Monthly Archives: July 2014

Chapter Six

What’s this?  I’m back??  Yes, dear readers, I am.  I have returned from vacation victorious!  I slayed and conquered and roared my triumph up to the night.

What?  That’s how you do vacations, right?

I’m normal!

All said, it took me a while to get back on track with my life and my writing.  But now I can say that I am…getting there.  I at least managed to get Chapter Six down on paper, though I’m not sure how good it is.  Similarly, I have an idea of where I’m going with Chapter Seven, but I’m not sure how good that will be either.  I believe you are sensing a pattern.  Just have mercy is all I’m saying.  This stuff is all so raw still.

If you missed any previous chapters, here is a link that you can easily navigate from:

Chapter One

And nooowwww…

Chapter-Six

By the time she turned three, Joss’ hands were flying; she had proved to be a very talkative child.

It had started with just a couple signs. Two taps on the top of her head with the flat of her hand meant she was calling for daddy, whom she’d never seen without his brimmed hat.

Touching the lips meant hungry.

Closing her eyes and putting her hand over them meant sleepy, nap, or sleep, depending on the context.

Rath picked up on all of this as quickly as she imagined it. When she created a new word, he always confirmed it with her first before sharing with the group.

Like when she’d discovered she had the ability to fly.

At four years of age, she was in a very inquisitive phase. The concept of hearing fascinated her. Every move she made, every action she took, was followed with the same question.

Two head taps, pointing, hands going from closed to open by the ears, palms placed against each other and rubbed back and forth.

– Daddy, this noise make? –

It didn’t matter what she was doing – eating, lying down in bed, jumping up and down, bothering Molt – she was always asking. And Rath would always patiently reply.

– Yes, sweet. That noise make. –

Then she’d let out her weird little giggle and ran off to do something else.

One morning, when Rath came into the room, she ran up and jumped on him. He lifted her into his arms and allowed her to kiss him on the cheek. Then of course she leaned back and asked – Daddy, this noise make? –

In order to reply, he had to set her down. It took him until he’d made it to the sign for “noise” to realize that her feet had never reached the ground. Following his alarmed look, Joss looked down at the ground, which was several inches beneath her bare feet.

She squealed with delight and plopped to the ground, falling unsteadily onto her rump. Then she jumped up and began floating again, rising up several feet into the air this time.

– Sweet, what you do? – he asked slowly.

She had replied with a new sign. Essentially the word “up” repeated twice in quick succession.

– You up up? – he confirmed.

– Yes yes! – she signed back excitedly as she began floating around the room. Then, still hovering, she turned to look at him. – Daddy! Daddy! This noise make? –

Rath recovered from his surprise as quickly as he could and replied. – No, sweet. That no noise make. –

She let out another delighted squeal and began floating all over the room. It turned out that she could only sustain her flight for short periods of time, but that didn’t stop her from landing and taking off over and over again until she was exhaustedly signing that it was time for a nap.

Now, several years later, Joss awoke in her bed. They had recently moved into an old storehouse of sorts, but only after they had spent months staking out the area to make sure that it was, without a doubt, abandoned.

Joss had her own room, which she’d fashioned for herself out of old sheets and some empty boxes they’d found. Thea had followed suit. Then the twins. Molt had made himself a hammock in the rafters, and Het-Lei tended to fall asleep wherever he pleased.

Rath always slept on a cot by the door, so if trouble was coming he’d be the first to hear it.

As Joss rolled out of bed, her fingers automatically found her bandu pole. It was always within arm’s reach, if it wasn’t already in her grasp. She got hold of it and rolled carefully out of bed, keeping the end of the pole pressed to the floor. The vibrations she caused as she touched the floor were barely noticeable. She was getting better at this.

Keeping one hand rested gently on the center of her neck, she began to move out of her room. The pole let her know that no one but her was moving nearby. Maybe the others were already awake. She couldn’t tell how late it was, though she was sure that Thea would still be asleep, since her friend had a penchant for sleeping in.

Joss continued to sneak toward the main room, where she glimpsed Rath and Kanid conversing by their makeshift kitchen. It must have been earlier than she thought, since they appeared to be the only two awake.

Kanid was facing in her direction, but Rath’s back was to her. She smiled mischievously, keeping the fingers of her free hand on her throat. Rath had taught her to do this so she could feel when she accidentally made sounds, or when she successfully produced some after trying. Now she was trying to make sure that not a single thing would give her away as she snuck up on her father.

She moved her feet gently across the floor, sliding them more than lifting them. Kanid glimpsed her as she moved out into the open, but did her the service of pretending not to see her. He continued nodding along to whatever Rath was saying.

She was almost upon him now, so she allowed herself to hover slightly. Just an inch or two. Just enough to ensure she didn’t make a single sound as she closed the gap between her and Rath.

Then, just as she reached him, she lifted her bandu pole, preparing to strike.

Daddy, does this make noise? she thought, grinning, as she brought the pole down toward his head.

His hand shot up quicker than she could anticipate and caught the pole right before it made contact with the top of his hat.

Pouting, Joss landed and waited while he pirouetted, keeping the pole in his grip as he turned to face her.

His smile was smug.

She pulled her stick out of his hand and rested it against her chest while she used both hands to sign.

