The Rains Come And Wash It All Away
The storm had come in fast. By the time Adam watched it roll over the hills, he knew he wouldn’t be able to outrun it.
The sky had turned a vicious red and the shafts of lightning fizzled out into thousands of luminous balls as they reached the ground of this world, each popping and cracking as they died of their own accord, until a ceaseless wave of thunder made Adam clap his hands to his ears and run. He ran and ran, the nearest shelter too far away to matter and yet, still, he ran.
He needed this. A world angry at him, punishing him for the things they’d done to it.
A world he wouldn’t break this time but instead be broken by. Or saved. Maybe. He didn’t know which and he didn’t care anymore.
The squat building ahead looked like a scar against the blue vegetation. The darkness of it’s walls was punctuated with dim lights and, like the moth drawn to the proverbial flame, Adam found his feet setting the pace. The wind burned and the rain stung and on he marched into the night.
A hundred metres from the entranceway to the small house, he tripped and fell to the ground and the alien mud filled his mouth. Adam didn’t call out. He lay on the cold ground, face to the heavens, and closed his eyes.
Darkness came with the last gasp of thunder.
“You’re smothering him Tal.”
“Nonsense, they breath through their face.”
“Fine. You pick him up. You seem to be the master of human biology all of a sudden.”
“In the war…”
“In the war! Always in the war! Do you know what I did while you were off in the war? I was…”
“Quiet woman, he’s coming round.”
Adam wanted to know what the woman had done during the war while her mate was off fighting. Her sounds and words had the dull lag of the translators working away in his skull, an echo that was as much his body failing as their struggling to process the sounds. Instead he heard only the echo of a playful smack and then the ground fell away as he was lifted. He tried to shift his body in it’s alien embrace and felt the aches of his penance spring to life.
The storm may have felled him, but he was broken long before that.
“What does he drink?” the woman asked as the rain abruptly ceased and Adam heard the crackle of a fire. They continued inside and soon arms were replaced by a comfortable bed.
“Ammonia of course,” the man, Tal, replied.
“Should I get the good stuff out or would he be happy with the usual cask?”
“Quiet, you’re disturbing him Maiuk.”
“Look at those tiny ears. I bet he can barely even hear us. Hey human, twitch your ear stalks if you can hear me.”
“They don’t move their ears,” Tal pointed out.
“Don’t move their ears? And you were beaten by these things?” she said and Adam couldn’t help but let a smile form on his resting face.
“They’re not as weak as they look,” was all the male could reply.
“Nor as deep asleep it seems. Come on human, don’t play coy.”
Maiuk was leaning over Adam as he opened his eyes slowly. The canines of her upper jaw jutted out from behind the scaly gums and all the conditioning in his muscles told him to reach out and break the alien neck as she looked across as it him. Luckily nature had sapped whatever strength he had left in his bones and he cast his eyes down instead in shame.
The bed was high, where the air was warmest and the itchy collection of small furs were already intertwined around him like a hundred tiny shackles.
“Is he mute?” Maiuk asked, looking at the only other face in the room.
Adam’s eyes flicked to her mate. Tal was big. Bigger than any human and bigger than any Truk Adam had ever seen. One of his canines was broken. Where it should have pierced through his gums there was only a long scar, running from his jaw to his throat where the folds of skin gently rasped in and out.
“I wish,” Tal said, and Maiuk turned to hit him playfully with her tail. “What? It’s the truth. Humans love their words. About the only way they can communicate.”
“But what if they’re scared?”
“And when they’re… feeling frisky?”
She turned back to look at Adam and placed a smooth claw to his forehead. She gently tugged off his uniform jacket and boots and soon the cold left his body. He just watched her until sleep came to take him again. He didn’t want to return to it’s embrace. He’d let it take him once, feeling the world fall away, and now he wanted to fight and stay in the newfound warmth.
But she shushed him and he let the heat and the bed and her words wash over him.
“You poor thing,” she said as oblivion arrived.
“He won’t eat that,” Maiuk was saying, her voice carrying across from the central room to the small sleeping alcove.
