“Obligations” Chapt 3-5

Posted: August 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

I’ll leave Chapt 1-2 up for another day,

Chapter Three – Bystocc – 2012

“Who’s that?” an old man, human, asked from the doorway of a large tent. “Isaac Meyers, Combat Medic – Tansea Isaac, Doctor” was painted above the door in several languages, including Sansheren. The blood of several species stained the front of his apron.

The person he stared at was also human. Oriental, he thought despite thick orange make-up, but he could not decide on a gender. She, he decided on a hunch, but knew he could be wrong, was taller than anyone else walking on the crowded street, five foot, five inches, and wearing rich quilted banners that he thought marked her as a high ranking member of the Sansheren family government House Sheresuan. The other human’s black hair was very long, straight, and pulled back to be tied in a severe knot at the base of the neck. Her skin was a deep cream, almost almond that betrayed no wrinkles beneath the garish make-up, and Isaac wondered at her age.

Isaac watched as she straightened the banners that crossed her chest, again.

“Our new owner, I’m told. Name’s Morganea,” a red-haired alien exited the tent and answered Isaac’s forgotten question. The alien was small and thin, the size of a small chimpanzee, and her voice sounded very old and tired as she leaned her head against Isaac’s hip and slid her arm around his thigh. Isaac looked down to the alien woman he loved. She looked up at him, and her reptilian tongue tasted the air before she smiled at him.

Isaac looked back to the street and watched Morganea raise an edge of her rich, black scarf to shield her face from the dust and wind that blew through the city’s ruins. The scarf dropped away from her right shoulder as she walked, and Isaac wondered at the clean, straight scar that could be seen on her stomach, low, drifting below the waist of her pants. She wore no shirt, Sansheren style, and he watched her hunch her shoulders down. Sucking in her chest like a teenage girl, Isaac thought and puzzled over her lack of development. She could not be thirty, Isaac decided, with a sigh for her youth.

“Tadesde’s House is bugging out. That illegitimate spawn of a dead animal was forced to realize how badly he screwed this rock and gave the problem to the Arbitrator. I told you Sansheren Arbitrators were honorable.” The small alien’s anger did not disguise the intimate familiarity between her and Isaac as he massaged the top of her head.

A deep hum slowed the people walking on the street, and Isaac watched as Morganea moved to put her back to the wall of a nearly-destroyed mural directly across from his tent. The art had depicted a group of dancing Bystocc natives throwing crumbs of copper to small gilded birdlike creatures while rays of sunlight made halos around them in silver, all of the valuable metals were picked out soon after Isaac and Tansea set their tent up two years ago, and he still remembered the night when the drunken Gulardee shot the heads off each of the dancers while screaming obscenities in the rain the day the cease fire was announced. All that remained was faded paint on a pitted wall.

They made eye-contact as Morganea’s people stopped in the street and assumed defensive positions around her. Isaac watched Morganea stare at him as the blast of a landing shuttle craft almost deafened them both. The street traffic came to a complete halt until the echoes of the craft died away. Isaac nodded to Morganea as she turned to speak with a companion and then continued down the street.

“Tansea, I know you’ve worked with Sansheren before, and they were basically good and honest with you. But I can only go by what I’ve seen, and if Tadesde’s just one bad fruit, he sure has a hell of a lot of seeds sprouting up around him,” Isaac said as he knelt to lean his forehead against hers.

He tried not to tense as two Sansheren wearing Tadesde’s livid purple banner paused to read the sign above his head before moving forward.

“You are Isaacke? A medical technician? The father of our children has been injured. You will come see him now,” The speaker’s voice was blunt, and Isaac knew it could be considered an insult.

Tansea squeezed his hand as he stood before she moved to retrieve his carry bag from inside their tent.

“I charge a Faldebbian Croat, in gold, for visiting; it would be cheaper if you brought him to me.” Isaac’s voice was just as cold and distant as he set his price high enough to discourage them.

“Our beloved mate ranks Sixth in the order of the Gulardee. She asks for a human medic, we must pay your ransom.” The second Sansheren made a shallow bow to Isaac and opened a small pouch to dig for an appropriate coin.
Isaac held it in his hand, trying to decide if it was more than a quarter of an ounce. Shrugging, he handed it to Tansea and gestured toward the street. “I will do my honorable best to attend to your beloved husband,” Isaac said in less than perfect Sansheren, but he was confident that they understood him.

“I have no doubt,” one of the Sansheren said as they started walking.

“I’m the only human medic around,” Isaac said with a sigh; an inability to distinguish one from the other forced him to address them as a single unit. “Have you met many of my species?” It was a polite question often asked at any mixed-species gathering. Isaac, like most humans he knew, used it with a desperate sincerity.

“I must admit that our experience with humans is limited to the mercenary captain Timone, and to the Arbitrator Morganea of the House Sheresuan. I find myself grudgingly impressed by the personal strength of these two; I believe this is why my love suggested we contract your person for her care.” The speaker wore bright blue cloth pants with a red banner crossing Tadesde’s purple House banner.

The other wore a cold, angry expression that told Isaac she did not agree.

“I met Captain Tim when he brought some of his men to me during the war. But I have never met the Arbitrator Morganea. How did she come to be a member of the House Sheresuan?” Isaac asked. Every human he had met since leaving Earth was a slave or former slave; to see a human interacting with such a powerful species on an equal footing intrigued him.

