"Death on the road"
A routine run, paid to protect a transport unit suddenly gets out of hand when Anti- Gov raiders hit the teams hard with tech they shouldn't have, throwing everything into disarray for bounty hunter Kaiden Fietnah and his friend Clara Brakin.
Waking to the sounds of crackling fire, the smell of burning flesh hanging heavily in the air.
Feeling the aches in his limbs, looking around, moving around to push himself up from the road, ash and small bits of debris rolling to the ground.
Searching around, smelling blood, a lot of it, mixed in with the putrid odour of death. Kaiden's mind swirled a little as he stood to his feet.
'It's strange the things that stick out, no matter how often I've been around it, the smell, is still just as revolting as the first time I encountered it. Had it been dark when the first shots rang out?' he couldn't remember.
The heat from the fire that was close to his feet and had melted the souls of his boots a little, they were warm and squished with his weight.
'That's annoying.' he wasn't sure if he said that or thought it.
As he moved around the rubble from the explosion, chunks of bitumen and twisted metal, he was comprehending what had happened and piecing back together what he had seen.
In other fires around him, were dead bodies that were completely roasted, giving off the horrid reek he had woken to. Cooked human.
He fought the urge to empty his stomach and failed, not much to bring up luckily, mainly liquid.
He needed to find Clara, if anything had happened to her he would be hunting these wayward raider scum to extinction!
It came as a shock how deeply he had become attached to the younger women. They hadn't known each other until a year and a half prior. They had been chasing the same bounty, for different reasons. Ending up working together. It took a lot of work on Clara's part to convince him. Kaiden was hard to miss, most people who had anything to do with transport or bounty hunters knew him, he wasn't the best but he was good, and had been around a long time.
Kaiden's mind was drifting, his hand clutching his blaster pistol, he didn't remember having it out.
He kicked some of the rubble strewn across what was left of the road, and grunted, it shot up connecting with the pain already stabbing through his leg. He kept walking.
At first he found her conversations simply a point of argument, eventually Clara's philosophy for life would help grow him through the struggle to reshape the already warped and tainted world view.
The society he had known and dedicated the majority of his life to, had made him bitter through the years. His skills abused by his guild, and puppeteered by the Government, they had formed him well through the crucible.
Their ingenuity for developing both the reliant and the reliable, surpassed all before.
He had seen the good and the bad. Chasing rouges, bandits and even finding and returning Tribute children, he remembered with a stab of shame.
Although he had never fully agreed with the concept or need for the Tribute children, he like the rest, found their ways to survive, and if that was one of them, so be it.
He did as he had seen his father do.
What was the real harm? The children were healthy and given a chance to contribute to society in a real and useful way. At least he had once believed that... Two years ago he wouldn't have questioned.
Kaiden wrestled knowing Clara was right, but not yet ready to admit it. Clara solidified, through her vehement disapproval of society and how it had been allowed to veer, that he had been letting the fire burn too low, not truly understanding the need for it. The fire needed to be stoked and she had the calm sensitivity and experience to do it.
Clara didn't have to convince him, she could see the conflict, the hunger to understand the things he had misunderstood before.
Did that make Clara a threat? Or was she struggling to correct years of wrong done in her life with subtlety?
After a few weeks of tracking the rouge Ginut, who once worked as a 'Collector' and had since subsequently become anti-Gov; Clara let Kaiden understand, she came forward and told him about why she was after the Collector.
"It's not the bounty, you can have it, I just needed the information."
He had grunted, he remembered that.
"Really? And what information would that be? Lost treasure from the ancient world? A ticket into the 'First Tier'? You know, if you make it up there with your prized ticket, they won't accept you because of your inferior birth." Kaiden said mockingly, knowing she despised the First Tier and especially the Government for allowing and protecting those in it from the same injustices of living under their rule, instead of in it.
The shifting shadows from the still burning transport units, playing tricks with his already disrupted vision, Kaiden walked on, feeling the pain with every step; 'I'm sure nothing's broken, but there is damage, I can't check, not yet, not until I know where she is.'