– How you always know? –

– I your father. –

– I noise make? –

– No, sweet. No noise. –

– Then what? –

– Felt your breath my neck. –

Joss rolled her eyes. Of course. It was always something. In two years of trying, she’d never once been able to catch him by surprise.

Kanid just shook his head.

Sleep well? he asked, and by the way Rath turned to look back at him, she knew that Kanid had made the question audible to both of them.

She nodded.   – Well enough. –

Kanid’s voice was the only one she could hear. And that had taken some doing. When he’d first tried to communicate with her telepathically – the only way Kanid could – she hadn’t been able to process it. Having never heard sound before, she had no idea what to do with the echo of his voice in her head. It took lots of practice and explanation before she was able to distinguish words. But of course, he heard nothing from her. While she obviously had thoughts, they weren’t audible to him.

Which was interesting.

“What’d we miss?” Click asked, exiting his room. His hair was rumpled, and he was rubbing sleepily at his eyes.

Joss felt his entrance thanks to her bandu, and turned to look at him. He waved and repeated his question in a language she could understand. – What I miss? –

– I again fail surprise Rath. –

– I sad. This time I thought you succeed. –

– Next time. –

Switch emerged behind her brother then. Her hair was neatly combed, but she still looked tired.

They exchanged pleasantries, and Kanid began to hand out the breakfast he’d been preparing. Mashed berries on crackers.

They were all sitting around eating when Molt and Het-Lei made an appearance. Not from their beds, but from the door.

It was the only entrance to the building, which made everyone feel quite safe. Rath had had Switch and Click build a device to prevent intruders. It involved a stolen ID card reader and a few other things. Within a few days, they had a way to lock their front door. Everyone in their little family got a key, and anyone who tried to get in without one would set off an alarm. They would also be treated to a nice little shock, courtesy of Click’s wiring prowess.

When Rath turned toward the door, Joss followed his gaze. She had assumed Het-Lei and Molt were still sleeping, since it was still early, judging by the sun peeking in the tiny windows. At first Rath had considered covering up those windows, but in the end he decided it would be more suspicious to any outsiders if they were. Best to leave the building looking as untouched as possible.

“Well?” Rath asked as the two men entered, closing the door behind them.

Het-Lei was rearranging his body from some large, four-legged beast into his usual humanoid form.

“It’s confirmed,” Molt said.

“When?” Rath asked, still not signing.

Joss was used to reading Molt’s lips. He was the only one in their party who had outright refused to study her sign language.

Rath, however, was a different story. Signing when Joss was around had become second nature to him. If he wasn’t doing it now, it was because he was purposefully trying to keep her out of the loop.

“Tonight, it looks like,” Het-Lei said, signing as he spoke.

Rath shot him a warning look. “How many are we looking at?” He was purposefully moving his lips as little as possible, and using vague language so Joss was left as uninformed as possible.

Scowling, she hit his arm with her pole.

He ignored her.

“Ten to fifteen,” Het-Lei replied, still signing. “We think they might be expecting trouble. Might not be worth going.”

– Where go? – Joss asked.

“We’re going,” Rath said, ignoring her.

Joss pushed herself up to her feet and stood between her father and the other two.

– Where where where go go go? –

Whenever she wanted to emphasize something – usually excitement or anger – she repeated the sign. Three repeats on both words would easily convey to Rath exactly how she felt about his subterfuge; she was pissed.

– Please, Joss. This not for you. –

– It for you you you. It for me me me. –

– This time no, sweet. –

– What what what happening? – she demanded.

Rath sighed. – Raid. Free prisoners. –

– I go. –

– No. –

– Yes yes. –

Rath pinned her with a glare and signed “No” five times in a row. He’d never repeated it that many times before. Joss nearly backed down. But that was before Het-Lei oozed up to them and stood where both Joss and Rath could see his hands.

– Why not? – he signed. – She good fighter. We can use her. –

Joss turned to smile at him.

“Het-Lei,” Rath growled. “Go wake up Thea.”

Het-Lei’s eyes widened. “Rath, come on.”

“Do it. We need her here.”

“Punishing me isn’t going to make you feel any less guilty for keeping Joss in the dark,” he grumbled before squelching off toward Thea’s room, his version of stomping.

Rath sighed and looked at Joss. She glared right back at him.

“We’ll uh…we’ve got some new tech to check on back in our room,” Click said, leading his sister away from the scene.

Kanid didn’t leave the room, but he did cross over to the kitchen where he began to idly sort berries. Molt just grunted, spread his wings, and took off for the rafters.

– I want come. – Joss signed.

– I know. –

– Why you no let me? –

– Because I want you safe. Always always always. –

– I want you safe also. –

Rath sighed and reached out for her. She came closer, allowing him to pull her into his lap even though she had long since outgrown it.

They just sat like that for a while, neither saying anything. Then Rath reached out his left hand – the one that she could see – and signed again.

– Please, sweet. Please do this for me. Please stay safe. –

Joss didn’t respond right away. She wanted more than anything to go with them on their raid. But Rath was looking at her with his big, fathomless eyes. They pled with her, making her buckle.

– One time. – she said. – Next time I go. –

Rath smiled and hugged her tight. She pulled away almost immediately and stared at his left hand pointedly.

He shook his head, still smiling, and signed – Deal. –

Then and only then did she smile back and hug him for real.

An otherworldly screech rent the air as they sat together, and though Joss didn’t hear it, she felt it vibrating through her and the bandu.

