The members of the Rangar Society gathered together, giving thanks to Obansa after gathering their equipment. They would be leaving as soon as prayers were complete after the first ray of morning light appeared.
The community gathered in family groups, waiting silently. Only the very young had slept after the events of the evening before. As prayers of thanks were being chanted, one outsider hugged herself and bit her lip. She didn’t want Parren leaving to investigate this unknown event. But she also knew without being told that her mate took her role in her society seriously in spite of her glib remarks.
Hyenta remembered her words the night before as she had gathered her weapons and equipment.
“Are you afraid?” she had asked of Parren.
“Of course. I’m no fool. But my duty is to protect this village. I can’t cower like a frightened child and hope whatever is out there is benevolent. The gods are fickle at best sometimes.”
“Promise me you will be careful. I don’t want to lose you now that I have given my heart to you,” Hyenta had whispered, embracing her mate.
Parren felt her stomach tighten even as her heart melted. She held Hyenta tightly against her, promising to do her best to return. She felt her wife’s warm tears as they traveled along her chest. They kissed and hugged for a long time until Parren could no longer delay leaving. Hyenta watched her as she walked into the predawn light to the temple.
Sopan placed a hand on her daughter-in-law’s shoulder silently. There was nothing that she could say to bring her comfort. The family would be gathering at the village’s edge shortly to watch the Rangar Society as they left.
After prayers, the fifteen men and the single female Rangar stepped onto the valley floor below their village and began their silent trek to the west. When they reached the posts that marked the entrance of their community the priest stopped.
“Look behind you to the village,” he commanded. “See the people who watch our departure? They are whom we protect,” he reminded them although it wasn’t necessary. They turned their gazes back to the west and continued on.
The protectors of the sky village hid along the edge of the cliff and looked down. In spite of the large drop to the bottom of the valley before them their eyes didn’t have far to look since the dark beast stood tall before them.
“What manner of monster has the Gods sent among us?” Jopa whispered. None had ever seen anything so huge, not even the h’le of the oceans was so large.
The priest was thinking hard, trying to recall the ancient texts. “Thrana, do you recall the story of the first ancients? About the vessels they traveled in?”
The Master Trader nodded. “Yes. And the gods sent forth a massive beast, hard as stone and cold as ice. The ancient peoples were swallowed in its belly and carried for many days, far more than the ancient ones could count,” he quoted.
“Yes, that’s the text I was trying to recall.”
The Trader asked the priest if he thought this the same beast.
“I don’t know. And if it is the same, is it here to bring us distant brothers or to take us back to our former world?”
The others in the party shivered. All they could do for now was watch and wait. The giant beast just stood there, silent except for an occasional hiss of wet breath that were released at times. For what it was waiting for none of them knew.
Shortly after high noon, Jopa shifted suddenly from his post. He whistled an alert to the others that quickly joined him.
They watched as the beast’s belly began moving as though a huge door opened and a flat tongue rolled out. None of the Rangar spoke as they watched.
Something left the beast’s body as the men stared. The item was not a living thing as they understood it but it moved smoothly down the flat tongue to the ground below.
Once it reached the ground it traveled a short distance and stopped. To the men’s surprise two wing-like things swung from its body and men appeared!
“They look somewhat like us,” the priest whispered in amazement.
“Yes, a little,” Hanpa whispered back. “But they look so pale. And the clothing they wear, so strange.”
“That one is not pale,” Jopa noted, pointing to another figure that exited the smaller beast. The man had very dark skin, much darker than those of the Hannocks that lived by the ocean did.
Another beast left the stomach of the tallest beast and joined the other. The Rangar watched but could only guess at what they were doing. They were too far away to see many details or hear what they strangers said.
The two smaller beasts once more took the men inside of them and moved away, leaving the giant beast behind.
The priest turned to the others. “Jopa, Parren, and Jomna, go down to the beast and investigate. Be careful. The rest of us will follow the tracks of those other creatures and see where they go. Wait for us there, by the Roca stone. We will return when we can.” The two groups separated.
It took quite a while for the trio to work their way to the valley floor to the beast.
The acolyte told the other two to wait. “I have to piss before we get there,” he muttered and stopped by a tree. Jopa thought it was a good idea and joined him. Parren would have laughed if the situation wasn’t so serious.
Once finished they asked if she needed to relieve her bladder but she was fine. “Let’s just get this over with.”
They crept towards the great beast but it never made a sound. It was Jopa who first approached the creature, reaching out his hand to touch it.
“It’s metal!” he hissed in surprise. The other two stepped forward to confirm his announcement. Parren quickly pulled her hand away. Something about being near the metal beast seemed dangerous. She felt as though small insects were crawling along her skin.
“Let’s move away from it,” she suggested.
They circled the beast at a larger distance until they could look inside the open doorway. They couldn’t see anything inside but Parren could hear a strange noise. It almost sounded like music but it was erratic and irritating. She motioned the others to remain where they were. If it was dangerous to enter then there was no use having all of them die.
She stepped up onto the hard ramp and into the shadowy beast.
Frank tossed his beer can into the recycle unit and let out a loud belch. “What a boring hunk of rock,” he complained to Pete and Fernando.
