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Walking in Shadow, Part 1

The drip, drip of water echoed all around me.  Gulla crawled on her knees slowly in front of me.  The slime, and whatever else was in this tunnel was being ground into my clothes.  “You are certain this the abandoned supply depot?”   Irritation escaped my rigid self control.

A short laugh replied as her eyes glinting in the dark.  Unlike me, she had night vision.  “You keep asking.”

“This tunnel is filthy.  And the last few tunnels did not lead anywhere fruitful.”  This was not the first disgusting tunnel I’d crawled in today.

“I’m more sure about this one, than any of others.” How could her voice should sound so cheery in these surroundings?

I didn’t dignify the words with a reply.  The only sounds were continued dripping of water, and the scrapping of Gulla’s shoes.  She could see in the dark, but I could always move silently.  The darkness began to lighten.  “Please tell me this is a good sign.”

“Oh yeah, it is.”  A grinding noise filled the air as the light blinded me.  “We have arrived.”

My eyes rolled, knowing she was merely being dramatic. From the plans she showed me we still had a long way to go.  The clang of her descending filled my ears as I waited for my eyes to adjust.  “How many obstacles?”

“Oh a few, and probably a few surprises.  That’s how it usually goes.”  There are times I find it strange that Gulla had to laugh in the face of death.  Death did not bother me, but she was reckless to the level of madness.  With a grunt I followed her down the steps clanging far less.

Gulla tapped the bar twice.  This was a signal to stop.  My voice pitched low.  “What is it?”

“Send your mind.” Her voice commanding.

The power contained within flowed outward.  It felt like the shackles on my body were broken.  They were milling bodies warm, and who were exerting a great of the muscle, “Armed, wearing armor, and about twelve of them.”

“Twelve.”  Gulla snorted.  “I thought this was going to be fun.”

“By the Sun, Gulla Valik you are an adult.  Could you feign maturity once?”  Annoyance sparked through.  Immediately, guilt set in. She was extremely mature.  But, her life had been too hard, and to cope she’d put on a laughing facade.

Instead of getting upset at outburst she lifted a brow.  “Did get your nap in today, I know how you old people are without your naps?”

A fought a smile, then laughed.  “I’m sorry.  I‘m dour in my ancient age.”

“How do you want to this?”  She stepped off the ladder into the narrow hallway.

“I’ll walk with the shadows.  How do you want to do this?”  The shadows veiled me as I exerted my will around me. Inky blackness wrapped around me, cool and calming. In truth it did not hide me, it only fooled the eye. Its influence skipped Gulla so she’d know my position.

“I’ll shoot them.  I was able to modify that old shield tech.  It will keep me alive allowing you to slip around the back.”  In her usual way, without waiting, she kicked down the door and started to fire.

Shouts, grunts, and screams of panic, anger, and pain echoed in the hallway.  A few bullets bounced off her shield before she ducked around the door frame.  I made my way around the back, and waited for her reach out and fire once again. As they engaged I sliced across the back of their necks severing their spines.  Four went down before they started to turn.  My hands found one of the bodies jerking it up and using it as a shield.  The bullets pounded into it as Gulla now flanked them, more dying.

The blood pooled under my feet. A close range shot blew my shield and I down.  A blade sliced out cutting off the tip of my finger.  A few more shots.  I heard a curse, and shuffle of feet.  “Gulla kill him, don’t wrestle with him.”

The noise stopped, and the body was thrown off me.  The sparse girl with long brown hair stood in the light covered with blood. “Ko, that guy was heavy.”

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Like Recognizes Like

How Amaria found Gulla Valik.  

I found her bloody, blackened, and weak. The limp strands of hair stuck to her filth rubbed clothing. Her dark eyes blazed with utter defiance. She welled up her face and spittle landed next to my foot. “Try me, try to kill me. Attack like the dog you are.” The words raw with the hoarseness of her voice.

“You think I am an assassin working for the Nobles?” It startled me. In a way I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I walked with near silent steps, and my eyes were always watching.

“I can tell a killer when I see one.” A grim smile at odds with the youth of her face, “like recognizes like.”

The sorrow in her words struck me. A part of her, a hidden part, hated to admit what she’d done. “In these times we are all killers. If we hope to survive. That is the nature of war, rebellion, power, and freedom.” I showed her my hands were empty as I knelt beside her. “I don’t work for the Nobles. Nor have I ever.”

The girl, the only way I could think of her now, scrabbled back her body scraping against the half shattered building behind her. The sunlight glancing off her making her state even more obvious. “Why should I believe you?”

“I’m not sure there is a reason. You don’t know who I am. You don’t know who I work for. We only just met. Yet, I am not lying. If I intended you kill you, I would have done so already.” I let the statement sink in. I tipped my head downward. “Gulla Valik.”

Gulla hissed. “You liar.” A flash of metal flew passed me as I leaned away from the thrown blade.

