Copyright© 2013 by JOHNNY SACHU
Brandon grabbed the horn of his saddle and swung up on to the tall reptilian Thoat. He had caught up to the Ankt'Tah he'd been tracking for days and discovered them, relaxed and sitting in a circle, laughing and eating on blankets. His rifle's scope could see them clearly, several kilons away. There were eleven of them and two captured Martian women, two very young women. They seem to have been used and put through hell and that disgusted him, and now would do what had to be done.
He reined the Thoat to the left then coaxed the animal into a gallop. He would ride into their circle hard, behind their mounts, foolishly all tied together in one spot, where they would not see him coming, and hopefully, surprise the half human beast-men. No quarter would be given, much less offered.
Brandon stored the rifle in its scabbard and drew two of the four pistols he carried, and stayed low over the saddle. His dry lips grazed the long hairy mane of his ride and Brandon wet them with his tongue. When he felt he was sufficiently behind their animals, he nudged his Thoat into a long arching turn and then to top speed. The silent pads of it's feet could barely be heard above the wind flowing past Brandon's ears. The Thoat was extremely fast approaching their encampment and the earth man was grateful the animal didn't run with its talons extended, unless on the hunt or encouraged to. He was sure the Ankt'Tah hadn't seen him or heard his approach, but it was only an educated guess. He hadn't bothered with his power of reading their minds. He had done this many times.
Rounding the grouped animals of the Ankt'Tah was a big surprise to the Earth Man as all of them were on their feet with raised weapons in their thick hands, pointing them directly at him. They had seen or heard him coming, or both, obviously.
Without wondering whether they would fire or not, Brandon threw himself to the far side of his mount and fired one of his pistols from beneath the throat of his animal, killing two right off, even as his enemies fired their weapons together. The Thoat jerked with the impacts of their gun's glass pellets, let out a horrible scream, and Brandon let go of the animal as it fell to the salt. He knew it was dead before it slid into the grains of white crystal and hoped he wouldn't be following it into the after life of Isseis.
He rolled briefly and threw up a cloud of salt dust into the eyes of the bandits, with his mind, and quickly regained his control, sliding spread eagle to a stop on booted feet and gloved hand. Still behind his dead beast, Brandon fired his weapon through that cloud of tossed up salt dust, sensing where his targets were, shooting faster than thought. The Ankt'Tah fell left and right. And as two fled, he killed them too. No quarter.
Brandon jump over his dead Thoat and sprinted towards the bodies, thinking he may probably have killed all eleven of them, but to be certain, jumped ten meters into the air, making sure, with a quick scan. None of the Ankt'Tah were hiding behind their animals and readying themselves to ambush him. He saw no one but the two girls, huddled and hugging each other, hesitantly retreating from him in their short hip covered rags of gossamer.
Ignoring the girls, he checked the bodies of the beast men. Two were badly wounded yet still alive and he shot them in the brain. He holstered his pistol and searched the band of Ankt'Tah and their mounts for valuables and found quite a pile. He would use the money and trinkets for food and other things he needed in remote villages and towns. It was how he lived, from month to month, that and as a mercenary for one kingdom or another, on occasion. Mostly, though, he preferred the solitude of waste places of Beau'Tarie, or Mars, as he once knew it, and being away from all peoples, good or bad. Living thousands of years as he had, already, he had grown weary of the Martians, except for the occasional women he rescued and made love to, returning them in good time to their worlds. They never resisted. It was something, that they couldn't resist him, since his arrival. He felt it was the least they could do to repay him for rescuing them from a fate worse than death.
The last woman he rescued informed him that he was thought to be a member of a roaming tribe and known as, the Coln, or, Wanderer. It was an appropriate title but he was certainly no tribe. A member of NASA, once, he'd passed through some kind of time warp on the way to the red planet and thrust back into its past to a time when Mars once had a large moon, oceans, and life on it, in the very great and very distant past. Now he lived alone and would probably die here, millions of years hence, once all the atmosphere that was breathable disappeared. That is, if his life style of violence and Martian suspicions against him didn't kill him first.
He felt the minds of the two girls, behind him. They were worried that he would be their new master now, or would kill them. They just didn't know.
Concentrating, Brandon reviewed those delicate minds, digging deep into there subconsciousness while he sorted through the Ankt'Tah killed for booty. The girls both had been taken about two years ago. How they had survived the assaults of the red Ankt'Tah was fantastic to him, how they hadn't been murdered by the beast-men that often grew tired of feeding and playing with their captives was miraculous. He'd seen a lot of dried out corpses across the salt, in his years. Perhaps the girls youthfulness had kept them interesting enough to their masters to keep them alive this long, as vile as that sounded.
"Come here, Kayta, Sueti, I won't harm you," he said. They didn't move, not even to look at each other. "Girls, I am your friend," he continued. "I will take you back to your family. Your Aunt Cortitah will raise you, now." Their parents had been killed. He'd read their minds fully, to be certain of that information.
