Sector Four, Galatia
“It’s almost go time,” Flin Noble, reminds the group as they all huddle in a clearing, awaiting their signal.
No one really liked Flin, who is a thirty-something-year-old hunter who acts like one of those old men who assumes everyone else is incompetent. Flin had started tagging along nearly a year ago on Roland Dixon’s reconnaissance missions, which truly were just sporadic guerrilla missions. Flin had orders from Roland’s father, Kyle Dixon, the leader of their village, to watch out for Roland on his missions.
This is insane, Roland thinks for the millionth time that morning. Why his dad even allowed Roland enough freedom to try these hair-brained suicide missions, he would never know. Roland checks his jerry-rigged cannon once more, ensuring the shell was in fact all set for go time. He enjoyed the feeling of pride that welled up inside his chest after successful attacks, but every moment up to that was stressful. Despite his youth, all his stress had given Roland quite a few grey hairs, which he still couldn’t wear with pride. Roland lets out a shaking breath as he whispers to himself, “Just like last time,”
“What was that?” Julius Mallory asks from behind Roland. Roland had been with Julius as long as he could remember, Julius was always the first to support any idea Roland thought up. Julius stood several inches taller than Roland, was built like a tank. Julius commanded the respect of everyone around, yet he followed Roland like a good soldier. Why he was so willing to blindly follow orders, Roland wasn’t sure, but he respected the absolute allegiance and did his best to treat everyone who followed him well.
“I said, ‘Just like last time,’” Roland repeats with a stronger voice, he never let people know when his nerves were getting to him.
“Just like last time,” Julius repeats to himself, evidently also in need of the encouragement.
“Well, at least the last one didn’t shoot back,” Comes the always cheerful voice of Nick Corinth, another one of the six who are about Roland’s age. Nick was always the first to point out the bright side and to keep morale up. Roland couldn’t see how Nick kept his positivity, he had lost both his parents, three of his four siblings and every animal he ever took as a pet.
“Let’s hope this one doesn’t too,” Roland responds as he slowly nods his head. Never expecting anything to come easily, he continues, loud enough to be heard in the treetops, “How’s the perimeter Ki’etz?”
“Perimeter is good, Rolls,” Warren Ki’etz calls back down from his treetop perch. He and his twin sister Astrid always called Roland ‘Rolls,’ evidently, they liked the way it sounded.
The Ki’etz twins are some of the few off-worlders on Galatia, stranded after some malfunction led to his crash landing back when he was just a baby. Roland only had a few faint memories of that day, like watching a trail of smoke follow the ship as it crashed. Roland also remembered seeing teams going out to rescue everyone they could, but the twins were the only ones they brought back.
“Ash?” Roland calls to the treetops opposite of Warren to Astrid. He came up with the nickname a few years back on their first ‘mission’ where he and his group snuck out to hunt a hybrid one night. The group was huddled around a campfire trying their hands at camouflage and Astrid used some ashes for hers, and it stuck. Since then, Astrid always kept some charcoal streaks on her face. She insisted it made her look fiercer and she fondly called it her war paint.
“Clear,” Astrid calls down as she swings down from her treetop. As she makes her way down, she is silhouetted against the sun which is starting to peek through the dense canopy of trees. Nearing the ground, she lets go of the rope. She rolls as she hits the ground and quickly stands back up. This caught Roland’s attention because Astrid was nowhere near that graceful usually. With a brief glance toward Roland, she quickly walks away and takes a casual sip of water. Knowing that Roland was watching, she flips her blonde hair out of her face and continues, “Besides, the hybrids never bother us during the day. Not anymore at least.”
“Show off,” Haley Ryder mutters under her breath as she struggles to strap the last of the team’s supplies to one of their horses. Haley always did her best to ensure the team would be prepared for anything, so she’d busy herself prepping for quick getaways if things went south whenever she could. She decided that preparations were the only thing she could do since she physically couldn’t do much else.
Haley’s parents were the first of the growing population of exiled Domers. For some reason, the Coalition had started sending people outside of their walled cities about twenty years ago. Those exiles never lasted long outside of their walls since they never knew what to expect in the outside world. To complicate things, the Coalition started bombing survivors and exiles shortly after they were released. The steady stream of exiles since then allowed all of Roland’s people information about the cities, which was always valuable.
From what Roland had gathered, the Coalition refused to let their people know that they were not alone in the galaxy. Every exile was amazed when they learned that the Coalition isolated them inside of the Domes when there were countless other planets that could sustain them.
Roland, like all the exiles, had never been off Galatia. He wasn’t a Domer, he was born and raised out here in the wilds. But, the Coalition didn’t let people off-planet, and Roland intended to change that. He had seen several ships get shot down by the Coalition over the years while people tried to get off-planet. Some appeared to be Coalition ships, some didn’t, but none of them made it.
Every ship he and his team shot down promised more and more supplies to rebuild the remains of a starship Roland found in an abandoned spaceport several years back. He had been so excited when he found that ship because all of the crash sites from the ones he had seen the Coalition shoot down were beyond repair. There was rarely much of anything left.
“Here they come!” Warren calls down as he tears his attention away from his favorite binoculars, “You ready?”
“Ready,” Roland replies once he tears his eyes away from Astrid.
“Coming in from the southwest!” Warren reports.
“Southwest, got it,” Roland mutters, mostly to himself. Leaning over, Roland busies himself with the weapon he is about to use. He exhales slowly, trying to relax as he prepares to fire.
“Almost in range,” Warren reports expectantly, “Same type of ship as usual.”
