Chapter Twelve: Skora
The weeks passed once more. The tension between Arronanto and Dennethom had gone, though Dennethom continued to feel uncomfortable as his brother fussed over Drapaudi. It was probably a good thing Dennethom had set his jealousies aside as Arjuna’s scowl seemed to deepen as her pregnancy progressed. She was the opposite of the radiant mother Drapaudi had been. She wanted so desperately to be out hunting and laying traps. Even leaning over to clean her volt cannon had become a chore. Soon everyone was as ready as she for her to give birth.
When the pains first began, it took everyone by surprise. It was early morning and Arjuna writhed in bed. Yasana and Drapaudi got to work right away. Drapaudi sat with Arjuna while Yasana tried to feed her some broth.
“The broth will help,” Yasana coaxed. “It has spices to make the pains easier to bear.”
Arjuna gritted her teeth. “I am a Boentu warrior. I thrive on pain.”
Yasana smiled patiently. “You say that now, but trust me, there is no pain like that of giving birth.” She offered up another spoonful of the broth, and Arjuna, in a fit of rage, slapped the bowl out of her mother’s hand, sending it crashing to the floor, broth spilling everywhere.
Yasana gritted her teeth and called Arronanto in to help clean up the mess. Arronanto entered, carrying a bucket and water. He threw a weary glance at his sister.
“Why isn’t it out yet?”
“How quickly do you think babies arrive Arro? These things take time,” Yasana said with a frown. “You’ll see.”
Arjuna cried out, her body tense as pain exploded through her. In surprise, Arronanto sloshed water on the floor.
“Maybe we should get Arjuna to a doctor,” he said to Drapaudi, who sat quietly rubbing Arjuna shoulders and helping her to breathe through the pain.
“And say that a Boentu monk is with child?” Yasana snapped while she examined her daughter. “Remember, we’re trying to avoid attention.”
“I wish this child would hurry up and come out!” Arjuna screeched as paint took her once more.
“Soon, sister” Drapaudi said in a soothing voice.
It was true it was about time for Arjuna to push. The baby was coming. Yasana and Drapaudi stood with Arjuna urging her to push, while Arronanto and Dennethom nervously waited outside. Arjuna hated that Arronanto had been in there at all. She had expressly forbidden her brothers from being near her when she gave birth. She didn’t want them to see her like that, as just another Boentu female.
At each painful push, Arjuna snarled, her claws extending and then retracting as the pain subsided. Eventually, the labour was over.
“She’s ready for you to come in now,” Yasana said to her sons, as she wiped her hands on a cloth.
They pushed the door open to find their sister, still sweaty and exhausted, clutching a tiny baby. They started to turn away but she beckoned them inside.
“Her name is Nerita,” she whispered, staring as though in shock, at the tiny bundle.
“Her?” Dennethom replied uncertain.
“She’s a female,” Arjuna confirmed with a smile.
“Can I hold her?” Arronanto asked, his voice unsteady, and Arjuna already knew what he was thinking. In a few more moons he would be holding his own child, and they would grow up together, Arkaya, Nerita and whoever his child would be. They would grow up, just as the three of them had done.
Two days after the sandstorm, Dennethom returned to his family. He didn’t like to break his contract, and Nyal was sad to seem him go, but Dennethom knew he needed to stop being the fool, and be there for his kin.
He didn’t tell anyone that he was coming home. He decided to surprise them. He arrived to find Arkaya playing outside, supervised by a very pregnant Arjuna. She smiled when she saw her brother, offering him a quick salute, while Arkaya ran to greet his father.
Dennethom trembled as he held his son. He had been so foolish. Thinking that running away from his problems would be the answer.
Checking to find out what the excitement was about, Drapaudi stepped outside. She looked stunned to discover her husband standing there, but it was nothing to how Dennethom felt. His stomach jolted when he noticed the gentle bump of her belly. She carried Arronanto’s child.
