Sinagua Skies, part 16
A quick glance at the canvas of the tent didn't show any obvious openings but the people had to have escaped somehow.
"Fool!" They're all gone!" Turk shouted at Frank.
"That's impossible." Not believing the 1st mate, Frank looked inside the tent. The empty interior proved him wrong.
"Don't just look at me like the idiot you are. Get some men and find them." Fernando was rushing up to them, a tool box in his hand. Turk turned to him and told him to get the power up then stomped away.
The Spaniard watched the 1st mate's movements until he disappeared from sight then looked around. Frank had left and no one seemed to be nearby. He walked over to the power junction and pretended to work on the system. If the natives hadn't left the compound then he didn't want to activate it. He just wished he knew what had happened once he left the ship.
The Two-Spirits Emissary felt her heart pounding with sick fear as she tread lightly behind Hank. She had never envisioned herself as a killer but to rescue their people, this man had to die. She couldn't rely on him remaining unconscious. One small sound would give away the Rangar. With a prayer to the Gods, she lifted her flint knife as she slapped her palm over his mouth. A quick slice and the man's blood spilled onto the sandy ground. She didn't allow herself the luxury of being sick, hurrying to drag his body into the brush and hiding it under some dirt and grass clumps. She then kicked sand over the bloodstains on the ground to hide the reddened soil. She nodded at her masters.
Parren knelt near the dead body of Hank as she watched Thrana and Hanpa avoid Frank's eyes and sneak into the tent. Her teachers had been watching from the small grassy cliff that had been located just to the north of the captives. They had seen her signaled warning and hadn't jumped the metal barrier as planned but now she told them it was safe. But the delay stopped Parren from leading the captives away. Now it was up to them.
The older Traders slipped inside the tent and ordered them to be quiet as the Master Trader opened his Rangar portal. He didn't care if the people saw this secret, not today. Their lives were more important. He ordered them into it as he struggled to keep it open. It wasn't meant to transport so many. Then the last captive entered and the two Traders followed behind them, barely before the portal shrank and vanished.
Parren watched as one of the men hurried to where Frank stood then looked inside the cloth dwelling. Had her Masters succeeded? She could only watch and pray. As the drama unfolded before her, she allowed her held breath to escape. It was apparent that all the people had gotten away. Now it was up to her and Jopa to deal with the other strangers. It was time to make sure that no more innocents could be stolen.
She whistled a bird song and heard her friend's answering reply. He was ready.
A stone whirled through the air, a silent weapon that struck true and without warning until it was too late. The gathered humans stood in shock a few seconds as the sound of a sharp thud and Bob's falling to the ground sunk into their brains. The struck man looked up at them with blank eyes, dead.
Another stone hit Turk Johnson on his shoulder with a sickening crack. The men then realized that they were under attack. They ran for cover, unsure where the rocks were coming from. Their eyes searched the sky as they pulled out pistols from belts and holsters. Another rock landing against the boulder where Pete was hiding behind, sending rock shards flying, striking his face and eyes. He cried out in pain, covering his bloodied face with his hands.
Turk was holding his useless arm against his body when he spied Jopa on the hill above the compound. In his hand was a stick of some sort with a sling. A pile of stones rested at his feet.
"Sisco, can you get a decent shot at him?"
The man holding a rifle aimed towards Jopa. With the wind and distance it would be difficult. He squeezed the trigger and watched as his bullet missed the native, striking tree trunk just behind him.
"Try again," Turk ordered from his hiding place.
"I can't. He took off."
"Then let's get back to the ship. We're sitting ducks out here." The men followed the officer back onto the ship. The captain spoke with the 1st mate then ordered him to the sickbay. The other men waited for the Captain's orders. The older man, often indisposed because of his heavy drinking, told the men to load up the Jeeps. It was time they dealt with these savages once and for all.
Each man armed himself to the teeth and got into the work Jeeps. The only people remaining behind were Turk and the doctor. The doors would be sealed in case the natives tried to get inside. The vehicles headed for the cliff dwellings, since the men believed that the escaped workers would head for the safety of their walls.
