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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