Het-Lei had finally worked up the nerve to wake Theabella.

He emerged a moment later with one of Thea’s throwing knives embedded in his chest. Wincing, he reached up to pull it out, the fluidity of his form allowing him to heal almost instantly.

“She’s up,” he informed them, signing halfheartedly with one hand.

“Thank you. I promise I’ll make Molt do it next time.”

“Make Molt do it every day for a week. Then we’ll be even. You know healing takes a lot out of me.”

“Sorry, but you were undermining my parenting skills.”

“Rath, that was not my intention. I was attempting to balance you, not undermine you. As a parent, you are soft. I wanted to offer the perspective of someone who sees Joss as an ally, not a daughter.”

“As a friend, I thank you for that,” Rath said after a moment. “As a father…if you ever try to put my daughter in danger again…”

He didn’t finish the statement; it was unnecessary.

Molt, having sensed it was safe to return, dropped to the floor. Click and Switch soon found their way out of their room, and Kanid wandered back from the kitchen area.

Joss turned to Rath. – I want be here. – she signed.

– You can stay. – he replied.

She thanked him and went to sit across from him, knowing that would give her the best view of everyone’s hands. Click and Switch settled in next to her, smiling and waving. She smiled back. Kanid sat next to Rath.

Molt, his wings folded tightly behind him, snorted impatiently and went to lean against the wall by the door.

“I don’t see what the fuss was about,” he said. “If the girl wants to get herself killed, it’s not our problem.”

Switch helpfully signed everything he was saying for Joss, since he refused to. Joss just shook her head, turned to Molt, and offered him just one sign. He didn’t need to know her language to understand what it meant.

“Filthy trink,” he muttered.

The room went dead silent. Then, almost as quickly as that happened, it began to rumble and shake. Dishes rattled. Crates splintered. Molt had to fly into the air to keep from falling over.

Rath stood slowly, the ground shaking even more violently around him.

“You are required to like neither me nor my kin,” he said, his voice low yet somehow audible over the din he was causing. “However, I will not tolerate disrespect, Morlinz Nebolzer. Let this be your final warning.”

The ground instantly stilled, the silence returning.

Molt dropped to the ground and glared at Rath.

“I was already up!” Thea shouted, walking into the room. “What made you think you needed to…” Her voice trailed off as she looked from Molt to Rath. “Oh.”

She made her way over to the little kitchen and grabbed a plate of breakfast. Then she settled down to eat.

Rath was still staring at Molt. The silence was palpable. To everyone but Joss, who simply smiled and reached over to steal a berry off of Thea’s plate, completely ignorant of the tension in the room.

“Sorry,” Molt said, finally.

Rath smiled. “No problem. Have a seat. We’ve got to discuss tactics.”

Switch waved to get Joss’ attention, then signed – Bird boy say sorry. –

Joss laughed. – Dad accept apology? –

– Yes. –

– Then I do also. –

It took less than five minutes for them all to get situated. Despite the drama between Molt and Rath, when it really counted, Molt was right there offering his suggestions and clarifying when he was asked to. He and Het-Lei were an excellent reconnaissance team. They’d been working together for years, and their information was always good. Joss felt her uneasiness slipping away the more they talked; it was clear that they had done a very thorough job, as usual.

Everything would be fine.

Still…she hated saying good-bye.

Even with Rath’s nearly insurmountable telekinetic abilities. Even with Click and Switch decked out in so much high-tech armor that they had both doubled in size. Even with Het-Lei’s ability to transform and heal at will. Even with Thea’s teleportation, stealth, claws, knives, and speed. Even with Kanid’s ability to hear what an enemy was planning on doing before they managed to do it.

Even with all that, she hated saying good-bye. She felt strange doing it. She felt like maybe everything seemed too perfect. That something had to go wrong.

Molt was the last to leave. He shot her an unreadable look before he stepped out the door. It sent a shiver down Joss’ spine.

Then he was gone and she was alone.

She waited a full hour before going out to explore.

Rath had told her before he left that she could go out to search for food and supplies. As long as she stayed close to camp, kept her bandu pole on her at all times, and was back before dark. She’d heard these rules plenty of times before, of course. He’d made a point of listing them for her every day from the moment she’d developed enough to understand them.

 

One – Never let your guard down.

Two – Always be one step ahead.

Three – Never leave camp without your bandu pole. The bandu pole is your best friend.

Four – Always ask for help if you need it.

Five – If you can’t win a fight, run!

Six – Never go anywhere alone, unless given permission to do otherwise.

Seven – Don’t let on that you can’t hear, if you can help it.

 

The list went on. Most of it was about her safety. Rath had made her practice screaming for help, much to the others’ displeasure. Young Joss had had way too much fun keeping her fingers on her throat and trying to produce the biggest possible sound vibrations.

“Just be safe,” Rath had said before he left.

She had hugged him tight, knowing how hard it was for him to allow her to go out alone without a partner. If he’d had his way, she would’ve stayed locked up the whole time they were gone. She suspected Het-Lei had had some influence on her situation.

So she struck out. Bandu pole tight in her grip, canvas bag hung over her shoulder. She had her hair tied back, but several wavy tendrils had escaped. Still, it was out of the way for the most part.

