This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
After several hours Carak was certain the Garag weren’t in the area yet. She had seen three humans, all adults, none of them showing the slightest level of concern.
Two were out working, tending to crops, doing repairs. The third seemed to do little, other than sit in the sun and eat the food and drink the other two brought at intervals.
Carak decided this must be an elderly member of the species, though elderly was a relative term. As well as breeding at an unsustainable rate, humans had such fleeting lives. If they reached one hundred and twenty years they were doing well, while Carak had barely finished her first tour of duty at that age.
At over nine hundred years she was still relatively young for her species, the Elege. Especially to have the role she did, but she had always shown huge aptitude. She’d also been successful in almost every mission she’d been sent on.
The light was starting to fade from the sky as the humans returned to their home. For Carak nothing changed, other than clicking her optics into modes more suitable for night time — image enhancement and thermal scans being part of them.
She would remain as vigilant through the night as through the day, using her training and her enhancements to avoid the need for even a few minutes of sleep. For some time she watched as the local fauna took advantage of the humans’ absence, but soon enough the night settled down into peace and tranquillity.
These were the times Carak enjoyed the most. While her vigilance never wavered, the tranquillity of the night was a peaceful time. One when she felt all tension slip away. The day could feel hectic, if more alive. The night allowed her to recharge.
* * *
The humans were up and about almost as soon as the new day dawned. Carak did not see the elderly human, but the other two went about their chores. Carak continued to lay unmoving, watching and waiting.
An hour later a much smaller human appeared. A child. Carak hadn’t seen this human the day before. Now the child, a girl Carak thought, was out and playing around the house.
The human adults sometimes stopped to chat to the girl, or smile at her, but otherwise paid her little attention. That reinforced Carak’s view of humans. They had so many offspring through their lives, yet they did not value those children anywhere near enough.
Carak maintained her vigilance throughout the day, watching for any hint of Garag activity. Yet she found her eyes being drawn to the human child, found herself becoming exasperated with the lack of care the adults showed. They allowed the child to wander the area around the house alone. Worse, they seemed to find the child’s enthusiasm for exploring on her own a good thing, when they should have been closely guiding and nurturing her.
She forced her thoughts away from that path. Again. She knew the humans were different, very different, to her own race. She had studied them often enough on those occasions she’d been tasked with killing one of them, not that the humans had even discovered the existence of the Elege yet.
The humans were only background on this operation, most likely they’d end up being collateral damage if she was to achieve her goal. But achieving her goal was all that mattered. The mission was everything. Killing the Garag officer overrode all other concerns.
* * *
Day slid into evening, the light faded into darkness, and once again the humans disappeared into the house. Carak still remained totally motionless, the specialist suit she wore ensuring no pressure sores developed even as it kept her hidden from any scan human or Garag technology was capable of. A soldier from either race could walk past close enough to reach out and touch her and they still wouldn’t know she was there. Once she’d actually had an enemy stand on her without realising she was here.
Her suit also took care of her bodily needs, providing sustenance and recycling waste, all without her moving. In its way the suit was a marvel, but she had worn it so many times she hardly even noticed it now. It was just one more tool dedicated to the mission.
* * *
Night gave way to day, but still there was no sign of Garag activity. Carak simply accepted that she needed to stay vigilant, waiting patiently for the moment to come.
The Garag officer would arrive or they wouldn’t. Carak would get the chance to take the shot, or the situation would change in a way which prevented it happening and she would be pulled out.
Until one or the other happened she would wait, patient and deadly, as the days and nights passed. Compared with the long, long years she had lived, even a few weeks waiting motionless on a mission was a blink of an eye.
* * *
By the ninth day Carrick had developed a much better understanding of the humans. The elderly human only appeared on warm days when the sun was out. The rest of the time she remained indoors.
The two adults worked hard and seemed content. The child was often out exploring on her own. Poking at things, exploring her surroundings, and taking chances which still made Carak wince inside.
But through it all one thing remained constant. There was no hint of the Garag. To Carak that made no difference. She waited, constantly alert, knowing her chance might arrive suddenly, and pass just as quickly. If it did, she would be ready.
* * *
There was a small river that ran along one edge of the humans’ land, flowing in the direction that Carak was hidden. Mostly it was a slow, calm, river, but some distance after passing the house it spilled over a small cliff, tumbling four or five metres into a pool from where it flowed further downhill.
The waterfall seemed to be the one place the child had been warned not to visit, and so it was one she took every chance to return to when she knew the adults were not paying attention.
