by Melanie Brown
Copyright  © 2017 Melanie Brown

John didn't sign up for this.

This story is the third and final installment to the Ka-Pawli saga. I recommend reading Ka-Pawli and Ka-Shiwa first if you haven't yet. --Ed



“I didn’t sign up for this shit,” A look of disgust crossed my face.

“You’re wearing a Marine uniform and sitting at the pilot seat of a military landing craft. You did sign up for this shit, Lieutenant,” snorted my Executive Officer.

I pointed out the narrow, thick windows at the view of several of the village’s natives being shot. “Well, I didn’t sign up for *that* shit!”

The XO nodded, “True that.”

I studied my XO for a few moments. He kept his rank. But I guess I shouldn’t really call him a he as he was now a she. A komali female. We were talking through an intercom as I had to wear my suit’s helmet because the interior of the ship was vented to the planet’s atmosphere.

She looked away from the view of the killing going on. “At least you got to stay hooman.”

Scowling at what was happening in the village, “Only because a komali body can’t fit in this pilot’s seat. I’m sure I’ll eventually wind up like you or dead sooner or later.”

The XO grimaced. “Try to go for dead. You don’t want to be what I’ve become.”

I continued to scowl “If we hadn’t been caught with our pants down, you’d still be human and that,” I pointed out the window again. “… wouldn’t be happening.”

It was so stupid. A classic mistake in underestimating both the intelligence and physical strength of the natives of this world. And that mistake wouldn’t have occurred if the captain of the research vessel hadn’t been so damned determined to get his sample native into the cryo-hold.

Instead of leaving the planet as planned, Captain Khurana of the research vessel decided to look for another village. He found one such village down on the plains a few klicks from the originally discovered village. He thought they could just go pop one of the males with a tranquilizer, freeze him and cart him back to Earth.

The native had other ideas, managed to shout for help and after a brief struggle that left a couple of the security team dead, the crew and staff of the research vessel surrendered.

These natives, who hate the originally discovered komali for some reason, had heard stories of strangers from the skies being converted to komali by using the plant whose name translates into “life-giver”. Not being able to communicate with their captors, they sacrificed one of their life-givers and converted Dr. Marcus to a komali female after accidently breaching his environment suit.

Using that little dangle thing on their forehead to educate Dr. Marcus; they also locked him into a special state of submissiveness. Dr. Marcus sang like a canary and they soon learned all about the expeditions as well as Earth. They also learned that the research vessel had a dozen life-givers on board. The komali proceeded to mortally wound the whole crew, and then forced them into a life-giver.

They named them all Ka-Naka which apparently is the name for prostitutes. They can’t get pregnant and are very docile. The plains tribe komali who call themselves Nalgun, seemed to take pleasure in slapping them around while using them a lot for pleasure.

And then another mistake. After being converted to komali, one of the crew members managed to relay a distress signal through the ship in orbit. A ship full of marines – our ship – was dispatched to the planet to quell whatever revolt was in progress. After all, that was the whole purpose of putting a military force into space. Somebody had to maintain order among all the new settlements.

The komali, instead of being fearful, actually delighted in the news when they found out what the crew member had done. They ripped the pilot seat out from the research ship and with the help of a couple of the converted crew, managed to switch the air handlers to produce the toxic gas the komali breath. Then using the converted and now compliant pilot, flew a couple of dozen komali males to the ship in orbit. When they arrived, they slaughtered the remaining crew, modified the air handlers on the main ship and then settled in to wait.

When we arrived at the research ship in orbit, nothing seemed out of place. Even though there was an odd accent, and because of the converted pilot, the ship’s crew responded with the proper codes. We suspected nothing when we finally docked with the ship. We thought the trouble was all planet side. I mean, these alien fuckers didn’t know how to fly up to space, right?

Two dozen aliens, armed with our own rifles as well as their crossbows poured through the airlocks, taking out half the marines and ship’s crew in just a matter of moments. They then quickly rounded up and subdued the rest of us, which wasn’t hard as they flooded our ship with their toxic atmosphere. We had to scramble to get our helmets on.

To scare us, they took two of us, converted them to female komali and made them extra submissive and gave them as presents to the city leaders. Needless to say, we were pretty horrified by what was happening to us. We were forced to train them in weapons use. Until they needed us, they kept us in the hold where a standard Earth atmosphere was maintained.

And then they attacked their long time rivals in the mountains. And I brought them. If I ever make it back to Earth, I’ll probably be court-martialed. As well I should. I should have eaten a bullet before turning this drop ship into taxi for hostile forces. Well, I wasn’t going to do it anymore.

I turned to my former XO and said, “Kill me.”

She looked at me a bit confused. “I can’t kill you. If I had the ability to kill anyone, you think I’d let them rape me constantly? I’m here to keep you in that seat so you don’t try anything stupid.”

“Then I’ll do something stupid so you have to kill me,” I started to stand up.

The XO smirked and said, “I’ll just hog tie you. Whatever they did to me when they converted me, made me physically incapable of killing anyone.” She jingled the second key for the console that she constantly wore around her neck. She said, “You’re not going anywhere, hooman. So just sit down.”

“You’re on their side now, huh?” I sneered at her as I sat back down. “To stop this madness, I have no problem killing you and taking the key.”

The XO laughed as she pulled a nasty looking knife from her harness. She said, “They let me keep this when I’m guarding you. Though there’s no way I can use it against my Masters. I’m not on their side. I’m compelled to obey my Master’s commands. Sorry Johnny. I have no choice in the matter.”

Waving the knife in the air, the XO said, “You want to try anything? There’s a life-giver with your name on it.”

I shook my head. “No. I’d rather be dead than be like you.”

The XO laughed. “Good choice.”

I suddenly jumped out of my seat, pointed out the window and shouted, “Holy shit! Look what they’re doing!”

The XO turned looking quickly out the view port, “What… ?”

I leaped into the air and brought a double-fisted blow to the base of her skull. She stumbled forward and I brought a second and third heavy blow to the back of her head. She fell to the deck unconscious. She was still breathing, so I knew I hadn’t killed her.

I pulled the second key from her neck and pocketed both keys. Quickly, I rushed through the drop ship, picked up a rifle and gathered up a couple of oxygen modules and loaded up on several ammo magazines and an extra battery pack. I tossed them all into a bag and shouldered it. I replaced the oxygen module with the freshly charged one. The ship was empty. I ran quickly down the exit ramp and into the dense plant life of the surrounding forest.

I knew my time would be limited. I had enough life support for a few days. My immediate goal was to make contact with one of the two original former humans if at all possible and let them know what’s going on. I felt strongly they needed to know that they’re not under attack by Earth.

*          *          *

From the tactical briefing we had on the trip to the planet that were based on reports that had made it back to Earth, I had a fair idea of the layout of this particular village. I knew the compound at the edge of the village with a wall and several buildings was the home of the village’s king. That was my primary destination.

The shooting and chaos had settled down. Most of the village’s natives had been rounded up and put at the central community center. Sobbing females were picking the bodies of dead males and taking them to a mass grave. From my observation point in the drop ship, I could tell that a large number of natives had disappeared into the surrounding forest.

The Nalgun were holding a very tenuous zone of occupation and I think they knew it. They walked nervously around holding their marine rifles in dangerous positions that made them more likely to shoot others accidently. They acted like they were waiting for something. I wasn’t sure if they expected a counter attack or reinforcements.

Despite having full camouflage turned on, I needed to avoid large open areas as my outline would become visible. I moved cautiously through the village towards the king’s compound.

As I moved through the village, it was obvious the situation was nothing like the intel suggested. On a normal day there would be natives engaged in commerce and associating freely among themselves. As it was, the only ones moving about were the Nalgun who acted more afraid than as conquerors. They had done a lot of unnecessary killing and destruction. I have no idea what their beef is with the mountain komali and I don’t know what their plans are as I don’t speak the language and the former marines aren’t talking.

I made it across the village unnoticed. I saw the king’s compound across a wide dusty path. Two guards were posted at the entrance to the main structure. I could only assume they were members of the Nalgun. They stood there both pointing their weapons at each other. I’m not calling them stupid, but they’re definitely improperly trained.