“You got that right, amigo,” Fernando replied. “Just a bunch of rocks and sand around here. I hope those readings were real cuz I sure would hate to stick around here for long for nothing.”
“But think of the money we’d make on it if the readings are accurate. No taxes on a restricted planet so all the more for us to share,” he grinned. He swatted Pete with the back of his hand but his grin disappeared when the motion detector blinked.
“Shhh, something is out there.” Frank picked up his weapon as Pete flipped on the monitors to the cameras.
“No…wait, there! Something moved on the ramp but its in the shadows and hard to see. Pretty big.”
Fernando grabbed his weapon as well. The three men stepped out of the room and headed for the ramp, hoping some animal didn’t come inside. They had left it wide open to let some fresh air in.
At the end of the corridor they flipped on the launch bay camera but didn’t see anything. “I think it went away. Let’s at least put down the grate door before something makes itself at home,” Pete suggested. He pulled the handle to the air lock door and gasped as a pair frightened eyes met his.
“Shit!” he exclaimed and the three men pointed their rifles in reaction.
“Don’t shoot!” Fernando yelled. He pushed the other men’s rifles up and away from the intruder. He had realized it was a young woman that looked human.
The young woman looked at each of them with wide dark eyes and open mouth then began backing away.
“Please, wait!” he said forgetting she wouldn’t understand them in spite of her human appearance. She was dressed like a primitive and probably one of the natives they had read about.
Amazingly, the woman stopped and looked at them as though she understood.
“Do you understand me, señorita?” he asked the girl. She spoke in a dialect he never heard before.
“Well, she’s not from Earth or a colony since the translator isn’t kicking in,” Frank commented. “But I think I’ll like the natives if they all go around showing off their tits like that,” he added, leering at her bare breasts.
Parren’s fear suddenly turned to outrage. The stone that the priest had given her had worked as he had said, allowing her to understand their words. She had placed it into her ear when she had heard voices but didn’t understand the words.
But those words she understood and the lustful look on his face made it clear what he wished. Didn’t he see that she no longer wore the woven bracelet of an unattached woman? The dog had no right to look at her in that manner for she was a married woman. She pulled her knife from her belt, furious.
“Whoa! Frank, she may not understand English but she can read your face. Get your mind out of the gutter before you get a knife in the guts,” Fernando ordered as he stepped between the two of them. The woman pointed her knife at Frank and uttered what had to be a threat to cut off his manhood.
The Spaniard ordered Frank from the room while he and Pete tried to smooth things over with the native girl. She relaxed slightly and he gingerly placed his hand on her shoulder and was careful to keep his expression friendly as he spoke softly. She glanced at his hand so he withdrew it and she put away her knife. She turned away from the two men and shouted to someone outside the ship.
It was unsurprising when two men appeared. Perhaps one was her kin or husband.
Jopa gave his friend a look and made sure she was okay. He saw no injuries and stepped closer, glancing at the strangely garbed men. “Are you alright?” he asked Parren.
“I’m fine although the man who just left the room might yet feel my blade if he looks at me again,” she muttered. “So far these two seem friendly. They don’t speak any language we know but I understand a little of what they say,” she mentioned without telling them about the stone the High One had given her. They would attribute it to her talent for languages.
The dark-haired man made motions of offering them something to drink and Parren nodded. He disappeared for a minute and returned with several cylindrical items, handing one to each to them. The items were cold to their surprise. They stared at them, having no clue, so the man took the one from Jomna’s hand and popped it open, startling the trio. He took a sip from it and handed it back. Parren and Jopa fingered the metal tab and jumped when it released air. Parren sniffed at the can but smelled nothing harmful.
“Let me try it first in case it is bad for us,” Jomna suggested. He took a sip and they waited several minutes before he nodded for them to try it. The liquid was cold and sweet. Parren wasn’t sure she liked it but drank to be polite. The man smiled and said it was called ‘kohk’.
Jopa began wandering in the huge bay, looking at the silent metal beasts sitting there. He touched them carefully, unsure if they were dangerous. One of them had a window open so he peered inside. A round object was inside and he touched it. When the beast bellowed Jopa fell back in surprise. “I’m sorry!” he told the beast.
The two strangers laughed. Parren knew they found Jopa funny but since she knew little of their ways she had no clue why they were amused. She thought it unkind of them to laugh at her friend’s discomfort.
“Let’s wander around a bit. I want them to talk amongst themselves. Maybe I can find out why they are here.”
“Why don’t you ask them if you know a few of their words?” Jomna asked.
“Because I don’t want them to know I understand any of their words,” she explained.
The strangers seemed accepting of the trio walking around the large room and chatted softly. Parren tried to stay within earshot of the two men, listening intently. She didn’t understand what half the words were. What exactly was a fed-er-al coal-e-shun or a restricted plah net? She had no inkling of what the words meant.
All she knew was with each sentence she felt more uneasy. She glanced outside the huge room and noticed that the sun was getting high. They would have to leave and meet with the others soon. She gave a whistle to the others and without speaking to the two men they headed out the opening.
Pete and Fernando ran to the ramp to see which way the natives headed but they were no where in sight.
“Where did they go?”
“No idea. It’s like they disappeared into thin air,” the Spaniard replied.
To be continued...
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