Chapter Four: Cazak

Kaster is a beautiful city on the coast. When you get a chance to sit at the beach and watch the waves crash as the snow is falling, it’s one of the most amazing sights I could have ever imagined.

Staying here would be something I could see myself doing, if I was inclined to retire and if I was certain that staying here would be worth it.

Beauty was not enough to keep me, at least by itself.

It was the new year and things were the same as the old year.

We still had humans standing against us, trying to drive us away.

The irony was that if we could leave, most of us would be gone in a heartbeat.

Amusingly, they also wanted the Puppet Master gone. That was something that couldn’t happen. If he tried to leave, he would have to break the planet in half in order to do so.

Less amusingly, we now had these Ancient Enemies of the Puppet Master’s that were taking over humans and turning them against us.

Friends, people we knew, people we trusted, any of them could be turned at any moment and become an enemy, literally in a moment.

And, we still had humans standing with us, helping us and guiding us through the intricacies of the world and the people that lived on it.

Ankau was a planet of mystery, wonder, beauty, friendship, and things that could make even the sourest of people smile.

And Kaster was one of those things.

I did not want to leave it, not yet, but orders had come in. We were needed back in Sauma for supplies to be transferred to Nyheim which would then be brought by another team to the new settlement of Aramita.

These new settlements were popping up everywhere. People trying to find homes and places to live that were away from where the Xathi had landed and devastated, away from where we were, or away from where the Puppet Master was known to regularly operate.

Aramita was on the northern coast line, so they would have cooler temperatures and the beaches were different, rockier and less sand. It also meant better fishing. Aramita was building itself up to be a fishing mecca, or at least the beginnings of one.

I let out a deep breath, took one last look at the beaches of Kaster, and turned away. I walked to my small hover bike that I had rented, got on, and started it up.

As it lifted itself into the air, I fought to maintain balance. Koso thing kept trying to tip to the right for the first few seconds before balancing itself out.

As soon as it was balanced, I threw it into gear and rode through the city streets all the way to the airfield where Jalok and Navat were waiting for me.

“Anything to get out of loading the shuttle, huh?” Navat said with a shake of his head as he carried a box into the shuttle.

“What? I didn’t know we were supposed to be loading things up. I thought they were doing that?” I answered, pointing at the human workers two bay doors down, loading another shuttle.

“They had a call to load medical supplies for Glymna,” Jalok grunted as he picked up a box, then motioned for me to get over there and help out. “So, we’re loading.”

I walked over and picked up a box. I ended up grunting a bit, it was heavy. Jalok and Navat chuckled a bit. “So, see what you wanted to see about human celebrations?” Navat asked.

“What do you mean?”

“We both saw how you were looking at the human women the other night.”

I rolled my eyes. “You two are idiots. I love you, but you’re idiots. I won’t deny that human women are attractive. But it would never work.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes, seriously,” I said back as I helped Jalok pick up a larger crate. “You two do realize that most of our work has been war, and when we ended said war, we were immediately thrown into another one. Don’t you? Humans aren’t meant for the life of war as we know it.”

“Pick up your end higher, damn it,” Jalok cursed, slipping into using human curses as he struggled to hold up his part of the crate.

“Apologies.” I lifted my end of the crate, better distributing the weight between us.

“And, yes,” Jalok groaned. “We do realize that. Are you done getting your ‘serenity’ now?”

I nodded as we set the crate down.

“Good. Now, let’s get these to Sauma, pick up the new stuff, and get to Nyheim. Okay?”

“Okay.” We finished loading up the supplies and flew over to Sauma. The jungle looked different from the air, especially covered in snow. “Coming down,” I said as I brought us in for a landing.

“Let’s try to get this stuff loaded quickly, I want to get back home,” Jalok said.

“You just want to get back to Dottie, now that she’s moved to Nyheim to be near you,” Navat teased.

“Shut up.”

We laughed and joked with one another for the next hour as we unloaded things meant for Sauma and reloaded things meant to go to Nyheim and Aramita.

We flew back to Nyheim, landing not at the airfield, but in the lot of one of the warehouses.

“Hey, what the hell are you guys doing? You can’t land here,” one of the workers was yelling as he came running out. “Goddammit, should have figured it was you three morons.”

“Hello to you too, Dent,” Navat smiled as we stepped off the shuttle. “What, you don’t like front door service to make your life easier?”

Dent through his arms up. “You’re supposed to park in the back if you’re going to do this srell. Now I need to redirect everything through the warehouse.”

“Oh, boohoo.”

I held back my laughter as I turned my head away. Navat and Dent were always messing with one another. “Hey, do you need me?” I asked Jalok.

“No, we’re good. Dent is in charge now and Navat is doing his best to piss him off. It’s what they do. I think the humans call it something stupid like a ‘bromance,’ or something idiotic like that. Go, you’re off duty.”

“Thank you.”

I took off jogging for the armory. The people of Nyheim still had the winter decorations up. The tradition we had learned came from old Earth. While the actual holidays were no longer relevant, the people were always happy to have a reason for a good party.

And, with the decorations was the snow. The rest of the team had already gotten over the snow and were close to being tired with it, or sick and tired with it.

Sk’lar was almost on the verge of hating the snow, but that might have had something to do with him slipping on a patch of ice hidden under the snow and bruising his tailbone. The non-stop teasing from the rest of us when he struggled to sit, or stand, probably didn’t help either.

Me?

I loved the snow. It was beautiful, peaceful, and delicate. The artistry of the snowflake was a magnificent thing, unable to be duplicated without losing the soul of the artwork. Then, when you put it all together into something as simple as a snowball, or a ‘snowman,’ the creation was extended into something completely different

After dropping off my gear, I jogged over to the children’s clinic a few blocks away from the armory. This was what I was really looking forward to when I came back to Nyheim.

These children were all dealing with various illnesses that the local doctors were still unable to find a cure for.

I wasn’t a doctor, but spending time with them was something that I could do to try to make their days better.

And, children were less afraid of the ‘big bad aliens’ than the adults were. They were much more willing to hang out with one of me, even with my deformity.

Years ago, during one of my wilder nights, I had gotten into a fight with a drunk, thinking I could handle him easily.

Unfortunately, I had been wrong. The fight ended with me in an infirmary, my left ear missing, and a long cut from my ear to my mouth. Now, that cut was a long scar and my left ear was missing.

Luckily, these children didn’t care about that.

“Cazak!” a few of them called out, their smiling faces making me so much happier than I was at the beach.

Seeing their faces was the highlight of my day, better than anything else that I could ever see.

The kids didn’t care about my ear, or lack thereof. They didn’t care that my skin was red and scaled, or that I’d been born too far away to even explain.

They cared that I played with them, brought them what presents I could, and visited every chance I got.

And the parents and staff cared, because I was good at research, and had started to look up symptoms of what these children went through, comparing them to similar illnesses throughout the Valorni, Skotan, K’ver and Urai databases.

So far, while I hadn’t found any cures, I had found a couple ways to make things easier for these children.

“So,” I said with a clap of the hands after hugging all of the kids. “Who wants to build snowmen and have a snowball fight? And for those of you that can’t, who wants to anyway?”

The kids cheered.

I smiled.

Life was good.

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