“I do not lie. I can see your soul, and what you are. Look at my eyes, what do you see?” I changed position my eyes now in the light.

She sucked in a breath. “Your pupils they have a gray star around them. A Star Child? You aren’t even an Alaget.”

“I’m not a Soul Merchant either. They own me.” Even I could hear the calm in my voice break. The Powerless, all the people who weren’t Soul Merchants, thought they knew what slavery was. No one owned their soul. That was true powerlessness. “I mean you no harm.”

“I know about Soul Merchants. As much as anyone does, probably more. Ko,” The curse rolled off her tongue easily. “I can never catch a break.”

“Come with me, we’ll get you cleaned off, and something to eat.” I held out my hand.

Those ancient eyes in a child’s face stared at my hand. “Where would that be?”

“The Rebel’s camp. Sure, you wish to join them?” Gulla’s parents had been murdered by the Nobles. They had been genetic researchers, civilians, in every sense of the word.

“With Harl leading them, hardly. The Rebellion is failing. Every day the Nobles become more powerful. The citizens are afraid to even feel discontented. There is no hope.” A cry off pain as Gulla managed to stand. I could tell either her ankle was broken or badly sprained.

“There is always hope. I’ve seen more desperate situations before. The game wasn’t finished until there are no players left.” My masters always sent me when things were truly terrible.

The dark eyes narrowed. Her head cocked to the side. “You awfully preachy, is that normal for a never ending being. Are you going to spout off more sayings. Oh, like when its darkest the light is around the corner?”

The attiude should have annoyed me, it did a little bit. The rest was beyond amused. No one who knew what I was had ever been. “Perhaps. I have the wisdom of many lives times. I have great power. Do you not fear me?”

Gulla shrugged. “Since, I was twelve I’ve been running. I saw my parents murdered, my brother.” She paused as tears made tracks down her face. “I could have died a lot. Death scares me, but it’s kind of become something I’ve used to be being scared off. An old friend, fear, we’ve been through a lot together. You are terrifying. The only thing that kept me alive is my wit. And, I’ve gotten good at saying whatever pops into my head. It isn’t going to change any time soon.”

A laugh escaped my control as a smile settled onto my face for the first time, in a very long time. “I will enjoy your outputting, annoying mannerisms.” My eyes swept over here. “We have to get you ready to meet the Rebels. I’ll take you to my home until you’re ready.”

Gulla rolled her eyes. “Fine, fine, I’m hungry anyway.”

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The Rebel’s Rise, Part 9

I could hear charging feet around the corner.  Then steps stumbled, Amaria stepped from around the corner.  “I sensed them.  Harl was hoping to get one more load.”  She pulled the other two up with a quick jerk.

 

My palms itching for my gun, as I followed suit. The urge to keep checking behind me was nearly overwhelming.  Amaria is there, I told myself, she’ll see someone far before you.  I swept down as I passed the door my gun resting, in my hands.  “Situation?”

 

“A lot of them are heading this way.  Our friend is either dead, or they gave up on them.”  The shadows spoke with Amaria’s voice.

 

“Can we go down the chute?” It was quickest exit I could think of.

 

Harl shook his head to the side.  “No, it would kill us.  I have an exit.  I’m not sure how to get there with all these men bearing down on us.”

 

A bit of hysteria filled me as I laughed.  All of them stared at me.  “I have a plan go to your exit, I’ll follow.”  They didn’t move.  “Harl, I swear to you I’ll provide a distraction.”

 

He knew what I was telling him.  He bowed his head.  “This way, be ready.”  They took off in a sprint.  Only Amaria lingered to offer me a deep bow of respect.

 

It didn’t take long for their footsteps to fade.  A few tears and I held the three remaining grenades.  I started to throw them into the cache when a voice piped up.

 

“Heroically sacrificing yourself.  That’s pretty adorable.” Gulla stood casually leaning against a wall.  Blood splattered across a tight fighting battle suit with several metal plates hanging loosely, or had fallen off.  The only fully attached pieces were the chest and shoulders.  “Aren’t you going to thank me for diverting the ambush?”

 

“That was you?” My jaw felt unhinged as I stared at her.

 

A roll her eyes as she strolled over.  “Of course, who else would try to keep you alive?  Do you think your little group of fighters has endeared yourself to anyone?”  Her eyes focused on the grenades.  “Why don’t you go hide out in the chute, I’ll throw them and join you before the explosion.”  She held up a pair of hooks.  I wonder who she had to kill for them.

 

“I made them myself.”  In the future, I realized, her having ability to read me was going to be very irritating.

 

I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t know if this was the best idea.  “I think you should go. I’m just a Noble, you are the hope the rebels need.”

 

She snorted.  “Give me a break.  I’ll be fine.  And, this is the only way to save you. I may be a kid to you, and maybe I could stand to be more mature.” It looked painful for her to say it.  “We don’t have time for this.  Go, or I’ll throw them and kill us both.”

