FAMILY

by John Dodd

It's out there somewhere, I've run from it all my life, and it's always known that, I cannot defeat it in combat the way I want to, I have no chance against it, and in that, I know my only way out.

My name is Coral, I am a Wraith Raider of the Deji tribe, and as long as I can remember, this thing has been a part of my life. When I was a tiny baby, it destroyed my parents, when I was older, it took my sister, and ever since then, it has remained on my homeworld, taking the innocent to feed its monstrous appetite.

Upon the orders of our squad medic, I am taking some R&R on my homeworld, what he doesn't know is that I have every intention of seeking an end to this torment that I have endured for so long. I have put in a request to the council of elders, and I will hear their answer upon my arrival at polo.

The ship touches down softly, the pilots masters of their craft, and as I depart the ship, I feel the icy blast of wind shearing across the landing field. For the first time in many weeks, I open my cold suit without trepidation, and revel in the wintery grasp of my homeland. The last members of my settlement are there to greet me, the beast has destroyed all the other people who my family once called friends, and they know why I am here. I greet them with all the emotion I can muster, and they respect me for this, this is not a time for happiness, and I waste no more time with them than necessary, making my way directly to the Elder spire in the centre of Timn.

The Council have always given me more leeway than I should be allowed, this is due to the standing of my parents, both of them the best at what they did, but the request that I have made here stretches even their tolerance.

"You have asked the privilege of a Keeper of the faith, young Coral." intones Marcsh, head of the council I stand silently, acknowledging his words with a single nod of my head "I understand your request," he continues "but surely you understand that we cannot allot you that privilege."

I lower my head to indicate that I understand his words, and if there were any way that I could stop my request, I would. He nods once, grimly, and turns to the other members of the council "Is it decided?"

I see the rest of the council start to nod and realise that my request could be denied, I cannot allow that.

"Wait." the words are out of my mouth before I can stop them.

Two of the council elders stand and leave the room instantly, such is my breach of tradition, the other three look down coldly at me "You cannot defeat this thing." Marcsh says, his every word falling like a death knell.

"It is better to have tried and died than to live a life knowing failure."

"Perhaps, but what will be the point of this?"

"It is mine to know." I reply The two other council members look down at me and nod once, then tap their assent in the traditional manner with one tap of their claw on the anvil of justice. Marcsh concurs, and waits as the other two leave. "Why?" He asks, in the manner of one who already knows the answer "For Revenge." I reply, head held upright "for all the things I should have done, and have not done."

He nods again, sighing quietly, I suspect that part of him knows what I'm going to do, and as I hand over the piece of paper I brought from Mort, his suspicions are confirmed.

I find myself standing in the southern tundras later that day, my weapons and armour from my Operative days with me now, I know that they will not stop the beast, but they might delay it. I return to the remains of my village, I have been away for a year and a half, and the devastation is obvious. The south and west walls have been destroyed, as has the main hall, and in the centre of the square, my fathers statue has been desecrated, and a single word, my name, has been painted across the remains in the blood of my tribe. There's a faint sound from behind me and I spin around, rifle raised, the creature is stood there, larger than I remember, dressed in a cape of fur made from the skins of my tribe. It looks down at me with eyes gleaming with malevolent intelligence and motions at the scar on its arm. I lower my rifle and indicate my arm, and the same scar located there. It lowers its head, and for a second, it almost seems like it feels some sort of remorse for what it has done.

Almost, and only for a Second, the head comes up, and the roar almost deafens me, the fetid breath washes over me like a wave and it lowers its head, charging at me like a bull. I dive backwards, raising my rifle and putting a round straight between its eyes, the high explosive causes it to stagger backwards, howling in agony, but even as it straightens up, I see the wound closing with almost supernatural speed. I place another round into its throat and flee to the north and the transient safety of the trading post, praying that it does not recover too swiftly.

Behind me, several lifetimes of hate announce themselves in another roar, and the wall explodes towards me as the beast cannons out of the settlement, I spin, delivering another round into its eye this time, again, its head is snapped backwards, and its hands clutch at the ruined orb. I continue running, hoping that the wound will slow it enough to let me execute my plan.

A few hundred metres from my starting point, the howl issues forth again, and I point my rifle backwards, spraying rounds blindly behind me as I continue running. I hear it pause, the injuries that it has received have given it a grudging respect for the pain that the weapon can deal. Good, that is all I need. I reach the point I marked earlier and spin to face the beast as it charges towards me, I point my rifle towards its head and it slows to a halt, pacing slowly from side to side, never taking its eyes from me. It stops briefly and readies itself for the charge, and as it does, I cast my rifle aside, drawing my knife, the one that my father gave to me as a child. It stops for a second, cocking its head to the side in puzzlement as I raise my other hand and beckon it forward. contemptuously.

"Grandfather." I say quietly.

"CRL" it howls, barrelling into me like a train.

The impact knocks me backwards and to the floor, its teeth fastening around my arm, there's a moments resistance, and an agonising pain as it tears my arm clean off. As we fall back, I focus on my final action and throw my knife towards the sky, my aim is true and the lever sticking up out of the snow is activated. The ground drops away and we fall into the deep pit of the cargo container, I land hard, the beast driving the air out of my lungs, and for a second, it leaps off me, scrambling towards the exit as it closes, sealing it inside with me.

The paper I passed to Marcsh earlier was a piece of paper from the SLA Contract Killers Circuit, granting me the permission to hunt one of what they call Warphyn back on mort. I have known all my life that I could not defeat this beast, but now, now it will be forever stranded on an alien world. It will be hunted and tortured for all time, never knowing the welcoming chill of the home world, stuck instead on the diseased world of Mort in the heat, pollution, and rain, made to perform for the audience like a monkey. Death by comparison would be a great mercy for it, but there will be no mercy for this animal.

I smile softly to myself as the beast turns back to me, its jaws open and fasten on my head, I think back to my family, my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, most of all, my sister, Rolak, who died so that I might live. There is a guttural growl from the beast as its jaws tighten, and for the first time in my life, I'm not afraid of Death, for I haven't failed.

We win, Rolak, We win.