Adam rolled onto his side quietly. Reality rolled in response, the floor seemingly a thousand klicks away and he thought better of trying to climb down in his state. He shivered even in the warmth, his shirt and pants still wet and muddy from his trek.
Tal was sitting cross-legged by the fire pit in the centre of the large room, his back to the arched doorway, and Adam watched him work.
“‘Course he will,” Tal said.
“But it’s dead! And now what are you doing? You’re burning it!”
“Humans prefer their food done like this.”
“Food? You’re going to feed him charcoal and call it food?”
“I’m just cooking the outside.”
“Tal, can’t we give him some proper food. One of the vyrerax. He looks so scrawny.”
Tal turned to face his mate and Adam saw the piece of meat in the big aliens hands, it’s skin crisping up from the open flames. He licked at his lips and felt the pangs of hunger deep in his stomach. Tal waved the small morsel of food as he spoke.
“I’ve seen these humans eat and drink just about everything there is to be eaten and drunk, and then some things you wouldn’t even believe.”
“Was this before or after you fought three of them off with your bare claws?”
“It was six woman! You always make fun of it, but if a human ever came into this house you’d be singing a different tune.”
“You mean a human like the one we have in our bed right now?” she said and they both turned to look up at Adam.
He tried to roll back but the game was up. He heard them whispering and when he looked again, Maiuk was dragging a heavy chest closer to the bed.
“Can you understand me?” she asked and Adam nodded after the interminable delay from his translator.
“Do you think you can climb down?” she asked.
“Ask him if he’s a soldier,” Tal called out from beside the fire pit and Adam’s eyes flickered in fear from her face to the bigger alien’s back.
“I will not,” Maiuk shouted over her shoulder.
“Then I’ll do it.”
“You absolutely will not,” and she stepped back from the bed, turning to stand between Adam and her mate with her hands on her hips.
“He could be a spy,” Tal said.
“He’s no more a spy than you’re a spy.”
“I could have been a spy.”
Maiuk burst out laughing and Tal turned back to the fire and his cooking, muttering obscenities that Adam’s translator couldn’t pick up. She returned to the bed and positioned the chest where Adam could step down.
“Don’t be scared of him,” she said, guiding Adam over the edge of the bed.
“I won’t,” he said, his vocal chords tightening in odd patterns as the translator pushed his words out in the alien dialect. He clutched at his throat, the sound raw after so long.
“By the stars, it talks!” Maiuk cried out.
“What’s that?” Tal asked.
“Nothing of concern for you. Is his meal ready?”
“Watch yourself dear,” Maiuk said as Adam stood on the bare floor, leaving a trail of water behind him. “Oh you poor thing.”
Before Adam could ask what she was referring to he felt his shirt lifting as she ran a claw along the back and tugged it above his head. He tried to snatch at it but she pulled it away, letting the material drop to the floor in a sodden heap.
“Tal, where did you put the dan-dan furs?”
“How the hell can I be expected to remember that woman?”
“You. are. useless,” she said to herself as she left Adam and rummaged through various chests. She pulled out a garment and held it before Adam before returning it to the chest. She repeated this process several times before finally holding out a garment she determined to be of the right size.
She handed it to Adam and he pulled it on over his head. It was made of fur and covered him from head to toe. It even had a small hood that covered his entire head when she flipped it forwards. He clutched his hands to his chest enjoying the warmth.
At her behest he removed his pants as well and handed them over. She picked up his shirt and hung it over the edge of the bed, letting it begin drying properly, but his pants were caked in mud and she threw them into what must have been their laundry pile.
“Well?” she said, turning back to him.
Adam ran his hands down the fur and tried to stand as best he could. She still towered over him and he couldn’t bring himself to meet her gaze fully. He lifted the hood back so at least she could see his face.
“Thank you,” he said, followed by a quick “I promise I’m not a spy.”
“No.” He fidgeted, running a finger against one of the seams of the skin. “But I am a soldier. Was a soldier,” he corrected.
