Saved by the Rakian Scout: Chapter Five

She had a starship. The drumming in his ears almost drowned out whatever she said next.

How in all the Void did she, cut off from even the primitive tech of Crucible, know what one was?

Jormoi followed her into the kitchen, almost stumbling over the sprawled, sleeping form of the dog. She sat at the table and carefully unwrapped the cord that held the cover closed, then stopped.

He stood next to her, waiting. Whatever was in those pages, she wasn’t ready to show him. Not yet.

Jormoi broke the silence with a loud sniff. “Is something burning?”

“The stew!”  She scrambled to the stove and used tongs to push the earthenware pot onto a holding tray at the side.

“Here, let me,” he offered.  “Where do you want it?”

She pointed to a spot on a nearby workbench, and gasped as he picked up the pot. “Your hands!”

He nudged another bowl to the side as he set it down. It was hot, but nothing he couldn’t handle. “It’s cooling already, don’t worry. Just get the bowls, all right? All of a sudden, I’m ravenous.”

His stomach growled as if to reinforce his words, and she grinned. Her shoulders inched away from her ears, and a glow of satisfaction ran through him.

Situation defused, at least temporarily.

She spooned a big helping of stew into her largest bowl and handed it to him. His hands wrapped around it as he held it up for another sniff. “Smells pretty good.”

“Glad to hear it.” She froze. “Wait. If you’re from,” she stuttered just a bit, “from another world, are you sure everything here is safe to eat?”

He laughed and took a bite. “There’s not much that I can’t eat, no worries there. You should meet my brother Gavin. There’s nothing he won’t eat, anywhere, anytime.”

She laughed and joined him at the table, bringing with her a small loaf of bread.

He raised an eyebrow. “Do you have enough trade with the outside to get flour?”

She tore off a piece and dipped it in the stew, blowing on it to cool it. “No, my mother made a small mill behind the house. It doesn’t do much grain at a time, but,” she shrugged, “I don’t grow a lot.”

Xandros laid his head in her lap and looked at her with soulful eyes. “I haven’t forgotten you, shaggy beast, but you were sleeping. Should I have woken you for dinner?”

She was answered by an insistent woof, and they talked of nothing more than the ways of dogs and the making of bread until the end of the meal.

The light outside faded entirely, and she lit more lamps, avoiding touching the book again.  When she returned to the table, he stood, watching her as she approached. He bowed slightly. “Since we haven’t been introduced yet, I thought I should rectify my lapse in manners. I’m Jormoi.”

She stood stiffly and bowed back, no doubt thinking him a fool. “I’m Rhela.”

“I know,” he waggled his eyebrows. “You mentioned it before, when you were talking to me and that great goof over there.”

“At some point I want to talk to you more about that,” she said, “but now I want you to look at this picture and tell me, is it real, or just stories?”

She took a deep breath and opened the book to the first page. She gasped, closing her eyes.

“What is it?” Jormoi was at her side so fast she didn’t see him move. He didn’t touch her, just stood near her, ready.

She shook her head. “I’m fine, I’m sorry. I was the one that wanted to find the drawing of the ship. It’s just hard. I haven’t looked at this in so long.”

She turned the pages, her hands brushing lightly over the smooth paper, until she found the sketch, just a few pages in. A large, boxy shape with stubby wings, odd cylinders sticking out of one side, and the opposite side drawn to a blunt taper. Jagged rocks framed the whole unlikely contraption.

“This. Is this like your ship?”

She pushed the book towards him, and he sat next to her, running his finger over the lines of the ship. “This isn’t like my ship, no, I’m sorry.”

She sagged. “Then it was all just a story.  I wanted to believe him, but it never made any sense.”

“What do you mean?”

“My parents always said that we came from another world. But that didn’t make any sense. How would we have gotten here?”

“I wasn’t clear, I’m sorry. This isn’t like my ship, but I do recognize this model. It’s a lander. It would have brought colonists down from the generation ship to the surface.”

He paused, searching her face for a reaction. “Your parents were telling the truth.”

“What? But, how?”

“Rhela, do you know where your parents were when they found the lander?”

“I wasn’t there, but I remember their stories.” She flipped a few pages back, and handed him the book.  Jormoi fought to keep a snarl from escaping his lips, for on the page stared out the visage of a Haleru warrior.

“Somewhere past the caverns of the beast men. I didn’t think they were real, either.”

“Oh, they’re very real,” he said darkly.

“What does the writing around the sketch say?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I never could read it. Mother used to tease him about being stuck in his ways. She taught me to read and write, but not that language.” She traced the elegant script with a finger.

Jormoi turned the pages back to the drawing of the lander. For months, his team had been searching for information about the original colonists; could it still be in the lander? Could there even be an active comm link to the generation ship, after all this time?

But how to explain everything—the colonists, the Haleru, and, Void help him, her only friend’s involvement in kidnapping and murder? Jormoi shook the thoughts free. It would be better to skip over as many details as he could and focus on the important thing, getting the intel back to the garrison.

“May I take an image of this?”

She put her hand possessively over the book. “I’d rather you didn’t take it away.”

“No, I won’t. Just a picture, like a sketch, so that I can show it to one of my brothers. It might help him with the project he’s been working on.”

She still didn’t look convinced.

“I can do it right here; your father’s journal doesn’t need to leave your side.”

Small, even white teeth gnawed at her lower lip for a moment, then she nodded. “That sounds all right, I suppose.”

Jormoi quickly passed his cuff over the page, and bright light covered the image.

Rhela yelped and grabbed the book away, hugging it tightly to her chest. “You said it would be just a drawing! That you wouldn’t hurt it!”

The need to ease her fear twisted Jormoi’s stomach. “No, it won’t.  Here, let me show you.”

