Chapter Six: Hairless Rats

Older Chapters can be found here: OneTwoThreeFour, and Five

“I can smell them through the hull.” Mendin growled just loud enough for the soldiers and the Terran prisoner near him.

He especially wanted the soft human prisoner to hear it. He was still a prisoner for a few more minutes. Mendin stared down at the soft male, not a pinnacle of the species, if there was such a thing. His eyes did not sparkle with the pride of battle or the defiance of a man who wasn’t afraid to die. No, this Terran rat was a coward, a peasant. He did not have the courage or the fortitude to chart the stars like those who fell before him at the artifact. For some reason, though he was important.

It was unlikely that this whelp fought up the ranks to earn this prestige, unless the humans also promoted through subterfuge and treachery. Maybe poison or assassination while his target was defecating rose this puny example up through the ranks. Whatever it was, this man would hardly last moments in the Curtani labor camps. The most wretched of the Curtani probably had more fortitude than this human, maybe any human, did. Perhaps it was good to be rid of him so quickly, he would have been a waste of resources for so short a stint. Probably not even worth a petulant sacrifice to an Eater.

The soldiers grunted humorously as the Terran shuttle slid into the hangar bay. Mendin watched from the hanger control bay as the back of the shuttle opened and several squads of Terrans scampered out from the vessel like vermin. They surrounded the vessel with weapons lowered. Mendin knew they were reflexively ready for any trouble. Mendin glanced at an Curtani ensign who operated the hangar magnetic fields and its security system. A touch-holo panel two meters away from Mendin controlled defense turrets within the hangar.

Mendin grunted. The Terrans would be unprepared for that. All he had to do was push the ensign aside and press the glowing ephemeral control switch. Lots of dead Terrans.

“Mendin?” Captain Firehoon asked, stepping before him.

Mendin raised his head slightly to stare at his superior. This was a Curtani deserving of respect, taller, stronger, and smarter than him. Only his betters deserved a command rank. He glanced back down at the fragile Terran chained to his wrist. No soft Curtani would order Mendin around, ever.

“We have our orders,” Firehoon said. His unflinching stare made Mendin feel that he was shrinking.

Mendin held himself at attention. “Of course,” Mendin said. His tone was submissive and he refused eye contact.

“You have a doubt.”

Mendin nodded slowly.

“Speak!”

“This human rat could give us more information about the artifact than we know.” Mendin’s hands clenched around the metal link that held the prisoner close to him. “It would not take much to make him talk.”

“We have our orders. The crew of this vessel is at risk. The Terran vessels outnumber us and we have difficulty matching their firepower in an even firefight.”

Mendin lowered his head again. “The good of the people.”

Captain Firehoon said nothing else and took the lead. Mendin followed behind, tugging at the chain holding the victim one last time. The prisoner tripped and shouted a curse at the treatment. Mendin smiled.

The troops followed behind.

At the entrance to the hangar bay Mendin and his squad met three more squads of troops. The doors opened and Mendin began the long march to the Terran shuttle. He counted thirty armored Terran rats trained and ready for betrayal. The shuttle boasted three particle turrets that could lay waste to everything within the hangar bay in a short time. Probably even the defensive systems he had fantasized about using. This whole situation was a loss. He had lost his squad, the artifact, and, now, his prisoner.

What had Inagrin said about the Cetus 3 incident? A misunderstanding? Terrans involved themselves in an affair they had no control over. The Eater Sacrifice, a holy ritual where a lottery chose members of the lower castes to be sacrificed to the higher castes. It was a competition, a hunt, to prove that the strong held power over the weak. If there was any doubt in the sect’s leadership the weaker caste would not suffer at the hands of the stronger as the gods decree. The Terrans involved themselves and upset the order’s power structure. It will take decades for the turmoil to subside.

“They had not been invited to participate!” Mendin growled aloud.

Firehoon stopped and turned slowly, giving time for Mendin to realize his outburst and lower his head in repentance.

“Is there something you wish to add to the coming exchange?”

“No, Captain.”

“Do not speak further until this affair is finished.”

Mendin only nodded.

Mendin moved forward to keep pace with the Captain. His eyes locked on to one Terran soldier. He focused his ire and hate toward this nameless, mammalian rat. The soldier locked eyes with him. A mistake.

Captain Firehoon stopped 3 meters from the Terran shuttle. He stood erect, imposing and clasped a fist to his chest in a salute of honor.

Mending winced inside: of honor. Reluctantly, he followed suit pounded his chest with his fist while staring at the one soldier he had picked out. The Curtaini troops behind followed with the salute.

A uniformed Terran walked through the mass of armed soldiers, placing an open hand on the right side of his temple. He was shorter than half of the men he commanded. How soft was his flesh to be a leader? Mendin thought. How many soft humans commanded the strong to die? This is why the Terrans needed an alliance, they were weeding out the strong among them.

“You will release our man to us,” he said.

The captain nodded respectfully. He presented an open hand to Mendin, never taking his eyes of the Terran officer. Mendin, still holding a Terran’s attention, passed the chain to Firehoon. A smile pursed Mendin’s lips. He picked up a murmur among the Terran troops around him. It was working. He had frightened doubt into their minds.

Just fire one shot, Mending thought. Let me mistake a move for a threat. Any move.

“Silence, soldiers!” the Terran officer shouted.

The troops went silent. To Mendin, it was like a slave controlling his masters. Inconceivable.

Captain Firehoon passed the prisoner to the Terran leader. Three soldiers released the prisoner from his bounds and escorted him through the throng of soldiers and into the shuttle.

The Terran leader locked his hands behind his back and said, “The Terran Alliance is grateful for your cooperation. May we begin to have friendlier relations after this show of good faith.”

Mending was livid, though he did not show it. The Terran was patronizing the captain on his own ship.

“Unlikely,” Firehoon replied, “you have guns aimed at my ship and my people. There is no good faith here.”

In unison, the Terran leader and Firehoon turned from one another and walked through their prospective troops.

The Terran troops scampered back into their shuttle and it soon departed.

Mending returned to the control room of the hangar bay, still angered. Terrans were all vermin. He wanted another chance at them. Not a simple skirmish that ended in a tense diplomatic arrangement, but a brutal war that ended in unconditional surrender.

© 2017 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.

Scamper

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