Fernando sat quietly between two men, thinking over the current events. He felt sicker with each second that passed. Yes, he needed the money but the price was too high. He was in way over his head this time. His thoughts for his family wrestled with what could happen if he interfered with what was occurring. They needed the money that he sent to them, that was true, but inside he knew that his mother would be ashamed if she knew the cash was blood money. And ashamed of him. The Spaniard could almost hear her voice saying those words to him.
Something inside his heart and head made a decision.
Looking out the window of the bouncing Jeep, he thought over the terrain and his possibilities. An idea hit him. "Wait! Pull over!" he shouted to the driver. The Jeep lurched to a stop and Fernando crawled out of the vehicle.
"What is it?" several of the others asked.
"I saw something. No, you all go on. If I'm wrong there's no need to waste time. Go without me," he ordered and waved them away. The Jeep dug in deep as it took off, spray loose soil everywhere. Fernando grinned. He knew of a shortcut to the cliffs. The Jeeps needed to take the long way around in order to reach the cliff-dwellers but he could still beat them there if he hurried.
He scrambled along the rocky path, his breath heavy in the humid heat following the storm. he wiped away the sweat building up on his brow, missing the sight of the tree root in his path. Fernando felt himself falling. In terror, he grasped out with his hands for anything that could save him. His fingers felt dry roots slap his hands and he grabbed them instinctively. He gasped for air until the falling dirt and debris no longer pelted his face and looked down. Beneath his feet was nothing but air and all that kept him from falling was the tree roots in his hands.
Jopa pointed to the stranger not far behind them. The other Traders stopped to watch for a moment and determined that he was far away enough to pose no threat. They would be safely in their cliff city when he caught up to them. Thrana urged them to keep going but Parren's eyes refused to leave the sight of the man behind her.
"What is it, young Parren?" Hanpa asked.
"I don't know. Something tells me to go back to him."
"Then do so. The Gods are speaking to you." The older man patted her shoulder and continued up the path, leaving the Two-Spirit woman behind.
Parren shifted her gear and began retracing her steps along the rough pathway. She wasn't sure why she had to go back but if the Gods wished it then who was she to say no? It was becoming obvious that the man behind them was Fernando, the dark-skinned man who had spent time in their village. Why was he following them and alone?
Now panting, she came to a stop just before the path narrowed and followed along a steep drop-off. She didn't want to meet him in such a dangerous spot so sat to rest and await his arrival. Hidden in the shadows the man never saw her since his attention was on the horizon. Parren mentally chastised him for not paying attention to the here and now. But she never got to finish her thought. The man tripped on an exposed root and tumbled over the edge.
Her heart seemed to gasp with the panic the man no doubt felt. She hurried to the edge where he had fallen and looked down. For a moment nothing could be seen except for shaking roots but then she realized she saw fingers clasping tightly to them. Parren reached out her arms even as her feet found a way to anchor herself, tangling into the roots of the same tree that had caused his fall.
"Take my hand!" she shouted to him.
The man looked up in surprise and stared at her for several seconds before taking a risk. He let go of the roots with his left hand and pulled himself up with the other hand. He lunged upwards and her hand locked around his wrist in an iron hold. He wrapped his own hand around her wrist and together they inched him upwards. When his head was level with the overhang, Fernando braced his foot against a thick root and released his hold on the young woman. He hauled himself over the edge alone and collapsed onto the worn path, panting from the effort.
"You are welcomed," Parren said in Anglish.
It took a moment before it dawned on the Spaniard that he had no translator with him but he understood her. "You speak English!" he accused.
Parren shrugged. She still had the crystal although it wasn't in her ear. She must have been learning their language all along.
He decided it really didn't matter. "We need to get to your village quickly. My people are heading there now to get their work force back and to kill anyone who fights them. I'm not sure what is more important to these men anymore."
"You are one of them. Why tell me this?"
"Because your people don't deserve this. It's wrong. I just want to help any way I can."
A voice asked a question in her mind and the very words came from her lips. "Even if it means that you'll die?"
Fernando looked seriously at the Emissary. "Yes, even if it means my death."
To be continued...
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