8FOLD/ACRA: Orphans of Mars: To Bell The Cat # 5

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Wed Aug 6 17:20:55 PDT 2014

As she and the dancer of songs make their way through the
brightly-starred night, Ress begins to worry. She only survived her
previous night outside because she found shelter and, though she
wouldn't admit it to Fenn, because the Twain had shadowed her. The
shelter's been destroyed to deny its sanctuary to the Titanian.
Seeking out and clinging to the Twain is not an option, either, as she
has no desire to meet that Titanian and her atomizer.
   "Might it not have been better to wait until morning?"
   "Perhaps," says Fenn, "but then I wouldn't have you all to myself."
   "You know, if you just wanted to bed me, you needn't drag me out
into a death trap, is all I'm saying. You need only to ask me. I just
might say yes."
   "But I have asked," protests Fenn.
   "I said might," reminds Ress.

 _____  ____  ____  _   _    __    _  _  ___
(  _  )(  _ \(  _ \( )_( )  /__\  ( \( )/ __)
 )(_)(  )   / ) __/ ) _ (  /(  )\  )  ( \__ \
(_____)(_)\_)(__)  (_) (_)(__)(__)(_)\_)(___/
 _____  ____       __  __    __    ____  ___
(  _  )(  __)     (  \/  )  /__\  (  _ \/ __)
 )(_)(  ) _)       )    (  /(  )\  )   /\__ \
(_____)(__)       (_/\/\_)(__)(__)(_)\_)(___/
____   __               _
 /    / _)_ // _// _   / )__/  EPISODE FIVE
( () / _)(-((  //)(-  (__(//  BY  TOM RUSSELL

"Friend Danalee. Your turn to tend the fire."
   Danalee rubs her eyes. "That time already?"
   "'Twas that time an hour ago," says Quasha. "I thought it meet to
let you sleep a little longer."
   "You've kept the fire roaring," admires Danalee. "Likely it can be
seen for miles."
   Quasha settles down with her back against a tree, allowing her
eyelid to droop and drop over her eye. "The Earth-beasts fear the
flame. To them, it is only death. They know not what comfort it
affords to the civilized."
   Danalee pokes at the kindling. "It's not the beasts I worry about."

Nisja studies the fire from afar. It is too constant, and too
controlled, to be any accident of nature. The three races of Mars were
all accursed with hot blood which needs warming against the slightest
and loveliest chill. Fire has ever been their servant.
   And their weapon. With both hands, and not for the first time, she
clutches at her right side. The beam that ever burns; the wound that
never heals. She thanks the One Star that she will not endure it for
   She dares not attack them while the fire roars. There's too great a
chance that she will get pushed into the flame and burn up what
precious time she has left. She might take a few down with her, but
some will yet live, and that it is not acceptable. Not after all they
have done.
   Once, before the Martians learned to leave their world, every
planet and moon that circled the One Star had some kind of life. Now
there are only three: Earth. Dread Venus. And Eris, if one can call
the Eridians alive.
   The rest are dead by their hand. Titan was the first, and Mars
itself the last. Those that have fled beyond the light of the One
Star, Nisja cannot do anything about. But she can at least wipe this
system clean of their kind. To do that, she must hunt them carefully.
And she must trust in her sleepless sisters, that they have lent her
time enough to do it.