Since his arrival on Beau'Tarie, Steve Brandon had developed powers he would never have dreamed possible back on earth. They were almost witch powers, sorcerer things, his ability to control the environment, like the salt spray he'd thrown in the eyes of those beast-men. Mind reading was only a small part of it all. Wonderous, he knew, when they'd first appeared, but something he rarely thought about anymore. They were just tools for him to help stay alive.
He turned his back on the girls. He had touched them, their almost shattered spirits, he knew, speaking of their aunt, who was possibly forgotten.
He didn't focus too much attention on the girls, right now.
He began throwing the bodies of the Ankt'Tah men in a pile, further away and down wind of the crisp warm air blowing across his face. They smelled. He wanted to have a good, fresh-air meal before they got started along to the next water source.
"Come on," he spoke to the girls with his mind in theirs. "Lets have a good meal. I've got Ganno fruit. Bet you haven't had that in a while. You can have two each."
They came up behind him, lively in their steps, now. They were very hungry, poor things.
Brandon rolled his dead Thoat over on its belly with seemingly no effort, it weighed a lot to a Martian, but he had earth power and he knew he strangely had acquired more strength, somehow, arriving on planet. He undid the saddle and bridal. They were prized items, and of the highest quality leather, gold, and silver pieces. He had no intention of leaving them behind. He undid his closure straps to the saddle bags he had on back of the saddle and tossed the girls four Ganno fruit, as promised. They ate as if they were starving, which they may have been close to, he knew. They were emaciated, both of them.
Brandon smiled, as they ate, studying them. "Good, aren't they?" His heart was all too often stone, but these sisters, one wasn't much more than thirteen, the other a bit older at fifteen, looked so pathetic, he couldn't help but want them safe and sound again, back to their remaining families arms. He reached into his saddle bags and retrieved two more pieces of fruit and held them out to the girls. Suspiciously, the older one came forward and took the food. Brandon watched them a moment longer and then tossed the bags to the girls. They could have their fill.
"Eat all you want but don't make yourselves sick. We have to travel tonight."
He went to the tired Thoats of the Ankt'Tah and chose five out of all, and kept those five tied together, then let the others loose, but not before telling them he would take them to water and food where they would be free. He had found it extremely easy to speak to animals, at first, after he'd first crash landed on Beau'Tarie, their minds being so simple and straight forward. There were twenty-two Thoats altogether and all but one stayed.
He knew that one would die alone in the salt.
He choose the tallest and strongest of them for himself.
The girls could have the other four. One to ride and one to haul whatever they wanted to keep from the piles of goods, Brandon had separated. He would keep the smallest and most lucrative of the gold and silver pieces. The Martians loved that kind of stuff and was excellent for trade. He preferred traveling light.
Three nights later, they all sat around a small dung fire, near a forested Martian mountain side. A pond of water was nearby and on the other side of it was a party of Beau'Tarie traders. They had wagons and draft animals, and a couple of Thoats. Brandon had traded a few items for fresh food. He didn't want the girls anywhere near the traders. These kinds of men were honest enough but slavery was still a viable activity on Mars. He didn't want them tempted and Brandon didn't want to kill them, if he didn't have to. He kept his camp well separated from theirs.
At night, he watched over the girls. He never slept anymore except as an exercise of remembrance. Since coming to this world, he wasn't quite human anymore. He knew that with certainty. He wasn't quite Martian, either, being five times as strong, never having to shave, green eyed and tall. He was different from them but his black hair allowed him to mingle, for the most part, with these people of Beau'Tarie.
The small party of three stayed at the mountain lake two days. The traders had left the following morning of their arrival. He wanted the girls to eat and rest, wash and take care of themselves. They stank, too. They were also cut and bruised, starved and emotionally torn up, and though he tried not to infiltrate their trust, too deeply, he hoped they would come to accept him as a protector and a guide, if nothing more. It was twenty-seven days back to their home land, by his reckoning. They had better be on his side, if they were to spend that much time together, and he regularly monitored there minds for concerns they might have. They hadn't said much to him, directly, and he didn't force any responses from them. They had to come back on their own. It was the only way with girls and women that had gone through what they had been into, if they could find it within themselves come back to any form of normality.
Brandon did sing songs, though, songs he knew, Martian songs, sitting around eating and once or twice tried humor, telling them a joke from time to time, but they were too damaged. Perhaps laughter was not a thing they knew anymore. He realized that as a possibility and didn't push anything too dramatic on to their delicate minds. He would get them home. That was the priority.
