Chapter Two: Axtin

Axtin

Great.  I have to play babysitter.  So be it.

My thoughts about this whole thing ranged from joy at being able to do something again and pure hatred at the idea that I was playing bodyguard to this…female.

Srell.

I took the slow way down to the armory, not wanting to give her the satisfaction of thinking that I rushed on her account.  I punched in my code and took in a deep breath of that beautiful aroma.

How I wish they’d just let me sleep in here.  Why won’t they allow me to keep more than a blaster in my personal quarters?  I mean, I understand the need to keep an accurate inventory and all, but dammit, why can’t I keep my toys with me?  Huh?  What’s so bad about that?

I looked around at what was easily my second favorite room, right behind the training facility.

To my left were the blasters, rifles, Tu’ver’s personal sniper rifles, our ever-dwindling stash of grenades and smoke bombs, and some hand-to-hand weapons. The wall in front of me was where the packs and survival gear were kept.

I went there first, ignoring my little corner to the right.  I grabbed two packs and loaded them with rations, ammunition, sleep packs, and med kits.  Thinking about how small Leena was, I took more of the ammo and rations, giving myself the heavier pack.

Making sure I didn’t forget anything, I turned to my corner.

Oh, the memories and toys!

I’m not like Tu’ver. I don’t have built-in augmentations like his people do.  But I did like the idea of being augmented when necessary.

Wonder if I need any of them now…

I spent a few minutes trying to decide if I needed my augments or not, then decided to just grab weapons and go.  I grabbed my three blasters, strapping one to my left hip, one to my right hip, and the other behind my back.  Then I grabbed my rifle, double-checking it and leaning it against the packs, and then I reached for my pride and joy.

She was a work of art, handmade over hundreds of hours, thousands of tiny changes to make her just right, and dozens upon dozens of designs and alloy combinations to get the weight exactly the way it was.

I loved my hammer.  It was massive, even I needed both hands to wield her.  She had cost me a fortune just finding the right metals that were both lightweight and super strong.

Her handle was wrapped in a combination of Tyit leather and a Skotan fabric, giving me a super tight grip no matter how sweaty or bloody my hands get.  She was the perfect close-range weapon against the Xathi.  I could crack one of those bastards open with a single swing.

I put on the special harness I had made for her, then strapped her to my back.

I need to name you one of these days, I thought as I grabbed a sonic-net and a thigh-pack of grenades.

I made sure to double-check everything again just to make sure before I headed down to the cargo bay we used to leave the ship.

There she was, waiting impatiently for me.  When she saw me, she gave me this hurry up look, then stomped over towards the bay door, ignoring her sister as she passed by her.

Hmm, not that I care, but I wonder why she’s ignoring her now after she was so insistent on staying with her before.

I caught up to her, handing her pack to her as I walked by to open the door.

We walked out, the door closed behind us, and we headed out.  It was excruciating walking in silence—I couldn’t stand it.

“Why didn’t you say goodbye to your sister?” I asked, trying to break the ice.

Oh, the look she flashed me.  If we could weaponize that look, the war with the Xathi would be over faster than we could process the idea.

“What does it matter to you?”  she answered, obviously annoyed.

I could surmise that I had angered the female.  “Honestly?  It doesn’t.  I was just making small talk.”

“Well, you failed…miserably.”  You think?  “Not that it’s any of your business, but there’s no point in saying goodbye to someone you’re going to see again anyway.”

“Okay,” I said, putting my hands up to show that I was harmless.  She stormed on ahead, leaving me to catch up.  As I caught up to her, she looked me up and down, making me wonder if she was sizing me up for approval or not.

“So, why aren’t you wearing that…that…disguise thing that you people have?”

“I don’t need it.”

“What the hell do you mean that you don’t need it?”

I flashed her my sweetest smile and tried to put on a nonchalant face. “The whole planet is covered in different life forms, and your kind need to get used to the idea.  That’s why I don’t need it.  Besides, the people of…”

I tried to remember the name of the city we were going to.  I was a little embarrassed by the fact that I couldn’t remember the place.  I was never good with names.

“Duvest,” she said in a very mocking tone.

“Yeah.  The people of Duvest already know about us anyway, so there’s even less need to use it there.”

I watched as she thought about this, then she shrugged and turned her back to me and walked away.

Hmm, not bad.

I shook my head, bit back a smile, and followed after her.  We had barely been walking twenty minutes when she became a major pain in my rumpus.

