Authors: Meredith Skye
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Action & Adventure
The inner office of the Executive Commander of Garran never had enough light. Even when the sun was up, the few windows in his office afforded only dim light. This was the Arid season. But before long the planet would grow dark, coming into the Season of Dusk.
Koethe of Aggravis peered out one window at the darkness. He’d never gotten used to not having winter or summer. A planet ought to have a cold season--not that he missed the ice and snow … much. The warm weather of the desert planet of Garran suited him better. Ice caused so many problems.
Somewhere out there, his daughter worked as a Chanden Enforcer. Although it required a soldier's training, it was menial in nature. And it could be dangerous. He had counseled her against this--but it was her choice. She didn’t
a career. He’d made that clear.
As a father, Koethe was willing to provide for her. Even better--his position on Garran gave him clout to arrange some
good marriages. Very advantageous. But Asta was nothing, if not stubborn. At the very least, she should study at the college.
Somehow, she took offense at this. As a result, they hadn't spoken for at least two years. Koethe sighed.
“Commander, the ship is secure. The General is on his way.” The voice of his first chief, Chief Richt came over the com.
Koethe moved to the desk and pushed a button. “Thank you.”
Fourteen years Koethe had lived on Garran. He’d lost his wife, Nona, in an attack by natives--something Asta had never recovered from. Nor forgiven--somehow blaming Koethe.
Admittedly, Garran was a barren, backworld, desert planet. But Koethe was the Executive Commander. When the planet gained Province status, he would become the First Governor. He would get credit in history for the taming of a wild planet for colonization. It was the sort of career he lived for.
Now the High Realm had sent military personnel to inspect Koethe’s work. The thought annoyed him. He had been efficient. He’d followed his directive: expansion. Colonize the planet and build a populace loyal to the Chanden High Realm. He had done so.
Auditing his books and inspecting his troops were all completely unnecessary. Results were all that mattered. And his results had been good. The only thing that troubled him were these occasional native uprisings. Nothing seemed to satisfy the brutes. Just when progress had been made, fighting would break out again somewhere.
Surely, they couldn’t blame him for that.
Koethe left his office to meet the General in the main chamber.
Chief Richt waited there with three military officers. The tallest, broadest man Koethe recognized as General Godwin, Champion of the Battle of Arnash, Defender of Chizicoot and the Emperor’s own cousin.
“General Godwin,” said Koethe in greeting, putting his hand to his chest in salute.
“Commander Koethe,” returned the General, with politeness. He turned to his two aides, both dressed as the General was in formal olive-green suits, with black trim. “First Militia Commander Nyan. He will be reviewing your troops during our stay.”
Koethe nodded politely, still annoyed at the intrusion but not letting it show. It was not the officer's fault. The militia commander, much younger and of a slighter build than Godwin, nodded.
“Commander Nyan,” said Koethe. He was pretty good at first impressions, and his impressions were that this was a reasonable man.
The second officer was a woman, with blond hair pulled back severely. She wore no make-up, giving her face a hard look--almost indistinguishable from a man’s. The trend of allowing women rank in the military was still just a little new for Koethe’s taste. He allowed it, despite being old-fashioned, since it was in the regulations. But the fact that his own daughter had taken advantage of the regulations to join the Enforcers still rankled him, even if all she had was a desk job.
“And this is Second Militia Commander Montani,” Godwin introduced her.
“Commander Montani,” said Koethe, feeling a bit odd at not being able to kiss her hand, as a gentleman should.
“Commander Koethe,” said Montani. Her eyes were cold and unmoved. She would not be easy to deal with. Women always felt they had more to prove. And perhaps they did.
“Commander Montani will be reviewing your financial records,” said the General.
“Of course,” said Koethe, careful not to betray any sign of annoyance. “I am at your disposal,” he said. She scowled slightly. Perhaps too gallant a statement for a progressive woman like Montani.
He knew her kind--ruthless, hardened, more so than other men in her situation. She worked harder to get where she was, had to be tougher than all the men. No doubt she outperformed them … only to be passed over for promotion in favor of other men. Koethe would have to watch her.
From there, they sat and had drinks. Conversation was stiff and scant. News of the capital planet Vhorlend and Cazio Sooliss, the Emperor, and of the war with the Bissarian Conglomerate. Hints of skirmishes with their neighbors of the Peronia High Realm who constantly watched the Chanden for a weakness.
Koethe knew that the next few weeks would be long indeed.
Moorhen emerged from the cave. The air had a chill feel to it. It smelled of ash from the Mountain of Cones to the north. The East and North Moons were up, giving some light but otherwise the land was dark. Some clouds blotted out patches of stars.
