The First Sdhlain: Sdhlai 7

A mixture of excitement and fear flooded Walks-in-Shadow. Jam'ee seemed to be content with descriptions of things on this world, which was undeniably a good thing. Hopefully she would not think to ask about life beyond. How could Walks-in-Shadow put that knowledge on the young girl's shoulders? Pawn or not in the Master's game, the child was an innocent, at least as much as anyone could be. The fact that the Key Walks-in-Shadow stole had kept their planet effectively cordoned off from the rest of the galaxy for almost eleven hundred years . . .

Gork. She shook her head, a rare outward manifestation of inner turmoil. The fear began to overpower her temporary good cheer, and the Khur looked up apprehensively towards the great beast that managed to even shake the floor of the cafeteria.

The Guard's eyes passed over Walks-in-Shadow, but seemed to barely register her. Whether that was a calculated move on his part or actual lack of recognition, she could not tell. He did take some fairly serious damage from Red Star . . .

The burly Thul spoke, his voice a little ragged but otherwise strong. "Ho, Jam'ee. Ho, Walks-in-Shadow." He sat down with a solid thump, and the bench shook.

"H-Hello, Gork," Walks-in-Shadow stuttered. The Guard smiled wanly and then began to destroy the slop on his plate in earnest. Despite her astonishment, Walks-in-Shadow was attuned enough to notice that his serving size was no larger than her own. With his mass to feed . . . She frowned, and pushed her nearly-untouched plate towards him.

"Hey, Gork. I'm not going to eat this, and you look like you could use it more." She paused. "Thanks, by the way."

He grunted and pulled Walks-in-Shadow's plate towards him, dumping its contents onto his nearly-cleared plate. "Mmmrf," he said around a mouthful of food.

She smiled. "You're quite welcome."

A companionable silence settled around the table; at least, a semblance of silence, as the Thul snorted around his food, and Jam'ee tapped her fingers on the table in a tuneless pattern. Just as the tapping neared a point where Walks-in-Shadow would have to make a decision between puncturing her eardrums or slicing Jam'ee's hand off, the young girl stopped.

"Something needs to be done about Red Star."

Gork and Walks-in-Shadow stared at the young girl, speechless. Jam'ee seemed oblivious to the two adult's stunned silences, and resumed her tapping on the countertop as if nothing had happened. Gork looked down and noticed that all the food was gone; before he could glance at Jam'ee, the girl pushed her plate towards him, and he began to devour what was left of it as well, uttering another muffled "Thanks." Jam'ee smiled and rose from the table.

"I'm going to see what Lee'sar's up to. See you later, T'thup, Gork."

With that, the young Sari headed out of the room, leaving Gork and Walks-in-Shadow seated at the table. Walks-in-Shadow looked at Gork closely. Whatever Red Star had done to him did not show; either Guards had mastered the healing trance as well, or the Master's technology was sufficiently advanced to fix that sort of superficial damage easily. I hope the damage was truly superficial . . ., the Khur thought, surprising herself.

The Thul looked back at her with an emotion she did not expect--genuine concern. He broke the silence. "You all right?"

"It should be me asking that question, Gork. You saved my life back there." She paused. "Thank you." She meant it.

He snorted. "It's my job. And Red Star is a mean fucker. I'd say that I'm sorry that you're on his bad side, but just about everyone here is on his bad side, so instead I'll say: Join the club." He chuckled.

Walks-in-Shadow smiled. "Thanks anyway. You could have just thrown me to him and told the Master that he jumped you." The Guard shrugged, and she could read the cues that told her to change the topic of discussion. "So, how long have you been here?"

Gork thought for a moment, his huge fingers drumming absently on the table. Walks-in-Shadow suppressed a groan.

"Three . . . yeah. Three years, thirteen months, three days. Want the minutes and seconds?" Gork looked up at the digital readout on the wall, as if to figure that out as well. Walks-in-Shadow laughed and shook her head. I knew that the Thul were more intelligent than we gave them credit for, but I think we've seriously underestimated these people. If it weren't for bastards like Red Star . . . She sobered up, thinking of how close she had come to death these last few days, on more occasions than she'd care to recall.

Gork turned his head a bit, as if listening for a far-off sound. "For a second . . ." He paused and looked hard at Walks-in-Shadow, as if trying to decide whether she should hear this or not. "For a second, I thought that was Red Star. He's in the brig now. The Master was none too happy about his antics."

She nodded, unsure of what to say.

The Thul continued. "I got banged up pretty good, but a good trance heals most wounds, as I'm sure you know. The tougher bits were done by the autodoc. Doesn't seem to be any permanent brain damage, so that's good. And maybe I'll get cut some slack for a few weeks."

He started to say something else, but something on his belt chirped. Gork glanced down and groaned. "Or not. I'll see you later, Walks-in-Shadow."
With that, he rose from the table and crossed the room. Walks-in-Shadow found his gait amazing--far from clumsy, the huge Thul covered ground with a grace she would have never attributed to such a bulky race.

She sat for a few more moments, considering the absurdity of her situation--What would Mother say?, she thought, then shut down that train of thought as quickly as it started--and then started to head toward what she thought of as her room.


Return to The First Sdhlain.

Last Updated: 2003.01.19.2128