The Recruit

An Adventure in the World of Draxis (Short Story)

(All parts of this short story that have been posted to date are below)


I go by the name Baranar. I will not tell you my real name. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the tale I must tell, because not many know of it. Long ago, a wise man of an ancient tribe on our sister-world, Earth, said that legends are a blending of many voices. This is my voice, and this is my one small thread to weave into the greater tapestry. Here is where it began…

The recruit walked across the wooden floor of Denarri Ranger Station. I listened to the cadence of his steps and studied the set of his head and shoulders. He had a bearing that exuded confidence and competence. My lips twisted into a sneer. More fodder for the farratoras. Another in an endless line of doomed men who came to the Tahila Death Ranger ranks to disappear from society. Or because he had a suicide wish. What crimes had this one committed?

No matter. Here, he’d pay for them all. And soon.

The average lifespan of a Tahila Ranger was three turnings of the moons. If a cadet had the skills to pass initiation—survive the onslaught of a maddened farratora pack or a killdrop by an adult penthis—he might defy the odds.

I defied the odds. For me, eight seasons had passed in the hell of twilight and terror called the Green Death. At twenty-eight suncycles, I’m the “old hand” here. The grizzled veteran. I didn’t survive this long by having new recruits as partners. 

Damn Cannar to the Fifth Hell.

The young man bent his head to speak to Cannar, the Denarri Marshall. The old fool nodded his silver head and raised a hand, pointing my way. The recruit strode in my direction.

Farratora fodder.

“You are Ranger Elite Baranar.” It wasn’t a question. I looked him over. Draxian genes stamped our breed with dark skin pigment, light hair and intense green eyes. What set this one apart was his carriage, the feel to him. Some might call it his aura, but I didn’t believe in mystical hebah.

“That’s my given.” My reply came as a growl. Like most here, my real name and details of my former life are subjects best left unexplored. Here, it’s considered the epitome of rudeness to pry, and social blunders often end in severed limbs…or heads.

“We’re assigned to collect herbs for the farmatechs in Sector Five.”

A take-charge sort, was he? No questions. No seeking of advice. No small talk. Right to the point, and bold enough to venture into the nightmare jaws of the Green Death without a shake to his knees. Overconfidence could be its own brand of suicide.

I glanced at Gallin, who stood at my right elbow. Though ‘friend’ is an alien word here, I respected Gallin as a peer.

“First rush,” I said.

Gallin grunted and shook his head. “Second hit.”

“Four tenkars.”

“Ten.”

The young man tilted his head, his expression telling. He'd guessed we were wagering how long he would last, and it wasn’t fear I saw in his eyes.

“A hundred tenkars and my sword, gentlemen,” he said in a calm voice, “that I survive this tasking.”

Gallin glanced down, then arched a brow. “Done.”

The young man turned away and made for the quartermaster stores to pick up his issued gear.

“Good wager.” I gave Gallin a smirk. “Tributes on your new sword.”

I turned toward the stores, but Gallin caught my arm, his voice like gravel in my ear. “Did you get a look at it, Bara?” His eyes twinkled with greed, or was it mirth?

I gazed at him, not answering. Not admitting my powers of observation were less than his.

A slow, hideous grin crawled over his lips. “He carries a Blade of Duumarr.”

I squinted, then frowned. “Not possible. The Duumarrakhan were all destroyed, twenty suncycles gone. And their swords with them.”

“Yet, no other would carry such a blade.” Gallin sank his teeth into his lower lip as if he needed to keep from laughing out loud. “Good luck to you.”

I glanced in the direction the young man had traveled. If Gallin was right…

“Duumarrakhan?” The word surged from my mouth in a hoarse whisper. Most who spoke that word followed it with a self-blessing to ward off harm. I wasn’t the superstitious sort.

Gallin grunted and a chuckle rumbled deep in his throat.

Duumarrakhan. Such a man would have good reason to conceal himself in the ranks of the Tahila Death Rangers. The Order of Duumarr had been hunted to extinction by High Priest Tigus over a generation ago. Or near extinction, so it now seemed. If one yet survived, his neck most certainly had a date with the Temple guillotine.

It might explain the confidence, the feel to the man. No man was more deadly, not even a seasoned Death Ranger. Still, those of the Order were trained to hunt and kill men, not farratora packs. Not the darkest of demons that roamed the Green Death and polished their fangs on treasure troves of human bones.

I knew if the farratoras didn’t kill him soon enough, I could help them along. I wanted to see nine seasons; I didn’t need an assassin at my back.

“My wager stands. First rush,” I muttered to Gallin.

I parked my hand on the hilt of my sword and followed the recruit’s path to the stores.