When his little brother, Norbi, asked to go hunt crystals, Moorhen should have known that he would slip out on his own, even though Moorhen forbade it. Again, he cursed himself. His father had left him in charge of the
Silently Moorhen moved along the ridges and rock cliffs through a familiar, path towards the Black Hills. Though he knew his way, no path was safe from night creatures.
Carefully, Moorhen made his way across the dark terrain aware of every sound in the night air. A faint rattle alerted him just in time to avoid the fangs of a
the size of his arm. Quickly Moorhen drew his dagger and slashed at it as it struck, cutting the lizard but not killing it. Moorhen ran, being more careless now of the sound, only wanting to put distance between him and the lizard.
Moorhen slowed near a ravine. There had been the faint sound of footsteps to the east--or had it been his imagination? Moorhen scarcely breathed for a moment. Had he been followed? For how long? But as he stood there, he heard no sound at all. He kept still awhile longer, waiting, but there was nothing. It could have been the wind.
Slowly, and more carefully this time, Moorhen crept down the path. Norbi should not have defied him--Moorhen had forbidden him to go. This angered him. Going alone at night to the plains was foolish. Surely, Norbi knew he'd endanger others by his selfish quest. Moorhen would punish him once he found the boy. This was no light matter.
Moorhen followed a ravine towards the Black Hills, which held a trickle of water at the bottom of it. But soon he left this shelter and headed west.
The moons slipped behind cloud-cover, making the night darker than ever. The chill deepened, or perhaps it was just a fear welling up in Moorhen’s heart, for his brother.
Moorhen made his way up out of the ravine, but before he could get out--another sound stopped him short. He turned back toward the trail, looking for the source of the sound. Suddenly something struck Moorhen on the side of the head and knocked him down to the bottom of the ravine. He reached for his dagger, but before he could find it pain ripped across his shoulders. Moorhen cried out, trying desperately to turn around.
Somehow he pulled free enough to pivot around just before the
sprang towards him, baring large fangs and claws. This sleek, feline creature was larger than Moorhen and ran swiftly on four paws.
were deadly, quick and as black as night. Moorhen tried to dodge but failed. He felt the claws rake his left shoulder. Dazed, Moorhen hit the ground and rolled.
A second or two passed as Moorhen struggled to get to his feet. The creature landed and turned towards him, preparing to lunge. Moorhen cursed and grabbed again for his dagger. But he had little experience in close combat. He barely managed to draw out the dagger before the
sprang towards him with a snarl. Knowing he could not take the creature on at short range, Moorhen threw the dagger, aiming at the creature's throat. But as he did, the
shifted and caught the dagger on the side of his right leg.
Moorhen dodged clumsily to the side, the animal barely missing him. He swung around, now weaponless. The creature, merely stung by the attack, batted the dagger to the ground. Moorhen glanced around for his bow, but it had fallen somewhere beyond the beast. He couldn't reach it. Moorhen knew he should run--but the creature was fast. It could easily overtake him.
Just then, in the distance, Moorhen heard the call of a horn. The creature also paused when he heard it. Moorhen didn't recognize the call--it wasn't one of his clansmen. Neither Moorhen nor the creature moved, both puzzling out the sound, deciding what action to take. The creature growled and paced a bit, as in warning. Moorhen stayed still, unsure whether or not to run.
Another horn sounded, just a little closer now. They stared at each other, beast and man. Moorhen had never stared such a deadly animal in the eyes before. Finally, the beast turned and bounded off into the night. Quickly Moorhen gathered his wits, and his belongings, and crept up the slope of the ravine.
Moorhen couldn't see well in the dark, but he sought out a spire of rock and hid, straining his eyes to see who approached. Several minutes passed before he could make out movement up ahead. Cautiously he moved forward, drawing closer to the source of the horn. It could be the Lost Hill Clan, on a hunting expedition--a friendly neighboring clan. But there were others who might venture this far--and not all clans were friendly to the Sand Plain Clan.
Slowly, Moorhen made his way toward the group. It sounded like ten or more people. Moorhen had a talent for moving silently. He readied his bow.
The band of men stopped moving, perhaps to camp for the night. Moorhen heard laughter and talking, almost raucous, as though they'd been drinking. But he doubted that expert warriors would be foolish enough to get so openly drunk in an unprotected place, even if their spirits were high because of a good hunt.
As Moorhen peered out from a new vantage point, he froze. These men were no clansmen. They weren't even Garran--but Chanden. His heart pumped faster. What were they doing so far from any city? Men like that seldom ventured this far out, except to seek out trouble.
They hadn't seen him. He'd make his way back to the ravine--then he could leave unseen. The Chanden were not good hunters, but their weapons were deadly.
