Talking Turkey

“You sure you saw that turkey run into the garden?”  Groover glanced at his companion as he tugged on the leather sling he grasped.

That seemed like a fair question considering that Squinto, a boy around Groover’s age, was probably the most nearsighted Wampanoag in his tribe.  They’d known each other for enough months to pick up on each other’s languages and communicate satisfactorily.

Squinto nodded as he pointed, rock in hand, toward the outer garden where Groover and the other pilgrims first learned how to plant corn, beans, and pumpkins in this new land.  “He must have gone there to hide.”

Hiding wouldn’t be too difficult.  The harvest was generous enough that Governor Bradford called for a feast to be shared with the local natives who taught the colonists how to foster the growth of those crops.  Many dry cornstalks were still veiled with bean vines, and remains of squash plants snaked over the grounds.

But feasts also needed plenty of meat.  Groover and Squinto weren’t quite big enough to go hunting with the men, but when they spied a turkey scampering along the edge of the woods this morning, they decided to make a contribution to the upcoming celebration.

“Let’s look for him.”  Groover stepped toward the garden.

Squinto accompanied him into the tattered crops that crackled as they pushed into the plot.  Sometimes they stopped to listen for their quarry moving about, but the turkey must have found a darn good hiding place that it refused to leave.

Then Squinto tripped.

Colorful feathers and leaves swirled in the air as the large bird leaped up from below him.  Groover was too close to sling a rock at it, but he was also close enough to snatch it by one leg.  He raised his other arm to protect himself from being bludgeoned by the flapping wings.

Squinto jumped toward them and grabbed the turkey’s wings to pin them down to its sides.

“No!  No!  You don’t want to gobble me up, you little nincompoops!”

The two lads stared at each other as they maintained their grips.  The turkey could talk?

Squinto blurted, “He speaks my language!”

“No.”  Groover frowned.  “He spoke my language.”

“Neither!”  The bird squawked again.  “I speak Fowl Language, which everybody understands.”

Squinto’s eyes widened, which he didn’t do very often.  “We might have caught the chief turkey!”

“Which means you must let me go!”  The feathered captive struggled and kicked, prompting Groover to grab its other leg as Squinto wrapped an arm around it.  “If you do not release me, I will cause blight upon your crops!”

“Too late.”  Although Groover was no longer inclined to eat it, there was no way he would give up showing a prize like this to everybody else.  “We’ve already harvested them.”

“I mean next year, you dolt!”

Squinto’s eyes narrowed again.  “Maybe we should heed him.  Offending the animal spirits can bring calamity.”

“Animal spirits?”  Groover stared at him with more intensity.  “Like a poultrygeist?”

“I haven’t heard of this one specifically, but he might lead all the turkeys and have special powers, like affecting the gardens.”

Groover appreciated the friendship he’d been able to cultivate with Squinto, but that explanation only made keeping their prisoner more desirable.  “We’ve got to take him back.  We could, I dunno, have the other kids give us candy to see him or something like that.”

The turkey craned its neck to glare back at him.  “Hey, dingbat, I’d tell you to stuff it if I didn’t think that would give you the wrong idea.”

Squinto tilted his head.  “Do you really want to keep this jerk around?”

The bird’s attention shot to him.  “I’ll give you a jerk you’ll never forget.”

Hmm, Squinto might have a point.  But if they released the turkey, it seemed they should be rewarded with more than simply not getting the crops blighted.

“We’ll make a deal with you.”  Groover grasped its legs more firmly.  “Grant each of us a wish, and we’ll let you go.”

“What do I look like?” their captive screeched.  “A bloody genie in a bottle?  Of all the imbeciles in the world, I had to end up with the two that have the most wind blowing between their ears.”

“Then what are you willing to trade for your freedom?”

“Oh, for the love of – fine, I just want to get your grubby hands off me.  Let me go, and I’ll tell you the secret of how we turkeys can help double your crop production.”

Squinto shook his head.  “If we let you go first, you will fly away without showing us.”

“Are you calling me a liar, lamebrain?”

Squinto shrugged before he replied, “Yes.”

“That so?  Then what reason do I have to believe the two of you will let me go after I tell you?”

“Because I don’t want to keep a scoundrel like you around.”

Their prisoner’s head twitched back and forth for a few seconds and then he said, “Okie-doke, I can actually see some logic there.  In that case, the first thing you have to do is get lots of turkeys to gather around your garden.”

This encounter was only getting stranger.  “And how are we supposed to do that?”

“Turkeys are curious.  You have to offer them something that they haven’t seen before.”

Squinto frowned.  “Like what?”

“A new dance.”

Groover resisted the temptation to squeeze his legs harder.  “You’re putting us on.”

“No, I’m trying to get you off me.  Turkeys are always on the lookout for new moves.  Put me down so you can show me if you’ve got the steps that will make them flock in.”

Squinto pursed his lips.  “Not unless you can promise to not fly away before we show you.”

“I promise.  If I take off before you show me your new turkey trot, may all my feathers fall out.”

“That would really happen?”  Groover squinted this time.

“You’re not from around these parts, are you?  I put a taboo on myself, hayseed, so if my feathers fall off, I’ll be one cold turkey.”

“It could be a potent taboo.”  Squinto nodded.  “He also doesn’t want us to see his dressing, because that would make him blush.”

Neither of them was making much sense, but since Groover had never met a magic turkey before, he was just going to have to follow along.  “Okay, then, we’ll set him down.”

They squatted slightly as Groover set its feet on the ground and Squinto removed his arm from its silvery body.  As the turkey shook itself, its golden tail feathers spread out.

“That’s funny.”  Groover glanced at his friend.  “Now that I’ve got a good look at him, I can see he’s not exactly like the other turkeys.”

Squinto leaned a little closer to the bird.  “He’s a Narragansett.”

“That’s better.”  The turkey looked up at them.  “Now, since I’ve got the drumsticks, do you want me to keep rhythm while you show me your dance?  Or will you just wing it?”

Groover didn’t know much about native dancing.  He looked at Squinto, who pursed his lips before responding.

“Your tribe has probably never seen how Groover’s people dance.  Let’s try that first.”  He looked at his companion.  “You can show me how.”

Well, that might help him feel a little more comfortable, but they still needed some kind of music.  A tune sprang to mind, and Groover started humming Turkey in the Straw.  He started to skip around the bird, and Squinto followed him.

The turkey bobbed its head.  “Hey, I think you’re on to something there.  Those kinds of moves should work.  But after you’ve drawn them in, you have to keep them in suspense so they’ll stay around.  Do you know how to keep turkeys in suspense?”

The lads shook their heads as they pranced around him.

“I’ll tell you later!”  He hopped into the air, flopped over, and then flapped away into the sky.