He looked around for something to use. A small pottery bowl decorated with dark red glazes caught his eye. “May I?”

She nodded, but the wariness in her eyes stabbed at him. Quickly, he scanned the bowl, then projected it back onto the middle of the table.

She gasped and leaned forward to touch it. As her hand passed through the projection, her eyes opened wide.  She ran over to the original bowl and turned it in her hands. “It’s fine. It’s not scorched at all.”

She took a deep breath and handed the journal back to him. He finished the scan of the page with the sketch, then repeated the motion on the facing page, and the one following it.

“That should be enough. Who knows,” he said, feeling lighter than he had for weeks, “maybe once he’s solved the writing, he can teach it to you.”

Rhela laughed. “I have been trying to figure that out for years, and I had access to my father.”

“My brother is very, very good with puzzles. And not a bad teacher, either. I’m going to step outside for a minute and send this to him.”

And decide if I’m going to tell Nic about her connection to Phaylle, he added silently.

Confusion clouded her face, then she just shrugged. “You realize that makes no sense at all, don’t you?”

He stood and walked to the door, gangly Xandros following behind, ready for an excursion. “I promise I’ll be back in just a few moments.”

Outside, he pinged Kennet on his cuff. “I’ve got a present for you,” he chuckled, and sent the file of the scanned book pages to the ship.

“Thank you. I’m sure whatever it is will be intriguing.”  Kennet’s toneless voice answered. “As a return favor, let me remind you that to the best of my knowledge your check-ins have been somewhat irregular over the last few days.”

Jormoi leaned against the cool turf covering the hill-hidden house.

The autumn air was filled with soft sounds of the forest. He could hear the stream running over stone, and everything everywhere felt quiet and calm. For the first time that he could remember, everything was at peace.

“I’m checking in now, aren’t I?”

Nic cut into the channel.  “Don’t you think this patrol has been long enough? If you’ve got something, great. But head on home.”

“You’ll think this was worth it. Besides, I think I’d rather wait until the morning.”

Nic laughed, “That’s a first. Afraid to travel at night?”

Jormoi sat on the ground and the dog immediately attempted to lie across his lap.

Jormoi played with Xandros’ ears while considering what to tell Nic.

“I’ve come across a colonist. She’s something of a hermit and hasn’t heard about the attacks.” Or much of anything else, he added to himself silently. “I think she has information about the colony ship or at least the lander.” He paused, thinking about whether he should say anything else. But duty forced his hand, as it always did. “And she knows Phaylle.”

“Bring her in,” Nic snapped.

“I want to try to talk to her, but unless we’re going to be the ones running around kidnapping women, I think I had better proceed with a little more delicacy,” Jormoi answered, anger rising in him again.

Nic sighed. “You’re right, and Adena would kick me for that. Do what you think is best. And be careful, all right?”

“I will,” Jormoi answered. None of them went in for much in the way of emotional stuff; that was about all the concern he was going to hear from his commander and brother.

Kennet got back on the line. “I can’t read this.”

“What?” Nic and Jormoi blurted simultaneously.

Jormoi stared at his cuff. “I nearly promised our new contact you’d be able to teach her how to read and write whatever that is. When has there ever been a language you didn’t know?”

“There hasn’t been.” Despite his surprise at the situation, Jormoi couldn’t help but feel amused at Kennet’s frustration. “You swear this is not some kind of joke?” Kennet demanded.

“I wouldn’t do that.” Jormoi thought for a moment. “Not right now, at least.”

“While Nic wants you to bring in the hermit, I want that book. I need a larger sample if I’m going to translate this.”

Jormoi sighed. This was going to be more complicated than they realized. “Give me until tomorrow. I’ll scan the whole thing for you.”

“No. Something about this bothers me. I want to see the material composition.” Kennet sounded annoyed, as Jormoi knew he did when things didn’t line up neatly. “A simple scan won’t give me all the information.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”  He cut the connection but stayed for a few more minutes outside, just enjoying the dark and quiet while he stroked the soft puppy’s muzzle.

“Come on, fella. Time to go back in.”

He started to get up, but Xandros just squirmed tighter into his lap until he gave up and picked up the sleeping dog, placing him half over his shoulder.

“You are far too big for this, you know?”

When he entered the kitchen, Rhela placed her hands over her mouth to smother a laugh that still managed to escape.

“You could have just woken him up.”

“You try it,” Jormoi grumbled as he carefully put the dog on the pillow he’d been lying on earlier.

“Did you…” she stopped. “I don’t even really know how to ask what I need to ask. Did you do whatever it was that you needed to do?”

Jormoi took a deep breath. He had a feeling this wasn’t going to be easy. “I did.”

He went towards her and took her hands. The softness of her skin startled him, even as she stepped closer to him.  “What’s wrong? You look like you have to say something terrible.”

“I don’t know if it is, it might be.” He flipped through options in his mind, settling on what might be the easiest for her to agree to.

“My brother can’t translate from the scans I took. He’d like to borrow the journal.”

“Can’t you scan the rest of the book?”

“I could, but he wants to see the book itself, see if it gives him indications as to where and when it was made. That might be the clue he needs to decipher the language.”

Rhela shook her head slowly but didn’t step away from him.

The terrified look in her eyes gutted him, but Jormoi grit his teeth and pressed on. “There’s another option, maybe something you’d like better? Come back with me. See my ship, meet my brothers. If you wanted, you could be with the book the entire time while Kennet works on it.”

“Starships, other worlds,” she breathed the words, her terror replaced by such a look of sorrow and defeat that he wanted to wrap her in his arms. “It’s all real, isn’t it?”

“It is. And I’ll show you everything I can.”

She shook her head and turned away, her shoulders bowed over the book as if braced for a blow. “I can’t. I can’t ever leave.”

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