Kita'thalla Ch. 09byBowoodstock©
Here it is. Got this one up much faster than the last one,I hope you enjoy.
"Dammit, I don't remember it being this high!"
"Hah, getting tired?"
"No, just...climbing back down is not going to be fun"
"Oh stop complaining. At least you had the chance to climb last time. You made me take the fast route last time"
"Hey, you were asking for it. Now could you please give me a hand here!"
Kita crouched at the edge, looking down at Eric in amusement. He was about an arms length from the top of the cliff, and wasn't really in any danger of falling. He had his feet on a stable ledge, and if not for erosion from the past night's downpour, the climb would have been easier. Mind you, it had been almost child's play for her, in part because of her experience with this kind of thing, as well as her physique. Also, and this is what made the situation funny, she was taller than him. It was this small difference in height that was making his last handhold difficult to reach. Finally she took pity, reaching down to help him pull himself up.
Eric flopped down on the ground next to her, taking a moment to catch his breath. "Okay..." he said wearily. "If we find something useful, I hope it doesn't take more than one trip. I don't want to have to do that again."
"With all this complaining, I'm surprised you made it up here the first time." she replied, looking down at him condescendingly.
"Well, the first time I wasn't already worn out, and I had assistance from my armor, so it was easier."
"So why aren't you wearing it this time?"
"I..." he started, and stopped, completely at loss for words. Kita turned away, covering her mouth with one hand to smother a laugh. The "I just forgot something obvious" look on his face was almost too much.
"Okay then" she said, failing to hide the amused tone in her voice. "Well, lets get going. Unless..." she said, hauling him to his feet and gesturing to the edge with a nudge. "you'd like to go back and get it? There's a short cut I can help you along on, I know from personal experience how fast it is. It'll only take a few seconds to get to the bottom"
Eric laughed nervously "Ah, I think I'll take the scenic route after we're done up here."
"Ah, well maybe some other time" she replied teasingly.
"Yeah... no. Lets get going, follow me"
They didn't speak much on the short walk. While the revelation of salvaging her wreck, the quick meal, and the climb had provided somewhat of a distraction, Eric still couldn't get the earlier events of the day out of his head. Did she seriously not remember anything? On one hand, if that was true...it meant that she wasn't going to bite his head off for taking advantage of her. And yet, he felt disappointed at the same time. If she didn't remember it, then it was as if the moment of closeness had never happened. Then again...she's a Ketral! That in itself makes it as if the moment had never happened! What must she be thinking of the whole situation? While there was that moment during the storm the night before, aside from that she hadn't really shown any kind of interest in him except when she was high on catnip!
He was so occupied by his thinking he almost tripped. Realizing the sun seemed brighter, he looked around and realized they had reached the scar in the forest. The ground was littered with the splintered remains of the trees that had been razed by the crash, and the absence of a canopy was unusual after spending days under the cover of the forest. Also, he could smell the very faint aroma of burnt fuel on the wind. He turned to Kita, who was staring silently down the length of the scar to the shadowy wreckage that could just barely be seen over the ragged stumps. "You alright?" he asked.
She nodded and kept moving. Ever since they'd ascended the cliff, she'd known where the wreck was. The scent of burnt fuel and wood mingling together was unmistakable. But as they'd gotten closer, she'd picked up on another scent. She was a soldier, she'd been in countless battles, so the smell of burning fur and flesh was not at all foreign to her. She'd seen the burnt remains of her enemies so many times, it was hardly an issue. And it wasn't as if she grieved for the loss of those on the transport. But there was always something unnerving about dealing with the charred remains of one's own species. As they approached the transport, her stomach did a slight flip-flop as she saw the first bones.
He'd almost made it out. The skeleton was halfway out of the escape hatch, still clad in the half melted scraps of his armor. From the position of the remains, it looked like he'd succumbed to the fumes or the heat, as he'd fallen down forwards into the ashy ground, never to stand again. Forcing her eyes away from the remains, she surveyed the rest of the wreck. Most of it was intact, although it was obviously heavily warped from the heat of the fire. The rear section, where they'd been hit in orbit, was completely smashed. Pressure doors had slammed shut, sealing the front of the transport from the breach in the rear. Half of their warriors had been lost, although they might have been the lucky ones. Being obliterated in an instant by a round from a naval gun was immensely preferable to dying in a blazing wreck.
