The ice cold winds blasted Lalang as she ran. She tried to hold back her sobs, that poor boy and his family, a moments decision to help her, and now they were suffering. She was out of the town, had escaped the net of the three men as they’d tried to catch her. Only she knew the whereabouts of the prized creature, the one that could fund them all into a comfortable retirement, that was enough money to kill for and she had no doubt that these men remove her once they got what they wanted. She didn’t mind the risk to her self, but an innocent family, that was something else. It was wrong.
Looking back she could see the head lamps of the hunters, they were in front of the once homely shop, their voices echoing up the hill to her vantage point. Looking into the darkness beyond, Lalang’s bearings told her that she was on exactly the opposite side to where she had hidden the cub. There wasn’t time to get to it, going all the way around the village, staying in the darkness would mean leaving the poor family to their fate.
There was sudden light coming from the town, with shock she realised that Namor’s house and shop had been set alight. She clenched her teeth, took a deep breath before rummaging through her pack to grab what she needed.
Within moments she sped across the snow covered land and was at the outskirts of the village once more, the beams of light betrayed the men’s location, one was scouring the ground, looking for my tracks. They wouldn’t find any, even experts like these men wouldn’t find her, she only left tracks when she wanted to be found.
Getting to within sight of two of the men, she could make out the figure of March, heavy set and aggressive, the other was short, likely Merl, the quiet one. But her eyes were drawn to the three figures, the family on their knees, with only minimal clothing, shaking, freezing despite the flames gushing from their home not so far away. March stalked back and forth, a hand gun casually waving in their direction.
Lalang’s excellent vision in the Dark told her that the gun was not a stun model she’d seen him with before, he intended to kill. The lamps of the two men were added to by sparse lighting from a few of the nearby houses, all figures were in silhouette, but the actions were clear. March was going to kill this family unless they talked.
Lalang crept closer, was still four houses away, but could now make out the conversation.
‘Last chance,’ that was March. There was a mumbled reply. ‘Very well,’ he raised the gun, there wasn’t enough time.
‘Wait!’ Lalang called, she couldn’t bear to have their deaths on her conscience. ‘I’m here,’ she stepped out onto the street, her hands by her side.
‘Ah, there you are girl, you are quite sneaky aren’t you,’ March boomed at her. There was occasional movement from the windows, people were looking to see what the commotion was, but then ducked away. This was the plains, the law of minimum, the law of survival was paramount. ‘Now, where is that critter, if you give it up, I’ll still pay you, no need for anyone to get hurt.’ He slurred his speech, still slightly drunk, but he was no doubt focused.
‘It’s not right,’ she said.
‘What’s right? I do a job, we get paid, that’s the only law of the universe,’ he waved the gun around, cold air shooting from his mouth.
Lalang’s heart was pumping hard, crisis, two decisions, neither are ‘right’, or rather both have ‘bad’ consequences. What should I do? She hoped for an answer, one from her memories, or from her own mind, she didn’t care which, she needed direction.
Perhaps it was the grog that took over March’s decision making, perhaps he was just so full of hate, but either way his actions were fast, not calculated, but deliberate all the same. He raised the gun slightly, squeezed the trigger, and through the screams the glint of his teeth reached out to her as he smiled at Lalang. She stared at the family, the mother wept, the father hugged her, in shock, the boy, Namor, he lay still. It was too dark to see, but it was clear that the bullet had hit him right in the head, there was no recovering the situation.
‘You’ll get it,’ Lalang whispered.
‘What?’ March called.
‘You’ll get it,’ she yelled through gritted teeth as tears welled in her eyes. A flash of movement, the gun moved towards her, with a smooth fluid motion, she was gone. Behind the nearest house, the men converged on her location.
Darius moved quickly, rejoining his comrades. He had been attempting to get around behind the girl, to surprise her, if she saw a desperate situation for what it was, she would either run or realise it was best to give up. He knew that March would not keep her alive for long, not unless he could convince him that she had value. This girl, there was something about her. Darius stopped suddenly as he saw an object on the ground. Moving to it, he saw a pack, leather bound with animal fur. He picked it up, it was Lalang’s alright. Looking around, his head lamp flashing into the near pitch black alleys between the surrounding huts, but there was no sign. How could this be? He was an expert tracker but saw not a single foot print to indicate her passing. There was a noise behind him, Lalang moved quickly, the large hunting knife she had stolen from the men moved deftly, Darius’s ankles was sliced, right through his clothing. He cried out and dropped to his knees, trying desperately to look around and defend himself. He was too slow and knew it, his own stun pistol fell hopelessly to the ground as his neck was sliced expertly, filleted, as if it were nothing but a dead fish.
Moments later, Merl found Darius, bleeding to death, he called to March, seeing their comrade on the brink of death, they scanned, saw footprints leading away. Darius cursed them as the two men he had considered friends left his vision and his body began to freeze.
Following the small, desperate prints, the two men ran from the village. Darius was a better tracker, but both had more than adequate skills, the girl was clearly in a panic. Making their way up the slope to the top of the ridge, they were within a few paces of a small cave which had been hastily covered up. There was a hint of light behind the barricade, it would have been impossible to see from a distance, but up close it was like a star calling to them. The prints stopped there, there were none leading away. March dug into the cave, his pistol at the ready. Is she trying to protect the animal now? He had switched to his stun pistol, he had to keep it alive to collect his bounty.
As the last of the snow fell away, he had both guns at the ready, but there was no need. The light inside was a small lamp, strapped with a leash to the ceiling of the small cave. It wavered from the breeze, but there was no other sign of life.
