Chapter Eleven: Delphin
It was a strange. Arjuna didn’t feel any different. She wasn’t shy about what had occurred between them. After they gathered their belongings, they lay down, watching the wagdu roam about the watering hole. Finally, as the sun began to dip down below the tree line, the wagdu slowly made their way out of the pond. The same as the previous day, they took down one of the smaller wagdu, sharing the task of cleaning and cutting up the meat.
Arjuna was flush with excitement. She had never felt so alive. Seeing Markenn, covered in blood, she found herself overcome once more and the two whiled away the remaining hours, scratching and clawing at each other, bloody, dirty and blissful. Arjuna wished the day would never end. But the sun continued to set and soon they were relatively cleaned up once more, the meat divided and packed up, although Arjuna made sure Markenn got more since she didn’t know how much they could store on the Aluen. Then it was time to go.
“When will I see you again?” Markenn asked. “Tomorrow perhaps?” He had a twinkle in his eye.
“I don’t know,” Arjuna replied. Despondent, she pressed her lips to his. “But I will make sure we come this way soon.”
Markenn smiled. “Then you will need to know how to contact me.” He pressed a data chit into her hand.
Arjuna was cleaning dishes on the Aluen when she experienced the first jolt of pain in her stomach, The quickening was taking her. Her first instinct was to not tell anyone, but that would be foolish. The Aluen was a small ship. Still, it took her a couple of tense days, with her brothers and mother asking her what was wrong, before she finally got Dennethom alone.
“I’m with child,” she said.
Dennethom nodded his head. He didn’t look surprised. “The father?”
She shrugged. “Someone I met on Delphin.”
“Do you want us to return to Delphin?” They were now four Boentu days out from Delphin Prime.
Arjuna shook her head. “We can’t stay there. It’s too risky. And he wouldn’t come with me.”
“You could go to Delphin and be with him. It’s your choice.”
Arjuna fixed him with a glare to let him know that was absolutely not an option. “My place is with you.”
Dennethom sighed. “Then we need to find a home. For all of us.”
Arjuna felt certain Dennethom would object to her returning to the forestry, but he was so pleased by her haul of fresh meat, and so engrossed in the new baby, he said nothing at all when she announced she would be returning the next day. Arronanto even seemed to perk up at the wagdu, and he and Jora put together a meal of wagdu cooked over an open flame.
After dinner, Dennethom announced that they would be departing the day after tomorrow. Arjuna was disappointed at having such a short stay on Delphin Prime, but she was willing to take what she could get. That night, she decided to take a few of her more choice weapons to show Markenn.
The next morning the Aluen deposited her in the southern hemisphere forestry. She and Markenn had agreed to meet at the wagdu watering hole but when she arrived there was no one around, just some wagdu strolling to the pond. She might easily have picked off one or two of them herself, but decided to wait for her hunting partner to arrive.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, she shed her overcoat. Taking out her viewfinders she scanned the nearby bushes to see if Markenn waited for her across the way. She didn’t notice Markenn until he was right on top of her, having snuck up while she peered though the viewfinders.
Startled, Arjuna threw down her viewfinders and reached for her knife but stopped when she smelled him. With a grin, she rolled over and the pair wrestled. Arjuna snarled and clawed but ultimately let him win. She was Boentu, far stronger and better trained than Markenn. It would be too easy a win for her.
Markenn for his part crowed at his victory. He exclaimed at having beaten the mighty Boentu warrior. She laughed, playfully shoving at him and he grabbed at her, hugging her to his own body. They kissed, powerful hungry kisses as their hands explored, tearing at clothing until they both lay naked in the mud, their bodies and minds focused only on each other.
Arjuna nodded her agreement and they got to work. The plan hadn’t exactly worked out as intended but they silently agreed to divide the wagdu meat into two groups. As they quietly skinned the creature and removed usable meat parts, Arjuna felt the stranger watching her carefully. A bemused smile played across his lips. He seemed unsure what to make of her. For her part, Arjuna worked in silence, uncertain what had caused her to kiss this Gaian. The silence between them seemed awkward. Finally he spoke, “we don’t see too many Boentu hunting here on Delphin,” he remarked.
She glanced back at him half-suspicious, though she knew he trying to break the awkward silence.
“I am just visiting,” she replied, concentrating even harder on her job of cutting up the meat for transport.
“My name is Markenn,” he said, still watching her.
“Arjuna,” she replied without thinking, then cursed herself for not coming up with an alias.
“That is a beautiful name.”
Arjuna was extremely careful not to look back at Markenn. She felt sure she would be too shy to meet his gaze. “Thank you,” was all she said.
They seemed to be talked out. Markenn was apparently realising this as well, but still he watched her. Normally if someone were looking at her this closely she would assume he had recognised her as Dennethom’s sister, but she knew that wasn’t it at all. Finally she gave into the power of his stare. “I must admit, you are an excellent shot. Your plan,” she tried to suppress a grin, “was sound, if only the wagdu had cooperated. Have you been hunting long?”
“All my life,” he replied with a smile. “I confess I do it as much for the thrill as for the food. Being out here in the woods, stalking a creature. Holding the power of life and death…” his voiced trailed off. “But you are Boentu, you must understand that.”
