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Episode Twenty-Five

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Something was whistling above me. It was heading straight for me. The universe hated me, I was sure of it, but I still kept trying to avoid my fate. I tumbled sideways, not a moment too soon, as a piece of debris hit the pavement and broke straight through.

I sat there, stunned for a moment. PPG rifles aimed at me. There was a hole next to me. I didn't know where it led, but I was dead if I stayed here. Na'Tal screamed at me to jump. I leapt down the hole, Nar'Bon just behind me. I managed to land on my feet and jumped out of the way. Nar'Bon was still trying to get out of the way as first the Pak'ma'ra, then the Human jumped down, again using the Pak'ma'ra as a cushion. The Pak'ma'ra whistled in pain and his translator warbled, then muttered "I wish you would stop doing that. I think I've broken a rib."

We had to get away from the hole, and quickly. We were in a large tunnel with good headroom. I was standing in water that reached halfway up my calves. Probably a storm water drain. I turned and started splashing along through the tunnel, going into darkness. The others followed me.

It was very dark. I could see nothing in front and only that one pool of light behind me. With my right hand, I held Nar'Bon's hand. We could not afford to get lost within this drain. I trailed my other hand along one wall, using it to guide me. A curving wall and a gaping emptiness told me that we had reached a fork in the tunnel.

Behind us there was a clatter and a splash as something dropped into the tunnel. It wasn't large enough to be a being. More likely a grenade of some form. I pulled Nar'Bon around the corner. The Human and the Pak'ma'ra splashed frantically behind, the Pak'ma'ra wheezing and gasping terribly. I hooked them both around the corner as they nearly floundered past and shoved them into the water. Then I dropped to my knees in the water, took a deep breath and pressed myself down to the bottom of the tunnel.

Even through the water, I felt the blast of the grenade. The fork in the tunnel protected us from shrapnel. As soon as the worst was past, I burst out of the water, then lifted the Pak'ma'ra upright. Behind us we heard another splash, and the grunt of a being dropping into the tunnel. We had to be quiet.

The water in this tunnel ran through a channel in the centre. By spreadeagling our limbs, we could avoid the water and make much less sound. Behind us we could hear the sounds of more beings dropping into the tunnel. We continued our journey through the pitchblack tunnel. We passed another fork, and the tunnel grew smaller. My hand trailed across a metal bar.

I stopped abruptly and the Pak'ma'ra cannonned into me. All sounds of movement close to me ceased as the Human and Nar'Bon also halted. Then I started climbing upwards. All around me, the sounds of hands and feet on the rungs rang softly.

Little pinpricks of light warned me that there was a coverplate above me. I stopped and reached out to see how close it was, then continued to climb. When I had reached the top of the ladder I carefully checked outside, using the holes in the cover. It was very bright and I could see very little bar bright light. I carefully lifted up the cover and checked one direction then the other. I couldn't see anything, so I put it aside and climbed out. I helped the Pak'ma'ra and the Human out, and Nar'Bon then climbed out. I replaced the cover as Nar'Bon began scouting for us.

We had come out in the middle of a shopping district. Nar'Bon waved us onwards. I pulled the Pak'ma'ra along. We had to get under cover. Then we could see what we could do for his injuries.

The street showed signs of looters, probably the Humans from the freighter. It looked like a very large ground vehicle had flattened various of the ground cars and broken down the gates into a large mall. Nar'Bon led us into the mall. As we passed under the massive decorations over the gates, a flier passed, flying around 30 metres above us. The wind whipped up by its passing covered the our dripping wet tracks with dust.

We scuttled along until we were well away from the entrance. We had to get fresh, dry clothes. This being a mall, it was not hard to find a clothing store. Nar'Bon broke down a door into a promising looking establishment. The Pak'ma'ra grabbed what looked like a tent, not a robe, and, to my surprise, dumped his wet clothes on the floor. It is not often that one gets to see a naked Pak'ma'ra, for which we all can be truly thankful.

The range of clothing was somewhat wider here, and I was able to find something far more subtle in browns and dull reds. I tried to ensure that it would not be as obvious as my previous bile green outfit. Now it seemed that our safety depended on our ability to sneak and hide.

We changed and left a pile of soggy clothing behind us. Nar'Bon led us out onto another street. Keeping a good watch out for fliers and troops, we moved quickly onwards, then holed up in a house as darkness fell.

