THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION – Part Five

Part Five – Out of the frying pan and into the fire. On the planet Urwald, Solis Delacey’s shore leave party has been attacked by unknown assailants. DeLacey has escaped capture with the help of her crewmates, the arboreal Guiranam, but now they have been captured again by a group of the planet’s native

 

It took the three of them to carry her and these Urwaldians (if such they were) were not as considerate or as skillfull as the Guiranam had been. Twice they dropped her to the ground and the first time she tried to scramble away. That was when they bound her hands and feet with some kind of jungle creeper which was inflexible and impossible to break.

At one point one of the three wandered off somewhere else which just left two of them to carry her. They ended up dragging her behind them and her clothes that had already been torn were now in complete tatters. She could feel several deep scratches on her back and sides.

Soon the dense jungle gave way to a grassy clearing. The darkness was receding. Dawn was braking somewhere in the East and Solis could smell the unmistakable odors of a settlement — cooking fires, animals, ordure. She caught glimpses of a crude settlement — little more than grass huts arranged in a rough semi-circle.

The two Urwaldians dragged her to the rough centre of a space of bare earth around which the grass huts sat. They dropped her unceremoniously and then wandered away, talking to each other in gutteral grunts.

Solis was still bound. She tried to turn over so sit up. She saw other Urwaldians dragging some of the Guiranam the same way she had been dragged. She saw only three Guiranam and Ovrafa was not one of them. She must have gotten away with the others. At least Solis hoped so.

Her hands were bound in front of her. She managed to roll over on her side and pull her knees up. She stretched her bound hands above her head and managed to get to her hands and knees. The sunlight was growing stronger now and she could see clearly.

The village was a rough assembly of grass huts arranged around one permanent building made from rough-hewn logs. The Urwaldians were all milling about, those who were just waking conferring with those that had been part of the capture party. Solis estimated about fifty of them, all males. She wondered where the women and children were.

Holding her position was tiring so she slid back down on her stomach. The sun was warming her back which was screaming in agony from the scratches and being dragged for The Eternal Void knew how far. She closed her eyes and tried to ignore the pain.

The next thing she knew she was being jostled awake. She blinked and rolled over. She’d fallen asleep. How long?

An Urwaldian was standing over her, silhouetted against the noonday sun. The silhouette held a knife and it bent down towards her. Solace reached up her arms to ward him away but he grabbed her roughly, cutting the bonds around her wrists. He then cut the creepers tied at her ankles and then uttered a command in his gutteral speech.

Solis’s hands hand gone numb while she was sleeping and her legs were similarly useless. She tried to stand but found that she couldn’t. The Urwaldian grabbed her to help her up. Solis braced for another round of rough treatment, but this time the Urwaldian was surprisingly gentle. He carefully helped her as she limped along, trying to get the circulation going back in her legs.

The milling crowds of Urwaldians were gone. So were the Guiranam. The Urwaldian guided her to the wooden structure. The Urwaldians were inside, The structure was like some kind of community gathering place. The Urwaldians sat on the ground around a central space. The two Guiranam were already in the centre and Solis was led to them. She stood with her fellow engineers, gazing out at the crowd of purple skinned natives staring back at them.

“Are you two alright?” she asked the Guiranam, but before they could say anything an Urwaldian, an older one by the looks of his dusky pale skin, approached them. He wore a tattered shawl and a headdress and he carried a wooden staff as we moved his bent frame towards the center of the gathering.

The old Urwaldian spoke, his aged voice ringing around the hall as he addressed his fellows. Solis could not make anything out of his language. She had minored in linguistics at the Academy and spoke several galactic languages, but this language was idiosyncratic and difficult to follow.

The old native finished addressing his people, then he turned to Solis. He spoke to her in his language. Solis shook her head. “I don’t understand you,” She said in Galactic 1. The old native continued to speak. Solis tried Galactic 2, 3 and 5, but the Urwaldian did not respond.

