Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Spaceman: A Planet Called Inhospitable (part 4)

There was a tremor passing through the ice. Each foot step shot endless vibrations forwards. Within the course of about ten seconds, there were over a thousand foot steps. Floyd was somewhere in the centre of the Native’s army, his gloved hand wrapped tightly around Grace’s tiny, bare fingers. When they’d gone into the ice house, Grace had been scared. She’d only seen one settler before, her father, and his brother was certainly a little scarier. 
She was about waist height to Floyd, wearing a small dress composed from the fur of Merehogs, and her hair expanded from the scalp of her head in grand, curling wires. Her skin was the same olive, bordering on green, shade as the rest of the native’s skin, but it was slightly paler. It could have been the product of Grene’s DNA, but it could have been from the way she hadn’t left the Home Cavern in her entire life.
“It’s rare for a Native Girl to ever leave the Home Cavern before her fifteenth age day.” Grene had told Floyd after the two hours they’d spent with her. “Tomorrow, when we march, it will be a great honour for the majority of her generation. To be allowed to leave the Home Cavern before the age of fifteen is the greatest honour you could be imbued with.”
“Why are they taking the children with them? Do they know no mercy?” Floyd had replied.
“They do know mercy, and they know that to be left out of a fight they believe they shall be able to win is a terrible dishonour.”
“They believe they shall win?”
“Nobody would go to war unless they believed they could win.” Grene had replied.
 “Uncle?” Grace said, in the present. 
“Yes?” Floyd asked, kneeling down.
“Us march them?” Grace replied. She had talked in a broken parody of the Eden Tones. 
“Yes, Grace. We march with them.”
Grace shook her head, her curls of hair spreading out further from her head. She screwed her face up as she tried to work everything out. “Us march on them?” She asked, pointing to the far off silhouette of Solace on the horizon.
“Oh!” Floyd cried. “No. They,” he gestured to the people around him, “march on them. We,” he gestured to himself and then her, “go home.”
Grace looked back at the Birth to Home, far away in the distant. “Us go not way.”
“Real home, Grace.” Floyd said. “We’re going to our real home.”
“Dad?” She asked, then said a few words in the Native tongue which he reckoned meant Mum. 
“Maybe.” Floyd replied, and left it at that as they began to march quicker.

Crane had taken over as temporary benvolio whilst Floyd was missing. From his bedroom on the edge of Solace, he stared out into the heart of the city. “I control this.” He said, happily and loudly. “I control all of this!”
Grinning, he ran from the window and across the room, to look out onto the wintered planes. What he saw was a wide, gigantic emptiness. He grinned. He could control that too! If Floyd Mayweather didn’t return in the week, he’d order the war carriers to lift up and they’d be able to race out and find the Native scum and kill them. But first, he’d have to move the Frontier, interfering as it was, waiting around Solace. Crane went over to his shelf and took down his viewing glasses, staring out of the window them. There was a shape on the far horizon, extremely tiny and completely unimportant, but it wouldn’t hurt to know what it was. 
“It better not be Floyd.” He muttered to himself. Then he grinned, if it was Floyd, it wouldn’t hurt to brand him a traitor and get him shot by the Frontier men. Might be worth a try.
He twisted the rings on the outside of his viewing glasses and then image he could see readjusted, until it felt as if he was directly in front of the people he was staring at. And they weren’t the missing Mayweathers. No. It was an army of Natives, and they were all armed. 
Crane laughed aloud. Brilliant news. Now he didn’t need to get the war carriers to go out to the Natives. They were coming to him.