He sensed Arjuna watching him carefully. He knew that pregnant or no, Arjuna would tackle him if he reacted the way he had before. But he wouldn’t. Not this time. With Arkaya clutching his hand, he walked across the yard to Drapaudi and hugged her.
“I’ve missed you all so much,” he whispered in her ear.
“And I’ve missed you my Love,” Drapaudi replied. “You came home early. I’m so glad. We feared you would want to stay longer.”
Dennethom shook his head. “I was a fool,” he said, and gently placed a hand on his wife’s stomach. “Forgive me.”
“Of course,” she replied, kissing him fervently.
Yasana and Xien stepped outside also, realising the commotion. Yasana grabbed her son and held him tight, crying. It was all Dennethom could do to extricate himself from his mother. He felt awful for what he had put them through.
“Where’s Arro,” he asked, turning to Arjuna.
“Out hunting,” Arjuna said, and then added with a smile. “Which means you probably shouldn’t expect a celebratory dinner.”
Dennethom arched an eyebrow. “You let him go hunting by himself?”
Arjuna grimaced. “Had to,” she replied, and gestured at her belly. “This one wouldn’t let me sleep much last night.”
Dennethom sat down next to his sister, lifting Arkaya onto his knee. His son was already walking!
“You’re so big now.”
Arjuna nodded. “I can’t believe I’m only going to get bigger.”
Dennethom gave his sister’s hand a squeeze. “I’ve missed you sister.”
“And I’ve missed you. Now don’t ever leave us again.”
“I won’t,” he promised.
He knelt down next to Nyal. The Arthemian was conscious, but in pain. Dennethom wasn’t sure, he didn’t know much about Arthemian physiology, but he suspected a broken bone.
“Dennethom to Base. I’ve found Nyal. We will be returning shortly.”
He didn’t bother to listen for a reply. It would be lost to the wind anyway. Nyal had a scarf, which Dennethom took and wrapped about his own face. The sand was actually beginning to hurt. If he wasn’t careful, his face would end up like Nyal’s. Sighing, he braced himself and lifted the Arthemian’s heavy body up and over his shoulder.
Returning to the transport, he pulled the ignition key out of Nyal’s pocket and tried the engine. It started. Dennethom silently thanked the old gods as he gently laid Nyal down in the passenger seat and climbed up next to him in the pilot seat.
The return journey seemed longer than the walk up. Because of the wind, he went slowly. He didn’t want to get blown off course. The transport itself had only a small sun shade for a roof, so he was still being blasted by the sand. Dennethom felt delirious. He almost envied Nyal, bundled in the passenger seat, able to slip into unconsciousness. If he could have stopped, he would, but there was no place safe to stop.
His protective suit was supposed to take care of the sweat that poured off his aching body, but Dennethom still felt sticky and uncomfortable. He resisted the impulse to peel everything off. It was like being back on Hadad. The universe was testing him. He smiled. It was funny to think of Hadad. He hadn’t thought of the proving grounds in so long. Everything he had gone through since the proving ground had seemed so much more difficult than the tests on that small rock.
On Hadad his only thought was trying to beat Lossepharr. Now all he thought about was his family. Should he have left them? Had he stayed, his behaviour would have worsened. But he was ready to go home now. He longed to see Arkaya. His place was with his family. As for Arro and Drapaudi, he would need to control himself. If he could only keep her for a time, so be it. A strong sense of purpose seeped through him,
And then, as though to test him once more, the engine on the transport began to sputter and Dennethom was forced to land. He pulled out the tracker. It wasn’t far to the housing camp, although carrying Nyal, it would take a lot longer. Once more he heaved Nyal up on his shoulders. He just had to put one foot in front of the other.
Dennethom bent down to check on Nyal. The Arthemian was barely conscious. He could hardly open his eyes. Nyal’s face was slightly bloodied, the skin raw from exposure to the blasting sand. Luckily, the rest of him was well covered up.
