Reaver’s Rescue: Chapter One


“You want this? Then tell me how much farther!”

With one blow from a red scaled fist, I went crashing to the ground.

And that’s when I saw them.

From the shadows, golden eyes burned through me, like a beacon in the dark.

But no beast sprang forth, and in an instant, they were gone.

Maybe I’d finally gone mad. It wouldn’t be a surprise.

Rolling over on the hard frosted ground, I stared at the strange stars peeking through the heavy canopy.

Cold and remote, no different from the night sky that had stretched above me as I stumbled out of my escape pod, cold and sick and shaky, clutching at the rocks of a stony beach.

Memories of the Dream exploding, of our pods flung into the Void, crashed into me and I had retched, emptying my stomach even as my mind whirled, trying to catch up.

I’d been alone, terrified.

And then out of the darkness, a message.

Get to the mountains. We’ve got a safe place there, and friends who will be looking for you.

I’d tried.

For three days I had clung to those words as I stumbled through the jungle, clutching the supplies from my pod, hiding in the dense bushes whenever I heard a noise.

But it hadn’t been enough.

On the fourth day, Jafiz and his band of merry assholes found me.

Aliens. Tall and unbelievably strong. Red scales and dark horns at their foreheads that poked up through wiry black hair.

Dressed in tattered leathers, carrying crossbows and swords, faces hard. Cruel.

And that’s when my hell began.

Assume everything here will try to kill you. Most of the natives are friendly, but not all of them.

That was an understatement.

The secret city. The treasure.

That was all Jafiz cared about.

The commbangle let me understand him well enough.

But without an implant of his own, my words were nonsense to him.

I’m not strong. I’m not a fighter.

I would never be able to resist torture.

And even if I wanted to tell Jafiz everything he wanted to know, I couldn’t.

So I did the only thing I could.

Played possum.

The first time Jafiz struck me, I collapsed in a limp heap on the ground.

It wasn’t hard to fake.

I’ve never been hit before, the shock and pain on their own would’ve been enough to knock me down.

But there had to be more.

I needed to teach him that violence wasn’t going to get any of the answers they wanted.

So I kept my eyes closed, bit my tongue as he kicked me, let my head loll limply, then counted to 300, 600, 1000 before I let my eyes open, stagger to my feet.

“Where do you come from? How do we get to the city?“ he shouted, and grabbed my shoulder to shake me again. 

I let my knees crumble, smashing into the ground once more.

It only took two days before Jafiz and his men learned they could shout all they wanted, but touching me wouldn’t get them anywhere.

It worked, most of the time.

And when he gave the order for the rest of his men to spread out, see how many more of this new clan they could find, I held my breath, hoping.

Not for our captors to be gentle. That was out of the question.

Just for them to let us live.

The camp at the edge of the jungle stretched out to the rocky beach, a rough conglomeration of shelters and nets catching the day’s fresh fish. The men patrolled, eyes alert for any sign of trespassers, but I never saw any strangers.

My life quickly fell into a haze of routine. Fetching water from the small stream near camp, cleaning and smoking fish, doing my best to avoid attention.

Every day, Jafiz or one of his men shouted at me, screaming, demanding that I tell them where the city was.

Sometimes they ignored me. Sometimes they didn’t feed me.

Every day, I pulled further into my shell.

I woke from my daze when the next woman was dragged into camp.

“Nandita!” I screamed, dropping the firewood from my arms and dodging the grabbing hands that tried to pull me back.

She was tangled in a net, slung over the back of Yarak, one of Jafiz’s scouts. “Maybe this one isn’t an idiot,” he boasted as he tossed her to the ground.

Frantically I tried to untie the knots as her wide dark eyes stared around the camp in a panic. “Don’t say anything,” I whispered. “Keep your head down.”

With a roar, Yarak pulled me away. “You still haven’t learned your place?”

I closed my eyes and fell, then risked a peek at Nandita. Her eyes were fixed on my face. She was smart. She’d figure this out.

“Where are the rest of your people,” Jafiz snarled at her, tossing the last of her bindings to the side. “Where is your city?”

The tendons at Nandita’s throat twitched, and she swallowed hard.

And then she went limp in his grasp.

“Useless!” Jafiz roared, letting her fall before stomping away.

Wriggling, I crawled over to her side. “Are you alright?” I asked as quietly as I could.

“I think I’m a long way from alright,” she whispered. “But I’m alive. That’s a start.”

That was all we had.

Every few days another woman was brought in, battered and bruised, but alive.

Salome and Bree, Cathy and Talia, Grace and Neve.

Bit by bit we compared notes, where we’d landed, what we’d seen before we were taken.

But the guards were everywhere. There was no way to escape.

All we could do was comfort each other, pretend we were fainting goats, and keep looking for an opening.

Kyla had said there were people on this planet who were our friends. We just had to get to them.

It only took a month for the scouts to start coming back empty handed.

“This is all there is of your clan?” Jafiz spat as I turned the fish on the smoker. It hadn’t taken long for me to figure out how to cook the strange blue and silver creatures to his satisfaction. Terror is a good teacher.

I hunched my shoulders, looked away.

“Then you’ll want to keep everyone you have.”

With a swift movement he grabbed Nandita, pulled her from the fireside.

“Tell me, or this one dies here.”

A trickle of blood ran down her throat, her lips quivering, but she stayed silent.

I’d known something like this would happen.

These weren’t reasonable, patient men.

Even if I didn’t have a real answer, they needed something.

Slowly I dragged myself to my feet and pointed.

Away from the beach. 