The Natives didn’t shiver in the face of the cold, they relished it. Their skin didn’t freckle with the bobbled flesh of goose bumps, they fought against the growing veins and muscles beneath the skin. Their Merehog skins flapped against their flesh and their bare feet, mostly quite large, crushed the packed ice crystals of the ground beneath them. The majority of them held spears, and those who didn’t carried bows. From their backs, the archer’s pulled arrows made from carved nitrogen, and, as they loaded them into their bows, they raised them to the air. A guttural war cry burst from their mouthes, combatting the winds of white powder and flakes, and then, Solace was fully on the horizon.
“War.” Grace said, translating the war cry. 
“Indeed.” Floyd said, and grasped her hand harder.
And so they charged, two thousand muscular legs slamming into the ice, carving further cracks into the ground and bringing forth more of the Alquarara. The archers released their drawstrings and the arrows soared, cutting apart the roaring winds. They moved slightly, the arrows against the raging breeze, but the archers were perfectly trained, having aimed the arrows to factor in the winds, and thus the nitrogen arrow heads smashed into their target. The Frontier began to wail, and Floyd knew the proximity detectors would be causing the lights to flicker on and off inside the perimeter buildings. He hoped none of the Frontier scouts were epileptic. Then he reminded himself which team he was meant to be on. As much as it pained himself to think it, he began to hope they were.
Floyd could see Grene on the front line, a laser rifle in his two hands. He pulled back the energising slider and the gun whirred with building power. 
“Grace.” Floyd said, catching Grace’s attention. “Look, your Dad.”
Grace looked up and grinned at the sight of her father, so valiantly fighting alongside her mother. They led a small faction of the Natives, ordered to take down the Frontier. They looked quite incredible as they raged forwards. And then there was the grand roaring of engines and Floyd swore in the Eden Tone.
“What does that mean?” Grace asked, and Floyd smiled at the way in which she’d been taught the single phrase so excellently because it would come in so handy.
“It doesn’t mean anything, Grace.” Floyd replied. “Ignore me.”
But his curse wasn’t in vain. From beyond the Frontier was a roaring of engines, and those engines belonged to the Federation War Carriers. They were gigantic devices, hovering high above the icy plains, and emitting grand plumes of black smoke from their old fashioned engines. They opened up at the sides and allowed soldiers with laser rifles to jump out, or just shoot down. “Damn.” Floyd said. Bows and arrows made from hardened nitrogen were useful, but against laser rifles they were pointless. Floyd grabbed Grace and lifted her onto his back. “Don’t let go. Don’t you dare.”
“Yes.” She said, and he felt her tiny arms tightening around him. He took his rarely used blaster from his side and held it in one gloved, ready to fire. “Let’s go.” He shouted over the whirling winds and screeching natives. 
They began to force their way through the running herds around them. Large blasts of lightning from the War Carriers ripped gigantic craters into the floor around them, showering them in hail stones of shredded ice, or freezing droplets of melted nitrogen. Smoke grenades landed around them and suddenly white smoke stung their eyes. Floyd had cursed. He’d insisted on the smoke grenades with in built tear gas back when they’d first invaded. Now, twenty years on, he was quite regretting it. The blasts of lasers forged energy spikes in the distance, staining the white smoke scarlet.
Around them, settlers dropped through the air with laser rifles, shooting at the Natives. As Grace and Floyd ran, they often saw the ground littered with Natives, but occasionally a Settler would be strewn across the ice, their wrapped body punctured with arrows and knives. Floyd reached down towards the nearest Settler body and pulled the knife out. He noticed a splinter of ice had punctured their cold mask. The face of Skelton Evans stared up at him with her large white eyes beginning to harden until the liquid became too strong and popped. “Don’t look Grace.” Floyd shouted, his voice drowned out by the discharge of laser rifles and the roaring of War Carrier engines. “Don’t look.”

As they ran, Grace cried. It may have been the roaring of War Carriers above them, thruster engine illuminated red as they burned like the eyes of vengeful Gods. It may have been the screams of her people, both in anger in her fear, as they charged and fell at the hands of the enemy. But Grace didn’t believe it was either of those factors. She believed that it was the idea of the bodies falling constantly around them belonging to her father, or to her mother, and the possibility that one of the bodies from which her uncle so carelessly scavenged weapons had the face of her family. She didn’t know what she’d do if that was the case, because already her tears were freezing against her skin. She couldn’t cry any more!
The next thing she knew, she was on the floor, her head resting in the lap of a dead Native. She didn’t know him, but there were thousands of her race, and she couldn’t know them all. Floyd was still in front of her, staring down in abstract horror. “Good God.” He was saying, and she recognised the foreign words as those that her father used when something surprised him.
“What’s it?” She asked, crawling up to join him. She saw he had slung a laser rifle over his shoulder, and had an ice spear in one hand. He must have looked like an amalgamation of both sides to the warring soldiers. She just hoped they’d both assume he was on their side, rather than both trying to kill him.
“The ice is cracking.” He told her, and pointed down.
She stood with him and looked at where an explosion of energy from above had ripped a massive chasm into the ground. “From it spews the Alquarara.” And it was true, she could feel her dainty toes being submerged underneath the liquid nitrogen that upon which the crust had once bobbed.
“We better get moving before we are drowned in it.” Floyd said, but as he turned, he found a gun pointed at his head.
“Don’t you think you’re going anywhere,” Spoke Crane, holding a laser rifle with both his arms.
“Deputy Crane, thank the gods you found us, we were on the verge of death.”
“Quiet, traitor scum!” Crane cried. “And I’m not a deputy, no more. I’m the Benvolio of Solace.”
Floyd used that word earlier that he said meant nothing. “You’ve managed to turn a war into a power struggle, you egotistical-“ And there was that word again, but it sounded slightly different.
“You just offended a Benvolio!” Crane cried. “You’re under arrest, the girl too. Who’s she, your illegitimate native spawn?”
Grace didn’t listen to the rest, she entered an almost unconscious state as they took her and Floyd to the Benvolio’s office for incarceration, whatever that was. All she remembered was being put onto a landed War Carrier and vomiting on Crane’s boots as it shook and lifted beneath her, and then the powerful smash of his gloved hand against her face as he looked at the steaming fluid splattered across his feet.

