Chapter Two: Jalok

Toe to heel, Cazak and I crept up on our unwary prey. Looming, half rebuilt buildings hemmed us in on either side, making our task all the more dangerous.

The two of us were supposed to be on patrol, checking for any glaring structural issues and making sure the anti-alienists weren’t lurking about Nyheim proper.

Ever since the unrest during the election and the attack on the Puppet Master, command was extra paranoid about even the slightest problem.

All three Strike teams found themselves utilized for even routine patrols such as this one.

“Do you see it?” Cazak spoke in a low tone, because a whisper can carry much further in the dark than one would suspect.

I squinted, peering in the gloom, until I saw a flash of light behind a rubbish bin. A spindly leg splayed out as a deer-like creature rooted about for scraps.

“Yeah. It’s a tiny one.”

“Even small ones can be a threat, especially to a civilian.”

Grunting, I drew my side arm. The sleek pistol had been painted unreflective black, making it perfect for urban stealth ops. It seems like overkill for such a tiny, delicate seeming creature.

Luurizi, however, could be known as vicious creatures that could easily kill a human. Or even a Valorni. The little shits would charge at damn near anything, and their feet were so sharp they could pierce all but the highest grade armor plating.

Even my innate sheath of scales wouldn’t prove sufficient against its attack. I deployed them anyway, because sometimes the hollow rail gun rounds could ricochet after impact.

Cazak grinned, flexing his own scales into view but he still ducked behind the corner of a building for cover.

“Coward,” I spoke in a low voice as I creep up for a better shot.

“Don’t talk to me that way. Who was it who recommended your transfer from the Ground Team to Strike Team Three? Show some gratitude.”

“Yeah, thanks for getting me this sweet gig where I kill fairytale creatures in the most gruesome manner possible. In the dark. In the middle of the night—“

“Are you going to talk it to death?”

“You’ve been trying to do that to me for years.”

The Luurizi’s head popped up, focusing its gaze in our direction. Our voices had grown louder during the exchange, it seemed.

With a shrill cry akin to broken glass, it galloped across the pavement.

Srell.

“Now look at what you’ve done.”

I didn’t have time for a retort. The Luurizi loped ever faster, then drove its forelegs into the ground. Its back  legs gathered together with the front, and then it bunched up its body and sprang, all in the matter of a split second.

My gaze tracked its flight, and I aimed my pistol for its midsection. One squeeze of the trigger, and the creature exploded in midair, showering me with bits of bone and gooey tissue.

“Double Srell.” Wiping myself clean, I staggered back onto the main thoroughfare while Cazak laughed hysterically.

“Come on, hero. Patrol’s over. Let’s go grab some beverages.”

Grumbling, I fell into step beside him. We headed toward the towering buildings of the city proper, where the damage had already been largely repaired.

“Things sure have been crazy lately.”

I glanced over at Cazak, and noted his worried frown.

“Yes, it’s been hectic for a while, and I don’t see it calming down anytime soon.”

“This is a strange place to be a Skotan. Cooperating with other races instead of dominating them.”

The words bubbled out of my mouth before I could really consider them. “Do you ever think we’ll find a way to get back home?”

“We’re going to stop at the pub first, I told you—“

“No, I mean, the homeworld.”

Cazak’s jaw worked silently, and I could feel the longing from him as well. “I don’t know. Maybe they can figure out a way to open a rift to get us home, someday.”

“If we’re allowed to use rifts again.”

“True.”

We walked in silence, our destination locked in for the recreational district. There we would find a pub friendly to us off-worlders, where you can be around other people who got it, even if they weren’t Skotan.

Cazak and I ordered some drinks and sat down at a booth. I barely tasted my drink, and I doubt he enjoyed his own much more.

“I’d like to go home, someday.”

Cazak looked over at me and shrugged as if it doesn’t matter, though I knew it did. “What’s the matter, don’t like this place?”

“Well, it’s not that. I’m certainly not a xenophobe like the anti-alienists. It’s just that—on the homeworld, we belonged. Here, we’ll never really fit in. Or at least, that’s what it feels like.”

“If you were back home, you would probably be on a ship fighting the Xathi.”

“That’s where I want to be.” I took a long pull from the bottle, and set the half empty vessel down. “I belong in battle, fighting an enemy I can see, not having to worry about pissing off a giant space lettuce or having some invisible, non-corporeal being root around in my brain and make me a meat suit.”

We headed out into the night. I’d thought Cazak was done with the conversation, but he surprised me. “The Xathi are terrifying, Jalok. Worse than any of that, if you ask me.”

“Well, I didn’t ask you, did I? Fighting is what I do. Soldiering is what I was made for. Cooling my heels on this planet while our brothers and sisters die fighting those damn bugs is torture.”

“Look at it this way.” Cazak spread his hands out, as if encompassing the galaxy between them. “They’re at home, fighting for the good of Skotans everywhere, and we’re here, fighting for the good of Skotans—and humans and K’ver and all the rest. You can’t be everywhere at once. But you can make a difference right here.”

“Yeah, but we’re not supposed to be here. That’s all I’m saying. Everything is wrong about this planet. The others might love it, but Skotan are supposed to spend most of our time in high gravity.”

“Yes, but that makes us stronger here, and gives us greater mass.”

“That’s true, but our hearts evolved to beat against a much stronger G-force. I was reading a briefing from the science office about concerns that our hearts might beat too quickly and lead to a risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Cazak snorted, and flashed an uncaring glare my way. “You think too much. Look at you, you’re a freaking walking tank and you want to read science reports? You should be balancing a sweet scaly thing on each one of those massive guns when you hit the sack tonight. Instead you want to act like a galaxy class nebbish.”

“I find science interesting,” I scowled. “What else am I supposed to do to pass the time during my days off?”

“Drinking and screwing, you ignoramus. You’re with Strike Team Three now. We’re the best of the best of the best!” He slapped me hard on my shoulder, and I let the matter drop.

We trudged on for a time without speaking. At length Cazak glanced over and punched me on the arm.

“Hey, if you want to feel less homesick, we could practice the traditional songs.”

“Have you heard yourself? Besides, Skotan ballads were meant to be sung on the Skotan homeworld. They just don’t sound the same any place else.”

That ended the debate, for now.

All I knew at the time was, while many of our new allies were good people, I just wanted to go back where I belonged.

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