“It’s okay. I’m going to get you out,” Dennethom reassured him, removing his own protective head gear and giving it to Nyal. The Boentu at least had fur to provide a layer of protection.
Dennethom heaved at the large metal roof that pinned his companion down. It didn’t budge. He tried again. Still nothing. He cursed at himself when he realised the roof wasn’t going anywhere while it was partially buried in the sand.
Kneeling down, Dennethom began to dig away at the roof, trying to free it enough so he could rescue Nyal. It was difficult work. The sand was already beginning to sting, but he was determined to keep going. Eventually he tried to lift the roof once more. It finally gave way. Just barely. Dennethom panted at the exertion, sweat streaming beneath his protective clothing. He called out to Nyal, to see if he was able to get out by himself, but the Arthemian could barely speak.
What he needed was something to prop up the portion of roof he was holding. He found a large boulder nearby and managed to maneuver so that it stood next to a corner of the roof. Taking a slow, meditative breath, he lifted the roof once more and heaved the boulder underneath, pushing with his powerful legs. It worked, barely. The one corner of roof that pinned Nyal down was now held up by a boulder.
Exhausted, Dennethom grabbed Nyal under his arms and heaved him away. Dennethom nudged the roof with his arm and it clattered back to the ground. It was all Dennethom could do to get out of the way.
At first he thought the beep was his imagination. He could hardly hear it over the howling wind. He held up the tracker inches from his face. To his disappointment, the device hadn’t registered any biological life forms. Instead it told him that he had arrived at the work site. Dennethom breathed a sigh of relief. If not for the tracker, he would have kept walking. He quickened his pace. There was no sign of Nyal. As he got closer, he spotted one of the partially completed buildings. The roof had blown away in the storm. Just the supports stuck up, exposed to the elements.
This was precisely why he knew Nyal wouldn’t be foolish enough to take refuge in these half-finished buildings. Nyal knew what kind of damage a bad sandstorm might do. Dennethom checked the tracker. Nothing.
Surveying the work site he spotted a lone two-person transport. It belonged to Nyal. Dennethom trudged over to the transport, and looked about to see if Nyal had taken refuge nearby, but he didn’t see anything. The transport was covered in sand.
“Denne to base.”
“We read you Denne,” somebody said. Dennethom couldn’t identify the voice, the wind was too loud.
“I’ve found Nyal’s transport. He didn’t leave the work site. No sign of Nyal.”
He continued to walk, circling further and further away from the transport. He needed to make a decision soon. There was no good shelter here. At some point he would have to return to base. Without Nyal. Worse. He would probably need to take the transport, though he wasn’t certain it would make it all the way back.
He cursed to himself. Why did he decide to go out here by himself? Because of his honour? Because of the warrior code? His conscience? Back home he had a wife and son, and now he put himself at great risk. For one person….
Just then, the tracker came to life beeping insistently. Dennethom squinted. There was something alive a few metres away. He hurried forward. The ground looked odd. A strange, warped metallic shape stuck out of the ground. It was the roof of the building. The one that had blown away.
Pinned beneath the roof was Nyal.
Dennethom trudged through the sand. Visibility grew poorer with every step he took. He knew he was heading in the right direction. He had the good sense to bring his tracker along. Without it he would surely have gotten lost.
The work site lay only a short distance away by transport but Dennethom had chosen to leave the transport locked up. The sand might do all kinds of damage to the engines. Besides, between the poor visibility and the speed of the transport, he was afraid he would end up missing Nyal completely. If Nyal returned on his own transport, Dennethom would probably hear him coming and be able to send up a signal light first. No. It was better he travelled on foot.
The wind speed increased the further away he got from camp. A small part of him wondered if the others had been right. Maybe Nyal had found some sort of shelter. Nyal knew more about this location than anyone else. But Dennethom couldn’t think of any sufficient nearby shelter, and none that would last the few days it would take for the storm to pass.