As Moorhen started back, he heard a cry amidst the laughter, a word or two in Garran. Moorhen turned, recognizing Norbi's voice. Quickly Moorhen climbed to a vantage point where he could see the men clearly. In their midst Moorhen saw Norbi struggling against them. Two of the Chanden men hit Norbi and kicked him. From the shape his brother was in, the Chanden must have had him for awhile.
Moorhen's blood grew hot. Without stopping to think, he aimed his bow at the tallest man who was tormenting his brother and shot. The arrow hit and the man fell. Realizing they were not alone, the Chanden looked around.
Moorhen shot again. Another Chanden fell.
The men scrambled then, scattered about, unsure who was attacking them. Their reactions were slow and clumsy. Moorhen shot a third arrow, but missed. Someone pulled a Chanden laser gun and shot wildly in Moorhen's general direction. Moorhen caught his breath, suddenly realizing how mad this venture was. There were twelve of them and he was alone. He only had eleven arrows and didn't consider himself an expert marksman. But he suspected that many of the Chanden were drunk.
Another cry came from Norbi, who lay in a heap on the ground.
Moorhen strung his bow again and found another target. Only his brother mattered. He shot, lightly wounding another man. There were shouts now and some movement towards what Moorhen thought were rock outcroppings. Now he realized they were Chanden aircars.
Carefully, Moorhen targeted another man and shot. Again he missed. Four or five of the Chanden ran for their vehicles. A handful of others drew their weapons. The next few of Moorhen's arrows missed.
A sudden volley of laser fire sent Moorhen behind the rocks for cover as four of the men began shooting. Soon Moorhen realized that only two of the men had aimed anywhere near him. They had not seen him; they only guessed at the direction. Their eyes weren't good in the dark.
Again Moorhen shot and one more Chanden fell. The next two arrows missed but now the men knew where he was. Rocks and dust flew everywhere as the blasts hit the rock-face.
They called out to him in Chanden, a language that Moorhen rarely had a chance to speak, only in the Chanden school.
The shooting stopped and Moorhen peered out from behind the rock, just enough to see that they had Norbi on his feet and were threatening him. One man held a gun to his head and yelled.
"I'll kill him!" was all Moorhen understood of their slurred words. Moorhen only had one more arrow. There was no winning this battle.
Only five of the Chanden had stayed to fight; the others had fled in aircars. Two Chanden lay on the ground, unconscious or dead. Several of them Moorhen knew to be quite drunk. Again the men yelled and hit Norbi repeatedly.
They should pay for this. Moorhen should make them pay. He aimed for the man threatening Norbi, with as much care as he had ever aimed in his life--then shot. The arrow found its target. Then Moorhen jumped down from the rock and ran towards them with a shout, drawing his knife.
The men dropped Norbi. Two of them fell over trying to escape. The others aimed at Moorhen with their guns at point blank range and Moorhen realized that they could not miss. The lasers were deadly. Moorhen was an easy target.
Norbi looked up and saw Moorhen running towards the Chanden. "No!" Norbi called out.
But Moorhen could not stop. He yelled a clan war cry as he descended upon them.
Then from the dark behind Moorhen sprang the
straight at the two remaining men, knocking them over with the force of its landing. Moorhen nearly fell over as he stopped himself. The few remaining Chanden turned their attention to the beast. It tore into one of the men, killing him.
Ignoring the creature, Moorhen made his way over to his brother, fearing him dead. "Norbi!" he turned him over. Nearby someone shot at the
Moorhen grabbed Norbi, who was in considerable pain and hauled him to his feet. "Can you walk?"
"I … don't know," muttered Norbi.
Moorhen half carried, half dragged Norbi away from the camp. The
had the Chanden on the run and some of them were in pieces. The beast only gave a brief glance at the two Garrans as they made their way to the nearby rock spire. There was better prey to be had.
As Moorhen set Norbi down, his brother tried to speak. "Moorhen, they took the crystals!" There was an air of delirium to his words.
Norbi bled from several nasty knife wounds. There were bruises all over him, including his face and lips.
"Are you hurt badly?" asked Moorhen. It was a stupid question, but he feared there might be greater damage than he could see, such as internal bleeding.
"My arm," moaned Norbi.
Moorhen helped him up. "We have to move."
Norbi grit his teeth as Moorhen lead him away. Moorhen tried to be quiet but abandoned the effort. With the commotion of
and the Chanden, it scarcely mattered now.
In the end, Moorhen carried his little brother all the way back to the tsirvak. Moorhen felt dizzy from the experience. The moment of anger had passed and the truth of the danger they'd been in hit him. They moved without speaking. Moorhen now had no heart to upbraid Norbi for his reckless actions. No words were needed. The treatment of the Chanden had been lesson enough.