The blond boy jerks awake, red eyes opened wide, searching frantically, before falling back into the embrace of unconsciousness, or in his case the headlock of unconsciousness.
“What’s wrong with him?” I ask, studying his form. He’s skinny, somewhat frail, but not deathly so. That said, it still looks like a large meal would do him good.
“We are not quite sure,” Mikita replies. Mikita has been a member of this ‘fine’ crew far longer than my callow cleons of life. A mother to us all, she feeds us, teaches us, and nags us when we don’t do our chores. Even Kitos. He’s thirty.
At the moment she watches after our find, or more accurately Hanes’ find. The boy, about my age, was curled up within a small cavern off of Ocatue. His lips were coated with blood and his black uniform torn repeatedly. He was wet, cold, and coughing. This boy should be dead, I’m certain. It was by sheer chance that we stopped on Ocatue; Nobody stops on Ocatue, but there we were as the boy was nearing his final wheezing breath. You can only imagine the shock on Hanes’ face when he found him. You go out looking for cave-dwelling queemels and instead find a half-dead teen.
“His left leg is sprained and he has several lacerations across his torso. There are also what appears to be etiamas toxins within his blood. His circulatory system will run its course and the sprain will heal,” she says, her upper left hand twirling her cinnamon hair around her fingers.
“But?” I ask as she adjusts the straps on his arms.
“But there is something else going on. There are no etiamic species in this region, several of the lacerations look intentional, and this boy,” she says gesturing to him with all four arms. “This boy is scarred, not just physically, but mentally. Someone did something to this child and somehow he ended up out here with no ship to be seen”.
Increasingly heavy and cold rains pelt the tin roofs and mud walls of our community. We huddle, all fifteen of us. There is nothing left to do. Long ago the door had fallen, fire is prohibited, only the foolish would attempt the trek to the city. We have no blankets. We have no coats. Just us. We have us.
The wind howls, sending a spray of muddy water inwards. Uncle and father are wet. Very wet. But they don’t swap. If they swap more people get wet. More wet people isn’t good. It’s bad.
I cling to my mother. Mommy's wet. I’m wet. That is not new. The water comes often. You can’t see. The water is thick.
The whistle is new.
A shrill piercing sound breaks through the thunder and rain.
Mother's face is wet. Salty wet.
“No, no, no” she whispers.
Cousin Anika is on the ground.
Cousin Kelik pulls out a box. I didn’t know he had a box. He unlatches the shiny clicky thing. He opens it. Bowls were inside. He pulled them out. He dips two fingers in the strange mud within them before drawing them across his face. His face is black now.
Brother Launglik does the same. His face is black now.
Uncle does the same. His face is black now.
Six of the fifteen have black faces. Six of the fifteen disappear into the rain. They hugged me. They hugged mother, aunts, and girl cousins. They all cry, but why?
Launglik looked at me. “Watch mother,” he said. I nodded. I don’t know why mother needs watched, but I watch mother. I watch mother all the time.
Launglik gave me a strange loop. “Take care Piri,”.
I watch mother and cousins. Cousin Eitas has pointy flat rock. Black hair is on the floor. Amber eyes out the door.
Quiet then high. The noise is like the whistle, but not like a whistle.
Mommy grabs me. Aunt grabs Mommy. Cousin grabs Aunt. Huddle. Salty wet.
“Calm,” says cousin Eitas as screech grows.
Smells strange. Fire?
“No fire,” I say.
Mommy grabs me.
Pretty lights. Annoying screech.
“We have to leave. Now?” says cousin Eitas. “Aunt Maragui. Piri”.
Mommy puts me down.
All but Eitas are gone.
“Into the yard. Cover in mud. Do not move until you get the signal” she says.
“You will know it when you get it. Go now”.
The dirt is wet. Much mud.
It is sticky. Like on the face?
Eitas does not come.
For the briefest moment, there is violet, white, then quiet...
No signal. Men. Strange creatures. Blue skin, green? Red and peach? Hair...eyes...wrong.
“Well, would you look at this?”.
“A muddy little afterthought. Seems to have been forgotten. Should we put it down?”.