“Got it,” Roland repeats with a slight smile. He would only need a couple more ships like this and he would be able to leave once and for all. Roland stares at the screen in front of him which is providing him with some readings from his cannon. The screen, like the rest of the gun, isn’t too well off. Half of the screen is dead, and the other half was pretty close to it.
“You got it?” Warren shouts from his perch.
“Got it!” Roland responds, just loud enough to be heard. As he spoke, his screen flashes indicating that the Coalition ship had come into view. Roland takes another breath to steady himself once more. Once he’s calm, he rests his finger on the weapon’s trigger. He takes a sharp breath and holds it in as he makes a final adjustment to his aim.
“What’s up with Astrid?” Flin asks, startling Roland.
“Shush!” Roland demands. Irritated, he turns back to the task at hand and manages to get let off a few poorly aimed shots at the passing ship.
“You got it!” Warren reports ecstatically.
“I told you to leave me be when I’m shooting!” Roland yells at Flin. He stands from the cannon and begins pacing angrily as he massages the bridge of his nose, “Why did my dad have to send you of all—”
“It’s not coming down!” Warren shouts, “You only took out one of their engines!”
“Now look at what you did!” Roland demands as he slams a fist through one of the wooden ammo crates that held the few remaining rounds they had for their cannon, “Not only did they get away, but we wasted what few rounds we had left!”
“I’m sorry,” Flin starts, “I was just—”
“No,” Roland cuts him off, “You’re done. Go home.”
“Your father told me—”
“I don’t care what my father told you. You are done. Go home.”
“Home,” Roland seethes.
“Sorry,” Flin whimpers before turning tail and making for the horses. He glances back at Roland once he is at his horse.
“Go!” Roland shouts angrily when he notices that Flin had paused, “I don’t need you, and I never will!”
Flin winces slightly at Roland’s harsh words but complies. That was one thing Flin was good at. He knew when he needed to make a swift getaway. Roland takes an unsteady breath before turning to the rest of his team. They all look to them expectantly, and also with a slight look of concern.
“Hey Rolls,” Warren starts as he slowly works his way out of the tree he was in, “Why don’t we move this thing before they send in a team to move it for us.”
“Good idea,” Roland nods, thankful for Warren giving him something else to focus on. That was one thing Warren was good at; he could read a situation and always find the best way out.
“That was a little harsh,” Haley whispers once everyone leaves her and Roland to break camp, “Wouldn’t you say?”
“He ruined my shot,” Roland reminds her as he shakes his head. Grabbing the ammo crate he had punched a hole in, he continues, “And I’ve told him a thousand times to leave me alone when I’m taking a shot!”
“But you never let him talk,” Haley points out.
“And why should I?” Roland counters as he slams his palms on the top of the crate, “The guy is the biggest pain I’ve ever met!”
“I’m sure he meant well,” Haley offers, “We all mess up sometimes.”
“You don’t,” Roland acknowledges. He shakes his head slightly as he continues, “Not anymore at least.”
“That’s because I hardly do anything anymore,” Haley mutters as she scowls slightly. Her scowl becomes a frown as she somberly adds, “I can hardly get dressed in the morning anymore, after that blasted attack.”
“But what you do is done well,” Roland offers, trying to console Haley.
Haley remains silent as she looks down at her tattered body. She was covered in scars and had lost several of her fingers. She was a lot better off now than she had been when Roland found her two years ago, but she was still bad off. She had been the only survivor of her group of Domers, the Coalition had killed the rest in some sick bombing run. If it wasn’t for Roland, she would be dead today.
“Rolls,” Warren calls from behind, “We cleaning up, or not?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Roland chuckles, allowing his mood to lift at Warren’s teasing. He starts lifting the ammo crate, but as he does so, it nearly disintegrates in his hands. Munitions and rotten pieces of wood shower to the ground. Grinding his molars and closing his eyes, Roland mutters, “Great,”
“It’s ok,” Haley offers as she slowly crouches down. Pain streaks across her face as she makes the move. She bites her lip before she slowly continues, “We… can clean this up.”
“Thanks,” Roland nods, knowing how much it hurt Haley to crouch like this. She wasn’t anywhere near as flexible as she used to be, thanks to all of the damage the bombing had done. With all of the tendons and ligaments that had been severed, it was a miracle she could move at all.
“Ready when you are, boss,” Astrid calls from behind. Roland glances back in time to see Astrid staring angrily at Haley who was on the ground with Roland. When she notices Roland looking at her, she snaps her attention away from Haley and nods at Roland. She then spins around and disappears into the foliage at the edge of their camp.
“We’re almost done here,” Roland reassures the others, “We have to save every round we have until we can salvage more from a wreck.”
“Need any help?” Julius offers when he sees Haley struggling to pick up much of anything. Because of her injuries, her fingers didn’t work very well. She would fumble around with anything for several seconds before she could get a hold of it. The struggle always served to frustrate her further and deepen the inner pain she was going through.
“Nope, we’ve got them all,” Roland announces as he bags the last round. He helps Haley to her feet as he closes his eyes as he mentally kicks himself for letting Haley help him.
“Alright, let’s mount up!” Nick calls out to the others gleefully. There were few things Nick loved more than riding his horse. As far as Nick was concerned, the faster he could go, and the denser the trees, the better.
“Let’s find a new spot for our gun!” Roland instructs the others before whistling for Haley’s horse. The horse trots over, and Roland plants Haley in the saddle before continuing, “After that, let’s see if we can ambush any teams the Coalition send looking for us!”