That night the township celebrated. The siblings had never been to any town events, deeming it safer to keep to themselves. But after what happened, they could hardly say no.
Arronanto watched the towns people drink and dance and laugh. Normally, after a battle like this, he would join in. He would want to embrace life again. But not today. During a lull in the celebrations he took Drapaudi out to get some air.
She gazed up at the deep, black sky studded with millions of stars, and sighed, leaning her head against his shoulder. “I actually thought this place might be home for us,” she whispered mournfully.
Arronanto held his wife close to him. She shivered in the cool breeze. “It was home,” he replied. “For a time.”
For a while they just sat there enjoying the cool breeze and fresh air. Finally, Drapaudi spoke again. “How soon does Dennethom wish to leave?”
“As soon as Xien’s repaired the Aluen’s shields,” Arronanto replied.
Drapaudi turned to her husband. “Must it be so soon?”
Arronanto nodded his head. “It’ll only be a few weeks before word of this victory spreads around the galaxy. If we’re lucky, it will be a moon after that when Lossepharr hears about everything that happened here and decides to investigate. By that time, we need to be far away.”
“Wouldn’t it look more suspicious if we fled?”
Arronanto lifted his wife’s chin with a finger and looked into her eyes. “We can’t stay here Drapaudi.”
Drapaudi’s downcast brown eyes met his own yellow ones and she sighed. “I know.”
The remaining six raider crafts gave chase. Doggedly they pursued the giant, not quite as manoeuvrable Aluen, forgetting all about the five escort ships. This gave Arronanto the opportunity he needed. He and his escort ships swarmed the nearest raider craft, quickly knocking out shields. Arronanto managed to hit the raider craft’s tail before having to swoop away as the raiders began baring down on the annoying gnats that were the escort ships.
Arjuna tried to get a hit on the damaged raider craft to finish it off but the craft just barely got away before she was forced to turn her attention back to the other five raiders. Luckily, Dennethom, who had been watching the battle intently from the control room was able to use the grid to swiftly destroy the burning ship hurtling towards the ground.
It seemed dishonourable not taking them as prisoners, but the raiders worried him. They were not warriors. They didn’t have a code. And they wouldn’t give up without a fight. Drawing the combat to the ground would be a very bad idea. As he watched the defence grid take out a second raider in a giant fireball, he knew this was the right thing to do.
Up in the air, Arronanto whooped as his escort ships took out two more raiders. The Aluen had destroyed a second raider ship that refused to quit. Arjuna fired off more volt cannons which quickly knocked out the last raider’s shields. The ship had nowhere else to go. The rest of its group had already been destroyed. Arjuna tapped her comms. “Attention raider craft. There’s no one left to help you. Surrender immediately, land your craft and we will let you live.”
The raider craft responded by firing another volley that did little against the Aluen’s impressive shields.
Dennethom could almost feel his sister’s hesitation. There was no honour in executing the conquered. But raiders didn’t have honour. They wouldn’t surrender easily. “Do it,” he whispered into Arjuna’s headset aboard the Aluen. Arjuna agreed.
With a press of a button the raider ship exploded in a giant smoke plume that for a few seconds made it impossible for Arjuna to see anything. Finally, as the smoke subsided and the wreckage fell to the ground, thankfully, well away from the township, she gave the order to Jora to land the Aluen.
“Power up the engines, Jora. We have contact,” Arjuna said as she sat down in the co-pilot seat.
She could suddenly feel a flood of adrenaline run through her, and something different, something feral, a need to protect her child from the evil ravaging raiders that would scorch this planet if they got the chance.
On his small escort craft, Arronanto found himself having similar feelings as he lifted off. He thought of Drapaudi and his mother, sitting at home with his niece and nephew and his unborn child. No, he would make certain the raiders failed.
First contact with the raiders occurred 50 kilometres north of the township. Four escort ships greeted the raiders, their volt cannon ports open. Dennethom had wanted to save the escort ships as a second line of defence, however Arronanto suggested they wait to reveal the Aluen. Let the raiders think they were only dealing with a few colony ships and use up precious fuel and ammunition.
It was a game of tag and the raider ships were “it”. The escort ships took carefully aimed pot shots before darting away. The smaller crafts whizzed between the larger, though equally agile, raider ships. Arronanto had been a little worried about the piloting skills of the local escort pilots, but seeing them in action he knew he needn’t have worried.
“We’ve warmed them up. Now they’re all yours,” Arronanto said into his comms link.
With that he pulled away, and the other escort ships followed him. Silently, almost invisible, the Aluen appeared. With a powerful, thundering boom, the Boentu ship fired its heavy volt cannons at one of the raiders knocking out the ship’s shields in one blow.
The startled raider ships turned to swarm on the Aluen, but Arjuna wasn’t worried. The Aluen swooped up and out of reach of the raider crafts just as she fired a volt cluster, destroying an already damaged raider ship.
“One down,” she murmured and ordered Jora to pull back out of the fray.
Puzzled Dennethom ushered Nyal inside. After their guest was seated and Arronanto had given Nyal some water, he began to explain himself.
“Please understand, I’m only here as a representative of the company. However, I spoke to the mayor and he agrees with my ideas.”
“What ideas?” Dennethom asked, puzzled.
