Sunday, 23 March 2014
Book Spotlight: Flash Move by Andy Kasch
The Torian Reclamation Book 2
by Andy Kasch
Freedom left unchallenged is an undervalued asset.
Book Two of The Torian Reclamation. It’s been 25 years since the Earthlings were resuscitated and Brandon Foss’s unique set of skills became the deciding factor in Tora’s first interstellar war. A second-generation of Torian humans is now in young adulthood, including Derek’s thrill-seeking son Jumper—whose insatiable thirst for adventure often entangles him and his friends in the darker shenanigans of their home world’s fallen culture.
Amulen society has been decimated due to widespread addiction to the alien game polwar. Derek and his family stubbornly remain on Amulen despite the continually deteriorating conditions. When a new, suspiciously power-hungry leader makes progress in re-uniting Amulen through the very thing that destroyed it, Brandon shows up and gets the kids involved in reconnaissance work.
But an uninvited guest also arrives. The Torian military is provoked into action, tested to extremes, and forced to discover who their friends really are.
Open this space adventure story to page one and see if you can spot the flash move.
“Park here.” Jumper motioned towards a depression in a small sand dune along the foothills.
“This isn’t the same spot where your 2-seater was found,” Lakor5 said.
“I know, but the trailhead we located is closer here, almost straight ahead.” Jumper pointed to a clearing in the woods at the base of the mountain in front of them.
“All right,” Lakor5 said to the driver, a dull-skinned Amulite who Jumper had already forgotten the name of. “Do as he says.”
The driver took the cruiser over the dune Jumper pointed to, came down the other side of it, found a low spot, hovered, and set down. The vehicle wasn’t as hidden as Jumper liked, but at least it wasn’t directly visible from most of the immediate flatlands.
Jumper waited impatiently while everyone else gathered their gear and got themselves together. He finally led them all to the trailhead and began the ascent into the Sinlo Mountains. The path was lightly used; most would probably not use the word “trail” in referring to it. It was heavily overgrown in some areas, but passable. It didn’t become steep immediately. Everyone followed Jumper as they hiked up several switchbacks.
Alan and Kayla stayed up with Jumper. Lakor5 was right on their heels. Jumper was happy about that. It wasn’t as though he and Alan were bona fide friends with Lakor5—in fact, on several occasions they had gotten into altercations with his patrol. But Jumper knew the combativeness between them was more friendly banter than serious contention. Lakor5 always ended up letting them pass wherever they were heading—even into heavily patrolled Midlands areas. Jumper figured him for someone thirsty for stories and information, and his way of getting it was by pretending to act tough. Ultimately, Jumper and Alan were glad he—and not someone else—was the eastern patrol captain.
The other three natives followed a short distance behind. Mulb9 brought up the rear. The route Jumper led them on circled behind an outcrop of boulders through a thicket of bushes. When they came out of it, they found themselves on a plateau above the big rocks. A sizable crevice full of dry brush separated the mountainside from the boulders. Some of the brush was broken up in places, and a bad smell permeated in the area.
“Nice view from here,” Kayla said when they stopped to wait for the others. She was gazing out over the valley. They had climbed high enough to see the swamps on the far northern horizon.
Jumper noticed Alan wasn’t looking out to appreciate the view. He was staring into the rock crevice and grimacing.
Alan pointed at the broken bushes. “Isn’t this where your opponent landed?”
A look of horror came over Kayla.
Jumper pushed Alan on the shoulder. “No. We were farther north. An animal or rock must have fallen there. Enough about that. What’s wrong with you?”
The three natives cleared the bushes and came up on to the plateau.
Jumper waved ahead. “Let’s move.”
But before they could continue, the sound of three small explosions echoed from high above, separated by evenly-timed pauses. It was a signal.
Totlen6 turned to Mulb9. “Answer them.”
Mulb9 unhitched a black cylindrical object from his belt and held it skyward, his arm fully stretched. Two sparks emitted from it and shot high into the air. They detonated in two timed explosions.
Jumper and his six companions remained standing in the open and waited. After a few minutes, the series of three overhead explosions repeated.
“They’re telling us not to come,” Totlen6 said.
“Well, at least they know we’re coming now,” Lakor5 said.