The sounds of movement and voices he could hear, unsure if it was the raiders that had caused this blood soaked mess or survivors from the transport unit.
He lowered into a crouch, still holding his blaster out, moving closer up and lowered himself into a shallow hole caused by one of the explosions during the raid. 'How did they have so many explosives? They must have raided a few armoured units and taken the payloads.'
The voices were maybe two, nervous and scared, harsh whispers. He made his way out of the hole and around the debris of twisted and melted steel.
"Transport ID: BTY Fietnah, Kaiden" he shouted, aiming his blaster out, he was sure he had seen these two, but it pays to be cautious after raids.
The two men were startled, one was injured and couldn't stand the other stood and raised his hands, shouting his ID back to Kaiden "TP Unit 3; Lect, Brent!" The other immediately shouted " TP Unit 3; Yvsga, Gretch!"
Kaiden lowered his blaster and they relaxed, he moved up to the two men.
The one still on the ground had a badly wounded leg, he might keep it if he lived. They were four days from the city they'd left and about three from their destination. But with the frequency of units moving through here with supplies, it shouldn't be more than a day before they get picked up. He could make that if they were going the right way, or had their medical unit alive.
"Have you seen anyone else?" Kaiden asked as he crouched beside the two men, searching the shadows and looking out at the expanse.
They had been out there, hiding, waiting.
"There had to be a caravan or village close, they wouldn't risk raiding too far from home so much loot to take back." he said allowed, mostly to himself.
"No, but they burnt what they couldn't carry off, they had some relatively good equipment, and those bombs, they barely needed blaster rifles or pistols." the wounded man Gretch, said looking around at the fires, the other man nodded.
"We saw the other BTY chasing a smaller group though, they were dragging one of the medics and supplies away, trying to load them on a kind of old transport vehicle." They pointed and gestured off to the plains out North-West. That was open country, nothing really around, except what was out there.
He could follow tracks that wouldn't be hard on that dusty ground. But dammit all Clara! Why did you follow them alone!
Kaiden was back on his feet, feeling the pain again, the adrenaline was wearing quickly, he was tired, and fairly sure his head was bleeding, his mouth was dry and his ears were ringing.
"Stay here." he told the two men, throwing a small kit at them; "Use this for the wounds."
He left them and made his way across the road, towards the great expanse, he could see some bodies here. They were roughly dressed and stank before they were dead.
Blood reflecting some of the fire light as he moved passed, he was approaching the edge of the light when movement in the left peripheral caught his attention. Immediately raising his blaster in the direction and going down on his good leg.
Someone was on the ground, half seated on the near side of the carnage from the transport vehicle. The fire silhouetting their shape, looking towards the North, back where they'd come from. There were scavengers further down, moving through what was burning less and searching bodies, about twelve.
They have certainly arrived bloody fast! or have they? How long has it been? Hours, minutes? The figure closer still trying to crawl away.
He moved as quickly as he could manage, staying low, it was Clara he was sure. The wind was picking up the dust around him, and stirring the fires back up, he was closer now and could feel the warmth against his face as he approached the edge of the shadows cast by the yellow light.
He was about fifteen meters away and could see it was her. There was a trail of blood on the rough ground where she had dragged herself. He was about to call to her, but one of the scavengers leapt out on the other side of the wreckage that Clara was now in front of, she hadn't seen Kaiden, watching the newcomers intently as she was.
He couldn't move now without the scavenger seeing him, just in shadow behind a slight gutter off the side of the road, if he was lucky they would miss him, or they would come to search his corpse.
But they would see Clara first.
H watched Clara try to move off the road, close to where Kaiden was hidden, but he could already see it was a huge risk, if the other didn't turn away she would be discovered, and was clearly too wounded.
'Did she still have her blaster?'
