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Old 07-10-2012, 10:41 AM   #6
machievelli
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As mentioned above, I rewrote the las section because it shouldn't take them two days to prep for this mission. So now we continue...

Terakian Compound: Concordia

“Your quarters are down here, Prince.” Taarna motioned. She still carried her rifle, now slung. He followed her down another hall, then down a flight of stairs. As they left the stairwell the boy Shema came the other way. While Riyal considered him a child, he knew that by Mandalorian standards, he had been a man since the age of thirteen, which meant for the last three years or so. The young man looked at him coolly, then at Taarna.

“I will be in the armory starting on the weapons we will be leaving. Join me?”

“As soon as I am done here.” Taarna replied.

“What, an adult male of Naboo needs his hand held?”

Riyal hissed. “No. Your clan-father thought it would help if I knew where I was sleeping.”

Those cold brown eyes looked at him, then up and down as if cataloging him. “Of course, the Naboo always need babysitters.”

“Listen, child.” Riyal snapped. “If you want to make it a confrontation, this 'Autisse' is ready for it.”

The boy smiled, if you call baring his teeth a smile. “Ah, the little Prince has teeth! I think you need some... personal attention.”

“All I have to say is, bring it.”

“Oh, I shall.” Shema replied. He motioned behind him. “Your quarters are the ones where you can hear children laughing. There is no other place in our compound where that is true.” He pushed between them, taking the steps at a fast jog.

Taarna looked up the steps pensively. “That could have gone worse.”

“How?”

She turned, looking at Riyal. “Among the Mando'a, calling a proven warrior 'child' would cause a duel. Of course killing or crippling you within minutes of us taking oath might be seen as... provocative.”

Shema had been right. Behind one door there were gales of childish laughter, and when they open it, the three children, two girls and one boy looked up before returning to their play. The four kits lay on the bed, scattered about as they followed strips of fur leather or feathers the children held. Riyal couldn't be sure, but the laughter seemed to goad the young Druhund to chase even harder.

Except for one. That one ignored the tools the children used to entice them. Merely lifting it's head and whining plaintively.

“What's wrong with this one?” Riyal asked. He reached out, and the kit froze, then humped itself around as if sensing his hand. It raised it's head, giving a querulous grumble, then lifted it's nose to smell. Riyal started to pull back, but Taarna stopped him. Her grip strong enough to keep him from moving.

“She is bonding.” Taarna explained, then she drove his hand down as if he were caught in an hydraulic press, forcing his hand closer. She stopped bare millimeters from the seeking animal, who became even more excited. The kit's breath pushed against his fingers, then flowed inward as the kit inhaled. The grumbling died, then it humped itself upward on it's haunches, forepaws coming up to capture two of his fingers. The claws did not hook into him, rather it held them delicately as it rubbed it's head against them like a cat marking it's territory.

Taarna released his wrist, but he didn't move away. The kit almost purred in the same clock like manner of her mother, then began licking his fingers.

“I don't understand.” Riyal whispered.

“Druhund can see, but that is not their primary sense. They hunt and bond by scent, and this one recognizes your scent as of home. That is why the children are using animal scents to lead the others around.” As she said this the girl that had been on the flyer was guiding her charge using a strip of leather toward his hand. Before he could protest she lifted it up to run over his hand so that the following kit lifted to smell him instead. It froze as if it had never smelled that scent before, then like his sister he humped upward until his blindly seeking paws found the edge of Riyal's hand. It keened in delight, holding his hand as it gently gnawed on his wrist.

Before he could protest the others had been led to him. Soon he had one holding his thumb to lick, the other gently gnawing on the web of his hand between thumb and fingers.

The girl that had led the second one to him asked Taarna something. “Tyra asks if they can play with your kits when you are not with them.”

“Of course they may. Any of the children may.” When Taarna translated, the children almost leaped for joy.

“You have brightened their last days. For that I thank you.”

“What do you mean?” He realized that everyone he'd met expected to die very soon. “Surely you will not take children into battle with you!”

