domingo, 11 de diciembre de 2011
Karson had landed the flyer behind a screening grove of trees, leaving the semi-conscious Hyas strapped to his seat. The restraints pulled tight against his body, restricted his feverish movements in order to prevent the huge man from causing further harm to himself. Kalum wondered whether this was from some new altruistic sense, or rather that Karson was merely trying to ensure his own acceptance by the Tauran and his shadowy allies.
When Kalum made as if to follow Karson out of the flyer, a peremptory wave of a hand forced him back to his seat. At first there was no explanation, but as the big man buckled a pistol to his belt, he spoke.
“Right now, it’s better that you remain here and take care of the Tauran.” said Karson, as he opened the flyer’s main door, “If Lepus has found his ship, there will be bloodshed, and a substantial amount. You will only get in the way.”
Feeling affronted, Kalum petulantly turned away, but a strong hand gripped his shoulder, “I .. am not used to diplomatic discourses, forgive me, my Lord,” petitioned Karson in a much softer tone, “Your safety is my first concern and may well need to be the other Karson right now. With no concern except the death of my enemies, I can be more efficient. I will return for you both, as soon as I can.”
Indicating his understanding with a smile, Kalum moved to Hyas’ side, as Karson made his way out of the craft. “Karson ... ?” he called, arresting the big man’s movement and bringing a look of impatience to his face, “Take care...”
The face of Lepus’ brutal ex-Leftenant coloured, embarrassment warred with a new found pride, but Karson’s only visible response was a curt nod of acknowledgement as he jumped down to the ground.
A breeze gently moved the leaves, their gentle whispering belying the potential for violence expressed by Karson’s stealthy advance. He was not fooled by the idyllic setting, nor the seeming absence of sound or lack of obvious danger. It was exactly this silence which worried him, caused him to drop to the ground and inch forward towards the top of the nearby rise in the ground. Peering through the cover of vegetation, he could see Hyas’ ship, its camouflage blending it in with its surrounds, yet it was impossible to completely hide it.
Now he waited, patience was extremely important, although difficult to maintain under such stressful conditions, however, this was not the first time he had needed to follow such a course of action. Breathing slowly to calm his adrenalin-enhanced body, he made himself as comfortable as possible and watched carefully for any betraying signs of unusual activity.
Karson had almost convinced himself that everything was fine, that no-one with a murderous intent lay in wait. His muscles had bunched in preparation for his planned movement when he heard an incongruous sound. No bird-call, nor susurration of wind, but the sharp explosion of a sneeze. It had come from the other side of the Tauran’s craft, seemingly echoing out from underneath the stubby landing slides. Relaxing his tensed muscles, Karson slid slowly to the ground, rolling away from his cover down the rise, until he could once more regain his feet.
Now his actions were quick and assured, as he skirted the landing site and approached the vessel from the other side. In his hand there was no pistol, but the thin stiletto blade of his knife. His concentration was immense, each footfall could announce his presence and leave the boy on his own. This was a new sensation for Karson, he had never worried about anyone, or anything in his life before. Yet, the astonishing news of the boy’s identity and the implicit trust in which Kalum held the big man, had shocked him to the core. There could be no mistakes, he needed to find and eliminate whatever threat there was, permanently.
Finally, he was within striking distance, hidden amongst the thick vegetation, as was his enemy. The distinctive sound could not help him further, right now he needed his foe’s exact position, so he waited, tensed, his muscles quivering in anticipation. Like a hunting cat, his weight was evenly balanced, body ready for instant reaction. Then it came and without thought Karson struck, his blade sliding easily into human flesh, once, twice and then a third and final time. There had been a whisper of cloth, a flicker of movement and Karson had leapt to the kill.
Slowly he lowered the body to the floor, recognising the man as one of Lepus’ soldiers. He knew however that there would not just be one of them and the obvious place for another, would be inside the craft itself. The man’s rifle lay by his side and Karson retrieved it, checking the state of its flechette charge, then ready once more, he moved to the partially open entrance.
No sound nor unexpected movement alerted him of the impending attack, rather it was his senses, attuned over the years to the nature of such deadly encounters, that drove him into a long flat dive. His trajectory carried him through the door, the rifle tucked in close to his body, as he used his shoulder to break his fall, rolling over and upright. Instinctively his finger tightened, sending the wicked metallic needles whickering outwards in a horrific arc. A grunt, followed by a scream told him that he had struck his target, but he had not stood still waiting. Already, he had followed the first burst from the weapon with another and then slammed into the dark shape before him, a moist and pliant body collapsing before him. Mistily he felt the caress of liquid against his skin and the swipe of his forearm, across his face, not only cleared his vision, but left a salty taste on his lips.
Using his boot, he rolled the corpse out of his way and prowled further into the craft. Lepus was a fool, but Karson was a known and deadly commodity. He would be insulted if this was the limit of the troops left to deal with him.
Kalum watched the slow and even rise and fall of Hyas’ barrel chest. The Tauran’s wound appeared to have stabilised, although the make-shift bandage and black and congealed blood around the wound, spoke graphically of the trauma experienced. Now and again, the boy dabbed at Hyas’ forehead with a cool cloth, the little that he could do from his limited experience. It was as he left forward, to wipe away a little of the accumulated sweat and grime from the Tauran’s horns that he felt the hand grasp the back of his collar and wrench him backwards.