“And does this ex-soldier have a name?”
“Adam,” he said.
“Are you hungry Adam?”
He nodded quickly and she all but swept him into the main room and sat him by the fire pit, facing Tal. Adam looked around the room, noting the tribal tapestry hanging from one wall he’d seen in most dwellings, along with the few other possessions the pair of them owned. The big alien meanwhile looked Adam up and down but thought better of saying anything with his mate still nearby.
Instead he took the roasting meat, set it down on a simple clay plate and passed it across to Adam. The human looked at his two alien hosts for a heartbeat before he tore into the meat.
“Doesn’t he even want a knife?” Maiuk said.
“You could fetch him one, but there’ll be nothing left by the time you do,” Tal said, never taking his eyes from the human.
Adam ate like he hadn’t eaten in days, which wasn’t far from the truth. He didn’t know what the animal had been. It could have been a family pet for all he cared. He could feel them watching him as he slowed, using his teeth to pick at the flesh between the bone, but it didn’t stop him.
“I never would have believed it,” Maiuk said as Adam finished, setting the bones down and taking his first breath since starting. He put a hand to his chest and stifled a small burp.
“Told you,” Tal said, taking the plate back and setting it down beside the fire. He passed Adam a cup and the human readily accepted it.
Adam brought the cup to his mouth and nearly let the liquid inside reach his lips before his nose warned him off. He set the cup down and began retching to get rid of the smell. His eyes watered painfully.
“Did you give him the cask ammonia?” Maiuk said, giving Tal another smack with her tail.
“It’s good enough.”
“Good enough. You nearly killed the thing!”
“Water,” Adam said, interrupting their conversation. “Water, please.”
“Water?” Maiuk repeated.
“Like… rain water? Lake water?” Tal followed.
Adam nodded and the two aliens looked at each other.
“I told you,” Tal finally said. “They’ll drink anything.”
“Water,” both Tal and Adam said and the pair of them stared at each other.
“But there’s nothing in it. It doesn’t do anything.”
“Why do you think they can survive anywhere?” Tal said to his mate, but still he kept his eyes on the human opposite him. “They can live off just Cala nuts for a week. And when that runs out, their body will start eating itself.”
“They do not,” Maiuk said but Adam nodded slowly.
“And then they drink. Oh do they drink. Water’s their default drink, litres of the stuff. Their body’s made of it. But they’ll drink most things, even the alcohol in chutta fuel, just for recreation.”
“Casks of the stuff. They drink and sing and drink some more and then they’ll fight.”
“They fought you after drinking that?!”
“No, of course not. They fight amongst themselves,” Tal said, as if explaining the most obvious thing in the world.
“I… I’m sorry to interrupt, but, could I, could I get some water?” Adam finally ventured, interrupting the tale of his own species drinking habits.
“Oh of course, sorry my dear,” Maiuk said. “Tal, fetch some water.”
“Fetch some water? And how am I supposed to do that, pray tell?”
Maiuk handed him an empty cup and shooed him towards the door.
“But it’s raining,” he said simply.
And with that, she opened the door and waited for him to step outside. Adam pulled the fur closer about him as the wind rushed inside.
“You mustn’t mind him dear,” Maiuk said while they waited.
She cleaned away his plate and gently lowered herself to sit beside him.
“Thank you,” he said quietly as they watched the flames leap into the air.
“Whatever for?” she asked.
Adam looked up at the door and the big alien beyond it. The kind of man he knew should he should consider his enemy. And yet…
“I have to leave,” he said, with a suddenness his bones protested at.
“Nonsense. You’ll stay until you’ve had a drink and then you’ll stay the night and however long you need to after that.”
“You’re in danger while I’m here.”
He turned to look at her. If she felt the fear those words should have inspired, he couldn’t read it in her face. Instead she shifted closer and put an arm around him.
He wanted to shake her arm from his shoulders but she was having none of it. He had brought danger to her home and now she was comforting him. He felt the tears coming a moment before he raised his own arm and buried his face into the crook of his elbow.
