About a third of the way done. Hot off the computer screen, but at least I read it this time (for all the good that does). Comments and recommendations appreciated as always!
Fargo slumped in the seat of the shuttle as Evie smiled down from the cockpit. “Welcome aboard, Captain. Ready to go home?” The aft ramp clanked closed as everyone found seats.
He looked up at her. “Guess we might as well. Looks like we need to drop off a few folks first.”
Her head disappeared and she said over the PA, “Everybody strapped in? And away we go!” The shuttle lifted off smoothly, climbing quickly out of the local airspace and into a high parabola as it went supersonic in the thinner atmosphere.
He turned to Nicole as he reached for her hand. “Thank you for everything you were able to do.”
“You’re welcome. We love you and wanted you back.” “Are you going to pick up Ton’Skel?”
“Yes, I need to get him sequestered again before…well, anything goes wrong.”
She squeezed his hand in return. “I don’t think we’ll have any problems. If we had, we’d have already heard about it. I want to stay with you tonight.”
A tear leaked down Fargo’s face. “I…need you. I know that now, more than ever.” She impulsively hugged him, leaning against him as they sat quietly. The Ghorkas pointedly ignoring them as they talked among themselves.
A little over a div later, Evie came over the PA again, “We’re on final descent to the Enclave. Rather than parking on the landing field, we’re going to the bay on Hyderabad. Ten segs out, please make sure you’re buckled in, it might be a bit bumpy.”
“A bit bumpy?” Fargo asked as an aside. “Compared to what?” About that time the shuttle seemed to move sharply on all three axis, then started bouncing like a ball on a 3D court. “I just had to ask, didn’t I,” he mumbled.
Sushma replied, “Well, it appears there’s a storm in progress, either that or the screen isn’t working.”
Nicole looked up at the screen and sighed. “Oh, it’s working. We’re apparently landing in a whiteout. I just…I think I saw a mountain go by just now.”
Fargo sat up suddenly, “Dammit! I forgot to let Mikhail know the case against TBT is going to be dropped. I…” The bottom dropped out and his stomach rose into his throat, cutting him off in mid-sentence. There was a shudder through the shuttle, and suddenly the screen cleared, showing the inside of the shuttle bay as it clanked down.
“We’re herreee,” Evie caroled as the aft ramp swung down and bitter cold flooded the shuttle. “You’re free to disembark at this time. Thank you for flying Hyderabad shuttle services, we’ll be sending you a bill.”
Fargo grumped, “Why is the ship here?”
Evie swung down from the cockpit. “We had to pick up OneSvel and NasTass to bring them out here. Kamadev managed to shatter his leg and the medbox onsite isn’t quite as capable as the one we have on here. We were sitting at Rushing River after we delivered some supplies to the GalPat troops there.” Evie shrugged, “So we did the necessary.”
Concerned he asked, “How is he?” Fargo and Nicole turned toward sickbay as the others streamed toward the forward ramp and the village. “Where is Ton’Skel?”
“He’s in the village. I think with Lal or maybe Nirvik.”
“Nirvik?” Nicole looked up in surprise at Evie. She nodded and waved as she turned toward the bridge.
They met Captain Jace at the hatch to sickbay. “Captain, I need to speak with you.”
He nodded, “Let me check on Kamadev. Where will you be?”
“On the bridge.”
The hatch slid open and the two of them stepped through to find both OneSvel and NasTas hovering over the medbox. “How is Kamadev?”
OneSvel rotated an eyestalk and said, “Much better now. We’re rebuilding his leg. If Ton’Skel hadn’t brought him in as quickly as he did, he probably would have lost the leg completely.”
“Ton did what?”
NasTass GalTrans chittered, “If Ton’Skel hadn’t carried him five miles at a run, through the storm, he most probably would have died of shock. The injury was major trauma. Compound fracture of the femur with associated trauma above and below the site. Luckily, they got a tourniquet in place high enough to stop the blood loss, but the bone was shattered and impinging on the nerves.”
Nicole asked softly, “What were they doing?”
OneSvel replied, “Kamadev was leading the kids on a survival hike. Ton’Skel was…along to learn. Apparently the Ghorka adopted him, so to speak.”
Nicole shook her head. “I’m going to go find out what the hell is going on. I…think we’re missing something major here.” She kissed Fargo quickly. “I’ll meet you in the training room.”
“Thank you.” He turned to OneSvel. “I need to go see Jace. How long will you be working on Kamadev?”