“Hey!”  Groover tried to grab for him, but wasn’t close enough this time to succeed.  As he watched it veer to the side and disappear into the woods, he glared at Squinto.  “I thought you said his feathers would fall out if he took off!”

Squinto shook his head.  “He stayed just long enough to watch our dance.”

“Great, not only is he gone, we’ve got no proof we saw a talking turkey.”

“At least he shouldn’t curse the crops.  But what was that he did before he flew off?  It looked like he rolled over.”

Groover contemplated that execution, and there seemed to be only one conclusion.

“I think he just flipped us the bird.”

###

Here is my contribution to this month’s #BlogBattle, and the prompt word this time is Cultivate.  Every now and then I have to go a little off the wall … but be sure to check out all the other submissions!

New and Improved?

Sometimes, understanding what makes a good story is almost visceral, an experience that can’t be wholly explained, but you know it when you read it.  Others make it a point to dissect the phenomenon and break it down into something comprehensible.

Let’s pretend there are writers out there who gazed at their own navels for so long that they decided the experience would render into great stories.  When the first novel hit the bookshelves, most readers were critical of it.  After all, it lacked plot and character development.

A few readers did relate to it, though, and other navel novels began surfacing.  While the majority still pointed out they were poorly written, others insisted it was just an alternative style.  Why be bound to the traditions of writing stories with tension and follow grammar rules?  This new genre simply threw off those constraints and claimed to be free and unfettered.

Those writers then insisted their genre shouldn’t just be a subcategory.  The hallmarks of navel novels should be adopted into all branches of fiction.

Many writers argued the tradition of storytelling had established that conflict and development were essential to a compelling narrative.  But anybody who resisted the new changes was labeled unimaginative.  And some writers went along with tearing down the old rules because they figured they should keep up with what was declared as the wave of the future, or because they were afraid of being called unimaginative.

As more books took on the elements of a navel novel, other stories that followed the established norms came under increasing attack.  Even the great novels in history were declared to be unenlightened, and book burnings were resurrected.

So did navel novels make the craft of writing better, or worse?  Some might argue that’s a matter of perception, but it seems that when guidelines have been established over the generations, they shouldn’t be readily dismissed.

It’s the novel idea that must shoulder the responsibility of arguing why the rule of thumb should change, considering the body of evidence….

 

Conflict of Interests

Tira glanced up from the ceramic bowl that she used to rub in dough as her fourteen-year-old son bounded into the kitchen.  Rhys usually bounded wherever he went.

“I had a dream last night about being a tracer.”  He stopped beside her and peered into the container.

Oh, knickers, not that rubbish again.  She had to look up slightly because he was already getting taller than her.  He’d just returned from morning chores and still hadn’t combed his hair, so the brown follicles were sticking in every direction.

“Where’s your tad?”

“You’re trying to change the subject.”  Rhys smirked.  “Or are you calling in reinforcements?”

“I don’t need reinforcements to keep you in line.”

His smirk deepened, much like how his father would smile when up to mischief.  “Tad wanted to scout the edge of the woods for chanterelles.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t go with him.”

“Still trying to change the subject.”  Rhys stepped to her other side and scanned the counter, probably hoping to discover a hapless ingredient he could toss into that bottomless pit masquerading as his stomach.  “You know, you can’t ultimately stop me from being a tracer.”

Tira grasped the edge of the bowl, the flour on her fingers providing extra grip, and locked her gaze on him.  “But the council can, which your tad and I are members of.  You know good and well why you can’t be a tracer, and your skills can be put to good use in other ways.”

“But I have unique skills.”  He bounced to the icebox and opened it.

A tremor rose from the pit of her own stomach.  “Which is exactly how they’ll figure out who you are.”

She could have added another statement, but the words were too sour to permit past her lips.

“I can keep the Legion from discovering whose son I am,” he said to the inside of the box.

“You just underestimated your enemy.”  Her fingers dipped back into the dough and curled into it with higher fervor.  “One good reason of many not to be a tracer.”

“You’re grasping for excuses.”

He closed the icebox and returned to her side in one long stride and a short step, half-full milk bottle clasped in one hand.  When he twisted off the lid and proceeded to drink from it, Tira didn’t scold him.  Rhys would easily finish it off.

She pulled her hands from the dough and rubbed its remnants off her fingers and into the bowl.  “Facts are not excuses.”

“There’s no fact they’ll discover who I am.  The Legion wants to kill all of us anyway, Mam, so how does my becoming a tracer really change anything?”

Ach, he’d gone and done it.  He’d practically said what she despised to utter.  Tira drew a deep breath to calm her increasing tremor because now she was going to have to speak those words.

She delivered her statement slowly and deliberately.  “If they find out who you are, they will kill you, and they will … take their time.  Never forget they nearly killed your tad years ago, and his power is greater than yours.”

“They were specifically looking for him.  One advantage of growing up in an underground society is we’re good at keeping secrets.  What if I promise that if I even suspect they’re figuring me out, I’ll withdraw from the tracer program?”

His proposal was surreal.  Rhys had mentioned interest in this vocation a handful of times over the past year, and he already knew why his parents were against it.

“Why you are trying to convince me?”  Tira picked up a hand towel on the end of the counter and wrung it as she wiped off her hands.  “Have you mentioned it to Tad this morning?”

“No, I thought I’d talk it over with you, first.”

“Trying to soften me up?  You should know that won’t work.”

He took another swig from the bottle, almost draining it, and studied her as he lowered it.  “My dream about being a tracer isn’t just some nocturnal vision.  I know I’d be good at this, and I like to travel and I like solving riddles and I like – using weapons.”

“And do you like having diabolical beings try to kill you?”

“Well,” he shrugged, and that impertinent smirk curled his lips again.  “Every job does have its drawbacks.”

“You’re refusing to take into account –”

From the mudroom that connected to the kitchen, the rattle of the back door opening interrupted her.  Rhys drained the bottle, set it on the counter, and flashed a grin at her.

“We’ll have to finish this later.  I’ll wash up for breakfast.”  And he romped across the kitchen to the stairs that he clamored up.

Tira stared after him, debating if she should call him back down and have his father settle the issue.  Settle?  Rhys knew why they were against his taking up such a dangerous occupation, especially one all the more dangerous for him.  Yet he wouldn’t let the matter drop.

To make it worse, he did have a point.  He would be good at being a tracer, tracking down and neutralizing creatures seeking the destruction of humanity.  He was, after all, his father’s son.

The fact his strength and his weakness were the same only muddled the matter … perhaps more than she’d been willing to admit earlier.  When his dream was her nightmare, was that all it took to prove she and his father were right?  Tira cast a glance toward her husband as he entered the kitchen.

No, Rhys should have to be the one to tell him about still wanting to be a tracer.

###

Here’s my story this month for #BlogBattle, and this time the word is Dream.  You’ll want to be sure to check out all the other contributions!