“I am told she was taken in as an apprentice by the most benevolent Neadesto herself, she who is loved for her neutrality. Come, we approach the dwelling of the father of my children,” the Sansheren said.

Isaac paused as he puzzled over his difficulty in understanding gender in the Sansheren language. He shrugged; even Tansea became confused on occasion, and she had been speaking the language longer than he had been alive.

#

“I am saddened,” Isaac said, choosing his words with care. “The pellet that struck you is highly radioactive. The damage is done.” Isaac knelt on the edge of the patient’s sleeping platform and indulged in a few silent curses to the Sansheren medic who decided to leave the shot pellet in place. “I am sorry.”

The Sansheren lying on the bed was young, and might once have been healthy, but now there were bare patches of skin randomly exposed where the pale, orange fur had sloughed off, and a red and black ulcerated sore on the upper right arm. Ugly, green lines traveled away from the wound, and Isaac suspected that removing the pellet lodged deep in the bone would allow the poison’s instant access to the patient’s blood-stream.

“So I am to die a wasting death, you think?” the patient asked, and held his good hand out to the wife that Isaac knew did not like him.

“How will the radiation affect our yet born child?” the hostile wife asked.

Isaac paused to stare at the oldest of the three aliens as he worked at understanding their language. “You should be safe; just have someone else change his bandages,” he tried to reassure her with an unfelt smile.

“My children have long been born and are late into their apprenticeships. I was asking after my beloved’s now-to-be-born children,” the hostile spouse said, and Isaac knew he had missed something vital.

And again, he wished that all species had easy to distinguish sexual indicators. The first five years he and Tansea had worked together they had both been wrong about the other’s gender, it had taken a drunken depression to straighten things out. Now he found himself sitting beside a patient who was not only female, but also nearing the full-term of pregnancy.

“Well, I would not risk removing the pellet for fear the poison would spread through your bloodstream and endanger your yet to be born,” Isaac said. “Perhaps you should contact a doctor of your own species; I would not even consider removing a child from your body,” Isaac finished. Marsupial? he thought and glanced at the patient’s bare chest and waist looking for a clue. That would explain a few things.

“If the arm were removed, would my love’s child be free of the danger of radiation poisoning?” The friendlier and younger wife now moved forward to speak, and Isaac looked up to see her pain.

“Removing the arm would gain time, a week, no more. As long as the child is within the mother, it will be exposed to radiation,” Isaac said with careful enunciation, trying to hide the blow behind his difficulty with the language.

The trio accepted his statement without pause.

“I am dying, Doctor, you have said so,” the patient said with equal slowness. “Is one week so wonderful a gift if it means I leave no child to bear my honor? I would ask you to remove my arm, now, and leave the father’s responsibilities to my beloved wives.”

Isaac thought the woman in the bed appeared untroubled by her impending death. He saw the love between the three, and nodded as he reached for his bag. “This will render you unconscious. I have used it on your species before, and I do not believe it will affect the infant.” Isaac placed a pressure capsule against the inside of the woman’s unaffected arm.

“Not yet, anyway,” the patient said with an almost smile.

With a look to the other two, Isaac triggered the capsule and watched as the alien lost consciousness.

Isaac laid out his surgical tools on the edge of the platform and UV-wanded the spread, his hands, and the patient’s arm.

Attempting to work quickly and efficiently, Isaac twisted a strip of cloth around the highest point he could reach on the arm.

He doubted the tourniquet would be necessary; previous experience with Sansheren taught him that they did not bleed profusely. Tourniquet secured, he placed an absorbing cloth under the arm and gave a silent curse at his lack of proper sterilizers. His one justification for not taking the patient to his makeshift hospital was his own diagnosis. He began the operation by inserting a drain tube into a small vein. He watched as the greenish-black blood dripped into a bowl placed on the floor.

“If someone would hold the arm, I will begin.” He felt bad at asking the two spouses, but he could not perform the operation without assistance.

“I would be honored.”

The one Isaac was beginning to like moved to the bed and grasped the arm firmly at the joint. “Thank you,” Isaac said as he began to cut the flesh with a scalpel. With the bare bone exposed, Isaac moved the skin and muscle tissue up higher, and began the long task of sawing through. He noted that Sansheren had by far the thickest and strongest bones of the many species he had become proficient at treating. He had never seen a broken bone on one and would be surprised if he ever did.

“They’re all surface veins,” he realized with a start as the saw blade reached the bone’s internal artery. Pressurized blood squirted past the blade to strike him in the face.

“There is an artery supplying this, correct?” he half shouted as he wiped the hot, green blood out of his eyes.

“The arteries connect through each joint. You have to work quickly and seal the end when you are done,” the one assisting said, with a startled glance to the older wife.

“I thought so,” he muttered as he began sawing again. The hollow spot in the bone was surprisingly small, and he cut a wedge out of the bone to expose it. He shoved his finger into the gap to slow the bleeding as he tried to think of some way to seal the bone end. The realization came to him that the other half of the bone must contain the return vein.