Even with camouflage turned on, they’d spot me for sure if I got close enough to pass between them. There’s no door to worry about, but there is a drape of some kind of covering over it that would be noticed when I moved it out of the way to get inside.

I picked up a couple of pebbles and got as close as I safely could. I then tossed one of the pebbles high and to the side of either of them. They both turned in opposite directions as I ran quickly to the entrance. I pulled the cloth aside and stepped quickly inside before the guards returned their gaze forward.

There were about a dozen young komali females sitting on the floor and huddled in one corner and appeared to all be crying. One female was leaning against a cabinet of some kind next to a very pissed looking male. Another male and female were outside in a courtyard.

Taking a very big chance that one of these komali could understand me, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes for a moment, wonder if my life would end here. I turned off the camouflage and raised my hands.

I managed to startle all of the komali present. The male jumped to his feet and hissed, “Hooman!”

Through the intercom I said, “Please. I mean you no harm. I wish to speak with Newman or Mathers.”

The female touched the male’s arm and stepped towards me. “Why are you here?” she snapped in English.

Keeping my hands in front of me, I said, “I’m here to help. I don’t have much time as I only have a few days of life-support. Are you Newman?”

The komali female gestured with one arm. “Haven’t you helped enough, hooman?”

“None of this was our plan.” I took a step closer. “Believe me. We did not want this. Again. Are you Newman?”

The female shook her head. “You speak of my sister, Ka-Pawli. She and our father have been taken to the community center to await trial. The Nalgun intend to put my father and sister to death. They want to send a message to the other kingdoms in our area.”

I narrowed my eyes at the kolmali who spoke. “And who are you?”

“I am Ka-Nawa. And this ugly brute next to me is Ra-Mali, Ka-Pawli’s mate.” She poked the male in the ribs. “The other you seek is in the courtyard with her mate.”

I said, “But you speak English.”

Pointing at Ra-Mali and herself, Ka-Nawa said, “My sister taught us some of your language the same way we taught her ours. You said you’re here to help. What can you do? There is only one of you.”

I sat down feeling very weary. I said, “That’s a good question. I don’t have much time left to me. I can help if you want to take your village back. I’ve scouted the whole village. There’s only a handful of -- what did you call them? Nalgun? Only a handful in the city.” I hefted my rifle. “And I’m a lot better trained with one of these things than they are.”

Ka-Nawa looked at me and said, “I’d offer to make you komali, but we only have one life-giver here at my father’s house and one at the community center. Converting you kills the plant.”

I shook my head. “Thanks but no thanks. I’d rather be dead than be one of those passive, brainless little slaves my men have become. No offense.”

In an outburst of anger, Ka-Nawa leapt quickly to my side, and with a speed my eye couldn’t follow, pressed a knife into the material of my environment suit. She snarled, “Do I look like a passive, brainless slave? The Nalgun did that when they ‘educated’ your friends. Using their tendrils, the Nalgun impressed upon your friends after converting them that they are nothing more than docile slaves. It is a practice we abandoned generations ago. But the Nalgun use it against captured enemies.”

I shrugged apologetically. “I’m sorry. How would I know? We know next to nothing about your culture. But as for those life-giver plants -- from orbit, we detected a whole valley lined with them on the far side of that high ridge up behind your village.”

Ra-Mali said, “There’s no way over that ridge. It’s too high. We can’t breathe up there.”

I pointed at my suit. “I can.”

Ka-Nawa fidgeted. “First thing we need to do is rescue my father and sister. We can get the life-givers later.”

I said, “I can help with that. I didn’t see many of the Nalgun in your village as I went through it.”

Ra-Mali said, “I wonder why? Where could they have gone?”

Ka-Nawa said, “Who cares? As long as they’re gone. Hooman, can you take care of the guards at the door?”

I nodded. “You can call me Johnny. But yes. The guards are much more likely to shoot themselves than one of us. It’s just two of them.”

Ra-Mali grinned. “Just two? I was sure there were more. Are you sure there aren’t more nearby?”

I stood up. “I didn’t see any other than those two. If we work together, I could probably knock out the one on the left and you could subdue the one on the right. On my signal, we…”

Ka-Nawa and Ra-Mali nodded to each other and they both bolted to the building’s exit. Ka-Nawa jerked back the cloth covering the opening and they both rushed out. In a heartbeat, the necks of the guards were violently snapped; their bodies sliding lifeless to the ground.

Ka-Nawa and Ra-Mali quickly picked up the fallen rifles. They then removed the dead guards’ knives. Ra-Mali nodded in my direction and said, “Come, hooman!”

We sprinted across the dusty path and took cover in a few trees and bushes growing next to a few buildings. Despite his large size, I was impressed on how quickly Ra-Mali could run.

Ra-Mali looked around the corner of one of the buildings. “Clear!”

With Ra-Mali in the lead, we ran along the buildings towards the city center. The village was oddly silent as we progressed. Ka-Nawa raised her hand warning me to stop. Knives drawn, the two silently approached a couple of Nalgun guards who had their back to us. With more violence that was warranted, the guards’ throats were slit right down to the bone. Ka-Nawa nodded at me and motioned for me to follow.

*          *          *

From the shadow between two buildings, we crouched and watched the area around the community center. There were two ways into the central area and there were two guards posted at each entrance. The other Nalguns patrolled in pairs around the central compound. We counted a half dozen total.

Ra-Mali whispered, “This can’t possibly be all of them.”

I whispered back through my intercom, “I reconned several blocks around us. No one is here.”

Pointing towards the compound, Ra-Mali whispered, “There’s a blind spot between the two entrances. After one of the patrols pass, we can run to that space between the buildings and take them out as they pass by. The two guards on this side will be expecting a patrol, not us. After we kill the guards, we take out the next patrol.”

I frowned. “Can’t we just knock them out and tie them up? We might be able to get some information out of them.”

Ra-Mali growled, “The Nalguns killed twenty of my fellow hunters after they had laid down their weapons. I have no interest in showing them mercy.”

“I understand that…” I started. But Ra-Mali saw the small window to run to the blind spot and dashed towards it with Ka-Nawa close behind. I sighed and ran after them.

Ra-Mali and Ka-Nawa’s muscles were tensed up as they stood, their backs to a wall as they waited for the patrolling pair of Nalguns to walk by. When the patrol crossed past them, they both sprang into action, knives drawn. With a sickening grinding sound, their knives slit the Nalgun’s throats down to the bone. The bodies dropped lifeless to the ground.

Ka-Nawa hissed, “Now we kill the two guarding this side.”

Ra-Mali and Ka-Nawa then walked side-by-side at about the same pace as the patrol with me bringing up the rear. The two guards weren’t really paying much attention or they would have noticed that this wasn’t the same patrol. However, their eyes went wild when then spotted me, but it was too late. They both received a knife plunged into their throats silencing a yell.

I looked at the dead komali, not being able to tell the difference between them and what I assumed were the good komali. “This still leaves the two other guards and two more patrols. We should go back to our previous position so we can take care of the next patrol before they discover their dead comrades.”

Ra-Mali nodded. “Are you sure this was all?”

“All I saw,” I said with a shrug.

We had to wait a minute or two before the next patrol showed up. They were dispatched with the same cold efficiency as the others. Wiping their blades on the hair of the fallen soldiers, Ra-Mali said, “Now for the other two guards.”

“Halt!” shouted one of the guards as he started to point his rifle in our direction. Ka-Nawa grabbed the barrel of one of the rifles just as the guard discharged it sending a pellet past my head. While these air rifles don’t make a loud report when fired, they do make a distinctive sound.

“They’ve escaped with the hooman!” shouted one of the remaining patrol members. He turned to his companion and ordered, “Run! Tell Na-Baro! Go!” We’ll never know what else he was going to say, because the blade of Ka-Nawa’s knife clunked into his forehead and he collapsed with a look of shock on his face.

As they wrestled with the guards, Ra-Mali shouted, “That one is getting away!”