She gave him that same look her clan-father had. “We cannot leave them here. When the battle is done, and all of us are dead, your father will know that some few remain. Or perhaps you will tell a child of yours. How long will it be, oh Prince, before your own grandchild or great grandchild calls them forth again?” She shook her head in disgust. “We will leave no hostages to fortune behind. When the clan dies, it will be all of us who march into death with it.”

She took out a pad, bringing up a map,handing it to him. ”Shema and I with a few others will be in the armory here.” She touched the map. “There are many weapons that must be prepared for storage so that when we are gone, others can still use them. Our own weapons in case we fight upon the planet itself will also be prepared by those who would use them. The others are preparing our Assault shuttles for the voyage. Once our preparations are complete, we will rest, and in the morning all will meet one last time to bid farewell to each other, then we will launch.”

“And what am I to do during all of this?”

“The last time one of your line came, he spent the time whining that we were too slow. Times before that it varied. Cosrein, the fifth of your line actually inspected our work, though he admitted he had no clue as to what we were doing, and didn't care to learn.” She smiled at his look. “All that we see, that our ancestors see, is recorded on our Soochir.” She pulled a chain around her neck, showing him a crystal in a metal matrix. “We have records of everything that was done by those of your line sent back to the Pact itself. When we die, the Soochir of the dead are collected, and all is recorded on the great Soochir of the clan itself.”

“Why did you clan father say I was different?”

“I had told him of the druhund.” She replied. “If you look at that, and think of what your line has done to conquer Naboo, you can see yourself like them, and unlike them. You walked into the area around her lair, forcing her to confront you. When she came you backed away; a wise move for they know our weapons. If you had drawn your blade or pistol she would have attacked immediately.”

“But she followed!”

“You were still close enough to her young to be a threat. If you had backed away just a few more steps, you would have been close enough for me to warn you to keep backing as you were. After a time she would have stopped pacing you. She would have stopped and merely watched to make sure you would not return. But you ran.

“The mind of an animal is simple; to a druhund you are nothing to worry about, a threat, or prey. If you are not a danger, she ignores you as she did me when I passed by her lair outside of the zone. If you are a threat, she confronts you. But to a druhund, only prey runs away. When you ran, you became something she could hunt and kill, for nothing else would flee. You ran, she hunted, and I killed her. In this, you were like all of your line, pushing the limits of those you confront, expecting us to fight for you.”

She gave him time to understand the analogy. “But then you became different from those of your line. When I explained why she had died, your first thought was not that you were safe, but what would happen to her kits. I assumed then that you would be like all the others; that you went to kill them. I thought when you asked about how old they were, that you would use it as an excuse, for if they were merely a week older than they are, they might have attacked you if they were hungry. You would have killed them easily when they made their clumsy attacks, but you could sleep well assured that no enemy stood behind you.

“Yet you brought them out as gently as a mother druhund moving her kits somewhere safe. You showed compassion instead of expedience. That is something I did not anticipate, and neither did the clan-father. That is why he freely admitted to you our state, and that whatever else comes of it, that this will be our final battle for your line. He gave you the trust we would extend to any honorable client.”

Riyal considered. “If you will excuse me?” He nodded, and she left.

“Pretty.” He looked at Tyra, who repeated the word.

“You speak Basic?”

She shrugged. “I speak some. Not well. Next year-” She stopped. “Next year will not be. I will learn no more in short time. Will die together with my sister Suli and clan brother Moro.” Her fingers ran delicately over the druhund before her, and the animal arched into her hand. “But will die happy.”

“I will be back.” She nodded absently, all of her focus was on the new life before her.

As he walked the compound, he felt even more alone. Except for the children and Taarna, the others ignored him as unimportant. Everyone else was busy. In the hangar fifteen assault shuttles were opened for repair and fine tuning, and about forty of the clan were there, working on them.

They see me as just another of my family. He thought. An uncaring paymaster who whined because they bring so few when we called. That will watch them die, and whine again that there are no more to send out the next time.

