The diary lay abandoned next to a dying fire.
The flickering light from the flames barely touched the cave wall it was closest to. On the first page some words were scribbled, ‘A story like mine shouldn’t be told…’
Freezing air swept down off Razor Mountains.
It was freezing the nuts of anyone stupid enough to be caught in the open. Down below were almost peaceful hills covered in icy trees and bushes. Brooks snaked through the valleys under the ice and icicles adorned the banks. Further still there was a field of frozen bodies, crunchy blood, battle and frosty cries of war.
Drax cried out, ‘Somethin’ is over that ‘ill.’
Zeft turned after clobbering an ethereal on the head. ‘I don’t see a thing.’ He grinned down at the tall, elegant ethereal lying in the frozen dirt who displayed a surprised look on his white handsome face just before Zeft knocked him unconscious. ‘You don’t look so ugly now.’
‘It’s there…’ Drax yelled but was busy again with the fight. As the lean, grey skinned orux gave up trying to get his sword out of a human he instead used his bow and arrow to fire a shot in front of a charging horse. He slipped and the arrow was let loose into the air.
Scalice, the intrepid leader, watched the stray arrow briefly before swinging his axe trying to warm up. He was in the thick of things as usual but for all his effort he wasn’t doing a lot of damage.
Zeft sighed as he looked at his boss. Scalice’s heart obviously wasn’t in the war. Zeft had known him since they were boys playing ‘flick the booger’. Scalice was odd, always thinking which made Wrynn their horde leader uncomfortable. It had been Scalice who had argued over killing the ethereals’ horses. He had said to take the horses and look after them because horses didn’t care who owned them so long as they got fed and groomed. And he was right. So now they had over twenty spindle legged beasts. Zeft preferred their own beefy mardogs.
Zeft watched a few more loose arrows cruising over the hills. Bloody orux, too busy drinking and not enough target practice. ‘Drax,’ Zeft yelled, ‘Git over ‘ere.’
‘What?’ the orux whined like a baby sucking on a dried up teat.
‘Point that way,’ and with a yank turned the orux toward the battle. ‘We’re the pretty ones, remember…they’re the ugly ones…but aim for the middle…you’re being too obvious.’
With a grumble Drax resumed loading up his bow. ‘It wasn’t my fault.’ His beady eyes squinted and he whined again, ‘There’s no one over there either.’
Zeft rolled his eyes wondering why their esteemed leader hadn’t insisted on reminding his warriors ten times. ‘That’s the point, Drax. Only kill when necessary. We don’t want to win this war, but we don’t want to attract any attention either.’
‘Oh yeah, forgot.’
It was like a beacon in the dark.
Jorja’s thoughts drifted as she gazed through the porthole of the warship orbiting the planet. She closed her eyes, remembering a time of pain when kneeling before beauty, hungering for wonders she’d never dreamed of. She banged her forehead against the porthole purposely. This was not the time to be dwelling on past events besides, Darwin would return soon babbling about all the wonders that he had found. The area Darwin was investigating was close to a battle between several less advanced races. She worried, but Darwin had known the dangers and they all needed a little diversion or holiday and the arrival to this planet was the ideal time for it. Besides, the marines were keeping an eye on the situation.
In fact, they were spying on the battle and laughing at some of the participants. Darwin crept over to them and lay on his belly careful not to show himself.
‘Shit, I think one saw you.’
Everyone was tense but the moment passed by.
‘Doc,’ Marcy said, ‘some look like orcs, except more handsome, and the others look like ugly elves on horses. What are those, the animals that the orcs are riding?’
Darwin studied the bulky animals stomping impatiently away from the battle through his viewer. ‘Looks like a Cynognathus. In…ter…est…ing.’ Darwin saw the expression on another marine’s face. ‘It’s a predator, a mammal-like reptile.’
The marine, Andrew, turned back to the battle. ‘It’s a good thing that they aren’t organized; they’d be a force to impress! Although…there’s something odd about the battle here.’ He adjusted his viewer. His voice faded away as if in deep thought. ‘It’s like they don’t want to fight.’ It gave him an idea. ‘Ross, keep an eye on what they’re saying, especially the group with the big orc swinging his axe around.’
Ross nodded and focused his viewer on the lazy antics of several of the orc-like soldiers. He missed some of the comments but whenever the orc creatures turned his way he could read their lips easily.
In the mean time Darwin had shrugged and while he didn’t know a lot about fighting he had to agree they did look like the mythological creatures of old Earth. As the marines made other witty observations about the combatants, Darwin cautiously crept down the grassy, rocky hillock before standing up awkwardly. His layers of clothes made him feel warm but bulky. As he looked up he was thinking how odd it was to find prehistoric animals with English speaking humanoids and how he looked forward to sharing this with Jorja but a flash interrupted those thoughts. He barely had the time to verbalize his surprise.
At his muffled cry the marines turned to look. They lay there dumbfounded as Darwin crumbled to the ground with an arrow stuck through his forehead. They quickly scrambled down to stare at the man and put in a call to be retrieved.
Keller glanced at his comrades. ‘Stuff it all, he only had another year to live anyway.’
‘Yeah,’ Marcy said, ‘just another dumb arse Naskin. No great loss.’
‘Shut up, Keller. Marcy, I’ll talk to you later,’ Andrew said, ‘and don’t repeat what you said when we get back. Jorja’s going to be pissed enough as it is.’
At Darwin’s groan they shut up and glanced at each other. Regardless of how any of them felt it was rude to talk over him like he was already dead.
A couple of days later, on board the Xenica II, Jorja watched as Mary lost her cool in Medical. Mary was a great nurse but an overwrought human.
