The little family sat beside the river trying to catch fish. The two young girls’ laughter and squeals of delight rang out often as the catches jumped and splashed while they were drawn in.
This rest was a blessing, and all around them others were taking advantage of it to relieve stress, have fun, or simply relax. They hadn’t seen a single Dichidian for four days, no sign of any for three. The scouts had reported back that the hunters that had been tracking them for the past twelve days had fallen for their little trick and veered off to the east. They were all safely inside a small valley in a northern mountain chain. No one had any clue where, exactly, they were other than safe. Some wondered if the valley had a name, few cared. A few debated which mountains these were, but only to pass the time. This was an island continent. They hadn’t crossed a sea, so they were where they’d always been: Shalid.
Josette and Carjel, occasionally, wondered at the wisdom of that long ago day they’d told the Queensman who’d come to evacuate them that he could go tell it to Kalidh, but that had been their home, everything they’d ever had and all they’d worked for. They didn’t have Jasmine yet. By the time she was born their home was gone, but it’d cost six Dichidians their lives, and those who’d taken the home were given a house warming present – a thermal grenade – which sent twenty more to their wicked gods. Besides, it was too late for regrets. The Dichidians had quickly pushed the military forces off Shalid; there was nowhere to turn but the jungles. Their home, now, was Shalid. Their home had unwelcome visitors, and the people of Shalid were going to eject these reptilian interlopers or die trying.
Still, Jasmine was happy, strong, bright, and blessedly unaware that not all children’s homes were jungle canopy, hollow trees, caves, and deserts. That it wasn’t normal for a five year old to know how to fire a blaster with enough accuracy to kill a Dichidian (and what’s more to have proven it), that baths weren’t the occasional hot spring and numerous cool pools or cascading waterfalls. One day she would. One day she would grow up and realise she was part of a bloody, horrible, desperate war. Not today.
“What’s the matter, Jazz, honey?” Carjel asked noticing Jasmine staring thoughtfully at the sky.
“Saw a funny bird.”
He looked up, scanning the sky wondering what kind of bird could stump his little girl.
“Oh! There’s two!” Jasmine said excitedly before her face fell. “Uh-oh,” she said at the same time her father said “Vasha save us!” in shock.
Jasmine had realised those weren’t birds at the same time her father had managed to finally spot the elusive fliers. Raider shuttles coming down fast and right at them, probably aiming for the clearing only a few delgrha north of the camp. Somehow they’d been found. “Dichidians! Raider shuttles!” he shouted at the same moment all the sentries began sounding warning.
Josette picked up Jasmine at the same time Carjel took Kamile’s hand. The pair had their blasters out and were looking around for a safe place to run to. They quickly discovered the shuttles weren’t the only problem as a mix of hunters and soldiers came from the south, east, and west. Apparently, too, given the soldiers, the Dichidians were rather upset about the damage done to their ships during the group’s little raid on that landing field.
They’d have been away free, too, if those two mechanics hadn’t snuck off to have a few surreptitious drinks. They sounded the alarm and it went downhill from there. Fewer Dichidians died when the charges went off, for starters.
Realising they were surrounded, Josette put Jasmine down, and Carjel let go Kami’s hand. They stood with the girls between them, their only child and their adopted daughter. Kamile’s mother had asked the couple, her closest friends, to care for her daughter as she lay dying from Sarl Fever, a deadly but curable disease, given the right medicine – something they’d had precious little of. Darnise had refused so much as a drop of it to ensure there’d be plenty for Kamile, who was also sick, and a little boy, Allice. Kami’s father had never even lived to see the girl born, but it’d taken three Dichidians to see to that.
“Jessi!” Kamile cried out. “A cave!”
A short way off was, indeed, a riverside cave they hadn’t noticed before. Very small, and possibly no more than a dip in the bank caused by tree roots … but then again, given the terrain … They made their way to it. “Kami, Jazz, get in there and stay down and back.”
The two girls ran into the damp, pebble strewn cave. “It’s deep, Mommy,” Jasmine called out.
“It lets out somewhere,” Carjel said firing then ducking a return shot as they were now in range of the Dichidian’s weapons. “I can feel a breeze coming out.”
The couple readied to make a stand at the cave entrance, ready to flee into the unknown dark if they must, but preferring not to risk being trapped or lost and not wanting to abandon the others, all of them friends, and a very, very few of them family.
The battle went on for several long, desperate sor. The Dichidians had clearly done more harm than they’d taken. The Humans’ weapons were too few, at times too poorly charged, and the people holding them were not as well rested as they might have been. The fight was turning badly, and a band of the scaled monsters was moving in on the little family.
“Girls, hide in the cave, GO!” Carjel said, backing toward the entrance and trying to cover Josette as she knelt to crawl into the child-sized cave opening.
“Come on, Mommy, Daddy. It’s lots bigger back here and pretty too!” Jasmine’s voice drifted toward them, distance distorted by the odd echoes of stone, earth, and root.
Josette’s feet were just past the threshold of the cave, and Carjel started to crouch down himself hoping he might take the tunnel backward so to pick off any that might try to follow, though it was unlikely they would. Even the smallest soldier would never get through the opening naked, let alone in that armour these were wearing. The hunters were rarely much smaller, though a few were lean enough they might find a way to squirm through. It was all academic anyhow; as he got to his knees a stunner shot hit the ground between he and Josette. Of all the neurostunners and neuroblasters being fired around the place this one had to be one of the soldier lances, a large and deadly monstrosity of a ‘stunner. The strange energies don’t always have to connect to harm. Not having touched flesh, there wasn’t the horrible agony and death that it was meant to cause, but it was enough. Without special treatment their legs would be forever useless.
“Mommy?” Jasmine crept back when she’d heard them scream. “Daddy?” She pulled on her mother’s hands as Kamile came running back.
“Jazz, no. Come … oh Vasha, Jessi are …”
Josette thrust her blaster into the eight year old’s hands. “Take, Jazz and this and RUN! Don’t come back, don’t look back, just RUN fast as you can far as you can. We love you. Now GO!”
Jasmine screamed as Kami started pulling the little girl away, but the flash of a violet light caught her eye. Her eyes widened in fear at what was held in her father’s hand, then when she looked at her mother’s hand and saw one of the little spheres lighting up there too; she needed no more prompting. She ran as fast as her legs would carry her and didn’t stop until she heard the distant explosion and felt the ground shake. Then she fell to her knees and cried until Kami urged her on, afraid the river might flood the cave in the tides.
They found another camp fourteen days after entering the cave, twelve after leaving it. Thanks to their destroying the cave entrance, Carjel and Josette assured Kamile and Jasmine’s survival; the only two from that camp so lucky.