He found himself at the ramp of one of the shuttles. Unlike most races, the Mandalorians didn't use snub fighters, except in defense of a specific system; after all, until they made a hyperdrive motivator small enough to take one to another system they were limited, requiring a mother ship to transport them. Their attack shuttles however were almost four times the size of a fighter, and could travel to another system. They were more like the blast-boats of other societies. Large enough to leap from system to system, armed well enough and maneuverable enough to face fighters on almost equal terms, and capable of carrying perhaps fifty troops to land in a combat environment. There was a clanging, then a spate of Mandalorian that sounded like cursing.

He walked up the ramp. Sammel was laying beneath the command console, cursing, and feeling with his hand for the tool box just out of his reach. Then he squirmed out. He saw Riyal, snorted in disgust, then took a tool from the box. “What do you want.”

“I wish to learn.”

“Learn what?”

“How to repair one of these shuttles.”

Sammel glared at him. “On your world it is simple. You point at a mechanic, tell him 'fix it' and walk away with a job well done.”

Riyal smiled. In fact until today, that is what he might have done. “But if I did not have a mechanic, what would I do?”

“Probably curse it and kick it a few times.”

Riyal chuckled. “And that would work?”

Sammel looked at him as if he expected Riyal was teasing him. “Sometimes. The cursing at least vents frustration.”

“So teach me.”

Sammel's look spoke volumes of what he consider Riyal competent to accomplish. “I began working on shuttles before you were born. We do not have time to teach you how to fix something like this.”

“Ah.” Riyal walked over, sitting on the decksole beside the toolbox. “But I think I am competent enough to pass the tools you need as you work. And if it does not interfere with what you do, you can explain what you are doing, and why.”

Sammel snorted. “The targeting system is refusing to lock onto target. I have a diagnostic running-” he pointed up at the small flat screen to the right of the command pilot's seat. There was a red dot, and a targeting caret on it, but the caret was moving around, and passed over the dot refusing to lock on. “-so I must tinker, look at the screen, and if it continues to fail, try something else.”

“Then I will watch the screen, pass tools, and when it decides to work, tell you.”

Sammel growled, and slid back under the console. There was the clink of metal, then he asked. “Now?”

“The caret stopped on the red dot, but moved on.”

“Hand me the number seven circuit tester.” Riyal searched, found the tool, and exchanged it for the one in the seeking hand. They worked companionably for a time until the recalcitrant system locked on the target with a bleeping sound, turning red when it did. But the range was incorrect according to Sammel. After another time it finally locked on and gave him the range he expected.

“What else?” Riyal asked as Sammel crawled back out and began replacing the panels.

“We must load the missiles and tibanna tanks for the plama cannon. But that takes skills you do not have, with no time to learn them.”

“But the missiles or tanks are moved with lifters, right?” Sammel nodded. “I do not think it would take that long to learn how to drive one.”

For the first time he saw something other than contempt in that gaze. “No, even a child of six can drive a lifter.”

“Then I try to be considered a competent six year old if you will but show me how.”

For the next hours he fetched tools, brought water for the workers, drove the lifter to deliver pallets of missiles and tanks for the plasma cannon. After a time, the tension eased. When Keeri one of the older clan members called him a stupid d'kut it was not because of who he was, rather that he had almost clipped the wing of the shuttle they were loading, followed by an expletive laden discourse on coming in from this angle to clear the wing, and adjust the load here so that they could be moved into final position by hand.

When they broke for dinner, they were being polite to him. Not friendly as yet, but they were treating him like someone with a functioning brain.

The dining hall was slowly filling when he arrived after washing up. There was a huge cauldron of some kind of stew, and a barrel of the black beer they favored. Beside the barrel were two more with taps, one much smaller than the other. The clan members were serving up bowls of the stew, taking sliced bread from trays beside it, and either filling the huge tankards (Called buckets, as were their helmets) with either beer or a reddish wine from the larger barrel.

“Well, get your food.” Shema said from behind him. “Unless or course you expect us to serve you hand and foot.” He waved airily. “I am afraid all the servants are on vacation, so you will just have to muddle along.”

“What is this?” Riyal asked, motioning toward the pot.