Eric had noticed the remains too. While his sense of smell wasn't as sensitive as hers, even he could pick up the scent of death at this range. He paused, staring at the skeleton before looking over at Kita.
"Are you sure you're okay with this?"
She nodded. "I'm used to death."
"This isn't like...grave robbing or anything like that?" he asked, glancing once more at the alien skeleton.
She shook her head. "A dead warrior has no further need of weapons. In fact, the only time a warrior is truly allowed to lay down their arms is when they reach their final rest. We do not leave weapons in the hands of our dead, as it would make their spirit feel as though they still had unfinished duty to fulfill, and it would hinder their passing on. This is especially true for those who have died on the battlefield or hunting for the cadre, as they have achieved a worthy death, and they above anyone else deserve to rest after a life of nothing but struggle."
He looked back at her, surprised at the long answer. While she'd talked about some of her traditions earlier in the day, this was the first time he'd heard anything of a spiritual nature. There was something odd about her demeanor though. She spoke very matter-of-factly, as if she was delivering a report, and not standing in front of a fresh war grave. She didn't have a disrespectful tone, but...even the hardest marines he'd ever spoken to showed some evidence of emotion when speaking of his dead comrades, even if it was just being as deadpan as possible to avoid breaking down. This was especially true when he considered that they were looking at the remains of her own unit. He was a medic, usually attached to a unit before the battle, so he never really got attached to any of those he accompanied. But all the marines he'd met had been very close to the other members of their squads. Kita on the other hand...it almost looked like she just flat out didn't care.
Wordlessly, Kita moved to the escape hatch, gingerly stepping over the cadaver. The inside of the wreck reeked of burnt flesh, but she pressed onward. She heard Eric cough behind her, retching as the odor hit him. He paused as his eyes adjusted to the low light, squinting as he tried to take in his surroundings. His heartbeat jumped up a few notches as he finally made out the shape of at least two dozen more dead ketrals in the compartment. Most were still strapped into their crash harnesses, some frozen in the pose of struggling to undo them, while others were slumped forward, clearly knocked out from the impact. A handful were sprawled out across the deck, claws stretched out as they tried to find the exit. Eerily enough, not all of them were burnt to the point of skeletons, and Eric could make out the rictus masks of pain on the ones that still had intact faces.
Kita was further in, scanning the compartment for anything useful. The small storage space beneath each seat usually had a warriors personal arms, but since they weren't sealed in any way, she didn't bother searching them. The weapons had probably been ruined by the heat, and indeed she noticed a few corpses whose legs were missing from the knees down as the contents of the storage space had exploded. Instead, she made her way to the back, near the pressure door, where a heavy locker was bolted to the bulkhead. Spare sidearms were usually kept in these, mainly for the defense of the crew, but also in the rare situation that a warrior had trouble with or lost their own weapon. The locker seemed intact, although the fact that the lock was partially melted wasn't a terribly good sign.
Eric coughed again behind her. "Kita, what are we looking for?"
"Lockers, like this one." she replied, searching around for something to try and pry it open. Noticing a dull shine in the dim light, she knelt down, pushing aside the feet of the corpse next to her to reach into the storage space.
"Are there any more on here?" he asked, watching as she pulled out what looked like a blade of some kind.
"Yes," she replied, examining weapon. The edge was still good, but it was somewhat useless as it was right now. This particular kind was designed to be strapped to a forearm, providing a blocking surface as well as a cutting edge that didn't take up a hand. The straps had been burned away, but for now, it possibly had another use. She glanced back at Eric, who was grimly surveying the remains. "I'm going to see if I can get this one open." She indicated a ladder with a nod. "There's another one in the upper compartment, and a smaller one in the pilots area, you start looking up there."