I deliberately raised my rifle and looked down the sights. The running komali was almost at the limit of the rifle’s range as I led the sights slightly in front of him. I squeezed the trigger twice rapidly and the fleeing Nalgun dropped onto the dusty path.

Ra-Mali looked around. “That’s all for now. Let’s free our people and find your father.”

Ka-Nawa opened the gates to the cheers of the citizens locked inside the compound. She shouted, “The Nalguns are gone for now.”

Ra-Mali said, “I’ll organize a defense.” He then started shouting to other males as they left the compound.

Ka-Nawa glanced over at me. “Come. Let’s find my father and Ka-Pawli.”

*          *          *

Ka-Pawli glanced over at me. “I heard the leader of the attackers shout that ‘the hooman has escaped!’ I’m guessing he meant you.”

Nodding inside my helmet, I said, “I’m sure. I guess they went looking for me? Seems odd they’d leave only a handful of guards.”

Ra-Nala, the king of this village shrugged. “I don’t think there was all that many. They captured us because they surprised us. They said something about the boat you arrived in is now useless to them.”

I grinned. “I took both keys. They can’t start the engines without both.”

Ka-Pawli pointed at me. “Marine. Let’s move your ship to a more secure location. Hopefully it contains some items we can salvage.”

I nodded. “Actually, a better idea would be to return to the main ship in orbit. I could re-supply this lander and bring down the remaining marines locked in the hold. We could also use the sub-space radio to call for reinforcements.”

Ra-Nala scowled. “That’s all we need! More hoomans!” He spat on the ground.

“I understand your feelings, king.” I raised both hands defensively. “But Earth is very interested in putting an embassy in your village. We even have a few volunteers to convert to komali to staff the embassy.”

“We have too few life-givers.” Ra-Nala continued to frown. “We can’t keep wasting them.”

I smiled and pointed up to the mountain top north of the village. “There’s a whole valley of those plants on the other side of the kolata mountains.”

Ra-Nala’s eyes widened. “No-one has ever been able to crest those mountains. It’s just too high. We can’t breathe.”

I smiled at the king. “We can fly there now.”

Ra-Nala gave me an odd look. “Fly?”

Ka-Pawli laughed. “Father, we can use the landing craft to fly over the mountain.” In English, she added, “Marine, let’s retrieve the life-givers, then you can resupply your ship.”

I said, “By the way, my name is John.”

Ka-Pawli looked at me with a neutral expression. “Nice to meet you, marine.”

*          *          *

As we walked briskly to where I had left the landing craft, Ka-Pawli said, “Sometime in the future, depending on how events go, I may be able to forgive you the offense of bringing the Nalguns to our village.”

I shrugged. “I had no choice. It was either do that or wind up dead. Or worse. Like you.”

Ka-Pawli scowled at me.

Ra-Nala looked over at me and grinned. “I could use a new daughter.” Ka-Nawa laughed.

I shook my head and decided to remain silent. After several minutes of walking we came up to the lander.

To Ka-Pawli I said, “Everyone come inside. After we pick up the life-givers so you can treat your wounded, I’ll return to orbit to resupply and refuel.”

As we started to walk up the entrance ramp, Ka-Pawli frowned. “Will you return? Hoomans can’t be trusted.”

“You can trust me,” I said as I stepped inside the lander. “I’m trying to help you. All we…” My voice trailed away as I rushed to the pilot seat. “Ah, shit!”

The XO I had knocked unconscious was gone. But that wasn’t all. The pilot seat had been ripped from the frame and the control console smashed beyond all repair. “Well, ain’t that the berries.” I pounded my fist on the broken console.

Ra-Nala slumped to the floor. “Now more of my people will die from their wounds.”

I looked over at the king and said, “I’ll walk.”

“That’s a long walk.” Ka-Pawli just stared at me.

Ka-Nawa said, “And we don’t know what dangers are on the other side of the kolata mountain ridge.”

I looked at the three komalis with a grimace. “Just guide me as far as you can go. I owe you.”

Ra-Nala stood up. “You will most likely die.”

I checked my suit’s life-support unit. “I’m going to die here soon anyway. I might was well make the attempt.”

Ka-Pawli nodded.

*          *          *

As I was loading up my bag with extra power and life-support modules, Ra-Mali made an off-handed comment that made us all face-palm.

He looked at me with a shrug. “Why walk? We can ride a kolima up there. It’s certainly faster than walking.”

I looked confused. “What is a kolima?”

Ka-Pawli laughed, “Beasts of burden. Transportation.”

“That’s good! Let’s get going.” I looked back and forth to everyone. “We don’t know how much time we have.”

Ra-Mali quickly rounded up three kolimas. He and Ka-Pawli would be my guides as close to the ridge as they could go. If need be, I’d traverse the ridge on foot and hurry to the nearest field of life-givers. Unless I miss-calculated, it should only take me an hour or so to get there.

The biggest problem was not knowing what I might encounter on the other side of the ridge. Because of the altitude, no komalis had been able to survive trying to cross the ridge. From orbit, it all appeared lush with plant-life. I couldn’t tell from our mapping if there were any of the monstrous predators the komali called koralths were around. I made sure I had plenty of ammunition for my rifle.

The three of us began riding our kolimas up the winding forest trail that climbs to the top of the ridge. The canopy of the forest blocked the bright copper sky, with just shafts of light highlighted by dust and insects reflecting the light. The plants and trees were just a wild riot of colors. It was amazingly beautiful. Even knowing your time to live was severely limited, the beauty of the landscape almost commanded you admire it.

I checked the charge on my life-support. It was good for about six more hours, but I’ll probably swap it out before crossing the ridge. We rode in silence for almost an hour.

Out of habit I checked my comm-link. Of course there wasn’t any other comms to connect to. Except for mine, the Nalguns had destroyed the other environment suits.

I grunted a laugh. “Too bad we can’t call for re-enforcements. The only comm-link that could reach the ship in orbit was in the drop ship and the Nalguns pretty much messed up the electronics after I took the keys. This suit only has tactical communications.”

Ra-Mali frowned. “The last thing we need are more hoomans.”

I shrugged. “Well, they wouldn’t get caught with their pants down like we were. Plus I could I would provide a sit-rep so they know who the good guys were. It’d take them a week or so to get here anyway at full deflection.”

Ka-Pawli looked wistful for a moment. “If you had a comm-link that could reach the ship, what would you do with it?”

I adjusted my sitting position on the kolima. The things were certainly not designed for human butts. “I’d be able to get it to relay a message to Earth. It wouldn’t be hard at all.”

Ka-Pawli said, “How much life-support do you have?”

I glanced curiously over at Ka-Pawli. “After getting all the units from the drop ship, two weeks. Maybe three. Why?”

Ka-Pawli leaned forward on her mount. “You’re helping us. I’d hate for you to die. If you could get a ship here in a week or so, you could be rescued. As long as everyone leaves this world, of course.”

I laughed. “Of course. It’s moot though because we have no way to communicate with the ship.”

Looking thoughtful, Ka-Pawli asked, “Are the power cells in your tactical suit the same as ones for the EVA suits we had on my expedition?”

“All the power cells are standardized,” I said. I looked over at Ra-Mali. He wasn’t paying attention to our conversation. He was scanning the jungle for threats. “But again, it’s all a moot point because we don’t have an EVA suit.”

Ka-Pawli grinned. I wish komali wouldn’t grin. It’s pretty frightful to see. “I have one. The power cells are long dead.”

“Y… you – you still have your EVA suit?” I sputtered.

Grinning, Ka-Pawli said, “Yes. It’s in a shed at my father’s house.

I flashed Ka-Pawli a smile. “Holy shit! If this toxic atmosphere hasn’t corroded it, I can swap the comm unit with mine and get a call in to home! We’ll get your life-givers first because of the critical need. But we need to come right back up here!”

Her expression became more stern. “Just remember. When they come to get you, you and the other hoomans must leave. If we get your other crew members who have been changed to komali, they can either stay or go.”

I nodded. “I’ll make sure they understand that. But first order of business are those plants.” I kicked the flanks of the kolima I was riding. Not being a horse, it made a sick bleating sound and promptly kicked me off of it.

