke. “Quani, what do you think of my son?”
“Which one?” Quani asked, though he already knew which son Katha meant.
“He is a good warrior,” Quani replied after some thought. “He will make a fierce and protective leader for the system.”
Katha nodded his head and a flash of pride crossed his face. “He seems to be adjusting quite well to his new role as Future Leader.”
“Yes,” Quani agreed.
Still Katha appeared troubled. “Do you think he’s honourable?”
Quani bit his lip, wondering how to answer. “He is a Boentu warrior. The warrior Code of Honour was drilled into him at a young age. Why do you ask, my Lord?”
Katha sat fiddling with his fingers, deep in thought. “I’ve had this fear,” he finally said. “That perhaps what happened to the Boentu Atten was not… an accident.”
Relief flooded Quani’s face making him glad the Steward was unable to see him. Quani had harboured these same fears for months now. If Katha was questioning his son, it meant the Steward wasn’t involved in the explosion. “Do you think,” Quani asked, tentatively, “Lossepharr caused it somehow?”
“He has the resources,” Katha replied. “He knows the Outer Rim. He could have developed the contacts necessary.”
Katha sat in his study listening to the reports of the day. Lossepharr was doing a fine job taking over the position Dennethom once held. True, he lacked his cousin’s initiative and seemed more focused on the military aspects of the Boentu system. But he was still learning.
Yet a feeling gnawed at Katha day and night. A suspicion he dared not voice aloud. Instead, every time the thought arose, he tried to push it back down again. He didn’t even share his fears with his wife, Marvena.
Stifling a yawn, Katha poured himself some hot tea. Ever since his brother’s wife and children died on Regat six moons ago, he found himself not sleeping well. Between the system being in mourning, and his son taking over, Katha found himself with little to do but think about the accident If only he hadn’t sent Dennethom to the outer rim. If only the Boentu Atten had been properly serviced. Despite the passage of time, the system still mourned the warrior who should have been their leader. The people on Indra planned to erect a statue of Dennethom. Lossepharr wasn’t too happy to about the news. The people loved Dennethom. It was difficult for Lossepharr to compete.
It was the right thing, sending Dennethom away. At least, that’s what Katha kept telling himself. Dennethom needed to get to know the outer rim planets. Still, it didn’t help much. The more he tried to suppress his emotions, the more his feelings of guilt redoubled their attack at night, when he would toss and turn in bed.
The obvious sources of guilt, he could handle. His order had sent Dennethom and his family to the outer rim. True. But then there were the other thoughts. The ones that made him question the official report. Was it really an accident?
Ever since Katha heard the news of their deaths he found himself suspicious. But he was terrified to learn the truth. Which was why he conducted only the quickest of inquiries into the accident. To a layman everything seemed above board. The Boentu Atten had not been fixed properly. Wydun charged his own personal engineer with gross negligence.
Katha would never sweep evidence under the rug. But he was afraid to dig too deep. Afraid of what he might find and what the information would do to his family and the system he swore to protect. He couldn’t talk to Marvena. Not because she would think him crazy. No. Katha’s biggest fear is she would agree with him and demand he reopen the investigation. But such an action would reflect badly upon him, not to mention the rest of his family.
At first, he took sleep medication. The meds didn’t help. He began taking increasingly larger doses to fall asleep, and even if he slept, it just meant the nightmares would come. Ghostly accusations from beyond the grave. Chran, blaming him for not protecting his family. Katha shivered just thinking about the dream.
Losing his sight he could handle. You eventually learn to do without. But ever since he lost his sight he had had vivid dreams. It was the only way he got to see anything any more. It wasn’t fair that in the past few months the only things he saw were the dead. And so he gave up sleeping, instead taking the barest of naps as necessary.
But tonight would be different. Tonight he would sleep, because now he finally felt ready to voice his fears.
Dennethom’s limbs flailed as he crashed back down onto the ground. This time he got a face full of dirt as he had lost his helmet during his upward ascension. As he hit the ground for a third time, he heard a loud snap. Pain shot through his left leg. Delirious, he marvelled at hearing the sound of his leg breaking amidst the creature’s shrieks and the wail of the wind, and some other noise he couldn’t make out. The creature didn’t pick him up again. Perhaps it thought he was dead. Dennethom lay still. Nothing. He raised his upper body only to be flattened yet again by an almighty tremor. Sand flew everywhere and for a moment he was blinded.