I hadn’t gotten anywhere near the mountains, but Neve and Cathy had. Between us we’d tried to make a rough map. Plains, jungle, forest.

And the mountains.

I’d pointed, chin held high.

Jafiz threw Nandita down, brought the knife to my own throat.

“How far?” He growled, as the rest of his men tightened around us.

How the hell should I know?

Nandita pushed to my side, jabbed repeatedly at the largest of the moons overhead.

“A month?” Yarak demanded. “Two?”

Lacing my fingers with hers, I nodded. Two months. Sure.

The next day was a riot of activity as we broke camp, and then moved out. Towards the mountains, I hoped.

“Are you sure this the best plan?” Cathy whispered.

I shrugged, stumbling slightly as we filed down the narrow trail cut through the jungle. “No one has come to rescue us here,” I answered. “Maybe if we move, they’ll be able to find us.”

I hadn’t counted on one thing.

Jafiz and his men were very, very good at not being found. 

As we moved, every time we made camp, they moved almost like soldiers, alert, eyes scanning all around.

What were they looking for?

Or, more disturbingly, what were they hiding from?

It wasn’t the first time I’d noticed them scanning the skies. 

Maybe someone here had aircraft? That would be a relief. 

We’d be found. Saved.

I’d been an idiot.

Looking back now on my meager hopes, I almost laughed. I thought I’d been so clever.

But now we’d been walking for almost two months, further and further north.

After the jungle, we’d been led through a twisting canyon filled with biting sand diggers that leapt at us from the rocks.

Then the plains, endless grasses that cut at our legs.  

I kept pointing towards the mountains, but Jafiz only laughed. “You think we’ll take you to the Sen’ki?”

Grabbing my chin, he pulled my head to either side. “You gave it away when you were scared for your friend’s life. You pointed straight to the frozen wastes. The only place left we haven’t searched.”

So we had kept walking, only stopping for a few days here and there to replenish supplies.

We learned to prepare furs, to butcher larger animals that the warriors brought back to camp.

That was when we’d lost Grace. “No. I can’t do it anymore.”

She’d stared blankly at the carcass in front of her. I couldn’t even figure out what it had been when it was alive. Giant purple striped lizard? 

In the list of alien horrors, it didn’t even make it to the top.

“You have to,” Neve whispered, pulling at Grace’s wrists. But instead she stood, turning her hands in front of her face as if she’d never seen them before.

Not like we had mirrors, but we all had a pretty good guess of what we looked like from caring for each other.

Thin faces, jutting collarbones. Fingers so thin they looked like dry twigs. Hair lank and matted.

That wasn’t the worst of it. The part that hurt the most was the empty despair that blanketed us, smothering even the faintest flicker of hope.

“If I don’t care,” Grace answered, moving away from the corner where we’d been assigned to work. “Then I don’t have to do anything.”

She started to run, hands pressed to her head, as if she could block out everything that had happened since we crashed here.

They didn’t even bother chasing her.

“Take her down,” Jafiz ordered.

And in an instant a thick black bolt jutted from Grace’s back, and slowly, without a sound, she sank to the ground.

Salome screamed, a high, keening wail that only stopped when Nandita covered her mouth.

All I could do was stand there, knowing that I’d led her to her death.

The next day we’d moved into the forest, leaving her body behind.

None of the women said much after that.

Now here we were, trudging ever north, towards some secret treasure city that only existed in Jafiz’s dreams.

How long would it be before he grew frustrated, killed another one of us?

And if he didn’t kill us, the weather would.

Night by night it became clear that winter was coming, cold and fierce and pitiless.

The men kept most of the leathers and furs that we had worked, leaving us scraps to try and fashion into some semblance of warm clothing.

It wasn’t going to be enough.

With no way of explaining to them that we needed more layers, tonight I’d done yet another stupid thing, grabbing onto the thick blue fur of the latest hide, and refusing to let go.

Even if I’d been in top shape, it wouldn’t have mattered. There was no way I could hold on to something Jafiz or any of his men wanted to take from me.

Slowly I rolled to my knees, crawled to where my friends huddled together for warmth.

“I’m sorry guys,” I whispered. “I’ll think of something else.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bree snapped. “Something else is just going to make things worse.”

“Stop it,” Nandita wrapped her arms around me, sharing her body heat and her support. “We’re all doing the best we can. Snarling at each other isn’t going to make things better.”

I curled into myself, hoping to at least escape in sleep. One by one, I listened to the other women’s breathing even out, the soft noises that had become the soundtrack of my nights.

Except tonight my mind wouldn’t settle down.

There had to be a way out of this mess that didn’t involve us dying, either by being shot or freezing to death or any of the other possibilities that Jafiz seemed so happy to inflict on us.

But I couldn’t see it.

Finally I gave up, slowly detangling myself from the others. No reason to wake them with my tossing and turning.

Stretching, I decided to go for a walk.

They didn’t even bother putting a guard on us anymore. We all knew we wouldn’t survive on our own in this forest.

Our thin slippers from the ship had worn away weeks ago, the rough strips of hide tied to our feet and calves approximating ill-fitting boots.

Certainly not something I’d be running far in, even if I could bring myself to leave the other women behind.

I wasn’t going far any way. Yarak and the others had brought back another of those blue bears today. If those things were stalking the forest, I wanted to be nowhere near them.

I just needed a minute, time to get my head clear.

But as I turned back, strong arms wrapped around me, one hand firmly over my mouth.

“You must be quiet,” a stranger’s voice growled.

There was a strange beating sound, and in a moment my feet had left the ground.

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