On a whim she tried Scrazi, one of the newer languages used by the Diplomatic Corps. The old Urwaldian stopped speaking when he heard it and regarded Solis quizzically. Solis spoke some more: “Do you understand me? Do you recognize what I am saying? Do you speak this…?

“Fwuataazi…” the old native said. That was familiar. It was a word in Koh, a battle language related to Scalzi. Solis wansn’t as conversant in it but she tried it. “You speak? Understand?” she said.

The old Urwaldian nodded his head slowly. “Yes,” he said, hesitantly. “You come from sky?”

…to be continued

Are you enjoying this excerpt? Come back next week for part six. You can also read a full length Solis Delacey adventure. THE MASK OF ETERNITY is available as a hardcover, a trade paperback and on Kindle.

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THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION – Part Four

Solis DeLacey, after being assigned to a Kyann Ship for a lapse of judgement, was enjoying shore leave on a forested planet called Urwald. During the night their outpost is attacked and Solis manages to escape into the jungle.

2. AHNIKH

The jungle was whipping by her upside down. Creepers and branches slapped her face, her shoulders and her outstretched arms. She could feel hands grabbing at her waist and legs, hauling her up into the trees. She was dizzy and she felt her gorge become buoyant. Her dinner and the rasha were threatening to come back up, but she forced it down. If she threw up while she was upside down she felt she was liable to choke and suffocate.

She was suddenly turned the right way up. The world spun around her and she had to fight with her stomach again.

“We’ve got you, human girl,” a voice said in her ear. It was Ovrafa. She and another Guiranam had ahold of her from either side and they were making their way through the treetops at a dizzying pace. Several times it proved too much for her and she had to close her eyes, but with every movement she was afraid that she would slip from the Guiranam’s grip and fall to her death below.

Her stomach lurched one or two times during the passage even with her eyes closed. Once she was certain she was falling and she barely bit back a scream that wanted to escape from her lips.

The Guiranam’s progress slowed. She felt herself dipping down once – twice – then a third time. “Ground,” Ovrafa said and she felt the dense vegetation of the jungle floor beneath her feet.

She tried to stand upright but she could not keep her balance. She fell to her hands and knees. Ovrafa and the other Guiranam plopped down on either side of her.

They sat in silence for a moment, listening tensely for the sound of weapons fire or of soldiers moving through the jungle. All Solis could hear was the sounds of the jungle which seemed to loom darkly all around her.

“Who…who were they?” Solis asked, her voice barely above a whisper. Ovrafa looked at her, her eyes wide, but she shook her head.

Soon other Guiranam plopped down beside them. They were all silent and watchful. Solis could not see because of the darkness but she had the impression that all of the Guiranam were there. Their flight into the jungle had saved them all and Ovrafa and the other had saved Solis.

Once again, she thought. I owe my life to someone that I cannot repay.

Solis managed to sit up. Her cadet whites were torn and soiled and her hair was festooned with leaves and twigs from her passage. She was trying to pick them out but they were hopelessly tangled in her curls.

The Guiranam had begun to discuss the situation amongs themselves. Some of the senior engineers were arguing about what they should do. One of them, an older Guiranam, said that he was rated to fly shuttles. If they could get back to the shuttle they could perhaps fly back to the ship.

Solis shook her head. “The ship was attacked,” she said. The Guiranam all looked at her. “The Kyann pilots… they were in communication with the Kr’tk’tk. I heard the ship challenging an intruder and then the communication cut out. Even if you could get to the shuttle there might not be a ship to go to.”

“Who are they?” another Guiranam asked. “Why did they attack us?”

Solis shook her head but the other Guiranam began chattering, asking the same question and floating wild theories. The noise level began to rise and Solis was suddenly frightened that they would be discovered by the soldiers. Some of the other Guiranam tried to quiet the others but they just made the noise worse.

Solis stood up and began to move away from the group. She felt dizzy and exhausted and her stomach was lurching again. She told herself that she just needed to walk it off but in truth she was trying to put distance between herself and the chattering Guiranam. She was frightened of being discovered again.