#

My back to a tree, I chewed a length of Sibba bark, its spice biting my tongue, and studied the recruit. He stood in a tiny, open glen, staring up the hypnotic pipe of a Tree Well—a rare glimpse of sky surrounded by a circular wall of impossibly tall trees. Tree Wells often created illusions in the human brain of being trapped in the depths of a bottomless pit with no means of escape. A sensation of suffocation was the usual, and milder, reaction. Some went mad and tried to claw their way up to the unreachable heavens from the primordial floor. Those hapless souls were picked off by the hordes of flesh-eating limb dwellers that waited overhead.

But the recruit seemed unaffected, his face tipped to the heavens with the faint trace of light on his cheekbones. Was he praying? A chill swept over my skin. A Dumarrakhan might pray before battle. So rapt in his thoughts, the recruit was unaware what lurked in the ebony shadows just beyond the clearing.

I grimaced. This one would need no help finding fate.

The Green Death was ancient and wicked. No one knew how long it had existed. The trees never died here. They grew tall as mountains, spiking thousands of feet into the atmosphere. Below the treetops, countless layers of canopies formed distinct levels, each thinner of vegetation and deeper in twilight than the one above. Little light filtered through the tangled masses of leaf, limb and vine to the forest floor below. By day, a ranger might not always require lit lamps to travel, but by night, the Green Death was as dark as the miles-long lava tubes of Sarcassius. Though not as still and never as lifeless.

Something shifted in the twilight, little more than a blur of black in blackness to my trained eyes. I didn’t see, so much as sense, the fluid steps of a stalking farratora. I braced my knees and pressed my back to the tree, ready to jump. Where one farratora prowled, a dozen more were sure to follow.

It crept up on the recruit from the forest gloom. I knew from experience it would launch without warning from heavy-muscled haunches and twist its head mid-flight, driving upper and lower saber-toothed fangs into the recruits back, crushing or severing his spine. Then, he would lay paralyzed as the beast began to feed and the rest of the pack closed in to tear him apart.

This recruit would pay the price of overconfidence, and Gallin would have his prize. But more than that, a burden would be lifted from my shoulders and a threat eliminated. I might yet see my ninth season.

It crept up on the recruit from the forest gloom. I knew from experience it would launch without warning from heavy-muscled haunches and twist its head mid-flight, driving upper and lower saber-toothed fangs into the recruits back, crushing or severing his spine. Then, he would lay paralyzed as the beast began to feed and the rest of the pack closed in to tear him apart.

This recruit would pay the price of overconfidence, and Gallin would have his prize. But more than that, a burden would be lifted from my shoulders and a threat eliminated. I might yet see my ninth season.


So why this troubling feeling I was not in the right? The Duumarrakhan was doomed to die anyway. What did it matter how and when?

Because there was something about the man…

“At your back,” I wolfed, but he was already in motion.

The man bounded sideways the moment the farratora lunged, planted a foot on a massive trunk as he drew Gallin’s prize from its scabbard. He kicked off the tree, inverted horizontally over the surprised predator, and drove his blade down through the beast’s opposite shoulder. Gravity pulled the man back to the ground, and the embedded sword sliced down diagonally like a paper blade, severing the beast’s spine. The farratora collapsed in a heap and lay still, pike-like fangs still bared. It was a mammoth male, probably the pack alpha.

I rose to my feet, heart-pounding. Farratora forgotten.

I knew I had just witnessed something few alive had seen. The kill of a Duumarrakhan.

And I was not going to see my ninth season.

A chorus of growls in the darkness confirmed that thought. The dead alpha’s pack was preparing to charge.

I drew my blade and used the tree to thwart a rear ambush. From my peripheral, I saw the recruit edging in my direction. His artful blade pierced deep through the eye of one large male, dropping him. He stepped to the side, blade humming low, to severe the legs of a smaller, charging female. She tumbled head-over-tail with a look of confusion when her stride shifted to missing paws.

From out of the blackness to my right came a flash of fang in flame-red jowls as the first of many rushed me. Four more came behind him. I couldn’t fight them all with a mere sword. I reached for my belt, glanced at the recruit, then hit the pulse button. The four dropped from the shock wave, and I finished them off before they recovered.

The recruit fell to his knees, hit by the fringes of the concentrated energy ring, and knew what I had done. Shock weapon—cursed and taboo. A religious abomination. If he was a Duumarrakhan, and a farratora didn’t finish him first, I was dead. He’d never let me live after committing such an atrocity. He didn’t yet understand the rules. Most Tahila Death Rangers were capital criminals already, and breaking religious laws to survive was of little matter.

My moment of distraction allowed a farratora to reach me. He made one pass, raking his claws down my sword arm, before turning back to finish me. I hit the button at my belt again as I shifted the sword to my offhand and ran him through where he fell.

The recruit had dodged out of the range of the energy ring, but then he was beside me, scowling down at my belt. Blood flowed down my arm, and my head was spinning. The wound was bad. In a moment, I’d lose consciousness, and the recruit would finish me. Beheading was the price for my crime—by guillotine or blade.

He didn’t have a guillotine handy. His sword would do.

To be continued... 

______________________

Copyright Laurie A. Green, 2019

About Spacefreighters Lounge

Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.