 

I bit back a growl and headed out for the chute.  I slid in digging the metal hooks into the side leaving enough for her to fit as well.  A gust of wind filled the air as the door slammed shut.  The building twisted, and buckled around me. I rocked back and forth slamming into Gulla and the metal.  My muscles screamed in objection.  Then a series of explosions made it impossible to feel anything.  All I could think of it was I wish I had a way to plug my ears.

 

Gulla let out a holler.  “Now that was exciting.” She winked at me.  I could see bruises all over her.

 

“You’re hurt as bad as me.”  I stuttered, I never heard my voice so battered.

 

She wiggled upward forcing the blackened, twisted door open.  “I’ll heal.  Better than you.”  A tug and she tumbled out.

 

It took me several groans to follow after her.  “Where to?”

 

She gave a massive stretch.  “Out the hole.”  She motioned to the shattered wall.  “I got rope too.”  She patted the coiled pile on her back.

 

I frowned.  She was a little too good at this.  “Alright, let’s get it over with.  If we wait too long my muscles will seize up.”

 

She spent a moment tying the rope off.  She leaned over the side.  “We’ll have to drop a bit, or we can try climbing the wall.”

 

The grinding of my bones distracted me as I looked down.  The rope stopped about three full lengths from the bottom.  “Won’t kill either of us.”

 

“True,” she half laughed grabbing the rope and shimmied down.  I followed watching her move at speeds I could barely follow.  She got the end, hooted and let go.

 

My ambition was less I went to the very end of it, then fell.  The ground came up hard against my feet, and I let out a yelp of pain.  I opened my eyes and she leaned over me.  “Are you going to be okay?”

 

“Probably, can you take me back to base?” My leg was broken.  It cracked right below the knee.  Thank my useless father who replaced my kneecaps long ago. I shut my eyes leaving it to her.  I felt bad about it, but I couldn’t do it anymore.

 

“Harl, I got your second in command here.  Broken leg, you might want to fetch him.”

 

I meant to ask her how she was talking to Harl, but I blacked out. It dawned on me; I was resting on a cot.  Harl, Amaria, and Gulla sat around me on chairs.  The rebels arrayed other outside.  “You get the weapons.”

 

A light slap on my shoulder as Harl scolded me.  “You are injured and the first you thing you ask about is the weapons?  They are here.  You need to rest.”

 

From behind them I could see everyone’s eyes on Gulla.  I knew then, as I went back to sleep, she would be our leader.  Harl was already on the way out. He just didn’t know it yet.

 

I hoped you enjoyed Gulla’s antics in Rebel’s Rise.  The next story coming up is the Rebel’s Lesson, where Gulla might have to learn some humility, and social skills.

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The Rebel’s Rise, Part 8

“We can’t.  We need these weapons.  It is worth our lives, without them we won’t be able fight again, or defend our own base.”  He motioned at me.  “Fire three more bursts then follow me. I found a side path to the cache.”

 

I nodded.  Inwardly, I panicked.  There is no chance we tripped any alarms.  This is a trap, I thought.  The rest of me kept firing, and following orders.

 

Harl made the motion.  A rip toward a grenade from my side I hurled it down the hall, as we turned running down the side passage.  The hallway shook before I heard the boom.  A yank on my arm caused me to stumble.

 

“Are you trying to get us killed?”  There was no real accusation in Harl’s voice.  There was fear.

 

I shook my head.  “No, it’s a trap, Harl.”

 

“I agree.”  Amaria chimed in a gun resting against her side.  “We need to go, if we are going to make it at all.  You’re lucky Vallen knows how to make grenades, otherwise we would be dead already.”

 

A grunt as Harl swept his eyes over who we had left.  Celi was missing, as was one of Harl’s people.  “Amaria keep to the middle, Vallen cover the rear, and I’ll lead.”

 

Sweat dripped down my forehead.  Our progress was slow.  I couldn’t hear anyone coming down this way.  It didn’t make me feel any better.  Most likely they were concerned I had more grenades and were waiting to ambush us up ahead.  My arms, and neck ached with tension.

 

Behind me, I could hear gunfire, and shouts.  “Harl?”

 

“Not us.”  He sounded as tense as me.

 

Jirth’il!” rumbled from Harl.  “Vallen, come here.”

 

I tapped Bara on the shoulder.  “Take over on the back.  Understood?”

 

“Yes, sir.”  He looked pale.

 

I walked over to Harl and I cursed as well.  The hallway was strewn with corpses, at least ten

soldiers lying in their own blood.  A look told me they weren’t rebels.  I noticed a doorway stood open and inside were walls of weapons.  “Is this cache? Is this all the sand for the ambush?”  It didn’t seem like enough to me.  Nobles could be arrogant, but not generally stupid.