Kaiden watched on and wanted to run, to drag her back. Quickly doing the math, twelve men all at once rushing him wasn't good odds for anyone, he regardless was edging closer, but the man was moving around the burning wreck, following the blood trail. Clara aimed the blaster and shot, the man was hit square in the chest at that range there was a gouged hole, that blood, muscle and the edges of ribcage were protruding through.
He fell back trying to clutch his chest and made a spitting, gurgling grunt as he collapsed backwards, adding his own blood to the painted ground. Kaiden had taken the chance and sprinted, now kneeling beside Clara. She gasped before realizing it was him, grabbing her under the arms, dragging her off the road. As he did this, Kaiden remembered the two unit men on their own, and lifted her as she suppressed agonized groans.
"Fietnah! Where did you get to?!" she said hoarsely once up; "Took a nap." he said, she scoffed in his ear.
She had to watch behind them, Kaiden hoped that the blaster shot had been a little muffled by the sounds of creaking, burning steel, but knew that was a stupid hope.
He was half jogging carrying Clara in front of him, she was in too much pain to be held any other way.
Brent and Gretch were aiming weapons at them when they arrived where Kaiden had left them in the cleared area, until they saw who it was.
Brent helped lower Clara onto the ground near Gretch.
"We heard a blaster shot." Brent said concerned to Kaiden; Clara answered breathing hard, "That was me, Scavengers are here searching the wrecks." she put the blasters down beside her.
The two transport men were truly concerned now, "That was quick, it's barely been two hours, they must have been close." Brent was aiming his rile and watching the direction the two had come from, then decided to help Kaiden. He started cutting Clara's trousers to reveal the damaged legs, shot twice in the right, shards shrapnel in both, possible break in the left leg.
Kaiden nodded, and noted a little shrapnel in the left arm, before cutting Clara's shirt from the stomach, to see where she was hit. He knew she wasn't about to admit it was bad, but he knew something was wrong. An impact point, blood pooling under the skin, dark purple. Internal bleeding.
Kaiden couldn't move, he just stared, Clara grabbed his hand, "I know. One of the explosions, it went off too close, right next to me."
Brent looked up to see what they were talking about and stopped cleaning the bullet wounds. "we don't have anything for that."
They could hear the scavengers now, they'd found the body of their friend and were heading this way.
"How many are there?" Gretch inquired from beside them still aiming his rile towards the sounds. Brent looked up at Clara, sorrow in his gaze.
"About twelve that I saw. Minus the one you got." Kaiden said, still looking at Clara's wounds. "Hey, it might not be that bad, but right now, these guys need you." Clara spoke to Kaiden, the same way she always did, half understanding and half lecturing; "Clara, we aren't close enough even if another transport unit comes, tomorrow at best, without surgery..."
"Yes, that's why you need to listen and I need you to look after these men, that is what we were here for, and while we failed for the rest, we still have these two." stern as ever and to the point. " But I have something I need you to do for me, once you make it out, find my daughter. Talisa, give her this." she pulled out an old locket on a brown cord.
Taking the scissors they were cutting her clothes with she snipped a small braided part of her deep brown hair and tied it with cloth, opening the locket and putting it inside. Her little calloused hands put the locket into Kaiden's, closing them about it.
"Tell her, I never stopped looking for her, remind her that she can lead her own life, outside. Find freedom for herself, but that if she chooses to stay where she is that is noble as well. The choice is hers and all decisions have challenges." tears were in her eyes, light dancing in them, her breathing was quick, sharp. "I wanted to see her again Fietnah, I really believed I would. Please find her for me, get her out of their clutches, but only if she wants that."
"There getting really close!" Brent said harshly, aiming towards the growing noise.
Kaiden didn't know what to do, he wanted to do as Clara asked, but his friend was dying. There was nothing he could do to stop it. Her pale face contradicted by her abdomen, the skin was red and purple, she was breathing hard, he could see she was in pain, they had a little something for that, but it could kill her quicker. Would she want that?
He was struck by the moment of indecision.