“Hand up the blue box,” he said, gesturing to his plaster cast kit. “Now open it, okay, green jar, put a large spoonful of the powder – that is a half a Faldebbian Croat’s weight worth – into the silver bowl. Yeah that thing. Okay, open the bottle and pour out just enough liquid to make a thick paste. Do not get it on your skin! Good, now mix it well. Now scoop it into that canister and connect the canister to the nozzle. Very good, hand it here. I will need a small circle of metal as well; perhaps a coin?” With his finger still in the hole, Isaac reached awkwardly for the canister.

“How do I clean this?” the hostile spouse held out a small gold coin, cousin to the one he had been paid, and Isaac wondered if he should have charged them more.

“The white canister contains a pressurized sterilization solution. Do not get it on yourself!” Isaac said, and realized he was shouting. “Your delicate skin would blister. Put the coin on that tray and I will pick it up after you spray it.” He could not turn far enough to see if the other was in danger of getting the spray on her-his skin.

Isaac gave up on the gender issue and tried to devote his full attention to the patient.

“I am surprised with your concern for me. Here is the coin.”

The tray was held within his reach, yet Isaac had to pause at the softness of the voice. Shit, he thought, delicate – deleecate.

For food or for sex. Damn language. He forced his internal monologue quiet as he prepared to shift his finger and put the coin in its place.

“Hold the arm absolutely still! This has to work the first time.” He made eye contact with his drafted assistant and then moved quickly. The coin slid into the slot he cut and he began spraying the quickset cast solution over it. Within a moment, the coin was anchored, and Isaac was sawing feverishly at the bone. When the blood began to spurt anew from the cut, Isaac dropped the saw, grasped the arm lower down, and struggled to snap the bone against the platform rather than take the time to finish sawing through it.

“I need another coin,” he said impatiently as he placed his thumb over the ragged hole.

“My apologies; I should have foreseen your need and had one ready. My only excuse is that I was entranced by watching your efficient work.”

Isaac was astounded as the formerly hostile woman appeared to flirt with him. It dawned on him that he still did not know who the husband among the three was. He knew he must be mistaken about the gender of at least one of them.

“I, myself should have told you of my need. Your apology is unnecessary, though appreciated.” Watching the woman’s pleased blush, a greening as unmistakable as his own species’ reddening, he reminded himself to pay more attention the next time he and Tansea worked on language skills.

Then he devoted his attention to finishing the operation without flattering either of the two again.

Chapter Four – Earth – 1995
“Turn it back on,” Morgan said when the strange guy turned off the movie she was watching. She knew he wasn’t supposed to be there; he had climbed in the window and then straightened the bookshelf and picked up her pen before turning to stare at her. The blaring commercial interruption caused him to walk over and unplug the small TV.

“You’re awake?” Tim turned away from the television.

“He’s going to kiss her soon. Turn it back on. Please.” Morgan’s voice was soft, and she decided she should be afraid, but the hollow spot inside of her didn’t care.

“You shouldn’t be watching that shit anyway. It rots your brain. What are you doing up so late on a school night, anyway? Your parents out or something?” Tim plugged the TV in, turned it on again and moved toward the couch.

“I’m waiting for my roommate to get home. Are you hungry?” Morgan opened the pizza box beside her, and heard his stomach grumble as he stared at the large, barely touched, pizza.

“Thanks,” Tim said and shoved a piece of pizza into his mouth. “Roommate?” he mumbled around a second bite and reached for another piece.

“My parents are at home. Taiwan. I live here with a guy named Greg.” Morgan nervously turned her gaze to the TV, in time to see the kiss she anticipated.

“He your brother or something?” Tim said, and Morgan felt the terror and pain flash across her face.

“No.” Morgan tried to focus on the TV and block out the part of herself that still wanted to cry at night.

And she watched his face. As he studied her, there was a quick flash of anger – not pity – before he closed his eyes for a moment. He moved to put his arm around her.

“No,” Morgan said pulling away from him. She tried to keep herself facing him, watching him, and she saw the look of concern and tears in his eyes.

Tim moved towards her slowly and held her in his arms.

It took her a long time to begin crying.

“It’s okay, I’m here. He hurt you, didn’t he? It’s okay; I promise. I won’t let him hurt you again,” Tim said, and Morgan allowed the youth she had just met to hold her as she sobbed against his chest. An hour later, before her roommate returned, Tim coaxed her into telling him about her first night in America.

And Morgan fought the dream.

Chapter Five – Bystocc – 2012
“Hush, my Lady.” Neavillii’s attempts at reassurance penetrated.

Morgan realized she was screaming aloud. She took a ragged breath and tried to smile at her friend. The smile died unborn, and she turned her eyes away, not wanting Tim’s face to fade away again, to be replaced by the older Sansheren beside her bed, but, even as she realized her reason for looking away, only Neavillii’s face remained.

“I am okay,” Morgan said while still struggling for air. “I am.”

Neavillii moved to sit beside her, and Morgan looked up into the Sansheren’s large brown and green eyes. Over an inch across, there was no clear delineation between their green pupils and brown iris.

Morgan found herself falling into their dark green center and shook her head to clear the sensation.

“Indeed. It would appear that you are better at least” Neavillii said, and smiled from the edge of the bed.

Morgan forced herself to return the expression. “Thank you. I…,” Morgan paused, trying to release the emotions that choked her. “Thank you,” she ended with a feeling of bitter loss.