*          *          *

“I see an animal path going between those jagged peaks up there.” I pointed at what looked like a trail winding through the crest of the mountain range. The kolima I was riding was breathing harder, but didn’t seem distressed. I felt confident that it would carry me over the crest.

Ra-Mali sat on his mount, gasping. Ka-Pawli stood next to her kolima, below us not far from the tree line. “This is where we must leave you, hooman. I can go no further. Gather as many of the plants as you can. I’m afraid we’re already too late to help many of my fallen hunters.”

“I’ll return as soon as I can. The mountain is less rocky on the other side of the crest.” I gave Ra-Mali a quick wave and began my trip over the top. I was surprised when I was told that the komalis had never been on the other side of this mountain range. But watching them gasp for air proved they couldn’t survive at this altitude. Still, there had to be a break in the mountains at some point. I guess the komalis just aren’t that big on exploring.

In about fifteen minutes I crested the mountains. I know I was in a hurry, but I just had to pause a moment. The view was spectacular. The rocky ridge of the mountains disappeared in the hazy distance in both directions. In the far distance on both sides of the mountain I could see what appeared to be large bodies of water. Or what passes for water on this planet. I could see forests and desserts. A huge, winding river flowed from the east towards that distant ocean.

The far side of the mountain was quite different. There was no rocky drop-off to a dessert floor below. Instead, there were smooth sloping hill sides dotted with a smaller and different types of trees and low bushes. No jungle on this side. What shocked me the most were, off in the distance were what had to be cultivated fields. That meant people. And it also meant danger. I’m sure whoever lives on this side has never seen a “hooman” before.

I took in one last look at the vista surrounding me and started down the far side of the mountain in what I hoped was the right direction. The mountain was less rocky and more gently sloped on this side, which made for much easier going. I tried to keep my kolima from running as it would be easy for it to trip and fall, plus I needed to keep a sharp eye out for any threats.

A half hour later, I was beginning to feel I was going the wrong way. I felt for sure I should have run into the field of life-givers by now. I felt relieved so far of only seeing small animal life, many of which were of the same variety around the komali village. I’d seen no signs of large predators; or worse – people.

Finally, I topped a hill and a valley opened below me. Lining the valley was the prize I sought. The whole valley seemed lined with the plants. As I got closer to the life-givers, I was shocked once more to realize these plants weren’t just growing here. They had been cultivated! This was a life-giver farm!

I glanced quickly around for signs of some kind of people about. I was relieved I didn’t see anything. No one around. No houses. But someone had definitely planted these life-givers here and it seemed to be maintained. I rode into the field a short way and then stopped my kolima and dismounted.

Carefully, I extracted the plants from the ground so not to damage them. I placed them on the back of the kolima. There were so many plants, it only took me ten minutes to gather about thirty of them and put them on the animal. It looked like that was about all I could carry. I then lashed them to the kolima.

I looked up at the sky. It was getting to be late afternoon. Barring incident, I should be able to get back to the other side of the mountain well before sundown. I’d lose my way for sure in the dark as I no longer had any GPS services from the ship.

As I mounted the kolima, I took a quick look around. Still no signs of whoever or whatever it was that created this farm. I pointed the kolima back up the mountain and retraced our path to the crest.

*          *          *

The late afternoon sun gave a golden tint to the landscape as I crested the mountain range carrying my treasure of life-givers. Hopefully Ra-Mali and Ka-Pawli would still be waiting for me where I last saw them. Even at the tree line, the temperature would be on the chilly side for komalis. I looked for them, but the terrain made it impossible.

The kolima seemed to have a harder time coming down on this side of the mountain that it did going up. It would slip and slide while making grunting sounds. After twenty minutes of careful descent, I finally saw the two komalis sitting on the ground, just inside a line of small bushes. I kept waving my arms until Ra-Mali spotted me and waved back. A few minutes later, I rode up to them and dismounted my kolima.

Ra-Mali gave me a frightful smile. “It’s about time, hooman. We were growing concerned.” He walked up and examined the life-givers I had collected. He ran his fingers along the broad, white and silver leaves. “I’ve never seen such excellent plants before. These leaves are the largest I’ve ever seen.”

Even though I couldn’t feel anything through my suit’s glove, I ran my hand along one of the leaves. “What’s even more surprising is that these plants were cultivated.”

Ra-Mali looked surprised. “Cultivated? Are you sure?”

I nodded. “It’s obviously a farm. No sign of the farmers though. But there’re lots more where these came from.”

With a grimace, Ra-Mali started to turn from me. “Well, that’s a mystery we’re going to have to solve another day. It’s going to be dark soon. We better be going.”

I nodded and re-mounted my kolima.

Ka-Pawli smiled as I rode up beside her and she looked at the plants lashed to my kolima. “Good job, marine. At first light in the morning, we’ll swap out your comm-link with mine. We’ll come back up here with you so you can call back to Earth for help. Just don’t forget the conditions.”

I sighed. “Yes ma’am. Nobody stays. But you know Earth isn’t going to stay away from here.”

Ka-Pawli frowned. “I’m afraid you’re right. We’ll worry about that later. Let’s get back to the village.”

In single file, Ka-Pawli in the lead with Ra-Mali bringing up the rear we began the long trip back to the village.

We rode our kolimas in silence for a long time. That was fine with me. Even after getting these plants and besides the fact that she was once human herself, Ka-Pawli couldn’t hide her disdain for those of us from Earth. And in a way, I couldn’t blame her.

As it grew darker, the jungle seemed to grow even more alive. The forest plants were beautiful at night. Small animals came out in abundance. Sound of animals and insects were everywhere.

I looked behind me, and Ra-Mali sat stiffly up-right, his crossbow at the ready as he stare intently in the darkness. Occasionally, he and Ka-Pawli would converse quietly in their language, leaving me out completely. I couldn’t help but think they were talking about me. Especially when they laughed.

After another period of silence, Ra-Mali said, “We’re not far from the village now. I hope your sisters have saved something for us…”

I didn’t hear what else he said as I was hit violently enough to knock me from the kolima. I grunted from the impact and then had the breath knocked out of me when I hit the ground. I started to sit up when I saw I was staring into a large, gaping maw of razor sharp teeth and glowing eyes. It snarled and brutally tore into my environment suit on my leg.

The pain of those sharp teeth ripping into my flesh was unbearable. The beast whipped its head back and forth trying to rip my leg from my body. Fortunately, the suit was making that difficult for it. I screamed in agony as the animal was not only trying to saw its teeth into me, but the toxic atmosphere of the planet was starting to burn my lungs and eyes through the breach in the suit.

The beast suddenly howled in a horrendous screech as a crossbow bolt entered its brain through an eye socket. It fell limp to the ground on top of my legs. I couldn’t see from my face plate being splattered with both my and the animal’s blood as well as my eyes beginning to burn.

“Koralth!” spat Ra-Mali as he jumped from his mount. Ka-Pawli spun around on her kolima and cried out.

Jumping from her animal, Ka-Pawli shouted, “Quick! Get a rope. We need to tie his leg tightly where it’s torn to stop the bleeding and try to seal the suit. Hurry!”

Ra-Mali didn’t flinch at a female ordering him to action. Instead, he ran to his kolima and cut a section of rope from the supply he’d brought. He ran back to me and under Ka-Pawli’s direction, wrapped the rope around my leg above where it was torn and tied it a bit too tight. But I was in too much agony to really notice. With the tear at least somewhat sealed, the suit’s filtration system was removing the planet’s atmosphere from inside the suit. My lungs still felt as though on fire and I could no longer see.

Ka-Pawli screamed at me, “I’m not going to let you die, marine!” To Ra-Mali she said, “Help me get him on the kolima. We must push the kolimas to their fastest speed.”

As Ra-Mali lifted me, he said, “That’s dangerous. It’s too dark.”

“He’ll be dead soon if we don’t,” snarled Ka-Pawli.

Very weakly, I said in a faint, raspy voice, “Just let me die.” I then passed out.

