Friday, September 6, 2013

Royce's Dilemma - Chapter 4

Hrawf had just gotten off of duty an hour ago.  He had a nice hot shower to energize his cold-blooded metabolism and planned on stepping back out of his quarters to head up to the Legless Thrathumm for a few rounds of drink and song before preparing for sleep.  He stepped out of his shower, steam still rising off of the thick, horny scales on his back, when his intercom buzzed.

                “This is Sergeant Hrrrikil.  Officer Hrawf, we need you down on level 12 on the double.  Meet up with Officer Klsk at the juncture of residential corridors 8 and 15.  Someone is screaming in stateroom 8-23 and you’re the closest Security people we have.  I’ll be down behind shortly with a medic.”

                Hrawf sighed, letting his massive shoulders settle.  “Yes, sir.  Going now.”  Sensing the urgency in the Sergeant’s voice, he donned his body armor with a speed uncharacteristic for his kind and headed towards his door.  He glanced at his reflection in the mirror on the back of the door before opening it.  He saw a handsome young male Taratumm, with gleaming yellow-green scales, small and wide head with a broad beak and laterally set eyes.   He looked positively strapping.   He bobbed his head in approval briefly before sliding his door open and thudding down the residential hallways to his rendezvous.

                Klsk was already at the junction, looking agitated.  His normally bright crest was smudged with what looked like ash or char and he kept shifting back and forth on his feet, his whiplike Vislin tail twitching back and forth.  “Finally here.  Speed, Hrawf, we must make with speed.”

                Hrawf grunted and nodded.  He was used to the Vislin on the station taunting him and the other Taratumm about their gait.  Taratumm might be slower and far less agile than the predatory Vislin but made up for it with raw muscle mass and thickly armored scales.  The rivalry between their species, initiated in the ancient past of their shared homeworld had never entirely faded but had instead changed form from violent conflict to constant insults and one-upmanship.  Hrawf didn’t care what any Vislin thought of him.  They were shifty tail-kissers descended from cowardly marauders who had nearly decimated his ancestors.  They didn’t understand honor, or compassion, or friendship, just loyalty to their chosen pack and greed for approval and praise.

                Hrawf and Klsk made their way down Corridor 8 to the stateroom indicated by the Sergeant. Hrawf heard a muffled cry of pain through the solid door.  His sensitive ears recognized the voice as human, and belonging to a superior, Corporal Dea.

                Klsk dashed forward and tried the door.  It beeped as though it was opening, but didn’t budge.  “It’s stuck.  We’ll have to wait for reinforcements.  Call the Sergeant and let him know that we need a ram.”

                Hrawf shook his head.  “No.”  He focused his voices, trying to generate a vibration that would reach clearly to the inside of the room.  “Stay clear, Corporal Dea.  Coming in.  Breaking door.”

                Klsk shook his head violently.  “You’re going to try and break down a Zig made door with nothing but your bulk?  Fine, when she dies for lack of aid you can tell her family.”  He crossed his arms and stood back.  Why isn’t he calling the Sergeant then?  Hrawf wondered as he squared his shoulders, waggled his hips, and charged the door head-first.

                The massive impact of his nearly 300 kilo frame against the door was mostly absorbed by his powerful spine (even modern Taratumm ram one another in play or mock duels on occasion) and he felt the door buckle.  He took a step back and focused forward with one eye, scanning the corridor for the approaching Sergeant with the other.  The door had a huge dent in it, and there was a small gap where the blow had pulled it a bit away from the frame.  He shifted his angle, wiggled his hips once more, and charged again.

                This time he was rewarded with a crash and the sound of tearing metal as he staggered through the opening he had created into a room that was not designed for someone of his bulk.  Corporal Dea lay in front of him on her bed in a leotard, her face red and screwed up in pain, her hands clutching her left thigh.  Following her arms, he found a patch of skin, not much larger than the palm of one of her hands bubbling as though from internal heat.

                Klsk dashed in.  “We’ll have to amputate it.  Now!”  He pulled a long, thin utility blade out of his harness.

                This seemed wrong to Hrawf.  Very wrong.  “No.  Wait for medics.” He said, stamping a massive foot.

                Klsk’s tail whipped hard.  It lashed against Hrawf, who barely felt it through his body armor and scales.  “No time for that.  No time anymore.  It’s going to explode!”