“I do,” Arjuna replied, with a hint of longing. “But for a while I thought that feeling had gone.”
“Ship-bound, huh?” he asked with a grimace.
Arjuna nodded her head. “Yes.”
“That used to be me,” he said as he cleaned thick purple blood from his blade. “I was married once. To make ends meet I would haul cargo around the Gaiain System. Of course I hated it. It seemed like I had barely hit dirt before I was back in artificial gravity again.”
“How did you deal with it?” she asked.
Markenn chuckled. “Not very well to tell the truth. I got addicted to things I shouldn’t have. My wife left me. I was in trouble.” He chuckled again but his voice contained no trace of bitterness. “Spiralling out of control is more like it. I decided to get help and part of seeking help involved reconnecting to what is important. I realised my calling was here, out in the forestry, hunting game. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than out here.”
Arjuna envied him. She turned away to hide her reaction. A part of her wanted to run away, which was a decidedly un-Boentu instinct. “I wish I could stay out here,” she mumbled.
“You could,” Markenn replied. Arjuna felt his eyes on her, watching her. He made no attempt to move towards her, certainly no attempt to kiss her, yet still Arjuna felt a jolt in her stomach. She forced herself to meet his gaze.
“I can’t. I must take care of my family. Which means, for now, giving up what I love most.”
“I understand.” He laughed. “Well, I don’t actually, but it is your choice.” He stood up. “This seems to be our haul. Not a bad day. Will you at least be out here tomorrow? I could use the company.”
“Yes,” Arjuna replied, without thinking. Dennethom wouldn’t like it, but she needed this. She was going stir crazy on the Aluen. “I’ll be here.”
Boldly, Arjuna stepped towards Markenn placing her hands on his chest. This time, not taken by surprise, Markenn smiled and leaned in to kiss her. He stank of sweat, dirt and blood from the wagdu. To Arjuna he smelled just perfect.
“Don’t get too close. That may be the baby of the tribe, but it could still trample you,” the stranger called out.
Arjuna paused. He was right. A shot rang out, and she realised he had finished the wagdu off for her. The creature slammed into the ground. She turned angrily to the newcomer, but said nothing, even as he cautiously approached. Together they watched a while as the wagdu’s breathing slowed, eventually stopping.
Arjuna suddenly felt a chill run through her. It wasn’t fear and she certainly wasn’t cold. It was the thrill a warrior got after a fight when she was finally able to take down her enemy. Even if her enemy was only a wagdu. Her heart raced. She was breathing hard. Impulsively, she turned towards the newcomer and fiercely kissed him.
He felt strange. Alien. She had never kissed anyone, not even another Boentu. Though she knew the dance, everything was unfamiliar. And yet, it all seemed so right. She didn’t know what caused her to kiss the stranger. She was certainly glad of his help. It had been a long time since she felt that primal blood-lust. It made her feel full of life.
Arjuna felt him respond to her kiss though she clearly took him by surprise. She wondered if he had ever kissed a Boentu before. Perhaps, like her, he had never made time for the opposite sex. She growled softly and could feel her claws extending. She hoped she didn’t hurt him. He responded with a moan, but pulled away abruptly. His breath felt warm on her cheeks. “We should take care of the wagdu before any carrion eaters decide to fight us for it.”
He shrugged, and rubbed at his throat. “It doesn’t much matter if you believe me. I just thought, those Wagdu are going to sit there all day unless we do something. Maybe if one of us shot at the water, it would cause them to run. We could set up a trap, to catch a couple of them.” He began to stand up but stopped when he saw the look on Arjuna’s face. “If you don’t want to, that’s fine,” he said. “I’ll be on my way.”
Arjuna let out a sigh. “I’m sorry. I’m not used to hunting with others.”
The stranger nodded his head though he obviously sensed there was something else that had set her off. Arjuna held out a hand to him, which he accepted and she helped him to his feet. As she did so, she was acutely aware of how strange it felt to touch an outsider. Over the past few moons, she had barely spoken to anyone outside of the Aluen.
“A sound plan,” she said. “I’m game if you are.”
He was tall for a Gaian, though still a few inches shorter than her. He looked up and studied her face. He seemed wary of her and she could hardly blame him. “Okay,” he said.
He laid out his plan. They would build traps around the watering hole. With two of them shooting from different directions, the wagdu would try to flee the volt cannon fire. If they set up a half dozen or so traps in those directions, they could scare them right into the traps. Wagdu were smart, but if they were lucky they might catch at least one, perhaps more.
The traps were basic snares, similar to what Arjuna had set up earlier, only a lot bigger, and without the bait. They had set up four of the six traps when a loud splash in the water caused them to glance up. Sure enough, the wagdu slowly walked to shore, away from the two of them with their traps.
In one fluid motion Arjuna and the stranger both grabbed up their volt cannons which lay on the ground beside them. Arjuna aimed for the smallest wagdu which lagged behind. When the first shot rent the air, the other wagdu took off stampeding through the undergrowth. Arjuna cursed, realising she had only maimed the wagdu which struggled to get to shelter. She chased the small wagdu, determined to finish it off.
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.