The War continued, even as Floyd and Grace watched in horror from behind the bars. The office seemed so much more intimidating and evil from this side of the prison, and Floyd cursed his sense of interior decoration from when they’d first landed. For the majority of the two days they were behind bars, Crane was no where to be seen, out in the empty planes killing Natives, or so he bragged. When he was around, however, he was unbearable, going to every length to brag over his new power. Floyd used more of the language of nothing every time Crane flaunted his authority, which only seemed to gather Floyd more and more punches to his face. “You do that one more time,” Floyd said, “and you won’t be able to say anything else.”
“The second I stop being able to talk,” Crane replied, a master in standoffs, “is the second the girl stops looking so pretty.”
Floyd stood and grabbed the bars. “You do anything to her, and you’ll regret it.”
“I’m so scared of the man from within the cage.”
And it was in that moment that Floyd grinned. “You better be, Crane, because I’m evoking my right to section forty six of the Federation’s Regulations of Law.”
Crane was new to the job, no matter how much power he had, so he didn’t know what that meant. Neither did Grace, but being a child she wasn’t so proud as to be unable to ask. And she did just that.
“Section Forty Six states that I am, by law, entitled to a trial by combat.”
“What does that mean?”
“If I can kill him, he has to let me go.”
Most people would have dropped their jaw in shock, or exclaimed, “No, you can’t do that!” Grace just looked Floyd in the eyes and said, “If he dead, how he let you go?”
Floyd sighed. It was a good point, trust a child to come up with it. “If he’s dead, he can’t stop me from running away.”
Crane hadn’t been listening, instead looking it up in his regulations book. And when he found it, he grinned. “A trial by combat?” He asked.
“A good old fashioned shoot out for your future, do you want?” 
Floyd nodded.
“You are old.” Crane evaluated. “You are slow and you are clumsy. I will win in an instance.”
“You refuse me my request?”
“On the count that we already know the outcome, yes.”
“Then I label you a coward, a craven unwilling to risk his life out of misjudged fear.”
Grace recognised the term, her father had often mockingly called her mother that when they’d argued over who would go out to the next family gathering. She knew it was  a word that would insult her mother’s pride and honour, no matter how jokingly it was meant. For an up tight nothing like Crane, she imagined it would do volumes more.
“Then, traitorous scum, I will prove you wrong and myself right. We shall have our duel now.”
“Name your weapons.”
“A classic five steps and spin?” Floyd asked.
“Like something out of a pulp novel.”
Crane allowed him out of his cage and gave him a blaster, stepping in front of the cage with his back to Floyd. Grace watched in complete wonder, her hands wrapped tightly around the cage. 
“One!” Announced Crane and they both took one step forwards, Crane away from the cage and Floyd towards it. 
“Two!” Crane cried and they took a second. Floyd’s finger slipped around the safety switch on the blaster and disabled it, making the gun as dangerous as it could get. The handle was tight against his palms as he held it, ready to fire.
“Three!” Another step. Floyd knew he would have to fire first, and quick. The bolt would have to be to the blaster in Crane’s hand, to knock it from where it was held. Otherwise, there was a possibility that Crane’s shot would hit Grace and kill her. Grene would never forgive him if Grace was lost before they ever left Inhospitable.
“Four!” Crane cried. The final step was merely a moment away. Floyd ran over it all in his mind. A quick spin, on the heal of his boot, as he pulled the gun up to chest height, his hand extending as far as it could go. As it hit the apex of it’s reach, his index finger would pull back, taking the trigger with it, and the blast would be emitted from the tip on the front. The Blaster would shake in a sudden explosion, the metal recoiling driving his arm to fracture unless he moved his arm with it. The shot would roast the air around it, slicing through the air and hitting Crane’s hand and Blaster, melting the metal and the fingers with it. Two things could happen then, the energy pack inside the Blaster could explode, taking Crane and the majority of his arm and the hut around him to oblivion or the energy pack wouldn’t explode, and Floyd would have to plant another shot in the boy’s chest to finish the job. If I can kill him, he has to let me go. He’d told Grace, but he had to kill him for that to work.
“Five.” Crane said, dryly and slowly. Both men took the step and spun around, pulling their guns from their sides. Floyd had his gun in hand halfway through the turn, and the arm had reached as far as it could within mere seconds of that. By the time he was facing Crane, his finger was pulling back and the gun was jolting away. The air sweltered with sudden heat, and then he was falling through the air, backwards, amazed at the force of the explosion. When he climbed up, he saw the explosion hadn’t been his gun firing, but instead Crane’s energy pack detonating, his arm ripping apart and taking the hut with him.
Floyd grinned, but was instantly repulsed by what had happened to Crane. Days previously, they’d been friends. Now, they’d attempted to kill each other. Somehow he’d expected that Crane’s wouldn’t be the last death in their crusade for the Fourth Eden. 
“Grace, come on.” Floyd said. “We have to hurry, someone will have heard that.”
Grace scampered out of the cage, casting an eye over the body of Crane on the floor, his arm ripped off by the terrible blast, revealing shredded bone and sliced ligaments. For the second time, she was sick on Crane’s boots.
“Hurry up.” Floyd told her, and they hurried out in the cold of Solace.

