Friday, May 28, 2010

Chapter 18 - REUNION

I hired a car to take me to what used to be my house. It was the only place they were allowed to take a car outside of the confines of the spaceport village. Then, with my boots over my shoulder again and my shades stuck down in one of them, I headed through town on my crutches without even a glance at the house where I used to live. This trip was going to be as slow as the trip from the cave had been. Oh well, I was ready for it this time.

I had almost reached the well in the center of the town square when Lagge caught up with me. I could tell he was ecstatic to see me, but the crutches, casts and fading-by-now bruises on my face, threw him off a bit.

It wasn’t uncommon for any one of my friends to pick me up and whirl me around in the grips of some enthusiasm or joy, and without that outlet to his emotions, he seemed at a loss as to what to do with himself. “Liam, you’re back. I’m so glad you came back. Wait right here,” and he was off.

He came back with a big leg of thopper, thrust it into my hand and then took off in another direction. Now I really was anchored. I couldn’t eat and work my crutches at the same time.

(For your information, a thopper is a small creature about the size of a goat that looks kind of like a kangaroo except it supported its weight on all four feet. What I had in my hand was a front shoulder. The meat is very tender.)

He was back about twenty minutes later with Brom and Carm in tow. All three of them were laughing and cheering to see me back. It was catching.

Brom didn’t have the same inhibitions that Lagge had had and by the time they were done capering around me, I was sitting on Brom’s shoulders and Carm had my crutches. I had to hang on then because they were off. All three of them were running across the fields and pastures toward the cave with me bouncing along like a sack of potatoes with the thopper leg gripped tightly in one hand.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Chapter 17 - LOW GRAVITY

There was no cryo-sleep this trip since we were lifting off from an asteroid. I was the only passenger, and when the captain saw that I was on crutches, he cut the gravity down to about ten percent of standard. That meant I didn’t have to use my crutches at all for the entire trip.

To stay in shape, I was introduced to the small exercise room. Most ships have something of the sort so the crew can stay in shape. It was full of resistance machines designed to work muscles without the benefit of gravity. I spent as many hours as I could stand in there every day of my trip.

The first officer offered to spar with me, but when he found out that I had only just purchased my gear, our sparring matches turned into lessons of a sort. The low gravity made the whole ordeal interesting to say the least.

I felt like such a klutz. It’s easy to swing a sword in low gravity. The hard part is stopping it so you can swing it again. I reduced the guy to helpless fits of giggles at least a dozen times a day. I wasn’t mad at him for laughing at me; I just wished I could see me through his eyes. I’m sure I was very funny.

At the end of our last lessen before landing, he told me I was very dangerous. I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that; he was still giggling at the time.

After spending more than a month in less than full gravity, I thought the landing would never end; the ride was very rough. The two-week trip was the best I’ve ever had though.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Chapter 16 - ALONE

I hired a car to take me back to the port, and had the driver drop me at an eatery that was within walking distance of my gate. After he left, I just stood there and looked around. Throughout history, the docks have always been the rough part of town; it was no different here, but aside from a few glances at my crutches and then down at my feet, no one gave me a second look.

I walked into the eatery and bought myself the house special three times over. The waitress thought I was strange for ordering seconds and the cook came out himself when I ordered thirds.

“You ain’t big enough to eat that much. Where’re you putting it?” he asked.

“I was hungry,” I said lamely.

“Ain’t nobody ordered seconds before. Did you think it was good?”

I thought about it for a few moments. “It was good enough. It filled me up. It’s the best fill-up I’ve had in weeks,” I said, which was true.

The man laughed big. “For that one, boy, chow’s on me.” He walked back into the kitchen still laughing.

The waitress just shook her head and smiled as she waved me away from the register. “Like he said, chow’s on him. Beat it, space dust.”