Kanid had planted some small, edible plants in a clearing in the nearby woods when they had first moved to their new home. She went to check on those first. They were still small, but the leaves were green and healthy looking. She offered them a sprinkle of water from her pouch, hoping they would thrive. So far Switch’s invention was keeping away the various woodland creatures that might be tempted to snack on Kanid’s garden. It was essentially a small, electrified fence. It delivered a small shock to anyone who tried to pass through it. Hartlings and cornils were deterred without being harmed. Insects were fried on the spot.

Joss, meanwhile, knew how to step over the thing. She did so now as she left the garden to soak up the bright sunlight.

There was a stream not too far from their home. She figured she could catch a few fish for her dinner. But as she turned to push her way out of the trees, she felt it. Just the slightest of vibrations in her bandu pole.

Someone was coming.

It was too big to be a Hartling. An Enforcer, perhaps? Or was she just being paranoid?

She kept her bandu pole pressed into the earth, not showing any sign that she had noticed something approaching.

The vibrations were getting stronger. He was behind her now. She took a deep breath. If it was a Goliath, she would employ Rule Number Five (If you can’t win a fight, run!). If it was a Kreech or a Bortol, she would fight. She’d been able to take those guys on since she was seven.

She waited just a moment longer, still feigning ignorance. The vibrations were stronger now. It was time.

She hefted the pole, spun it over her head, and whirled to face her attacker.

He seemed just as surprised to see her as she was to see him.

Despite the Enforcer armor he wore, Joss paused before attacking. He was limping terribly, his eyes wide and panicked.

Human? she thought.

She’d never seen a human Enforcer before, but there was no doubt that she was looking at one now. His skin and hair were dark, his hands worn and scarred.

Blood was seeping out from between his fingers where he was clutching his side, and he was holding most of his weight on his right leg. She noticed that his left leg was sticking out at a strange angle, as if the bone had been broken once and then set wrong.

As her eyes moved back up to his face, she realized he’d been talking.

When she just cocked her head and looked at him, he repeated himself. This time she was able to read his lips.

“Help me,” he pleaded. “They think I killed the Overseer.”

Then his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Look out for Chapter Seven over the next couple days!  Hopefully tomorrow, but I can’t promise that.

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News of Engagement

So I guess I am full of shame.  Shame on me!  No chapter update yesterday!

Well…I have an excuse.  I swear.

See I have this boyfriend.  And a couple weeks ago he and I ordered rings for each other from Etsy, agreeing that we would have two “proposal days.”  So yesterday my boyfriend’s ring arrived and I took him out to dinner and sorta proposed to him and long story short my boyfriend is now my fiance.  Understandable?

Great so now that we’re all caught up, I hope you’ll see that as a reasonable excuse.  Now, as for future chapters.  I know I’m only five in, but I’m already working on some editing, reworking the plot a bit, etc.  So it might be a few days before my next update.  This is due somewhat to my editing, but mostly to the fact that I am going to go be on an airplane very soon.  Going back home to visit the family for a week.  I have this inkling that I’m not going to get much blogging or writing done in that time.  Sorry.  But in a week or so I should have a new chapter for you!  I almost promise!

I bet you’re looking forward to that.

Okay that’s all I’ve got for ya.

Love,
Bex

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Chapter Five

Alright so this is where my perseverance is tested.  This is the last chapter I have written right now.  Which means if I want to keep going with the daily updates, I am going to have write a new chapter sometime between now and tomorrow afternoon.  Wish me luck!

Click here for Chapter One.  I will always link to Chapter One from now on because I trust you to be able to navigate to the chapters you may have missed on your own.

And now…

Chapter-Five

Paxton hit the wall of the training room and felt a lightning bolt of pain shoot through his skull.

Icthi began yelling at him in her native tongue, even though he’d told her many times over the past few weeks that he didn’t understand a word of it.

Training with her was certainly helping to build up his tolerance for pain. The first time they’d sparred, she had knocked the wind out of him and pinned him within thirty seconds.

After weeks of practice, he’d managed to survive almost three minutes in a match with her. He counted this as an improvement.

Icthi yelled something else at him.

“For the sake of the Overseer! I do not speak Samakese!”

“Then you will learn!” she spat, baring her pointed teeth.

Icthi was the first Samaki he’d encountered who could survive for so long out of water. Her gills would occasionally flap angrily, as if they were trying to find some, but other than that she gave no indication that she was suffering.

“I thought I was supposed to learn to fight. How is learning a foreign language going to help with that?”

“Because, trink, you are only going to get instructions in Samakese. So you’d better learn fast, or you will never get better.”

“Or you could give me the instructions in a language I understand, and then we’d actually get somewhere.”

“This is not just about fighting! Enforcers must be ready for anything! This includes hearing a foreign tongue. You also need to learn how to deal with frustration better. Keep your head clear. Now…kurakeh!”

She jabbed her insanely long bayonet at his feet and Paxton jumped out of the way.

“See? You can learn. Again! Kurakeh!

This went on for two more hours.

By the end of it, Paxton had a brand new set of bruises to call his own. And he’d learned three Samakese words.

Rix met him outside the sparring room.

“Mind if I walk with you?”

“As long as you don’t mind me limping,” Paxton groaned.

Rix laughed. “Yeah, that’s our Icthi. She’s a tough trainer, but if you ever beat her in a sparring match then you automatically know you’re ready to start fieldwork.”

“Does she train everybody?”

“She’s been the trainer for at least five years. She trained me, and I’m a better fighter for it.”