 

“No, they took after whoever did this.”  He motioned to footprints in the blood.  “Let’s get the cache. I have to set it up to go down the trash chute across the hall. Someone is down there to pick up.”

 

I didn’t feel like trusting Harl’s judgment since his contact failed this time.  “Who?”

 

Xialo.” I couldn’t object.  A Woellian isn’t an ally who you distrust.  Besides Xialo was a good guy for an eiaa, an abnormal.

 

Harl stood against the door frame.  “Bara, grab as much as you can and send it down the chute.”  I motioned to Harl’s trainee.  “Same for you.”

 

Amaria tilted her head in the direction the Noble’s troops went.  “Whoever they are chasing is frustrating and angering them.”

 

“Who they are chasing?”  Harl barked.

 

The star in her eye expanded outward for a moment, her eyes widening.  “I can’t sense them.  Either they are shielded in some way, or have the mental capability to block me. It seems they are leading them on a merry chase.”

 

Huge crates of weapons, and ammo got dumped into the chute, the two panted from the effort.  Still, the cache’s shelves filled with more.  “We can’t hope it will last. Eventually, they’ll get annoyed enough, or smart enough to come back here.”

 

“I agree, we’ll get a fourth of it at least before we cut out.” A fourth would help us last for months, and it would be more than worth it.

 

Something about Amaria’s posture troubled me.  She seemed either confused, or upset.”What is it?”

 

“They are dying.  Not quickly, but the person they are chasing is killing them.”  Her face scrunched up.  “I can feel their lives being snuffed out.  Whoever is killing them is as efficient as me.”

 

“You’re telling me they are drawing them out to keep them away.  As if they are choosing to keep them distracted.”  The rumble in Harl’s voice seemed as confused as Amaria.  Never before had anyone attempted to help us aside from those already with us.  “If that’s the case, go ‘till half.  Vallen, help them.  Amaria let me know if you sense anyone coming this way.”

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The Rebel’s Rise, Part 7

“You don’t want me to go. I’m the most enhanced person here.” Gulla’s hand rested on a cocked hip.

Harl whipped around.  “You are a child.  A well trained, tough child, but one nonetheless.  Do you think your parents would be glad if I risked your life?”

“They’re dead.” Her nonchalant delivery fell flat.  Pain welled up in her eyes for a moment.  She banished it with a snide smile.

Harl’s arm muscles tightened through his form fitting shirt.  “I am aware.  But, I knew them.  They would want you to live.  I have already failed them by not finding you.  Do you want me to fail them again by taking you into this situation and putting your life at risk?”

Her face flushed a deep crimson as her small fists curled.  “I don’t care.  You know who killed them? Those self- absorbed, meaninglessly, prattling nobles. I have the strength, the endurance, and the power to stop them.” She spat at his feet.  “I’m sixteen cycles. I’m not a child.”

“You are emotional.  As you have just proved.”  Harl roared back.  “I don’t know you.  What if you choose revenge over the lives of your comrades. What if you lose your cool and rush into a dangerous situation.  I know nothing about you, and how you operate.  I am not going to take you on such a risky mission to satisfy your bloodlust.”

Before anyone else could escalate this argument any further, I put my hands on them pushing them apart.  “Enough!” My voice raised with aggravation.  “Both of you are being stupid. She isn’t a baby, Harl.  And, you just joined. You can’t expect us to immediately take you.  Ko!”  I cursed giving them a final shove.

Gulla shoved back knocking me off my feet and onto my ass with bruising force.  “Fine!” She stomped off.

“Brat,” Harl started to wind up for a rant

“Don’t start.” I pulled myself up.  “I’ll see you tonight.  By then, I hope you would have cooled off.”

***

 

The ride out of the faculty was uneventful.  I’d taken Bara and Celi for my crew.  I didn’t recognize Amaria’s people, but her group was the most secretive.  The main sewerage tunnel was as gross as you could imagine.  Slimy, reeking with dim light from our guns, and so cold, it made me thankful for my heavy combat gear. Amaria seemed to be the only one not affected. Her calm dignity intact as she got covered in unmentionable goo.

The light caught Harl making the motion to stop.  I heard the scraping sound of someone removing the grate. This, for me, had always been the worst part of any mission.  The quiet tension gnawed at my worries.  I’d rather be shot at any day.  Harl’s deep voice seemed to boom, even though I knew he was quiet.  “We’ll go as a team, my people first, Amaria’s to scout, and Hallen’s to provide range support.  I don’t know what’s in here, so we have to be careful.”

For an agonizing minute, the group slipped out of the grate.  I got out last, pulling out my gun in one smooth motion.  A quick glance told me Amaria’s people were already scouting.  “Bara, Celi. What in the Ko are you doing? Get your guns out.”  I put a considerable bite into my words.

Bara ducked his head.  “Sorry, Sir.  I thought I heard something.  I was talking it over with Celi. She said she can’t hear it.”