When Mulb9 stowed his device, Jumper led them up into the next batch of woods to continue the ascent.
“More importantly,” Kayla said, “they now know that we know they know we are coming. So we won’t appear as hostile—hopefully.”
Jumper saw Lakor5 glance at her and nod in obvious appreciation of her logic. He seemed impressed by her. But then, Torian females didn’t play a prominent role in their society, especially native females. Encountering an Earth woman as brave, agile, and smart as Kayla had to be a new cultural experience for these natives.
Jumper suspected Kayla wasn’t quite as brave as she acted, though. As they made their way through thick woods and brush, sometimes having to improvise a new section of trail to get back to Jumper’s intended path, rustling noises could be heard in the wilderness around them. Birds and small game, no doubt. Once in a while, Kayla’s hand would find its way to grasping Jumper’s arm right after one of those noises occurred nearby. Jumper kept looking at her when that happened, but she always appeared to be steadying herself from stumbling, sometimes apologizing as she reached for her ankle or foot, as if to blame some vine on the ground for the incident.
“I don’t think there are many dangerous animals in these mountains,” Jumper said to her after the fourth such occasion.
“Good,” she replied. “That’s one less thing I have to rescue you from.”
“Actually,” Lakor5 said, “a small population of large felidors lives up here. Plenty of birds and small game for them, although they’re partial to wild dogs and zaboar.”
“Felidors,” Alan said from behind them. “My dad calls those saber-tooth tigers. Says they went extinct on Earth thousands of years ago.”
No sooner had Alan said that then the bush next to them exploded with sound—much too loudly for a small animal. All ten of Kayla’s fingers dug themselves deep into Jumper’s right arm. The bush then emitted a spine-chilling growl and a blurry object sprang from it.
Jumper wrapped Kayla backward with his arm and pushed her to the ground, falling on top of her and knocking Alan down as a domino. Jumper rolled off her and reached for the hand laser on his belt—but it wasn’t there.
A felidor had ambushed them. Jumper’s quick reaction moved him and Kayla out of its path, but the big cat landed on Lakor5 and now had him pinned on the ground. Lakor5’s forearms were extended to the felidor’s thick neck. He was managing to hold the cat’s large fangs a few inches away from his throat. But the felidor was winning the struggle and Jumper could see Lakor5’s strength beginning to give way. Jumper turned behind him and yelled.
“I lost my weapon! Help!”
Kayla had crawled back behind a fallen tree and her head could be seen thrashing about behind it. Jumper heard her cursing in what sounded like a crying voice. Alan was trying to stand but might have been knocked senseless from the fall. Jumper crouched at his side and grabbed the rifle still strapped to his back, trying to pull it off his arm. But Alan rolled to that side, probably as an instinctive reaction. The rifle ended up beneath him.
Jumper looked behind him in desperation. Totlen6 was there, thank Erob, and had his rifle up. But wait—the butt end was wedged between two tree trunks behind him and the front was stuck in a hole in a tree in front of him. He was struggling to free it.
The great beast let loose with a ground-shaking growl. Jumper looked back to Lakor5. The cat was leaning ever-closer to its intended victim. Lakor5 then managed to roll slightly to his right, freed his left arm, brought it to the opposite side of the felidor’s neck, and pushed it sideways away from him to his left. The cat jumped off, but crouched and pounced right back on him. Lakor5 was back in the same position, even weaker now, trying to hold the cat’s jaws off his throat.
That’s when a laser fired from behind. The beam connected on the felidor behind its shoulder, causing the beast to howl horribly and jump off of Lakor5 again. It landed on the path in front of him, where it turned and crouched in a pouncing position. Jumper looked back down the trail.
Totlen6 was still struggling to free his wedged rifle. Lying on the ground beneath him was Mulb9. He had just set his hand laser on the ground and was extending his other arm forward, which held a long, thin device. He aimed the device and fired. A long red segment of light shot out of it and struck the felidor in the chest, resulting in another loud shriek from the cat. It changed positions again, but was still on its feet.
Quickly, Mulb9 stood and charged. The felidor saw him coming and crouched lower, preparing to spring with whatever strength it had left. But Mulb9 fired again first. This time, the red light could be seen sinking deep into its neck. The felidor dropped stiff.
