Awake (chapter 13)
Siris put off leaving for the second wreck again after their confrontation with the bat things because he wasn’t comfortable with the gun. He told himself that it was because Cato needed more time after his fresh wounds, but the dog didn’t seem to mind the relatively small wounds until they bedded down for the night and he could spend an hour licking the ones he could reach. The truth was that hitting the bat with the bean-bag round had been more luck than skill, and he wanted to be sure that when it came down to another stressful situation he could react without hesitation.
He’d lined the corridor with more torches and kept more grease soaked rags that he’d torn from old uniforms just in case the flames needed to be refreshed. He’d set up several targets at different heights and distances using empty food bags and practiced blasting them away. At first he’d been nervous, but after a few hits, it became more fun than he’d imagined it could be.
He had told himself to be sparing with the ammo, but after the first day of practice he’d had to go back to the weapons room for more.
It was clear that whoever had been in charge of stocking the room wasn’t sure what the colonists would come up against. Spending more time in the room, Siris found cases of shells stored in metal ammo cans with the words ‘Dragon’s Breath 12 gauge’ on the sides.
The second day was even more fun.
The Dragon’s Breath shots were scary cool, blasting sparks and heat out like…well, a dragon. Not a full-sized dragon, maybe, but it would definitely do a number on four or five of the bat things at once.
Siris learned that on the UTS-15 the two different load barrels that ran along either side of the one they shot out of could be loaded with different types of shells and there was a selector in the back that he could toggle for either round. When he’d finally felt comfortable enough with the gun, he cleaned it and loaded it for their journey. He decided to load Dragon’s Breath in one barrel and buck-shot in the other. Buck-shot were shells filled with big bbs that punched really hard and didn’t spread out like the Dragon’s Breath.
Siris rose the ‘morning’ that he’d planned on leaving for the second wreck and ate a little of the greasy bat jerky that had tasted pretty good after a couple weeks of eating tasteless powder but had since lost all appeal. He winced as he shouldered his pack. Two days of shooting the 15 had done a number on his shoulder. Black bruises had already begun to show and he felt like a piece of meat that someone had tenderized. Maybe if I tenderized the bat it would taste better, he wondered. He tore another piece free with his teeth with a grunt and slung the 15 around his neck and left shoulder.
The three-point-harness did an impressive job of holding the gun so that it was at the right angle and position in case he needed it, but it was easy to swing out of the way if he needed it to be. Cato wiggled with excitement when he put on his pack. He knew that this meant they were going on an adventure and it didn’t seem to worry him that it might be the kind that could get them both killed. Siris pulled a piece of jerky from his pocket and tossed it to Cato.
“That’s the last of it, but don’t worry, I packed some powder for the road.” Cato swallowed the piece of dried meat and chuffed. “I know, I’m not excited about it either. Maybe we’ll find something better along the way.”
He found that he was talking to the dog more and more. Maybe he was going crazy. Maybe, by talking to Cato, he wasn’t going crazy. For the life of him, however, Cato seemed to understand half of what he said. Siris resolved that once Cato started talking back he’d find a psychologist to talk to. He laughed at the thought and Cato looked at him as though he were losing it.
“Let’s go,” he tapped his leg as he set off down the steep hill and was surprised as Cato launched past him. Siris looked up, trying to see what had caught the dog’s attention.
Iris and Peter were struggling up the hill. Iris was all but carrying her brother who was hopping awkwardly beside her. Despite their obvious fatigue, Peter cried out.
Iris was gasping for breath and let Peter slip to the ground where he sat, petting Cato’s giant head while the dog sniffed and licked his face. Peter was laughing as Siris drew near, but Siris’ eyes went to the boy’s leg, or where it should have been, and he stopped. He then looked at Iris who stood, sweaty and quite lovely, but extremely sad, waiting for him to register what had happened.
Siris knew better than to blurt out ‘your leg! What happened?’. Instead he nodded his approval at Iris. She had done the impossible for her brother. Here he was alive, but it must have been a close thing. Had the antibiotics not worked? He marveled at her, amazed by her strength, but as he did, she broke. Tears burst from her eyes and her shaking hand went to her mouth to try and stifle her sobs.
Suddenly he was reminded of his mother when his uncle had died. She had sobbed like this, but she had had her family to comfort her. He felt like grabbing her and hugging the sadness out of her, but such openness was unacceptable between the castes. He was just a Yakka boy, but the fact that she had shown such emotion in front of him was equally unacceptable.
What was he thinking? He looked around him at the planet that had done its best to kill them, and nearly laughed at his grip on ancient earth traditions. For all he knew earth was gone.
He swung the gun around to his side and stepped close to her. She collapsed into his embrace. It was less a hug than a life-line. She was on the edge of drowning in the harshness of this place. She had been close to giving up, and he suspected that if it hadn’t been for Peter, she would have already.
After a time that could have been ten minutes but what was probably only one, Iris pulled away.
“We need your help.”
He was stunned. They came to him. A Yakka. It took him too long to answer, but when his brain finally started up again, his response came in a rush.
“Yes. Of course.” And too loud. He’d practically yelled it. Siris stepped back and looked at them both. “Let’s get you guys up to my camp and we’ll talk there.” He bent over, and picked up Peter in both arms, careful not to bump his truncated leg. He turned back to Iris. “I can come back down for you if you want to wait here for me.”
She had a surprised look on her face. Maybe she thought that he would reject them.
“I can make it.”
Cato sniffed at Peter’s leg that dangled and would have licked it if Siris hadn’t tsked him away. He started up the hill, Cato leading the way. The pack, gun and boy were almost too much, but Siris had to admit that he was trying to impress Iris, who’s eyes, he imagined, followed him as he climbed the hill in front of her.
Peter had talked non-stop as he was carried up the slope and by the time they reached the top they were all out of breath, but Siris had an idea of what had happened since he’d left.
“And, I think you need a new name, cuz, you know. Siris, Iris. It’s too close,” Peter said at the end of his speech. He’d clearly had a lot on his mind.
Siris smiled at the little boy in what was probably a patronizing manner. It was cute how he thought that he would just change his name so easily, just because Iris had a similar name.
“How about Si?” Iris said from behind him. She pronounced it ‘sigh’ and…maybe it was just the way she said it, but…he liked it. He couldn’t keep a smile from his face as he nodded to them, accepting what Geoffrey would not.
In a way it was a way for them to own him, his paranoid Yakka brain told him, but the other side of him liked how it made him feel like a part of a group, even though he was technically letting them into his ‘group’.
Cato licked at his wounds, uncaring about this human interaction, but wondering if he was going to be expected to kill another of the night-birds to feed these new humans. He would do it of course, and not just because they were fun to kill, but because he was a good boy. His tail wiggled to let the little one know that he liked his ear scratches.