Wait Until After the Chickens Explode

Fall is a busy season around here.  Some crops in the garden are basically done, but some keep going until the first frost.  The other day we were warned such an event might happen, so I picked all the tomatoes.  Between the different varieties and levels of ripeness, the harvest turned out quite colorful:

 

Peanuts take the whole growing season, but frost meant it was time to harvest them, also.  Peanuts are weird.  Their tops bend to the soil so their seeds can grow underground.  This is what they look like when you pull them up:

 

Speaking of nuts (although peanuts are actually legumes), this is also the time of year those begin falling from the trees and bushes.  We’ve got black walnut, hickory, and hazelnuts growing around here, and trying to encourage pecans to take up residence.  You can see them here:

 

But summer has to end before fall advances, and one sign that we’ve reached that time of year is the chickens begin molting.  Their old feathers fall out as new feathers grow in.  And who knows, maybe that layer of feathers on the chicken coop floor helps them stay warm through the winter.  Regardless, it looks like they’ve been exploding:

 

So what’s the point of this ramble?  Maybe it’s a gentle reminder that sticking to a schedule helps us to accomplish things … like posting a blog … yeah, that sounds good….

Under the Sun – Part 2

Yanaba sat on wooden porch steps as she stared upon the rugged, rouge landscape stretching before her.  She knew what it looked like because home used to be in this area.  But her home was no more, and she gazed at the Arizona desert without seeing it.

Nor did she acknowledge the young woman who approached, the owner of this ramshackle house that was pockmarked with bullet holes.  Some of the windows were boarded up.  Mere weeks ago the building had been in better shape, but that was before the world ended.

The house Yanaba used to live in, a couple of miles from here, was now a pile of ash.

Her hostess leaned over slightly and said her name.

Yanaba didn’t reply.  There was nothing left to reply to.

“Yanaba.”  The woman actually tapped her shoulder, an assertive move for a traditional member of the Diné.  “There’s a couple here to see you.  The fellow says he traveled with you for a couple of weeks after the disaster.”

She understood the words, but they meant nothing.

The woman turned away from her and toward the man and woman that Yanaba barely noticed stroll from around the corner of the house and toward the porch.  “Like I told you, she’s not speaking.”

She did recognize the man’s voice, but it signified nothing.  “That’s quite all right if she only wants to listen.”

Odd, hearing him did a stir a question from the depths of her despair.  What was Fritz doing here?  The last time she saw him was when they parted ways in Colorado … was that a week ago?  How many weeks had it been since the solar storm took down the electrical grid?

Her hostess shrugged and walked away.  Fritz and his companion approached, and each sat on the bottom step, below the one where her feet rested.

Yanaba had never seen this woman before, but another question stirred before it drowned beneath her despair.  Was this the fiancée he told her about while they traveled together?  Like him, his companion appeared to be in her mid-twenties.  Svelte and dressed in a beige tee shirt and olive shorts, her raven tresses were pinned up.

Fritz clasped his hands together, between his knees.  Also dressed in tee shirt and shorts, his blond hair was in the same disarray it seemed to prefer, although he appeared to have recently trimmed the beard that started growing … was it nearly a month ago when the sun took out the grid?

“Hello, Yanaba.  We … heard about your loss.  I’m so sorry.  Words can’t express how terrible I feel about your husband and sons.”

Others had offered their condolences and had also needed consoling.  In the beginning of her end, she’d been able to mourn with them.  But now she was empty.  Ah, it had taken three weeks for her to travel across three-quarters of the country to get back to her family and confirm their safety.  But it had all been in vain.

If only she’d gotten here a few days earlier, she would have found them alive.  She might have been able to help them all escape the looters.  And if not, at least she could have died with them.

After about ten seconds of silence, Fritz continued.  “It’s the same story everywhere we go.  The cities are hellscapes.  Setting curfews doesn’t change human nature.  It’s like all the gangs think the electricity will come back on eventually and by then they’ll have reaped their profit.  I think too many people don’t realize how long a haul we’re in for.”

The world wasn’t going to end in a day.  When Fritz had traveled with her, each trying to get back to their families, they agreed that after the riots and looting, starvation would set in.  Disease would grow rampant.  This eschaton would be prolonged and painful.

“It’s a mixed bag out here, in the countryside.”  Fritz, who proved his determination the first day she met him, didn’t acquiesce to her silence.  “I truly wish your area hadn’t been one of the pockets for raiders.  When Meg and I decided to track you down, I expected to find you back with your family.”

He looked at his companion before returned his attention to Yanaba.  “By the way, I’d like you to meet my wife.”

Something flickered in her darkness.

Wife?  So they’d managed to find a minister and completed their commitment to each other?  Yes, deep down she was glad Fritz was successful with his quest, even though her own attempt had been totally fruitless….

“Meg, I’d like you meet Yanaba … the toughest U.S. house representative I’ve ever met.”

The blonde woman smiled, and her tone was warm and gentle.  “I know you’re the only representative he’s ever met, and I’m also sorry for your loss, especially when … it’s thanks to you that Fritz was able to get back to Colorado.”

“Meg and I still haven’t been able to track down our own parents, which is part of why I suggested we look you up.  I figured you’d be going back to Washington, and there’re some things you need to know.”

Maybe that flicker was because their marriage was a glimmer of hope in the gloom of destruction.  A dozen or so years ago, Yanaba had been as young as them, and as ideological and foolish.  Fritz was usually more perceptive about reality, but he was smitten by this young woman … they needed to understand that any attempts at normalcy were all vanity.

Her voice was raspy from a day of disuse.  “I’m not going back.”

The couple glanced at each other, and then Fritz sat straighter.  “You have to.”

His impertinence didn’t surprise her, but for the first time she found it annoying.  “No.  All any of us have left to do is die.”

They glanced at each other again, and Fritz shook his head before leaning toward Yanaba.  “I understand you’ve been knocked down after putting forth valiant effort.  I understand it gets hard to keep pulling yourself up.  But this is no time to give in.  You said you dove into the swamp to wrestle those slimy creatures.  Yanaba, the fight is just beginning.”

Meg took advantage of the fact she didn’t respond.  “We all know what happens during a crisis.  The authorities will overstep their bounds.  They’ll make things worse.  Fritz told me that you’re a warrior, and that’s exactly what we need to help keep them in check.”

Yanaba could see why he liked this girl.  “You expect too much of me.  I can’t stop them.”

Fritz replied, “You certainly can’t by yourself.  That’s why we’re offering to help, and to find others who will stand with us.”

“Don’t you see?” Yanaba actually looked at him, their preposterous proposal dragging her from the suffocating folds she’d surrendered to.  “There’s nothing left to fight for.  There’s nothing left.  Everybody who isn’t killed outright will die of starvation or disease.  Nobody can do a thing to change that.”