Laugh. Bad laugh.
“Wait up, wait up, wait just a second. That’s a red-eye”.
“A red eye?”
“A red-eyed Mirequikus. They’re quite rare. Sell for high on the market” says the grey, hairless, creature.
“Then it looks like someone left us a gift. Maybe we should repay the favor”.
“Brazee, load him up.”.
The boy is squirming ever so slightly. His lips move, parting as if to speak, then stopping. He mumbles something but remains asleep.
I want to know what it is that he dreams, but do I?
I let out a sigh, shaking my head, before sitting at one of the chairs to the side of the medical table. I remove my window from my pocket. It lights up, a dim glow in a dim room.
Activating verbal commands I say: “Bring up results for all sentient humanoid species”.
This is going to be a long night…
“You brought a child,” shouts the orange-eyed man.
“An expensive child,” says the blue man.
“And what do you expect to do with it? How much did you spend on feeding it?”.
Three cosmic cleons have passed.
“Or clothing it?”.
I look down at my garb: Sturdy boots, a durable, but clearly worn shirt, and similar condition pants.
“Not much,” I say.
“I said not much”.
“Oh, and why is that?”
“Because,” I say, staring into his vibrant orange eyes. “They stole most of it”.
It gives him pause as he just stands there blinking at me, before eventually asking “And you?”.
Have I stolen? Have I stolen? I spent my entire life among a pillager crew and he asks if I have stolen?
“Yeah. I’m a thief or a pillager as they call them”.
A slight upwards curve appears at the corner of his mouth. It’s strange how quickly a guy can go from yelling at someone about...you, to smirking at you.
As the blue guy and I walk away I turn to him with a comment: “Nice going with the expensive line, McHurtel. You got him thinking about expenses”.
I walk ahead not noticing the way he slows, the sheepish expression on his face, or the slightly guilty tone to his voice as he says “yeah” then shuffles behind me.
I narrowed down my search by adding features. Blond hair, pointed ears, round pupils, height, and build. There’s a lot. Species, subspecies, exceptions to genetics, surgeries and procedures, hybrids too, but I think I’ve managed to narrow it down to a handful of species. Soon I’ll be able to search for him in the database.
I turn to watch the boy. He’s still laying there, comatose on the table.
“Who are you?”.
I’m on the ground. I’m whimpering. It’s pathetic, but it’ll work.
“Boy, are you all right?”. The question came from a well-kept woman. Her dark brown hair was held in a braided updo and she wore an evening dress that has to cost more than anything I’ve ever owned. She’s rich, very rich. That’s why we picked her.
I sniffle then shake my head slowly and draw in my knees.
“You poor boy, come with me and we will get you cleaned up”. Her rose-colored slit eyes exude compassion, but she doesn’t really care. No one cares for me, but the group. She’s just another rich target.
His fist clench then release and his face scrunches up, but otherwise, there is no movement.
I’m combing the system searching for anyone who comes close to his description. I stop on a file with a photo of a younger boy. It was taken several cleons ago so...It lines up. Same hair, build, ears and eyes…
Red eyes glare back at me from the screen.
“Enjoy your new home, brat. Sorry if it ain’t quite the mansions you’d grown used to,” the green and yellow guard sneers, shoving me into a cell. She then turns up the shield to a level that I’m pretty sure is on the upper edge of what is considered stun among kids, before storming off down the hall.
“How did you manage to tick off the guards already.? You haven’t even been here a day”.
I didn’t know I’d have a cellmate.
“Spit in her coffee, make a Clorkev joke, or worlds forbid, answer a question honestly the first time?”.
The boy had black fluffy hair, or more accurately, fur combed back awkwardly on his head and sticking out from his sleeves. Protruding from the tuff on his head are two spiraled horns. His eyes, hidden behind a somewhat nerdy pair of glasses, are a deep brown with rectangular irises. He wore the same cuff, dark blue jacket, and pants that I did, all bearing the prison insignia on the upper left corner.
“Well?” he asks.
