The sun was blazing overhead. Not a single breeze was stirring the dry branches of the stunted bushes by the side of the road. A lone lizard sprawled near a scattering of boulders, soaking up the heat of the midday hour.
“I don’t see why we have to walk all this way. This damn heat is killing me!”
The taller man turned to his companion and grinned sardonically.
“You think this is funny? I am getting heatstroke over here.”
“I do not remember twisting your arm to come along. You are here because of your own stupid greed.”
“Well, let me tell you, triple time doesn’t sound like much anymore.” The shorter man kicked a rock at the basking lizard and missed by several feet. “Damn service regulations! We should be able to use the copter on a day like this. It’s just too damn hot to walk all the way into town. Gods alive! I will talk to First when we get back and ask for more money.”
“Sure you will.” The tall man agreed and added condescendingly. “You know full well that there is no retroactive negotiation of rewards.”
“Yeah, well, maybe so but I sure as kalodan am gonna ask him about the use of the copter for the next assignment.”
The taller man laughed out loud. “You fool! ‘Airborne vehicles may not be operated, under any circumstances, within a ten mile radius of any native settlement or suspected settlement with the sole exception of the commanding officer.’ Article 12, section 3, paragraph 13a. If we all started flying around First would lose his edge in the negotiations. You know what they are like.”
The shorter man muttered something and took a long swallow from his canteen. “I still can’t stand this damn heat!”
After that they walked in silence for a while. The landscape changed almost imperceptibly. Greener vegetation started to appear and small mammals were scampering under the shade of small trees.
The taller man scanned the horizon and looked down at his electronic map. “We must be getting close to the river. I’d say we’ll get there within the hour.”
The shorter man looked up and nodded consent after checking his direction finder. “Yep, and that’s a good thing, too.”
The twin cities did not look like much, low houses, no more than two stories, huddled together on both sides of the river. The uniform colour of those dwellings appeared to be a dirty off-white. Nonetheless, the wall that surrounded the settlement was a good twenty feet high and according to their intelligence report about 15,000 natives lived within. They could see the three bridges spanning the river, connecting the cities and there were fields to the east of the city on the other side.
“Well, I certainly hope we don’t have to look too long.” The tall man said as he looked at the sun. “I reckon we have another 4 hours before nightfall.”
“Great, not only am I being cooked alive by that damn furnace, now I have to hurry as well…” He stopped dead in his tracks. ”Hang on, are you saying they are gonna start even with us in there.” He was pointing at the cities.
“Yes, I thought you knew. They only found out that one of them was in there,” he indicated the cities, “after they had ordered the action. Why do you think we are getting triple time?”
“Close native encounter?”
The tall man turned to face his companion and shook his head. “How did you ever make it into the service?”
As they started walking again, the shorter man overtook him and said, ”Well, come on. I do not want to be here when it happens.”
Passing through the gates proved to be no problem. The native garbs they had been supplied with proved more than effective and they entered the city without arousing any suspicion.
“I still don’t see the attraction most of you guys have for their girls, they are too short and dark.” The tall man observed, while he adjusted his locator.
“Short they may be, but they know tricks even I had never heard of before I got here. They are totally obsessed with their sexuality. Did you know that even the males do it together. Imagine that.” He said dreamily.
“You disgust me. It’s a good thing the action was ordered. Look at them, you can just tell what they are thinking. Filthy animals!”
“Easy there, big fellow. We still have this rescue to finish before we can relax. I want to get out of here and collect my money-alive, if you know what I mean.”
“Yes… yes you are right.” The tall man moved the locator in slow deliberate arcs under his tunic as they walked through the multitude of natives and animals in the narrow passage ways.
The little device let out a hum followed by a series of sharp piercing beeps, audible only to the special implants both men had inserted into their aural passage.
“I’ve got him. He is over there. Yeah, that building at the end of the market place. Quick, come on!”
Both men ran to the indicated house and called out the native’s name. After a while a husky heavy set man in his middle years appeared in the doorway. The short man turned a few knobs on the translator and switched the microphone on.
“We have come to take you and yours to a place of safety, for it has been decided to punish these cities as they are offending the sight of the most high.”
The native looked startled, not quite knowing how to react, but then he composed himself and simply asked:” The negotiations have failed?”
The tall man nodded.
“Please come in.” The native said as he beckoned them to come in, carefully closing the door behind them.
“Please, Shining Ones. What can I do? What will happen?”
The short man looked at the tall man and switched the translator off.
“What are we going to tell him? That First thought it would be wise to show our strength at this stage of the negotiations?”
“Hardly. Let me speak now.”
The tall man took the translator, switched it on and sternly looked at the native.
“These cities have lost the way of the most high. For that they are being punished, but you have been found righteous and worthy to live to see another day. Thus, take yourself
and those that are of you into the mountains and do not delay your departure but leave now!”
Switching off the translator and seeing the native hurry further into the house, the tall man said: “That ought to do it. Well, I guess that’s it. Now we just have to see that he gets to the foot of the mountain.”
“I humbly beg your pardon, but we cannot leave the city after dusk. The gates are closed and my neighbours would be very suspicious, if they saw us leave now.” He imploringly looked from one to the other. ”You surely understand…”
“Ah, damn it. We’ll be cutting it too close.”
“Yes, but he has got a point.” The tall man said. He turned to the native. “Very well, we shall leave in the morning.”
They waited while the family of the chosen man gathered outside the house. After short deliberations and seemingly a few arguments between the natives they appeared ready to leave. Some of the citizenry blocked their path and inquired as to where they were going.
As time was of the essence, the tall man burned them where they stood and moved on.
The short man caught up with him and asked: “Was that really necessary?”
“What’s the difference? They are all gonna be dust soon anyway.”
They walked with the rescued natives until they reached the foothills. Here, they were assembled once more and told to go as far up the mountain as possible and not to stop for anything.
“One more thing.” The tall man said. ”Do not look back, whatever happens just keep walking, Ok? No looking back!”
The tall man looked at everyone of the natives. “That goes for everybody! If you look back, you will be as dead as a pillar of salt. Am I understood?”
The natives nodded in numbed awe and as one turned to scramble up the mountain. The two men watched them disappear between the boulders.
“What was that salt shit?” The shorter man asked.
“I don’t know. I just came up with it, Ok? After all, if they turn around the flash will most certainly blind them. And our orders were not to let any harm come to them”
“Yeah, I guess that’s fair enough.” He looked at sun and scratched his head. “Speaking of which, shouldn’t we get the hells outta here?”
The tall one shrugged his shoulders and indicated a large black rock half a mile to the south. “That’s the pick-up point. Let’s go.”
They trotted down, activated the beacon and settled down for a short wait.
As the Pick-up descended the short man stared back at the cities and said: “Do you think this is right? I mean they are a kind of people, aren’t they.” He turned to face the tall man.
“Look at it this way,” he said, “who is gonna remember any of this in a thousand years time? No one. Right?” He asked raising his red eyebrows.
In the distance they could hear the sonic booms.
copyright by M Oncel
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