“What the hell have you done to him?” Tal asked as he returned, quickly closing the door behind him.
Maiuk still had her arm around the crying human. Tal set the cup full of rainwater down before their guest before retaking his position opposite the pair of them.
“Well?” he asked again.
“I have to leave,” Adam said before Maiuk could get a word in.
Hearing Tal repeat the same word his mate had uttered only a few minutes before, Adam could only stare in disbelief at the big alien. He went to stand and Tal growled softly at him.
“Tal,” Maiuk admonished softly.
The growling ceased, but the big alien kept his eyes on the human.
Adam sat back down and reached for the oversized cup instead. He drank the cool water inside it greedily, his hands trembling as he did so, and Tal waited until he’d finished before speaking.
“You’re too young to have thought in the landfall wars,” Tal said and when the silence grew too long, Adam nodded in confirmation.
“Tal, not the war,” Maiuk said but now her voice wasn’t tiredness and exasperation. It was fear of old enemies meeting on distant battlefields and new enemies sitting around a fire.
“Your kind arrived in such huge ships. A thousand tiny humans in each one. I still remember watching, realising this moment, this view, would define our history.” Tal held up a hand and drew a line across it with his other. “The before, and the after.
“Oh we fought. Mai’ thinks I embellish the stories too much…”
“… but you know the truth of it human. You know what our kind is capable of. And I know what your kind did to win the war.”
“So when a vyrerax-sized human turns up half dead on my doorstep I have to stop and ask myself a few questions.
“There’s been a decade of peace. You came and you set up your outposts and you protect your precious trade routes but, and here I put aside the impetuousness of my warrior-youth, you have been fair. More fair than we could have expected from our invaders.”
Adam set the empty cup down and turned it, watching the base make circles in the dirt of the ground.
“Tal, enough about the war now.”
“Maiuk looks at you and sees a wounded creature. She’ll feed you and clothe you and you’ll take our bed tonight because that is what our custom dictates and it is a custom you allowed us to keep. For that I think we can both agree we are grateful.”
Once more Adam nodded and now the cup couldn’t hold his gaze. He looked up into the face of this big alien. Veteran of the landfalls and genial host to one of its occupiers.
“But I see a soldier sitting before me. And normally I wouldn’t care. Your patrols come by and they find nothing of note in our simple home and they move on. But you’re not a simple soldier.
“You were running. You were running from something and the only thing a human has to be scared of on this planet is another human.”
“I need to leave.”
Adam’s voice had taken on a note of urgency.
“Is my cooking not good enough for you?”
Adam shook his head.
“Are the clothes my wife found for you not adequate?”
He shook his head.
“Then I don’t see any reason why you need to leave.”
“They’re coming for me.”
“And you think you’ll last any longer out there?” Tal said, jerking a clawed thumb at the rain that still beat at the door. “With the rain and the mines and the lightning? Tell me, how long had you been running before you made it this far? A day, two days?”
“I was stationed in Orus.”
“That’s a week away Tal,” Maiuk said, letting go of Adam to wag a finger at her mate.
“Not for a human,” he said and then he turned back to face Adam. “I bet you kept that pace until your legs gave out. Followed the southern rolls, avoided Pres’im. Didn’t count on the weather though.”
“You don’t understand,” Adam said. “They’ll find me. I don’t want anyone else to get hurt.”
“Who will find you?” Maiuk asked.
“The Empire,” Tal said.
“No,” Adam said.
That brought the big alien up short and Adam picked up his cup, tried to drink what wasn’t there and set it down again. Tal stood and moved around the fire. He plucked Adam up by the collar of his furs and, grabbing the cup from the ground, carried the boy to the doorway as if weighed nothing.
“Tal, what are you doing?” Maiuk said, watching the pair go.
“The human needs his water.”
She’d been with Tal long enough to know he had other reasons. Maiuk had spent the seasons after Tal returned brining him back to the world. Their home had never been much, but they’d built it together and each day he came home from the fields, he brought a little bit more the man she had fallen in love with back with him.