*          *          *

Darkness was all around me with brief random flashes of light. I had the oddest feeling of floating. I felt nothing beyond the sense of floating. I slid into the deepest, blackest darkness I could possibly imagine. I didn’t think you could feel death, but here it was. The silence around me complete. I felt I no longer existed. At least I wasn’t in that horrible pain anymore.

Then almost imperceptible at first I felt a faint tingling. The tingling grew until I was enveloped in it. I could hear faint sounds around me. If I was dead, how could I hear anything? How could I ask that question?

I suddenly sat up, violently sucking in a breath. I couldn’t open my eyes and I lay back down and tried to stop gasping. I just lay there, eyes closed and tried to relax. What the hell is going on?

I managed to slowly open my eyes. Around me I saw the white leaves of a plant turning brown and shriveling. Above me I saw a black sky with trees lit with a flickering light from a fire. There were also several komali females standing over me. I felt an odd sensation on my forehead as a female that was bending over me seemed to disconnect from me and stood up.

Ka-Pawli’s voice said, “Her education is complete, father.”

An older male komali looked down at me and laughed. “I seem to be blessed with a never ending supply of daughters.”

My eyes cleared more and I found I could sit up. Long strands of coarse brown hair fell across my face. I looked down and saw my hand.

“Holy shit!” I cried.

Ra-Mali was standing behind Ka-Pawli. He looked from me to her. “Hoomans say that a lot, my woman. You’ve never told me what it means.”

I looked up at Ka-Pawli and cried, “You did it, didn’t you! You made me a komali! I told you to let me die!”

Ka-Pawli shrugged. “I guess I didn’t hear you.”

The older male said, “Stand, my child.”

Ka-Nawa grinned at me. “You better do what Father says.”

I got unsteadily to my feet. I looked around. I looked at the older male and said, “Daughter?”

The male smiled at me. “I am Ra-Nala. You are my newest daughter. I will name you Ka-Kali.”

“Ra-Nala?” I looked at the male komali. “You’re the king of this village.” I just felt numb and confused. I had met him earlier, but I just now started to recognize him.

A young male stepped close and looked at me with a grin. “This daughter is the most beautiful yet. I should have waited before mating.” Ra-Pala grunted when Ka-Shiwa punched him in the ribs.

I just stood there, numb as reality sunk in. I’m a young, komali female. This is terrible! I was going to go back home. I looked at all the komali faces staring at me. I really didn’t care for the way Ra-Mali and Ra-Pala stared at me. I had met the whole clan after freeing them.

I looked down at my new alien form. “Wh… what do I do now?”

Ra-Nala laughed. “You should learn to cook.”

*          *          *

“You’re welcome,” said Ka-Pawli when we were finally alone in her… I mean our, father’s compound. We were sitting on a couple of rocks next to the dying fire used to cook the evening meal.

Still not used to my new body, I waved my arms in the air. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful for you wanting to save my life, but I expressly did not want to become komali. Nothing against you. I wanted to stay hooman. If possible I wanted to return to Earth.” There was just something about the hu sound that was just impossible for kolmali to say.

“I couldn’t let you die!” exclaimed Ka-Pawli. “Not after you alone brought the means to save over twenty of our fallen hunters. Some of those very hunters are asking if they can mate with you.”

Pointing at Ka-Pawli I grunted a laugh. “Now you see? That kind of shit is a definite no.”

Ka-Pawli laughed. “Ka-Shiwa and I both said that. Now look at us. Mated to the two best looking and greatest hunters in the village and we’re both mommies.”

I violently shook my head. “No. I can’t handle the idea of mating with a male. When we were captured by the Nalguns, I watched marines, strong, brave men who would march into hell, turned into nothing more than whores raped and abused by males. I swore I’d die before that would happen to me.” I pointed at my face. “And now look at me.”

Ka-Pawli suddenly scowled. “You are not a whore, my sister. You are a young, desirable and attractive komali female. You will not be forced to mate with anyone. I feel deeply sorry for your former brothers in arms. They are lost to you and us as well. They’re forever what the Nalguns made them. But you! You, Ka-Kali are not like them. Believe me. I understand how you feel. But you will adjust. You will become a proud daughter of Ra-Nala just like Ka-Shiwa and I have.”

I held my face in my hands. “I have lost all that I ever was. My male heritage. Being a marine and my hoomanity. Everything I’ve valued.”

Ka-Pawli grinned and shook her head. “Don’t be so melodramatic. You’ll become a valued member of our society. Father will insist.”

“I don’t know. It seems to me that…” I started to say while looking at the remains of the fire.

Interrupting me, Ka-Pawli stood up, looking towards the cone-shaped house of our father. “Something’s going on. Let’s go see.” Without waiting for me, she trotted off towards the small group of people gathering in front of the house.

“… I’m afraid it does not bode well for us, Ra-Nala.” A male older than our father, if you could imagine such a thing, frail and slightly bent over was addressing the small group. He glanced over at Ka-Pawli and myself and continued. “Using distant observations and listening to the whispers of the jungle, it seems the soldiers who used to be your new daughter’s companions are training the Nalguns in weapons and combat tactics. My king, it’s obvious they are planning an attack!”

Frowning, Ka-Pawli said, “I guess not all were made into whores.”

I gasped. “That’s crazy! Whoever told you this is wrong. Those marines would never help the other side.”

Ra-Mali grunted. “Don’t be such a stupid female! Remember. They’re no longer hooman. I’m sure they’ve been ordered to train. They have no idea which side they’re on.”

Looking more serious as well as older, Ra-Nala looked at the person who had brought the report. “How many hooman weapons do they have? Hunters with crossbows? And how long do you think before they attack us?”

The old little komali took a deep breath. “They have at least three dozen of the hooman rifles. We’re not sure how much of the ammunition for them they have. They have at least two hundred or more hunters. More than we have, my king. One of the observers listening to the jungle believes they’ll attack us in two, maybe three weeks. They plan to not only destroy us, but the other kingdoms as well.”

Ra-Mali grimaced. “We have only six of the hooman weapons. And fifty hunters of any skill. They caught us by surprise this last time. Now they’re bringing overwhelming force.”

Setting his jaw, Ra-Nala said, “Send runners to the other kingdoms. Ask them if they can spare any hunters to help us. After all, if we fall, they will be next. Ra-Mali, have Ka-Kali train you on her weapon and then train our best hunters with it.”

I said, “I’ll check the drop ship to see if there’s any additional ammunition still stored on it.” Ra-Nala nodded to me.

I pulled Ka-Pawli aside. “Show me where your EVA suit is. I need to get the comm-link from it.”

Ka-Pawli looked at me curiously. “What are you going to do? You can’t be rescued now.”

I smiled without humor. “I’m calling in the cavalry.”

“Would your marines actually help us? Hoomans haven’t exactly been all that helpful so far.” Ka-Pawli sounded skeptical.

“They’ll come for fellow marines,” I said. “Don’t forget, there are marines left in orbit that I don’t know if they’re alive or dead. They’ll want to secure the weapons that have gotten loose on this planet. Komalis really aren’t supposed to have those rifles. The Board of Governors has a lot invested here. We’re the first alien race that Earth has contacted.”

Ka-Pawli smiled at me. “You said ‘we’. You’re a komali now.”

I pointed at myself. “Well, I’m not exactly hooman anymore.”

*          *          *

I gasped for air a few times. I looked around at my companions. Ka-Pawli and Ra-Mali came along to protect me as we trekked back up the mountain near the crest. A couple of other hunters came along too. But they couldn’t speak English.

I exclaimed, “I have a signal!” The comm-link from Ka-Pawli’s EVA suit should have been able to reach the orbiting ship from the village. But atmospherics were playing hell with the already weak signals. I tried several frequencies, but only one seemed to cut through the RFI that plagued this planet’s atmosphere.

After making contact with the ship’s system, in English I said as best I could, “This is Lieutenant John Startz calling anyone on board the Kansas Star. Do you copy? Is anyone there?” I paused. All I got was just more crackle over the link. I tried several times, but got no response.

