Monday, April 13, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 7

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As Callan and David near the wreck of the Vanguard, trogs armed with blaster rifles attack the airship’s survivors!

I tensed, preparing to charge into the fray far ahead of me. Callan’s hand caught my forearm and pulled back on it. She wasn’t strong enough to stop me—I could have easily shaken off her hand—but Callan wasn’t trying to stop me physically.

“You won’t reach them in time to do anything, David,” she told me with quiet force. “All you’ll do is make me a widow and leave your children without a father.”

The tension flowed out of my muscles as the wisdom behind her words overcame my natural tendency toward action. I nodded, accepting her counsel even as I looked around us for some form of cover. Half a mile separated us from the slaughter and the bright light from the fire surely destroyed the trogs' night sight but was the band attacking the Vanguard’s crew the only trog force in the area?

Callan spotted a small patch of scrub brush off to our right and we hurried to it. Pushing into the center of the mass of stiff branches and prickly leaves, we discovered the brush grew over a shallow depression. During rare rain storms, water probably pooled here, making it an ideal place for the hardy bushes to grow. For us, the depression let us lie down beneath the lowest branches, providing even better cover than we’d originally hoped for.

By the time we settled in, the distant crack of blaster fire fell silent. Guttural trog shouts floated to us across the desert. Every now and then a human cry or shout reached our ears, as well. Some of the crew still lived, at least. I would have given a lot for one glance at the scene next to the burning hull. It seemed likely the trogs were taking the survivors prisoner—we would hear more men shouting if the trogs were simply executing them—but I couldn’t be sure without at least one look.

My chances of getting a quick glance and dropping back into cover struck me as very good, so I carefully brought my knees up under me. Callan gave me a quizzical look. I replied by pointing up then miming looking around. She considered it for a couple of seconds and nodded once.

Then we both nearly jumped out of our skins when we heard footsteps approaching our position. Silently, I lay flat again then we both went as still as stones. Our hopes of hearing the voices of fellow Mordanians were crushed when a trog spoke from no more than ten feet away. He was right next to our hiding place!

Another trog replied to the first one and the two conversed for something like three years. My implant said it was only half a minute, but it sure felt thousands of times longer than that. Finally, the first trog gave what had to be an order. The second trog gave a single grunt in reply. Seconds after that, a spear pierced the bushes above us, coming within five or six inches of Callan’s hip.

We both carefully rolled from our sides onto our backs, getting as far from the probing spears as possible. Another spear thrust into the bushes from another direction, stopping seven or eight inches above my head. Five times the spears thrust through the bushes and five times the spears missed us. The closest stopped less than two inches from my leg.

Unaware of the depression which protected us from their spears, the trogs were soon satisfied no one hid in the bushes. The leader growled a quick command and the patrol headed in the direction we’d come from—doubtless to check our wrecked airship for survivors. Of course, they wouldn’t find any. Nor would they have any way of knowing we had been on the airship.

Callan and I waited a full five minutes before we even allowed ourselves to take more than shallow breaths. Then Callan rolled toward me and laid her head on my shoulder. I felt the warm splash of tears as she softly recited the prayer for the dead in its entirety. I just held her close and, equally quietly, joined in the prayer.

When the prayer came to an end, she surprised me with one addition. “Lord, watch over the survivors and keep them close in Your sight until David and I can rescue them.”

I waited a few seconds until I was sure she was done. “Dear, what was that last part of your prayer?”

“I think it was pretty obvious, darling. And are you going to honestly tell me you weren’t planning on rescuing those crewmen?”

“Of course I’m going to rescue those men. It’s the ‘David and I’ part I question.”

“I know you’ve already considered the chances of a rescue party coming for us any time soon, David.” Callan held up a hand and ticked off on her fingers. “The Sky Runner is only a few hours into its two-day flight to the closest Federation consulate and has no idea what’s happened here. We know the Vanguard is wrecked. It’s a safe bet the Norris and Hawk are wrecked, too. If they weren’t, we’d have heard their engines as they came to investigate and we’d have been subjected to another windstorm. Did I miss anything?”

“Yes, there are heavily armed trogs patrolling the area and guarding the survivors,” I replied.

Callan bestowed a smile on me as if I’d just helped prove her point. “Call it three days until rescuers arrive.” She raised her eyebrows and I nodded in agreement. “We have no water, no food, no supplies except the sword at your side.” Without eyebrow prompting, I nodded again and she continued. “Now comes the hard part, David. What do you think my odds of survival are if I stay out here all alone?”

Instinctively, I opened my mouth to spout something reassuring, paused, then closed my mouth again. I quickly ran through all of the options in my mind. Placing my hand gently on Callan’s cheek, I said, “I want nothing more than to keep you safe, Callan.”

She kissed me softly. “I know, David, and the best way you can do that is to take me with you. Left alone out here, I’ll probably die of thirst, get caught by trogs, or killed by a tammar or something. If I’m with you, you have an extra pair of eyes to keep watch and another brain to help solve problems.”

I sighed. “It’ll be extremely dangerous—but no worse than leaving you alone in the desert.”

Callan kissed me a second time. “That wasn’t so hard, was it darling?”

My glare had no effect on her, so I gave up and turned to making plans. My wife was right about one thing—having another brain working on the problem helped a lot. Half an hour later, we had our plan. Details were sparse, but I reiterated the plan anyway to make sure we were both on the same page.

“We’re going to take turns sleeping and keeping watch until that trog patrol returns. If it’s still dark, we slip out of this brush and follow them at a distance. If it’s light, we watch the way they go and then try to pick up their trail once they’re out of sight.” Callan nodded and I continued. “We can’t plan much beyond that because we don’t know what the situation will be at the trog village. So we play it by ear after that.”

Then we settled in to wait. I took first watch, letting Callan catch some much needed sleep. We traded off a couple of hours later and traded again two hours after that. Midway through my watch, I heard guttural conversation coming our way and woke Callan.

Dawn was still hours away, so we waited quietly for the trogs to reach us. They passed no more than fifty feet from our hiding place. Five minutes later, Callan and I carefully pushed free of the scrub brush. Keeping low, we set off on the trail of the trogs.

What will David and Callan find when the trogs reach their destination? Find out in Chapter 8, coming Wednesday!