“Merdai.” Shema answered. “It is a dish made to show our strength, and our ability to live where others would refuse to live. It is what we can catch, and what we can find, so it is never the same twice.”

“Ah.” Riyal took a bowl, filling it. “I have heard of it, but never tasted it. What is it I have heard? 'Merdai is like the Mando’a. What you make of it'?”

Shema smiled sourly at him. “At least you have learned something of those you use like tissue paper. Most of those sent by your line merely called us Mandalorians, as if what an Autisse calls us matters. You have a choice of Gal or Verdyc to drink with it.”

“I know Gal is beer, and I will try it. But what is Verdyc?”

“Mando'a blood wine.” Shema took a tankard, and filled it with the red wine. “For after we have the hard Verdyc thrice distilled, or tihaar.”

“I will try the hard Verdyc afterward.” He took his bowl, bread and beer to a table. Shema followed like the druhund had earlier.

“What, tihaar is too strong for you weak Autisse palate?”

Riyal noticed that the small conversations about them were dying out as if everyone hung on his words. He looked into the mocking eyes across from him, and realized that as they had accused his line, Shema was goading him. His words of challenge earlier must have stung more than he realized. But he could not merely apologize; that would be taken for weakness. But he knew the Mando'a respected strength, especially in the 'outlanders' which is what Autisse meant in their tongue.

“I was merely surprised when it was offered as a drink. I would have thought from the smell and the burn that it was used to strip paint from hulls. Your clan-father told me it is an acquired taste. I will try it again, because I find I rather liked it. But it would not be fair to the Gal and the Verdyc, both hard and soft, to slight them.”

He lifted a spoon of the Merdai, and chewed it contemplatively. “An odd flavor, gamey. It must be the meat used. But I had been told that Merdai could also be used to strip paint, and this is as mild as any stew I have ever eaten.”

Shema pointed at the spices between them, taking a bottle of reddish liquid and dashed in on his own. “I thank you for the warning. I did not know the cooks were making it weak enough for a baby.”

Riyal watched the young man's face as he shoveled in some of the stew. Sweat started from his forehead, but except for that, nothing changed beyond his challenging look. Whatever was in that bottle must be very strong. He took it, then a spoonful of the stew. He dropped a single drop on the stew in the spoon, then ate it.

He felt as if he had taken a coal from a fire and tossed it into his mouth. He wanted to choke, to gag, to spit it out, to chug the beer before him in desperate need of cooling his burning mouth. Instead he chewed, as if testing a new cook, then picked up his beer and drank a measured sip. “Ah, that is what I thought Merdai was like. Thank you for teaching me.”

Taarna came in, got her own food, and sat beside him. She took a spoon of stew, shook her head, and took a shaker of a black powder, spreading it on the stew, then stirring it in before taking another bite.

“What is that?” Riyal asked.

“Pipalli. But it is a bit strong for those who are not Mando'a.”

Riyal took another spoon, dusted it with the powder, and fed it into his mouth. After the sauce this was almost bland, though it was hot. He slid the bottle of sauce toward her, and she looked at it, then at Shema. “That is ground pipalli steeped in tihaar. Only fools and Shema eat it all the time.”

“Steeped in Tihaar? That explains why I like the taste.” He poured a larger dollop onto the stew, stirred well, and went back to eating as if nothing had happened.

Shema picked up his Verdyc, taking his own measured sip. “I see that with you, I must work harder.” There was a ripple of laughter, and the conversations that had died began again.

Tyra came running in, paced by the other girl that had been playing with the kits, followed by the boy, a basket hanging from their hands. They saw Riyal, and came over to him. As they set down the basket, Riyal was inundated in the hungry whine of the kits. The children moved the kits onto the table, where they immediately made a beeline for Riyal. He sighed, putting out his hand, and the kits caught it, mewling in hunger as they pawed at him.

“I need some milk.” He sighed. The children ran into the kitchen, and came back with bowls they then filled with milk. They set them down, guiding kits to them, where they began lapping it up eagerly.

“When will they begin eating meat?”

