Hello, dear reader! How have you been? I’m actually quite curious what the weather is like where you are. I have noticed viewers stopping by from many different places. From Germany, of course, from Switzerland, Austria and Czechoslovakia, from Luxemburg, France, Italy and Spain, from the UK, Sweden and Denmark, but also as far away as the US and Costa Rica, Panama, South Africa, Pakistan, India, Hong Kong, even Australia and New Zealand!
Wow, Joey’s Café has gained a truly international audience. I feel blessed!
Coming together is really what my story is all about. Thank you! ❤Tweet
So, what’s it like, wherever you live? In this part of the world fall has finally taken over. There was a very short intermediate late summer, and now the winds are picking up pace, trees are letting go of their leaves, and there is rain. Which is probably a good thing. Let’s not complain…
And what have our heroes been up to, you wonder? Let’s find out!
If you are new to my story, please consider starting with Chapter 1 🙂
Worlds Rising: Rebellion
Chapter 10, Part 1
Time seemed to evaporate. Nothing stirred, the breeze had died. Cold sweat dampened Abbida’s skin as she lay stiff and numb. Her heartbeat–rugged and painful–the only sensation to convince her she was alive. Get it together, now! Out here in the open, she was a sitting duck. She needed to move. But what about Lian? A few feet away she lay in a heap, arms and legs splayed. Her head was tilted in an awkward angle, facing towards the wreck. Was she breathing? Abbida couldn’t tell.
One by one, the jungle’s nocturnal sounds returned. Wind came up, rustling and sweeping the trees surrounding the wreck. Clouds skimming overhead, shrouding the moonlight. It was as good a cover as she would get. Inching forward, she reached out, brushing Lian’s uniform. The strangely smooth material send a tingle through her finger tips. No reaction from Lian. Abbida rose on her elbows and belly crawled closer for a more thorough look.
As far as she could tell, Lian hadn’t moved at all since she was shot down. Her eyes were scrunched shut, her mouth distorted as if from severe pain. Tense, Abbida bent over Lian’s badly bruised face. It wasn’t until her ear almost touched her cracked lips that she heard a faint wheezing and felt the tiniest whiff on her cheek. She was breathing! For reasons, she would have to explore another time, Abbida felt a wave of relieve wash over her.
Okay. Okay! What next? Though she couldn’t hear them, Rona and Tarek were still milling about, that much was certain. They needed to find a place to hide, asap. But how? Did she dare move Lian? She might have internal injuries, probably broken some ribs, maybe her neck! Was it safe to straighten it? But could she really make it any worse at this point?
Abbida moved to crouch directly behind Lians head. Gently, she lay her hands on either side of her face. Her skin felt cool and damp. A shiver ran through her body, the creases on her forehead deepening. Abbida felt sorry for having to move her at all, but straightening out her spine might somewhat ease the strain.
She took a deep breath. Now or never. As careful as possible, she lifted Lians head a fracture of an inch, easing the neck into a more natural position, little by little. Lian let out a long, guttural moan, startling Abbida.
Somewhere to her left a twig snapped, and goosebumps raced over her skin. They were coming! Feverishly, she considered her possibilities. Make a run for it and leave Lian to her enemies? They’d shot her once, they might do her in for good! And they might not stop at that. Shooting Lian from the rope, they had very well risked her crashing into Abbida, which might have killed or maimed her as well. Getting rid of any witness?
Abbida clenched her teeth. Sounds of twigs and leaves being trod on were drawing closer, and Abbida reached for Lian’s holster. She had no idea how to use that damned gun, but she would, if she had to! Pulling out the dreaded weapon, cold sweat trickled into her eyes. She blinked heavily, eyeing the surroundings. The trees and undergrowth made it difficult to advance the site of the wreck in at a straight line. She could hear footsteps behind them now, still off to the left, but where would they emerge?
“… can’t be far now,” she heard Rona whisper. Much closer than Abbida had hoped for. Tarek hissed something, barely audible. He was a hunter. He knew you were not supposed to let the wild know your position. Well, too late now! Abbida lifted the gun with both hands and pointed the barrel towards them. Precisely at that moment, Lian came to, letting out another deep moan of pain.
Alarmed, Abbida covered her mouth with a hand to cut the sound of. Weakened as she was, Lian tried to rear up. Abbida had to fight her, more sweat pelting both their foreheads now. In her other hand the gun drooped. How was she supposed to handle this?!
Thankfully, Lian loosened up. She stopped fighting Abbida, slumping back to the ground. Had she lost consciousness again? Cowering deep into the shadow of the wreck, Abbida hoped the shrubs provided enough cover to hide them both.
Behind them, Rona and Tarek gave up sneaking around, stepping out into the moonlight. Warily eyeing the underbrush, Tarek put himself between Rona and the wreck.
“… you sure, you hit her right?” she heard him grumble. “Should have let me shoot.”
“I am sure!” Rona hissed. “This weapon comes with a scope. She’s gotta be here, somewhere.”
“The girl might have moved her.”
“Why would she? That woman is as much her enemy as she is ours!”