Fritz and his wife studied each other for a few seconds.  They’d been married for mere days, yet the way they regarded each other reminded Yanaba how she and Martial would share a look whenever the children presented them with life’s complications.  How could this couple already express similar familiarity?

She could suppose that deep down inside, they knew she was right.  They had little time left together, so would have to be quick about cultivating their relationship.

His gaze locked on Yanaba’s face.  “I’m sorry, but we’re not going to let you give up.”

She didn’t anticipate the growl that crept into her voice.  “It’s my right to give up.”

“That may be, but we weren’t put on this earth to surrender.  We really were put here to fight.”

“It will only be a fight to the death,” she replied.  “And nothing will be accomplished.”

“That’s not true.”  Meg’s voice betrayed determination.  “If we fight the good fight, then there’s everything to be gained.”

Yanaba stared at Fritz’s wife.  Wife.  Even though the world was ending, even though they knew there was no future, they just had to shake their fists at adversity by living as though they could possibly survive.

“Fight if you want.”  Yanaba turned her gaze back to the desert.  “You’re not dragging me into it.”

Fritz spoke bluntly.  “I may just have been a security officer, but I do know one of the arts of war is to gather allies.  You are a powerful ally, Yanaba, even if you don’t believe it.  And there’s another thing you’re wrong about.  You do have something left to fight for.”

This persistent Bilagáana was starting to get on her nerves.  With any luck, her return to silence would encourage these two to give up.

“An apocalypse hangs over us every day,” he continued.  “Global, national, personal.  The end always comes.  Sometimes we aren’t fully prepared for it.  But in one way or another, there’s always a new world to look forward to.  The road there is usually hard, but we believe it’s worth it.”

She refused to speak.  So he kept talking.

“And so do you.  You struggled, you braved hardships, to make it back to your home after this crash.”

Heat surged through her and entered her voice.  “I came back to ash.”

“And everything and everyone that stands against you is counting on your tragedy to make you surrender.  Then they win.  Do you want to hand victory over to them, or would you rather become an obstacle to them?”

Who were them?  The raiders that murdered her family?  The bureaucrats that would secure their own comfort at the expense of the populace?  The unseen entities of conquest, violence, famine and death?  Who was she to stand against them?

Then again, they drew first blood.  The heat within her subsided, but it only shifted from a raging conflagration threatening to consume everything to a robust blaze crackling on a hearth.  They were still out there.  They were guaranteed to come after her in any of their incarnations to lay claim to her life.

 Her family wouldn’t have surrendered to them.  Her husband would have fought to defend their children, even to the bitter end.  And now she was going to give up?

Would that dishonor her family’s memory?

Yanaba sat straighter as her gaze swung to Fritz.  “I knew you were trouble from the day I met you.  But … I’m willing to consider you might have a point.”

A smile touched his lips.  “Don’t consider this the beginning of the end.  We might just be facing the beginning after the end … and I’ll admit, that will be even harder.”

###

Here’s my contribution for this month’s #BlogBattle, and the word for this round is Eschaton.  Yep, it concludes the story from last month.  With a word this fun you don’t want to miss out on the other submissions!

Elephants Falling from the Sky

There’s a saying around our household that we use in reference to something that’s (extremely) unlikely to happen, and it’s when an elephant falls from the sky.

For example:  You should wear a helmet while working in the garden, so when an elephant falls from the sky you’ll be protected.

Sometimes getting plot points to flow together can challenge writers.  Many years ago I read about a serialization in a publication from even more years ago that ended with a cliffhanger each week.  One week the story left off with the hero trapped in the bottom of a very deep pit and no way to climb up the sides.

Next week, the story began with something like “With a mighty leap, Horatio escaped from the pit.”

Well, that was disappointing – not so much that Horatio escaped, but because the readers were presented an unsatisfactory solution to the problem.  An elephant might as well have fallen from the sky and missed our hero when it landed in the pit, and then Horatio could have climbed on top of it to get out.

Unless the hero had been established as somebody with superhuman jumping powers, such a solution only creates an elephant in the room.  Everybody knows the author set up a scenario for suspense, but then all the tension got lost in an out that was too easy and (extremely) unlikely.

Confronting such challenges can actually be a good way to get the creative juices flowing.  Should Horatio have wound up somewhere other than a pit?  Or does he find a secret door leading to a subterranean lair while trying to scale its walls?  These changes can tweak what the author originally intended, but they’ll also strengthen the story’s spirit.

Always remember, if there’s a loaded elephant gun in chapter one, it needs to be fired by chapter three.  Hmm, maybe that’s what makes those elephants fall from the sky….

 

Under the Sun – Part 1

Yanaba spied the stranger’s approach from the corner of her eye, and her alertness ascended to the next level.

“Maybe we can help each other out,” he murmured as he stepped to her side.

She shifted half a step away from him while sizing him up.  He was a young man, maybe mid-twenties.  Only a few inches taller than her, he had a lean build worthy of a track runner.  His blonde hair was a bit tousled, and there was stubble on his face.  His navy blazer, light blue shirt, and khakis were rumpled.  Although after what happened last week, most people looked rather frumpy these days.

“How so?”  She figured it was a good idea to determine his motivation.

Unless he was a complete loon, he surely wouldn’t try anything now.  About twenty National Guard personnel – a small fraction of their usual entirety – were milling about the school parking lot as they secured the dragged-out-of-retirement vehicles to deploy from the city of Paducah in Kentucky.

He slipped a blue knapsack off his shoulder and deposited it beside him on the pavement.  “I heard you get to hitch a ride with this caravan since you’re a congresswoman.  But peasants like me aren’t allowed.  Take me along as one of your staff, and I’ll see to it you get to your destination safely.”

How did he find out about her arrangement with the unit?  And did a threat lurk within that offer?

“I’m already surrounded by military.”

“Mm-hmm.”  He glanced at the soldiers and their equipment before returning his attention to her.  “But do you really trust every single one of them one hundred percent?  And riots have broken out in some places.  What if some gang gets cocky about raiding this convoy?”

“Does half a dozen dirty trucks pulled out of mothballs qualify as a convoy?”  As soon as the question escaped her lips, she regretted it.  What if he was a scout for some such gang, trying to mole his way in so he could compromise their defenses?

The left corner of his lip curled, and he stepped slightly in front of her.  His left hand tugged aside the front panel of his blazer, revealing a shoulder holster and the pistol it contained.

“All the more reason to carry extra protection.”  He slipped back to her side.

Although Yanaba’s glimpse of the weapon was fleeting, it appeared to be small caliber, perhaps only a .25.  Her husband would call it a lady’s gun.  This guy had taken a risk showing her that.  How could he assume she wouldn’t alert the nearby soldiers?

He quickly followed up.  “You know how to shoot a semi-automatic?”

She studied his face.  “Why do you ask?”

“Because this is the deal I’ll make with you:  get me on that caravan, and you get to carry the pistol.”