I waved and made my slow way to my gate. After I checked in, I took a seat near a window where I could watch the field. I still had about an hour before my lift was ready to take off.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Chapter 15 - SEPARATE WAYS

After eating, I fully intended to wait up for them, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer; I have no idea when they came back. I left the receipt for them to find and I knew they had found it as soon as I woke up the next morning. They were waiting for me and they didn’t look happy.

“Good morning mom, dad,” I said, forestalling the explosion for only a few seconds.

“What is the meaning of this?” said my mother as she held out the receipt.

I took the receipt and shoved it in my pocket as I cast around for something to eat. I didn’t want to do this on an empty stomach, but I didn’t see any way around it. “Mom, dad, please sit down. We need to talk.”

They sat on the couch and I drew up a stool and sat on the other side of the coffee table from them. Leaning forward with my elbows on my knees, I said, “Mom, dad, I have to go back.” I could think of no other way to begin.

“Absolutely not,” said my father. I had expected that.

“I have to, dad. Do you remember what Master Durmas told you? ‘Mr. McTavish,’” I quoted, “‘If Liam doesn’t learn to control his magic, he could make mistakes that could cost lives.’ Well, he was right, dad. There was no mechanical breakdown in my cryo-pod, and it was no miracle that I survived the boost. That was my magic, all of it. My magic wouldn’t let my body be frozen, nor would it let me die from the damage. That’s not the worst part. Surely, you’ve noticed how much I eat lately. My magic is healing me, faster than normal. My feet don’t even hurt anymore, but I’m not going to push my luck there. Burning up all that magic takes a lot of energy and it makes me very hungry. Very, very hungry. You heard about that man who was murdered on the ship?”

They nodded. Mom went quite pale.

“I’ve been told that I have a tendency to wake up early. I know that doesn’t make any sense to you, but that’s what I did. I woke up early and that man was there. I hurt so much. I was so hungry.” I had to stop for a few seconds as the memory flooded my mind again, sending chills down my spine. “I was so hungry. I got ahold on him. I . . . fed . . . off . . . of . . . him, I think. My magic killed him so that I could live. I have to go back and learn how to control this or it’ll just get worse; I’m sure of it.”

“But they kidnapped you,” said my mother in a small voice.

“No they didn’t, mom. I went willingly and they let me leave as soon as I was able.”

Dad said, “After all we went through to get you away from there, how can you say you want to go back?”

“I liked it there, dad. The last three years have been the best. The best friends I’ve ever had live there, but that has nothing to do with my reason for going back. I have to go back before I make another mistake and kill someone else, and I will; I just know I will.” I reached out and touched the coffee table. Under my hand, it melted into a thin elegant vase made out of the same wood. Finished, the vase stood about two and a half feet tall. Mom gasped. I hardly felt the drain. “I’m getting stronger,” I said to them, as much as to myself.

I got up and went to the phone. “What’s the number of that planet?” I asked.

“663-457,” said my father softly.

I called the scheduling office at the spaceport and booked myself a seat on the next flight back. It left at noon.

I went back to my room to get dressed. I pulled out my leathers. I hadn’t worn them since shortly after walking into my home that first day back. I put them on now. The buckles on my shin pads wouldn’t buckle so I just left them hanging, and of course, I couldn’t wear my boots. I stuffed a couple pairs of socks down in them and set them on the foot of my bed then I strapped my sword belt on again. My shades were a permanent fixture on my face.

Dad came in then. “Where did you get that outfit?” he asked, and I remembered he’d asked that question once before.

“I guess Durmas gave it to me. It’s all I could find to wear when I got ready to come home.”

“It’s a nice looking outfit. The sword and belt go with it nicely. May I see what you bought?” He was acting strangely, but I drew my sword and let him handle it. He hefted it. “Nice balance. I took a few lessons in college.” He handed it back and then he handed me a small black leather pouch. “Here, it’s all the local money we have left.”

“Dad, you’re sounding like I’ll never see you again. I will; as soon as your replacement moves in, I’ll send you messages as often as I can, or at least I will as soon as I know where to send them. You’ll have to message me first as soon as you get to wherever you end up.”

