Palindrome, Part 14, The End

Palindrome

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.

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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.

← Back to Part 13


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Palindrome, Part 13

Palindrome

This is the thirteenth part in a serialized story.  If you’ve missed any of the rest of it, you can find it here.

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That night, as Avdonina slept, she was suddenly awakened by movement within their roughly made lean-to.  Thinking at first it was Quenden, she rolled over to comfort him back to sleep.  Instead of Quenden’s warm little boy body beside her, she found a rough hairy creature.

She jerked back with a small shriek and fought to sit upright.  Quenden!  She had to find Quenden.

Warm alien bodies pushed against her and something warm and sticky landed on her exposed arm.  Paralysis crept over her.  They carried her out into the deep chill of the night, conscious, but unable to move.  She couldn’t even cry out or open her eyes to look for her brother. She couldn’t turn her head yet, but she thought she saw another grouping of dark shadows just on the edge of her vision carrying something.  Please let it be Quenden!

Her captors took her into one of the large common buildings and dumped her on the floor.  The second group added another body beside her.

A harsh bark of laughter met her, followed by Shihs’s rough voice.  “Well, if it isn’t the junkyard dog and her whelp.”

Avdonina wriggled her fingers until she closed on Quenden’s tiny hand.  Inch by inch, she pushed the muscles in her neck to obey.  Slowly her head turned until she was facing her son, his chest rising and falling in even rhythm.

Shihs sniffed and spoke again.  “It’s just us, you know.  Everyone else is dead.”

He lunged up against her, whispering in her ear, “I gave you your cur baby brother, I let him live when I should have killed him.  I asked you for one small favor in return.  You couldn’t even do that for me.  I feel no special reason to keep up my end of the deal when you didn’t keep up yours.”  He leaned across her, reaching for Quenden’s throat.

Avdonina gritted her teeth, willing her body to respond.  She arched her back and brought her knee up into Shihs’s face.  It wasn’t powerful enough to hurt him, but it pushed him far enough that he loosened his grip on Quenden.

All at once, a furry body appeared in front of her and snatched Shihs by the hair and neck.  More furry bodies grabbed Avdonina and Quenden, dragging them out of the building and into a circle of light brown four-legged natives.

Avdonina rolled over onto her side, curling around Quenden.  His eyes were open and filled with fear.  “Mmmmmmaaaah.”  While she rubbed his cheek and patted his arm to reassure him, she scanned her captors.

They were close to the size of large dogs, mostly standing on four legs.  Some, however, stood on their two hind legs, shifting back and forth in agitation.  Their front feet and hind feet looked identical, causing Avdonina to speculate that they could grip things with the hind feet as well.  They were covered with coarse brown fur and thick dock tails extended almost a full six-inches behind them.  A giant groove that ran the vertical length of the face seemed to be a closure of two facing bone plates that opened to display two bulging eyes and a wide feeding tube that swiveled as they spoke.  Occasional tiny heads poked out of marsupial-type pouches on the bellies of Avdonina’s captors.  These were poked back in by the carrying parent.  She couldn’t tell if all the natives had pouches, but they seemed to her eyes to be the only sexual identifiers within the group.

The religious shrine had to belong to these people.

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Palindrome, Part 12

Palindrome

This is the twelfth part in a serialized story.  If you’ve missed any of the rest of it, you can find it here.

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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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Palindrome, Part 11

Palindrome

This is the eleventh part in a serialized story.  If you’ve missed any of the rest of it, you can find it here.

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“We’ve slowly been adjusting the gravity and air mix in the ship since you’ve awakened to help you get ready for the planet.  You may feel disoriented, tired, and have a little trouble breathing as you move more actively.  If you experience any reactions in extreme, or the symptoms continue beyond a few days, please contact a member of the medical team immediately.”

The med-techs and medics, standing on a raised platform near the door of the ship, raised their hands.

The announcement continued.  “Once outside the ship, proceed directly to your quarters.  Engineers are housed in the compound to the left, and miners are housed in the quarters to the right.”  Avdonina’s new quarters were with the miners.  As far away from Miggs as possible.

The gangway doors opened and the front of the remaining group of 850 settler-miners and family surged forward.

Avdonina was in the middle of the group with Quenden, with just five days worth of Praccin in her pocket.  Shihs apparently wanted to keep her under his thumb.  Miggs, standing at the front, pointedly ignoring her.  He hadn’t spoken to her since they woke.  When he happened to see her, he only scowled and moved on.  That was fine with her.  Apparently, Shihs had already informed Miggs of the new arrangements.

Slowly, the settlers funneled through the door, mixing with their new home like gasoline on water.

The crush pushed Avdonina forward.  She could just see a small sliver of blue sky above the heads of those in the doorway.  Fresh air!

Quenden, with his most recent dose of Praccin working in his system, squirmed on her hip, jabbering long strings of nonsensical words to neighbors, who smiled in return.

It seemed like forever they shuffled in the confines of the crowd, breathing used air, not seeing or knowing how much further, just focusing on that blue patch of sky.

Suddenly Avdonina was at the door and then out.  She had her first look at her new world.  It really didn’t look much different from rural Earth, except the vegetation was a bit thicker-stemmed and almost blue-green.  Even the grass crunched softly under her feet as she walked around the side of the ship.

It didn’t take long to find their quarters.  Someone, presumably Shihs, had placed them at the end of the compound, furthest from the majority of the crowd, where no one would hear Quenden if he got out of control.

Inside, she found everything well-organized and already put away.  Maybe this deal of Shihs’s wasn’t so bad after all.

← Back to Part 10    Forward to Part 12 →


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