I looked over at Ka-Pawli. “Well, this isn’t good. No one is answering. They’ve been up there a while. What marines were left, we locked up. They might have all starved by now.”

Ka-Pawli frowned. “I hope not. There could be many reasons you’re not getting a response. Do you need someone on that end to link you to the main transmitter so you can call Earth?”

I shook my head. “No. I can do that from this device. It’s just so damned frustrating not knowing the situation on the ship. Let’s see if I can contact Earth.” I started pressing some keys on the comm-link. There was long silence from the device. “Come on. Come on…okay. We’re in.”

Sounding like she was at the bottom of a barrel, a woman’s voice said, “Deep-space Marine Relay, Saturn base.”

Excited, I started growling in komali. I shook my head and in English said, “Saturn Base. This is Lieutenant John Startz attached to the Kansas Star. Please acknowledge.”

The woman said, “We read you, Kansas Star. This is an emergency frequency. Do you have an emergency?”

I’d fucking say so. “My unit is down. Facing imminent threat by hostile forces. I need backup ASAP.”

Sounding concerned, the woman said, “We can’t validate your identity by voice. There’s no match to your voice print.”

Sighing, I said, “I’ve been changed into a komali female.”

The voice went away for a moment. “Adjusting the scan. Identity ninety-eight percent confirmed.”

There was a long pause of silence. The ship had lost connection to the Saturn Marine base. I shouted, “Shit!”

Suddenly, there was a moment of static and crackle. Sounding far away, which I guess she was, the woman asked, “Estimated size of threat?”

“We’re unsure of the exact numbers. We estimate around two to three hundred komali armed with Marine rifles and native weapons.” I was breathing hard in the rarified air near the top of the ridge.


There was a long pause and I was thinking we may have lost the connection again. There was a crackle and a man’s voice said, “Lieutenant. This is General Turgidson. I need a sit-rep.”

I said, “Yes sir!” I then apprised the general briefly on the events from obtaining orbit until now.

The general said after I’d finished, “I don’t envy your situation, Lieutenant. I’m dispatching an assault team to your location to assist you. I’m sending a squad to the Kansas Star to assess the situation there. It sounds like you have a good defensive position on the mountain side. I don’t need to tell you your job, Lieutenant. You’re a Marine. You need to hold your position for at least a week and a half.”

“Even though our numbers are smaller, they are all excellent soldiers, general,” I said with more confidence that I felt. “We’ll hold.”

“Godspeed, lieutenant.” The connection terminated.

I took a deep breath and sighed as I looked at the silent comm-link. “Semper fi,” I sighed.

*          *          *

“You’re still not holding it correctly,” I said to the young komali hunter I was trying to train. “I know it’s made for hoomans, but you still have to hold it right so you can aim down the sights. Getting your finger on the trigger is a bit tight for komali fingers, but you can do it.”

The young male scowled. “Why should I even listen to a female about fighting and hunting? Especially a female younger than me! It’s insulting!”

Ra-Mali was a few feet away training another hunter on how to use the Marine rifle. “Ra-Feli, listen to that female. Her knowledge of that weapon is superior even to my own.”

The young male named Ra-Feli laughed. “Your mate has made you soft, Ra-Mali. Everyone knows you let her boss you around.”

Before I could even react, Ra-Mali stepped over to us and slapped Ra-Feli so hard he fell to the ground. In a fierce voice, he shouted, “Do not disrespect our king’s daughters. This female is showing you how to properly handle this weapon so you might actually live long enough to mate and so you don’t shoot one of us instead of a Nalgun! Now get up and let her finish your training.” He spun around and went back to the hunter he was training who was just standing there with a shocked expression.

Ra-Feli slowly stood up, rubbing the side of his face which was a mask of humiliation. “I think I’m done here.” He started to turn away.

Knowing I have pretty much zero authority in this world as a female, I shouted, “Come back here! You’re not done. The village is depending on you. Are you a coward?”

Ra-Feli spun around at the word “coward”. His eyes blazing, he took a step towards me and hissed, “I am no coward! I will put my courage against Ra-Mali’s any day!”

“Then prove it!” I threw the rifle at him.

Scowling at me, Ra-Feli quickly went through the checklist on making sure the weapon was ready, unloading and loading and properly sighting down the weapon. We didn’t let the trainees fire the weapon as we were very short on ammunition.

After making the weapon safe, he tossed it back to me. “Satisfied now, female?”

Amazed that he was actually paying attention, I said, “Yes. That was very good. And I do have a name.”

Ra-Feli laughed without humor. “Female is a good enough name for you.” He turned and jogged over to a group of other young males.

Ra-Mali walked over to me. “Don’t let him bother you, Ka-Kali. All young males are foolishly proud and self-centered. He’ll outgrow it.”

“I’m just surprised at how low in your society females are.” I looked at Ra-Mali with a frown.

Ra-Mali grinned at me. “It’s partly because you’re female. That’s just how our society is. And you’re part of that society now too. But it’s mostly your youth. And no one knows you yet. My mate and your other sisters have the respect of the people of our village.”

I shook my head. “The mated ones yes. I’ve talked to my un-mated sisters and they’re treated a lot like I was just now. No one takes them seriously.”

Ra-Mali’s grin spread. “If it’s a mate you want, I’ll be happy to introduce you to…”

Waving my arms, I interrupted him. “No, no! That’s not what I meant. I really don’t want to mate anyone.”

Ra-Mali chuckled. “Ka-Pawli said the same thing.”

*          *          *

I stood at the edge of our perimeter wall, which mostly consisted of bags of kolima shit about fifty yards from the village. With me were high ranking hunters like Ra-Mali, the king, Ka-Pawli, the high priest and a few others we decided were good leaders. I was going over our defense plans. I pointed at the bags. “This is our first line of defense. It’s really too long and hard to defend. I wish this jungle wasn’t here so we could just shoot the Nalgun as they come up the mountain.

“Remember to shoot the kolimas first if possible. I know. I know. They’re just animals. But a mounted Nalgun is a far greater threat than a Nalgun on foot.” I started walking towards the city itself.

Pointing, I said, “Now, if the outer wall is breached, we fall back to this wall just around the village. From here, we should be able to quickly move defenders to either flank as needed. Some of us can take defensive positions in these outer buildings. We’ll also have people in the trees all around the city.”

We then walked through the village itself. We had set up various traps in the streets and between buildings as well as inside them. Hopefully, having to check each building will slow the Nalgun down.

We finally reached the city center with the large, cone shaped church that served as the village’s social center. I pointed at the church. “And this is the Alamo. Our last line of defense. If this is breached, it’s all over. As you can see, we’ve constructed a wall with three tiers. We can concentrate a lot of fire from those tiers. Anyway, that’s the plan.”

One of the village elders turned to Ra-Nala. “Are we to follow this female? She’s just barely old enough to mate.”

Ra-Nala said, “Ka-Kali may be my youngest daughter, but don’t discount her. Until recently she was a hooman warrior. And remember, there is no more vicious fighter than a threatened female.”

Looking very serious, Ra-Mali said, “Our observers have indicated that the Nalgun have increased their numbers to over a thousand. Let that sink in. All the desert dwellers hate us. Building from the neighboring kingdoms, our forces are still half that. The Nalgun are well trained and determined.”

“Well, we at least know they’re coming and what we’re up against. I’m sure they’re watching us as well,” I said looking up at the tall building. “We need to watch our flanks. We can’t assume they’ll come straight up the middle. It’ll help that we cleared the jungle for about fifty yards around the village perimeter.”

Ra-Mali nodded. “We’re setting traps and warnings along both our flanks. The other kingdoms are setting up their own defenses in case they’re attacked instead. That’s why they’re not sending us much help.”

Ka-Pawli looked at me with a worried expression. “Any more word about when help from Earth might arrive?”

I shook my head. “Not since that very brief communication that verified a ship had been dispatched. I’ve been up the mountain twice in the past several days and the interference is too much for any communications to happen. And you can’t communicate with a ship while it’s outside normal space.”

Ra-Nala looked around at all of us standing before the community building. “So now we wait.”

