Day 32, Late Afternoon
Emily and Jaisa walked slowly along the riverbank as the sun hovered just over the edge of the horizon, slowly setting. Both girls were undeniably beautiful in the twilight, each in her own way. Emily, with her milky skin and long, brown hair, was just starting to show a hint of her pregnancy. Jai walked beside her, lithely moving along the path, golden skin illuminated by the sun’s last rays, silky black hair braided, hanging just past her shoulders. A pair of heavy, rosewood handled revolvers rode her hips, with another partly hidden by her jacket. Her face was hard, but now that she was with Emily her eyes had softened, if only a little.
The two teenagers walked along, talking quietly, laughing and smiling. For Emily it was a relief to find that even here, on an alien planet with few more than a hundred and fifty other humans, she had friends. She had felt so alone at first, but her friendship with Jai had changed all that. In the month since they landed she had gotten to know (and like) most of the other colonists her age, but Jaisa had been her first friend, and she was sure she would remain her best. For Jai simply having a friend her age was a luxury she had not had since she was eleven, and that she had met someone she had connected so thoroughly with so quickly here, light years from Earth, was almost too much to be believed. The two had been through a lot in the one short month they had known each other.
A gentle breeze rustled through the trees up ahead, adding to the sound of the rushing river and the waterfall crashing a ways downstream. The breeze seemed to be bringing some perhaps not so gentle storm clouds with it. The girls wandered inland a little, nearing the edge of the forest. A small island of trees lay off to their left as well.
“Can you believe it?” Emily asked, sitting down on the grass. “Bart and Janie, married! I’m so happy for them. Sometimes you just know two people are meant for each other, you know?” Jai sat down facing her friend, her arms resting gently on her knees. She just shrugged.
“Oh come on, don’t you believe in true love, soul mates, all of that?” Emily prodded.
“I never really gave it much thought,” Jai replied. She sat in silence for a moment. “I suppose I do though. My parents had that, so I suppose I do. I take it you do too?”
Emily laughed. “You know I do. I just said so, didn’t I?” She got quiet. “I thought I had that with Jace. Maybe I did. I’ll never know for sure now, with him back on Earth.” She groaned. “I married him, eloped, and then I left the solar system. I’m never going to see him, never going to see my husband, ever again. What am I supposed to do, be single and alone my whole life?” She gazed off into the distance. “I loved him Jaisa. I love him. But there’s not going to be any reunion, any miracle bringing him here. What am I supposed to do, pine after him all my years and die lonely?” She managed a wan smile.
“I don’t know, Em. I’m sure everything’s going to turn out all right. It’s not like there’s a rush or anything. Right now the half a dozen or so eligible bachelors even close to our age are all hopefully too busy to think about pairing off.”
“I wouldn’t place money on that Jai. I doubt even Andy is capable of working your average teenage guy hard enough to get him to ignore girls like you and me.” She giggled. “And lucky for us the guys here seem to be quite a bit above average, too.” They both laughed. After they sat in silence for another few minutes Jai got up, extending her arm to Emily.
“Come on, we should go. It’s starting to get dark, and we should be getting back. Besides, it looks like it’s going to rain.” She hoisted Em to her feet, glancing up at the gathering storm. “That looks like a bad un. Guard duty tonight is going to be miserable. Lucky you get out of it on account of you learning to be a nurse, eh?”
“Right, ‘cause that’s a walk in the park, of course” Emily laughed. “Come on, you’re right. Let’s get back before we get soaked.”
Day 33, 7:00pm, Liberty Community Center
“I can’t find my Joey, I can’t find my baby!” the woman sobbed, clutching at Emily’s shirt. She was bleeding from a small gash to the side of her forehead. The Center was a wreck. Rain and hail was hammering on the roof and walls while the wind screamed its way over, under and around the building, creating a deafening, and to many there, terrifying din. Families were huddled together, children (and more than a few adults) were crying, every other person had some sort of a cut or scrape that needed tending to and there wasn’t a dry scrap of cloth to be had in the place. Several of the Young Guns and Guard members had taken on the task of shepherding this weary flock, doing what they could to make the storm bearable. And now this. Emily thought that everyone had been accounted for by now, certainly all the children.
“Are you sure Mrs. Dawson? Did you ch-” the woman cut her off.
“Yes, I’m sure! I’ve looked everywhere! Please,” she whimpered, “please find him.”
“I’ll find him, I promise.” She turned to Kiyoshi Maeda, one of the Guard members helping with the more minor injuries. “Could you get her patched up? Jai, over here!” she yelled to her friend as the man gently started tending to the woman’s wound.
“What is it?” Jai asked as she came over.
“She can’t find her son, Joey. He’s about four, sandy hair – I took care of him during the day care. She says she’s looked everywhere…”
“You know where her tent is?” Emily nodded. “Summer! Over here, now!”
“Sir!” was the only response the teen gave when she got there.
“Check Hanna’s for this woman’s son, Joey Dawson. He’s four, has sandy hair. If you find him get his mother and bring her over there, then report back here. If not, just report back and wait for me. Em and I are going to check her tent. If we’re not back in twenty let one of the Stuarts, my dad or Nash know we’re in trouble. Go!”
As they dashed into the night the full force of the gale hit them. It was damn near impossible to see where you were going or even walk, let alone run or rush. The rain drenched them within seconds. If not for the wind and hail they could have been forgiven for thinking they were running underwater.
They finally made it to the riverside tents, yelling for Joey the whole way. They dashed inside the Dawson’s tent. There was no one there, no Joey.
“Damnit!” Jaisa exclaimed, slamming her fist into her palm. “He was probably just at Hanna’s. And with the god damn coms out we have no way of knowing for sure. Fuck! All right, we’ve got five minutes to search the tents. He could be anywhere and we don’t have any frigging choice but to go back after that! Damnit!”
“Let’s search then. And I’m sure you’re right, he’s probably at Hanna’s right now. Come on.” Em replied, pulling open the tent flap and thinking it was a miracle the thing hadn’t simply blown away.
They seached in vain, struggling through the howling wind and pelting rain near the Dawson’s tent just north of the spaceport. As they headed back Jaisa started to get an uneasy sense in the pit of her stomach. She realized what it was almost too late. She felt them before she heard them. Time almost seemed to slow. She could see every drop of rain around her in exquisite detail as she whipped around, drawing her guns. It was almost as if the world had turned into a giant tunnel; she was fully aware of the darkened sky above her head, the mud beneath her feet and everything in between, all at once. As movement exploded from the high grass she was already starting to pull the triggers. The first bullet hurdled forward as the dark, sleek figures shot from the night, then the second, and the third.
The creatures were jet black, the size of catamounts, their hides a dull gloss underneath the splashing raindrops. The first three creatures crumpled to the ground with gut wrenching yelps of pain. She hated killing them. Hated it, but accepted it. They weren’t evil, just hungry. And she was just doing what she had to. She shot again, and again. They didn’t have hides, they had scales, she could see that now. Their faces were flattened, snake-like almost, with burning green eyes. She fired once more before one crashed into her, toppling her over. She shot it twice as she fell. She rolled backwards, sending the beast into the ground as she landed in a crouch.
What she saw next would haunt her as she tortured herself, loathed herself for being too slow, for breaking her promise to protect her friend. The rest of the pack was retreating into the storm, but one of the creatures had its teeth in Emily’s neck and shoulder, its claws raking her side and legs. Jai’s arms felt as if they were pushing through molasses, inching the revolvers towards their target. Finally she pulled the triggers, sending the thing sprawling off of its prey. Time snapped back into place.