“Your weapon has to be out in a hot zone. Be vigilant.”  One thing I agreed with Gulla on was how amateurish our whole operation seemed.  We never had enough time to train, and most of them weren’t really battle-ready.  The only thing our army had going for it was everyone had nothing to lose.  A dubious quality to build a rebellion on.

“Harl! Vallen!”  It took me a moment to recognize Amaria’s voice.  She had never yelled before.  A stutter of gunfire filled the air as a scream was abruptly cut off.

“Get in defensive posture. Defend us with long range.”  I signaled my people as weapons came up firing in short bursts.

Amaria appeared out of thin air.  “There is too many, Harl. We need to move.”

“Your people?” Harl pulled out a map.

“Gone.”  The sorrow in that one word stopped my breathing. One always forgot that underneath Amaria’s cool, reserved exterior beat a sensitive heart.  “Harl, we do not have time for this.  Abort the mission.  We must go.”

 

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The Rebel’s Rise, Part 6

Harl grunted and crossed his arms.  “Fine, we’ll get started on this project.  Amaria, you’re in charge of it, and the girl.  Vallen, get back to training your troops.  We need that ammo from the depo.  Without it we are going to have to start cabalizing our gear to make weaponry.”

Amaria and I bowed keeping our heads down until Harl stomped off.  We exchanged a look.  Both of us were worried about Harl’s attitude.  To this day, I find it odd I had more in common with an alien than anyone else.

Vallen, do not trouble yourself.  Harl does not like her cavalier attitude.” Amaria fixed a very slight frown at Gulla who only grinned in return.  “Neither do I.  If she ever expects to lead she must behave as an adult, not a rebellious child.”

A sweet delight laugh burst out from Gulla.  “I’m just being myself, Amaria.”

I shook my head.  “I’ll go back to my soldiers.”

***

  A week passed without much change to our routine. Missions happened, people came back injured, and we retrieved supplies.  I walked by the lab occasionally to see Gulla and Amaria.

At the end of the week I attempted to choke down some dry rations. I was relieved when Harl called for a camp meeting.  I trotted over sipping out of my cup.  The first one to arrive as I gazed over the angular, broken landscape.  The remains of old wars.  The Nobles had stopped trying to rebuild the planet, too wrapped up in their own affairs.  In the end, I couldn’t be fully upset, since it kept us hidden.

I heard voices talking behind him as I turned.  Harl, Gulla, and Amaria stood at the center.  Harl motioned to Gulla.

She raised her voice loud enough to nearly echo over the area.  “We have created enough for the serum to enhance all the working soldiers.  However, as we tested we realize it does not activate immediately.  Therefore, we will do it in phases.  General Harl has picked out the first wave and you will report to the lab for your injection and calibration.  Not all the enhancements will take, and they may manifest differently.  Report any reaction to the medical officer or genetics, even if it is minor.”  She paused her dark eyes narrowed, and intense. The strength of her personality struck me, she took after my sister apparently.  “Headaches, rash, food tasting different, anything, understood?” The edge to her words was a command.

A chorus of ‘yes ma’am’ filled the air.

“Do as she says.  Obey.”  Harl slapped his hand onto his palm.  “Go out, the geneticist, will grab the first round.” He waved me over as the crowd dispersed.

I strolled over, taking another sip of water.  “What is it?”

Amaria stepped up beside Harl.  “General.”

Harl’s nostrils flared as Gulla strode up beside him.  “This doesn’t involve you.”

“Oh, I can’t listen?”  How such a sweet-looking thing could come off so demeaning surprised me.

Harl turned his back toward her before talking. “Tonight, I want to hit a military installation with a small team.  I want you and Amaria.  You need to bring two operatives from each of your teams.”

I considered this.  “Why are we going?” Gulla remained quiet and watchful.

“They have high grade explosives, and advanced weaponry.  And from a source I learned they won’t be as guarded because they were diverted to go escort a Noble to another Noble’s estate.”  I knew without asking he would not reveal his source.  Whoever the source was, he used them often and achieved good results.

Amaria’s appearance shifted a bit.  Her skin lightened and her hair darkened to black.  “This seems risky. Perhaps we should have less valuable people on the mission.  The cause could be irrevocably harmed if you and Vallen both died.”

“It’s too dangerous to risk the non-enhanced members.  You are, well, a Star Child, Vallen is a Noble, and I am a former head of a guard.”  Harl ground his jaw together loud enough to be heard. “This will give us a good arsenal.  I have hopes we will be able to duplicate some of it in our lab as well.  Though, it may not be possible.”

With grace, Amaria bowed low.  “It will be done.”  She popped up and headed out.

I nodded. “I’ll get it done.”

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The Rebel’s Rise, Part 5

If I were to be honest, I didn’t know we could trust her.  She was a slave, a slave to something I couldn’t even understand.  However, her master’s goals were our goals.  “She’s helped us from the very beginning.” I waited a beat.  “And, she didn’t have to tell us who, or what she is.  In fact, if I remember, her masters’ punished her for it.”