Nerrine, hidden in a rocky crevice on the pteranodon rookery, stares
at a rock formation some six meters hence. Over the course of an hour,
she watches the dawn turn the rock from black to gray to brown to red.
Over the course of an hour, she listens as the male and his harem call
to one another, squabble, and take off in search of prey.
   It's quieter now. There is less screeching, and the male's voice
cannot be heard at all. That doesn't necessarily mean it's safer.
Nerrine knows above all never to dismiss the female of a species.
   Still. If any moment is her moment, this might be it. Slowly, and
tightly hugging the rex tracker, she crawls out of hiding. She fastens
the tracker once more about her body, and then carefully peeks out
from behind her rock.
   There's still eight of the females left. Nesting, likely. Great.
One thing she's learned from observing these Earthlings is that they
are psychotically attached to their eggs and their young. She'd like
to steal a few eggs from those nests left unattended for Kellin to
study and, perhaps, for Tandra to train. But her chances of making it
back to, not to mention across, the sea are slim enough. No need to
antagonize them.
   With well-practiced silence, she makes her way from rock to rock,
crawling, crouching, sprinting, rolling, ever keeping herself on the
perimeter and out of sight. With knife in one hand and spearhead in
the other, she slithers beneath the waves.

   She watches from afar as the Martian puts out the fire. Incredible.
She would think there would be at least three of them. But she's
watched the site since the dawn broke, and there's only ever been one
of them. Big ugly bitch with one eye.
   But that makes sense. The Martians have ever been arrogant. They
are brute weapons. Destroyers. Short-sighted and thus short-lived.
They have no concept of or use for guile, finesse, precision. (Though
the slender one who danced a hair's breadth ahead of her atomizer
seemed familiar with the rudiments of Nisja's craft.)

   The Oathbreaker idly smashes the last embers of the fire with
Thirteen. Or at least she pretends to. Damn stupid thing, standing
there pretending she doesn't see the Titanian drawing near.
   "I am terrible bait," she had told Danalee during the small hours.
   "You're also terrible at sneaking," Danalee had said. "Worse at
sneaking. Much worse at sneaking. One of us has to be bait, and one of
us has to sneak, and as there's just the two of us, you're the bait."

   The assassin affords herself a thin smile. The Titanian's coolant
system isn't the only thing malfunctioning. Her cloaker is on the
fritz, too. Serviceable in the shadows, but here, in the light of the
dawn, she's as obvious as Quasha.
   Danalee has never needed a cloaker to be hidden. She has ever
relied upon her own skill. Not that she would mind a cloaker of her
own; she'll take every advantage she can, thank you very much. It'd be
foolish not to. Life is the word. That much she and Nerrine have ever
agreed upon.
   Still. Danalee has never relied on anything other than herself.
Quasha has Thirteen, and Jarissy had her lucky cudgel. But as Danalee
has often said, any blade in her hand becomes her dagger, Dart; any
beam is fired from her Arrow. It is not the weapon. Not the tech. It
is the skill that matters. It is Danalee.

   She is seven meters from her prey. Nearly close enough to use the
atomizer. The Daughter still hasn't noticed her. Something is wrong.
Martians are dumb, but they're not this dumb. "This is a trap."
   Too late; it is already sprung.

   Danalee is leaping onto the Titanian's back, Arrow in her right
hand and Dart in her left. It is not an honorable thing, but an
Oathbreaker has no right to disparage the assassin. Wasting no time,
Arrow fires three shots point blank into the enemy's back, while Dart
slithers across her thick blue neck.
   The Titanian shakes with pain, dropping the atomizer near Quasha's feet.
   "Clear, friend Danalee!" But Danalee has already jumped clear.
   Quasha dives for the atomizer, then screams.

   Idiot Martian! She tosses a grenade at the ambusher. While the
assassin's dealing with that, Nisja kicks the atomizer from the
twitching body of the big one. She picks it up and makes a run for it.
   She'd love to finish the big one off, but the atomizer will need
time to recalibrate, and she's no desire to let the assassin's knife
near her throat again. She thanks her ancestors that the disrupting
filter of her suit prevented it from slitting open her gullet. She
thanks her sleepless sisters that Martian knowledge of Titanian
biology is highly suspect; the beams missed her vital organs. The pain
is still excruciating, however, and there's none to blame but herself.
   Idiot Titanian.