More correctly, we found a basement. It was damp and smelled musty, but it would probably shield us from detection. Hopefully...

The Pak'ma'ra warbled as he sat down, still holding his side. For the first time I noticed that the Human was limping quite badly. He also suddenly noticed that his knee hurt. Wonderful. Just what I needed - the other strong member of the party wounded and the weakest also damaged.

We, well, the Pak'ma'ra and I, decided that binding his ribs would probably help. Then at least he couldn't overinflate his rib cage. However, there was nothing in this area that could be used. We were also going to need more food by morning - I had grabbed my pack of tins and water and kept it on me as we fled through the city, but I didn't have enough to feed everyone, only myself. As I checked through my supplies, I found that my cereal was wet. This was just making a bad situation worse. Also the bottom of the pack was scorched, and I was not sure how much longer it would carry the tins.

Strange is it not that I think about group survival, not just my own?

I went on a reccy upstairs. There were a number of, as the Humans say, residential apartments on four levels. I broke into several, and left the imprints of my boot in the main console in one. I was just feeling so frustrated and upset and unhappy and angry. I did not know how to cope with my disappointment. I managed to find a first aid kit along with some bedding and food. I even found half a box of the yummy sweet tasting cereal that I favoured so. Hopefully it wouldn't be too stale.

I don't know what Nar'Bon and the Human were doing. Resting, I guess, but they seemed to be doing nothing when I got back. I ripped a sheet into strips and the Pak'ma'ra began trying to bind himself up. He was failing miserably, so I asked if he needed a hand.

"Yes, that would be useful," he replied. His demeanour held a measure of anger and fear. Very strange. He was normally so calm.

I wrapped the bindings around his chest, again learning more about Pak'ma'ra anatomy than I really wished to. He whistled and murmured in Pak'ma'ra, occasionally muttering instructions to me. I helped him replace his clothing and he grabbed a blanket and wrapped himself up in it. "Is anyone else cold?"

The basement certainly was not as warm as the desert, but I did not find it particularly cold. I cracked open another can and started eating by the light of the torch I had kept.

I took the first watch. I was still too upset to sleep. I wandered the building, wondering when they would find us, whoever "they" were. I needed to hit things, break things, destroy things, just as circumstances had conspired to destroy my hopes. But I couldn't break things because that might draw attention to our presence, and would certainly wake Nar'Bon. Nar'Bon is old and not as sprightly as he once was, and is not recovering as quickly as I would like from our ordeal in the desert. I was also worried about my other companions. Me, Na'Tiel, worried about aliens. The Human is a weakling and his knee is hurt, and now the Pak'ma'ra is wounded. The Pak'ma'ra is the only other one who can help shoulder the burden of getting us out of here. I can hear that his breathing is pained and know that he will be of little help to me.

I was tired, oh so tired of struggling. Why couldn't something run smoothly for once?

G'Quan help me! Just a word or a phrase from your Book to help me understand what is happening to me!

I reached inside for the inner certainty that had guided my life for so long, but could not find it. Had I drifted away from my faith or had it abandoned me now when I most needed it? Na'Tal tried to reassure me, but I could see everything I had worked towards floating away. I was not going to be there for my daughter's fourth pouching day. I was not going to see my lover. My ship may not even be there if I ever did get off this rotting planet. I would not make the payment on my ship in time, nor would I pay off the cargo debt. All my plans were totally and utterly undone. I would be lucky to survive this place. I hated Markab!

I whirled around, seeking something to punch. Even now, though, I was constrained by the need for secrecy. I sought something that would not make much noise when hit. I lashed out at a nearby armchair of the soft design favoured by so many races. It absorbed my blows and sat there unchanged. Nothing I did made any difference. What is, is. All my attempts to change my fate would go unnoticed. I turned away from the armchair and leant my head against the wall. It was too much. As I slid down the wall, I let the tears fall.

Softly at first, then with gathering strength, Na'Tal rumbled a plainchant in my mind. It was so rare that he sang for me. It soothed the pain that I felt, washed it away with the love that lasted beyond death Herself. I found a more comfortable place to sleep and drifted away with Na'Tal's song echoing in my mind.

I awoke some time later and went back to the basement. The enemy were not around, and I saw no reason to wake up Nar'Bon. We slept the rest of the night through.

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Na'Tiel's Story / Lynne / last modified 29 February, 2000