“Did she…has she always used her native tongue?”

“Oh yes.”

“But I thought…isn’t it…not allowed? Aren’t we required by law to speak Burgian?”

“We sure are. But Icthi decided she was above that law a long time ago. Funnily enough, no one’s ever called her on it. I can’t imagine why.”

Paxton laughed. “So did you have something you needed to talk to me about? Or are you just here to keep me company?”

“I’m here to tell you that you’ve been assigned a partner.”

“Oh yeah? Who?”

“You’re looking at him.”

“You’re kidding. I thought you already had a partner.”

Rix coughed uncomfortably as they left HQ and headed for the Enforcers’ private apartment block.

“My old partner…he was a double agent. A rebel who was trying to infiltrate us from the inside. What they did to him when they found out…it wasn’t pretty.”

“Shit. Remind me never to join the rebellion.”

“I hear you.”

They had reached Paxton’s apartment.

“Want to come in for a drink?” he offered.

“Nah,” Rix said. “I’m on solo duty tonight. But I’ll catch you later. I’m going to start showing you the ropes tomorrow. Gonna teach you all the stuff you need to know that isn’t about fighting.”

“Sounds like fun. I’ll see you then.”

“Bright and early,” Rix said, reaching out to shake Paxton’s hand.

They shook, and in that moment Paxton felt a folded piece of paper touch his palm. When Rix dropped his arm, Paxton curled his fingers around the note. Rix was looking him right in the eye. Paxton nodded at him ever so slightly. Rix smiled and nodded back. Then he turned and left.

Paxton waited until he was inside with the door locked to read the note.

 

Be careful what you say. There are recording devices in your armor that are never turned off.

 

Paxton felt himself go cold. Rix’s first partner must not have known about that. No wonder they caught him.

Paxton went to his room and very quickly shed his armor. He put it away in his closet and pulled on some street clothes.

“How was training?” his mother asked when he entered the kitchen.

It was still so shocking to him, the presence of a kitchen in his house. He and his mother had separate rooms, too. And a separate bathroom with a door that could be closed for privacy. It was all so unreal.

“Painful,” Paxton replied. “But I think I’m getting the hang of it.”

“I’m so glad, sweet.”

The tears in her eyes said otherwise.

Paxton wanted to hug her, to talk to her about Da. But if there were recording devices in his armor, well…he had no doubt that others could be found throughout the apartment building. It had been built for and by the Enforcers, after all. Korse probably spent every waking minute listening in on everything Paxton said. The head Enforcer hadn’t warmed up to him at all in these past weeks. It was…unsettling. He kept thinking he was going to turn a corner one day and see Korse standing there with an MWt-1000 aimed at his face.

That image would not leave his head. It haunted his dreams. He’d often wake up in a cold sweat after dreaming about a long, dark hallway and the business end of his boss’ most powerful laser.

Rix noticed Paxton’s reaction the next day when he started introducing him to the other standard-issue weapons, one of which was a laser.

“You okay? You look like you’re about to hurl.”

“I’m fine,” Paxton said quickly.

“If you say so.” Rix handed him the laser. It was made of a lightweight, white material. “All Enforcers need one of these. It’s state-of-the-art. MWt-500. It packs more of a punch than you’d think. There are two settings. Spurt and Continuous. The former will make the laser come out in small bursts, just like bullets. Use that setting if you want to take down a target without killing them. The wound cauterizes itself, so all you have to do is shoot out a leg and the target goes down with very little mess.

“Continuous is the one you’re used to hearing about. It’s a concentrated beam. It slices and dices. Can cut a Goliath in half from a distance of over half a mile. Use that setting when you get a kill order. Got all that?”

“I think so.”

“Good. There’s a holster right below your right hip.”

Paxton holstered his new laser.

“Bayonets for close combat and intimidation. Laser for long-distance incapacitation or termination. Clear enough?”

“Yeah.”

“Right. That’s pretty much all the rookies are given for protection. If you manage to live through your first couple years, you might get a couple flash-bangs and grenades. You need special clearance to use ‘em though, because if you aren’t careful you could end up hurting yourself and your fellow Enforcers instead of the intended target.”

“Um…I wasn’t aware Korse or anybody else cared if one of us fell in the line of duty.”

“You’d think,” Rix said. “But there’s this one grenade that spits paralyzing gas in all directions. One trink a couple years back took out himself and a dozen of his own with one of those things. Let an entire rebel group get away, laughing the whole while. Even had their own weapons looted right out of their armor. So…uh…yeah. Special clearance needed.”

“Right,” Paxton agreed. “Note to self: Be very careful with projectiles.”

“Absolutely.” Rix pointed to Paxton’s leg. “Time for first aid training. Press down on that little square button by your left calf.”

Paxton looked down and found the button. There was a rectangular protrusion on his left boot. It ran parallel to his calf. When he pressed down on the top of it, a long box ejected from the little slot right into his hand.

“Easy access to all the most important medicines and salves,” Rix explained. “We keep ‘em on the opposite side from our lasers to reduce confusion. You want to be able to go for your weapon with your dominant hand and your medical supplies with the other. Tulawea?”

“What?”

“Sorry. Icthi’s got me saying it. Understand?”

“Oh. Yeah. Tulawea.

Tulaweoh for ‘I understand.’”

“Okay. Tulaweoh.”