Now she watched the warrior of those early days leave her once more.
Outside, the rain had picked up. Where the hills had been in the distance, now there was only a bank of clouds that threatened to cut out all light. Tal marched towards a shelter, piles of wood stacked beneath the thin sheet roof, and Adam followed quickly in his wake.
Tal set the cup down beyond the cover of the shelter and let the rain begin filling it.
“I’ve seen the Empire in action,” he began.
He sat amongst the piles of wood, his tail curling behind him and then he reached back and extricated a small metal box hidden amongst the wood. Adam watched as the alien took out a pipe and began packing it with bitter smelling herbs. Tal lit the pipe and drew a long breath, savouring the taste.
“We had our rites of passage and the fighting styles that grew in each village and the tribes they formed. But humanity!” He let out the smoke, watched it curl into the rain and then vanish. “You had rules and discipline and a focus that went beyond the needs of a single village. After the first tribes fell, it turned into a different kind of war. A dirty war.”
Adam watched and listened and when Tal offered him the pipe he declined.
“To be hunted,” Tal said and Adam’s eyes flashed with fear. “My father always told me the greatest thrill is to hunt a creature; to watch it scurry away for it’s very life and then take that life from it. And I believed him.
“Until your kind came, and we became the animals running for our lives. It was a new rush I felt that day. So when I look at you, the little drowned human with fear in his eyes, I see the same expression from my youth.
“You are being hunted, and it is not by the Empire and it’s definitely not from a simple Truk like myself,” Tal said, Adam nodding with each point. “And truthfully, I don’t care.”
That caught Adam short and he let his mouth flap open. Tal took another draw on his pipe.
“I only care about one thing and that is my mate. I brought you out here to give you a warning human;
“You can run until your legs fall off. I know your kind are more than capable of it. You can run until you cross the eastern slopes and then you can keep on running, far beyond what I know of or have ever seen.
“But whatever you’re running from will follow you. I can see that in your eyes because I’ve seen it in myself. Humans will go to any length necessary to catch their quarry, and you are been hunted by humans as surely as I know Maiuk will be going mad with worry over what I’m doing with you right now. Know this, once you go forwards you can never come back. You have to ask yourself, are you more scared of what you’ve done or what you have yet to do?”
The silence stretched out and Tal waited, watching Adam work through the questions in his head. He watched the human shiver and was about to say they should go back inside when Adam spoke to the mud and the night.
“They’re soldiers,” Adam said, the cold seeping into his bare feet. The fur kept him warm and he pulled the hood up, it’s isolation a comfort. “Centurions. But what they’re doing… It’s not for the Empire.”
“And they are the ones who are chasing you?”
“I was one of them. A centurion, stationed in Orus.”
“Were you now,” Tal said. There was no hint of malice in his voice. There was only the barest hint of surprise and he set the pipe down, it’s glow fading quickly as the rain caught it.
“It was the mefloxin,” Adam said and watched as Tal scratched reflexively at the site of where he would have received the injection. “The same drug we give to every inhabitant of each new world we conquer.”
“This is over inoculations?” Tal asked.
“No. Yes. It’s complicated.”
“Simple things normally are.”
“We were just supposed to skim a few off the top. The Empire always sends too many and the rust worlds pay a lot to avoid having to put a name down in the citizen registry. Nobody was supposed to notice.”
“Until somebody did,” Tal finished, but Adam shook his head.
“Until somebody died,” he corrected.
The cup had finished filling long ago and Adam picked it up and took a long drink. Tal said nothing. He knew the death would not have been of a human. Humans didn’t die because they went without; that was the whole purpose of their Empire.
“We underestimated demand. Your birthing cycles are unpredictable and we went through two crates in the first week alone but the Legate kept the last one locked away. Old man is running down the clock on his final tour before taking the road home.”
“Without those inoculations,” Adam let his words trail off and set the cup back down. “The first trade ship to arrive would bring down a… a simple cold from Terra! and the Truk children would die because of it. I said as much to the Legate. One crate wasn’t worth their lives.”
