Chapter Nine

Artimus starts to rise above the hills as she sneaks around the side of the bolder and waits until the moon is a fist above the horizon. She leaps onto the bolder just as one of the search lights starts to flicker. Her mouth is dry and her throat is choked, but the air is fresh and clean and makes her feel as though she is standing in the middle of the tornado Sa showed her.

The groan of machinery aches across the rocks, but she does not duck as she sneaks forwards with her heart pounding in her chest. She can only pray that she is as fast as she thinks she might be; otherwise she may be walking into her own trap.

The search lights start to flicker again as the wind shifts direction. Artimus glows in a shade of pale shined pewter as it rises higher. She watches the moon and swallows thickly as she waits for the moment when the search lights will vanish before rebooting. The wind shifts again, and then the fence surrounding the town is dark. She jumps forward and leaps to the nearest rock, before continuing towards the fence. She uses the boulders as stepping stones as she counts the seconds.

She can only hope that she is fast enough. And if she is not… The words die as though they have never been spoken. The snap of the fence reaches her as she stands on top of the nearest boulder on the northwest side of the town. She has never hoped that she was wrong more than she does now. But the open space in front of her that used to be a graveyard for the exterminations could kill anything with a single blow.

There is an open plot dig in the dark ground. And suddenly it does not seem to matter if she was right or not. There is a rushing sound from the search lights and she tears herself away from the old graveyard. She jumps off of the boulder just as the lights flicker back to life. They chase her as she runs away from the town that used to be her town and towards the home in the plains that she never had.

She stops as she reaches the side of the mountain with Sa’s cave. She finds a place wedged in between two large boulders that could easily cover her and sinks down to the ground. She cannot stop the tears that flow down her cheeks or the harsh breathes that remind her that she is suddenly not alone.

She will not look for revenge in her plan. She is not going to fight for everyone who has already lost. But to see them, to see the place where they were buried with heads smashed together and feet sticking up through the ground. They may have been considered devils and demons and criminals, but does anyone truly deserve something so horrible?

Dead is dead. But dead and hated is something different. She has never thought about life after death or any such thing, but belief creates belief. Who is so willing to place so many bodies in one grave? But anyone who would does not see their victims as beings anymore would be willing to do so; their victims are simply something to be put in the ground in as short an amount of time as possible. Why should they be buried on their own?

She wipes away her tears, but more flow and stick to her face. She still cannot be sure what the ship’s beings are planning, but the grave that she saw could explain some of it. If they are not planning on exterminating everyone, than perhaps they are simply choosing the criminals. But everyone is a criminal. The only honest beings in town work for a criminal, and anyone who is not honest is great.

No, everyone will end up being the waste that is dumped out of sight if the council of beings are planning on bring new settlers onto the planet. And it would only make sense that they are. She cannot remember reading about a time when they have simply let a possible planet sit without the ‘right population’. And their planet, her planet, would not fit the council’s qualifications for a proper planet.

A planet of criminals would be pointless. If the council would only wait for a few decades, it is quite possible that most of the current population would die on their own. Many would be destroyed, and some would survive. But there would not be many. At least, if things continue the way that they were before the ship arrived.

Her tears turn into anger as she rocks back and forth. Who is in control of life? Who gets to decide when someone is going to die? Who gets to decide what to do with an entire race or an entire species? She should have a choice and live for the rest of her days instead of being hunted like the monster that she could be. But everyone is a monster. And she is less of a monster than the council of beings who decided to exterminate the races that lived in this planet long before any other beings found it.

She knows what she should do. She hopes she knows what she should do. If only Sa would tell her if she is right. If only someone was standing next to her to let her know that her plan is not impossible. If only she still had her parents hovering around her and Marie watching her with an expression that could be a mix of fear and disgust.

She should not think about Marie. Marie is probably sitting around a table in town with the ship’s beings telling her stories of the news from other planets and pouring each other expensive drinks confiscated from someone’s old cellar. She should not think about Marie. They are nothing alike; she is a Hirpoun and a hunted criminal, and Marie is a human who ended up working for the wrong family.