“You’d surrender it to me?”

“Only while we’re traveling together.”  He smirked.  “As soon as we part ways, I get it back.”

That seemed like another risk on his part, and maybe she could use that to dampen his enthusiasm.  “You trust me to give it back?”

“Fair enough, isn’t it?  We’ll have to trust each other.”

She wanted to concentrate on getting home, not on figuring out this guy’s angle.  For nearly a week now, ever since a solar storm of unprecedented magnitude leveled the electric grid and everything dependent upon it, she’d been trying to get back to her husband and two sons.

US representatives – especially freshmen – weren’t high enough on the food chain to commandeer any military transportation that was already stretched thin.  And fully cognizant that congress was impotent in addressing a coronal mass ejection, Yanaba had no qualms about joining the thousands, or probably hundreds of thousands, attempting to get home.

With what little influence she had, she’d managed to hop from unit to unit, helping to pack and unload supplies.  She was still only about a third of the way to her destination, but she’d managed to get this far without the aid of any staff.

“Where’d you get that, anyway?”  Maybe she could punch a hole in his story if it was cockamamie enough.

“Gift from my parents.  Years ago.”  He shrugged.  “I’m trying to get back to Colorado.  I was unfortunate enough to be attending a security conference in Lexington when all the lights went out.  It took me this long to walk this far.”

His right foot rose slightly as he twisted the sole toward her.  The leather sneakers were scuffed and tattered.

He lowered the foot.  “So I’d like to get home before spring turns into summer and I wind up barefoot.”

His reference to the conference smelled too convenient.  “What kind of security are you in?”

“Oh, right now I’m just a peon who helps make sure drugs don’t get smuggled out of the hospital.  The conference was supposed to upgrade my training, give me a nudge toward consultant or analyst work.”

Belittling himself seemed to be a habit, but it didn’t give her any real clue about what kind of person he was.  A conman would know some people might find the trait endearing.  And a conman could possess certain other skills….

“How did you find out about me hitching a ride with this unit?”

“When technology is kaput, the grapevine flourishes.”  The left corner of his mouth curled again.  “Sorting the truths from the lies was a formidable challenge, but I heard that skeleton military units were addressing the riots in the bigger cities, and occasional convoys would resupply them.

“I also heard they refuse to take civilian passengers because there are too darn many stranded folks like me trying to get home.  But if you have a clout, you know, like a politician, they’d make exceptions.  I overheard you making arrangements with them.”

Yanaba frowned.  “I don’t recall seeing you around here.”

“I was under a truck, fixing a leak, trying to ingratiate myself before using some fast talk on the friendliest-looking person I could find.”

She studied his disheveled clothes.  Yeah, he looked like he could have been crawling under trucks….

He asked, “What do you think of divine intervention?”

The question caught Yanaba off guard, causing her gaze to lock on his face for a few seconds.  As a woman of the Diné, more commonly known as Navajo, she harbored a hesitation for prolonged eye contact.  But sometimes, especially around any Bilagáana, she had to overcome that instinct.

The sentiment he’d just expressed was the sort of reference she rarely heard from others.  When she did, it usually meant she was among friends.

“Why do you ask?”

“Our meeting when we did, at the right place and the right time, can’t just be coincidence.  We can help each other get home.”  Soft intensity crept into his voice.  “I want to find my family and know that they’re safe.  I’m sure that’s what you’re trying to do.  We increase our odds if we join forces.”

No red flags were becoming apparent, but his suggestion of divine intervention had momentarily distracted her from some of the details in his story.  Had that been on purpose?

“If I decline your offer, will you resort to fast-talking the friendliest-looking soldier?”

His lips pursed and his brow furrowed.  “That depends … are you determined enough to get rid of me that you’d make sure I fail?”

She didn’t like playing hardball like this, but these were peculiar times.  The world was more dangerous now.  She had to assume everybody would have an ulterior motive of stealing whatever they could, with whatever devious plan they could come up with.

“Maybe you should just be grateful I don’t report what you’re packing to those soldiers.  Fair enough?”

He continued to study her, and she forced herself to keep her gaze locked with his.  This was no time to show any weakness.

His tone was slightly lower when he replied.  “Then I thank you for upholding my Second Amendment right, congresswoman.  I don’t suppose you can give me any tips for trying to catch a ride with anybody else?”

Maybe it was the disappointment in his voice, maybe it was the fact he remained polite with her, but something spurred that twist in the pit of her stomach.  She had no tips … and wished that she did.

“I’m sorry.”  A touch of regret managed to sneak into her voice.  “I’m barely able to keep up with these units as it is.  I don’t know about any other options.”

“Can’t blame you, of course, and can’t blame me for trying.  I knew it was a longshot.”  He picked up the knapsack.  “Hope your path stays safe.”

He slung the bag over his right shoulder and sauntered away from her.  Yanaba’s stomach wrenched again as he departed, never looking back, each step steady and deliberate.

He’d be all right.  He was young and fit – and resourceful.  Those shoes could hold up for many more miles.

No … this was wrong.

There was nothing new about living in peculiar times.  Suspicion and distrust reigned throughout history.  The world had earned its reputation for being cold and cruel.  But when people stood together, united in a common good, they persevered against iniquity.

He offered her the gun, for crying out loud.

Sometimes divine intervention had to be delivered with a smack.

“Wait a minute.”  She didn’t want to speak too loudly and draw attention from the soldiers.  But despite his leisurely pace, the fellow didn’t seem to hear her.

Yanaba broke into long strides to catch up to him.  “I just thought of something.”

He hesitated this time, and turned to face her.  “You have a suggestion?”

“Maybe we should introduce ourselves.”  She held out her hand.  “I’m Yanaba Todacheene.”

The shadow of a smile touched his lips before he grasped her hand.  “You’re right.  My apologies.  I’m Fritz, Fritz Kaufmann.”

“Well, Mr. Kaufmann, now that we’re no longer strangers, shall we discuss your idea in more detail?”

His smile broadened as he released her hand.  The ache in her stomach faded as he nodded.

“Please, just call me Fritz.  And thank you for such a wonderful suggestion.”

###

Here my contribution this month to #BlogBattle, and the prompt word used here is Peculiar.  Speaking of peculiar, you might have noticed the Part One designation, which means next month’s story will actually be related instead of the usual wildcard.

And don’t miss out on checking into what other writers submitted this month!

Words Mean Things

One of the many characteristics that separates humanity from the animals is our rich vocabulary.  Critters can get certain points across with a variety of calls and gestures, ranging from “I’m ready to reproduce” to “Get the #@%$ outta my territory.”

We have the ability to discuss deep and abstract topics because our language is so complex.  When our ancestors starting developing language, I’m sure the critters played a crucial role.  Hunters out in the forest needed to communicate quickly before their quarry got wind of them.  “There’s a bull on the hill” is more concise than “There’s an elk with antlers on that rise of land.”