Dennethom checked the tracker, having to squint and brush away sand to see the display. He wished he had the Boentu one with the heads up display. These low tech trackers just didn’t cut it in this type of environment. With gloved fingers he fumbled with the tracker’s settings to search for large biological life forms.
“Dennethom to Nyal,” he said, trying to raise his boss on the radio. Nothing.
With the wind and the sand blasting at him, it was growing increasingly difficult for him to keep placing one foot in front of the other. He checked the time. He had been out for an hour now and still no sign of Nyal. This was bad. Suddenly, he heard a faint beep as the tracker came to life.
An hour later, the building was finally secure. They closed and sealed the windows. Vents were secured. They moved any machinery outside to a nearby covered shelter. Finally there was nothing left to do but wait.
Dennethom glanced out a window. It was hard to see through the protective layers they had put up to keep the sand out, but the wind had definitely picked up. Still, there was no sign of Nyal and they were unable to raise him on the radio.
“Maybe he decided it was too risky to return. Sealed himself up at the building site.”
“There’s no building complete enough for him to seal up in,” Jerrup replied, unconvinced.
“Well what do you suggest we do. We can’t go out and look for him,” Lerya replied.
“No. You’re right. It’s much too dangerous. We just have to wait until the storm passes,” Jerrup agreed, and sat down next to Lerya, entwining his hand in hers.
Dennethom couldn’t believe his ears. He stared in disbelief about the room. None of the workers seemed happy with leaving Nyal out alone, but no one volunteered to search for him. He sighed to himself. He wouldn’t leave Nyal. He was a leader. Boentu leaders didn’t abandon their people. He began to gather his belongings, packing a bag, and putting on an overcoat and headgear to protect from the wind and sand.
“What are you doing?” Jerrup asked, letting go of Leyra’s hand.
“Nyal may be in trouble. Somebody has to go and help him.”
“But the storm will be here soon. You won’t be able to find him in a sandstorm,” Jerrup protested.
“You’re risking your life and you don’t even know if Nyal is in trouble,” someone else said.
“I’m Boentu. We don’t leave others behind. Besides, he wouldn’t leave one of us.”
He was right. But none of them had the courage to follow him. “Don’t forget to take a spare set of batteries for your radio,” Lerya reminded him.
Dennethom nodded his head appreciatively and grabbed the batteries in question. Nobody else tried to stop him.
Dennethom found himself missing his family as he sat in the scorching desert plains on the other side of Skora. It was a desolate place. The workers needed all the help they could get to build shelters and set up supply lines. It was good work. Honest. It helped ground him. He was surprised at how good he was at construction. When he wasn’t working, he devoted his time to meditation. This was one of those times. But it was uncomfortably hot, and his mind kept wondering back to his family. He couldn’t believe what a fool he had been. He missed them. Had he really been gone four moons already? Arjuna must be getting huge. She probably hated carrying. He suppressed a grin. Maybe being on the other side of the planet wasn’t so bad if it meant escaping Arjuna’s mood swings.
He glanced up at the sun which was now high in the sky. He should probably head inside. That was the other thing about this work. Temperatures were so dangerously high in this part of Skora, that they did their work at night, which meant they slept during the hottest parts of the day. Dennethom gathered his belongings and made his way down the sandy hillside and into the nearby building which served as their barracks.
He hadn’t expected to see anyone still up yet, so he was surprised to see all his fellow workers huddled about the lounge, studying weather reports.
“What’s wrong?” Dennethom asked, gazing about at the tense faces.
“A sandstorm is coming in. Looks like a bad one,” said Jerrup, one of the workers looking at the weather readouts.
Dennethom nodded his head. Every now and again the area was subject to sandstorms. The wind would howl and send sand everywhere. The storms would last a couple of days, and they would often end up having to dig their way out of the structure. If they weren’t careful, the sand would also get into the electronics which meant more setbacks. Supposedly, once the climate settled down, there would be no more storms. But J-Corp, the company that was building the housing structures, didn’t want to wait and have another company grab up the site.