In a haze of pain Dennethom rolled over onto his back and opened his eyes. Much to his shock and relief he spotted the Aluen silently approaching. The bay door of the ship was open and Arjuna stood in the doorway, a full-size volt cannon heaved over her shoulder, looking down at the dead creature.
A smile played across Dennethom’s lips as he watched his sister casually toss the volt cannon aside, and leap the six feet between the Aluen and the ground. She hurried over to check on her big brother. Moments later, Arronanto followed carrying a medi-kit. In a haze of pain, Dennethom was hardly aware as his brother and sister checked his wounds, and carried him up the ramp of the Aluen.
He was drifting in and out, but he felt Drapaudi tightly clutching his hand as the pain medication took hold. When he awoke, Drapaudi remained by his side. He sensed the whir of the Aluen’s engines and knew they were back in space.
“What happened?” he whispered, his throat felt dry and scratchy.
“You broke your leg,” Drapaudi replied, admonishing him.
“Did we get the kreon?” he asked.
Drapaudi sighed. “Yes. Your brother and sister recovered the extraction device and filled the other one too. We’ve got enough fuel for a good half cycle.”
Dennethom smiled. “I could use some water,” he croaked.
Drapaudi scowled at him but obeyed, wordlessly handing him a small cup of liquid. Dennethom drained the cup before noticing the expression on her face.
“You could have died out there,” Drapaudi replied, her arms folded across her chest.
“You were worried,” Dennethom replied with a smile, but she still looked angry. “I’m fine. I didn’t die. And it needed to be done. We needed the fuel.”
“Why couldn’t Arjuna and Arro go? Or Xien? Or Jora? Why did it have to be you.”
She prefers me to Arro, Dennethom thought to himself. Aloud he said, “I’m the leader. If I don’t take the risks, who will?”
Drapaudi pulled away from him. “It’s not your risk to take anymore. You have a wife to think about. You have a child!”
Dennethom blinked, his ears twitching uncertainly. Surely he misheard. “I’m going to be a father?”
“Yes,” Drapaudi replied, tears springing to her eyes. “I would need to run tests to be certain, but I think so.”
Dennethom frowned. “I thought our two races couldn’t conceive without help from doctors.”
Drapaudi shrugged. “Well I don’t know what to tell you because I am absolutely positive I am pregnant.”
A broad grin spread across Dennethom’s face as he finally understood what Drapaudi was trying to tell him. “I’m going to be a father!”
At first he barely felt the tremor. He thought he must be imagining things. The sandstorm was playing tricks with his senses. But the tremor grew bigger and more insistent. The extractor tumbled over. Dennethom wanted to grab the device, check it was intact, but he could barely stand. Suddenly another strange thing occurred. The sand began to sink in on itself as though something moved within, disrupting the earth.
Dennethom leaped backwards as the disturbance increased and began moving in his direction. The extractor lay in the sand. He scrambled away to a large rocky patch hoping for easier footing while he pulled out his hand-held volt gun. And then it appeared. Dennethom didn’t know what “it” was. It looked like some kind of giant tubular creature. The rough skin was well camouflaged being the same colour as the sand. At first Dennethom couldn’t tell head from tail, but then the creature opened a gaping maw and Dennethom saw row upon sharp row of teeth. Protuberances like tentacles lashed out of its mouth. The creature was enormous. The tentacles were as long as Dennethom himself. And the creature was angry. Very angry. Perhaps it didn’t like being disturbed by the extractor. Dennethom didn’t know and didn’t care as he leaped away from the creature’s lashing tentacles.
Breathing hard, Dennethom paused long enough to aim a couple of shots from his tiny volt cannon at the tentacle nearest him. The volt cannon fire charred the tentacle and the ground shook as though the creature were enraged. Slowly the tentacle began to retract. Dennethom didn’t celebrate his victory yet, already the other tentacles were lashing out even more ferociously. All he had succeeded in doing was making the creature mad.