Likewise, when a hunter brought a chunk of meat home to his wife, telling her “We got a bull” probably helped her decide how to cook it.  She might be more likely to throw it into a stew pot, whereas “We got a cow” could make her inclined to roast it on a spit.

When some wild critters were developed into livestock, farmers took their descriptive names to a whole new level.  You need a boar in order for the sow to farrow a litter of piglets.  Calling those young pigs “shoats” means they’ve been weaned, and the gilts are the females that are still under a year old.  What about the males?  Only a few grow up to be boars, while the rest are converted into barrows for the purpose of becoming pork.

(In the middle of that process, the opportunity for preparing a dish called “mountain oysters” arises, but we might save that for the topic of euphemisms.)

Writing – and communication in general – benefits from the precise meaning of words.  Being able to understand each other fosters good relations.

For instance, imagine a friend invited you over for a steak dinner.  You offer to bring some wine as your contribution.  When you arrive and hand a bottle of merlot to your host, he shrugs and mutters “I guess this will work.”

You sit down at the table and see a pork chop on your plate.  You squint at your friend.

“I thought you said we were having steak.”

“Yes,” he replies.  “This is white steak instead of red steak.”

His tepid acceptance of your bottle suddenly makes sense.  “Well, if you told me we were having pork chops instead of steaks, I would have brought a white wine instead of a red wine.”

And you might also be sorely tempted to invite him over one evening for a mess of mountain oysters….

Stone Altar

“I still don’t understand why destroying the egg is primary over killing the beast.”  Cadwalader glanced at his companion’s back as they trudged up scattered rocks and boulders that kept their progress to single file.

Since the two of them were alone, Malach wasn’t wearing his usual gloves or hooded cloak.  His tunic and trousers were much like Cadwalader’s, as was the sword sheathed in its scabbard.

“Understanding is not necessary for your task,” Malach replied.

Cadwalader frowned.  Despite living under Malach’s care for over fifteen years of his life, ever since he was a toddler, his companion’s reticence in sharing information always stymied him.  Yes, Malach held to the belief that experience was a more effective teacher than words, but sometimes Cadwalader would like to have more warning … especially when their quarry was a gwiber and its egg.

Except for some reason the egg was considered more a target than the serpent-like beast.  He was familiar with stories of such monsters, but having never seen one, considered their existence might be made-up … even though he kept company with Malach, another otherworldly being.

Interestingly, this gwiber had a name.  “Does Carrog have a weak spot?”

Malach halted and raised one hand, index finger up.  The nails on those fingers were more like claws – short, but still thick and pointed.

They’d reached a cleft in the towering rocks ahead, partially obscured by ferns and lichen growing on the mountaintop.  Malach turned halfway toward Cadwalader as he lowered his hand.

“Aim for his strength.”  At least Malach was going to answer his latest question, sort of.  “Keep your sword down, but if his throat swells, slice it.”

The pit of his stomach trembled.  “What will you do?”

“I will be engaged in slowing his advance, which requires my full concentration.  Also, if he decides to speak Cymraeg, expect deception.  Remember he is a liar.  And the most credible lies grow from a kernel of truth.”

Malach stepped into the crevice before Cadwalader could utter another question.

He followed his mentor, and within a few strides through a tunnel of stones, stepped into an opening of monolithic rocks angled toward the cloudy sky overhead.  Smaller stones littered the ground that was bare of any plant life.  The rocks congregated into a low mound, no higher than his knees, and cradled a mottled egg that would fill a bushel basket.

Malach motioned for Cadwalader to halt.  Nerves taut, he obeyed, and his mentor drew his sword and strode toward the nest.

A whirring rattle, like leather-strap ties humming in a gale, announced the arrival of the beast that soared over the far boulder.  Head like a fearsome lizard; neck long and muscular like a horse; smooth, green wings stretching from a muscular torso; and a thick, spiked tail contributed to its vague appearance of a hairless bat.

Still in the air, and well out of range of Malach’s sword, its throat swelled.  A blast of fire shot from its mouth and upon Malach, engulfing him in swirling flame.

The heat brushed Cadwalader even as he shuffled back, his heart skipping a beat.  Had he not known of Malach’s abilities, he would have surrendered to his urge to flee.

The fire flickered from existence, and Malach, standing with free hand spread open before his face, took one step back.  The gwiber known as Carrog alighted on the craggy nest.  It rested both front … feet … or knuckles … on either side of the egg and folded its wings against its ribs.

It pressed forward, but so did Malach, hand still outstretched, as he closed the gap between them to only a couple of paces.  The creature strained as though attempting to push through the wall of a hut.  But Malach’s ability to maintain an invisible force prevailed, and Carrog stopped lunging.

Cadwalader hoped neither noticed how his legs trembled as he stepped to his companion’s side and drew his own sword.  His attention locked on Carrog’s throat as he aimed the point of his weapon toward the ground.

The gwiber spoke.  It was a guttural, rough language that Cadwalader couldn’t understand.  And Malach replied in a similar manner, only not so gruff, as he lowered his outstretched hand to his chest.

For several minutes they conversed, and nothing in the tone of either suggested there was any friendly aspect in their discussion.  This was surely when Malach was trying to negotiate sparing Carrog’s life if the gwiber wouldn’t try to kill them for destroying the egg.

Cadwalader contemplated the events that brought them here while he waited for the outcome of this conversation.  Malach had learned another being like him roamed these lands.  But this one was trying to hatch a scheme bent on the destruction of Cadwalader’s people.  This Other had discovered Carrog, and encouraged it to join the devastation.

Apparently this plot involved procreating first.  And since there were no females among these otherworldly beings, Carrog had to fly to some distant land, accost a female serpent of enormous size, and bring back the egg that would have split her open as she had laid it.

A rumble that could only be a growl rolled from the monster as it glared at Malach.  Then its attention shifted to Cadwalader, and it spoke in Cymraeg.

“You agree to this?”

What did that question mean?  Cadwalader shot a very quick glance at his companion, but he didn’t want to remove his gaze from the creature’s throat for too long.  Malach’s focus remained on Carrog, offering no revelation.

His attention returned to the gwiber’s neck.  “I am willing to spare your life in exchange for the egg’s destruction.”

A different rumble escaped from Carrog, a deep staccato that was oddly familiar.  Was the gwiber laughing?

But its eyes, with the same swirling irises as Malach’s, still simmered with contempt.  “Is that all this deceiver told you?”

These questions weren’t getting any easier, so he might as well try to verbally parry with one of his own.  “What concern is it to you?”

“The concern is entirely yours.  You did not know you were supposed to sacrifice yourself as part of the bargain, did you?”

Cadwalader’s breath grew thin, but he dared not try to glance at his companion again.  Malach wouldn’t have saved his life all those years ago only to betray him now….