“We can try it now.” Taarna got a fresh bowl of stew, then plucked out chunks of meat, teasing the meat apart with her knife until it was a mass of loose fibers. She picked up some between two fingers, and held them up above one of them. It looked up, and the mewling took on a deeper tone. It lunged upward, sucking the fibers from her fingers, then looked up again, whining. Riyal chuckled, picking up some fibers, and held them over the head of the kit that had bonded first. She sat up, daintily sucking the meat from his grip, then looked around.

“Ah, so you are patient?” Riyal fed her more. Again she waited until he delivered more.

“Tyra! Suli!” A woman came in, and began berating the two girls. Both looked sheepish.

Taarna said something that stopped the woman in her tracks. She looked at the girl, then at Riyal. “My girls, they have been helping you with the druhunds?” He nodded. She looked at them, then sighed, saying something softly. “But they must prepare their weapons for tomorrow, so you will be seeing to them alone.” She sighed, kneeling to hug the girls, then walked back out. Theycame back over as if they expected him to shun them.

There was much to do, but Riyal wanted to think. He carried the kits back down to his quarters when they had been fed to repletion, and walked out into the evening. The sun had not yet set, and he looked at the sky. There were streaks of red in it now, and he saw something. He shaded his eyes, watching the form coming closer, then gasped in amazement.

It was a bird, but like none he had ever seen. It had not a pair of wings, but two pair, one spanning in the front, but halfway back there was a second pair that was linked in some way to the front. Where the front pair drove it upward, the aft pair seemed to act more as control surfaces, directing its flight,making it's turn as swift and agile as a snub fighter.

“So beautiful.” Taarna was standing there beside him, watching the bird as he did. “They are called Terak; the symbol of our clan. You cannot tell it from here, but they are very large; large enough that they can pluck a full grown man from the ground to eat.” She laughed. “In mating season, we restrict smaller air cars from flying.”

“Why?”

“Because they are brave and glorious in flight, but not too bright. Many a time a warrior would call for a pick up after a stupid male decided they were something to mate with.” He pictured it, and they laughed together.

She became somber again. “Long ago, our first clan-father came here. It was after what your people call the Mandalorian wars, when our honor had been stripped from us, and we were denied honor death. No one knows what name he had before that. He came here, alone, hoping to meet something that would kill him, and free him from such a life. He watched the Terak, and in his warrior heart he saw what we did not yet realize. Honor is as much a part of us as breath. We cannot live without it. But it is not something that can be taken away by fiat, any more than you can decree that a man can no longer breathe and expect him to hold his breath.

“He gathered others who felt the same way from all of the clans, and when Canderous Ordo, who became Manda'lor years later came home, he found a few hundred here, already living the life Revan had decreed when she gave him the helm and declared him Manda'lor.

“Terak was one of the first to come, asking our new Manda'lor to judge his thoughts and words. So it was that Manda'lor, later called Redeemer of Honor agreed, and raised Terak up not as merely a man, but as leader of a new clan, named the Terakian in his honor. And when we go into battle, that line ends. Two thousand years of past glory swept away by the glory of what we will do in the name of our honor.”

“It is madness. All you can do is die, even if you succeed. Why?”

She turned to look at him. “Remember what I said about the Terak?” She waved toward that now vanished bird. “Brave and glorious, but not too bright. With your pardon, I must prepare my weapon for battle.”

“May I come?”

She looked at him considering. “I do not know how welcome you will be. Our people see you as the end of our enslavement, but seeing the headsman's ax waiting for you is not a joy, even to us.”

They walked around the main building to a firing range. A number of the clan were gathered, seated at tables as they dismantled and cleaned weapons. Unlike the rifle she carried, a number of them were blasters, most old enough that he had seen them in books of wars a century or more gone. Some looked up, but merely cataloged that he was there.

As they finished cleaning their weapons, they would walk over to the range itself. There they fired, others using wide angle scopes to mark their fire. They would fire, adjust and fire again, stopping only when they were satisfied.