Shouting in fright, Kalum was dragged across the door towards the exit. His scrabbling fingers caught onto the side of one of the control panels and he hung on for dear life. A voice cursed and the butt of a pistol was smashed down onto is fingers, the pain causing him to let go of his handhold and his precipitous journey began again.
He bumped his head against one of the door surrounds and felt himself twist, as his assailant propelled him out of the door and sent him crashing to the earth. Looking up, he could see the face of his attacker and its demeanour did nothing to encourage him. Blood shot eyes stared out of a scarred and bitter face. The man spat onto the floor, raising the weapon in his hand and pointing it determinedly at Kalum.
Another man approached from behind a tree, buttoning his trousers, before wiping his hand on the back of his combat fatigues.
“Killing him right now, would be pretty much unadvisable,” he said, his voice curiously cultured and at odds with his appearance, “Lepus wants to know where the object is. If you kill him, then ask him where it is, getting a sensible and intelligible answer, may be a little difficult!”
“What .. ?” snarled his companion, changing the angle of his weapon.
“I said ...” began the first man, his reply cut short, as he looked down curiously at the steel blade poking out of his chest, his subsequent liquid cough announcing the spurt of blood which flew from his mouth. He looked somewhat disconcerted, his hands spread pleadingly towards his companion , who even now opened fire, his projectile weapon spiting forth rounds which slammed into the dying man’s body.
Kalum buried his face in his hands, appalled at the violence being played out before him. The second soldier had once more trained his rifle onto the young boy, his face contorted in anger as he pulled the trigger. None of the expected pain of impact arrived, rather the soldier’s body flew outwards from the doorway, his weapon discharging harmlessly into the air. An axe stuck deep into his back became visible as he collapsed lifeless to the floor and Kalum saw the figure of the Tauran which stood momentarily in the doorway, before crumpling to the floor.
As he made to rush to Hyas’ aid, a hand pushed him back down and fear struck hard at the boy. His frightened glance, though, revealed the large figure of Karson, who stood over him, blood dripping onto the boy from his gore-covered figure. Somehow he had inherited this man, this machine of destruction and Kalum was only too glad that Karson was on his side.
“Why hasn’t Lepus attacked us?” asked Kalum, as they relaxed in the Tauran’s craft, “If he knows that this is here, why wouldn’t he just use those same weapons that he did on my village.”
“Probably, because he doesn’t know where we are,” answered Karson, staring deep into Kalum’s eyes, his gaze making the boy feel uncomfortable, “these men were sent out to find Hyas’ ship and wait for your return. This was done before my own crew and I found you and knowing those involved, they would have kept the location to themselves.”
“Why?” inquired a perplexed Kalum, his abrupt submersion into the dangerous political waters occasioned by his alleged ancestry, leaving him floundering.
“Nothing too noble”, responded Karson, turning to the main control board to begin preparations for take-off, “Lepus’ men, but mirror their Master’s traits; avarice, theft, murder, extortion, and any other anti-social behaviour he can get away with. They would have first of all thought of how much they could extort from Lepus, then would have been afraid of his actions and finally would have been bored. Your arrival gave them something to do to entertain themselves, eventually they would have killed you.”
“Eventually ...?” came Kalum’s querulous question.
“You really don’t want know,” advised Karson, as he punched the launch sequence into the controls and the engines roared into life, “believe me, you really don’t..!”
The vessel shuddered as it shook itself free of the ground’s restraint, the landing sleds drawing quickly into their housing. Karson swung the ship around, bringing its offensive and defensive systems on line as he aimed the craft upwards.
“Hold on,” he said, as the ship gathered speed, “this could get a little bit rocky!”
Kalum watched the clouds streak by, their velocity increasing rapidly, this was potentially the beginning of his journey, or, he thought to himself as alarms screamed into strident life, the end of it.
“There they are!” shouted Lepus, pounding his fist on the arm of his chair, “Target them directly! Blow them into a million pieces!”
“But, My Lord, the object!” protested his second-in-command.
In one swift movement, Lepus drew his pistol and shot the stunned Officer right between the eyes. As the man’s body slumped backwards, blood and brains spraying over the astonished Bridge crew, Lepus stared coldly around, “Anyone else care to challenge my orders?”
He was met first by silence and then a frenzied activity, as his men rushed to obey him. The welcoming feel of the ship’s engines vibrating through the hull, was followed by the Gunnery Officer’s report of his readiness. A hideous smile sat for a moment on the man’s face, before he gave his next command, “FIRE!”
“As predictable as a whore at a Two for One sale ..” muttered Karson, as his hands flew across the control panel in front of him.
“A what ...?” asked Kalum, momentarily distracted from the threat of his imminent demise.
“Eh .. nothing” responded Karson sheepishly, “Now do something useful. Watch this screen and tell me when the crosshairs on it turn gold. Can you do that?”
“Of course I can,” stated Kalum, slightly affronted by the big man’s condescension, “Then what?”
“When the centre circle goes green, press this button,” here he indicated a red button, set below and slightly to one side of the screen.
“What does that do?” asked Kalum eagerly.
“You’ll see,” grinned Karson, “let’s just leave it as a surprise until then, why don’t we?”
Guffawing, he turned away and Kallum concentrated on the crosshairs, which even now were closing into the centre of his screen. They turned gold, a bleeping sound increase in tone and pulse, becoming constant as the circle flashed green. With an almost savage glee, Kallum punched the button, a series of lights to his right flashing briefly in concert.
“Got yer!” crowed Karson, as a synthetic voice chimed in, “Missiles locked on target, impact in ten, nine, eight .....”