“I will be in the next room should you want me, my Lady.” Neavillii patted Morgan’s bare arm once and stood to leave.

“Wait!” Morgan found herself reaching out, capturing Neavillii’s hand. “I… I do not want to be alone. Stay, tonight.” Morgan held Neavillii’s hand tight as she spoke, but refused to meet the other woman’s gaze.

“Tonight is almost over, my Lady. Perhaps it would be best if you rose now? We could feed early and begin your tour anew before the sun finishes rising,” Neavillii said and resisted her desperate pull.

“Or we could sleep in and resume the tour when the afternoon heat has faded,” Morgan offered and again tried to smile as she finally met Neavillii’s larger eyes.

“Indeed?” Neavillii answered, and resumed her seat on the side of the bed.

“It is your decision, my love,” Morgan said as she reached out to stroke the soft orange fur on her friend’s shoulder. “I would not pressure you.”

“’My love,’ she says. ‘Not wanting to pressure,’ she claims. I would enjoy this night, my Lady.” Neavillii laughed as she slid into the bed beside Morgan.

“I did not mean to, that is, I did, but…”

Neavillii silenced Morgan the way any lover should, with fingertips against her lips and a distraction somewhere else.

#

“I can still feel my fingers,” Isaac’s patient said in a bemused voice.

Isaac moved past the other two and stood beside the bed. “Phantom nerves are common among many species after amputations,” he said. “It will fade with time…” his voice died as he looked away from the stained bandages and remembered his own diagnosis.

“My wives tell me you worked with courage and skill,” the patient said sleepily. “Do not feel distressed for me. Eat with us and sleep with us; I would be very happy if you could take my place this night. I am very tired and do not feel up to my responsibility. Please, give me this honor.”

Isaac thought about his Hippocratic Oath for a moment, but Earth was a lifetime away, and Tansea insisted that, with the Sansheren, the offer was literal. “It is I who am honored, though I, too, am exhausted and fear I would not do your lovely wives justice tonight.” The entire time he was talking, Isaac could see Tansea laughing at him in the morning.

“You will want to send a message to your companion. I will take care of that and the meal.” The one who was friendly to him from the start bowed briefly and moved out of the room.

“And I will arrange our bedroom for tonight, my strange alien doctor,” the second said with a shy bow of her head to Isaac, and left the room.

“Aldera is enamored with you. Strange, I thought it would be Yolunu who courted you.” The tired amusement in his patient’s voice was contagious, and Isaac found himself having to fight a hysterical laugh. He sat on the bed, beside his patient, instead.

“They never gave their names. Or yours, my friend.” Isaac leaned against the wall, and was hard-pressed not to show his surprise when his patient twisted to place her remaining hand on top of his thigh.

“I am Numane.” The small hand stroked at his pant leg in an almost casual manner. “And I truly regret not being able to consummate our friendship.”

Isaac found himself captivated by the claw fingers as they slid across his leg. “A regret we share.” Isaac leaned over the woman and kissed her bald forehead. The skin was soft, and he couldn’t see the orange coloring with his eyes closed.

“Sleep now. You need to rest if you are to bear a strong child.” Isaac pulled the cover up and sat up as Yolunu entered the room.

“She sleeps?” Yolunu asked, and Isaac looked again at his patient’s relaxed expression, before answering.

“Yes. The rest will help strengthen her and her child,” he whispered, and shifted the limp hand off of his thigh and onto the bed. With a nodded bow, he stood and moved toward the door, indicating they should leave.

“Aldera is still preparing our sleeping room. I have sent a message to your tent stating we are honored that you are joining us for the evening. I hope you will not find it presumptuous that I included another gold piece so that your companion could replace you tonight. It was our desire that caused her to miss your presence; we should pay, not you,” Yolunu said, and once more Isaac was forced to control his facial expression, using a second nodded bow to imply acceptance. “It shames me that we cannot provide you with an elegant meal, but you must be familiar with the difficulties involved in finding edible food.”

Isaac thought about the planet they were on. “I am confident that your food will be more elegant than anything I have tasted in years. If I may be so bold as to inquire, what is your ranking in the withdrawal?” Isaac followed Yolunu from the hallway into another room.

This one was empty of furniture; Aldera knelt in the middle rearranging a mound of pillows and blankets. Beside the makeshift bed was a cloth, on which were ten or twelve plates heaped with breads and dry meats. There were also several dirty glass bottles, whose contents he hoped were fermented.

“When our beloved gifts us with her children, we will be placed at the head of the list. Undoubtedly we will leave within an hour of the parenthood,” Aldera said before she stood and bowed to both Isaac and Yolunu.

Isaac found himself wondering about the structure of Sansheren families. Aldera seemed to be the junior member of this family even though she appeared to be much older than either spouse.

“I was born of the House Sheresuan, and I think perhaps we will seek to claim kinship with the lovely arbitrator Morganea,” Yolunu said, and Isaac tried to ignore Aldera’s obvious surprise at Yolunu’s plans for their future. “Would you care to begin the meal with an intoxicant? I am pleased to hint at a surprise I have accomplished.”

“I would love an intoxicant,” he said as he chose to sit beside Aldera.