“Is she?” Stepping around Rona, he put a hand to her chest, stopping her in her tracks. Abbida gaped. For a couple of heartbeats, neither of them stirred, gazes locked. Then, Rona shoved Tarek’s hand to the side. “I don’t need to justify myself to you. I am doing this for our child!”
Abbida almost dropped the gun. What was that supposed to mean? Tarek was Noushka’s father? Why would they keep this a secret? Unless… Her stomach tied itself into a knot.
When Noushka was born, Rona herself was barely grown up. Her husband was attacked by a crocodile during a hunt in the river land. Though his fellow hunters managed to kill the beast and pry him off, he died from wound infection, and the river land became taboo. Tarek must have been old enough to take part in the hunting. What if…? Was it possible, it hadn’t been an accident at all?
Overhead, branches rustled. Abbida swallowed, an acid taste on her tongue. Again, she took aim, but a shaky hand weighed hers down: Lian was awake! She tried to speak, but no sound escaped her lips.
“What?” Abbida mouthed, afraid to draw Rona’s or Tarek’s attention.
“Need to… unlock,” Lian breathed. She tried to reach up, but her eyes crossed and her head lolled back again. Abbida found the safety cap on the gun’s butt, lifted it and pushed the lever. A familiar cracking sound rung in her ears, startling her.
Thankfully, Rona was making enough noise of her own by now, as if beyond caring. Abbida would teach her otherwise! She took aim, and was just about to call out Rona’s name, when Lian grabbed her arm again. “No! If you miss… they know exactly where…”
“Then what am I supposed to do?!” Abbida whispered, breathless.
Li Xiao had been perching on a visitor’s chair in the outer office for almost half an hour, and he just about had it by now. Seemed, waiting was all he ever did since reporting for duty on Tou Hao station. And he got it–his uncle was a busy man, not to mention the complicated familial and political interrelations they were both subjected to. Li Xiao understood that quite well. Colonel Guo on the other hand had been hassling him ever since his first deployment planetside–just within the limits of regulations, naturally–for no good reason. And that, though technically, Li Xiao wasn’t even in his line of command.
After the station commander, the colonel served as the highest ranking Army officer at Tou Hao base, but, as member of the Space Force, Li Xiao didn’t report to him directly. With the colonel and Li Xiao’s squadron leader being third degree cousins, however, and both descending from the First House–if low ranking in succession–looking for any support from there was vain.
In the beginning of his current deployment, Li Xiao had hoped his recent betrothal to the First House’s principal heir might gain him some lenience. But the hostilities were just too deeply rooted: against his brother as alleged usurper of the throne, against the Second House in general, and against him as the designated successor to the patriarch apart from all else.
Some of it may be because of his lack of interest to stay in touch with the First House after the betrothal ceremony. His fiancée–it would take some time getting used to the thought–was a business woman to the core. She’d been leading the First House’s enterprises for more than two decades, and it was merely a matter of time before her father would hand over the scepter as head of family as well.
At their first private meeting, which had been dedicated to negotiations of marriage contracts as much as getting to know each other personally, both ‘parties’ had quickly realized this marriage would be of a strictly political nature. His wife-to-be had left there no doubt. There had been no further invitations on her part, and he wasn’t too keen on meeting with her himself. He would tie the knot–and thereafter nothing would change for him.
Eldest brother Shi Wei wasn’t going to resign for a long time. When he did, Li Xiao counted on his brother’s lawyers to have provisions in place that ensured the House of the Dragon’s position at the top of the hierarchy.
“Colonel Guo will receive you now, Lieutenant,” the senior clerk announced, pulling Li Xiao from his useless ruminations. He got up, straightened his uniform jacket and stepped into Guo’s office.
As always, his gaze fell onto the standards on the opposite wall: one in the colors of the regiment, and one of the homeland. Sloppily set up, they leaned into each other, partially covering the portrait of Zhao Shi Wei, Ninth Patriarch to the New Homeland and Haodang Long of the Oligarchy. It took one glance at the colonel’s meticulously tidy desk for Li Xiao to know the colonel wasn’t prone to negligence otherwise.
“First Lieutenant Zhao Li Xiao reporting for duty, Sir!”
The colonel leaned back in his chair, eyeing him up and down. A corner of his mouth twitched, but he kept his opinion to himself. “I hear, the Haodang Long insists on giving you access to the indigenes, Lieutenant–to get an idea of their knowledge and mindset.” He huffed. “I fail to see the benefits the homeland seeks to gain from that. Nevertheless, I have orders to give you clearance.”
Li Xiao stifled his reaction to this surprise as best as he could. “Does that mean I can visit the cells and laboratories?”
Colonel Guo grimaced. “Scientific facilities and cell sections are classified top secret. You’re allowed to speak to them in specifically assigned interview rooms. One at a time.”
Interview rooms. Interrogation room probably named it far more aptly.
“I’ll need access to the natives’ files and an assistant.”
“You’ll get the files.”
For a moment, Li Xiao debated insisting on an assistant, but thought better of it. He might be able to dig much deeper without any of the colonels spies lurking. He did make a mental note, though, to inform his brother of the questionable loyalty of some of his officers.
Then again, eldest brother Shi Wei probably knew that all along.
~ to be continued! ~
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