“You lie.”

“Do I?”  That eerie laughter rumbled from him again.  “Has he told you why he is willing to spare my life?”

His stomach tightened.  “Not yet.”

“Then allow me to illuminate you.  He cannot destroy me.  Thus he cannot destroy the egg unless I permit it.  In his grand delusion that he has turned to a lighted path, he has made a bargain with me.  Because he believes stopping Forcas’s agenda is the greater good, he offers me your life in exchange for the egg.”

Was Forcas the actual name of the Other?  But the matter of an exchange was more pressing for the moment, even though it was easy to discredit that claim … at least for the moment.

“Why would my life be considered a fair trade?”

Another ghoulish chuckle sent a chill racing down his back.  Carrog tilted its head to one side, and its lips drew back, revealing teeth like rusty daggers.

“Has the deceiver denied anything I said?”

Cadwalader risked another glance at Malach, who remained focused on the gwiber, the veins and tendons in the back of his hand more pronounced.  He’d said he would need all his concentration to keep this beast at bay.

His companion was always evasive about his past.  Cadwalader knew Malach had been devoted to the destruction of mankind long ago.  But for a reason he didn’t know, Malach had turned.

But had he turned less than Cadwalader assumed?  How much gray lay between darkness and light?  Would Malach really offer him as sacrifice because that was a lesser evil than allowing the Other’s plot to come to fruition?

These two did share a dark and distant kindred, and that was becoming more obvious.  They had the same swirling irises, similar claws, and sharp teeth.  One was called liar, the other deceiver….

Carrog raised its head and tried to lean closer to Cadwalader.  “Abandon this deceiver, for he has abandoned you.  If you believe he has trained you to resist Forcas, then flee to that fate.  We will meet again on the battlefield where you shall die … or you can simply flee, and live.”

And … was his life worth giving if he knew it would contribute to a greater good?  But he didn’t know….

“Determine for yourself what is truth for you.”  Carrog’s throat began swelling.

No more time for contemplation –

Cadwalader lunged forward and swept his sword beneath the beast’s jaws.  The blade ripped open skin and flesh, and a putrid rush of air, reeking like rotten egg, rolled over him as Carrog screeched.  He gagged and threw one arm over his nose and mouth, but stood ready to strike again with the other.

Carrog screeched once more.  It flapped back up into the air, and in the previous language snarled something to Malach.  Then it twisted as it turned away and soared back over the far boulder.

Cadwalader coughed as he tried to fan away the stench.  He turned to face Malach, who lowered his hand slowly as he gazed after the gwiber.

“I presume parts of its claim were true?” Cadwalader sputtered.

Malach glanced at him before returning his attention to the sky.  “Almost everything except sacrificing you to bring about a greater good.”

“You did not offer my life?”

“No, although Carrog wanted it.  I told him you were faithful.”  Malach’s gaze slid back to him.  “That if he didn’t surrender the egg, I could destroy him while you were at my side.”

Cadwalader stared at him.  “That still made me a target.”

“Because I held him back, he could only attack with fire.  You denied him that power by cutting his throat.  Then he believed both of us could defeat him, and his own life was more dear to him than this egg.”

He was finally able to start following Malach’s plan, but it still exhibited a major flaw.  “You could not tell me that before this encounter?  I actually questioned your motive.”

“Your fealty had to be proven.  If Carrog deduced you anticipated his challenge, he would have stood his ground to fight.  Together we are capable of defeating him, but he could still destroy either or both of us.”

Despite Cadwalader’s experience with unnatural creatures, they remained difficult to comprehend.  “Why would my loyalty to you make any difference?”

“My kind understand faithfulness, but do not embrace it.  We are too proud.  That is why we stir rebellion in mankind, to keep you from uniting in truth.  For if you ever did so, that is when our fall will be complete.  This is why Carrog fears your loyalty.”

He stared at his companion.  “You know you took a chance by counting on my fealty?”

Malach’s gaze softened … at least, that’s what it looked like.  Cadwalader questioned what he was seeing.  In his over fifteen years with this being, Malach had always been attentive yet aloof.  Something … that drew upon a connection to humanity … reflected in those enigmatic eyes.

“You underestimate the faith I have in you.”

Also not entirely like Malach … was his time living among mankind beginning to bring out more tender qualities?  “Yet you turned from your path before it crossed with mine.  Why?”

Malach’s attention returned to the egg as he raised his sword again.  “I learned atonement was possible for my kind, but only through the humanity we despise.  Let us finish the job.”

Cadwalader followed his companion’s lead in hacking open the hard shell, but his thoughts kept returning to Malach’s words.  How could mere men, wicked themselves, provide any means for atonement?

###

So here is my submission for #BlogBattle, and the word this month is Hatch.  Don’t miss out on all the other great stories!

Risk Assessment

Perado had already broken away from the rest of the crowd that disembarked from the passenger carrier when a rumble like thunder rolled behind them.

The others, mostly Zora like him but a few were other beings of various shapes and colors, were probably going to switch to aircraft or spacecraft at the busy transportation port where he worked.  Everybody hesitated, some glancing at the clear azure sky framing the high buildings that displayed every color his mineral-rich world of Dea offered.  Perado was among those who looked back where he believed the noise originated.

Yellow and green smoke rose in the distance, from the other end of the urban settlement.  His stomach wrenched and his heart pounded against his chest.

That looked awfully close to home … where troops of Voratene had been prowling this morning searching for an infamous human.  And his wife Ervina was still there.

Gasps and cries arose from others as they began comprehending what happened.  Perado hastily tapped a specific pattern on the lower part of the interlink cuff on his ruddy left wrist.  The screen flickered on, pulsed, but then returned to a dull gray.

The communication service at home was down.

Perado broke into a sprint, dodging past other members of the crowd.  He darted back on the transport that brought him here and burst into the cabin with the Zora pilots.

“Take this carrier back!”

Both of them gaped at him.  One had green skin and the other was blue like Ervina.

“We can’t go back there!” the green one protested.

Perado tapped the cuff again, and the screen lit up with his credential to authorize transportation exchanges.  He thrust it in front of their faces.

“I said take it back, now!  Maximum velocity!”

They grumbled, but obeyed.  Perado braced himself in the doorway and scanned through the screen on the cuff, his throat tightening with each nugget of information that surfaced.

Voratene sonic burst … troops used … pursing unspecified number of humans … purpose unknown … sonic burst to prevent escape….

And it all happened on the division where he lived with his wife.

The conversation they had that morning, before he left for work, replayed in his mind as he hoped it wouldn’t wind up being the last time he got to speak with her.

“Have you ever wondered why this liberator they’re looking for would be human?”  Ervina asked as they stood in their kitchen, after the Voratene troops left their masonry home.

He sipped his cup of swizzle in an effort to assuage his annoyance.  Looking upon her was at least an enjoyable distraction from the rude interruption of having their house searched.