He leaped away just in time before a tentacle lashed out at his leg. He fired a few warning shots at the creature desperately looking for some way out. He wouldn’t leave the extractor. As a tentacle threatened to grab hold of the extractor, he fired off more shots. He made a move towards the fallen device, firing at a nearby tentacle, only to have nothing happen. Glancing down at the volt cannon he gave a roar of fury. The weapon was recharging.
Leaping out of the way of yet another tentacle, he stabbed at his comms link.
“Dennethom to Aluen, come in!” Nothing. “Dennethom to Arjuna. Arjuna can you read me?” Even if he did get a response, he doubted he would hear anything above the wind and furious high-pitched shriek of the creature.
His volt cannon had barely a charge when he fired a shot at a dangerously close tentacle. He needed to reach the extractor. He tried to shoot at another tentacle, but the weapon had returned to charging.
Cursing to himself, Dennethom hunted about for some place safe to wait, some sort of high ground. Aha! About a hundred yards away stood a higher rocky point. If he could get to high ground he would have a better vantage point. Perhaps then he would be able to see if the creature left on its own, or maybe find the creature’s vulnerable spots.
Still the volt cannon recharged. Watching the tentacles rising up once more Dennethom made a mad dash for the rocky terrain. The soil shook beneath him and he stumbled. He wasn’t going to make it. Between the wind, the sand, and this creature shaking the ground, it was impossible for him to run. The rumbling increased, knocking Dennethom off his feet. The volt cannon flew out of his hand.
The creature shrieked loudly. Dennethom frantically searched the ground for his volt cannon but the weapon was lost. Seeing the safety of the rocky terrain ahead, Dennethom got to his feet, unsteady but determined. Suddenly he felt a tentacle wrap around his ankle and he was forced back down to the ground, his forehead slamming hard against the cold plastic of his helmet. Dennethom tried to breathe but his ribs hurt. With another sharp yank he felt himself being lifted off the ground as the creature flung him high into the air while still keeping hold of his leg.
Alone on the dusty rock Dennethom wished his comms link worked. He much preferred hearing his brother and sister’s voices on the line, than sitting all alone waiting for the extractor to fill. The moon was such a desolate place. He realised he had never felt so alone. Of course, he was being absurd. The Aluen stood only a few kilometres away. Inside sat his mother Yasana, and his bride, Drapaudi. His bride. How strange it seemed to think of her, this beautiful Arthemian creature, as his mate.
The ceremony had been beautiful, if quiet. They married aboard the Aluen. Jora and Xien acted as witnesses. His mother, Yasana, gave away the bride, Drapaudi who was clothed in a dress Yasana had made for her. They married according to the old customs. It was a joint wedding with Arronanto. Both of them declared their undying love for Drapaudi, and vowed to protect her, fight for her and worship her as the mother of their children. Arjuna too made a vow to love Drapaudi and take care of her should anything happen to Dennethom and Arronanto.
After much celebrating, Dennethom and Drapaudi retired to their quarters. He and Arronanto decided, given their current living situation, it was fairer if they shared Drapaudi equally, a cycle at a time. Dennethom was thankful that, being the eldest, he would have his year first. He made sure he never rubbed the relationship in his brother’s face, no matter how much he might want to touch Drapaudi or hold her hand in public.
A beep made him glance down at the extractor which now flashed red. The device filled quicker than he predicted. Dennethom picked up the extractor. It was considerably heavier now that it was full of kreon. Not a good thing. He could carry the extractor but it would make their return journey more arduous than it had been already.
He tapped his comms. “Denne to Aluen, do you read me?” Nothing. Dennethom cursed the storm that played haywire with their communications.
Sitting down, he waited, wishing he had made a note of the time Arjuna and Arronanto had left. Again, the feeling of loneliness threatened to overwhelm him. It wasn’t just being alone waiting for his siblings either. It was the idea of having to lead them from now on. True, he had been trained to lead an entire star system, but he had guidance and advisers. No guidance existed for him now, only people looking to him for reassurance.
