WR: Rebellion – Chapter 22

I usually like to start my posts with a few words about what’s going on in my life or the world in general… but I can’t really think of anything that’s news at the moment. And, frankly, I don’t really want to speak about all the madness in the world now.

Just so we don’t forget, a quick reminder: Wear a mask, keep a safe distance. Black lives matter and trans women are women. Be proud all year ’round. Be kind to one another and stand together!

And don’t forget to be good to yourself. Take a break!

Here’s a bit of reading:

If you are new to my story, please consider starting with Chapter 1



Worlds Rising: Rebellion

Chapter 22


Abbida’s eyes were burning. Her nose was stuffed, and she had a splitting headache from all the crying. No more tears were coming now, but whenever she pictured Cole’s face–worried when she panicked in the cold water, smiling encouragingly when she last held him–the reality of her loss overwhelmed her, wrenching dry sobs from her all over again. If she’d known that would be their very last embrace, she’d never have let go. How could she live on like this?

When her moans dried up, all she felt was empty. She had no idea how long she’d been cowering on the rocky ground, but when her mind cleared up, she realized Lian had been holding her this entire time. Too worn out to even feel embarrassed, Abbida wiped her face and sat up.

“I’m sorry,” she croaked, her voice so small she could hardly hear herself.

“Don’t be!” Lian cried. “Why would you…? Just get it out!”

Abbida sniffled and hung her head. There was nothing left.

A few paces away she could hear Li Xiao shuffle his feet, his face a living image of guilty feelings. And part of her wanted to blame it all on him! Had he been quicker to act, had he not selfishly jumped to save his own life, maybe he could have rescued Cole. He should at least have tried!

But the more reasonable part of her reminded her that none of this was his fault. If not for her and Cole he wouldn’t even be here–trapped in this mountain. He’d never asked to be kidnapped. If anyone was to blame, it was her. She should never have allowed Cole to stay back.

She sensed they were both waiting for her to say something, but she felt so drained, no words came. She might not ever be able to speak again without tears welling up, choking her and draining her of all sense of purpose. She swallowed hard, wrapped her arms around herself, and just sat there, lost, rocking back and forth on her heels.

She felt Lian’s concerned gaze on her, then her hand touched Abbida’s neck. “She’s freezing! We need to get her warm, or she’ll catch pneumonia.”

Abbida wanted to shrug her off, instead an uncontrolled shiver seized her. Puddles of water had formed under her. Now that she thought about it, she could hardly feel her toes.

Lian pulled out the clothes from Abbida’s satchel, but they were dripping wet. “This won’t do,” she said, and started to struggle out of her jacket, “Here, wear this.”

But before she even managed to open the clasps, Li Xiao had shrugged off his own jacket and held it out. “Your shirt’s in shreds, Huang Lian, you need your jacket. She can have mine.”

Lian hesitated, then with a quick bow, she accepted. His jacket was warm and large enough for Abbida to tug her legs in. A leaden tiredness overcame her as she dropped her head on her knees. Li Xiao’s fresh-spicy scent surrounded her. “Thank you,” she rasped.

“Sure,” he said, his own voice low, sounding tired. He pulled a med-kit from his uniform that looked just like Lian’s and tugged out a folded square of golden shimmering fabric. Spread out, the foil was the size of a blanket. “There,” he said, “that should keep you warm.”

He was going to place it over Abbida’s shoulders, when Lian stepped in, “Your gesture is much appreciated, Zhao Li Xiao, but you need to keep warm as well. I’ll share my blanket with her.”

For a moment, he seemed to object, then he shrugged and draped the foil over himself. Cowering down a little off to the side, he leaned his head back against a rock and closed his eyes.

Lian spread her foil over Abbida, then pulled another vial out of her kit and injected herself with a shot. Dark circles shadowed her eyes, and when she crawled in under the blanket, she sighed deeply, trying to ease into a somewhat comfortable position. “Sleep,” she said. “We all need a rest.”

Little by little Lian’s features smoothed out and her breathing came more evenly. Abbida wished she could sleep. She was so tired. All her limbs felt heavy as the rock they were buried under. Maybe she should just sleep forever.

Next to them, Li Xiao shifted his weight and shuffled his feet. “Is Huang Lian sleeping?”

Abbida nodded, too numb to answer.

“Good.”

He breathed audibly, then he sat still again. Time stretched, the minutes dripping by, with only the gurgling of the stream to be heard. Flowing past them as if nothing could hinder it. Nothing probably could. After all the racket of the earthquake, the quietness felt eerie, and new tears were forming in Abbida’s throat. Desperately, she tried holding it together.

