Beyond the Moon and Stars: Chapter 4


The Hunt


Zio’s eyes shot open at the sound. Dull, low, and eerie. It sounded like a moaning, a wail pitched low that started and stayed steady. And there were other sounds too, distant booms and voices, echoing from somewhere further in the hills, away from the shore.

Zio got out of bed, pulled on the tunic she’d laid at the foot of her bed, and went to Raisi’s bunk. A few of the others were groggily waking up, getting out of bed. Raisi was sound asleep, so she grabbed her arm and shook her.

“Get up, now. There’s something happening.”

Raisi tried to swat Zio’s hands away, missing, then suddenly she froze and opened her eyes when she realized what the noise was.

“The alarm?”

Zio met her eyes, and didn’t need to speak. Raisi got up too, and got dressed, and they stood in the midst of the bunks and waited for one of the adults to come. Others were standing too, murmuring to their friends or just looking around with confusion and alarm.

Finally, a short, squat man pushed open the partition separating them from the rest of the Domition Unit, and hurriedly walked inside. He had clearly run there, from the way he was panting. He started shouting, “Up, now, everyone! We have to evacuate, wake up! Wake up the ones who are still sleeping, we need to leave immediately!”

People started falling out of bed, others, like Raisi, went around waking everyone up. Zio, who was calm and collected, stepped closer to the man.

“Where are our custodians? Who are you?”

The man looked at Zio with a little surprise. She could seem like an adult at times, but then, she was in some ways.

The man took a deep breath and replied, “I’m Zoqasta, I’m from a nearby Unit. We don’t know where your custodians are, so I was sent over to gather you.”

“What’s happening?”

Zoqasta took a couple of big breaths, and shook his head.

“It’s Xazma, we think. They came in the middle of the dark time, not long ago.”

He looked away from Zio towards the other slowly assembling children, and Zio turned back to be with Raisi. Everyone was gathered up, after stragglers and deep sleepers were forced out of bed, and they all stood about warily in various states of being awake. . Zio was mulling over that name, Xazma, in her head. She thought back to her dreams briefly, but then put it away.

No time to speculate.

Zoqasta raised his hand up and waved it to get attention, and shouted again, “Let’s go, follow me and stick together! We need to move fast up the coast to the space port. Find a friend to hold onto.”

He beckoned, and went out towards the entrance, with the children following piecemeal in pairs. Raisi ran up and grabbed Zio’s hand, and they joined the procession.

It was pitch black outside. They ran beneath the sky behind Zoqasta up the coastal road, staying together amidst other groups that were coming from different locations nearby to get to the spaceport. A few stragglers from their group disappeared quickly into the crowds. The general flow was in the same direction as their group was going.

Won’t be hard to find their way.

Zio noted that some were injured, limbs missing here and there, nonfatal wounds. It didn’t look like war so much as blood sport. The sky was filled with the darkened face of Deucalion, which seemed like a storm that might swallow up their little world. It’s bright swirling oranges and greens which shone like splendid jewels under the light of the binary suns, were dull and looked like grasping fingers in the dark. Zio could see angular ships, too, in the shapes of pentagons and hexagons when seem from below, that hovered with only a few blinking lights here or there to help distinguish them in the sky.

The grip on Zio’s hand kept growing looser. She noticed her partner kept looking frantically around, and was started to lose track of her breathing and trip here and there. She felt Raisi was panicking, so she started talking to her and tried to keep their pace. Her short statements punctuated the moments between the deep breaths that pushed her onwards.

“Don’t worry, I’m here. Don’t be afraid. I won’t leave you behind, we’ll get out of here,” It seemed to work, since Raisi, though she couldn’t speak back while keeping up their pace, was more focused on moving forward. Her grip became more sure, and Zio could see when she took a glance that she was keeping her eyes ahead.

I won’t lose her. It might be too late for Qaisa, but I’m not going to let her die, whatever it takes.

She focused on her own breathing as well, keeping the pace with her run. These were all things she had trained for, which she understood. She wasn’t afraid of a little war. But she knew the others weren’t ready for what they might have to endure, and few might survive.

Eventually Zoqasta slowed down, and stopped, waving his arm to stop at the children who were still behind him. They had made it about halfway, and needed to take a breather. It was cold, so they all cooled off quickly. Some drank from the freshwater sea. Zio sat down with Raisi, who was breathing hard and raggedly. She wasn’t very winded herself, and was glad it wasn’t much farther. She didn’t try to speak to her more. Raisi needed time to rest from all of the commotion.

There was a fast sound, like a gust of wind, and Zoqasta cried out. He had been standing, looking over them, facing inland toward the tall purpurea to look out for any threats. Now there was a sharpened arrow of steel through his thigh, half the length of his body, that fixed him to the ground. He struggled with it, staggered back, and groaned in agony from the pain. All of the group stood up suddenly and looked, dumb founded. Other people who had been streaming past picked up there pace.

“Go, damn it!” he yelled, “Get to th–”

A second bolt went straight into his chest, forcing him backwards and standing him up, impaled there and leaning back. Other bolts started to follow. A few people cried out in pain.

Zio pulled Raisi up, “Run, now, so they can’t hit us. RUN!”

They started running, this time faster than the pace that could be maintained. It didn’t matter, Zio felt the adrenaline pump and Raisi was right there with her. People were being struck down on the road, and there were a few near misses where she felt a bolt go by. Her mind was working, thinking over the events.

They don’t have use such primitive weapons if they just want to take our resources, an orbital bombardment would’ve done it since they surprised us.

She remembered the black eyes, the reptile face. Had it been joy she had felt then, the thing that had made her feel so terrified? She was sure that was a Xazma, and that she had felt something like that even though they didn’t have facial expressions.

Raisi nearly tripped a few times and was starting grow too tired to run, but they made it unscathed to the space port. The area was fenced off with a wooden palisade, and people were streaming in from all sides to the entrances. Raisi seemed in shock at the dead bodies, though Zio barely noticed. To her the world was her and Raisi, there wasn’t anything else to worry about. She hoped Qaisa had or would make it here, but wasn’t holding out hope seeing how the inhabitants of this planet were faring under attack. Qondol, lucky him, was offworld and would be able to get away easy.

There were guards posted around the palisades and at the entrances, armed with bolt casters and body armor and crouching and aiming between the stakes, vigilant. Zio’s suspicions were confirmed when she saw a few dead bodies, naked and smooth, taller than humans, and with scales instead of skin, scattered here and there around the palisade.

One more enemy to hate…

They pushed their way in the gate. The port was mostly open, and surprisingly undamaged. Zio wondered why they hadn’t bombarded it into ash already. Still, she wasn’t one to gainsay good fortune. She led Raisi along, pushing through the dense press of people. It smelled like sweat, the iron scent of blood, and other things. Bodily fluids. The smell of a planet dying. It was familiar and comforting from years ago, when she knew only to fight and to kill, though she didn’t like that fact.

She could see the large freighters towering above, that looked like giant, gunmetal gray metal boxes with ion engines attached. The loading doors on the bottoms were open, and guards were trying to wave people in and regulate the flow, but there wasn’t much they could do to stop the crowd from forcing its way in. She squeezed Raisi’s hand and looked into her eyes. Raisi was so tired, and breathing haggardly, but she nodded back and looked towards the freighters with determination in her eyes. Zio looked ahead, and started to weave their way through the crowd. She shoved, punched, and kicked when she had to, until they were almost to a freighter.

And far above, almost over the space port, a black, smooth hexagon floated without the slightest disturbance, watching and waiting…