The sound of the Guiranam receded behind her. The thick undergrowth threatened to trip her up a couple of times, but she managed to keep her feet. Her stomach was another matter. She leaned over and heaved its contents onto the ground.

When she finished she wiped her mouth with the back of a torn and soiled sleeve. The smell of what she’d thrown up — half digested dinner and Rasha — threatened to cause her stomach to heave again so she walked away, trying to be careful of her footing. She moved slowly in the dark until she could not smell the offending odor anymore.

She stopped and blinked, trying to make out her surroundings but the darkness was complete. She listened, trying to detect any sign of the Guiranam but she could hear nothing save for the sounds of the jungle at night.

Small fingers of panic began to write in her belly. Had she wandered too far? It would be easy to get lost in the jungle during daylight hours. In the blackness of night navigating was nearly impossible. If she couldn’t get back to the group…

She listened. She stood still and tried to pick out any familiar sound. She thought she could hear someone moving to her left but she wasn’t certain. “Ovrafa?” she hissed. “Anybody?”

Suddenly the trees around her were alive with movement. She could hear Guiranam hooting and shouting all around her. She could hear rustling all around her as if someone was running all around her.

The soldiers! Had they found them? Solis was rooted to the spot with fear.

Suddenly she could see a light moving through the trees. It flickered and bobbed up and down. then she saw a second and a third. Torches!

In the light of the flames she could see that torch bearers had dark, dark skin. They were tall and wore little or nothing in the way of clothing. She could hear them shouting and their speech was low and gutteral, almost a series of grunts. They did not speak any of the standard lingua, nor did they carry weapons.

Were they Urwald natives? Solis had not reviewed the survey files as her supervisors had suggested so she had no idea if the initial survey mentioned a native population or not.

Solis’ heart was hammering in her chest. In the torchlight she could see the newcomers trying to round up the Guiranam. The Guiranam were taking to the trees with screams and shouts. She saw two of the newcomers had grabbed one smaller Guiranam who was putting up a fight.

The area around her lit up. She turned. One of the natives was behind her with a torch.

He was humanoid and dark blue in color and he was covered in patches of bark-like skin. His forward-facing eyes were red and the skin on either side of his face swept up and backwards in four vaguely horn-like structures. His teeth shone whitely in the torchlight and he smiled.

Solis tried to back away but her foot caught in the tangled undergrowth and she went down on her ass. The native loomed over her with his torch. He uttered a gutteral shout and two of his fellows came running.

Once again hands were grabbing at her and Solis was being carried away in the dark.

…to be continued…

THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION – PART THREE

Solis Delacey and a landing party from the Kyann ship, the Kr’tl’tk are on shore leave on a forested planet called Urwald. Delacey has no trouble with the Guiranam engineers, but mistrusts her fellow humans, particularly a young man named Hathan whose advances she has found unsettling.

The Guiranam returned after dark. They were happier than Solis had ever seen them and they were boisterous and chattering about their day spent in the branches. Their cheerfulness was infectious and Solis felt happier than she had in a long time. The Kyann were more reserved but Solis could tell that they were pleased for their colleagues. When the Kyann smiled the sight was fearsome, but Solis was not intimidated, not since she learned that the Kyann no longer tore each other’s throats out to settle disputes.

The pre-fab’s stasis units were mostly depleted but there was more than enough left to feed their little group for longer than they planned to stay. An evening meal was soon prepared and the Guiranam and Kyann and Solis shared a table. Carstairs and Hathan ate at a separate table, huddled together in conversation.

The Kyann had a bottle of Rasha and Solis was given a glass and told to drink. It was a cloudy liquid with small white flecks floating among the murky depths. Solis took a hesitant sip. The stuff burned in her mouth and she swallowed instinctively and it burned the rest of the way down. She coughed violently and the Kyann and the Guiranam laughed uproariously.

