Chapter Three: Iq’her

I leaned back, attempting to stretch a terrible kink in my back, as the rest of Strike Team Two worked around me. We were in a warehouse on the east side of the city, several blocks away from our headquarters, attempting to organize and pack food crates that were intended for drop-offs in three of the nearby settlements.

Miraculously, Rouhr’s announcement yesterday hadn’t resulted in the terrible reactions that I had anticipated. Thus far, we had been lucky.

Not only were the people much less angry than I had anticipated, they had also been much more giving than I had given them credit for. Of course, with Tobias speaking with several of the pantry and restaurant owners, there were some people that already had an idea of what was happening, or at least had a rudimentary idea.

The restaurant owners and food pantries were donating food, as were several of the farmers. They had made the selfless decision to donate what they could in order to help others. I was surprised by that fact.

“You getting lazy on us, Iq’her?”

I looked over at Rokul and his smug little smile. Just because the behemoth was several inches taller and a few tons heavier than me, he thought it would be okay to make fun of me because I wasn’t able to carry as much as him.

“Just stretching myself out, Rokul. Tella had too much fun with me last night,” I joked. The rest of the team all groaned and jeered at my little rib at Rokul’s expense.

He took it in stride, however. “Really? Hmph.” He cracked his knuckles. “Tella would have broken you.” He then tilted his head to the side. “Maybe that’s why your back is messed up. You’re too weak to handle my woman.”

We cracked jokes at one another’s expense for another ten or so minutes as we continued to load the crates when one of the Vengeance crew turned city guard came running in. “What is it, Hewl?” Karzin asked.

From a technical point of view, Skotan biology was fascinating. Hewl was one of the few Skotan’s whose scales were a different color than his own skin, and his skin was paper-white. His scales, when brought out, were a deep purple in color. According to Skotan history, a very small population of Skotan, due to a genetic anomaly, had scales of a different color.

And as interesting as all of that was, it didn’t make a bit of difference right now.

Hewl spent a moment catching his breath before answering. “Sir, one of the delivery trucks is being attacked by a pack of humans.”

We didn’t wait. Karzin quickly ordered the other factory workers to finish packing the crates as we gathered our gear. We were out of the factory and on our way in less than a minute.

Hewl led us to where he had seen the attack on the delivery truck. We were on the move, at a near sprint, for nearly two minutes before we arrived.

What we found was a pack of fifteen or so men and a few women surrounding the truck. They were rocking it back and forth and I could see that they had already broken the truck…one of the axels was sitting on the ground at an awkward angle.

A few of the men were trying to open the doors.

Upon our approach, Karzin was yelling to gather their attention. “Stop! You people need to stop.”

One of the men turned towards us and yelled an obscenity at us. He tapped a couple of his friends on the shoulder and pointed in our direction. The crowd began to turn towards while three of them continued to concentrate their efforts on opening the truck.

They didn’t look destitute or starving.

I could have understood that.

They were just angry.

“What are you people doing?” Karzin asked.

“None of your fucking business, alien,” one of the men said, pronouncing the last word like it was a curse.

Yup. Angry.

“Actually, it is. You’re vandalizing and destroying city equipment, trying to steal food that doesn’t belong to you,” Karzin countered.

“This food does belong to us!” the same human yelled back at us. His dark skin and dark hair seemed to almost absorb the light as his deep bass echoed off the buildings surrounding us. “You bastards are trying to steal our food and we want it back.”

“We’re not stealing food,” I shot back. “We’re trying to make sure that other people, other humans,” trying to emphasize that last word, “are fed. The plant life of your world is dying off and you’re going to run out of food unless you start rationing. We’re trying to help.”

I wanted to let them know that we were all in this together, that we were all going to suffer badly, not just them. We were all in this together.

However, they didn’t buy my explanation. “Shut the fuck up, you goddamn cyborg. You’re lying to us. You just want to make sure that we’re forced to obey you by keeping us too weak to fight back. That’s why you’re taking our food.”