“And this man…”
“Calison,” Adam said with disgust in his voice.
“Legate Calison, he said nothing?”
Adam laughed and Tal hated the sound. The humans made it all the time, a chortling that seemed to rattle up from their single belly and make their very bones shake.
“I went to him after the first Truk got sick. He didn’t care as long as he got his. I couldn’t help myself. I was just so mad at him.”
“What happened?” Tal asksd.
“I wasn’t going to stand by and let another world die because of me. Because of us! Humanity! That word means more to me than an Empire and how many worlds we can stick a flag into the dirt on.
“I’ve seen it happen too many times, over and over and over. A few centurions try and make a profit and a world withers and dies because of it. Well no more! I wasn’t going to be a part of that system. I believe in the Empire,” Adam said, cupping his hand to his chest and turning to face Tal. There was a fire in his eyes. “But I’d lost faith in my brothers.”
“And the Legate?” Tal said slowly.
“He was going to have me arrested. I threatened to go over his head. I said I’d send a message to the Praetor for this world, tell him what was going on in his name.
“Calison had a pugio mounted on his desk. It was a ceremonial blade, gifted to him when he got his command, but he kept it sharp and it all happened so quickly. He embraced me and apologised for what had been done and for a stupid, naive moment I thought it was going to be okay. And then I saw him draw the pugio out of it’s sheath.”
Tal listened. He knew infighting had doomed his people’s resistance just as surely as the human’s own weapons had, so to hear that humanity experienced the same conflicts was almost reassuring to him.
“He was a veteran,” Adam said. “Man had more honours on his chest than my entire family banner. And I struck him before he could strike me. When he brought the sword out… I… we fought. I didn’t wait for them to find him, I just ran. I’ve been running since.”
“And now your brothers are after you,” Tal said, his eyes settling on something in the distance.
Adam looked out across the horizon. He spotted the tiny metal speck of the airship a heartbeat after Tal had. It hung, suspended in midair as the lightning thundered around it. When the lightning struck again it had moved closer, gaining ground with each moment.
“Get inside,” Tal said, a low growl punctuating his words.
“I can run. They’ll leave you alone.”
“You won’t make it a hundred metres in this muck. You’ll be exposed and I’ve seen what happens when humans train their weapons on those without armour.”
“Tal, I can’t do this to you.”
“You’ve done nothing,” he said, and the alien turned to face Adam, gripping the human with his clawed hands. Adam looked up at the broken and scarred face. “Go inside and warn Maiuk. Do as she says.”
Inside, where there had been warmth only a short while before, now there was frantic hurrying. Maiuk wasted no time. She pulled the large family tapestry aside and began pushing against the rough walls. Adam watched as the plaster bent inward before breaking through into a space that was hidden between the adjoining rooms.
“In,” she said, pointing a clawed finger into the dark void and Adam didn’t hesitate.
The tapestry fell back into place as soon as he was inside and now the only light was the flickering of the fire caught through the colourful patterns of the fabric.
Adam felt around in the semi-darkness, his hands hunting for anything of use. The space was filled with old contraband, weapons from the war that had been too precious to give up or food rations hungry soldiers would be apt to sequester. Adam’s fingers brushed metal, the shape of something all too familiar and he gulped, pulling it to his chest.
The door crashed open and the violence of the storm rushed inside in a frenzy of bodies and harsh words.
“Get inside Truk!”
Adam watched the hulking shadow of Tal stumble in, immediately clutching at the shadow of his mate as they knelt together on the floor. The pair wrapped their arms around each other.
More shadows followed in quick pursuit, the curving lines of centurion armour standing out clearly in their silhouettes. Three men, each armed and angry and unafraid of the repercussions of their actions.
“We have no quarrel with the Empire,” Tal was saying.
The lead shadow stepped closer and Adam watched, drawn so intently to the scene his nose was nearly pressed against the fabric of the tapestry.