He sighed real big and touched me on my cheek. “I know, son. You were just a fifteen-year-old kid a few weeks ago but now, suddenly you’re a man. I just wasn’t prepared.”

I buckled my boots together and slung them over my shoulder. I thought briefly about taking a change of clothes, but I could get whatever I needed when I got there. Hell, I’d probably learn how to make anything I needed.

When I got back into the living room, mother was nowhere to be seen.

“Forgive your mother; this has all been rather hard on her. When’s your lift off?”

I looked up at the clock on the wall. It was only about nine o’clock in the morning. “I’ve got to go.”

Dad showed me to the door and shook my hand. “It could be as long as a year before we are settled somewhere permanent. We’ll keep you informed though. My replacement should be there by the end of the month. I’ll send you a message as soon as I know someone’s there.”

“Right. I’ll watch for it.”

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Chapter 14 - MY DECISION

The settlement under the dome was a lot like the village we had just left if you disregard the overwhelming power that was everywhere around me. The farming was all hydroponics located up on nearly all the roofs, and the closest thing to livestock I saw were some small dogs, but they probably belonged to rich tourists ‘cause I didn’t see any down in the town. Our hotel was a little back from the town square since it was a bit of a latecomer to the town plan. It was the town square I was interested in, though. I was hoping the strangeness of the mining colony would distract me from my concerns, at least for a little while.

As I walked, I noticed that very few of the people I saw were the scientists or even the tourist types my mother had always tried to surround us with. These people were predominately miners and spacers, and they looked different. Almost everyone went armed; at least what they had hanging from their belts looked like weapons, and very likely could have been used as such, regardless of what they had been originally made for. The most popular belt decoration was a wide variety of swords, and it put me in mind of something I had heard in one of my classes.

With the advent of space travel, hard projectile weapons went out of fashion, in a way. No one who frequented the space ways wanted to risk their life by punching a hole through their hull with a bullet, but that didn’t stop pirates and terrorists from operating, so the business of selling sonic guns, tasers and punch guns flourished, but they were expensive and required maintenance of one sort or another. Swords were every bit as effective since the range in a fight aboard a space ship was seldom greater than five feet and they only required a little sharpening once in a while.

With Durmas’ words in my ears, I went looking for a shop that sold swords. I was going back; I had to. If he was going to teach me how to use a sword, I might as well come prepared in that much at least; I wasn’t likely to find a bow or a staff here.

The shop I found was fascinating and far more than I could have hoped for. Everything my imagination could conjure was here. Best of all, plastered across the wall behind the counter was every kind of sword and knife one could ever want.

I’m pretty sure I looked like a gawky teenager, but the man behind the counter didn’t seem to mind. Either that or he took his craft very seriously. Looking over the glittering array I said, “I want to buy a sword. What do you think would be best for me?”

He looked me over with a critical eye. I’m sure I cut a fine figure. I was standing on crutches with both my feet in casts; my pant-legs had been split to my knees to accommodate them. My face was all cracked and bruised up, and who knows what kind of damage my clothes concealed. He probably thought I was in dire need of some kind of protection, and being a teenager, I probably didn’t have a lot of money or I had just been robbed. “Have you ever used a sword before?”

I shook my head. “That’s a cool one.” I pointed to a big blade directly over his shoulder.

“How old are you?” he continued after only a glance at what I’d pointed at.

I looked at him, but he wouldn’t be able to tell where I was looking behind my shades. He didn’t seem to be mocking me so “Fifteen.”

He turned around to survey his display. “Fifteen, you say. You’ve got some growing to do then.” He started lifting down an assortment of swords for me to choose from - none of which was the monster that kept drawing my eye. “Heft ‘em. Swing ‘em a little, and see how they feel.”