Eric nodded, picking his way across the deck, doing his best not to step on anyone. Climbing up the ladder, Eric nearly lost his grip as a saber-toothed skull stared back at him as his eyes reached the level of the upper deck. Carefully dismounting from the ladder so he didn't step on the corpse, he tested the floor, reaching out to give it a quick tap with the toe of his boot. Feeling no give, he stepped forward, and deciding it was stable enough, he glanced around, taking in his surroundings.
There were about the same number of dead up here, although they weren't in as bad shape as the ones on the lower deck. It was also lighter, as a large gash had been opened in the side of the hull, letting more sunlight in. The allowed him a better look at the doomed passengers of the transport, and he was starting to notice a few things. The most obvious was that every single one he could see was clearly male, as they all had the large dagger shaped fangs in a slightly longer snout that Kita lacked.
This brought up a question that had entered his mind a few days prior. Why was Kita the only female that anyone had seen before? Was it just unusual for females to serve in their military? While he knew that in ages past, women had been banned from serving in various branches of Earth's military, once those restrictions had been lifted, there had been a relatively significant influx of women into the military. To have only ever seen one, that was unusual.
Another thing he noticed was that a few of the corpses were wearing necklaces of some kind. He took a step closer to one to examine it, then withdrew in surprise. Strung across a thick leather cord were ten very familiar looking claws just a little under two inches long. Subconsciously grabbing the shoulder that Kita had clawed the first day, he stared at the hand of the cadaver for a moment before remembering why he was up here. Moving towards the back bulkhead, he spotted the locker, identical to the one Kita had been working on below him. At first glance it seemed intact, but then he noticed it looked swollen, like it was about to burst.
A curse from down below made him turn, and after a few moments, Kita appeared at the ladder. "No luck?" he asked.
Kita gave a mild look of annoyance as she stepped over the corpse. "The fire cooked everything inside the locker, all the circuits in the weapons were ruined. The blades were warped beyond use as well. You find anything?"
Eric shrugged. "I don't know, haven't opened it yet. It doesn't look right."
Kita looked over his shoulder and rolled her eyes. "Looks like one of them exploded. Maybe the impact or the heat. Don't waste your time with that one either."
"Well," he said. "There's still the cockpit. I'm assuming it's over there?" he indicated a hatch located towards the front of the craft.
"Yeah..." she said, kicking a scrap of armor across the deck in frustration. Turning to follow him, something caught her eye. Not hearing her follow as he reached the door, Eric turned to find her staring at an empty seat, a strange look on her face.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
"No. It's nothing." she said, turning to follow him. She paused as he disappeared into the hatch, glancing back at the seat, then at the sprawled out warrior by the ladder before shaking her head and continuing through the hatch.
The cockpit was almost as much of a mess as the rest of the craft. It was obvious how the two pilots died; One of them had broken his neck from the shock of the impact, his head flopped over at a sickening angle. The other had been even more unfortunate. A tree had smashed through the windshield, a long limb impaling him through his chest. Eric turned away from the two casualties, his stomach lurching again. Looking to where Kita was working on a small locker, he noticed another seat in the room, this one slightly raised above the others, next to the hatch on the opposite side. It was empty, the restraints hanging undone. Whoever had been there had survived long enough at least to leave the cockpit, as he could only see two dead ketrals. A thought suddenly occurred to him, one that made him turn white.
"Kita...is there any chance that, well, that you weren't the only one?"
Kita stopped what she was doing, and was motionless for a moment before speaking. "I don't think that's likely."
"You're certain?" he asked.
Kita went back to work on the lock with the blade she'd found. This one hadn't been damaged as badly, it was just a matter of bending it back into shape. "I'm fairly sure. What makes you ask that now?"
"Well...this seat over here is empty. And while there were uh...ones who didn't make it that were out of their seats back there, I don't see a third body in here."
"That's because that one escaped."she said with a slight grin, finally getting the locker open with a click. Levering it open with the blade, she took a moment to appraise the contents before pulling out two pistol sized weapons.
"Any good?" he asked.