She’d found a path that ran partway up the small cliff, wide enough for her to walk up, an adult human would have had to edge up sideways in places.
The end of the path was barely a metre below the top of the waterfall and the child could reach out a hand and let some of the falling water splash across it. It was a favourite game of the child’s, and every time she did it Carak could see the child’s eyes light up, and with her enhanced hearing could make out the child’s cries of pleasure.
And each time it pulled at something within Carak. Not out of fear that the child would fall, though there was an element of that. No, the sight touched something far deeper. It reminded her of Larach, in a similar place doing a similar thing.
It had been two hundred light years away and more than three hundred years in the past, but it was still a memory that Carak treasured. Larach had been seven or eight at the time, with three or four thousand years of life ahead of her barring accidents.
Carak had been young to be a mother, very young, at barely six hundred years, but her military career held significant dangers. So she had made the choice to fledge whilst still at an age when most of her race wouldn’t even begin to dream of doing so.
There was a price to pay for that. She would not be permitted to have a second child until much later than was usual for her race. That was a price she had been more than willing to pay. Even with the technology and training at her disposal, there was a small but significant chance she wouldn’t have survived her missions to reach the normal age for having a first child.
Larach had been a constant source of joy, one that Carak spent every moment caring for, nurturing, and protecting. As all Elegean mothers did.
The human child looked nothing like Larach, of course, but something about the way she played with the water resonated strongly within Carak. Something in the child’s eyes, in her pleasure, in her unalloyed joy.
Carak couldn’t let that make a difference. She had a mission. One she intended to carry out. It was likely, very likely in fact, that the child and her family would be killed by the Garags when they arrived. But if Carak was successful in taking out the Garag officer she’d be saving hundreds of lives, possibly even thousands or tens of thousands. Many of them human, but some from her own race.
She’d learnt how to ignore collateral damage whilst on a mission long before. All that mattered was achieving what she had been sent to do. If the child and her family died then they died.
Carak knew their sacrifice, unwilling as it might be, would be more than repaid by saved lives if the mission was successful. That was how she had to see it. That was how she would see it.
* * *
It was on the seventeenth night that Carak finally saw a Garag. Not the officer, but that was not surprising. She wouldn’t expect to see the officer until other Garag had moved into the area. But it wasn’t even one of the grunts. What she saw was a Garag brute.
That worried her. Without the influence of other Garags the brutes had no self-control. If there were no grunts around to control this one then it would almost certainly find the family and kill them before daybreak. If that happened there would be no reason for the officer to visit, and her mission would be aborted.
Even if the brute was on its own, Carak still couldn’t risk killing it. If other Garag found its body and saw how it had been killed, by a high power weapon at range, then they’d be likely to figure out there was a sniper on the loose. If that happened the Garag officer would never come to the area.
She was relieved when, just a few minutes later, a Garag grunt appeared and took control of the brute. The two Garag moved away from the human dwelling, soon disappearing from the area Carak was able to monitor. For the rest of the night she watched, but there were no signs of any Garag returning.
The crisis had passed. The mission was still a go.
* * *
The next day the humans came out, completely oblivious to the danger they had been in the night before. And that they were still in.
The child was allowed to wander as always. Carak had to hope the girl didn’t go far enough for any Garag to find and kill her. That would alert the humans, which might in turn lead to the Garag officer not arriving. To the Garag, a hunt where they could trigger fear and panic in unsuspecting victims was far preferable to one where the prey knew they were coming and had been given a chance to prepare.
Throughout that day Carak watched closely, but there was no sign of any Garag. That night the humans disappeared inside again. Not long after full dark had fallen Carak started to see Garag grunts moving into the area. Fourteen of them, scouting thoroughly.
The intense activity left Carak in no doubt that the officer would be arriving for the hunt soon. Most likely the next day, so the humans could be caught out in the open rather than shut away in their home.
Carak felt satisfaction that her vigil looked likely to pay off, but she did not change position or move in any way. The Garag would be being particularly vigilant with such an important figure on its way. Though in the end they barely scouted halfway to her hiding place, apparently believing no danger could come from so far away on a human world.
Carak remained as calm and as ready as she had throughout her vigil. When the officer arrived she would kill it. Then, and only then, she would kill any other Garag that she could. Shortly after she would be extracted… and she would move on to the next mission.
Despite the Garag presence overnight, the morning passed peacefully for the humans. The young girl was soon up and playing at the waterfall again. Carak tried not to be distracted, but couldn’t seem to stop her attention wandering to where the child played time and time again.