“I understand.  But, Amaria doesn’t make decisions on her own.  She’s at their beck and call, and if they changed their minds, she would have to obey.”

I knew there wasn’t any point to arguing.  Privately, I acknowledged the fact Amaria often disobeyed the Soul Merchants.  They punished her, brutally, but it didn’t seem to affect her decisions. “I trust her.”

He shook his head at me. “I already have enough problems with the Nobles.  I don’t need to add the Soul Merchants to the list of obstacles.”

“The Nobles are doing what they feel they have to.”  I used to be a Noble before my parent’s disowned me.  “I don’t think what they do is right, but I can see it from their point of view.”

Harl clapped me the back, hard.  “That’s why you are invaluable.  You know how they think, and you know their tactics.”

“We are still losing the war.  We need the technology.  If the girl brings it…”  A slight narrowing of my eyes as I expressed my seriousness. “We need to use it.”

He stepped back from me.  He crossed his bulky arms again.  “Don’t you worry if it has side effects? Or how dangerous it might be?”

“I don’t,” involuntarily, my head jerked away.  I motioned around us.  Shattered, remains of skyscrapers all around, littered with the remains of ships. Our base lacked proper lighting, we had stolen food, and the only place we had a computer was the lab. Which was a salvaged medical bay. “If we keep going as we are it will be over soon.”

“I hope she comes back with the tech then, Vallen.”  Harl’s brown eyes seemed darker, and more worn down.

****

A week passed and everyone started to think Gulla would not return. Amaria hadn’t either.  Unlike the rest of them I believed.  A foolish hope, perhaps, but I trusted my niece already.

While I was pacing back and forth behind my troops shots ringing out from the rifles as they did range practice,  I’d stopped to correct one of the new recruits.  “The butt of the gun has to be pressed hard against your shoulder to stabilize it.  You see how wild your shots are?”

A shout cut off the rest my words.  Harl’s voice seemed to boom in the open yard. “Vallen!” 

Terror pierced my heart. I was running toward him, gun in hand before I realized it.  My feet pounded the melted metal as I rolled behind a shattered ship hull behind him. My gun braced on the top of a shattered beam.

He looked over to me with a laugh.  “The girl’s returned.  Sorry to have frightened you, Vallen.”

My troops barrelled behind him.  I waved them off. “Go back to your posts.”  I took a deep breath and bellowed.  “No emergency, get back to drills.”

Gulla strolled up at ease, her sable eyes sparkling.  A battered metal box clasped in her hands. “Hello, Harlin.  Hello, Vallen.  Brought you a present.”

A shadow detached itself from the wall and stepped beside her as stood before Harl.  Amaria lips flicked upward.  “Gulla, try to be polite.”

“How does it work?” The gruffness of Harl’s voice failed to hide his excitement.

Gulla squatted down and lifted the lid off the box.  Four syringes rested on top of a metal box with several lights on top.  “You inject yourself, and then use the machine to calibrate the changes.  They were in the middle of making more usable as it stands you need a geneticist to set it up.”

“Is that all you have enough for four?” Harl glared down at her his eyes glowing with a rage. 

Gulla peered up at him, lifting a brow.  “That’s all I have made.  The machine can give you specs on making more.  You just have a lab to fabricate it.”

“We have a geneticist and a lab.” I broke the tense staring match before it escalated. Harl needed to stop talking to this girl as if she was some kind of moron.  She’d been fighting the same brutal fight for survival we had.

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The Rebel’s Rise, Part 4

Harl’s shout caused me to jump.  “Little girl, get over here and impress me.  If you can.”  

Gulla straightened her back and strutted over.  Arrogance apparent in every movement, with a flick of disdain toward Harl.  I could see the bravado, now, for what it was. 

Amaria stepped out of the shadows beside me.  “This I must see.”

 I glanced over my mind shocked at the warmth in her voice.  For once the many burdens she carried seemed lightened. Shocked cries caused my head to whip around as I felt my jaw swing open. 

 Gulla ran faster than my eye could follow through a field of sharp, broken metal.  As she jumped up to the suspended tube she lost her balance as a piece of metal gouged a part out of her leg.  She didn’t even pause.  She dug her knives into the plastic forcing her neck break speed even faster.  She flipped over the first wall by leaping out of the tube, landing on next barrier with a reverberating thud. Her arm pulled up the wall, and dashed up another wall.  She slipped off one the walls and crashed into the ground.

 I shot forward to help.  A hand pressed against my shoulder. “Don’t, Vallen.” Amaria’s silky voice flowed into my ears.

 Gulla stood up, wiped the blood off her face. Without a backward, glance she sprinted toward the beams.  A leap from one to the next with flawless moves. Off the final beam, she made a huge jump in the air, and landed with a bow.  Gulla limped toward AmariaAmaria wrapped her arm around Gulla.  Gulla straightened her dark eyes narrowed, she shouted.  “Did I impress you?”

