Etos cringed as his wife’s scream echoed through the communication piece in his ear.
“Ada!” he roared. “Hold on!” He kept his blaster trained on the Schloran girl. “What’ve they done to her?”
“I—I don’t know.” The scarlet-haired teen motioned to the cave behind her. “I’ve been here the whole time.”
Another scream rang out in the air, and in his ear, then was cut-off abruptly. His finger tensed on the trigger. “Kee, lockdown and move to hover range.” He glared at the girl and jerked his head at his rover. “Move!”
She stumbled over the scattered icicles, but kept her hands raised as she made her way to the rover.
“Picking ice on a planet full of nothing but ice,” Etos growled and shook his head. “How’d you know we were here? What do you want with my wife?”
“I don’t know anything, I swear.” The girl stopped next to the rover. “The waters in the cave have healing powers, but the icicles are easier to carry. I come here every day and I’ve never seen or heard—”
“Shut-up!” Etos yanked the strap from his weapon and bound the girl’s wrists. “Get on.” The instant her butt touched the seat on the rover, he attached the strap to the roll-bar. He climbed on and slammed the machine into gear, then took off with a jolt. “Kee, track Ada.”
“Unable to track,” the voice replied.
“Dammit, Kee—” Etos gunned it, nearly throwing the girl off in the process, but he didn’t care. He had to get to Ada.
They crested the hill and the wreckage came into view, but there was no sign of his wife or her kidnappers.
What the hell?
Etos barreled down the hill, barely waiting until the rover stopped before jumping off. “Ada!” he screamed.
There were tracks everywhere. At least half a dozen. Drag marks in the snow led to where she’d left her rover, but that was gone too. Nothing left but a trail to follow.
Etos stomped over to the girl and pointed in the direction the tracks went. “Is that the way to your people?”
Her large grey eyes widened even further and she nodded. “We have a village.”
That gave him pause. “How many of you are there? How long’ve you been here?”
She swallowed hard. “There were over a thousand, but there’s half as many now. Some died in the crash, some froze to death, others starved.”
“How long?” Etos growled as his mind raced.
“I’m not sure—”
“Liar!” He slammed a fist into the side of the rover. The machine shuddered and the girl jumped.
“Maybe a year?” She shook her head. “I can’t be sure.”
Etos got back on the rover and took off, following the tracks. They couldn’t be more than a few minutes ahead.
“Wait.” The girl raised her voice to be heard above the engine. “Let me help you.”
Etos didn’t even spare her a glance. “Why would you do that?”
“Stop and I’ll show you.”
This time, he glanced over at her. Something about her downcast eyes, the show of respect, made him stop. “This better be worth it.”
“Lift the scarf off my head.” Her gaze darted to where her bound wrists were still tied to the roll-bar. “I can’t reach.”
The scarf, more of a rag really, covered her forehead and the top of her head. He gave an impatient sigh and moved to yank it off.
“Careful!” she flinched away from his hand. “Be careful, please.”
Etos frowned. He didn’t have time for this nonsense, but the fear etched on the girl’s face forced him to slow his movements. He carefully lifted the scarf, then froze as he stared in disbelief at her rare Schloran birth anomaly.
A third eye. They’re going to want her back.
“What’s your name, girl?”
“And why do you want to help me, Phea?”
“Because I want to live,” she said simply.
He pulled the scarf down over her forehead, hiding the third eye. “Kee, scan for Schloran lifeforms.”
“One Schloran lifeform found, adolescent female, immediate vicinity.”
Etos looked at Phea, puzzled.
“You won’t find them. The elders took the cloaking shield from the ship and used it on the village.” Phea shrugged. “It’s about the only thing left that still works.”
He’d been thinking of having Kee move the ship over the village and deploy some firepower to aid him in the rescue, but if they had a shield…
So much for that plan.
“Let me help you,” Phea repeated.
“Oh, you’re going to help me,” he scoffed. “I’m going to trade you for my wife.” Without another word, he took off.
It wasn’t long before the tracks disappeared into a rocky embankment at the edge of an icy river. Etos scanned the ground on the other side of the water, but saw nothing. No trace of the trail he’d been following.
“What’s this?” he demanded.
“My village is not far upriver from here. They’ll have taken to the water to cover their tracks. It’s not deep.” Phea nodded in the opposite direction to an ice-covered boulder downriver. “We can hide there.”
Etos moved them into the shadow of the ship-sized rock and turned the rover off. “Let’s go,” he snapped, reaching to undo her bound hands.
Phea waited until she was free, then turned in her seat to face him. “You won’t be able to get through the shield. Let me go by myself, they’ll see me coming and let me in. I can find out what’s going on, where your wife is.”
Etos narrowed his eyes at the girl. “I don’t like this. How do I know you’ll help her? That you won’t just tell them where to find me?”
“Do you know what they’re planning to do to me once we get off this planet?” Phea removed her scarf and gestured to her third eye. “They’re going to kill me, because of this. I already told you why I’d help you. I want to live.”
“If they wanted to kill you over that eye, why haven’t they done it already?” Etos frowned as he studied the young woman.
“Our planet is dying, same as yours. My mother kept me hidden from the Elders, but after she died, I was turned in by those who knew my secret, those who believed in the old ways.” She gave an awkward shrug and looked down. “They think if they sacrifice me to the fire gods, give them the power of my third eye, the location of a new home planet will be revealed.”
Etos was taken aback. He’d heard plenty of things about his enemy, but until today hadn’t even known the third eye was real among their people. “Your eye has power? What kind of power?”