Yolunu moved to sit on Isaac’s other side. “The surprise I mentioned, a human drink, distilled wine I am told. A bit much for our metabolism, it was found in the ruins of Captain Timone’s bunker. I hope it is to your liking,” Yolunu said with a gesture to one of the bottles.

Aldera lifted the bottle and poured a small, narrow glass full before handing it to Isaac.

“Brandy!” Isaac gasped after taking a very satisfying swallow that drained half of the glass.

“If it is not to your liking, I am sure we can find something else for you,” Aldera said as she reached toward his glass.

Isaac shifted to place his entire body between her and his prize. “Oh, it is to my liking,” Isaac muttered as he felt the alcohol entering his bloodstream and he forced his concentration to translating from English to Sansheren via Tansea’s Grec-based language lessons. “I have not tasted anything this good since Earth. My final graduation to be exact; Becky Johnson and I got drunk in the music room and discovered the difference between um, fathers and daughters. That’s not right; between husbands and wives. The next morning I left to travel to military training with the worst hangover I ever had, before or since. I am afraid you will have to kill me to get this glass back.” Isaac took another large drink, emptying the glass, and felt the liquor burn all the way down. He knew he should eat something, so he reached out to pick up a piece of meat.

Aldera reached forward and took the meat from his hand. “I would be most happy to see to all of your needs tonight,” she said, piling bits of meats and breads onto a small plate before placing it in his hand. “There is no need for you to serve yourself.”

“I had heard that humans were two separate species, and that reproduction was symbiotic. Would it be impolite for me to ask about the differences you mentioned?” Yolunu’s question caught him taking a large bite of sliced meat, and she waited for his response.

Aldera refilled his glass, and Isaac realized that he was getting drunker than he had been since leaving Earth. He took a second bite of food and hoped he wouldn’t alienate his hosts.

“Well, humans show their teeth as a sign of pleasure, so I apologize in advance if this happens during the evening,” he said with exaggerated care in his inflections. “The physical difference between husbands and wives is that one carries the seed for an infant and the other carries the infant. No, that is not quite right. Each contains half of the pattern for an infant, and after the two halves are joined, one, the mother, carries the infant inside of her until delivery. That is not right either.” Isaac made a sandwich of meats and breads while resisting the urge to drink more.

“How do the two halves combine, and which spouse decides who will bear the child?” Yolunu seemed interested in the puzzle.

“Only a wife can carry an infant and only a husband can cause an infant. Um, a mother cannot become a father,” Isaac said, and tried to wish the first glass of brandy away. The conversation was almost shedding light on his difficulty with pronouns.

“Strange, to be so limited. But how does one cause the other inception?” Yolunu asked, staring at him.

“The husband has a longish, um, limb that he places within a hole in the wife, and then he places the seed, or his half of the genetic code, into her. If everything works right, she grows a child.” He needed another drink, he decided, and drained his second full glass.

Aldera interrupted Yolunu’s gaze by reaching for the almost empty bottle of brandy, and filling the once-again empty glass.

“I see no extra limb on you, have you many children?” Yolunu asked.

“I do have an extra limb, it is just, ah, discreet.” Isaac could feel his face getting hot. Never too old to blush, he thought with amused disgust.

“Very discreet it would seem. Enough of reproduction, what do humans do for pleasure?” Yolunu asked, and pushed Aldera back out of her way.

Aldera moved to kneel behind him, and Isaac felt her begin to stroke his shoulders and back.

“We make infants. Or at least pretend to. Contact friction is at the center of our pleasure,” he said and gulped down the last of the brandy. For a moment, he couldn’t distinguish the heat of his embarrassment from the blush of the alcohol.

“I would see this discreet limb that concentrates your pleasure. If it would not seem too forward.” Yolunu moved toward him and touched his stomach, pressing; her hand began to move upward.

“I would have to take my clothes off, and it can be rather messy. I mean, when the seed comes out. It is not very appealing by itself, you know.” Isaac found himself lying back as Aldera unfastened his shirt and Yolunu’s firm hand hunted in circles around his chest. Tansea will definitely tease me tomorrow, he thought.

“Of course,” Yolunu said, sliding her hand down and off of his stomach. She nodded to Aldera, and they each unfastened crossed banners.

The silken pants favored by most Sansheren were untied, and joined his own shirt and pants beside their makeshift bed. Isaac stared up at the square, muscular bodies, and reminded himself that they were female, before stripping off the last of his clothing. “Unless,” a small voice whispered. “Regardless,” he decided, “they’re not human, it doesn’t matter.” Isaac allowed himself to surrender to the sexual feelings and drifted on the cloud of alcohol within his system.

#

“I would bear your children,” Morgan heard Neavillii say from above in a voice muted by exhaustion.

And took a long time finding an answer. “I love you,” was Morgan’s final response.

“Indeed,” Neavillii said without inflection. “You are correct, my Lady; perhaps it would be best if no one parented on this rock.” Neavillii untangled her small hand from Morgan’s hair.

Morgan twisted about to bring her face close to Neavillii’s. “I did not say no,” she said with a reproachful sigh.

“You did not say yes,” Neavillii answered after her own pause.

“I was thinking of the dangers. Especially here.” Morgan gestured toward the room’s window, but she thought Neavillii had already considered the war-devastated planet they were in the middle of resurveying.

