This is the fourteenth and last part in a serialized story. If you’ve missed any of the rest of it, you can find it here.
One, larger and sleeker than the rest, stalked forward on all four legs. It stopped and sat, staring at Avdonina, Quenden, and Shihs. It leaned back, supporting itself with its tail. Something within its pouch shifted across its stomach.
Another native sidled up to this first, its head lowered as if in submission to the other.
Avdonina tucked her head more to emulate the subordinate, still watching out of the corner of her eye. “Shihs, put your head down.”
The leader buzzed something and the subordinate lifted its head and spoke, gesturing to Shihs and then pointing to various areas around the compound.
Shihs made a rude noise and stood. “You’re so pathetic. They know that we don’t understand their ways. I’m the leader. They kept me alive to meet their leader.” He slowly walked toward the leader, hands outstretched at his sides.
The subordinate native spoke rapidly, his gestures getting more violent. Then, he suddenly stopped and lowered his head again.
Avdonina said to the still approaching Shihs, “Stop! They’ll kill you too!”
The leader spoke a one syllable hum.
Whirling toward Shihs, the subordinate extended his feeding tube and shot a thick paste-like mass onto Shihs’s cheek.
Immediately, Shihs’s face turned a bright red. Even as he reached his hand to wipe it off, he collapsed. As Shihs’s breath stopped, his face turned from deep red into blue. The leader turned to Avdonina.
She kept her head bowed, but patted and quietly played with Quenden’s hand to keep him occupied.
Another subordinate stepped forward. As soon as the leader recognized it, this subordinate began a long dialogue of hums and buzzes, punctuated by clicks. It pointed the direction where Avdonina and Quenden had been captured. Then it pointed toward the shrine, speaking slower. Then it stopped and lowered its head.
The leader stood on its two hind feet. It walked to Avdonina and sat in front of her. It buzzed at her.
It sounded to her like the same acknowledgement it gave its two subordinates. Was she being given a chance to speak? To defend her trespass of their planet?
Slowly, she raised to her knees, lifting her head. She made eye contact with the leader for the first time. “I don’t understand you. I doubt you understand me. I’m sorry –,” her voice cracked, “ – for what my people have done to yours.” Not finding anything else to say, she lowered her head to await judgment. Beside her, Quenden played with her hand.
The leader sat silent in front of her for what seemed a long time. Then abruptly, it let out a soft hum, stood on four feet and walked away, the group of natives following.
Avdonina kept her head bowed until long after the last native left. Then she sank to the ground, pulling Quenden to her, rocking him in her arms.
* * * *
It was almost dawn before Avdonina, carrying a sleeping Quenden, toured what remained of Shihs’s installation. The thick black columns of smoke still roped into the sky from many of the buildings and from the Palindrome. Bodies littered the ground, some dismembered, but most with that thick paste glopped on somewhere on bare skin. She found Miggs, claw marks from his own fingernails crisscrossing the skin where the paste was plastered. It had been a quick death, or he might have succeeded in removing the poison. Avdonina spat on his body. Quick had been too good for him.
No matter where Avdonina went, there was no one alive. She and Quenden were the only humans left on the planet. Time for plan C. There was shelter, food and plenty of water left in the compound. They would survive. Junkyard dogs always did.
If you don’t want to wait to read the story in serialized form, it’s available in “Sunlit Night, Coffee and Sweet Dreams“.