I leaned one of my crutches against the counter and did as he said. They were surprisingly heavy, but I swung each one in turn. Some I set aside immediately; they just didn’t feel right. I tested the others again, and finally, I settled on one that I liked the best, though I couldn’t tell you exactly why. It had a real cool hilt and guard though. The hilt was wrapped in black leather, wrapped in turn with a fine twisted wire giving it a cool black and silver striped look. Grasping that, in a position that nested nicely in the palm of my hand was the body of a small dragon made out of blue gold. The spread wings were the guards and they curved out over my knuckles, even shielding my wrist somewhat. The front joint of those wings had little claws protruding from them and they were sharp. The head of the dragon was laid out along the base of the blade, and etched along almost half the length of the blade itself was the tracery of fire emerging from the mouth of the dragon. The long tail coiled up to the large round pommel and wrapped around it as if it too were holding on.

The man nodded sagely. “That’s the one I would have picked for ye, but you should be the one pickin’ the blade you’ll be using.” He handed up a sheath and held it for me to slide the blade into. “Now, let’s find you a belt.” He had been hanging the blades back on the wall as I discarded them, so now he came around the counter and took me to a rack that was laden with all kinds of belts. “There’re different kinds of belts. Do you have a preference?”

I shook my head. The selection was overwhelming, but my eyes focused on a wide belt that had a dagger sheath sewn into the middle of it.

The man smiled. “Good choice, a wide belt is the most comfortable and stable kind of sword belt. He took the belt down and slung it around my waist. He nested it around my hips and buckled it. He never knew how many bruises he brushed. There was almost a foot of belt left over when he was done, but I didn’t object when I heard him mutter something about ‘room to grow’. He took the belt back off and we went back to the counter where he added the sword to it and then buckled it around me again. “Can you stand without those crutches?”

I could walk a few steps without them, but I wasn’t too sure about just standing. “I can try,” I replied.

“Draw the sword and see how you like it. I’ll catch you if you over balance yourself.”

I did as he suggested and the sword slid from its sheath like silk. I didn’t loose my balance the first time or the second time, but I was grinning so hard by then that I lost it on the third try; he didn’t let me tip too far though.

“Now, do you want a blade for this?” he touched the sheath that was stitched into the belt that now rested horizontally in the center of my back. I would be able to draw a knife from that sheath with my left hand. The sword sheath and belt were sturdy enough that I could draw both simultaneously.

“It’d be a crime not to, wouldn’t it,” I said.

“I have just the one for you,” he said, grinning. He went back behind the counter and laid a double-edged dagger on the counter. It was a miniature version of the sword that now rested at my hip.

I took one look at the little dragon. “It would be a crime to separate them,” I said, and slid it by touch into its sheath, pricking my thumb in the process. “I would also like a little knife to fit here.” I patted my belt opposite my sword.

“Ah, a little sticker, good idea. I’m beginning to like you, kid. Are you sure you’ve never done this before?” He laid another knife, half the size of the one at my back, on the counter with its sheath beside it. It was a plain little knife though the hilt was wrapped like the others, lacking only the dragon.

“Sold, all of it,” I said, as I slid the little ‘sticker’ into its sheath. He helped me get it on my belt and then wrote up the ticket. I pulled my credit chip out of my pocket and handed it over. I hadn’t bothered to carry one since before we had moved to that planet where I had just spent the last three years of my life. The place was so newly discovered, it hadn’t earned a name yet and I didn’t remember the number.

The bill was seventy-two credits. Mom would croak, but I thought the price was more than fair and mom’s reaction would be more about what I bought rather than how much it had cost.

I shook hands with the man and hobbled out of the shop to go back to the hotel. I had made my decision and now I needed to tell my parents.

When I got back to our rooms, my parents were nowhere to be seen. They had left a note for me saying they went down to the restaurant for dinner. I could join them if I hadn’t already eaten. That sounded like a good idea, but I was tired so I ordered room service instead and sent a message down to them saying as much.