"I think so" she replied, turning one over in her hands. "These don't seem anywhere near as badly damaged as the others. I'm going to clean them out and check them before trying to fire them, but we might have found what we're looking for."
"Good. This place is giving me the creeps" he replied.
As they exited the wreck, Eric turned back to look at it one more time.
"Would it be appropriate to uh,.do anything for them?" he asked.
Kita shook her head, picking her way through the debris back towards the cliff. "No. I looked, none of them had anything that would bind them to their duty. They had their death on the battlefield, which is enough to lay them to rest."
There it was again. That completely conversational tone, as if they hadn't just been visiting a charnel house. In fact, for the most part, she had seemed unfazed the entire time they were in there. The strongest emotion she had shown was frustration when the first two weapon lockers didn't turn out.
"I find it interesting..." she said suddenly, interrupting his thoughts as he followed her. "that you care for the dead of your enemy enough to mention it twice."
The question caught him completely off guard. Truth be told, he'd never thought about it until now. He'd seen dead ketrals before, both on the battlefield and in laboratories. He hadn't given them a second thought. But now...
"I don't know" he replied, still thinking. "It just seemed right."
"How so?" she asked.
"I guess it's because you're here."
She stopped, looking back over her shoulder at him, raising an eyebrow. "You wouldn't show such respect if I wasn't standing next to you?"
"It's not that. I mean that after spending these days with you, it's harder to ignore the lives of your kind."
She stood motionless, still staring at him. Eric felt himself turning red.
"I mean...wait, that came out wrong." he said, trying to recover. "What I mean is...well, prior to meeting you, your kind was just the enemy. None of you had names that we knew, no personalities, no culture or beliefs to consider. All I saw was an alien race attacking humanity, trying to kill us, so it was just survival to fight back. I'm not saying I disrespected the dead, but...being respectful to the dead never occurred to me because the only place I really ever encountered your kind was on the battlefield when you were shooting at me, and your people were...well, just aliens. After meeting you though...I can't really see things the same way anymore"
Kita turned away and continued walking. Eric watched her jump over a fallen branch before realizing he was getting left behind and running to follow her. She said nothing until they reached the end of the scar. She suddenly stopped, causing Eric to almost bump into her.
"Just aliens." It wasn't a question, it was a statement.
"...Sorry?" he asked unsteadily. She was still facing away from him, so he couldn't tell what was going on in her mind.
Kita shook her head. "That's what we said, when we first encountered humans. Just aliens."
Eric stayed silent, not really sure if he should speak or not.
"It was easy to believe. Even when the Van Tok'ir was lost, we wrote it off as luck. Maybe there'd been an accident of some kind. It was an old cruiser, due for retirement soon."
"The...Vantoker?" Eric asked, not really sure what she was referring to.
"Van Tok'ir" she corrected, although not forcefully. She still wasn't looking at him. "The first loss on our side. You'd think though, that we'd learn. The Van Tok'ir was only the first to fall. Yes, we learned how to fight against your fleet, but we were never dominant as we had been in the past. Even after one of our flagships was destroyed, the council still said "just aliens" to be destroyed like all the others. And we believed it. Even I made myself believe it, if only to hide the frustration of an enemy that we couldn't defeat, even as I saw us struggling." she turned to look at Eric as she sat down on a fallen log, suddenly looking very tired. "I think a part of me still believed it when I first met you."
Eric laughed halfheartedly. "Not too far from here actually." he nodded to the forest.
Kita followed his gaze to where the edge of the cliff could faintly be seen through the trees. "Hah, you're right."she said before looking at him again. "It's strange, to think that you could wake me up in just a few days, after all these years."
Eric shrugged. "You did the same for me. I think we were both guilty of that one prior to now. And I guess it's better late than never."
Kita closed her eyes. "I don't know. It might be too late."
"Why do you say that?"
Kita looked like she was contemplating something before she looked right at him."Be honest. How long can your people keep fighting?"
Eric was taken aback a little. "I honestly couldn't say." he replied. "I'm just a medic. I don't know that kind of information."
"I suppose you wouldn't. Well, regardless of that, I can almost guarantee that this war will not last much longer."