Lakor5 managed to sit up and get his rifle positioned at his shoulder. Too late.
Jumper looked behind him again. Totlen6 cursed and slowly dislodged his rifle from the trees, a much easier task when not panicking. The driver was finally coming into view on the trail. He had a confused look on his face, obviously unaware of what was happening.
Alan stood up and surveyed the scene in front of him. He looked as confused as the driver. Kayla also reappeared from behind the big log. Her hair was a mess. She was holding her hand laser, but her hand was shaking a little.
Jumper moved forward on the trail, disgusted at the humans’ performance under pressure. Lakor5 stood and reached his hand out towards Jumper.
“Is this yours?”
Jumper looked at his hand. He was holding Jumper’s laser. It must have dropped when he pushed Kayla backwards.
“Thanks.” Jumper took it and fastened it back on his belt, hopefully more securely this time. Kayla came up by his side and started fixing her hair. Jumper stared at her.
“Rescue me, huh?”
Kayla shrugged and appeared to be recovering. “I probably should have told you. I’m afraid of animals.”
“Great.” Jumper shook his head and went over to inspect the dead felidor.
It was bigger than Jumper, with red fur and impressively muscular shoulders. Those fearsome fangs were about the size of the span of Jumper’s hand. Mulb9 came up and stood next to Jumper.
“That’s a dart gun, isn’t it?” Jumper asked Mulb9. “I’ve heard about those.”
“Yes.” Mul9 re-strapped it to his ankle and then produced a different device, a small silver metallic ball. As he held it, an antenna rose up. Jumper thought he detected a slight popping noise for a second, and then birds in nearby trees and bushes could be heard flying out of them and away in every direction. The antenna went back down and Mulb9 put the device away in one of the small pouches hooked to his belt.
“Someone should have told me there were large predators in this region,” he said.
Mulb9 then drew his hand weapon, bent down, grabbed one of the felidor’s fangs, and began shooting short, controlled beams into its mouth at the base of the tooth. A moment later, the tooth pulled free. He wiped the blood on the cat’s fur and stood up.
Jumper saw Kayla walking backwards with a terrified look on her face, until she bumped into Totlen6. Jumper rolled his eyes and looked back at Lakor5.
He was back on the ground, sitting and resting his head on his knees. The driver was crouched next to him with a hand on one of his arms. Jumper hurried over and knelt at his other side.
“Lakor5, are you all right?”
Lakor5 lifted his head. “I think so. Just catching my breath. But I believe I’ll let you Earth kids have your own mountain adventures from now on.”
That’s when Jumper noticed the puncture wounds on both of Lakor5’s shoulders. Small trails of yellow Torian blood were running from either side. The felidor’s claws must have been sharp to puncture the thick leather Torian skin.
“Excuse me,” Mulb9 said as he nudged Jumper out of the way. He held another small device in one hand and positioned it over Lakor5’s left shoulder wound. A flash of light came from it and the wound stopped bleeding. He did the same to the other side, then peeled back one of Lakor5’s eyelids and looked into it.
“He’ll be fine,” Mulb9 said and stood back up.
They gave Lakor5 a few minutes to rest before continuing the expedition. When everyone was ready to start again, Totlen6 insisted that he and the driver lead from this point forward. Jumper’s objections were ignored.
“Stay behind us,” Totlen6 said, “and try to make yourselves useful if there’s any more trouble.”
Alan dropped his head and looked at the ground after that comment, but Kayla furled her brow. She looked upset and determined.
Jumper wasn’t sure how he felt, but it was clear Totlen6 had taken him off point position for the time being. Jumper reluctantly instructed him as to the path and stayed close behind him and the driver. Kayla and Alan were right behind Jumper. Mulb9 walked with Lakor5 in the rear, with a short gap between them.
Before they had gone much farther, Jumper noticed red streaks in the sky. Totlen6 must have seen them also, because he paused for a second and looked upward before resuming the climb.
Alan saw them too. “Are the mountain dwellers shooting at us above the treetops?” he asked.
“Erob no,” Jumper replied. “Those streaks are way too high. You sure your vision is okay? Those are so far up they may not even be in the atmosphere. Could even be meteors.”