“Why haven’t we sealed up the place yet?”
“We’re waiting for Nyal to get back. He’s out securing the site.”
Nyal was chief of new construction. It was his job to make sure the site was secure during these storms.
“When will the storm arrive?” Dennethom asked.
Jerrup pointed at a computer screen. “It’ll be here in just a couple of hours.”
“We should get this structure sealed tight.”
“What about Nyal” asked Lerya, one of the few female workers on the site.
“We’ll save the barracks for last. That should give him plenty of time to come in.”
The day after Dennethom left was a strange one. Arjuna was only just beginning to feel as though they had a routine and now their routine was changing. They would have to hunt without Dennethom. That wouldn’t be too difficult. They didn’t need all three of them to hunt. However, soon Arjuna would be too big, and then Arronanto would have to do all the hunting by himself.
Arronanto wasn’t much of a hunter. He tended to be louder, scaring away animals. He didn’t care to pay attention to the tiny signs showing an animal had passed by recently. Arjuna tried to make him see the paths of the vermin and the recent droppings. But after a few days she gave up and decided to concentrate on showing him how to make simple traps.
But it wasn’t just the hunting either. They also had to go to the market and get to know the people in the township. Some would ask where Dennethom was these days. They often wore knowing looks when Arjuna explained he was off helping to set up a township in Skora’s southern hemisphere. She supposed they thought the monks were trying to build a place of worship there. Arjuna didn’t bother to correct them.
It was Arronanto’s job to help Jora on the Aluen. Most of the chores were routine stuff Jora could do by himself, but Arronanto missed the spaceship. Plus he needed to keep monitoring the comms and news channels. It was dull work. There was never anything new. Katha still hadn’t stepped down. And nobody seemed to suspect at all that the children of Chran still lived.
As Arronanto finished listening to yet another boring news broadcast, he found himself wishing for some excitement. He’d love to take the Aluen up for a little bit, though he knew his brother would have a fit if he ever found out. With a sigh, he wondered how Dennethom was doing.
The Arthemian bun had done a little to quell Drapaudi’s anger. She understood how upset Dennethom was that she was with Arronanto. For Arkaya’s sake she was ready to make peace.
Dinner that night began like usual. The morning’s fight was forgotten. Arronanto could never stay angry at his big brother. As Jora cleared out the dishes, Dennethom stood up. “I’d like to make an announcement.”
The family looked at him quizzically, but said nothing. “After my behaviour this morning, I’ve decided perhaps I need some space from the situation here.”
Arjuna sighed. She had been afraid of this.
“I have taken a position in a construction crew building a new township in the southern hemisphere.”
“For how long?” Arronanto asked, his voice tense.
“It’s a six moon contract.” He winced, knowing this would be the most upsetting part.
“That’s crazy. You’re needed here,” Arronanto replied.
Dennethom shrugged. “I must leave, Arro. Honestly, I don’t know how you handled me being with Drapaudi, but I’m not that strong.”
“But we need you,” said Arjuna. “You’re our leader.”
Dennethom shook his head. “I can’t be a good leader, I can’t make the decisions I need to make, while I’m distracted here.”
Drapaudi sighed. “I understand why you wish to leave. I do. But what about your son? What about Arkaya?”
Dennethom walked over to Arkaya and Drapaudi and hugged his son. “I don’t want to leave Arkaya. But you’re a good mother. You can take care of him. You’ll have Arro, and my mother, everybody here to help. For right now, I cannot be here. I don’t want to be the person who throws chairs across the room in a rage, right in front of my son. I need to heal myself.” He turned to his sister. “Arjuna, I promise it will only be six moons. No more. I will be here when the baby comes. And if there are any problems, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.”
Arjuna nodded her head. She felt her eyes welling up with tears and she turned to brush them away. Her big brother was leaving them.