“Good. Remember that one. It’ll impress Icthi. Might even make her tolerate your presence a bit more. Okay, so open the box.”

Paxton opened the little rectangular box to find several small compartments.

“It’s color-coded so even the simplest of trinks can understand,” Rix explained. “Pink is your burn salve. You know…because burns turn pink on most skin. Rub that stuff on a burn and it’ll heal up within minutes. Tulawea?”

Tulaweoh.”

Rix smiled. “Good. Next…”

Paxton listened while Rix explained what each and every pill and balm were used for. Then Rix made him repeat it back several times over. Pink salve for burns. Black pills to heal headaches and some other minor head wounds. The red cream was for any wounds that were bleeding. It caused them to scab over immediately, and it accelerated the healing process. There were also green pills to take in case of poison ingestion. And swallowing just one of the white pills could cause broken bones to begin to knit, but it was important to set the break first. Otherwise the bone would heal incorrectly.

“Have you ever seen Yuli’s left arm?” Rix asked. “Yeah, he didn’t listen to instructions very well. Had to have his armor entirely remade because his arm bends in a different direction now.”

“Set the bone first,” Paxton said.

“You’d do well to remember that.”

“It’s remembered. I remember it. I have committed it to memory.”

“Good man. You can put the first aid back. We’ve got target practice now.”

“Sounds fun.”

Paxton closed his little medicine box and slipped it back into the compartment on the side of his boot. Once it had clicked into place, he straightened up and followed Rix down two floors to the shooting range.

It just so happened that Yuli was there, firing off a few rounds with his gun set on Spurt. Rix had not been exaggerating. Yuli’s left arm was bent at about a forty-five degree angle away from his body.

Set bone then take white pill. Got it, Paxton thought.

The next hour was spent firing at all sorts of targets, near and far. Paxton wasn’t too good at it at first, but by the end he was hitting bull’s-eyes.

With the gun in his hand, he felt powerful, like nothing could stop him.

Like he was ready for anything.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you’re still reading, I want to make a quick point of my use of words like “feet” and “miles.”  In the future I may change those words, but I think it might be unnecessary.  I know the setting for this book is an entirely different planet that probably has its own measurement system, but since you are reading it in English, doesn’t it make sense that you’d get the English translation for their measurements?  I don’t know.  I’m not big on making up random new words for things.  Sometimes it’s necessary, but I’d like to avoid an excess of new vocabulary.  Tulawea?  Kidding.  Sorry.  Hopefully that makes sense though.

Chapter Six tomorrow!

 

 

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Chapter Four

Chugging right along.  Here are the links for those who need to catch up:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Annnd noooooow…

Chapter-Four

“Do you know where your husband is tonight?”

“Hm?” Paxton’s mother wiped sleepily at her face as she tried to think. “He’s…well he’s at work. He works every night.”

Paxton cowered in the corner. He wasn’t sure his mother knew he was there. She’d put him to bed hours ago, but he’d woken up and snuck out when he heard the banging on the door.

“Your husband’s workplace has been searched. He is not present. You do know the penalty for missing work, don’t you?”

“No…I mean yes I do, but…but please understand…he’s got to be there.” Her voice started to get higher, her speech faster. “My husband…he would never. He wouldn’t do something like that. We have a son to think of.”

“He is not at work and he is not at home. We have no other facts to consider. If your husband returns home tonight, your first action will be to call us. If you fail to do so, well…” The large man in the scary armor paused and turned to stare right into Paxton’s eyes. “There are penalties for that as well.”

Paxton’s mother followed the Enforcer’s gaze and saw her son crouching in the corner. She burst into tears, much to Paxton’s confusion. He couldn’t understand it. Had they hurt her? He only ever cried like that when he fell down.

“Please! I’m sure there’s an explanation!”

“Call us the moment you hear from him.”

They turned and left.

Paxton’s father did not come back that night. Or the next day. Paxton had no idea how to make his mother feel better. She stared out the window most of the day, jumping up and running to the door every time she heard a noise.

He tried everything he could think of – games of hide-and-seek, sitting in her lap, asking her to tell him a story – but nothing seemed to work.

On the third day of this, there was a knock at the door. Both Paxton and his mother ran to answer it.

Nobody was standing outside, but there was a package on their front step.

Paxton’s mother opened it. On top of the packing material was a work schedule with a note that said she would be expected to begin at the factory that very night. She set the papers aside and Paxton watched as she dug beneath the crumpled packaging. Her eyes filled with tears as she drew a hand out of the box. The bloodied stump of a wrist was still dripping. An old, dirty wedding band clung to the ring finger.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Okay, so…that was fun, huh?  Chapter Five tomorrow.  And guess what?  I’m back to occasionally drawing comics!  Here’s one for you now!

Writer's-Block-Strip-42

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Chapter Three

I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for the third chapter of this book.  So sorry for the wait.  I had to go to work this morning, and that takes priority unfortunately.  I tried calling in with the “I have to blog” excuse before and it didn’t go over well.

But Chapter Three is here now, so you can all relax.  I even made a little animated header for it to celebrate me finally installing Photoshop Elements on my new computer.  And here are the links to chapters one and two if you missed them:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter-Three

Thirteen years ago, Kanid Et-Korrida was out foraging for food when he was distracted by the unexpected wail of a baby. Following the sound, he came to a clearing where a lone infant was lying, screaming up into the sky, its tiny face scrunched up and red.