“Apparently,” I say, scanning the room for anything useful. “She was friends with one of the families that so generously donated to me,” I say as I plop down on my bed. “I don’t see what her problem is”.
The room is relatively small, but you get used to it after being relegated to luggage a time or twenty. The coffin was actually one of the nicer trips. The walls are white and the carpet grey. There are two beds opposite each other and a desk in between. On the desk sat a couple pencils and a stack of paper.
“So...are you a thief? A long con? A lone pillager? Could be a hacker, but you don’t strike me as the type”.
“Third try. Give the boy a prize”. He rolls his eyes.
“What’s a pillager doing in here? Don’t you have a big group backing you up? And,” he pauses, pushing his glasses up his nose. “Aren’t you, you know, a bit young…” he hesitates.
“Young?” I ask. “How do you suppose I’d be too young to be a pillager? I’ve always been a pillager”.
“So...does that mean your parents were pillagers?” he asks.
“I-” don’t know? Never got a proper response when asking? Can’t remember them? “Eh. Doesn’t matter. So, what are you in for”.
“Ah, well…” he says, eyes trailing to his feet.
“You're embarrassed. To talk about crime. In a prison?” I ask dryly.
“I mean, kinda. I’m just some hacker whose game got called out”.
“A decent hacker?”
“Decent enough to remove this fine accessory?” I ask, holding up a cuffed wrist.
“He’s a thief. A thief and a fugitive” I tell them. There are five of us: Mikita, Hanses, Zafreen, Bindle, and I.
“A thief, really? At that age? Shouldn’t he be with his parents?”.
“Not everyone has parents, Bindle,” says Zafreen, glancing at me, then pats me on the shoulder. “Besides,” she says, pivoting her head, causing her silver ponytail to whip around. “He’s old enough. He is not a small child”.
“He was in the photo”.
Before they can continue their argument Mikita comes between them.
“Thief or no thief, I would like to know how the boy ended up on Ocatue”.
“Agreed,” says Hanes.
“Well,” I say. “Maybe we will hear his story when he wakes”.
“Who else?” demands the larger cloaked man. “Who else was with you?” he continues, as the smaller man presses a blade against my neck.
“Nobody helped me,” I say, glaring into the all-black eyes of the smaller man, attempting to hide the urge to squirm. He increases pressure on the blade just enough to draw a drop of blood. A burning pain, followed by numbness spread from the prick.
“Lie,” he says in a macabre whisper.
I tense. It takes everything I have not to thrash.
“Who else was with you?” the larger one repeats.
“No one was with me,” I repeat.
He drew the blade across my torso.
“Tell the truth,” demands the larger man.
“I am,” I say, hearing the whimper in my voice
Again he draws the blade. This time I gasp. This time he smiles.
“Will he wake up soon?”.
“Looks like it”.
I blacked out. Not before they got several more rounds in.
I can’t feel my chest. I can barely feel my legs. My arms might as well be someone else's. I crack open an eye. Grass?
“What are we going to do with the boy?” a new voice asks from a distance off.
“We’ll do exactly what we were paid to do,” comes the voice of the large man. “Now bound him back up and toss him in a cell”.
“You really think he will be able to run away? With the blade laced? That’s absurd. It would be considered a miracle if he even woke within the week”.
I guess that makes me a miracle boy.
I stand, stumbling at first, then run. If there’s one thing I’m good at by now it’s running. The instinct is there, even if the feeling is not.
Footsteps echo behind me. There’s a shout. More footsteps. I turn and...
I don’t think, I run. I throw myself over jagged rock after jagged rock. Ignore the crack. Can’t stop. I can’t stop.
Then I fell. I can’t. I can’t get up.
Water pools around me.
Then black becomes white.
The red-eyed boy cracks an eye open. He closes it again then opens both. As his eyes adjust he attempts to sit up. He blinks turning his head groggily around the room, his eyes eventually locking on me.
For some inexplicable reason, I feel the need to undo the straps.
He stares at me, then down at his hand, then back at me, before extending it.
“Hi, I’m Pirian”.
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An enthralling science fiction that keeps you wondering what’s going to happen next and what did happen before. Well done :)