                “Whaaaat?”  Hrawf was feeling even more confused.  Explode?  Why would her leg explode?  How did Klsk know her leg would explode?  “Wait!”  He roared as Klsk lashed out and downwards with the thin, ultra sharp blade, severing Officer Dea’s leg very close to the hip.

                “NO!  WRONG!”  Hrawf reached out with one massive hand and clamped down on the remaining stub of Royce’s leg with all of his might.  He thought that he felt bone crunch but his powerful grip managed to stop the massive arterial spurting almost before it began.  Baffled, he looked at Klsk, who had the human’s leg by the ankle.  Red circulatory fluid was spraying out of the other end of it, and Klsk ducked halfway around the door, looked around, and hurled the leg out of sight.  He ducked back around the door frame and covered his head with his bloodstained hands.

                No explosion came.  Hrawf, dazed, confused, and terrified, reached out with his other hand and grasped at the Vislin’s torso, gripping it three-quarters of the way around.  This time he did feel bone crunch.  “Why, Klsk, why?” he roared.  Hrawf barely noticed that his feet were stomping at the floor, and that his body was starting to grow warmer.

                The reptilian creatures of their shared homeworld had adapted to dangers of their planet’s long nights through a unique mechanism.  Though they would fall into torpor during the long, cold nights caused by their world’s slow rotation, danger stimuli would provoke a series of short-term metabolic changes that would cause their bodies to begin to heat internally.  It was usually enough for a quick response, a fight or flight.  Neither the Vislin nor the Taratumm had entirely evolved past this frenzied danger response, and as a result were prone to occasionally falling into an atavistic fugue of terror or rage.

                Just such a rage response was being invoked in Hrawf now.  Klsk, writhing in pain and seeing an image that plagued his species’ nightmares for untold generations, the Taratumm Battle-Dance, began to shriek in terror and jerk about in Hrawf’s hand, struggling to get free.  One of Hrawf’s eyes was focused on Klsk, the other rolling madly, seeking any other potential dangers for him to direct his frenzy at.

                “My life is my clan.  You are my clan.  We are the Family.  My life is my clan.  You are my Clan.  We are the Family…”  Royce, despite the massive trauma that she was enduring, was speaking through shuddering gasps of pain, repeating words in passable though heavily accented Hrotata.

                A figure stepped into the door frame and Hrawf almost lunged at it until he saw who and what it was.  A small, furry creature, with large, expressive eyes, a wet and mobile nose and long, twitching whiskers.  It was speaking along with Dea, chanting, “My life is my clan.  You are my Clan.  We are the Family.”

                Hrawf shut his eyes.  It was hard to do, one of the hardest things he had ever done, but he did, because he knew that was what you were supposed to do when the Chant was being enacted.  You shut your eyes, and tried not to move, and focused on the words.  You tried to say the words, even if the rage was making your jaw try to lock shut, even though your lungs would be working like a bellows.  “My life is my CLAN! YOU ARE CLAN!  WE ARE FAMILY!” He roared.

                Slowly he began to feel the rage response lessen.  Slowly he felt his limbs cool, and even his core began to cool a little.  He dropped to his knees; grip still firm on both parties, ashamed.  He continued the chant as he heard other sapients come in and felt them work on Officer Dea and gently extract her from one of his hands.  He continued the chant as he felt Klsk pried from his grasp and vaguely heard him being lead away.  He continued the chant until the only person in the room with him was Sergeant Hrrrkil, still chanting with him, stroking his face, his torso, and his shoulders, grooming the cracks between his scales, whispering in his ear to be calm, that he was with family, that the danger was gone.

1 comment:

  1. A scene like this was inevitable when we first started discussing the Great Family. The Taratumm and Vislin stress responses were their first defining assets/flaws, and the Hrotata were the key to explaining how such unstable dinosaurs managed to go from the savannah to the stars. At the same time, as much as the character's response is extreme, the situation is one where any human character might respond "WHAT THE HELL!" and suffer their own breakdown. Besides my initial enjoyment of this scene, I just wanted to point out that the Taratumm are one of those species most science fiction avoids. They're big, but they're not gentle giants. They fill up space, may step on you, and may crush your head if provoked. Yet they're not brutes, either. They might be awesome to take out to Karaoke night, but you'd want to watch how much they drink. Okay, now I want to write a Taratumm comedian. It's all hilarious until he gets heckled...