“No, we’re not!” I fired back. “We don’t want to control anyone. Food is running out. The plants and crops that we all use for food are dying off. We need to come together, ration our food, and share with one another. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

“We’re telling you the truth,” Takar said, stepping forward with his hands up to show that he meant no harm. “Walk away from the truck and we’ll forget any of this even happened.”

“Or what, Orange-boy? You’ll try to arrest us?” a different man, small in stature and with a scarred face, spat. “You can’t take us all on.”

Rokul snorted. Karzin shot him a sharp look as Sylor whispered for him to be quiet. Things were not going to go well, I could feel it.

I quickly made sure that my safety was still on, then holstered my blaster. We certainly did not want to make this a deadly confrontation. I reached into my rear pack and pulled out my gloves.

I had spent a bit of time with Sylor after we had first arrived making these. They included a small electrical charge that only activated when struck. After numerous tests, we had finally managed to properly insulate them so I wouldn’t get electrocuted when I used them.

I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that this was about to become violent.

“Please.” I held up my gloved hands. “All we’re trying to do is make sure that everyone, and I mean everyone, has food to eat. That’s all we’re trying to do.”

“Then you guys stop eating our food and get the fuck off our planet,” the little one snapped at us.

I dropped my head and I sighed. This wasn’t going to work. “Believe me, my friend. If we could return to our home, we would.”

“I ain’t no friend of yours,” he growled. Then he turned to his crowd of friends and I read his lips. “Get them.”

“Reck,” Rokul echoed my inner thoughts with actual sound. All of us, including Hewl, quickly moved our weapons away and defended ourselves.

We were outnumbered about three-to-one, and what they lacked in training, they made up for with numbers and hatred. Four of them came right for me.

I stepped aside and pushed one by me, letting Hewl—who was behind me—have that one. I ducked under a wild swing, answering with one of my own to the abdomen. The glove sent a small charge into the man, causing him to scream and jump back, holding his torso.

One of the women jumped in next, swinging a wooden club of some sort at me. I ducked and dodged once, twice, three times before I was able to get within her reach. Not wanting to hit her, but fearing that I had no other choice, I blocked her newest swing of the club and lightly brought my elbow into contact with her forehead.

She stumbled back, looked at me oddly, then snarled as she jumped at me. She was wild in her attacks and I finally had enough. Due to her wild attacks, I moved away from her. She wasn’t in control of her club and the momentum carried her. She tripped and fell, the club managing to somehow hit her stomach.

She dropped to the ground, moaning loudly and struggling to breathe. I checked to see if she required assistance but was interrupted by a shout behind me.

I quickly turned around, blocked a blow from my latest attacker, and swung my leg around, sweeping his feet out from under him. Karzin quickly punched him in the head and pushed me to the side.

A large body flew by me and collided with Karzin, taking both of them to the ground. However, the human’s momentum was too much and Karzin flipped him over, landed on top of him, and bounced the man’s skull off the pavement.

I looked around and quickly jumped in to help Sylor, who was being attacked by two people at once. I rushed over, grabbed the smaller of the two by the shoulder and spun him around. My left hand connected with an electrical pop with his jaw. He spun around and fell, his already injured jaw striking the ground hard.

Sylor kicked his in the groin, then snapped his knee up into the man’s head. That had apparently been enough for the humans as they began running away. Most of them anyway.

Three were unconscious and two were already being bound by the brothers.

“That was fun,” Rokul smiled, a bit of blood dripping from his nose. He wiped it away and smiled again.

I shook my head. Idiot. This had been a disaster.

“Get these people secured,” Karzin ordered the brothers. “The rest of us, let’s get that truck taken care of.”

I looked over at the truck. The front tires were flat, one of the rear axles was broken, and the windows were shattered.

The back doors had been broken open and at least one crate of food had been dumped on the ground.

This was bad.

An absolute disaster.

And it was clear, things were going to get worse.

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