“It’s for the Empire to decide whether or not it’s subjects are inline,” the speaker said and Adam recognised the voice. The Commander of his cohort back in Orus. The leader of this little clean-up operation, sent by the Legate to bring him back and face the cross. “What were you doing outside?”
“Fetching wood,” Tal said.
“Don’t you lie to me Truk,” the Commander said, jabbing the muzzle of his weapon towards Tal. The other men spread out into the home and a shadow passed right outside the tapestry, so close Adam could hear the soldiers breathing.
“He was smoking ha’sith,” Maiuk said, drawing the guard’s attention from Adam’s hiding place.
“Maiuk!” Tal said.
“What? I know you go out there to smoke it. I can always smell it on you.”
“You need to control your woman better,” the Commander said with a chuckle and Tal growled.
The big aliens sign of aggression was met by the sharp crack of a pulse from the Commander’s rifle and Adam fought against rushing out, his hands balled into fists, as he watched Tal fall back to the ground. Maiuk knelt beside him quickly. Adam heard the big alien growl from the floor and felt relief that it must only have been a glancing shot.
“He was here,” one of the centurions shouted out, his shadow moving quickly from the bedroom to the Commander’s side.
“This shirt belongs to a man who has committed crimes against the Empire,” the Commander said, and Adam saw him kneel before the pair of aliens. The shirt danced in the firelight and Adam cursed himself for forgetting it. “Where is he?”
“He left,” Maiuk said.
“I doubt that.” The Commander stood. “Grab the male.”
“Tal,” Maiuk screamed as Tal was dragged away from her. She fought until the muzzle of a rifle pressed against her head.
“You have until the count of three,” the Commander said. “Tell me where he is or I put a bullet through your husband and this time he won’t be growling after I’m finished with him.”
“I told you, he left!” Maiuk pleaded.
“He went into the south fields, I don’t know where to after that.”
“He’s gone! Please! It’s just us.”
“No, now it’s just you,” the Commander said.
Adam heard the words.
Maiuk couldn’t know what they meant. She wouldn’t believe creatures could be capable of such evil. But Adam knew what would happen next.
He had seen what happened when men thought themselves better than others.
Without a word, Adam brushed aside the tapestry and stood. He raised the small alien pistol, one of the things he had found amongst the pile of contraband in the hidden space, and aimed it at the Commander’s head. His grip pulled tight against the cold metal. The two remaining centurions swung their rifles to bear on him in an instant, but at this range Adam wouldn’t miss and they knew it.
“Stop this,” Adam said.
The Commander turned, his rifle drawing a lazy circle on the ground as he faced Adam. He smiled, the rain from outside still running down his face and falling as small drops on his armour.
“Like magic, he appears!” he said. “And he’s gone full native on us already.”
The Commander’s men laughed at his little jab at the furs Adam wore, but they kept their rifles still trained on him. Outside, the whine of the airship could be heard over the sound of the storm, it’s engines idling.
“Are you okay Tal?” Adam asked. He didn’t let his sight drift from the Commander at the end of his weapon.
The big alien growled from the floor and the Commander raised his rifle just enough to prevent the injured Truk from rising.
“Not so fast ugly,” the Commander said.
“Leave these people out of this,” Adam said, his palms sweaty around the grip of the alien pistol.
“These collaborators were found harbouring a fugitive of the Empire. That sort of thing can not go unpunished.”
“It’s me you want, not them. Let them go and I’ll come without a fight.”
“Adam, no,” Maiuk called out.
“Hand over the weapon traitor. Then we can negotiate.”
The seconds ticked on, time counted by the rolls of thunder from outside.
“Promise they won’t be hurt,” Adam finally said.
“You have my word.”
“Don’t trust him Adam,” Tal said, looking up the barrel of the Commander’s rifle. “Ask yourself.”
“Quiet,” the Commander said, his gaze set on Adam.
“Ask yourself what it is you’re more afraid of.”
“I said shut it.”
The kick was vicious and Maiuk screamed as she clutched at Tal. The big alien put the back of his hand to his jaw, the skin coming away mottled with his blood.