 From even across the field I could see the scowl on his face.  Harl shouted back.  “Bring me the tech, girl!”

 “I’ll help heal your injuries,”  Amaria said.  She yanked her a knife from her belt. Her fingers pulled Gulla’s pant leg from her flesh. The knife sliced the fabric away. Amaria ran her fingers up and down Gulla’s leg.  The torn flesh started to knit together.

 Gulla brushed her off. “You worry too much, I’ll heal.”

 “I don’t think you worry enough.”  I could already see the bruises and welts rising on her skin.  “You are still young.”

 Gulla shrugged holding her shirt up to her nose.  She tugged it away for a moment. “I needed to show off and I did.  Goal accomplished.”

 Amaria let out a loud, protracted sigh.  “We should go get the tech from where ever you have hidden it. There isn’t much point in delaying the inevitable.” 

 I left them to go check on my men.  They had stopped working, and prepping the guns for tonight’s mission.  “Get back to it.”  Half of them jumped up as if caught.

 “Is that little thing really Gulla? Do you think she has the tech?”  One of the guys asked, his eyes round, and the light of hope touching his face.

 “Yes, and I don’t know.  But, that has nothing to do with tonight.  Don’t worry about tomorrow, because you still have to survive.  Get to it.”  The snap in my voice caused them to exchange nervous glances.  A bit of guilt hit me.  For so long we had been without hope.  However, being distracted would get them killed, I couldn’t have that.

 Harl bellowed for me.  I sent them one more intense glare before heading back to him. 

 His massive arms pressed against his broad chest.  “You are sure the girl is who she says she is?”

 “As sure as I can be.  She looks like Gulla, she talks like her, she has my sister’s smile.  Can I hundred percent guarantee, not really.  They alter genetics pretty heavily these days.  Who’s to say anyone is who they say they are.”  I batted my next comment around a bit before committing to it.  “Amaria wouldn’t have brought her around if she had any doubts.”

 Harl grunted. He never liked Amaria.  He might have if he didn’t know what she was.  She was more or less an alien who talked, moved, and behaved like an Alaget. At times I wish Amaria had only told me about her secret.  It would never sit well with Harl. Being a Star Child was curse enough. 

“She’s on our side.” My usual rebuttal to Harl’s doubts.

 His bushy brows flattened.  “I don’t know about that.”

 

 

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The Rebel’s Rise, Part 3

Gulla rolled her eyes. “It enhances genes. My parents were working a way to make it cheaper, easier, and more effective.”

“To what extent? I wish we had someone to showcase what it can do.” I knew from the unfocused expression Harl mostly was talking to himself.

Her impish little face broke into a smile. “I can demonstrate. Set up an obstacle course, or something. I’ll impress.”

Harl shot me a look which indicated he found her amazingly annoying. “Fine,” He turned around and started to bellow out orders.

Amaria, you should have told me.” She knew Gulla was my sister’s daughter. Amaria’s shoulders flowed upward, and collapsed. “Ties of family confuse me more than they clarify anything, Vallen. You gave your heart to her family, this I know. But, she did not know you. As far as she knows you are a stranger. Would you have forced a stranger on a child who witnessed her parents’ murders?” She knew the answer to that.

“I can make up my own mind. I’m not a child, I’m sixteen.” She announced as if there was a difference.

I could see a bit of her mother in the face. Her features had been altered with a great deal of symmetry. One of the side effects of enhancing that became a mark of pride. “You’re a child to me. I can still remember you chewing on plastic blocks.”

A flush turned her face red. “That was rude.”

“You are rude.” I kept my tone level. I didn’t appreciate her nasty words toward Harl.

“Maybe so, I’ve been on the run since I was fourteen. I didn’t even meet Amaria till a few months ago.” She looked away from me. “I’ve killed.”

Shame and sorrow caused me to flinch. She might look like a tiny girl, but she had to grow up fast on the run. Gulla should have grown up trusting me, and the rebels. Instead, she grew up fighting. I thought they had all died. The Nobles cleaned up all the bodies. What bastards leaving a young girl vulnerable so they could hunt and kill her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even think you were alive, no one did. We should have checked.”

A strange, wise look came over her. She gave me a half smile. “How would you know? They did it deceive you, and it worked. No surprise. I know you are friends with Harl. My parents never liked him. I don’t like how his running this war.”

Amaria stepped the shadows fading into them. I turned my attention to obstacle field. Harl was going full out. Tall walls to climb, barrels to climb through, a field with twisted bits of metal across it, and some tattered beams very low to the ground. I would have found it gruelling, and I had been fighting a brutal rebellion for years. Gulla looked undisturbed.

Harl swaggered over. “What do you think?”

She ran her eyes up his physique. “You think it’s impressive, so it’s good enough.”

