This is the twelfth part in a serialized story. If you’ve missed any of the rest of it, you can find it here.
The first thing Miggs saw when he opened the door was the brat surrounded with toys. The kid held two toys up to him, one in each hand.
His traitorous wife rushed to push him back out the door. “What are you doing here? These are my quarters, not yours. Get out!”
Seizing her arm, he twisted it harshly and pushed her up against the wall, pinning her with his knee. “Remember our agreement? I do. I did my part; I got you here. You’re gonna honor your end of the contract. I’ve been without a woman for over one hundred years.”
“Go talk to Shihs. He’s got someone else for you. Get out.”
His face turned bright red and he swung his fist into her cheek. Wrapping his hand around her throat, he said in a menacing whisper, “Fine, I’ll take her, too. But you and I made a contract. The doc says it’ll be at least five days before any of us can get a hard on. I’m bettin’ it’ll be less time for me.” He pointed his finger at her and said, “Be ready.” Then, he pivoted and walked out the door.
In the front room, Miggs stumbled on one of the brat’s many toys. Respect. That’s what needed to be taught here. Respect. In two strides, Miggs reached the boy and landed a backhand across his cheek.
He laughed and walked out of the building.
* * * *
Avdonina rushed to pick up her baby brother. Rocking him back and forth on her hip and whispering a “Shhh! Shhh!”, she walked from room to room picking up food and other items and dropping them into a small carry bag. Miggs had made it clear he would be back. Shihs couldn’t protect her. She didn’t trust him either. The only one she trusted was the medic, and she wouldn’t need him to furnish Praccin as soon as she got Quen away from the facility. Where she was going, she didn’t know, but even a cave was better than Miggs and Shihs. And God help Miggs if he ever crossed her path again.
She finished packing and bolted out of the building, hugging Quenden close to her. His tears faded into snuffles. Slipping around the corner, she came face-to-face with the alien planet.
Giant thick-skinned flowers bordered the treeline on the outskirts of the compound. Dark brown blooms spread their heady perfume while lizard-like creatures the size of Avdonina’s fingers darted in and out of the center of the blossoms on blue shimmering wings.
One of the flying lizards aggressively bumped another. Immediately, others swarmed in, keening an ear-piercing wail while they devoured their two companions.
Avdonina skirted the edge of the bushes, keeping a careful watch on the swarm. She could only imagine they’d eat human flesh as easily as or easier than that of their own kind.
Once she felt far enough from danger, she changed direction and pushed past the leather-skinned blossoms into the bushes behind.
Here, the world once again reminded her of Earth, until she came upon a forest of giant vines that snaked into the air and then arced back to the ground again. Some merely waved at the sky, as if reaching for a higher cause before the heavier gravity crippled them into stooped soldiers.
Quenden weighed heavier and heavier on her shoulder, his breath coming in regular rhythms of sleep.
“I have to get away” became her mantra, repeating it with each footstep, pushing her into the inky velvet of the shadows. Occasional branches tore at her and, once, she had to set Quenden down to untangle herself from a nest of thorns that had snagged her hair.
It seemed everywhere Avdonina went, she found the brown flowers. It seemed that the more aged blossoms had a soft, white ring around the base of the petals. The wider the ring, the softer the petal. All white petals fell off and formed a sort of mushy carpet. Without exception, the same type carnivorous lizards swarmed there. Something about the musky odor must attract them. She quickly learned to turn aside when she saw the first hint of the blossom.
Abruptly, Avdonina came to a small lake bordered on three sides by a rough rock formation with caves dotted throughout. Perhaps she and Quen could stay overnight in one of those. Something, though, looked odd. The longer she stared, the more she came to realize these formations had a pattern.
Taking a step back and shifting Quenden a little higher for the hundredth time, she squinted her eyes and viewed the profile of the structure. It had three upright divisions, each with large lower and small upper sections. They, in fact, looked like religious shrines stacked one atop of another.
The lower sections each had six small cubbyholes, two above two above two. The small upper sections each had just one large opening dead center. Almost like a mouth, Avdonina mused. With a start, she realized she was looking at three giant statues instead of one large shrine edifice.
Were those fashioned after the indigenous peoples?
If that were the case, this would be holy ground and if she were found, the owners would have every right to be angry. Slowly she turned around, half expecting to see herself surrounded. When she found herself alone, she chuckled self consciously.
Lowering Quenden, Avdonina pulled a few small food items out of her pack and piled them as an offering. It wouldn’t hurt to make amends for her trespass. She picked up her brother again and backed out of the clearing. She would find a different place to sleep.
Striking a course perpendicular to her original path, she marched for another hour while Quenden slept. As he began to get restless, she topped a small crest and lay him down, sitting beside him. With him awake, travel would be very slow, if at all.
Around and below her, the bushes were low. A stand of the soldier vines bordered behind that. She could see anyone coming from a long way off. She and Quen could spend the night there.
A trickle of gray smoke rose into the sky above the trees from the direction of the compound. The trickle grew thicker and darker. Suddenly, a bright flash flared beneath the smoke. Almost simultaneously, the ground rumbled and a sharp explosion ripped through the air.
Quenden sat bolt upright, crying and reaching for Avdonina. She stood and pulled him up into her aching arms.
The cord of smoke had turned into a thick black column. Abruptly, another explosion lit up the sky and shook the ground. Then another and another.
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If you don’t want to wait to read the whole story, it’s available in “Sunlit Night, Coffee and Sweet Dreams“.