Author’s Whine: Why is it when I want the story to end the quickest the Muse makes it the longest?
The Rangar members met inside the temple, telling their findings to the High One.
“It was all we could do to chase after them. Their beasts are too swift. We had to be content to follow the strange tracks.”
“Did you discover what they were doing when you found them?”
The priest shook his head. “We watched but we didn’t understand much of what they were doing. They waved sticks above the soil while their eyes stared at small boxes. Another man collected stones and dirt. Perhaps they were seeking blessings for a future settlement,” he ventured.
Parren spoke up next. “Many of their words meant nothing to me,” she told him, avoiding mention of the stone that he had given her. “They seem nervous about being here but I don’t think it is our people they fear.”
“Maybe they fear angering the Gods.”
“I doubt that. They don’t seem very devout to me,” she told her friends. “If I have to give you my first impression of them then I say they are hiding something. I suggest no one from the village travels in the direction of the metal beast. If they must hunt or gather wild foods let it be in the opposite direction. I’d rather be careful until we discover their true motives."
The elderly priest kept his gaze on the dirt floor as he thought over her words. “I agree. “We will tell everyone tonight before evening prayers. I also suggest we keep more men on guard at night. Kopna, in the morning I wish for you to organize work parties to gather as much extra food and water as you can. I would rather be careful than find our people cut off without anything to feed them.”
He looked at the Master Traders. “Tonight I want the Traders and their apprentices to do a little spying on the dark metal mountain. I am sure you know how to get close without alerting the strangers.” The high priest knew of the experiences of the men on their return journey. Hanpa could transport the four of them close and Parren could listen to the words if they got close enough.
The Traders nodded. They were all dismissed and the Master Traders told their apprentices to get some sleep before dark. Parren returned to her mother’s home and sought out her mate. Perhaps Hyenta would be willing to nap. The Emissary wasn’t in the mood for blanket play since she was so jittery over the strangers. But jittery or not she wanted a little time with her mate before leaving for the night.
“You just let the three of them walk out of here? Did it ever occur to you that they might come back with friends and attack us? We could be seen as trespassers or invaders,” the first mate grumbled at Fernando.
“They seemed friendly enough,” the Spaniard mumbled back.
Frank snorted. “And that bare-tittied gal pointing a knife at me was just being friendly?”
“Well, you were staring at her chest and leering. I would have been offended too.”
“Then she shouldn’t be going around showing them off.” Frank winked at Johnson. “They might have been small but they sure were nice to look at.”
“You are such a cerdo, Frank,” Fernando told him, a look of revulsion on his face. “The señorita couldn’t have been older than your own muchachita.”
“Never mind, Fernando. Frank isn’t going to do anything to upset the natives. Isn’t that right?” Johnson said pointedly at Frank.
“Sure, whatever you say,” Frank said, rolling his eyes. He didn’t care what that holier-than-thou fucker said. He planned on getting a little native pussy before they left. It was a long trip back to terra firma.
“The door is closed. Do you wish to return or wait, Hanpa?” Jopa asked of his mentor.
The older man sighed. Those men held great power in their hands yet feared the darkness. That in itself was a small clue to their souls but Jopa was correct. Remaining would be futile. “Let’s go back. We’ll return at first light.”
Parren slipped under the covers and snuggled up to her sleeping wife. Hyenta stirred but settled down as Parren wrapped her arms around her and reset the covers over them.
The Emissary burrowed her face into her mate’s thick hair and let out a sigh of pleasure, her eyes closing.
Parren woke when a cool touch on her arm urged her into wakefulness. She looked up and saw Jopa kneeling there, lit only by the light of a small oil lamp. She slipped out from under the covers and retrieved her clothing. She dressed silently and together they left her mother’s home.
She didn’t bother grabbing anything from the kitchen since she knew the others would have a light meal prepared for them at the temple. She and her friend thanked the priest as they joined the others as he handed them bowls of warmed grains and pieces of cured meat. Hot tea was also served.
They ate silently in the predawn light. Only the sound of an occasional bird chirping in the distance could be heard. Parren could feel and smell the morning dew in the air and shivered slightly. In spite of the chill she wouldn’t bother with a shirt because she knew it would be quite warm later in the morning.
They rinsed their bowls and put them aside. As a group the Traders stood and left the temple. The first rays of pink and orange colored the sky just as they stepped foot onto the narrow ledge and headed for the ladders leading to the valley floor. The wooden ladders, smooth with constant use, felt damp in the morning air.
The four Traders traveled at a steady pace until they reached the metal tower. The door was still closed. Thrana looked up at the morning sky. “They are slothful. They waste the day Obansa has given them,” he mumbled with an irritated tone.
The others agreed and they settled down and waited. Sister sun was on her brother’s shoulder when the great door opened and movement from within was seen. One of the smaller metal beasts traveled down the incline and headed southwest, towards the mountain’s foothills. Once it was gone they studied the door that remained open.