“House Sheresuan’s nursery will be fine. I can wait until we return to Our Lady Neadesto,” Neavillii said.

“I can wait, can you?” Morgan asked with a smile, and slid her hand from Neavillii’s shoulder, down her back, and around onto her thigh as she leaned back onto her pillow.

“Oh, to have children you meant,” Neavillii said and laughed outright.

Morgan joined her new spouse in laughter as Neavillii’s hand disappeared beneath the blankets once more.

#

“Tell me, why was this missed during our initial assessment tour?” Morgan asked. She stood beside an all-terrain ground vehicle.

They were parked just inside a broken gate. Twenty foot tall steel walls stretched out to enclose the long, narrow valley. Cloth tents in clusters of fifty or more covered the valley with no pattern to be found. She glanced up at the guard tower that was situated just outside the gate. It was as empty as the camp, and Morgan scanned the tents again for any sign of movement or life.

“I assure you that this camp was not on any list I was provided with,” Neavillii said with unconcealed irritation. “One of Tadesde’s people, begging kinship, told me of it. No one has entered, and little movement has been seen within. It could be a trap, my most lovely wife.” Neavillii moved to stand beside Morgan while the other retainers milled about their own vehicles.

A few heard Neavillii’s comments and turned to stare in surprise.

“Your only wife, as yet,” Morgan said, and placed her hand on Neavillii’s shoulder to soften the warning. “I would give my newfound kin the honor of walking beside me. Come, let us begin.” Morgan moved forward, barely giving Neavillii time to summon security personnel.

“The smell of death is rampant, and yet I see no carrion eaters,” Neavillii said with a puzzled glance as they approached the first scattered clump of tents.

“Look closer, friend, between the tents, there, and over there as well,” Morgan said, and pointed to the small, dead and bloated bodies that lay amid the refuse piles.

“I trust we have done a complete radiation scan of the valley?” Neavillii asked of an aide.

“Oh yes…, my…, Lady,” the aide replied, stumbling through the honorific with several timid glances at Morgan who was greeting a new arrival to their team. “The background radiation is definitely elevated, and there are a few hot spots as we noted on the map, but overall there is no indication of anything strong enough to kill quickly,” the aide said, and a second aide moved forward to offer a hard copy of the aerial map of the camp.

“And what of the subtler toxins? Did Tadesde, I mean the mercenary Captain Timone, use anything exotic?” Morgan asked with another glance at the scavenger’s carcasses that clustered around garbage piles.

Those present laughed nervously at Morgan’s deliberate slip in placing blame.

“Not that anyone has named. It might be wise if we withdrew and allowed a security team to survey the area further,” Neavillii replied with a forced nonchalance. Her words echoed the growing discomfort felt among many of the twenty or so people who were following Morgan through the cluster of tents. When Morgan shrugged her response, Neavillii paused to speak with an aide before turning back to Morgan.

“My newfound kin tells me that there were over thirty thousand mercenaries here when she was stationed at this camp less than one year ago. Surely Tadesde did not kill them before abandoning the planet,” Morgan said with a nod to the very young Sansheren who had arrived earlier, and now walked beside her.

The youth’s fur was still almost entirely green, with an occasional stripe of the red to attest to maturity. “Oh most beautiful and caring Morganea, it is true that there were over thirty thousand mercenaries, compromising every species imaginable, but it is also regrettably true that I personally saw over twenty-five thousand buried in the year I was stationed here. As I have reported to your kind and generous wife, this was a destination for those who could not work. In the year I was here, she never sent supplies for the prisoners, only for her guards and that barely enough to survive on. Many children were born of the guards, but few survived of either generation,” the youth said with head bowed, and none present could doubt the rage and despair in her voice.

“I wonder if Tadesde ever considered the day her war would be over. No Arbitrator would condone such actions. What did she hope to profit?” Morgan threw the question out as she moved forward and opened the flap of the tent before them. The odor that wafted outward was enough to prevent her from a closer inspection.

“But she did profit!” The young woman said with her head still bowed. “Please excuse me for so rudely pointing out an obviously unimportant and rightly overlooked fact, but she did!”

Morgan placed her hand under the young woman’s chin and lifted. “I like to see the eyes of those I speak with, child. What is your name? Tell me how Tadesde profited.”

“I, um… Nealoie. She took the art. Bystocc has always been known for its art treasures. She stole them all.”
Morgan shot a puzzled look to Neavillii who shrugged and turned to speak to one of her own aides.

“I toured the vaults in every major city before the Arbitration. I assure you there is no way Tadesde could have looted them before her people left,” Morgan said, her hand forgotten on Nealoie’s shoulder as she continued to watch Neavillii.

“But, the first year I was apprenticed to Tadesde, I worked the shuttle docks on Shere. I saw the boxes come in stamped with her House emblem. They were transferred to a Faldebbian trader. When I was transferred to this forgettable planet, I heard the other Gulardee boast among themselves of the riches they had acquired. Could the artworks you saw be forgeries?”

Morgan nodded and put her arm across the troubled woman’s shoulders as they continued walking toward the next group of tents.

“I have contacted our base camp on the Eastern Continent. Zimsasha is looking into it. If they are forgeries it will be difficult to find a native artisan to prove it,” Neavillii said, and moved to open the tent flap before Morgan. “The carrion eaters were butchered.”