Kanid had been around for twenty-five years on that planet. He was no naïve young pup. He knew a trap when he saw one.

Having a nose more like a dog’s than anything else, he took a deep breath in and scented the air. He picked up the smell of the baby immediately. It was unmistakable. Youth and tears and, well…it wasn’t exactly wearing a diaper.

Beyond that there were the smells of nature. Various woodland creatures, pine, oak, and something else…it was vaguely metallic.

Blood?

Was the baby bleeding?

Kanid couldn’t tell from that distance. Where his nose and ears helped him, his eyes failed him. He threw caution to the wind and ran up to the child, pulling it into his arms.

The trap sprung immediately. Six metal poles shot out of the earth, forming a perfect circle around them. That explained the metallic smell he’d picked up; the baby was definitely fine, if a bit…messy. Kanid could hear the hum of electricity passing through the poles. He had heard of this type of trap. If he tried to pass between any of the metal rods, they would immediately send up a wall of electricity, frying him and the baby on the spot.

Enforcers would have gotten a signal that the trap had been sprung.

He had maybe ten minutes before they arrived.

Thea, can you hear me?

He projected the thought as far as he could, even though he knew it would probably be useless. If he couldn’t sense Thea’s mind then there was no point trying to contact it. But…well, there was no point in sitting around either. He couldn’t fly, and there was no way he was digging. The Enforcers had probably planned on someone trying that. Plus…baby.

Theabella? If you’re around, this would be a good time to show up.

Ugh…what you gone done now?

Even in her head, she carried the signature accent and speech patterns of her people. She had been born to a large community that did not speak Borgian as a first language. The result was that she grew up speaking an odd, accented version of Borgian – the common tongue on this planet.

Thea, I have never been so happy to hear the sound of your thoughts. I’ll explain later. Come save me.

I always gotta be savin’ your furry ass, don’ I?

That’s why we travel in pairs, Theabear.

She appeared in front of him. Tall, lanky, jet black skin, and spindly legs with knees that bent backwards. Her eyes were huge, yellow orbs. Her nose and lips barely visible. She had a pair of pointed ears on top of her smooth head, like a cat’s.

And she had the power to teleport.

“You done found a baby?” she asked, her huge eyes getting even bigger.

I couldn’t just leave her.

“Ech. You and your sentiment, yeah?”

I have been sufficiently reprimanded. Can you get us out of here, please?

“Fine, fine. Just hold dat baby close.”

Kanid clutched the child to his chest and Thea took hold of his shoulder. The metal rods could do nothing to stop them as she transported them in the blink of an eye.

It took several jumps – Theabella could only teleport short distances, even shorter when she was taking others with her – but they eventually made it back to camp.

Camp, this time around, was a cave high up in the mountains. It was cozy. They had managed to expand it so there were several rooms. Everyone was waiting in the entrance of the cave for them to come back. They had a fire going, but just a small one. It was enough to keep warm and see by. That was all they could afford to have, especially since there wasn’t a lot of ventilation. But they made it work.

Click was standing guard at the entrance, so he was the first to see them.

“Eugh, what is that smell? Is…is that what I think it is?”

If you think it’s a baby, then you got it right, Kanid answered.

“Where the hell did you get a baby?”

Enforcer trap. May we come in, please?

“Yeah…sure.”

Click stepped aside, his grip relaxing on the gun he’d been carrying.

They met Click’s twin sister, Switch, at the fire. Their names weren’t really Click and Switch. It just happened that no one could pronounce their real names, so nicknames had been promptly assigned.

Molt and Het-Lei aren’t back yet? Kanid asked.

“They said they’d be back by sunset. They’re trying their hand at fishing today,” Switch said.

Kanid wasn’t overly worried about them. They could take care of themselves. Het-Lei was a shapeshifter, though he always looked slightly transparent no matter what form he was in. Molt was a mostly-human creature with long feathers instead of hair and a giant pair of wings on his back. His eyes were golden yellow with tiny pinpricks for pupils. Molt was a nickname that he had earned the first time he had shed all his feathers. It happened twice a year. He said his grandmother told him that it only happened once a year on the planet his ancestors were from, but then she had been brutally murdered in front of him and suddenly the difference between annual and biannual events didn’t seem all that important.

Between the two of them, not much posed a threat.

But Kanid wondered how they would feel about the baby. Het-Lei would probably be okay with it, but Molt tended to lean away from things like affection and sentiment. He believed they made a person weak.

“Please tell me that foul stench isn’t meant to be our dinner,” Rath said from where he stood, leaning against the back wall.

He was wearing his signature brimmed hat, the one with the band around the middle. He’d stolen it from an Enforcer’s house that he had looted. It was his trophy. It covered most of his perfectly combed white-blonde hair, and it was several shades lighter than his sun-darkened skin. Rath’s eyes were intelligent and dark, and there always seemed to be a laugh brewing beneath his smile.

He emerged slowly from the shadows and tipped his hat back.

He had a flare for the dramatic.

It’s a baby, for the last time.

“Kanid done gone soft,” Thea pitched in. “He picked up dat baby middle of a field. Done near got himself killed.”

“She needs to be cleaned,” Rath said, taking charge. “And we need to see if they planted a tracking chip in her before they stuck her in that trap. Switch?”

Switch stood up uncertainly.