Phea hesitated, clearly reluctant to divulge her abilities. “Let’s just say I know things, see things that others can’t see.”
Realizing the possibilities, he asked one last question. “What do you want from me in return for your help?”
Her third eye studied him a moment, then she gave a slight nod and relaxed a fraction. “Take me with you when you leave.”
He’d been hoping she’d say that, and though he wasn’t used to letting anyone else call the shots, he quickly agreed. “What’s your plan?”
Phea tied the scarf around her head again and grabbed hold of the roll bar. “Take me back to the ice cave. I can’t return empty-handed or they’ll know something is up.”
Etos started the rover and as they went back to the cave, she told him she’d find out where they were keeping his wife, and the rover, then escape under the cover of darkness and meet him at his ship.
Once the basket was retrieved and stocked with icicles, Etos took her back to the boulder. “I’m trusting you,” he said as she got out and balanced the basket on her hip.
“And I, you,” she replied. “Be ready when we get there.”
Etos waited until she’d disappeared from sight, then headed back to the wreckage.
* * * * *
Ada pulled her legs up as tight as she could against her chest and tried to control the cold tremors that racked her body. The Schloran scum had taken her cold weather suit and her helmet and were currently tearing them apart. They didn’t seem to care one bit that she was in full view and earshot of what they were doing, which told her they didn’t plan to let her live. Within minutes of them taking her gear, she’d been chained to a stake in the ground, right out in the open, and reduced to a shivering mess as the brutal frozen environment began to take its toll. At this rate, she’d be lucky to survive past dark.
She focused on the men as they ripped the heating tubes from her suit.
“If this will heat the regenerator, we should be able to fix our ship.” The man speaking had a double line of tattoos across his forehead and no eyebrows, marking him as a high-ranking Elder. The worst of their kind. The type of man full of superstition and belief in the old ways. The type of man to sacrifice innocents, as documented in her own people’s history.
Another Elder, with a single tattooed line, tore the communication device from her helmet. He pried the wires from the small computer box and tossed them aside. The box he handed over. “This should be able to attach to our ships’ computer and relay our commands. At least until we regenerate the parts we need to repair the breach.”
Ada’s shivering turned violent, the freezing air burning her exposed skin. She squeezed herself tighter into a ball and let her long yellow hair fall around her face, shoulders and arms, providing a touch of protection.
Her mind now focused on one single thing – holding on.
* * * * *
Phea returned to the village to find the Uridian woman half-conscious on the ground, totally ignored by the Elders. Phea kept her head down as she crossed the center of the village to deposit her basket by one of the many snow-shelters. Her determination to escape was so strong, it made her more bold than usual. She snatched an extra fur covering as she passed the storage shelter, wrapped it around her shoulders, then ducked behind the snow hut closest to the woman. After watching for a bit, but unable to move closer, Phea stowed the blanket behind the back corner of the hut and went in search of the woman’s rover.
It didn’t take her long to find it. The Elders had left it by the hunter’s hut, but hadn’t taken it apart yet. Maybe they wouldn’t since their own rovers had stopped working only weeks after the crash.
She ducked between the two shelters and paused by the rover long enough to glance around and plan her escape route. Once she’d found the quickest way to the woman, then out of here, Phea hunkered down to wait for the cover of dark.
* * * * *
Ada couldn’t feel her body, hadn’t been able to for a little while now, so it was strange, this shaking she felt. She forced her eyes open to find a young woman bent over her.
“I’m Phea and I’m taking you to Etos.”
Ada’s heart sped up. “E-E-Etos?”
“Shh,” Phea pressed a finger to her lips, then draped a fur over her. “I need you to be quiet. But stay awake, try to move your fingers and toes. I’m going to get your rover and I’ll be right back. We need to hurry.” With that, the girl disappeared into the night.
Doing as she was told, Ada struggled against the stabs of pain as she wiggled her frozen fingers and toes. One word spurred her on, giving her strength. Etos.
A moment later, the sound of the rover drew near, then shut off. Ada’s gaze darted around, but, at least for now, no one seemed to notice over the sounds of laughter, talking and other communal noise across the village.
Suddenly, Phea was at her side. “They’re eating,” the girl said as she followed Ada’s gaze. “And trying to decide how to use what they stole to fix the ship. Ready?”
Ada nodded and steeled herself as Phea helped her to her feet.
The girl produced a key and freed her from the chain. “Let’s go,” she whispered.
Leaning on Phea, Ada limped along, biting her cheek to stifle her gasps as pain shot up her legs. Before they were even halfway to the rover, a man yelled behind them. “Stop her!”
Phea dragged Ada the rest of the way and shoved her into the seat, then scrambled on herself. As they sped away, more angry voices rang out, followed by the sound of boots hitting the ground.
“Hold on!” Phea shouted, then they accelerated to top speed.
Ada’s head bobbed against the seat, and her fur flew off, lost to the night. The freezing air whipped across her exposed arms and face, blasting her with shards of torturous agony.
“Almost there!” Phea sped to the top of a hill and suddenly the lights from Blue were there.
Ada caught glimpses of the cargo door opening, and then the warm air from inside her ship enveloped her.
Etos swept her into his arms and she leaned her head against his chest. “Kee, get us out of here,” he ordered.
“What is your destination?”
The last thing Ada heard before she lost consciousness, was Phea’s voice.
“As far away from Sapa as you can get.”
M. Sydnor Jr.
copyright © M. Sydnor Jr.