“When you go back, what will that solve?” Tal asked, keeping his eyes set on the Commander, daring the man to strike again. “They won’t stop.”
“Ungrateful beasts. Good for nothing savages.”
“Stop!” Adam shouted.
The Commander punctuated each word with a solid kick to Tal’s chest. Adam felt his grip weaken with the sound of each blow as his voice echoed futilely against the din of the storm. He shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut.
The shot rang out.
The kicking stopped. The taunts ceased. Adam felt the unfamiliar recoil tremoring through his arms.
The Commander stood, clutching at his throat where blood had already begun to leak out from between his fingers. He turned to his men, took one pained step forwards, stumbled, and fell.
“You trai…” one of the centurions began, his rifle shifting with well-practiced aim and Adam felt the weapon in his hands buck one more.
The centurion collapsed, grabbing at his shoulder and swearing angrily as he was knocked back against the wall. Adam turned his weapon to the last man. He was a kid, barely out of the prefecture, and he let his rifle fall to the dirt floor.
In a span of heartbeats, it was all over.
Adam’s heart was beating in his chest. A week ago he was patrolling a town full of folk who didn’t consider him their oppressor for once. And now? Now he had more human blood on his hands then could ever be washed away by the rains.
Tal stood unsteadily, a trail of blood snaking it’s way down his leg and he snatched the pistol from Adam’s hands. He marched over to where the second centurion was still mewling, slumped against the wall and clutching at his shoulder.
Tal levelled the pistol at the human’s head.
“Tal, no,” Adam shouted.
“He threatened my mate,” he spat.
“And he’ll pay. I promise.”
The clawed hand shook and the centurion looked up at his end.
“Maiuk needs you,” Adam said. He stepped between the Truk and the man, placing a hand on Tal’s arm. Tal shook beneath Adam’s grip, the anger and pain perhaps too much for him. But then his shoulders sagged and he handed Adam the pistol.
“What now?” Tal asked, pulling his mate into his arms and holding her more tightly than Adam had ever seen two creatures embrace.
Adam surveyed the wreckage. The Commander lay where he had fallen, a pool of blood slowly spreading outwards until it reached the edge of the fire pit. The two remaining centurions were quiet, awaiting their fates. Adam picked up his shirt from the floor.
“I’m going back to Orus.”
“But they’ll hang you,” Maiuk said from her mate’s side.
“Maybe. Maybe not. The Legate’s dead along with his right-hand man. I have a chance to let the Empire know what’s going on before it all starts again.”
“Do you think you can?”
“I can try.”
“But if you’re wrong,” Maiuk said.
Tal stood back and looked at his mate. He shook his head sorrowfully.
“You can’t stop a human once they’ve made up their mind. This is something they need to sort out for themselves.”
Adam nodded and thanked the big alien. Tal helped him bind the injured centurion’s wrists and then the pair of them walked the prisoners outside into the storm. The airship was still waiting, it’s engines a low rumble, and soon the two humans were tied securely in the back, their dead commander lying between them.
Adam followed Tal down the ramp until he stood on the metal and Tal the mud. With the angle, they could almost look at each other eye-to-eye.
“Thank you,” Adam said.
Tal took the human’s outstretched hand, but pulled him into a tight bearhug instead. Adam could only wait until the alien put him down.
“What the hell was that for?” Adam said.
“You saved my mate.” Adam began to speak, but Tal held up a hand. “You also brought danger into our lives and ruined my home. But in the moment, you put my mate’s safety above your own. You put her life beyond even your own species. That to me is more honourable than any other action.”
“I just wanted to do right.”
“You have, and you will.”
Maiuk stood in the doorway. She watched the pair of them.
“If I don’t ever get a chance to come back here, I want you to know I’m grateful.”
“I lied,” Tal said. “When I said I didn’t care about what you were running from. But I want you to know you’ve made the right choice. Whatever happens, you didn’t run in the end. You stood up. You’re a damn fine human.”
Adam held out his hand, and this time Tal shook it.
“Goodbye Adam,” the big alien said.