“By?” Morgan asked, but did not wait for a response. “Tell me child, how many years out of apprenticeship are you, and why did you choose to wear Tadesde’s banner if you suspect her of crimes?” Morgan moved on toward the next group of tents, trusting a member of her entourage to check the tents she passed.

“A knife,” Neavillii answered Morgan’s first question.

“I was to graduate from my apprenticeship the year after I was transferred here,” Nealoie said. “I have been here two years, and yet my sponsor insisted I am not qualified in many of the traditional skills. I was sent to this camp when I asked to write the one who fathered me.”

Morgan stopped walking and pulled the young woman into her embrace. “I would name you as my daughter and declare you complete of apprenticeship. Would you do me the honor of coming to my banner?” Morgan said, and looked up to smile at Neavillii’s startled expression.

Before Nealoie could respond to Morgan’s generosity, a soft moan was heard coming from a tent to the left of them. Neavillii moved to stand beside Morgan, hands outstretched, and prevented her from moving toward the tent as three of her security members drew weapons and approached the tent.

“This is not necessary,” Morgan muttered, with more amusement than annoyance.

“But it is, my most wonderful father. It is!” Nealoie gave Morgan one long, beseeching look and ran forward through the tent flap.

No one moved.

Morgan stormed toward the closest member of her security detachment. “You did not even attempt to stop her!” she yelled.

Neavillii shifted to stand directly in front of the tent flap, but nothing could be heard from within.

“I am determined to protect you, my Lady. I knew you would enter that tent. She did first what I was planning. Your House is honored by her courage and devotion.” The security officer was an old soldier wearing a single banner of the Eleventh rank of Gulardee and nothing where Tadesde’s House banner used to be; she stood firm and did not step from Morgan’s way.

“Honor to an unborn House is not a very kind epitaph,” Morgan said abruptly. “Assist her or move aside.”

Again no one moved, and in the uncomfortable silence that built, she considered the complement the officer had paid her. Standing in front of the tent, she thought of the interviews she had granted in the week since Tadesde began her pull out.

Nearly two hundred of Tadesde’s people had contacted her camp about defecting. If all requests were granted, her own retainers ranks would swell to over a thousand, families included. Even the Gulardee that stood before her was of Tadesde’s blood family, and yet the loyalty in her eyes could not be doubted.

Every Sansheren dreamed of becoming a Twelfth ranked Sansadee and establishing her own House. A power pyramid with her at the top and a planet or more in dominion. A long lived species, most never considered the possibility until well beyond their first century, so Morgan dismissed the dream. But now, as she stood in the silence of the death camp, with her people refusing her orders out of love and respect, Morgan saw the dream bloom.

Nealoie moved the tent flap aside with her shoulder and carried out an emaciated human. Morgan could not tell if was a man or a woman, and she winced in sympathy as a moan escaped the body.

“She needs water. There are two others inside, dead,” Nealoie said as she placed the human on the ground beside Morgan and then bowed her head.

“No apologies. I have been told I am not acting in the best interest of my family. Let me look at her.” Morgan placed her hand on Nealoie’s shoulder, and knelt in the filth to examine the survivor.

A teen, Morgan decided as she stared at the prone frame. The youth had browned skin and black hair, knife cut with long bangs that tangled over her face, and Morgan brushed the matted hair away to find the beginnings of a mustache darkening the teen’s upper lip. Morgan pulled her hand away in shock.

“I have sent for a stretcher. Will she live?” Neavillii moved to kneel beside Morgan.

“He is young and needs a doctor,” Morgan said after a long pause. “The leg is badly broken; I think it will need to be removed. He is also dehydrated and starving. Who was helping him?” Morgan asked to herself as she brushed the teen’s matted hair off of his face again.

He opened his eyes and moaned before his eyes focused on her face.

“Where are the others?” Morgan asked in a near whisper. “Tadesde has left, we are here to help. You must tell me where the others are.”

The youth stared at her with distrust in his face visible to any proficient at reading human expressions.

“Such fear and hatred,” Neavillii said, and Morgan recognized the expression. “Why do you think there are others?” Neavillii asked, and Morgan heard her curiosity.

“Humans cannot live long without water, and this camp has been deserted for months. There must be others. Why does he fear me so?” Morgan again tried to stroke the youth’s forehead, but he wrenched his head away in panic and then lay still, looking exhausted and frightened.

“If he is a child, perhaps he cannot yet speak or understand,” Neavillii said as she accepted a bottle of water from an aide.

“How stupid of me,” Morgan said without a laugh. “Can you understand me?” she asked in slow and careful English.

The youth stared at her, and Morgan thought that he understood that she was trying to communicate.

“Yo no hablo Engles.” His voice was hoarse as he worked to sit up to accept water from Neavillii.

“And I don’t speak Spanish,” she said in English. “He is from a different House than I, and his accent is thick,” Morgan explained in Sansheren.

“?Yo no soy norte Americana?” he took another drink of water, and Morgan noted with interest that he knew better than to drink a lot of water fast. He had been a long time between drinks of water before.

