A Soulless Christmas, Part Four
This very special Forsaken Stars Tale of A Soulless Christmas takes place in Captain Sera Besh’s youth. You know, before she was a Captain. To begin with Part One, click here.
Seven days after Nieve’s arrival, Samwell and Sera had gone into town to pick up some equipment and parts for a couple of projects that they had lined up to tinker with in the workshop. They were arguing about how to increase the efficiency of power distribution in the Bluebird when they drove up to the farm. Smoke and fire billowed from the hovel, the workshop, and power station. The barn was open, animals ran free or laid in the dirt, shot dead by pulse rifle fire or ran through by spears and swords.
“Privateers,” Samwell said through grit teeth, and leaped out of the hovercar before it had come to a full stop. He ran into the hovel.
Sera stepped out of the car and walked towards the center of the farm and surveyed the destruction. B9, missing his lower limbs, pulled himself along the ground towards her. She ran to him and knelt, drawing him into her lap. “Report,” she said.
“Band of Pirates—zzzt!—attacked, looking for Mister Nieve. I tried to protect your Uncle Dorn, but I was unsuccessful. Zzzt!—they questioned him, beating him for answers, but he would not—zzzt!–yield.”
Sera looked around, saw the bodies of a couple of farmhands, Zaych and Brundt–they’d been young, hearty men, loyal and brave, and paid with their lives, Sera wouldn’t forget them—but her uncle was nowhere to be seen. “Where is Uncle Dorn, B9?”
“They were clever. When he would not relent, they turned to me and promised that if I did not tell them where the Wolfen was, they would kill Master Dorn.”
Oh, no, Sera thought. B9 was incapable of lying, and incapable of allowing harm to come to any sentient being—unless it was threatening another. “What did you do? What did you say?”
“I—I had no choice, Miss Sera.”
“I told them Mister Nieve was tending to the wheat crop to the east, when in fact he was tending to the winter rye to the west. They took Master Dorn with them, alive.”
“Good ‘bot,” Sera said.
Sera’s father ran out of the hovel towards the barn when he saw Sera and doubled back. “Your mother’s not in the house, not in the cellar.”
“She went to deliver lunch to Nieve. He was tending the winter rye to the west,” B9 said and sputtered into non-operation.
“Saddle one of the tri-horses,” Samwell said, nodding to one of the loose stallions, “ride to Winton’s and stay there until I come get you.” He turned and made for the hovercar.
“But, dad, I want to come with you!”
“No, Sera. Take B9’s memory core. See if you can get me numbers, faces, anything tactical. I’m counting on you, baby girl!”
Sera let out a frustrated grrr!, pulled out B9’s black cube of a memory core from the back of its head and stormed to the barn. She tried to ignore the smell of pulse-seared flesh and mess, reached for a saddle, and then felt the cold, hard arms of a stranger around her waist and a heavy hand clap her mouth shut.
“Not a sound dearie,” a whiskey-laced voice insisted as Sera struggled and tried to scream through the palm of his fleshy hand. “‘Stayed behind on the gamble that our bounty might double back. Looks like I’ve caught a pretty little one to barter with, in case the Snowcub won’t come along quietly.”
Sera fumbled frantically in her pocket, her fingers clasping at a laser lighter. She palmed it and flicked it on, and the small, bright beam singed the arm of her attacker.
“Yeargh!” He cried, flinging her down onto the ground. “You’ll pay for that, squint.”
Sera scrambled her way deeper into the barn, rolled into a crouch and passed the memory core cube from one hand to the other.
“What you have there?” He said. He was heavyset and brown-skinned, with leathers, tattoos and a nose ring that marked him as more Gotham than Human.
“You ever hear of a humankind game called baseball?”
With that, Sera pitched the cube as hard as she could at the Privateer, hitting him square between the eyes. The cube bounced, he shook it off, and then came at her.
“You stupid girl, dontcha know Gothams love pain? It’s the balm in our soulless existence.”
Sera wasn’t sure what to do next, but she hoped she was more nimble than his reach.
He moved closer and drew a long knife.
“Come here, and I’ll show you pain exquisite.”
His thick lips contorted into a twisted smile—and then a blade shot through the front of his face. A trail of blood ran down his mouth, chin and throat. The blade withdrew and the Gothamite Privateer fell forward. Behind him stood a white-and-blue-furred Wolfen, with black on blue eyes. He sheathed his longsword. Sera’s heart leapt into her throat as his identity dawned on her.
“My reputation precedes me,” he said, smirking and bowing elaborately. “Now, tell me, where is my baby brother?”
* * *
When Emilene heard the first few shots ring out from the direction of the hovel, her first instinct was to run towards home. Fortunately for her, she had been lunching with Nieve, and his first instinct was to drop everything, grab Emilene and head north for the cover of the forest.
“Night will fall soon, and it will be our ally.”
“We should call for help—” Emilene started, but he pitched the comm from her hand.
“Foolishness! They will be monitoring communications!”
“Those were privateer pulse musket bursts. Pray they’re not working with the Ohm Hordes, otherwise, the forest will be the last place we want to be.”
“I have to warn my husband!”
“They will likely jam our transmissions,” Nieve said. Emilene looked at him with such despondency, eyes wide, eyebrows upturned, cheeks flushed, that Nieve shook his head and picked up the comm. “Then I will draw them away.” He turned on the comm’s distress beacon. “You have to run. Keep running west until you can run no more, or until you can find a deep, dark cave to hide in. But running is better.”
Emilene’s knees already ached from the cold. “No, no, we’ll be safer if we stick together.”
“No,” Nieve said, pulling off his vest, as the skin under his tunic began to visibly crawl, “no, you won’t be safe, Emilene.” His pale face started to grow a white beard, and his nose began to distend. “Now go, dark work must be done here. Thank you for everything your family has done for me.”
She watched him disappear into the forest, snatching branches off trees as he went. He howled a lament, and she turned and started off west.
Sonofabitch, you mean I have to wait until Monday to read the conclusion? That’s right, boys and girls, come back Monday for the exciting final installment, and your final chance to win a sketch from this story! Leave a comment below and tell me what a bastard I am, or be nice and tell me what a great story this is or who is your favorite character so far. Drawing will be held on Christmas Day! Good Luck and Happy Holidays!