“Rath, I’ve never used the jammer on a baby. The shock could hurt her.”

“They may already be tracking us. It’s the jammer or tossing her off a cliff. You pick.”

Switch nodded and ran to another part of the cave that she and Click used as their bedroom. She returned a moment later with a small device she had built that looked like a simple metal bracelet. When someone put it on their arm, it would send out a small shock that would destroy any microchips within the body. It had only ever been used on adults before.

Kanid held the baby still while Switch slipped the device onto its arm. She took a deep breath and activated the bracelet. A short burst of electricity shot into the child’s arm. She began to cry, and some of her hair stood on end, but other than that she appeared unharmed.

“Thank you,” Rath said. “I’ll go get her cleaned up now.”

He accepted the baby into his arms without question. She was still crying, but she began to quiet down as he rocked her back and forth.

Does this mean you’re taking responsibility for her? Kanid asked. Because I’m not so good with kids.

Rath looked down at the tiny thing in his arms. It was low to use a baby as bait, even for the Enforcers. One thing was sure. They would never be able to find her parents now. Any ties she had to them had just been destroyed by Switch’s machine. It was cruel to do that, but necessary. He couldn’t risk having the Enforcers find them before they found the parents. If the parents were even still alive, which was doubtful.

“I’ll keep an eye on the kid,” he said. “Did we find any food at all? Or are we going to have to eat the baby?”

“I done grabbed some things,” Thea said, pulling her bag off her shoulder. “Mushrooms…yes, before you ask, they not poisoned. I know now. Green spots good. Yellow spots bad.”

“Anything else?”

“Some berries, yeah? And I dug up some wild roots by that pond, you know? They be good to eat.”

“That’ll do. Click, do me a favor and mash up some of those berries. We need to feed this baby something.”

“Great,” Thea said. “I bring food. Kanid bring another mouth to feed.”

“You would have done the same,” Rath said.

Thea grumbled but fell quiet.

“What will you name her?” Switch asked, coming up to stroke the fine hairs on top of the baby’s head.

“I suppose she does need a name, doesn’t she?” Rath mused. “How about Josselyn?”

“Mmm…that’s pretty,” Switch said. “What do you suppose she is? Human?”

“I thought so at first,” he replied, “but look at those ears. Pointed. Mixed race, maybe?”

“It’s possible. If she had purple hair I could almost see her as a Delliakite.”

“I guess we’ll never know for sure. Only time will tell what surprises she’ll bring to the table. I’d better go get her cleaned up.”

Rath left the room, winding his way down toward the back of the cave where they had their water supply – a steady trickle of rainwater runoff that had carved a chute for itself right through the top of the mountain.

Rath cupped his hand under the small stream of water and began to rinse the baby as gently as he could. Joss began to make strange fussing sounds. She alternated between being extremely loud and almost inaudible. Rath cocked an eyebrow at her as he continued to wash her. She eventually got used to the feel of the water and settled down. He grabbed a small block of soap that Switch and Click had looted a few weeks earlier. After creating a sizable lather, he finished cleaning himself and the baby.

How’s she doing?

Rath looked up at Kanid and smiled, handing him the soap.

“She’s alright. There’s something off about the noises she makes, though. Can’t put my finger on it.”

She’s a baby. Isn’t she supposed to make noise?

“That’s just it. Sometimes she whines, and sometimes it looks like she’s trying to but can’t. Or she doesn’t notice that she isn’t making any noise.”

You’re probably overthinking it. That is your M.O. after all.

Kanid reached over the baby to get some water on his paws, which caused Joss to startle and begin crying. Again her wails alternated between ear-splitting and completely silent.

“She didn’t even know you were here,” Rath murmured.

Well I am very quiet. Maybe she didn’t hear me.

“I don’t think she can hear anything at all.”

Rath…tell me that’s not true.

“It’ll be okay, Kan.”

I should never have picked her up.

“You saved her.”

For how long? All it takes is for her to learn how to walk. Then she gets curious, wanders right out of camp. Someone or something comes up behind her. She’s dead. End of story.

“Stop being so negative. I’ll keep an eye on her.”

You can’t watch her all the time.

“I’ll teach her to survive, Kanid. If we turn her away or kill her, then we’re no better than they are.”

Kanid growled. She’s a liability!

“Then she will be my liability!”

Joss had fallen asleep sometime during their argument. She didn’t stir at all when Rath yelled.

Kanid said nothing.

“Finish cleaning up,” Rath instructed quietly. “I have to feed her.”

He pushed past Kanid and left.

Rath knew he shouldn’t have gotten mad. But the idea of leaving a defenseless child to die…it really riled him. Most of the people in their little group were only there because they had lost close friends or family to the Enforcers. He was no exception.

Looking down at the tiny thing in his arms, he found a smile.

He’d been the youngest of five, so he’d never really had a chance to try his hand at taking care of younger children.

“It’s never too late to start,” he said to the baby, though she didn’t hear him. “How hard could it be?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So that’s that.  I know it has some bugs to work out still.  I just want everyone to keep in mind that you are reading a skeleton.  It’s going to get its flesh and muscle and hair color later.  But hopefully it’s still entertaining.

Also I realize I’ve totally worked myself into a nice little corner over here.  I’m pretty much honor-bound to finish this book now, even if it ends up being terrible.  Frick.  I’d better get writing.

Tune in tomorrow for Chapter Four!

 

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