Li Xiao cleared his throat. “Your skin… is this color common with your people?”

Her eyes flew open. That’s what he was thinking about?!

“No, it isn’t,” she said, fatigue draining out her anger, but not her bitterness. “I would have thought your people know all about that by now. Latisha and I are the only ones. She is my older sister. Not much older, only about two linears.”

“Two what? Ah, years.” He fell quiet. She thought he’d fallen asleep, when he shuffled his feet again and said, “Have we… met before?”

And suddenly Abbida’s memory was wrenched to a past that seemed so far removed from her present situation, and yet so similar: Now as then she was trapped, victim to circumstances she had not seen coming nor had any control over. As clear as if it hadn’t been more than four linears ago, the scene replayed before her inner eye. The smell of smoke coming from the village. The colonel, pressing a gun to her head. The cracking noise against her skull, when the safety lever was released. Her boost of fear when she thought he was going to shoot. Then the young lieutenant with the tattoo on his face, who stepped up and stopped him from pulling the trigger.

“So it really was you,” she whispered. Though she didn’t really want to talk, she forced herself to at least thank him. “You saved my life then. I will never forget this.”

He huffed. “And as a thanks you knocked me out, kidnapped me and stole my fighter.”

She cringed. It was true, but at the time they’d been mortal enemies. “What else could we have done? You were going to shoot us!”

“As we all know I hesitated. And look where that got me.”

Abbida drew the rustling blanket closer around herself. Lian stirred, and she froze, hoping not to wake her. But she only sighed in her sleep and breathed on evenly. How had things turned out this way? Not too long ago they had taken turns on holding each other at gun-point, and now she was keeping warm under Lian’s blanket, wearing Li Xiao’s jacket. This was beyond crazy.

“You fished me from the water when I was drowning,” Li Xiao said, softer now, and leaned back. “I think we’re even.”

When he turned off his lamp, only Abbida’s skin gave off a last bit of greenish shimmer. Li Xiao clucked his tongue, but didn’t comment on it anymore. In the twilight she regarded his silhouette, mulling over his unapproachable attitude. Though, he had given up his haughty tone since the cave-in.

The memory jumped at her like a wild beast. Cole! Was he really dead? Or was he lying buried underneath tons of rock, injured, waiting for help that would not come? The uncertainty drove her crazy! Her chest grew tight. She could hardly breathe, and this time she could no longer hold back the tears. Burying her head in her arms, she let them run, quietly.

At some point she must have fallen asleep.

She dreamed of being stuck in the drainage canal underneath the generator house. Hopelessly wedged in, she could not go on or retreat. She heard Cole calling for help, right behind her, but she couldn’t move, could not make her presence known. Her heart beat in her throat, choking her. Desperately, she sucked in air–and woke up.

Her heart beat like mad, like she’d been racing, but a cool draft brushed past her face, drying the sweat on her skin. The spot next to her was empty. When she craned her neck, she saw Lian sitting across from Li Xiao, her back against a pile of rocks while he was speaking to her in coarse whispers. Were they arguing?

“This can never work, Huang Lian! You need to be reasonable! I can help you! If you turn yourself in now, it can be considered good will. Otherwise, you’ll be court-martialed and end up before a firing squad!”

“First, they need to get me.”

He gave of an irritable growl. “How long do you think you can hide? The planet might be large, but how do you know there isn’t another ping sender hidden somewhere in your equipment? It might be giving away your position this very minute.”

“There isn’t. Security is my job, remember? If there were any hidden gizmos in my stuff, I’d know.”

“Whatever.” He huffed. “Either way, they’ll be on my tracks. The Guard are probably waiting for us on the other side of this damned mountain. They’ll grasp us as soon as we stick our noses out.”

“That’s my risk to take,” said Lian.

“But why?!” He forgot to whisper.

“To reach out to our lost brethren!” She threw her hand up, pointing over her head.

The what now? Abbida’s breath caught. In the sudden silence, she dared not move a muscle, so as not to draw their attention.

“Outside the system?!” Li Xiao squeaked. “I mean, even considering our extended life expectancy, you’d die before you even got there!”

Now, what was that supposed to mean?! Abbida barely refrained from jumping to her feet and assailing them with questions. Why did these people speak in riddles all the time? Instead, she bit her tongue and strained her ears.

“First we need to make contact again,” Lian said, with a sad undertone. “After all this time, they may have forgotten all about us out there.”

“Nobody knows what’s out there. They could all be dead.”

“We won’t know if we don’t try!” Lian hit the rock with her flat hand.

“You’ll never make it.”