They continued in good companionship for a short while longer. Solis nursed her Rasha but the Kyann and the Guiranam seemed to have no limit to the amount they could put away.

Urwald’s sun sank below the horizon and the Guiranam, tired from the day’s activities turned in one by one. Solis did not notice when Carstairs and Hathan had turned in but they were nowhere to be seen. The Kyann repaired to the communication alcove to report back to the Kr’tk’tk.

Solis wandered outside to enjoy the waning sunlight. The jungle seemed dark and cold in the darkness and it made her shiver. She hugged herself as she stared into the black mass of the dense greenery. The Guiranam had said that she sould join them when they went out again the next day. Solis would not be able to climb but she thought perhaps a hike through the trees might be pleasant. Looking at it now she was not so sure.

She re-entered the pre-fab. She was heading towards the stairs when saw the Kyann both hunched over the communication array, looks of intense consternation on their faces. Solis wandered over. They were intent on a communication. One of them increased the volume to the array’s speaker. The communication was coming through but it was garbled.

Solis felt a trickle of fear. She had spent enough time with the Kyann to recognize certain facial expressions and the expressions that these to wore now worried her.

The speaker gave forth a burst of static. She heard a voice shouting in Kyann — something about an approaching vessel. There was another squawk of static. Then a voice was demanding the intruder to identify itself. Another burst of static. Then shouted voices — a confusion of shouts and hurried commands.

Then silence.

The Kyann looked up, each regarding the other with shocked expressions. Solis felt fear like hot needles crawling in her stomach and over her scalp. “What’s happening?” she asked. Her voice sounded small in the sudden silence.

The two Kyann regarded her with haunted expressions. Before they could say anything there was a bright flash followed by a crack like thunder. The ground shook and Solis grabbed the back of a chair to steady herself.

The Kyann jumped up and ran to one of the pre-fab’s big windows. There was a flame in the distance. A patch of the grassland and part of the jungle was burning.

Solis saw shapes moving around the flames. Then came the unmistakable sound of weapons fire.

Suddenly the entire structure was awake. The Guiranam came racing down from the upper floors confused and shouting. The Kyann were shouting about weapons. “They’re in the shuttle!” the co-pilot shouted in Kyann. Without warning the Kyann raced out of the pre-fab.

Solis heard a staccato blast of weapons fire and saw the Kyann pilot fall into the long grass. In the stuttering light she could see dark figures in combat armor coming towards them.

The Guiranman were suddenly moving, fleeing the pre-fab. Solis found herself running with them. Weapons fire was deafening around her head as she ran out of the pre-fab and headed towards the dark jungle along with the rest of the screaming and hollering Guiranam.

She ran headlong and soon the dark jungle closed around her. The Guiranam took to the trees and soon she was on her own, a lone Terran on the ground running for her life and as frightened as she had ever been in her life.

As frightened as she had been of the dark jungle now it was her only sanctuary and she pushed as fast as she could, ignoring the branches and creepers and vines that whipped at her face, neck and shoulders and tried to keep her feet as the dense undergrowth threatened to trip her up again and again.

The sound of the weapons fire began to recede behind her but she could still see the occasional flash through the dense trees. She tried to calm her racing thoughts. What had happened? Had someone attacked the Kr’tk’tk? Had the ship been destroyed? But why? Why would anyone want to attack a Kyann ship? They weren’t on a military standing, it was just a routine Commonwealth mission? Why would someone attack them? And why would someone want to kill a group of engineers and one frightened cadet on the ground?

A root or a low branch caught her in the shin. Pain flared up her leg and she cried out as she went down. She held her hands out to break her fall, but it never came.

She felt hands grabbing her from behind and suddenly her stomach lurched as she felt herself being drawn upwards into the trees.

…to be continued…

THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION

Part two:

In the previous installment Solis DeLacey made a mistake that cost a beloved cadet her life. As punishment she has been transferred to a ship crewed by Kyann, an alien member of the ACSC.