Merl had been keeping watch behind, being forever ready for conflict, his beady eyes scanning the area. He turned to look when he heard March offer a frustrated grunt. The cave was empty, he turned to survey the area, where were they? His thought finished just as he heard a cry. Turning his lamp to Merl, he saw the stout man fall to the ground, a flash of a figure darting away. He scanned, but it was already gone. What the hell? He ran to Merl, he was already dead, a large hunting knife sunk into his chest.
‘What are you?!’ He yelled, no one had ever snuck up on Merl before, not in all the time they had hunted together. Turning and firing both pistols in a wide arch, March moved erratically, the intoxication gone, his adrenaline pumping.
Some movement, he focused his light on the cave, no just above the cave, there it was, his prize. The cub looked at him, he didn’t notice that the creature’s gentle white eyes had turned blue, it bared its fangs, crouched low, he knew enough about animals to know what that meant, it was ready to attack. Maybe I can still recover this. He raised his stun pistol, readied his shot but dove to his right as the animal launched itself at him. He moved quickly for a stocky man, even in the snow. Turning quickly, his light flashed past Merl’s body, there was no longer a glint of steel. The knife is gone, he thought, but couldn’t process the thought to its logical conclusion straight away. The animal was close, stalking him in the darkness.
Sudden pain shot through his ankles, he fell to the ground, suppressed a cry, but dropped his guns and turned, grabbing the hand that clutched the hunting knife. He twisted it, a feminine cry hit his ears as the knife fell to the ground, but the girl slipped out of his grasp. He picked up the pistol, this one was ready for death, he could tell by touch what he carried. He looked at the girl who had stopped to look at him. She was clutching her wrist, he could see her eyes looking at him, she was frowning, not upset, or worried about her pain, she seemed almost sad.
‘Why?’ He asked, ‘you can’t sell it without me?’
She seemed to move deeper into sorrow. ‘You don’t get it,’ she said, lamenting that even now, this poor man could see nothing beyond his need for wealth.
He raised the pistol, was a moment away from killing this child, but a growl went through his spine, it was a deep bass, right next to his ear. He turned partly away but had no chance to save himself. As the large fangs sunk into his neck, he thought to himself that this girl, this child, and this once docile animal were now the most dangerous hunters on the planet.
The fire in the town had run its course, the cold snow meant that other houses did not light up. The poor family had been taken in, once it was clear that the off worlders were no more. The long dark had passed and many speculated on what had taken place the night before. They would perhaps never know, as Lalang would never reveal, the hunting party were dead, and Namor, poor Namor was gone.
The early light began, the sun took over from the moons and a ship came down from space, a rare occurrence in these parts, normal atmospheric craft were the only ones spotted here.
The animal was leashed to a figure, wrapped in cool winter gear, their face covered. The craft landed on the outskirts of town, not too far from the damaged skip. People beginning to emerge from their huts looked outside and wondered at what was happening, some saw the animal, gasped and returned to their huts.
Three men and one woman walked down the ramp that emerged from the sleek craft, they looked at the human and animal figures below and hesitated. One knew who March was, and this was clearly not him. But they did have the animal.
‘Where is March?’ The one at the front asked. There was no reply.
‘Who are you?’
The party kept their hands near their weapons, they were more hi tech, lasers, these were no soft people of the plains. The human walked towards them, offered the leash. The lead man gestured to his offsider who cautiously took it and walked the docile animal up the ship’s ramp.
The leader had a pack in his hand, it was the money, but he was reluctant to hand it over.
‘I can only give this to March, where is he?’ his pale skin reflected the pristine white of the lands, he frowned. The human pointed behind. He looked, there on March’s skip, his fair eyes suddenly focused and he drew a sharp breath as he identified three of the bodies of March and his crew. The four offworlders went for their weapons, but with a sharp bark from the human, the animal became wild and tore the leash free.
‘Don’t let it go!’ The leader yelled as he turned to subdue their prize, his hand firmly clasped on the money bag. With their focus on the animal they failed to notice the blade that flashed quickly behind them. Two of them fell, the animal tore at the third, claws ripping the victim to shreds.
The leader dropped the money, his laser focused at the animal, dead or alive, he thought, but suddenly noticed his weapon fall to the ground, his fingers sliced clean through. He began to cry in pain, the animal leapt at him, pain, horrible pain, then nothing.
Lalang watched as Namor’s parents opened the parcel that had been left at their neighbours front door. It had their name on it, they took it inside wordlessly. It was the money that she had taken from the offworlders. Lalang had delivered it, keeping her face covered, wearing the cloak that had belonged to Merl. She would not be identified. It would not buy their son back, and it would not ease her conscious, but she knew she had tried to do the right thing. Ultimately, doing right wasn’t easy, one could choose the easy path and hope for the best, but the just life would always have a difficult journey ahead. This she knew now, and knowing this, and that the great change was coming, she also knew she couldn’t stay. Lalang had taken just enough of the money to give to her mother to buy a knew furnace plus a few supplies, or she could move. She kept for herself only enough to get a transit to somewhere new, a simple but fresh start elsewhere. She had never left the plains, had no clue what life would bring, but her connection with Bahba, the name she gave to the cub, would stay strong. She looked down at the animal, it looked up at her, the eyes a clear white, it waited patiently for instruction. This she could not explain, it was as if something inside her, buried deep down had awakened. But she intimately understood it, they were one, and she would have to do what was right, no matter the cost.