So, how have you been these past couple of days? Personally, my work-life-balance has been leaning towards the work side a bit, lately. Which is fine. I find being busy is great for my overall mental state. Of course, overdoing it is a thing, so I like to reward myself with extensive chill sessions later in the evening, reading a book, watching a film or listening to podcasts. Yeah, I got into those just recently, too 😛
(Oh, and by the way, if you ever have trouble getting to sleep with a head full of images and all-out crazy stuff — try listening to some late night jazz. Works wonders! 😀 )
Speaking of crazy stuff… Let’s get to it, shall we?
If you are new to my story, please consider starting with Chapter 1 🙂
Worlds Rising: Rebellion
Chapter 12, Part 1
Li Xiao followed Colonel Guo down the fighter’s ramp and towards the kneeling men on the field. The soles of their boots crunched the dry soil with every step, stirring up the dust again that had just been about to settle. The Colonel stopped in front of one kneeling man. “And here we are.”
The man didn’t look up or acknowledge him in any way and the coldness in Guo’s face devolved into an irked expression. He pulled his gun and knocked the barrel against the man’s temple. “At least you finally understand your place.”
This time the man flinched. He ground his teeth, but kept his silence still.
Li Xiao thought it odd, that Guo would take such an interest in him, even if he had been the one to lead the escape. Why would Guo take personal offense at that? Unless there was more to their relationship than met the eye. Li Xiao made a mental note to check on their history together.
He hadn’t received any detailed lists of the fugitives yet, but there were other means to find out more about the man. With a move of his chin Li Xiao activated a switch in his helmet and accessed the files he’d obtained after confronting his uncle. Scrolling through the helmet’s inner display he started an image search.
Judging by age, the man must have been part of the first test group. And there he was, in one of the older subdirectories: Ashok, eighteen years at the time of registration four years ago, third of five sons. Five! No wonder the scientists were so keen on getting a hold of him again. Li Xiao whistled softly through his teeth which earned him a stern look from Guo.
Still frowning, the colonel tapped the prisoner’s temple with the barrel of his gun one more time. Li Xiao expected him to protest against the abuse, but he only clenched his teeth, concentrating on a spot somewhere between the colonel’s feet. Ashok, huh? Li Xiao was definitely going to keep tabs on the guy.
As if he could read his mind the colonel grunted and said, “First Lieutenant Zhao, you take on this pathetic lot. Provide them with a special place in the back of our cargo hold.”
“Might as well take them back to base. I have no use for you here. Everyone else–follow me!”
“Aye… sir!” Li Xiao confirmed through clenched teeth. The arrogant bastard, sending him off like an errant boy! He put on what he hoped would be an unreadable mask and passed the orders to his men who herded the prisoners up the ramps of the transporters. Stalking back to his own fighter, Li Xiao cast dark glances at the colonel’s back.
Guo had almost reached the village, issuing more commands–something like ‘Comb through… fence… set up camp!’–before he got out of earshot.
Li Xiao decided to take this man down whatever the cost.
“Too late!” Fuming, Tarek crouched in the underbrush, white-hot anger constricting his chest. His field of vision narrowed, fraying at the rims, as he watched the ramps of the big aircraft raising. He wanted to smash something. “My brothers! What if they don’t come back this time? What if they just kill them!”
“Get a grip, will you?” Rona hissed. “Nothing’s lost just yet. We’ll buy their freedom. With this!” She patted the ‘communication device’ between them.
Lightning strike the cursed apparatus! If it hadn’t been for this thing he wouldn’t have wasted so much time away from home. Instead, he should have helped vacate the village as Ashok had proposed. Together. As family. If he had lost them through his own fault…
His frustration threatened to make itself heard, and he barely reigned himself in. He was a hunter. You don’t go yelling around while stalking your prey. Ha, who was he kidding? In reality those strangers were the hunters, and he the dog. He strained his neck muscles and shifted weight on his heels. During a hunt he was often forced to sit still for hours, blending in with the forest. Now he was barely able to check his twitching muscles. He wanted to fight. Wanted to avenge his brothers, put their enemies to flight! For the first time ever he thought himself capable of a bloodbath.
Pointless fantasies. Rona was right, the device was their only advantage now.
“Now or never”, he heard Rona say.
“Wait!” He grabbed her arm. “We can’t go straight up and give it to them! The’ll just take it and shoot us on the spot!”
“I know. That’s why I will go alone. You stay here and keep an eye on the device.”
The noise of the departing aircraft almost drowned out her voice. A chill ran down his spine when she avoided his gaze and handed him the gun. He grabbed it, automatically, tempted to feign ignorance. Against better judgement he objected, “I’ll go!”
Finally, she turned to face him, smiling. Wistfully, almost tenderly. A stab ran right through him. How long had it been since she’d last looked at him like this?
“You know that between the two of us I am the more skillful negotiator by far,” she said, still smiling. Her hair caught in a breeze, giving off a waft of lavender. “Your element is the woods. Hide the device well. And don’t come out till it’s safe.”
No! He fought her with his eyes. Even if it was true, he was no good at bargaining, how could he…?
“I need to see our daughter safe!” she urged.
And with that she’d won. He’d do anything for Noushka, Rona knew that, although the child had come between them the moment she was born. That hadn’t changed when her husband José hadn’t returned from a hunt. If anything, things got worse after that, with Rona feeling guilty and him not being able to console her.
He let go of her arm.
“Be careful,” he said. What an empty phrase. “I won’t desert you.”
Her gaze dropped to her arm–the spot where his hand had touched her–and nothing he could do to stop his heart beating faster.
“I know,” she said. Looking up, straight into his eyes, she sighed. “When all of this is over, let’s bury the past.”
His breath caught. “All of it?”
“Not all of it.”
And then she leaned over and touched her lips to his. Gently, only for the blink of an eye. Before he caught himself, she pulled away and scurried through the underbrush. Shaken, he let out his breath and followed her with his eyes as she stepped out of the safety of the trees into the plain wide-open.
~ to be continued! ~
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