*          *          *

I awoke with a start with a hand nudging my shoulder. I looked up in the early morning light to see Ra-Mali. “You let me sleep.”

Ra-Mali nodded. “You looked like you needed it.”

Already alert, I sat up from my blankets. “What’s up?”

Sitting on her blankets next to me, Ka-Pawli said, “The forest whispers indicate a large number of people moving up the mountain towards us. Straight up the middle.”

Nodding, I said, “They need better tacticians.” I stood up in the cool, morning air. “How does it look?”

“Everything is ready,” said Ra-Mali. “Most of the men are along the first perimeter wall. There are some stationed on our flanks and behind the village. We’re keeping the rifles mostly in reserve since ammunition is scarce.”

Ka-Shiwa said from behind us, “Most of the females not involved with support have taken the children to the most distant kingdom.”

The young females of the village were just as ready to fight to defend their village. Some were stationed along the wall with crossbows. Others would bring water, arrows and rifle bullets to whoever needed them. And if possible, they’ll bring the injured back to a triage area in the village center.

I had made another trek over the ridge to retrieve more of the life-giver plant. I still didn’t see anyone about, but this time I had to cut through a fence to get to the field.

From the direction of the perimeter wall, rose a shout of many voices.

I looked at the people around me. “It’s started. I didn’t sign up for this shit.”

Ka-Pawli gave me a confused look. “You’re the only one of us who did sign up for this shit.”

With a sheepish expression, I said, “Well, not this particular shit. Let’s go kick some Nalgun butt.”

We trotted out from our father’s home and headed towards the fighting. Even though I’m sure they had spied on us, it seems the Nalguns weren’t expecting such a defense. Their initial attack was less than two hundred hunters. Many of them were easy targets as they came charging up the hill.

As we approached, I saw two of our defenders fall, but I couldn’t tell from where they were being shot at. I looked up at the forest and saw a few Nalgun hunters up in the trees. I unslung my rifle and quickly shot two Nalguns from their perches.

I shouted, “Watch out for snipers in the trees!”

Except for the shouting, it was an oddly quiet battle. The crossbows just made zinging sounds. The Marine rifle didn’t have much report. As the Nalguns hadn’t breached the wall, there was no hand-to-hand fighting.

A few shrill whistles emanated from the Nalgun side and then they quickly withdrew.

Ka-Shiwa said, “Is that it? Is it over? Did we win already?”

I shook my head. “Don’t count on it.”

We walked up to the wall and looked out at the clearing in front of it. There were around fifty dead and dying Nalguns. A dozen or so females were carrying or helping our hunters back to the triage area.

Pointing at the fallen Nalguns, I said, “Should we retrieve their wounded?”

Ra-Nala shook his head. “No. They made their choices. Someone go retrieve their weapons. Especially any rifles.”

Ra-Mali looked grim. “I doubt they withdrew very far. They are most likely regrouping.”

We only had to wait for fifteen minutes until they attacked again. And this time they weren’t kidding.

They came up the middle and attacked both flanks with an overwhelming force boiling up the hillside. Arrows were flying thick into their mass. Marine rifles chattering up and down the line.

We weren’t losing many defenders, but when the Nalguns were finally able to cross the clearing, they started breaching the wall. The females backing up the hunters pulled their knives and laid into those who managed to get through.

I kept trying to get close to the wall to get clearer shots. Ra-Mali kept dragging me back.

It finally became obvious the wall wasn’t going to hold. I shouted, “Fall back to second defense! Now!” I heard my command repeated down the line. We had defenders on the building rooftops covering our strategic retreat. Once again, the Nalgun were caught in the open and they were being cut to ribbons. After twenty minutes of ferocious fighting, the whistles sound again and the Nalguns quickly withdrew.

For the most part, our defenses had held, but with a cost for this attack. Even Ka-Shiwa had been stuck with a knife. It didn’t kill her, but it took her out of the fight for now. Ra-Mali ordered the dead and wounded Nalguns to be dumped on the other side of the perimeter wall. I was still taken aback by the rather callous treatment of fallen enemies. I reminded myself that this wasn’t Earth with its conventions and rules of war.

Ka-Pawli surveyed the carnage. “We hurt them. But now they know what they’re up against. I doubt they’d be stupid enough for another frontal charge. We need to rebuild the wall, but keep most of our defenders inside the second defense perimeter. We can defend three hundred sixty degrees from there if need be.”

“We should have someone check the dead Nalguns for ammunition,” I said to no one in particular. “We’re getting dangerously low…”

With loud thunk sounds, two crossbow bolts embedded themselves into the wall we were standing next to. Nalguns were pouring over perimeter wall at our flanks on both sides.

“Take cover!” shouted Ra-Mali. He picked up both me and Ka-Pawli under his arms and raced back behind the second perimeter wall. Arrows going both directions filled the air along with the chatter of Marine rifles.

I watched in horror as Nalguns swarmed across the clearing between the outer wall and the inner. How could there be so many? They were fanatical in their attack; so strong was their hatred. The arrival of the Marines and their subjugation must have emboldened them into thinking this was the time take revenge from whatever wrong they felt had been dealt to them.

I looked down the line of our defenses and shocked to see so many of our young hunters standing up on objects to shoot over the wall, dangerously exposing themselves. The nearest one to me was Ra-Feli, the young hunter I was training a few days before the attack.

I pulled him from the box he was standing on and shouted, “Are you trying to get yourself killed? You’re making yourself a perfect target!” Arrows were loudly slapping into the trees near us.

Ra-Feli angrily pulled himself away from me. “I’m a hunter! I don’t hide like a female!”

“You’re going to be a dead hunter if you don’t stay behind cover,” I hissed at him. I then ran past him to yell at the others exposing themselves to keep to cover.

The ferocity of their attack was overwhelming. Instead of stopping them from crossing the clearing between the walls, our defenders were almost fighting hand-to-hand as the Nalguns started to come over the walls.

Ra-Mali snarled, “This is bad. The wall is being breached everywhere.”

Ka-Pawli shouted, “Fall back to the inner defense line! Fall back now!”

The hunters along the walls broke ranks and turned to run instead of doing an orderly retreat. Many were being cut down by crossbow and Marine rifle fire. Hunters on roof tops tried to protect the retreat, but there were just too many coming over the walls.

Behind me came a shout, “Watch out!”

I turned in time to see Ra-Feli tackle a Nalgun aiming his crossbow at me. The bolt flew wild and struck the building next to me. As he was regaining his feet, I fired a few shots at several Nalguns running up behind him. He took his first step towards the final defense line when an arrow struck him in the back with the head of the shaft pushing through his chest.

I yelled out and fired a few more shots. I ran up to where Ra-Feli had fallen. I picked him up and put him across my shoulders. I was being covered by his blood as I raced across the open space to the final line of defense. Two hunters took Ra-Feli from me and then helped me over the wall.

Two females ran up to where Ra-Feli lay. “He’s still breathing. He needs a life-giver immediately!” The two nodded and lifted him and carried him away.

I looked over the wall. The Nalguns had not continued their pursuit. Stretched out before me was a grisly scene of tangled and bloody bodies. The only ones left standing in the second perimeter were those hunters that were now stuck on roof tops. They were hunkered down, trying not make themselves targets. I’m sure the bolted doors of the buildings wouldn’t hold the Nalguns back for long.

An eerie cover of silence fell over the village. The Nalguns stopped their advance. Ra-Mali led Ka-Pawli and the king up to the roof of the community building. From that vantage point, we could see almost the whole village. There were hundreds of Nalguns throughout the village, standing. Waiting.

I turned to Ra-Mali. “Our defensive line is pretty dense at this point. I think it’d be really hard for them to breach. It’s game over if they break through.”

Ra-Mali pointed. “Someone approaches. He’s unarmed.”

The lone Nalgun walked up to the wall. His swagger showed their confidence of victory. He stood there for a moment in silence, just looking at our defenders.

“I bring greetings from the great and mighty king of the combined Nalgun kingdoms.” He didn’t shout, but spoke in an even, though raised voice. “Your courageous hunters have fought well. The king salutes you. But, as it’s obvious you cannot win against our superior force, the king graciously offers to allow you to lay down your weapons and surrender peacefully to us. No one else needs to die today.”