'He had sworn to make these people pay if she was harmed, she deserved better, she had been fighting for a cause most of her life, and alone. To get so close to finding the way to rescue her only child, who had been legally stolen from her, sold as a slave, for a society none of them benefitted from!'
Kaiden felt a new burning sensation rising, his ears were on fire and he couldn't focus on anything but the rage.
He looked at Clara and whispered gently "I will." Then pressing his forehead to hers stood and started in the direction the scavengers were coming from. They had been approaching slowly, cautiously, unsure how many survivors they would encounter, they had already lost one.
Kaiden was standing in a small opening between rubble and fire where he had first arrived to see Brent and Gretch.
He was aiming both blaster pistols, arms out, as soon as the first head peeked over rubble, it was on.
Hit, head blown open and the others only seeing Kaiden, decided despite the second death of a companion that he wasn't much of a threat.
Kaiden moved forward slowly, scanning the rubble and wreckage, the night was warm, and the smell of burning bodies was dissipating, the fresh smell of death was about to hit, accompanied by blaster residue and rage.
Forward there were more, aiming taking shots close but missing and every time they missed Kaiden hit. One through a fire, two tried to rush him with cudgels and axes, another threw a spear, three dropped to the ground, spilling guts, brain and gurgling through the hole in his throat.
At this point Kaiden was seeing red, there wasn't anything that would make him feel better other than making Clara safe. But she wasn't, she was going to die and that wasn't good enough. He pressed on.
They had two rile men, Kaiden was hit in the left arm, close to the shoulder, luckily his cybernetic one. Brent shot the scavenger rifleman over his head.
Kaiden's dirt smeared, blood stained face illuminated by firelight, in the darkness gave him a hauntingly possessed look.
Two more, a man and women tried to rush him with blasters from the side, again hitting his left arm. Brent hit one in the side, Kaiden dropped them both. And then seeing the other long range shooter fired about seven shots his way, hitting him twice, he rolled off the burnt out vehicle to the ground a ways off.
The others must have decided it wasn't worth it, because Kaiden kept moving forward, he saw no one else, and strained his ears to hear, but nothing came.
Once back with the others, Brent kept watch, Kaiden sat down beside Clara, she barely noticed him, her pain was much worse.
"We could give you something for the pain," Brent had come over and now held out a small glass bottle. It had to be morphine, only Government units were allowed to carry it in their medical satchels.
Kaiden, still in a state his anger barely subsided enough for him to sit still, only because he knew, if he raced off after the men he would kill, he wasn't going to see her alive again. He wouldn't do that again.
They gave her the full bottle, it was plenty, within moments she was shaking a little, her body going into shock and relaxing. Drawing laboured breaths, in a rare moment of sensitivity and affection, Kaiden held Clara's hand, his head close to hers, tears were running slowly down her cheeks.
"Please tell Talisa I'm sorry, I love her, I tried to be there." she opened her eyes and looked Kaiden in the eye for the last time, "I will." was all he could say as his voice cracked, it was enough, she lent her head against him. Clara Brakin's eyes fluttered, a rattling last breath was drawn and exhaled.
The shaking and twitching stopped, Brent and Gretch watched silently, thankful it wasn't them. They watched this strange bounty hunter, showing an unheard of affection for someone else.
Kaiden and Brent constructed something to carry the wounded Gretch on. It had two wheels, all the rubber had been more or less melted off them, basically it was just the shell from one of the transports, and they laid steel that hadn't been too burned on top, they found what they could and put the other painfully on to it.
They had wanted to bury Clara somewhere else, but the heat of a days here would have made it a horrendous journey carrying her next to the wounded Gretch. So they took her off the road and piled stones and bitumen over her body. It was the best they could do.
Kaiden had gained and lost a friend for the first time in his life. He decided to wear the locket, it would be safer. The smallest part of him that wasn't angered, was filled with sorrow, the old silver locket would keep Clara close.
Now he set his eyes on two things, revenge and finding Talisa Brakin.