The two Taurasians linked and Fargo could sense them discussing the treatment plan. NasTass finally said, “We estimate another six to eight divs to complete the healing and remove him from the medbox. He will require additional care, but that is available here with competent medics.”
“Understood. I…need to talk to Jace and find out what Ton has been doing.”
OneSvel replied, “We need to talk to you about Ton’Skel also, but that can wait.” He extended a pseudopod and touched Fargo lightly on the temple. “We need to refill your pharmcope, and a div or so in the medbox could clear up your head injuries.”
“Maybe later. I…have things to do.”
“Do not leave without talking to us.”
Fargo sighed and said aloud, “Alright. I’ll do that.” He walked quickly to the bridge and found Jace and Evie sitting there. He slipped into the captain’s couch and said, “I think I owe you some thanks for the information you provided to Nicole and Sushma.”
Jace smiled broadly. “That was easy. One of the other things I did was to make sure the entire trial broadcast went out planetwide.”
Fargo cocked his head. “You did what?”
Chuckling, Jace replied, “Well, I inserted a version of myself into the planetary database. And I found some, shall we say, interesting things. The planetary government is rife with corruption at the highest level. They thought they’d manage to hide a number of things, like the vids from the major offices, and had a set of rules in place to control what was broadcast.” He waved a hand. “It was fairly easy to override those systems and controls, and apparently there are a number of people that are now digging into what Klynton et al have been doing.”
“I was wondering where those vids came from. Gann obviously never expected them to come to light, that was for sure.”
“I’ve also made a couple of additions to your cabin in your absence.”
Jace’s face clouded. “You will never again have to worry about the power being cut. I put a mech and the little fabber to work while you were gone. You now have a full basement, an M-Thirty-One reactor down there, and a few other goodies. There is a latch on the right side of the center island, six inches in from the corner. It is matched to your fingerprints. Touch it and the center island will slide out of the way. Giving you access to steps to the basement. Also, there is a rather nice group of minerals under your property, including gold and silver. And you now have an escape tunnel that runs up toward the waterfall, paralleling the creek. It comes out at the tree line.”
“Uh, thank you.” What the hell prompted this? “I need to go find Nicole. And we’re going to need a ride to my cabin later.”
Jace chuckled. “Not tonight, maybe tomorrow. The Ghorka are throwing a celebration for Ton’Skel tonight. You can stay aboard.”
Fargo cocked his head. “They’re what?”
“You’ll find out. And you need to call Mikhail.”
“Oh damn. You’re right. I’ll go do that right now.” How did he…Oh, he’s also Evie, I keep forgetting. I’m…really confused right now. He bundled up as he made his way to the front ramp, dreading going through the air curtain. I can do this. I can run that far. Just…Argghhh that’s cold!
He trotted through the door into the training room and stood shivering as he looked around for a terminal. Nicole looked up. “Did you call—”
“Going to do that right now. Which desk has the terminal?” She pointed to the one he was standing next to and he sat down with a sigh as she smiled. He quickly set up the vid and waited while it rang through. Mikhail answered, “Ethan! Where are you?”
“I’m at the Enclave. It’s storming to beat seven hells out here, so I’ll probably stay here tonight. I’ve got good news though!”
“The trial is done, I’m not guilty, and the chief justicer said to tell you she is dismissing the suit against TBT also!”
He saw Mikhail blow out a breath and slump. “Oh thank Deity! I’m…the damn lawyers wouldn’t let me testify for you or provide any material to help you. They said it could prejudice our case. How… I mean we saw the broadcast, where did they find that info?”
Fargo looked over at Nicole and smiled. “I had some damn good investigators on my side. They were amazing! Where’s Luann?”
“She’s down at the Copper Mug, she ran out of honey and didn’t want to send Ian in this weather. She should be back soon.”
“Tell her I’ll be down in a few days and fill you in. Give her a hug for me and tell her I love her.”
“Will do, glad things worked out…for both of us!”
Mikhail was smiling as Fargo said, “Disconnect.” The screen went dark and he stood up, shedding his parka. “What is the story with Ton?”
Nicole laughed. “You won’t believe it.”
He walked over and sat on the edge of her desk. Looking down at her, he replied, “Try me.”
Rocking back, she looked up at him. “Well, would you believe he ran five miles through this,” pointing out the window, “carrying Kamadev on his back?” He nodded and she went on, “Then turned around and ran five miles back to where the kids were carrying Yash on his back?”
“I’ve seen him running in the snow up at the cabin but…how, why?”
“You’ll have to ask him, but Lal said Ton was scared for the kids and knew they needed to get back. Apparently they had dug snow shelters and were huddled up when Ton and Yash got back. Yash led them back here and Nirvik asked Lal to bring Ton there. He’s still over there.”