“How so?” He cocked a brow at her.

“I need to prove to you about my abilities. If you think it’s tough, then I’ll amaze you. She tipped her head to the side looking up at him.

Harl shook his head. He threw a glanced my way. I smiled. He didn’t have to say it. I could tell what he was thinking. The little girl was cocky, and bold. And he’d enjoy watching her fail.

I wasn’t sure so sure her bravado was unearned. Amaria wouldn’t have brought her around if she couldn’t do what she said. If she’d been on the run from the Nobles for two years, she was no pushover. A question overwhelmed me suddenly. “Gulla, what happened to your brother Anth?”

Her dark eyes turned toward me. Her fingers brushed my arm.

A burning explosion filled my head.  My vision blocked by metal grates as I looked upon my sister, her husband, and Anth playing in a living room.  A knock at the door as my sister answered it.  “Gab, what are you.”  Her words cut off as bullets cut into her body knocking her on the ground.  The man grabbed my nephew attempting to flee, but the bullets got him and he went down.  Anth bawled as he was covered in blood. Gab, I assume, strolled in.  He kicked my brother-in-law’s body over, and calmly put a bullet in Anth’s head.  The vision faded as I staggered to my feet.

The boy had barely been old enough to walk. Her parents called him their little miracle. Things are degraded so much in the last few years. It was hard to imagine at one time the world hadn’t been in utter chaos.  “Gulla, you can share memories?” I barely got the words out.

She dipped her head, eyes glossy, and bright.  She bit down on her lip.  “Don’t tell anyone.”  Her eyes locked onto Harl, “Especially, not him.”

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The Rebel’s Rise, Part 2

Her attitude started to get on my nerves.  I’ll admit the rebellion was not going well, and had been not going well for a while. Our camp was a collection of ship debris welded together. Our fighters were going up against genetically enhanced guards.  Most of the ‘citizen’s, all who were not noble, weren’t enhanced even a little.

In order to win any engagement we either had to get in and out fast, or hit with overwhelming odds.  And, slowly we lost more people, and it was harder and harder to win at all. Still, what did a child know.

Her eyes went from my head down to my feet.  “I know enough.  I learned all about strategy, and tactics before I could talk.  I’m quite enhanced. All of this thanks to my parents.”

A moment passed before I realized she felt my emotions, or read my mind. Either answer disturbed me quite a bit.  “Regardless, it isn’t Harl’s fault. So, why are you needling him?” I hazarded a glance at Harl.  I could tell he didn’t appreciate me talking for him.  Tough.

“He failed my parents.”  Her eyes whipped back to him.  “You were suppose to protect them. You were supposed to bring the tech back to the rebels so the war would go in your favor.  You failed on both counts, didn’t you? My parents, my siblings dead, and you didn’t gain anything.”

Harl and I exchanged a look.  For all her adult behavior and vocabulary, she was a child hurt, because her family was gone.  She had to be the eldest.  “Gulla.”  She had my sister’s eyes.

To my utter surprise I found myself hard on the ground, a blade pressed against my throat. “How do you know my name?” My body stung, but I didn’t remember how it happened.  She must have increased reaction time.

I kept my voice steady.  Harl had a hard time holding everyone back as it was.  If I started to sound panicked someone would get hurt.  “I’m your mother’s brother.  I joined the Rebellion early on I used you when you were a baby.  But, then the rebellion got serious, and I had to go into hiding.  They’d leave care packages for me with your picture in it every once a while. Harl was friends with your parents too.  He tried to save them.  He isn’t perfect, and he didn’t.  There is no betrayal here. You feel like you have no one trust, but isn’t true.  We want to make a new life without the Nobles walking around with all the power.”

“I would not have brought you, if they couldn’t be trusted, Gulla.”  Amaria cool voice flowed over us.

I realized Amaria had known about this girl for a while.  A girl she should have told me about.

Harl took a lunge forward grabbing Amaria and giving her a good shake.  “You kept this from me? I thought you were devoted to our cause.”

In typical form Amaria didn’t react to being shaken, she only glanced at the beefy hand wrapped around her slim arm.  “I am. However, Gulla is her own person.  Young perhaps, but she is allowed her own decisions.”  Her odd gaze locked onto Harl’s.  “I have a strong desire to allow others the freedom to make their own choices.  She desired to come here.”

He tossed her arm away, and switched his attention back to Gulla. “Why did want to come here? Not to only insult me I assume.”

The knife left my throat, as she climbed off me. Gulla straightened her back, her hands on her hips.  “You wanted the tech.  You need it.  You can’t possibly take on the Nobles, and their guards without it.”  She glanced over at Amaria real quick. “I have it.”

At that moment the area broke in a cacophony of noise. I couldn’t tell if some disbelief, or if others were excited.  Too much noise, and too many voices.  Harl clapped once, everyone went silent. “What can it do?”

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