“My name is Morgan, they work for me,” she said, using a wide gesture that incorporated everyone within sight before ending at her chest. “I was Asian. American. You are from Mexico?” Morgan found that speaking slow came natural; it had been fifteen years since last she spoke a sentence in English outside of her dreams, and she found it difficult to remember the words she wanted to say.

“Yo soy Mexicano, si’. Me llamo Enrico. Tengo hambre, por favor,” the youth blurted out and then brought his fingers to his mouth in a gesture most humans would recognize.

“Yes, I have food.” Morgan turned to Neavillii and requested fruit for him to eat. “Where are your friends? Um, Enrico amigos?” and again Morgan used a sweeping gesture to encompass the entire camp.

“Tengo un amigo. Su nombre es Sam, es Norte Americano. No he visto a mi amigo desde hace cinco dias. Por favor encuentrenlo!” Enrico fell back as he finished his impassioned plea.

Using her full reserve of self-control, she patted Enrico’s hand before standing to give orders to her security people. “We are looking for one person,” Morgan said in Sansheren. “Get more people in here and have them begin searching. They need to shout “American”. Can you say that?” Morgan clenched her teeth together as the name Sam continued to echo through her.

“There is a live human in this tent!” shouted one of the security people before Morgan could hear if the officer could imitate the word.

Old dreams surfaced with memories long suppressed, and she wanted the fantasy to be over, but she was unwilling to make the effort to dispel it herself. She made no attempt to enter the tent and see the other human.

“And this one.” Another security officer stood in the doorway of a different tent, and Morgan knew she didn’t want to see, to have her false hope destroyed.

“Spread out. And remember, “American”!” Morgan leaned against Neavillii as her people began searching the thirty or so nearby tents. She felt strangely alert as more calls of discovery echoed around her. Ten, then twelve, then twenty humans were discovered alive in the immediate area. But it soon became obvious that there were no survivors beyond the first ring of tents. And the mystery remained, because none of those found was even remotely ambulatory.

“Do not move anyone; they might have a bone injury. Send for my personal doctor,” Morgan said, and had to struggle for the proper Sansheren inflections. “We are still missing one,” she said to Enrico as she sat holding his hand. The hours passed, and Morgan found herself feeling guilty for his physical state, as well as uneasy toward the other humans who were in the tents. She made no attempt to see the humans, but instead waited to hear that the one who kept them alive was himself alive. The sky darkened, and, with the light, hope of finding him dimmed, but Morgan insisted her people continue looking and ordered her aircar to light the ground for the searchers.

#

Neavillii watched as Morgan drifted to sleep with the rising of the sun. Neavillii called for a blanket to cover Morgan.

“We have found another human,” a voice echoed over Neavillii’s communication unit, and she nodded to Enrico as she stood.

“Have the aircar pick me up,” she said to an aide and made no move toward Morgan.

“Yes, my Lady,” the aide replied.

“I would join you, Lady,” the old soldier from before said.

“Your name?” Neavillii asked as they walked toward an open area of ground beyond the tents.

“Banessa,” was the reply.

“I will speak with my spouse on your behalf,” Neavillii said, and placed a hand on the other’s shoulder as the aircar landed.

“I sought no such generosity, my Lady,” Banessa said. “But I accept it with honor.”

“I made no promise,” Neavillii cautioned the Houseless soldier as they climbed into the back of the aircar.

“And I asked no commitment,” Banessa replied with a smile as the craft rose above the camp.

“Where is she?” Neavillii asked as she climbed from the aircar and spoke with those already on the ground. The aircar rose up, its spotlight rivaling the dim sun.

“Up the hill to your left, and then down behind the rocks,” the pilot of the aircar answered from above, and Neavillii wondered who’s communication unit was broadcasting. She watched with amusement as the older soldier discreetly thumbed her unit off. There was no static click to indicate a closed line.

“I see the rocks, we are on our way. Any sign of movement since you spotted her?” Neavillii asked and thumbed her unit off with a click. She and Banessa began climbing the steep hill with the other searchers.

“None,” the pilot said from above. “Banessa, you will want to move farther left.”

Neavillii did not respond, saving her breath for climbing.

“This is no hill,” muttered one of the climbers.

“I see her body.” Banessa was the first up the hill.

“Look at her legs!” Neavillii stood and stared at the body below them. What may once have been a strong human was skeletally thin with both legs missing just below the knee. The exposed stumps were bloated and black. Two small cans were tied to a rope that was clenched in one hand, and farther down the hill a small stream could be seen glinting in the aircar’s light.

“The amputations were not sealed,” Banessa whispered in agreement.

“Here, contact camp,” Neavillii said and handed her communication units to another searcher. “We will need a stretcher and a medic; we will risk moving her.” It was over fifty feet to the ledge that the human lay sprawled upon, and Neavillii felt herself age as she climbed down the nearly sheer rock wall.

“She cannot be alive,” the mutterer from before said.

________________________________

Thank you for reading.

Obligations” can be found on amazon, please leave a review:

“Obligations”

Thank you for reading.

I have a webcomic:
http://zombpocalypse.cartoonistsleague.org/
https://www.facebook.com/TalesfromtheZombieApocalypse
And you can find me on FaceBook at:
https://www.facebook.com/cheryceclayton

The artist can be contacted at:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/JinxMedic-Studios/154366657980647

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