They couldn’t just roam from system to system. They needed to find a temporary home. But where? They needed a place where they would be able to closely monitor news on Boentu. The planet should be hospitable, but far away from big ports and cities. Dennethom sighed to himself. He wasn’t so sure a place like this even existed. Lost in his thoughts, it took Dennethom a moment to notice the ground violently shaking beneath him.
“Arro, hand me the mapper for a moment.”
Arronanto gave Dennethom the small device. Dennethom squinted and wiped at the screen. He could barely make out the display. Frowning he touched a button on his containment suit and tapped another on the mapper which activated the heads up display in his helmet. That was better. He studied the map readouts which marked out the kreon deposits.
There was definitely plenty of kreon. They should make a note of this moon for next time. In the mean time however, they had another prototype extraction device on-board the ship. Dennethom wasn’t certain if it would work, but it seemed only prudent to try and procure as much kreon as possible. Who knew when they would be able to travel back to the Arthema System.
“Arro?” he called, shouting over the noise of the whirring extractor. Arronanto had to step up close to his brother to hear him. “You and Arjuna return to the ship and get the second extractor. We should stock up on kreon while we can.”
Arronanto nodded his head in agreement, but Arjuna was not so eager to leave Dennethom on his own, especially since they had just the one mapper. “I should stay here with you,” she replied.
Dennethom shook his head. “Go with Arro. Don’t want him to get lost,” he said with a grin which nobody else could see. “Don’t worry. I’m just sitting here waiting for the extractor to fill. By the time you get back, this one will be done and we can switch out.”
“Will you be all right?” Arjuna asked. Dennethom nodded his head and waved her away.
“Don’t go anywhere,” she ordered as she reluctantly followed Arronanto back to the Aluen.
The wind, if anything, had increased, forcing Arjuna to hold her brother’s hand while he led the way. She would’ve preferred having Xien or Jora bring the prototype down, but the comms was still off and it was probably better that the pilot and engineer stay on standby in case of a problem. She just hoped there would be no problems.
Slowly and carefully they made their way down the Aluen’s ramp. The wind ferociously ripped at their faces making them glad for the protective layers they wore. The terrain was sandy and difficult to walk in. Jora landed the craft as close to the deposit as he could, but they still had some distance to walk.
“Be glad you didn’t come out here in this, Xien,” Arjuna remarked over the comms. “I can barely see two feet in front of me.”
“The kreon deposit should be-” Xien didn’t finish his sentence as his words were lost to static.
“Say again?” Arjuna said. Nothing. More static. “Arjuna to Aluen, come in.” Still nothing. She adjusted the frequency on her comms link and repeated, “Aluen, come in please.”
Dennethom and Arronanto stopped to let her fiddle with the comms. Eventually she gave up. “This sandstorm’s playing havoc with comms.”
“Let’s try and be quick about this then,” Dennethom replied.
Dennethom, Arjuna and Arronanto trudged through the dense sand, more than once stumbling and having to scramble up on all fours. The temperature was cool out on the surface. It would only get colder once the distant sun had set.
Still unable to see more than a few feet in front of them, a beep on Arronanto’s mapper let them know they had finally reached the kreon deposit. The deposit looked fairly large. Too small for companies to bother setting up an excavation site but enough to keep the Aluen flying for ten cycles. Too bad they had no way to transport more than a small amount.
It took a while for them to excavate, all the while fighting the sand storm. When they were ready, Dennethom picked up the bulky extractor and he and Arronanto secured the contraption in place against the rocks. He flipped a switch on the side of the extractor. They would have to wait for the device to become fully operational, Xien had explained. The blue light would let them know the device was ready to extract the kreon.
Dennethom marvelled at the extractor Jora and Xien had built from scratch. In the central planets of Boentu such a device was almost unheard of. But they were useful in the outer rim where a mess up in the supply line could be detrimental, especially to the smaller farming communities.
Arronanto groaned. “I’m ready to get back in the ship,” he grumbled.
Dennethom heartily agreed. “This is going to take a while I’m afraid. Once we get the blue light, Xien says it might take as long as an hour to fill the extractor. Then the light will change to red.”
“Will we even be able to see it with this sandstorm?” Arjuna remarked.