Cran Palto | Books | Raheem
First Battle, First Death
First Battle, First Death
The bitterness of living is not made sweeter by the pulp of the tumek fruit.
Rain had fallen during the night. Vaega inspected the garden while Trion walked along the fence. Agra had begun a journal in which she chronicled their discoveries and activities. They had settled into a sort of routine, each with their area of responsibility. At night they spoke a little of the day, but often they were too tired for much conversation and after sharing the events of the day, they fell asleep as soon as it was dark.
This morning was different, however. They had eaten the last of the pemmican the night before and were down to three emergency meals from the escape pods.
Once Agra wrote this in the logbook, she closed it and set it on the floor in a small crate under her bed.
Vaega came into the cabin. She looked worried.
“What’s wrong?” Agra asked.
“The plants are growing, but it will be weeks before there are crops. We have to have food now.”
Agra glanced at the three emergency rations in the corner. “I should focus on gathering food and find whatever injured animals.”
Vaega nodded and walked out again.
Trion was building a storage shed next to the cabin. He had three axe-splitters, one from each of the escape pods, and was using them to split the logs into planks for the floor, walls, and roof. When he saw Agra, he stopped and walked to her. “I have something for you.”
Agra looked at him with a puzzled look.
Trion smiled as he picked up a long rod from inside the shed. The smell of pine sawdust and humid grasses filled the air. It was a spear, longer than she was tall, tipped with a gleaming blade. Along the shaft, Trion had wrapped leather strips into handles.
Agra took it. It was light, obviously made of space material. The blade was thin, twice as long as her hand spread from thumb-tip to pinky-tip. It looked terribly dangerous.
“Thank you,” Agra said, smiling.
“You can throw it as hard as you want. The blade will not break. It’s made of turbine alloy.”
“From the debris around camp?”
“From my escape pod.”
Agra pondered what he had just said. “But how will we get off-planet without the pods?”
“We have to survive first. We should use whatever we have toward that goal.” Trion said.
Agra looked at the spear in her hand. It felt right. “I will go hunt.”
“Be careful,” Trion said.
He turned back to continue working on the shed.
Agra went to the cabin and grabbed her backpack. It contained her water, her knife, a length of rope, and a few bags for berries and roots. Then, with the new spear, she set out to go hunting.
On the way to the gate, she glanced at Vaega, who was kneeling in the dirt, hands full of soil, caring for plants. The way Vaega looked back at her gave her chills. Where she was always cheerful and supportive, her stare now betrayed a grim determination and a sort of cold despair.
“Bring back food,” Vaega mouthed.
Agra nodded and turned, both because a sense of urgency was growing inside, and to avoid looking further at Vaega. She opened the gate; closed it behind her.
She went hunting, this time with an excellent weapon and grim determination. Two hours later, she came back with three rabbits.
As she was approaching the palisade, glad to be back, eager to eat, she noticed a figure lurking near the entrance of the corridor. Someone was there, peeking between the logs, their back to her.
She put the rabbits down next to her backpack, then gripping the lance, she advanced quietly in the grass.
“Don’t move,” Agra said.
Though she had spoken quietly, she surprised herself at how calm and strong her voice sounded.
The man dropped and rolled to the right, into the grass, then sprang up, facing her. He charged at her, brandishing a wooden club full of nasty barbed metal spikes.
Without thinking, Agra pointed the spear tip at his chest and lunged forward with a shout.
The force of her war cry and the fierceness of her stare shocked him for an instant. That was enough for Agra to cross the distance between them. While still shouting, she impaled the man in the belly with her spear just below the ribs, right of center.
His eyes grew wide with the sudden recognition of his impending death. He dropped the club and grabbed the shaft of the spear, trying to pull it out, a rictus of desperate pain and anger on his face.
Agra kept the pressure, and as she and the man wrestled with the spear, the blade cut left and right, puncturing organs and further lacerating the skin.
The man let out a high-pitched groan full of despair and sank to his knees, blood gushing out of his wound. When he tipped backward, his legs buckling under him, the blade of the spear slipped out, entirely drenched in blood.
Agra could not move, but stood there in shock at what she had done. Trion and Vaega arrived running. Vaega immediately kneeled at the man’s side and tried to cover the wound to stop the bleeding.
“Talk to me, talk to me. What’s your name?” Vaega shouted to the man. His whole body was shaking, but he opened his eyes and stared at Vaega, already losing his ability and will to live.
“What’s your name?” she repeated while pressing fabric over the wound.
“Chorix, my name — Chorix.”
“What tribe, Chorix? What is your tribe?”
Vaega shouted to Trion: “Get the medkit!”
“Stay with me, listen to my voice!” she shouted.
There was blood everywhere. Already it was pooling in the grass. Chorix stopped shaking. His breathing was shallow and uneven. He closed his eyes.
“Talk to me Chorix! What is your tribe?”
Chorix opened his eyes and his lips moved as if to speak, but no sound came.
Trion arrived running. “Here’s the kit!” He held the aquamarine box to her.
Vaega stood up, her hands bloody to the elbows. “It’s too late.”
At their feet, Chorix was staring into space with unblinking eyes.
Agra stood a while without moving. Her nose smarted from the sharp scents around her, and tears threatened but didn’t come. Trion made a small travois, and they loaded Chorix on it. They would bring him into the enclosure.
Vaega came to stand next to Agra. She stayed silent a moment, then spoke gently. “Thank you. There is no telling what he could have done to Trion, to me.”
Agra let her tears flow then. She stared at the mountaintops to the north: so far, so remote, away from this life that had made a killer of her.
Vaega stood next to her for a moment, but said no more. When she left to help Trion pull the travois, Agra spoke: “I caught three rabbits.”
Vaega looked back at Agra, visibly relieved. “We’ll be able to eat. Thank you.”
Her tears stopped almost immediately, and Agra went to retrieve her bag and the three rabbits. Already the necessities of life pressed her to action.
With some of the rabbit meat and a few of the roots Agra had collected, Vaega tried to make pemmican. This experiment ended in failure, but they had learned one way it didn’t work. Eventually, they would figure it out.
Trion buried Chorix just outside the palisade, to the east, near the trees. Chorix had carried some food, a knife, and some browning leaves that gave off a faint medicinal odor. They decided not to take his tunic, but to give him some dignity in his passage to the afterlife. Standing over the gravesite, Trion said a few words, or tried. Agra did not speak, as she felt too awkward having killed Chorix. Vaega held Agra’s hand and led her back to the cabin.
They went to sleep early, without speaking further that evening.
Next chapter: They Make Camp Better
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