Chapter Ten: Kreon
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.
When Jora and Xien showed Dennethom their invention it had seemed like the perfect solution. Ever since leaving Liono, two Boentu moons ago, Dennethom had been leery about travelling to places with large populations. He refused to admit it, but he didn’t have a plan. They needed to make alliances, but how could they do that without letting Lossepharr know they survived? The Aluen flew aimlessly, travelling from system to system, staying only long enough to re-supply. Most supplies they obtained easily, but fuel was another matter. It was becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to obtain fuel in the outer reaches of the galaxy.
Then Jora presented their invention. He and Xien had designed a device to convert particles of the raw mineral Kreon into fuel to power the Aluen’s delicate engine system. They had even built a small extractor to remove the volatile kreon and carry the mineral back to the ship. It was all very crude. Xien would have to stay on top of cleaning the fuel system since the raw kreon left an ugly residue. But the plan should work. Which was a good thing since they were back on the outer edges of the Arthema System and daren’t go further in-system for fear that Drapaudi’s father still searched for her.
Jora surveyed a small moon which contained deposits of kreon. The moon lay in the Arthemian outer rim. Aside from a few orbiting satellites there was no sign of Arthemian technology anywhere in the vicinity. It was unsurprising. The moon was little more than a rock. The kreon deposits weren’t large enough to attract the attention of any of the major transport corporations and the moon contained no plants worthy of pharmaceutical interest. For Dennethom’s purposes the moon was ideal.
Jora landed on a small flat area, while Dennethom and his siblings packed up the excavation tools they would need for the kreon. It had been Arjuna’s idea to invest in the tools, back when they were still legally alive. He was grateful for her foresight. With the extractor he could remove a small amount of the raw kreon to return to the ship.
He donned the containment suit he needed to wear to limit exposure to the kreon. Raw kreon wasn’t dangerous, except in cases of prolonged exposure, but he didn’t want to take any chances. He was a husband now. Although Arjuna and Arronanto didn’t wear containment suits, they wrapped up in thick jackets and gloves, to protect from the dry, frigid air and wind. All three wore breathers because of the low oxygen on the moon.
Dennethom didn’t like the idea of them all leaving the Aluen. He and Xien could have handled the extraction just as well on their own. If anything happened, he wanted at least one of his siblings back on the ship to take care of Drapaudi and Yasana. Arjuna and Arronanto however saw differently and Xien stayed on the Aluen.