The Kr’tl’tk was heading out into the Expansion zones. The passage required travel through two Hyperspace Conduits with some minor course corrections along the way.

The Kyann were courteous and respectful of their human guests. The Kr’tk’tk was a mixed ship. Aside from Kyan the crew consisted of Guiranam, J’onn and one Loucon. The Loucon naturally had to be in an atmosphere chamber.

Solis found herself working belowdecks with the engineering crew who were mostly Guiranam. The Guiranam were an arboreal species with prehensile toes. Their mechanical skills were second to none. Solis found herself sore and exhausted at the end of a workday just from trying to keep up with the rest of the crew.

After a week the Kr’tk’tk arrived at an Expansion world which the initial survey had called Urwald. Most of the planet was covered with thick jungle and the Guiranam became quite excited about the prospect of shore leave. “I need to climb,” Ovrafa, a female Guiranam on her team, said from the gantry above Solis.

Ovrafa was hanging upside down by her toes while she worked on the upper portions of an engine housing. Solis was on the floor working on the lower parts. “You climb all the time,” Solis said. “You’re up and down these engines all day.”

Ovrafa shook her head. “It ain’t the same thing, human girl. You’ll see.”

The next day the engineering crew, all the Guiranam, the two Kyann supervisors and Solis, were on a shuttle being buffeted by the atmosphere as it descended to Urwald’s surface.

Ovrafa was excited like all the Guiranam. She could hardly sit still in her seat. Two other Terrans, the older, balding officer whose name was Carstairs and the younger, thin-faced one, Hathan, were also with them. Carstairs frowned disapprovingly at the Guiranam wriggling like impatient children in their seats. Hathan sneered, but seemed to find it all amusing.

The shuttle touched down and the side hatch opened up. The Guiranam undid their harnesses and leaped out of their seats and out into the sunshine. Carstairs shook his head. “Goddamned monkeys,” he muttered and Hathan uttered a sharp laugh.

Solis stood blinking in the sunshine. The pilots had put down on a grassy plain. The grass was a sparkling yellow color and came up to mid-thigh on Solis. Most of the Guiranam disappeared in the long grass, only long lines of rustling indicating that they were there at all.

She stopped and looked up at the sky. It was a deep blue and the sun felt good on her upturned face. She closed her eyes and enjoyed its warmth.

“Nice, isn’t it?” A voice said from entirely too close. Solis started and opened her eyes. The thin-faced man — Hathan — was standing beside her, his lips curled in a smirk.

Solis began walking through the grass away from the shuttle. Hathan kept pace. Solis did not look at him but kept her eyes on the grass in front of her.

Carstairs was several paces ahead of them. The survey team had set up a pre-fab structure which they’d left in place once their survey was done. It stood on the edge of the grassy plain. The jungle began just beyond the pre-fab. It seemed to extend as far as she could see.

The Guiranam ignored the pre-fab and headed into the trees. Solis entered the structure which was designed to house thirty scientists and all their gear for up to a year. After years of hot bunking on the Empress Jade and the cramped quarters on the Kr’tk’tk the structure seemed like a palace.

The Kyann pilot and co-pilot were already inside setting up the communication gear to keep in contact with the ship. Carstairs tossed his duffel on the table. “I wonder if the Guiranam are going to spend their whole shore leave in the trees.”

Hathan let out a snort. “It’s safe to say we’ll have first choice of accommodations. It’s unlikely that we’ll have to double up.” he gave Solis a pointed look as he said it.

Solis ignored them both and headed up the stairs to the second floor. The rooms were all the same size but were luxuriously large compared to her most recent berth. Each unit had a single bed, a table, a workstation and a visiscreen for entertainment discs. There were a few in the cubicle beside it, obviously left behind by the survey tam. Solis glanced over the titles disinterestedly.

Each unit had a separate commode and shower. It would have been too much to expect a soaker tub but she would be grateful for it nonetheless. It would make a change from communal showers.

She also noted, with some relief, that she could lock the room’s door from inside.

 

to be continued…