Beyond the Frontier and beyond Solace, the war continued to rage on, explosions of gun shots littering a battlefield of screaming and shouting. “Good Gods.” Floyd said. “They haven’t even breached the Frontier yet.”
Grace said nothing, she didn’t know what the Frontier was, besides a hushed concept her parents only spoke of when they were convinced she couldn’t hear them. “How us go to Fourth Eden?”
“We’ll steal a ship.” Floyd told her, grasping her hand as he pulled on his snow mask. “Don’t worry, we’ll get off soon.”
They raced across the ice, after Floyd had gone back twice to first grab the weapons that he’d salvaged on the battlefield and then secondly to retrieve some possessions from his room above the Benvolio’s office. The ship ports of Inhospitable were mostly unused, and very rarely visited, but when Floyd and Grace got to the grand hangars, they discovered that they were mostly empty. Apart from one War Carrier and a Boxship. The War Carrier required six fully trained pilots to fly, and that was once they’d got off the ground. Also, they weren’t designed for off planet travel. No, the Boxship was their only choice. It was about the size of a type of vehicle from the Metallic Earth, before it’d become metallic, called a Transit Van, and from what Floyd had seen in the ancient tapestries, it looked similar-ish. It was called the Boxship because of it’s resemblance with a large metal box, sloping down into a shuttered full length wind screen at one end, and boarded around the bottom like a dogem cart. There was a silver door on one side, rounded at the top, that opened with a press against it from the driver’s hand, in this case it was programmed for Floyd’s. The door slid open and he ushered Grace in, before following her and closing it. There was a bed opposite the door that was too small for Floyd but a perfect size for Grace to lie in. A toilet behind a metal wall was to the side of the toilet, and opposite it was a small kitchen and sink. At the end was the driver area, two pilot’s seats and a selection of instruments which seemed alien to all those except the people who’d been specifically trained to use it.
“Can us go?” Grace asked, sitting in one of the pilot’s chairs.
“Of course.” Floyd said, and began to move the instruments in the exact way needed for a takeoff to be effective.
Grace looked out of the wind screen and sighed a small, childish sigh. “Goodbye home.” She said.

Far below, as they escalated to the thinnest points of the atmosphere, the War raged on. Myra and Grene fought side by side, fuelled by anger and hope they’d be able to rescue their child before she left the planet. Beyond them, an unaware native saw the Boxship carefully tracing it’s way upwards. “Settler scum.” She said, in the Native Tongue. “How dare you try to flee this land?”
And with a salvaged laser rifle, she fired several shots. A success, on just one, as the auxiliary fuel cable smashed. She hoped they crashed and burned. And inside the Boxship, they were none the wiser...

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