Alan glanced back and forth between the sky and the trees a few times while blinking, then shrugged and resumed hiking.
As they continued to ascend, the landscape became less rocky. Thick patches of lush green vegetation grew on the forest floor. Much of it was an edible plant with large web-like leaves, what the locals called sola but what Jumper’s dad referred to as ferns. Jumper stopped momentarily as he noticed many of the sola leaves had recently been picked. He knew they were getting close to population.
Jumper then jogged ahead to correct Totlen6 and the driver to the right path, as they were veering from it again. Totlen6 really should have let Jumper continue leading. But before he reached them, Totlen6 and the driver stopped cold and crouched. Jumper quickly drew his weapon and turned behind him. Kayla had her weapon out and her feet spread apart. Alan was already hunched down with his rifle leveled at his shoulder. Good. The humans were making a comeback. Lakor5 and Mulb9 were also crouching down in the rear, but didn’t have their weapons up yet.
Jumper turned to the front and saw the driver and Totlen6 slowly stepping forward with their weapons pointed. They stopped at an opening in the woods between two larger trees that had twelve or so feet of space between them. There they stood.
Jumper hurried over to join them, but slowed and carefully picked his steps the last bit of distance. When he got there, what he saw was perplexing.
Two native Amulites, both with fairly bright skin, were sleeping on either side of a polwar game. The frame was lit and there were pieces in the field, but not enough for a completed game. They must have fallen asleep while playing. Either that or they were dead. One of the players was hunched over in a sitting up position, and the other was slumped sideways on a tree stump.
Totlen6’s words about doing something useful echoed through Jumpers brain. He decided to pick up a stone and throw it at one of the players. It hit the one in the sitting-up position in the leg, which caused him to stir. That one, at least, was alive.
Totlen6 turned to scowl at Jumper when the stone hit, and raised his rifle closer to his eye. But then he looked back at Jumper and nodded towards the same player, motioning him to do it again. So, Jumper threw another rock, a little bigger one this time, a little harder. It hit him the torso, under his armpit. That did the trick. The player woke up.
He raised his head and looked about him. When he saw the weapons pointed at him, he glanced around rapidly in a panic. But then he noticed his sleeping opponent. He stopped moving, stopped looking about. The game field captured his attention and held it. He finally picked up a piece and placed it in the field. He then picked up the same rock that Jumper just hit him with and threw it at his opponent. It hit him it the head. His opponent came to life, but never noticed the armed party standing next to him. The first thing he saw was the game frame and he never looked away from it. He picked up a piece and studied it. As he did, the first player fell back asleep in the same position.
Jumper holstered his weapon, walked over to the now-awake player who was leaning against the tree stump, and waved his arms all around his peripheral field of vision. No reaction. He turned back to Totlen6 and pointed up the path.
“Let’s go. No threat here.”
Totlen6 must have surmised this as well, because his rifle was already swung around his back. The driver looked confused, but finally shrugged and turned back to the trail. The expedition continued.
But they moved slower now, and stayed closer together. This was the final stretch. The large clearing where Jumper and Alan inadvertently discovered the mountain dweller camp several days ago was close ahead. Before they reached it, they passed two additional smaller clearings with two more pairs of natives sleeping with a polwar game between them. The sleeping players were thinner than typical Amulites, possibly due to malnourishment. Those players they left undisturbed.
Then they came to the large clearing.
“This is it,” Jumper said to Totlen6 as they stepped out of the trees.
“No one’s here,” Totlen6 said.
But he spoke too soon. Two strong arms grabbed Jumper from behind and held him in place. He saw blurs moving on his left, and then the driver and Totlen6 were both quickly seized as well, by one native on each side of them.
Jumper turned to his right. Alan was also being held in place by a single native from behind.
He looked back into the trees at the pathway. Kayla, Lakor5, and Mulb9 were nowhere in sight.
About the Author:
Andy Kasch lives in Southern California with his beautiful wife and two neurotic cats. He writes when he is not fly-fishing from his kayak or travelling. The two greatest things to happen in the 21st century so far, according to Andy, are the craft beer revolution and the advent of the self-publishing business. These are good times if you are blessed enough to be in a position to enjoy them. Andy wishes you much benevolence and advises you to lead a balanced life, always. Tulros.