The blue cast of her skin reflected the nickel-rich hills of the planet Dea, just as his ruddy complexion was reminiscent of the iron-laden plains.  Her navy hair was twisted in five ringlets that cascaded down her back.  She also wore that shimmering jade outfit that complemented her graceful figure.

“The Voratene are a scourge to all the races of the confederation.”  That didn’t exactly answer her question, but it was true.

Her cobalt lips pouted.  “Of all the worlds in the confederation, why would the race that has no world produce somebody to challenge their regime?”

Perado redirected his gaze to what of the amber liquid remained in his cup.  “Why not?”

Ervina rolled her head and returned her attention to the window where earlier she watched the Voratene troops leave to pound on the doors of other homes.  “I think it’s because humans have nothing left to lose.”

“That’s a brilliant theory.”

“But if they have nothing to lose, then what are they defending?”

Her topic of conversation dug deeper into his consternation.  “Humans share more than basic physical characteristics with us.  I understand it was their devotion for freedom that drove them to leave their own world.  They might be scattered on different planets now, but oppression is oppression.  Nobody likes it.”

“Then why do we put up with it?”

His heart skipped a beat.  “Careful.  The Voratene are hunting down a man based on the yammering of a Yuri.  If they overheard what you said, that’s enough to arrest you, or worse.”

“You know, I’ve wondered, do the rumors of this liberator do the rest of us a disservice?  Are we willing to hide behind a homeless race and submit to foreign rule while we wait for a man who might not exist?”

“The Voratene believe he exists, and if that distracts their predations from the rest of us, well….”  The end of his statement was as dangerous as her question.  “That frees us up to work on our own projects, unseen and unheard.”

Ervina tilted her head.  “Do you know of such … resistance projects?”

“No, and we’re better off if it stays that way.”  He swigged the rest of the swizzle, and set the cup in the lavage bin.

Her brow furrowed.  “Wouldn’t it be better to participate in an uprising against the Voratene regime than just wait for what might unfold?”

Perado tried to ignore the quiver in the pit of his stomach.  “You want to get us all killed?”

Her gaze leveled on his.  “I don’t want to be a Voratene subject for the rest of my life.”

“There’s nothing average folk like us can do.”

So when he left for work that morning, he was somewhat relieved to escape Ervina’s questions.  They only stirred his annoyance at the troops … but right now he’d give anything to speak with her again on any topic of her choosing.

The carrier didn’t reach a complete stop before he opened the portal and leaped out on the decking.  A chill coursed through him as he approached the ruined buildings lining a couple of the roadways.

Built from blocks saturated with copper, the cottages used to abut each other, creating soft-green rows of columns and arches.  Now sickly dust lingered over rubble piles, and the patina blocks were scarred with orange.

Several excavator craft hovered over a segment of the span’s remains, shifting blocks and debris onto a central mound.  A sparse line of Voratene forces pointed pulsar rifles at the mobs of shouting Zora.

The Voratene, generally only about half his height, looked especially squat in their brown uniforms.  He could tell they were barely mature because they didn’t have as large or as many warts on their heads as the older ones.

Perado’s cry joined the noise as he surged into the crowd.  Others grabbed at him as he broke through the front of it.

A searing blow in his upper left arm sent a convulsive charge through his body.  He fell back, and others caught him as they hollered at the troops.  Multiple hands supported him as he collapsed and wound up sitting on the flagstones.

A matronly woman of ruddy complexion kneeled beside him.  “Stay there.  You’re lucky they’re using low charges, and it wasn’t a lethal hit.”

As much as he wanted to stagger to his feet, he couldn’t.  “Why won’t they let us search for survivors?”

“They want to reclaim the humans first, see if any are alive.  Of course they hope the liberator is among them.”

“The vermin!”  The throbbing in his arm, where a trickle of blood left a blue trail down his sleeve, was insignificant compared to the agony in his heart.  “More of us will perish if we don’t get them out of there!”

“We know, but … the Voratene refuse.”

By the time the stunning effect of the charge relinquished enough for him to stand again, the Voratene retrieved the bodies and started moving out.  The excavator craft dispersed to sift throughout the rubble, and Perado surged ahead with the others to dig by hand.

There was nothing recognizable about his home.  It was even difficult to determine if he was the correct distance down the division.  But he began turning over blocks and tossing away mangled household items, calling Ervina’s name throughout.

After what felt like an eternity, he shoved one block over and uncovered shimmering green fabric.

Crying her name again, he pushed another block away.  The fabric was stained blue.

The soreness of his hands and weariness in his body did little to slow his frantic work.  Block by block he dug down to the body of his wife.  Her graceful form was now broken and twisted, the flattering outfit more blue than green.  When he was finally able to pull her out from the debris, Perado collapsed again and clutched her in his arms.

* * *

Funerals were supposed to help provide comfort to the living, but the mass service Perado attended the next day offered no consolation.  He felt the condolences he offered to others, but their commiseration meant nothing to him.

When finally he was alone at the patch of ground where Ervina’s ashes were buried, he kneeled and placed his hand on the beryl marker over her remains.

“I’m sorry you were a Voratene subject for the rest of your life.”

His fingers curled into a fist.

The troops had done nothing to assist the Zora, leaving them to cope with the carnage the Voratene created.  The wound they caused from their invasion long ago had become like a scar to him, a blemish that one simply grew accustomed to.

But now they’d reopened that wound … and made it worse.  And he wasn’t going to let them get away with it.

Those murderers, so confident they were superior and more valuable than any residents of the other worlds, were rattled by one rumor:  Among the humans was a liberator who would bring about the end of their regime.

This prophesied liberator they sought for could be on any populated planet, or any ship in space.  When the Voratene didn’t have a lead to follow, they resorted to occasional intrusions like yesterday in the hope of uncovering him accidentally.

If the liberator had been among those humans they downed with a sonic blast, they would have heralded his termination over all the reports.  But it must have been a group of people hiding out for different nefarious purposes.  The Voratene’s silence only condemned them more.

“But I promise you will not have died in vain,” he murmured to the marker.

He would begin with his career.  He would track down the itineraries of all their air and space craft.  He would locate projects of resistance.  He would betray the Voratene’s movements to them, enabling them to intercept shipments and create accidents for the enemy ships.

From there he would be forced to leave Dea, to disappear into the universe by way of a path he would have to discover when that time descended.  But he would be armed with all he’d learned and use it against the Voratene, until either he or they were vanquished.

In their eagerness to track down this liberator, they’d created him.  He, Perado, would see to it the Voratene regime fell, and thanks to their focus on the liberator, they’d never see or hear him coming.

After all, it was because of them he had nothing left to lose.

###

Here is my contribution for this month’s #BlogBattle, and the word this time is Scar.  Be sure to check into all the other stories!