There was a sound like an artillery piece firing, and he tuned that way. Half a dozen of the men and women were using the larger heavy assault blasters that could take out a vehicle. Shema looked up, turned back, and another bolt ripped down range. “Coming to see how a warrior would do it?”

“If one would deign to teach me.” Riyal replied. “I see it cannot be fired effectively from the prone position.”

Shema looked at him. “And from your many years of military experience you deduced this?”

“No. Merely that with the support brace where it is-” he pointed at the grip that thrust out on the left side of the barrel, “-it would be difficult to maneuver from side to side.”

“That brace is adjustable for right or left hand.” Shema lifted his thumb to a stud closer to the barrel, and the grip arched under the barrel, then back into position.

“Is there one of these I can test fire?”

“And who will clean it?” Shema asked sarcastically.

“I was told that a child of six could drive a load lifter in the hanger. How old would a child need to be to learn how to fire and clean this?” He motioned toward the ungainly weapon.

Shema shook his head. “A child of perhaps seven could clean it, but it takes a man to fire it. The weapons weighs fifteen kilos, and is directed by the arm, as it fits to your elbow.” He moved his arm, and the weapon lifted and pointed as he flexed his right arm. “To use it all day takes a real man.”

“Then if someone will fetch one for me, I will try to prove I am a fully grown man.”

Shema grinned. “Here then, man of Naboo. Use mine.” He shifted his hand from the brip to another one made for carrying, sliding the weapon from his arm, holding it at arm's length in offering. Riyal came forward, reaching out, and grasping firmly as Shema let go. He had anticipated that the young man lied, so he was not surprised as it dragged his hand down before he caught the weight.

“Fifteen kilos? I would say closer to 20.” He shifted his grip to his right hand, slidng his left arm into the socket at the rear. He felt another grip with a thumb stud, which he avoided. “I would assume that you have safed the weapon?”

“There is no safety.” Shema replied. “If you press the stud, it will fire. But if your hand is not within the sleeve, it would not fire if dropped a hundred kilometers onto rock.”

Riyal reached over, hard with such a weight, and shifted the support grip to a left handed firing position. Then he took a stance not unlike the one Shema had been in. The targets were a long way away, perhaps nine hundred meters. There were both vehicle and man sized targets, but at that range only the vehicles could clearly be seen. He touched the stud, and a bolt ripped downrange, cleanly missing anything important. He was almost blinded by the flash.

“Ah, they know you're here now!” Shema chortled. “Perhaps I should stand before you? Where it is safe?”

Riyal grimaced, then held the weapon, concentrating down the heavy barrel, the weight pulling him forward, which he corrected. For a long moment he merely stood, then a second bolt flew down range. It clipped the edge of a vehicle target.

“Oh! You singed their whiskers with that one!”

Before Riyal could fire again, Taarna was beside him. She slipped a headset like the one Shema wore onto his head. “The weapon will post a reticule over your eye; which one depending on your grip. It also darkens automatically when the stud is depressed, so you do not go blind from the flashes.” She gave Shema a cool look. “As a competent instructor would know to tell you.”

“Thank you.” Riyal aimed. As his hand tightened on the side grip a pair of lines sprang into his vision over his left eye, and to the side he could see the range, 915 meters. He found that broad movements of his arm cause the sight to leap more than a vehicle's length to either side, so he moved only slightly. He found a target, a vehicle, and pressed the stud gently. The target fell with a clang that was heard moments later. Then he shifted incrementally to a man sized target, range 904 meters, and again stroked the trigger. This one merely exploded from the heat of the round.

He paused, then stripped the headset off. “I like it!” He turned to Shema, and took the carrying grip as he pulled the weapon free. “I think I am not yet man enough to use it all day. I would need to build up my arms for it. When you are done firing it in to your satisfaction, let me know. I have yet to learn how to clean it. But wait.” He reinserted his arm, then moved the support grip to beneath the barrel. “I see it can be fired from the prone after all. But the man using it would have to move his upper body to sight it properly.” Shema took the weapon with a consodering look on his face. Then he turned back to his duty.


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile

Last edited by machievelli; 07-10-2012 at 10:55 AM.
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