“I saw you out in the market today,” he said, addressing Dennethom. “I was wondering if perhaps you heard the rumours about the raider attack.”
“On Sarno?” Dennethom asked. “Yes. I heard something like that. But what does this have to do with-”
“-it’s a lot worse than just raiders,” Nyal interrupted. “They took out the entire colony. The only reason we know anything about it is because of the supply run. Company regional headquarters was on Sarno. It’s gone, and all the people with it.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Dennethom replied, trying not to sound callous.
“You don’t understand. Their next stop is Skora.”
Arronanto eyed his brother wearily. “Are you sure?” Dennethom asked.
Nyal nodded his head. “There’s no doubt about it. Skora’s the only other major planet out here. Our tracking system predicts they’ll be here within a day.”
Dennethom felt his heartbeat quicken. The raiders were coming here?
“What about local security forces?” Arronanto asked.
This far out into the outer rim of the Arcturus System, the nearest help was a local detachment of armed security.
“There’s not enough time. The raiders will already have swept through by the time they arrive.”
Dennethom’s eyes narrowed. “What do you need from me, Nyal?”
Nyal shrugged. “I understand you’re a monk and you’re committed to a life of peace. But what you did before, saving me, that took courage that only Boentu might have. That’s what we need right now, Boentu warriors. You monks are probably better trained in this type of situation than any of the colonists here.”
Arronanto watched Dennethom searching for a reaction. Nyal was right. Even Boentu monks are trained in combat. The room filled with silence as Dennethom frantically thought through his options. He didn’t want to commit to a conflict. But they had come to him for help. And no matter how important their cover was, they were warriors. They couldn’t stand back and allow the colonists to be slaughtered. If only the security forces could get here sooner. But he knew Nyal wouldn’t have come unless it was their only option. Besides, the raiders were a danger to his family. Really, there was no decision to make.
“I’ll do what I can to help.”
Nyal looked relieved.
“Just give us the coordinates for the raider ships so we can track them,” Arronanto advised. He too was relieved. He had been afraid his brother would want to turn and run.
“We’ll need accurate information about your own planetary defences so we can plan a counter-attack,” said Arjuna,entering from an adjacent room. Dennethom glared at his sister but she blithely ignored him. “We’ll also need to know everything we can about their attack on Sarno. It’ll give us an idea of how they like to operate,” she added.
Nyal’s head bobbed up and down on his shoulder, and he grinned nervously.
“The mayor will be grateful to learn of your assistance.”
He clasped hands with all three siblings, promising to return with all the information they requested.
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.
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.
In the days that followed, the structure actually did begin to look like home. When did that happen? Arjuna wondered to herself as she got up one morning. They had even developed a routine. Every day, they would go out and hunt the vermin put down by terraformers to clear up a noxious plant. They tasted surprisingly good. Later in the afternoon, Yasana and Xien, who had become quite handy in the kitchen, would prepare the meat. Jayta was better at eating than cooking, so he devoted himself to keeping the new housing structure operational.
Jayta visited the Aluen several times a moon to run maintenance checks. Arjuna suspected it helped remind Jayta of his calling as a pilot. Dennethom would accompany Jayta to the ship to check goings on in the Boentu System, at least, that’s what he told everyone. Arjuna believed he was simply trying to put as much distance between him and Arronanto and Drapaudi, who were now starting their cycle together. He found any excuse he could to leave the house, visiting the market any time they were short on supplies. It helped him get to know the neighbours. The other residents were obviously curious about the Boentu monks, but reserved, which was just fine for the siblings.
As Arjuna made her way into the housing structure’s dining room, she reflected on how at home she felt on Skora, wondering if her brothers felt the same way. As she stepped through the doorway she heard Dennethom’s voice. He sounded tense. Angry.
“I wish you wouldn’t keep treating him like a newborn cub, Drapaudi. How is he ever supposed to learn to be a warrior?”
“Arkaya has plenty of time to become a warrior,” Drapaudi replied, hugging her son to him.
Arjuna paused at the doorway, surveying the scene but saying nothing.
“This is so like you,” Dennethom ranted as he began pacing around the room. “You don’t know anything about our culture.”
“Come one, she’s trying,” Arronanto said, making the mistake of stepping in his brother’s way.
Suddenly, it was as though a beast had been unleashed. Dennethom’s eyes flashed angrily at his brother, as he picked up a chair and threw it across the room.
“We can’t afford to baby our children. We are the line of future leaders!”
Despite being pregnant and beginning to show, Arjuna shoved Dennethom out the door and followed him outside.
She watched as he stood breathing heavily. “You have to get a hold of yourself, Denne.”
“I cant’ help it,” Dennethom replied. “I just don’t like seeing her with him.”
Arjuna snarled in frustration. “This is what you both agreed to. How do you think it made Arro feel when you and Drapaudi were together?”
Dennethom bowed his head in shame. “I’m sorry,” he murmured.
“It’s not me you should be apologising to.”
Dennethom nodded in agreement. “I know. I need to go for a walk first to clear my head.”
Arjuna smiled and let him go. It was a chilly morning. He didn’t even have a jacket. But it was okay. Perhaps the cold air would do him some good, help freeze the jealous beast that seemed determined to take control of her brother.
“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.