She stomped around, or at least it looked like she was stomping.  She didn’t bother being cautious of where she walked, seemingly snapping every single twig, branch, and stick that was on the entire forest trail.

I cringed at every snap, every crack, and every curse coming from ahead of me.  Enough was enough. I had to say something.

“Excuse me… Um…excuse me?  Miss no-sense-of-danger-or-understanding-the-need-for-quiet?  Can we not step on every single branch in the forest or make an unreasonable amount of noise?  Everything on your planet wants to kill everything else, and now the Xathi are here as well. So if you don’t mind, I’d really like to not have to fight everything there is at every step.”

I should have realized the mistake I made as soon as I started speaking, but I didn’t.

“Excuse the shit out of me?” Her voice started to get a little higher with each word.  “You’ve been on this rock only a short time, whereas I’ve been here my whole damn life.  Don’t you dare presume to tell me when I should and shouldn’t be careful.  Right now, we’re nowhere near the dangerous parts of the forest.  And as for your damn Xathi, that’s what you’re here for, isn’t it?”

Srell, this woman was an aggravation, but she had a spirit that fit my people.  She would have been a fine Valorni.

“Well?  Isn’t that why you’re here? To be my bodyguard and fight off the monsters?” she asked.

“Yes. Yes, I am.  Now, as your bodyguard, I suggest walking a bit quieter, a bit nicer, and maybe keeping an eye out around you for anything.  With us and the Xathi here, this might not be a safe part of the forest anymore,” I retorted.

“Fine.”

She walked away from me again, but at least she was quiet about it this time.  We walked for nearly an hour in silence before I made another mistake.

“I have an honest question for you,” I asked.

With a normal voice that took me by surprise—I hadn’t heard it from her before—she responded with a simple, “What’s that?”

“All you have to do is double-check an equation for a formula, yes?” I confirmed.

“Yeah,” she answered.

“Couldn’t we have done that from the Vengeance?  Why did we have to risk danger to travel there?” I followed up.

She stopped dead in her tracks, forcing me to stop and look back at her.  The look on her face made me realize, finally, that I had made another mistake.

“Really?” she asked, clearly exasperated this time. “You think my job is so easy that I can just do everything remotely?  That I don’t need to be hands-on?  That I can do it while sitting on the toilet?  Is that what you think?”

“Well, no…I just…” I never got to say another word.

She went into an absolute tirade, ripping into me about my lack of intelligence, how I was just a jock—whatever that was—and how this was her life, her passion, and that she can’t just do it from some room on a god-forsaken alien trash can.

She kept going for what seemed like forever before I heard something.  I tried to quiet her, but she just took it as another dig at who she was and what she did and proceeded to get louder.  I still heard the sound through the slight pauses in her verbal attack.

Something was coming.

Then they crashed out of the trees nearby, five of those Luurizi things—enough to be a herd.  They were little delicate creatures, with poisonous barbs on their hooves.  They jumped high in the air, their hooves aimed right at Leena’s head.

They never made it there.

I caught one of the creatures, bounced it off the ground, and snapped its neck, turning its head clean around a full rotation.

Then I took my blaster and shot three of them in quick succession, knocking them back, rendering them immobile.

The remaining one changed its trajectory and then ran away as it saw its herd decimated.

“Oh my God.  Oh my God.”  Leena kept repeating over and over, staring at the creature as it twitched on the ground.

I grabbed her and pulled her close, wrapping her in my arms.  “I have you.  I’ll keep you safe.”

Why am I letting myself feel for her like this?  Why do I care about her own blasted feelings right now?  She’s annoying, she’s stubborn, she’s stupid—not really, she’s brilliant, and she knows things I’d never hope to understand, but she’s stupid on basic things—and she drives me crazy.

Then I noticed her eyes on me, her quickened breathing, and the look behind the shield she had put up.  There was something there that I’d never noticed before.  I chuckled to myself.

She was barely tall enough to reach my chest.  Her blonde hair was in stark contrast to my brown, and her slim figure was dwarfed by my hulk.  Something inside me screamed out to take her, to take her right now and make her mine.

Srell.

There was something special about this female.  But we had a job to do, and if we didn’t get it done soon, there wouldn’t be a chance for me to find out what.  I pulled away from her.

I cleared my throat to get my voice back.  “We should get going, before anything else shows up.”

***

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