Ra-Mali growled. “If we surrender, they will make us slaves, just like they did with your fellow Marines. I’d rather die.” Ra-Nala nodded.

I walked up to the edge of the low wall surrounding the roof top of the community building and looked down at the Nalgun offering surrender. I’m not entirely sure why, but I shouted, “Tell him nuts!”

The lone Nalgun just stood there for a moment, looking confused. Ra-Mali gave me a confused look as well. The Nalgun turned and trotted back behind his lines.

Ra-Nala asked, “What does that mean?”

I shrugged. “That we won’t surrender.”

Moments later a roar of yells rose from Nalguns and they charged our final line of defense. Now that our defenses were more densely packed, the first wave of attack didn’t even make it half-way to us.

I looked at the bodies lying before our wall. We’ve managed to kill or wound hundreds of them. Their numbers have to be shrinking. The last runner to come in from the outside before we retreated to “the Alamo” said that our neighboring village is under attack as well.

After a brief withdrawal, the Nalguns charged again from all directions. A half dozen or so managed to breach our rear defense, but again we managed to hold off the attack.

Ra-Mali had disappeared from the roof top during this last attack. He returned when the fighting had stopped again. To no one in particular he said, “The men grow tired. The ammunition for the rifles is down to what is left in the currently loaded magazines. We’re almost out of crossbow shafts. We can no longer retrieve the weapons of the fallen Nalguns. One more attack and that’s it.”

Ka-Pawli pointed towards the Nalguns. “They’re massing for the final attack. They smell blood. There are hundreds more. This must be every Nalgun village joining the war against us. Look at them! They’re taunting us.”

Ra-Mali looked grimly at me. “You called this last defense ‘The Alamo’. I assume that’s a military reference. What happened there?”

I looked out over the wall of the tower we were standing on. “Everybody died.”

A yell slowly rose from the Nalguns as they waved their weapons in the air. They didn’t rush to attack us. They were savoring their imminent victory. Unbelievably, their ranks began to swell before our eyes. There was no way we were going to survive.

When the yell reached a fevered pitch, the Nalguns broke into a charge towards us.

Quietly, Ka-Pawli said, “Good bye father.”

The Nalguns made it almost half way before the attackers and the ground beneath them began to be ripped apart. I looked to either side of the tower to see two Marine hovercraft unleashing a hell of forty millimeter rounds into the charging Nalguns, spent shell casings raining from beneath their twin cannons.

I looked down to see Marines charging out from the forest on our rear flank. Ra-Mali shouted, “Hoomans!” The Nalgun attack was now in a complete route.

“Marines!” I shouted as I turned to run down to the base of the tower. As I climbed over the wall, I spotted what had to be an officer. He was barking orders into his comm-link.

He turned in surprise at my approach. “Thank God you got here! We were about to be over-run.” I wanted to hug him.

He smiled through his face-plate. “Captain Johnson of the one hundred and first Marines at your service…um, sir? ma’am?”

I tried not to grin as it’s always frightful to humans. “I’m Lieutenant Startz, Marine detachment to the native garrison of this village. Thank you for helping us, sir.” He gave me a curious look. “As you can see, I had to go native.”

The Captain gave me a grim smile. “Sorry to hear that lieutenant. I’m sorry we didn’t get here sooner.”

The Marines chased the Nalguns for a short distance down the mountain before returning to secure a perimeter around the village. Other Marines were assisting our neighboring village.

Parts of the inner wall were being opened so the people of the village could search for wounded and any other survivors. Any wounded Nalguns they viciously attacked.

The Marine captain and I started to walk back towards the community center. “Who is in charge here? Is it you?”

I shook my head. “You must meet our king. And there are two others from Earth who share my fate.”

On our way to the central building we passed the make-shift triage area. I saw Ra-Feli lying on the ground, the arrow still through his body just barely breathing. I rushed up to him. I knelt next to him and held his hand. He’d saved my life and now here he was, his own life slipping away from him.

I looked angrily at the females attending the wounded. “Why hasn’t this male been given a life-giver? He’s near death!”

Looking sad, one of the females said, “I’m sorry. But we ran out early. We’ve over-taxed the plants and they’re dying. There are no more life-givers.”

I stood up and turned to Captain Johnson. “Can you have your hovercraft fly over that ridge behind us? There is a field of these plants with large, white leaves. To the komali they are called life-givers and they have great healing powers. This male and the others here need them desperately.”

Captain Johnson nodded and gave the order through his comm-link.

During this time, my father and the others had come down from the tower and approached us. Ra-Mali grinned when he saw me kneeling next to Ra-Feli. I stood up when they arrived next to us and quickly introduced the captain to the king and the others.

Captain Johnson shook everyone’s hand. “Pleased to meet you all. Ka-Pawli? You’re famous back on Earth.”

Ka-Pawli blinked a few times. “You can’t be serious.”

The captain shook his head. “There’s even an animated children’s program about you.” Captain Johnson paused a moment as he was apparently listening to some incoming message. He looked back at us. “The ones you call Nalguns are in full retreat back to their desert villages.”

Ra-Mali was looking pissed. In the komali language he said, “It is a huge dishonor to be rescued by hoomans! I was prepared to die in battle!”

Rolling her eyes, Ka-Pawli said, “Yes. It’s awful that now you get to see your children grow up and give you grandkids.”

Ra-Mali frowned. He turned to see the hovercraft returning with a load of life-givers. He turned to me. “Looks like your mate is going to live, Ka-Kali.”

“He’s not my mate!” I almost shouted. “That arrogant, insolent male is not my mate! He saved my life and I don’t want to see him die because of me. And, I’m not mating anyone! Period!”

Ra-Mali, Ka-Pawli and Ka-Shiwa all laughed.

The king had learned a little English from Ka-Pawli. He turned to Captian Johnson. “What happens to the Nalguns. Are you going to exterminate them?”

Captain Johnson took a deep breath. “As much as I would like to after seeing what they did to the Marines aboard the Kansas Star, but we have orders to secure your village only. Your Highness, Earth would like to establish an embassy here and leave a small security force after we’re done. We have volunteers on Earth willing to be transformed into komali and live here as Earth’s ambassadors.”

Ra-Nala looked thoughtful. “I’ll have to confer with my daughters.”

Captain Johnson nodded. “Take your time, sir. We’re going to be here for the next few weeks.”

I walked over to the life-giver that was healing Ra-Feli. I looked over at my friends and Ra-Mali was grinning at me.

*          *          *

It had been six weeks since most of the Marines had left, leaving only a small detachment for our security, although it was doubtful the Nalguns would ever attack us again.

Using the Marine hovercraft, we finally met our kolmali counterparts living on the other side of the ridge and managed to work out a trade agreement with them. The Marines said they’d send for earth moving equipment to open a lower altitude passage through the ridge. It would be a few klicks away, but better than nothing.

“Oh, those are nice ones!” said Ka-Shiwa with a grin. I was in the jungle with her digging for konokka berries. With the Marines monitoring the area, we felt safe from any dangerous animals that used to make this a risky endeavor.

“Thanks!” I continued to dig under a huge tree. “Looks like we hit the mother load.”

“Hey sisters!”

I looked up to see Ka-Pawli approaching us. We both greeted her as she walked up to us. She knelt beside us and ran her fingers through the soft dirt we’d dug up.

“Ka-Kali, father thinks you really should take a mate now,” Ka-Pawli said casually. “You’re old enough.”

Still trying to free up a berry, I grunted, “I told you. I’m not mating anyone.”

Looking nonchalant, Ka-Pawli said, “Father insists.”

I sat up and brushed the dirt from my hands and frowned at my sister. “What does he care? He has plenty of other daughters to mate to someone.”

Ka-Pawli grinned. “One of the elder women touched you briefly this morning.”

Narrowing my eyes at her, I asked, “So?”

Ka-Pawli laughed. “You’re pregnant Ka-Kali!”

*          *          *

The End

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