The Twain.
   "Softly, friend Danalee."
   "The atomizer must be coded for a Titanian."
   "You think?" says Quasha. Then, sourly: "You let her get away."
   "Oh, Danalee, thank you for making sure I wasn't dying."
   "I've suffered far worse," says Quasha ruefully. "It's just hard to
recall when. Let's press on."

   It's swimming towards her, and it's swimming fast. It's hard to
tell under water, but it looks like the beast is easily fifteen meters
long. Its flippers are short for its size, but it is the long and
well-toothed snout that worries her. She doubts the beast is a
plant-eater, or that it will let her pass in peace. She certainly
can't out-swim it.
   She'll need air, and plenty of it. Quickly she surfaces. She takes
a huge gulp of air to prepare herself for the battle and dives once
   The tylosaurus rams into her, its heavy snout cracking two of her
right ribs. She screams before she can help herself. The air comes
rushing out. Bitches of shit! The thing was faster than she thought.
   She's sinking now. Dizzy, disoriented. She scrambles to right
herself and sees the tail coming. Not enough time to avoid it. But
maybe she can minimize the damage.
   It catches the side of her left leg just below the knee, shattering
the bone. The blow is enough to send her sprawling and tumbling back
down. Better than taking one to the head, but still not anywhere near
good enough. The lack of air is making her slow and clumsy. Come on,
Nerrine. You're better than this.
   When it had hit her with its tail, it was also turning. Circling
around, preparing for another thrust with its bony snout. Nerrine
knows this because if she was a tylosaurus, it's what she would do.
   Here it comes. She plays limp and dead for a moment longer, drawing
it in. If this is going to work, she can't be slow and clumsy. She
must be precise, quick, and merciless. She will wait until the last
moment, then kick to the right, out of its path. As it passes, her
knife will find its way into its eyeball.
   She kicks, but too late. The snout catches her in the shoulder,
probably breaking that, too. Sure, why not? And the knife misses the
eye, lodging itself in the beast's side. Nerrine keeps her grip on the
   The tylosaurus twists around, thrashing wildly. Not in pain or
anguish, though the reptile's blood is slowly spreading in the water
like wisps of smoke. No, its aim is to shake Nerrine free and get its
gnashing teeth into her flesh.
   Her grip is loosening. She can feel her fingers becoming like
jelly. Soon she will either black out from the pain or the lack of air
or both. She needs to get back to the surface. She needs to get away
from this thing. And with a broken shoulder, leg, and ribs, it doesn't
seem likely to happen.
   As her fingers finally give, releasing the dagger, she slams the
spear-head down into the tylosaurus's back. It arches in stunned
agony. Flailing as her vision at last starts to blur, Nerrine grabs
hold of the dagger once more.
   She twists knife and spear both, digging them deeper into its
monstrous flesh. Like a mount that has yet to be beaten down into
submission, the tylosaurus bucks and squeals. With each desperate arch
of its back, it bears its unwanted rider closer to the surface.
   The moment she breaks the surface, her lungs swell up greedily and
her vision goes white. The bucking becomes more frantic, and finally
the tylosaurus succeeds in throwing off its rider.
   Everything becomes blue and red once more as Nerrine sinks below
the waves. The tylosaurus is swimming away from her, red streaking
into the sea like twin tails. It has no intention of circling back,
instead diving deeper into the darkness.
   Nerrine now sees two more of its kind, the teeth sharp and snouts
hungry. But they pay no mind to the Daughter of Mars. Instead, they
follow their wounded brethren into the depths. Instead, they follow
the blood.