Fargo bit his lip. “Jace says there is going to be some kind of celebration for Ton tonight, and we might as well stay on Hyderabad.” Shaking his head, he got up and started putting his parka back on. “I guess I better go see Lal and find out what the hell is going on.”
Nicole got up and slipped into her parka. “I’ll go with you. I need to talk to Sushma anyway.”
“Did you have any idea about Sushma’s background?”
She laughed. “Of course. Girls talk, didn’t you know that?”
He shook his head sadly, mumbled something under his breath and walked out of the room. A couple of segs later, he found Ton in Nirvik’s foundry, watching in rapt fascination as Nirvik pounded on a red hot blade. Fargo stood there for a few seconds, taking in the scene as a little Ghorka girl attempted to climb Ton’Skel’s leg and he absentmindedly picked her up and sat her in his lap. She sighed and leaned back in his arms and Fargo thought, No one in the universe would ever believe this scene. Talk about sitting down with one’s enemy… Nirvik looked up. “Ekavir. Welcome. And where are your knives?”
He slapped his belt. “Ah, at the cabin. I…didn’t take them with me and I have not been home to retrieve them.”
Nirvik snorted something under his breath as Ton’Skel turned. “You won your battle, Fargo?”
“Yes, we won the battle and one more too, Ton.”
“Nicole, Sushma, and…some others found things that allowed us to win. Without them…I probably would be in jail right now.”
“I watched with the people here. I find it strange that women fight. But I did not see your woman there.”
Fargo’s smile showed his teeth. “She was working behind the scenes. She purposely stayed away to make sure no one thought we had anything.”
Nirvik smiled. “Sneaky, she is,” never missing a beat on the knife blank. He inspected it, then shoved it back in the forge. Looking over at the little girl, he said, “Daxa, time for you to go home.”
She looked up at Ton’Skel. “Home?”
He gently set her on the floor. His GalTrans spit, “Yes, go home Daxa. Your…mother will be looking for you.”
She hung her head for a moment, then hugged his leg. “I go home now. Bye, bye.” She waved as she ducked around Fargo and trotted out the door.
Fargo looked at Ton’Skel and almost laughed as he saw how he was sitting. The bench was too short for him and his knees were almost up to his chin. He sniffed and said, “So, folks are saying you did something good up here while I was…indisposed.”
Ton’Skel hunched his shoulders almost as if he was expecting a blow, then turned. “I…did what was…necessary. We went on a simple hike. Kam…slipped on the trail and his leg,” he pointed to his thigh, “went deep in a crack and he fell over.” He mimicked the fall with his hands. “I…we lifted him up and saw the blood and bone. Milan, he has ten years, knew about…” frustrated he made the motions of wrapping the leg.
“Tourniquet? To stop the blood flow?”
Yes, the tourniquet on his leg. We… Kam did not speak but was still breathing. I told Milan to make a shelter and I…picked Kam up and brought him back here as quickly as I could. This one,” he pointed to Nirvik, “told me to follow him and we went to the medbox. Yash saw us and asked what…happened. Then I took him back to where the childs were.”
Fargo nodded. “And I was told you ran both ways?”
He made what might have been a shrug. “I…thought sooner better. Yash could not keep up. Not his fault.”
Fargo glanced at Nirvik, “Is there something I’m missing here?”
Nirvik pulled the knife blank out and proceeded to pound on it again. “Only the part about it being in the storm, and a trail even I walk on. Ton’Skel had never been on that trail until yesterday, and ran both ways with no rest. Yash swears they made it back to the children in less than thirty segs.”
Ton’Skel looked uncomfortably at Fargo and said defensively, “Did I do wrong? I was…worry.”
“No, you didn’t do wrong, Ton. Not at all.” And a child shall lead them. Why was he out there in the first place? I need to talk to Lal. “I will leave you here for now. I need to go see Lal and find Nicole. Nirvik, will you make sure Ton gets to…wherever the dinner is?”
Nirvik nodded, held the blank and said, “Ton, you see how the edge begins to form?” Both of them saw Ton’Skel relax and Fargo smiled as he stepped out of the foundry.
He found Nicole and Sushma with Lal at his house. He was ushered into the kitchen and Chirashree, Lal’s wife, handed him a cup of coffee as he sat at the table. “Thank you! Lal, why was Ton out with the children on that hike?”