It was on the fifteenth day of travel across empty, mountain-less salt that Brandon sensed something, far off in the pinkish-blue sky, hidden for the moment in the far off thunderheads churning in the windy air. He concentraited on the vibrations and found them to be a military scouting party for the one of the pocket Kingdoms in the area. Their Lieutenant was a bit of a hot tempered jerk, he knew, scanning minds, but Brandon felt he could handle any situation that came up. His main concern was the safety of these girls. He didn't want some over promoted junior officer making a big deal out of his traveling with them. He could tell them they were his sisters or his children, either lie would be believable, but Brandon knew the best thing to do was tell the truth about them, if asked. But--he would not relinquish control of his children to a bureaucratic, militarily conditioned, group of men that would slow the reunion of these two girls with their long estranged families. He would see to their safety in that, to the hilt, if need be.
They came out from behind a cloud, nine men on air machines. They were propeller driven, these aircraft, but marvels of engineering. Earth would loved to have had their propulsion systems back in the 20th century. The propellers were for propulsion only, they had a unique way of controlling their altitude and direction of travel, and were wonderous aircraft. Brandon had used them, off and on in the past, but he liked the Thoats. They were mean and powerful animals, carnivores, and he liked being in command of them.
Brandon stopped his band of twenty-one Thoats with his girls, slipped to the ground as three men, the officer and two lesser men of authority, lifted themselves off their low fliers, hovering just above the ground. The other six, Brandon knew, had their hands on rifles, ready to pull them from their scabbards if need be. He hoped it wouldn't come to that. He got no pleasure from killing decent people.
"Who are you," demanded the officer. "And what are you doing out here?"
"Brandon of Earth." He told him. These Martians didn't know what the hell Earth was. It could be a small village some where for all they knew. "I'm taking these girls back to their families in Corte'Suree. I picked them up off of some Ankt'Tah fifteen days ago."
"What do you mean, 'Picked them up'."
"I killed them and brought the girls. They were slaves to the Ankt'Tah."
The Lieutenant looked behind Brandon and asked, "Sex slaves?"
"A little discretion, Arc'TurEnt. These young girls have been through a lot."
That got his attention.
"How do you know my name?
"I've heard of you." Brandon hadn't, he was just trying to get out of there. He'd read the Lieutenants mind is all. It was a trick he used all too often.
"Where? In Salate'Tah?"
"Yes," Brandon lied. It was the little kingdom these nine were from.
"Who'd you speak with that knew me?"
"Does your vanity require me to give you a running account of everyone we mutually know?"
"You're in my jurisdiction and you will answer my questions or..."
"Or what Lieutenant? Haul me back and throw me and the girls in the city dungeon? I'm trying to get these two young women back to their families. That's all. If you want to know my destination or inspect my cargo for contraband, I'll be all too happy to comply but answering stupid questions under the baking sun is getting neither of us nowhere. We both have ground to cover. If you must know, I spoke to your commander, Aon'Areck about you. We share a few goblets together, from time to time, whenever I'm around."
"How do you know him?" demanded the little Lieutenant.
"I did a favor for him, once."
"What kind of favor?"
"None of your business."
"Don't talk to me like that, you stinking trader..."
"Coln. I am a Coln, Lieutenant. One who knows your commander and who would not appreciate your interrogation or your manner concerning these two."
"Are you threatening me? Because if you are..."
"No, Lieutenant, not threatening you. I simply want us to move along before you do something to embarrass yourself further. These girls have been two years with the Ankt'Tah. Do you know what that means? They've been through royal hell and now they are back. I want to take them home. That's all. Can you appreciate what that would mean to them?"
"The Lieutenant stared at Brandon in silence for several long seconds, daggers in his eyes, but eventually looked back at the two young girls. His eyes resurfaced on to Brandon's, then looked him up and down with disgust.
"Take your tarnished jewels back to their family then. And don't come around here again without good reason."
"Yes, Lieutenant," Brandon said, sounding perfectly respectful to the youthful officer. "Thank you."
They left in a flurry of salt and wind and Brandon stood there, listening to the mind of the Lieutenant as they sped off. His thoughts were not kind towards him, but so what? They were gone and they were free to leave. He knew he could have been more gracious, but graciousness had left him long ago. Attitude was everything these days.
Brandon tsked, wiping the Lieutenant's thoughts from his mind, shaking his head, and swung up into his beautiful Thoat's saddle. He looked back at the girls. The older was trying to hide a smile.
"What are you smiling about?" he said, grinning himself, and led them off into the featureless plain of white blowing salts.
That night, as he stopped for camp and food, the older girl said, "Thank you, Brandon."
He wasn't expecting that and said, "You're welcome sweetheart."
Three more days into the journey Brandon stood on the saddle of his Thoat, checking the horizon with his rifles scope. He was like a statue and didn't like what he saw. On three sides, they were almost surrounded by Sokcha, more marauders and raiders of camps, villages and ravagers of women. Wild men, for sure, but more intelligent than Ankt'Tah. These were Martian men gone bad.
Still searching, he knew the way behind them was clear, and was the best plan for escape, for the girls. He was in no mood to be very diplomatic about tactical retreat.