Jorja had met the marines: Keller, Ross, Marcy, and Andrew, along with Darwin’s body, at No. 6 docking bay. They had said very little as they carried Darwin’s body on a stretcher down to Medical.
All the marines had avoided talking to Jorja after seeing the cold expression on her face. Andrew had suspected Jorja was attached to Darwin in some way but she had never confided in him. Her only words had been to protect Darwin like one of their own, meaning the Aeons.
Now, after a bad joke made by Marcy, Mary’s round face was furious and she launched herself at the female marine, who, when a pair of scissors were recklessly launched, hadn’t ducked quickly enough. In a blur of motion Jorja tapped the scissors off to the side. They clattered harmlessly on the floor in the ship’s hospital ward.
‘That’s not the point and wasn’t it your job to protect him?’ Mary sneered.
The now angry marine took a step forward; she was only repeating what Keller had said on the planet but stopped short when she saw Jorja’s face. She also saw Andrew’s face. He had spoken to both her and Keller about repeating the comments in front of Jorja. Despite the fact that many felt ill used by the Naskins, Marcy now saw that even Keller looked embarrassed. She was about to turn her anger on to him for his turncoat attitude when Jorja interrupted.
‘I’ll deal with this. File your report,’ Jorja said.
With a nod from Andrew, the four marines left. While they would be disciplined for making tactless remarks, Mary would be put on record. At a touch Jorja turned off the monitor where a recording of Darwin’s surprised face gazed out in death. Jorja sat on the now empty hospital bed while the thin woman ranted and raved. Jorja sighed; everyone dealt with loss in their own way, but sometimes Mary went too far. The room smelled freshly decontaminated and the clean sheets felt somewhat coarse and raspy. As she ran a hand over the sheet she noticed the metal splinter that she’d been trying to get out in the room next to this one before the commotion had started. She rummaged through the drawers and found some tweezers. Mary saw her inspection and her tears stopped flowing.
Mary was quick to turn nurse again. ‘Here, let me. How many splinters have I extracted from you?’
With a grin, Jorja answered, ‘Eighty nine.’
As Mary worked quickly un-packaging disinfectants and tools she spoke a matter of fact, ‘I’ll be on record again, won’t I?’
Her blood-shot eyes and puffy face glanced into the neutral expression. ‘What will happen?’
‘Don’t know. You might have to spend some time in the brig and then you’ll be reassigned for a while.’
A gasp was all the answer Jorja needed to hear to know this was a blow. Nursing was Mary’s life. Well, her current life, as she’d already had several other careers. Neither of them cared much for the brig but as Aeons they didn’t have to worry about time.
Mary said, ‘I’ll be damned if I allow that to happen.’ She glanced at the cameras and said very quietly, ‘I don’t suppose you could get me out of this mess?’
Like all the other times, Jorja thought dryly, but was still concerned at her question. ‘No. Mary…ouch!’
‘You’re such a baby sometimes. And I don’t want to hear it.’ She put a bandage around the small wound. ‘I’m sick of your pep talks and I’m sick of you always butting in!’
Now was the time to say something to calm the situation down but at the moment it wasn’t in Jorja. After Mary’s next comment she wished she had, especially as Mary had just asked her to butt in and Jorja was about to offer another solution.
‘And you’re a freak.’
It stung but Jorja didn’t show it. Not many brought her to tears these days but Mary’s cutting remark almost broke her resolve. An icy shell enveloped Jorja’s heart. There were just some things you didn’t say. Their relationship had always been a bit tenuous and now Jorja could feel the fabrics of friendship tearing. She had planned to get Mary out of this mess but even saying the words out loud endangered Jorja’s position.
‘I’m done here.’ Mary tossed the implements into the wall disposal unit. ‘I’m going out for a while and I don’t want company! Every minute is precious Jorja and don’t you dare forget it!’
Jorja watched as the woman left, and reviewed the past half hour. Was it better to have a marine with a pair of scissors poking out from her chest or have the friendship intact? The marine should have seen it coming anyway. The joke had been in bad taste and Jorja’s problem was that she could see both sides. It wasn’t a virtue in this case. Mary’s words echoed in her mind, ‘Every minute is precious’. And she had forgotten that but not for the reasons Mary thought. Every minute could bring pain too, and sometimes it was worth forgetting.
Jorja had few friends because she remembered the pain of watching those she loved die. Ever since Earth had been subjected to a toxin which altered everyone’s DNA life had become more complicated. Some, like Jorja, had long lives but couldn’t have children. Others could have children but only lived for forty years. It was a cruel twist which created a divide between the two classes. There were many bitter people on both sides. Both Mary and Jorja were of the Aeons, those who lived long, and the short-lived were of the Naskins, those who gave life.
Darwin was thirty nine years old.
The worse thing was that the Naskins never aged or sickened rapidly as they neared forty, they simply died.
Within the ranks some Aeons acted like gods while some Naskins acted like…well…gods. It was why Jorja went to space. Most of the people on board were so busy that they rarely had time to be cocky. She wandered out the room and into the corridor.
‘Hey, Jorja. Wait up.’
She didn’t need to turn around to know that voice. It was a marine, Pretty Max. He was as deadly as he was beautiful. He put an arm around her. ‘Are you alright?’ He held her bandaged finger inspecting it carefully and then grinned at her.
‘She called me a freak. Where did she go?’
‘Um, she’s taken a vehicle out and is heading for the planet we’re orbiting. Jorja, she’s not rated for that vehicle…hey, wait for me.’
He was hard pressed to keep up with his friend and had almost forgotten how fast she could be. A result of past necessity. They were too late.
So now, with everyone on high alert after Mary’s unplanned abrupt departure and evading the powers that be, Jorja and Pretty Max attended Darwin’s funeral.