Jake Harcourt established orbit around the planet. He was a mercenary, the son of a mercenary. Jake had just come from ‘One Hell of a Battle,’ if you asked him. It had been on a small God forsaken planet in the Nubula System that was nothing more than a rock. The crunch came because the rock was almost solid galnon crystals. A very sought after item - worth your mother’s weight in gold - and that’s what Jake liked, the shiny stuff. Not that he didn’t like the adventure of a good fight, but he found since he turned thirty-nine a few weeks ago some of the fun had gone out of the battles. Jake was finding more aches and pains after each confrontation. That’s how he felt today, full of aches and even though he showered three times he still felt gritty from that dirty little planet. He wanted to see some green, relax for a few days and nurse his bad leg from that Arcanian pig sticker. He checked his father’s log for the closest planet that was habitable, with a lot of green, where he could buy some fresh grub from the friendlies. His dad kept a detailed log of all the planets he visited and all the people he met in his forty odd years of mercenary work. The entry for this planet he was orbiting sounded like the ticket.
Met a trader today on Rigil Four. Name of Raa.
Nice robust chap with unusual bright, blue cat eyes.
Says his home is Sector 124, Section A10,
Star Line 43/68/15/44, in the Nigula System.
Sounds like a sweet place for R & R.
Forested, tree dwellers.
He says the welcome mat is always out.
Jake threw a few things in his pack. He tossed the pack in the planet pod for the trip down and called to Kay-o, a pet dar-dolf, something like a cross between a wolf and a bear. Jake picked up Kay-o as a prize in a game of chance, about two years ago. He had been trying to teach him manners ever since. The dar-dolf did not take well to discipline and he had very sharp teeth. However, even though he had a habit of chewing up Jake’s best gloves every time he got a new pair, Kay-o was a loyal companion and a real scrapper in a fight. He’d saved Jake’s bacon more than once.
Kay-o planted himself confidently in the pilot’s seat as though he intended to fly the pod himself.
“Come!” Jake patted the passenger seat invitingly.
Kay-o settled down in a half lying position in the pilot’s seat, the sheer bulk of his massive, hairy body spilling over the edges of the chair. Even in this simi-reclining position he was still tall enough to be able to see out the front viewport. Jake thought for sure he detected a slight glint in the dar-dolf’s eyes.
“Kay-o! Come!” Jake commanded, in what he hoped was a more forceful tone. He followed the command with a tug on the dar-dolf’s stout harness.
Kay-o’s eyes narrowed to slits and he emitted a deep rumbling growl.
Jake removed one of his gloves from its place tucked under his belt and tossed it into the passenger seat. Kay-o obediently hopped over grabbing Jake’s glove triumphantly in his paws. The mercenary thought he saw a sparkle of mischief in the beast’s eyes as he tore into the leather of the new glove with his huge canines.
“Enjoy it while you can,” he muttered to Kay-o. “I swear that’s the last one you get.” Jake took his own position in the pilot’s seat and powered up the thrusters for the descent to the planet’s surface.
When Jake got within scanner range he started looking for the settlement. There was none. Lots of green, but no people. His father’s log was never wrong. Something must have happened. Jake decided to land and investigate. There was nothing he loved more than solving a good mystery.
He set the planet pod down on the shore of a crystal blue lake at the edge of a grove of trees. The planet might not be inhabited, but it was a lovely place for a good rest. He and Kay-o piled out of the pod to start their reconnaissance.
They found a tree dwelling almost immediately. There had been no effort made to conceal it. Jake was walking around the trunk of the tree wondering how to announce himself when everything happened at once.
He saw a young man, hardly more than a boy, step through the bushes at the edge of the stand of trees. He was tall and slender. He wore britches and a loose fitting tunic of tan, with knee high boots of a soft fawn color. The kid was holding a knife in one hand, a bunch of reeds in the other. He had been gathering, not hunting. The boy was startled to see someone at his home. He stood transfixed, rigid in surprise, at the edge of the clearing under the trees. All of these details plus his beautiful, blue cat eyes, that stared out of an otherwise human looking face, Jake took in the few brief seconds before Kay-o sprung out of nowhere to attack the boy. The dar-dolf’s sheer power and weight took the boy by surprise. His knees buckled and he was knocked to the ground. Kay-o saw the knife as a weapon. He went for the boy’s throat, his teeth sinking savagely into the kid’s shoulder. The boy screamed in pain and took a valiant stab at the dar-dolf, the knife glancing off the chain-mail coat Kay-o wore. This action reinforced the dar-dolf’s feelings that this alien being was hostile. Kay-o went in for the kill.
“Le-go!” Jake screamed. “Le-go! Back!” He hollered, as he tugged violently at Kay-o’s harness. “Down!”
Jake’s commands to Kay-o were interspersed with kicks and curses. Eventually, he had to physically pull the raging dar-dolf off the boy and leave him lying there bleeding while he secured Kay-o in the planet pod. The dar-dolf had gotten his taste of blood. He was all for finishing the job. Flushed with anger, Jake dragged the snarling beast back to the pod. He couldn’t be too angry with Kay-o. On Titan III there was a similar situation, but the guy in the bushes was an armed Adruvian and Kay-o’s actions then saved Jake’s life. After all, Kay-o was only a dumb dar-dolf. Sometimes, he had a hard time distinguishing friend from foe.
By the time Jake made it back to the boy the lad was lying in a pool of blood, ashen colored and cool to the touch, but still alive. He had grabbed the first aid box from the planet pod. The mercenary went to work with that cool professionalism that only came from experience on the battlefield, many battlefields.
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