The Twain.
   "Ho, Quasha! Ho, Danalee!"
   "Ress! Fennisa!" says Danalee. "What are you doing here?"
   "Searching for Nerrine," says Fenn. Quickly, she tells the Twain
about Kellin's rex tracker, and the adjustments required to make it
   "A fool thing," says Quasha, wheezing.
   Ress stares at Quasha. "I'd ask if you found your Titanian, but it
looks like you have."
   "Also a fool thing," says Quasha. "I tried to use her weapon."
   "DNA coding?" says Fenn. "Not too shabby."
   "Your sister's idea wasn't so foolish, Ress," says Danalee. "In
fact, I slipped one of Kellin's trackers on the Titanian this morning.
   Fenn consults her receiver. "Looks like she went about a kilometer
to the North. Lucky for us, Ress, as Nerrine is half a kilometer
   "Shall one of us go with you?" says Quasha.
   "We're big girls," says Fenn.
   Ress elbows her in the ribs. "Speak for yourself."
   "No, Fenn's right," says Danalee. "Better Quasha and I finish this
Titanian. But the both of you be careful. Till we meet again."

Ress and Fenn.
   "We're big girls?"
   Fenn shrugs. "We'll have Nerrine. Have you seen what Nerrine can do?"
   "Yes," says Ress. "I have."
   "Nothing to worry about. We run into any trouble, Nerrine can handle it."

   She crawls onto the beach. Her head is pounding. Her stomach is
churning, nauseous. She may have internal bleeding. If she was ever in
a condition to find and bell the rex, she's certainly not in it now.
   So, new plan. She's going to make a splint for her leg, and she's
going to make some bandages from her tunic. Then she's going to get
home, as quickly but as carefully as possible. She's going to get
proper medical attention, and she is never going near so much as a tub
of water ever again.
   The rex tracker would have been a brilliant idea if it had worked,
but it didn't. She's not going to try again, nor will she ask anyone
else to try it. She got arrogant. Just because you haven't been hurt
yet doesn't mean you never will be.
   She's not sure how long she can keep delaying the vengeance she
promised for Jarissy, especially with Quasha, but life is the word.
First and foremost, before revenge and before glory, they will live.
And that definitely includes Nerrine.

The Twain.
   "This is where Fenn said she would be," says Quasha. "Now it's a
question of finding out which way she went."
   "No," says Danalee, crouching. She picks at the ground with Dart.
When she stands, Kellin's tracker is slung across the flat of the

Ress and Fenn.
   "There's Nerrine, on that beach up ahead!" says Fenn. "She looks hurt!"
   "Wait!" says Ress, grabbing Fenn. "Look!"

Nisja approaches the blonde Martian cautiously. Best to be wary in
case it is another trap. Of course, they wouldn't know she was here;
they would expect her to be with the tracker she's discarded.
   The blonde sits up suddenly, firing an arrow. If it was meant to be
a trap, it's a clumsy one. Nisja doesn't even need to make the effort
of dodging it.
   The blonde seems surprised. She's not used to failing, decides Nisja.
   "You must be wounded," says Nisja. "Delirious. Half-drowned? Good.
Then it's a fair fight."
   She begins to charge the atomizer. Soon, she'll be within range.
   The Martian nocks another arrow.
   Nisja smiles. "This again, young one? Maybe this time I'll have to
put some effort into it."
   The arrows flies closer to the mark, but Nisja side-steps it with
ease. The Martian is fumbling with another arrow. Nisja stops her
approach; she's within range now.
   She points the atomizer.
   The Martian aims her arrow.
   Nisja shakes her head. "After you."
   Then a strange thing happens. The Martian lowers her bow and her
arrow. That is not what is strange about it. It is not in acceptance
of her death, or of guilt for her race's crimes. It is not in awe of
the atomizer, or in recognition of the futility of her primitive
weaponry. That Nisja would expect, and understand.
   No, the Martian lowers the bow as a reflex. It has nothing to do
with Nisja of Titan, and that is what makes it strange. She's not even
looking at Nisja, not even acknowledging that she and her deadly
atomizer exist. She is looking past Nisja.
   There is a sound like a thunder that cracks a planet in half. Then
the ground screams and shakes, each hammer-blow louder and closer and
faster than the one before it.
   Nisja does not have enough time even to turn around and look at it
before the old rex scoops her up in his jaws and breaks her in half.


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