Things are different now. They have changed positions; Marie is now the top of the top and she is being hunted. At least Marie was never hunted. At least she does not have anyone to compare her feelings to. She is alone, and she will be alone. Even if she manages to find her parents again, she will still be alone with her own thoughts. And yet, she always has Sa. Or Sa always has her. She may be alone, but she is never entirely alone.

Especially when she is not entirely sure what is real. Where she is seems more real than most things, and the wind that is now biting into her with cold teeth will not let her find shelter. She should not need shelter, she is someone of this planet. Her planet. And she has a plan that she will use as soon as the sun starts to rise again.

For now, she should use the time that she has to think. She should decide what she wants if nothing is impossible. For now, she needs to figure out where to find the unnamed gang who was looking for her. Her plan will be easy enough once she knows where to find them.

She will not continue to hide, especially once she knows if her plan will be possible. She will find a time to reveal herself. She simply wishes that it will be on her terms. If only she knew where her parents are. But she does not and she should respect that. She may never know where her parents are, but she has things to do.

The sun starts to come above the edge of the hills. She stays where she is with her hands pressed into her face and her back wedged in between the two rock behind her. She swallows thickly as she removes her hands and looks down at her legs, she should try to be safe. She should try, but she does not like the idea of letting go of her natural body for a moment.

A thunk snaps her out of her thoughts, and she sighs as she settles back into her normal form. She will be able to taste the wind again tonight when she knows that no one will happen to find her. She doubts that any of the ship’s beings would be stupid enough to travel around the planet on their own during the day, but she cannot be sure while she knows that the sensors saw her.

She is trapped in this other skin whether she likes it or not. At least, for now. She will be free again tonight. Perhaps now she should consider finding a way back into town to search for the unnamed gang. She could start with a different gang of course, but it will be much easier if she is searching for a group who is also searching for her. And she will welcome the things that are easy right now.

Her past life of pretending to be something else ‘more normal’ while living in a dying town seems to be from a long time ago. It almost seems to be something that Sa showed her. Her parents faces are still real. And Marie’s face is far more real than it should be. But her memories are hazy and old. She supposes that the memories of where she is now will feel the same way in a few decades. If she manages to live that long.

She does not know how she would ever be able to forget the way the wind smells or the way her feet curve around the rocks when she is in her natural form. But unexpected things happen. And she will be a bringer of unexpected things soon enough.

The ship’s beings must think that they are walking around on a planet that they failed to turn into a viable home, but they are the very intruders that they are hunting. If they are hunting at all. She does not know why they would not be. If they plan on settling, then she is sure that they will not want to live in a town that is filled with criminals. They will have to kill them. They will have to exterminate them.

Her race is just another pebble in a long, long line that may never end. There will always be someone who is ‘not good enough’ or a ‘savage’ who could never be part of some sort of perfect galaxy. And she is just one being with a crazy plan that may never work. But her point is not to make it work. Her point is to be crazy enough to consider the fact that she can bring on an idea.

It does not matter if she fails. She does not know if she would even care if it fails; she might be horrible for a few days. But she will not have very many days left to feel horrible if her plan fails. Even if it succeeds, she may never actually be able to say that it did.

She knows that she should try not to think about things that may never happen. But the sun is still coming up and she does not know what else to think. There is another thump from the town, but it does not concern her so it will not matter. Not yet at least. If everything goes well, there is a point where everything that happens on the planet will matter. But that time is not here yet.

She wishes that she knew what Sa wants her to do. Perhaps she should never attempt something that she is not entirely sure that she believes in. But the graves that she saw assures her that she knows what she is doing. Perhaps it is a false hope that she is creating to reassure herself, but she has been right about other things as well. And she has some time to think. She has some time to wonder if she is truly considering the right things.

But there are not any right things. Everything is wrong in one way or another. At least, this way, she will be able to choose which idea she should follow. Perhaps there was such a thing as the right decision at some point, but that point seemed to fade away along with the sinking town that Sa showed her.

Her life has been something different since then. But she is not entirely sure how. Perhaps the way that she is thinking about things now is the way that she has always thought about things. Perhaps there is such a thing as destiny. And perhaps this is hers.

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