“I feel them waiting,” Hanpa whispered. “I don’t like this at all.
Parren pulled her blade from her sheathe. “I don’t either and wouldn’t hesitate to remove the eyes of that one who dared to look at me as he did,” she hissed, still outraged.
“Don’t allow your anger to blot out your reasoning, young Parren. Once blood is drawn there is little chance of learning the truth. I suggest we take a stroll down to the sky beast and see what happens.”
“And if they mean us harm?” Jopa asked of the Master Trader.
“We’ll hunt that animal when we cross its trail. Come, let’s go see what they are doing.”
The four Traders took the steep trail down the side of the cliff until they reached the huge opening. Thrana peered inside first but saw no one. He stepped onto the ramp and took a step inside. He waited patiently, sensing eyes on him although no person could be seen. After many heartbeats the sound of hissing could be heard and a small door opened. Thrana gave a signal to Parren who placed the crystal into her ear.
Two men entered the room, each carrying a long metal stick casually in their hands. The sticks had no points, merely a carved grip on the end in the men’s hands. Thrana glanced at the men’s faces, trying to determine their thoughts while assuming a mild and friendly expression on his own features.
Turk Johnson studied the older man carefully. His clothing wasn’t ornate so he doubted he was of any true importance in the tribe. He could be an elder sent to deal with the intruders or the sacrificial lamb in case the mysterious aliens were violent. Turk grunted in amusement at his own thoughts as he studied the old man’s face. He didn’t seem afraid at least, looking at him calmly.
“Well, old boy, I wonder why you’re here?” the first officer muttered.
Pete shrugged. “Who knows. Maybe the kids told him about us and he wanted to check us out himself,” he suggested.
“Yeah, that could be it. He doesn’t talk much. Let’s see what happens if I get closer.”
“Be careful Johnson. The Captain would be ticked at me if you got hurt.”
“Then hold your stun wand ready if you’re so worried about this old man,” John taunted. He took a few steps closer to the visitor. Once he was close enough he held out his hand in greeting.
Thrana looked at the empty palm and grunted. Offering one’s palm to show you are unarmed means little when you have a rod in the other. Thrana held out both his empty hands, showing the stranger how to greet someone properly.
“Guess they ain’t into shaking hands, huh?” he chuckled.
The door hissed once more and Frank joined his buddies. “What, where’s that pretty piece of fluff that was here yesterday? She’s a lot better looking than this old man.”
“Better watch it, Frank, this might be her old man for all we know,” Pete warned.
Frank ignored the warning, slowly walking in a circle around the quiet visitor. He didn’t see Parren hiding around the corner, tightly gripping her knife handle and imagining the man sporting a few strategic cuts.
“Cut the crap, Frank. Pete, let’s crank up the translator and start teaching pops here a few words so it has something to start with.” Johnson turned to Thrana and placed his hand on his own chest. “Turk,” he told the older man.
The trader touched his forefinger to his chin. “Thrana.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere.” Johnson motioned to the old man to follow him outside so they could point to different features outside. The three people hiding quickly ducked under the ramp so they couldn’t be seen.
Johnson waited until Pete joined them with the handheld translator and began naming objects in Anglish. Thrana named items in Sinaguan. Once the few outdoor things such as ‘sun’, ‘sky’, and ‘dirt’ were named Johnson tried to convey other simple concepts while the translator hummed patiently.
The first officer was tired of thinking of new words and told Pete to take over while he manned the device. Pete wasn’t used to a teaching role but managed to exchange enough words that the translator beeped, indicating it had a nominal language base. Not much more than baby talk actually. It would need more for anything more detailed.
They kept up the language lessons until Bob and Hank returned in the ATV.
“Hey, who’s the old guy?” Hank asked as he shut the vehicle door.
“This is Thrana,” Johnson told the geologist. He made introductions before asking about the test results to the survey.
“Oh man, pure grade 4 and 5 ore. We’re gonna be rich,” hank boasted.
“If we don’t die from the rock fall,” Bob added. “The entire area is nothing but old bedrock that’s full of air pockets and loose gravel. Chances are that we’ll have to dig out our machinery all the time when the mine walls cave in. We don’t have the raw materials to shore them up properly.”
“Can’t we just fly this bucket of bolts to a forest and cut down some timber?” Pete suggested.
“You wanna play lumberjack? I sure don’t. How about asking pops here to lend us some men to help out?” Frank told Johnson.
“Oh yeah, not only are we guilty of mining on a restricted planet you want to risk being convicted of mishandling the native population?” He didn’t need to mention that the second offense meant a life sentence rather than a ten-year prison term.
“Who said anything about ‘mishandling’ them? Offer them wages and as long as they’re willing to work they can’t charge us with impressing them into labor.”
“That’s just a technicality and you know it, Frank. Just forget it.” Johnson turned around to escort Thrana away from the argument but the old man had disappeared.
“Shit, just what I needed,” Turk mumbled and went back inside.
To be continued...
Return to the Academy