Lian gave off a grunt and made to get up, but Li Xiao held out a hand. “Even if you did. Even if you succeeded, and someone actually answered from out there–you’d need a ship. Where would you get that?”

“Don’t underestimate my connections, Zhao Li Xiao. You might not be aware of how many people wish for a different life. A life of freedom.”

“That alone could get you a firing squad!” Then he snorted, “But I guess that’s just your point.”

After that neither said anything, and Abbida feared it was the end of their conversation. But Lian sat down again and leaned her head back against the rocks. The silence stretched into minutes. Just when Abbida thought they’d both fallen asleep, Li Xiao shuffled his feet in that characteristic way of his. “Suppose you do have a ship. And the right coordinates.”

“Hm,” Lian muttered, “then what? Would you want to join us?”

“Who…? Me?!”

“Think about it. Something is driving you to leave the palace or you wouldn’t have joined the Armed Forces. Am I wrong?”

Li Xiao’s blanket rustled, and Abbida pictured him crossing his arms in front of his chest, in his typical manner. “Even so! I’d never trade the palace for a tin can, even a large one! What kind of life is that? Always locked in. Without any prospect of living to see the end of the journey. I can hardly bear the thought of going home as it is! I mean–wouldn’t you miss all this? The vastness of the land, the air, all this life down here?”

“Down here, you say?” she mocked him, patting the rock next to her. More seriously she added, “Of course I’d miss Earth. But if ever I should have the privilege of a child of my own, I would want them to have real freedom. Not an optical illusion. What good is all this vastness, if we’re being watched and patronized every step of the way?”

He huffed. But he didn’t argue her point.

Apparently, this really marked the end of their conversation. After a while Lian got on her feet, groped her way back to Abbida and crawled under the blanket. She was shivering, and a giant yawn escaped her as she jiggled around, until she found a comfortable position. A moment later she was breathing evenly again.

Frustrated, Abbida bit her lips. Whatever they had been arguing about, she had no idea what it meant or how she could use it to help the village. She didn’t know anything! Partly this was her own fault for never taking interest in anything other than her work in the smithy and her squabbles with Latisha and Ilka. And with Cole, of course, but that thought she cut off immediately.

Instead, she replayed in her head what she’d learned. So, there were other colonies, other humans–way out there. Further than the moon? And that’s where Lian wanted to go? Had Ashok known any of this when he made his deal with her? Was that what he wanted, too?

It seemed so long, since she last spoke to him. Or any of her neighbors. Hard to believe it had only been a few circulations since the Return… Ashok had been ready to risk everything for Lian’s ideas. But was there even a real plan? Weren’t they all just stumbling around in the dark? And was Ashok even still alive?

More tears welled up, but she suppressed them. She didn’t want to think about death now.

A rustle made her look up. In the light of his hand lamp she could see Li Xiao pulling his blanket tighter. It was freezing and even with the blanket he must be cold without his jacket. Maybe she could offer to move a bit closer? But then he’d know she was awake. Also, he could always come sit with them if he actually wanted to, she told herself.

He turned off his light, and after a while she must have fallen asleep again. This time she dreamed she was back at the hunting cabin with her sister Latisha, trying to reassemble the water pump. But whatever she did, the parts wouldn’t fit together, and when next she looked, Latisha was gone. Instead, she found herself facing a stranger wearing odd garments and wielding a dusty pheasant tail feather with which he tickled her nose. With a start she woke up.

In her drowsiness it took her a moment to realize, the tickling came from Li Xiao’s hair! He had come to sit by her other side after all. In his sleep he’d slumped over, and now his bangs were brushing her face. His body radiated warmth, all his usual tension had seeped away.

At first, she didn’t know how to react. Cautiously, she pushed his shoulders to lean him back against the rock. He gave off a soft grunt, and his head slipped back onto her shoulder. Abbida tensed up, but he was sound asleep. By now her eyes were used to the darkness, and the faint green shimmer that still lingered on her skin was enough to look at him more closely.

Thick eyelashes were blanketing his cheeks. While awake, she had often noticed him grit his teeth. Now his face seemed relaxed, he breathed deeply through slightly parted, full lips. The sight woke a peculiar need to protect him. Which was ridiculous–he was her hostage!

Or was he?

She should be keeping her distance, but somehow she couldn’t bring herself to turn away. Taking in his faint, fresh-spicy scent, which she couldn’t name, she realized his presence wasn’t unappealing. Starting off as enemies, they had become allies by necessity. And she almost wished things could stay that way.

~ to be continued! ~

Thank you for reading!

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Peace!

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