Lal smiled as he sipped his tea. “Ekavir, you do not understand what has happened here. Ton’Skel is not the Deity damned terror everyone thinks the Dragoons are. The children love him. He is patient, kind, and gentle with them. He has been very careful in his dealings with everyone, and has asked many questions, questing for knowledge. Yes, I know he is a child in his world, but he is…more like one of our teenagers, except testing the limits. That he has not done. He has been voraciously watching history programs, asked myself and others many questions about battles and the history as we know it.”
Chirashree interrupted, “And eats enough for any three men! I have never seen anyone eat that much!”
Fargo chuckled, “Yes, he does eat a lot. I can…replace the food he’s eaten, or at least compensate you for that. It’s…not fair of me to have dumped Ton on you.”
“We have learned much in return,” Lal said.
Nicole and Sushma both started to speak and Nicole said, “We now have a deeper understanding of the Dragoon culture than we’ve ever had. He may be young, but he is a fount of knowledge.”
Sushma added, “And he’s apparently found gold. The children were showing him places to hide from the adults and he dug in some rocks in the back of one of the caverns. He…scraped? His claws through some rocks and pulled out what I think are gold nuggets if what he gave my daughter is any indication. He told the children to keep it a secret, just for them.” She smiled and said, “Which worked until I got home and my daughter showed me the ‘pretty rock’ Ton’Skel had given her.”
Fargo slumped in his chair. “So, what you’re telling me is that this has been a good thing?”
Lal nodded emphatically. “The storm blew up suddenly, when they left it was fine weather. If he hadn’t brought Kamadev back as quickly as he did, Kam would be dead. And he was apologizing for bumping him into the rocks a couple of times. Yash said it would have taken him hours to get back to where the children were, but Ton’Skel put him on his back and ran! Yash said visibility was less than ten feet most of the way, but he ran like it was a dry trail in the sunshine.”
Fargo nodded. “I know he runs quite a bit up at the cabin. With just a shipsuit and nothing else.”
“When he got back, he had Kam bundled in his coat. He took Yash back out and then walked back with no coat on, in subzero weather. We are going to honor him at supper tonight, I hope you two will stay for that.”
Fargo and Nicole looked at each other and she said, “We will be happy to.”
Fargo grimaced. “I don’t have my kukri.” Everyone broke up laughing at that, and Lal finally took pity on him, pulling a working blade and sheath out of a cabinet behind him.
“Not again. I want these back before you leave though.”
Fargo had the grace to blush as he said, “I will make sure to return them.”
Four divs later, Fargo handed Nicole up the steps to the main table in the hall followed by Ton’Skel. OneSvel and NasTass came up behind them and sat at the end of the table as Lal and the senior members made their way up to the main table.
Lal rapped on the table for attention and most of the folks quieted down. He waited patiently until Adhit used his command voice, “Shut up, sit down, and pay attention, people!”
A round of chuckles was heard and Lal said, “Thank you, Adhit.”
“Ton’Skel, would you please come up here?”
Ton looked nervously at Fargo. “What I do?”
“Go on up there.” Ton got up slowly and made his way cautiously to where Lal was standing in the middle of the table.
Lal looked up at him and said, “Ton’Skel. You have done honor to our tribe. You have saved one of our own’s life at the risk of your own. You did not have to do this, nor would we have expected it of you, as, on our worlds, you are a mere child yourself. We have learned you are much more than a child, both in mind and body. And we found out how much you eat!”
There was a titter of laughter around the hall and Ton turned that interesting shade of blue again. Nicole leaned over. “Is that a blush?”
“I’m not sure. When he is…discombobulated, he turns that color.”
Lal turned and looked out over the people. “Tonight, we are doing something that, as far as we can determine, has never been done. We are naming you and adopting you into our tribe.” He glanced at Fargo, looked up at Ton’Skel and continued, “Your new Ghorka name is Tyag, meaning sacrifice. You sacrificed yourself to get Kamadev to care and then Yash back to bring the children home. You…did not have to do any of those things. Without your actions, Kam would not be here today, and we have no way of knowing if the children would have survived.”
Ton’Skel looked down at Lal. “I have no words. I…what do I do with a new name?” He asked in confusion.
Lal smiled and glanced at Fargo. “This is a name that you will use with us, or any of our tribe, wherever you may meet them.” He handed Ton a rolled up scroll and said, “And with that, now we can eat!”
Nicole looked at Fargo, eyes wide. “Did they…they just adopted the heir to the Dragoon worlds!”
“I wonder if they realize that, and what the ramifications could be.” Deity, I wonder what the ramifications could be…this is so far above my paygrade…but who can I…we tell? Nobody knows Ton is here!