Carak started to see more and more Garag around the area. Each was taking great care not to be seen, but to Carak’s enhanced senses they stood out vividly. The increased presence could only mean one thing… the officer was nearby.
And then, just after midday, she went cold inside. Approaching the child, and without any form of handler, was a Garag brute. Carak hoped that a grunt would appear to bring the brute under control, but none did.
The brute found its way to the path that led to just under the waterfall, the path the girl had taken, and started to clamber its way up.
The child was oblivious. The sound of the waterfall hid the approach of the Garag, but Carak wasn’t sure she’d have noticed anyway. She was completely focused on the water hitting her hand.
The brute would kill her. There was no doubt about that now, but that most likely wouldn’t be enough to prevent the officer from arriving to hunt. It was possible the humans wouldn’t even know their daughter had disappeared and been killed. Even if they found out, their panic and fear would be immediate enough to feed into the officer’s pleasure at the hunt if it arrived soon.
Carak watched, forcing herself to be as dispassionate as she possibly could. She knew she had to resist any urge to interfere. Her mission was too important. She would have to let the child die. Besides, humans all died after such a brief time anyway. Why should this child be any different?
As the brute moved down the narrow path, barely keeping its footing in places, Carak kept telling herself that she must not interfere. Yet every time she glanced at the girl playing in the waterfall memories of Larach doing the same flooded her mind.
Those and memories from the fateful day two months later when the unthinkable had happened. Larach had been running across a field and had tripped, falling into the soft, spongy, moss before lying still. Carak had thought her daughter was playing. The meadow was soft and safe.
Then she’d seen the blood seeping onto the moss. Larach had somehow landed so her head hit the only lump rock in the entire field, one that had been disguised by a thin layer of moss.
Carak had immediately applied treatment, using the skills she’d learnt in the military, and called for emergency medical assistance. They didn’t arrive in time.
Most likely it would have been too late even if they’d been there immediately. The damage to Larach’s brain had been too severe. Just a few minutes after the accident she was gone, and Carak’s heart was broken forever.
For the first time in days Carak moved. Just slightly. Not enough to give away her position. But she moved in response to the pain in her chest.
But she could not endanger the mission. She knew that. It was too important. Too many lives depended on it. But nor could she allow the child to be killed.
She wavered between those two mutually exclusive drives as the brute drew closer and closer to the girl. So close that Carak could see drool falling from its mouth… and still the girl didn’t notice. Carak made her decision without conscious thought. She acted purely on instinct. Her rifle fired. The Brute fell.
But it hadn’t been struck by her weapon. At the last moment she’d noticed a section of rock the brute was about to step on which had a fracture below it.
Her shot had struck the fracture, causing most of it to fall away just as the brute shifted its weight onto that section. The brute had barely been keeping its balance anyway on the narrow path. With the ground under one foot disappearing it had lost its balance almost immediately and tumbled off the cliff.
The fall wasn’t that far, but there were sharp rocks below and the brute had so much weight it landed with a sickening crunch and a hoarse cry.
That was finally enough to distract the child from playing with the water. She turned, looked down, saw the brute at the bottom of the cliff, then screamed. For a few moments she stood stock still… then she ran like the wind.
Carak tracked the child as she somehow kept her footing as she sped down the narrow cliff path, then rushed back to her parents. Carak knew they were all far from safe. She also knew she’d endangered the mission, but she hoped it might still be saved. She was certain the Garag officer was nearby. The panic building amongst the human family would most likely trigger the officer to start the hunt immediately rather than call it off.
If that were to happen Carak would have the chance to complete the mission. And if not… if just ordinary Garags came for the family… then Carak’s mission was clear. She would have to allow the family to be killed.
Killing a Garag officer was worth revealing her people’s presence on the planet. Nothing else was. She’d managed to kill the brute in a way which would look like an accident. She couldn’t do that for any more of the vile race.
The requirement not to interfere was a clear part of her mission, but her heart was torn. Could she really allow the child to be killed? If she didn’t she might be throwing away her entire career. With her daughter gone and no hope of another child for hundreds of years her career was all she had left. But what was her career worth if she allowed the child who reminded her of Larach to be killed?
The child had reached her parents, and was babbling hysterically. They didn’t seem overly concerned, but they were looking around, studying their surroundings. At that moment the first Garag appeared in the open. A brute. One that was soon joined by many grunts. The humans just stared for long seconds, then they were jerked into action, scrambling back to their house but other Garag appeared to steer them away from there.
This was it. This was the moment Carak would have to make a decision. The brutes and the grunts closed in the humans, but didn’t draw the net closer. And then, to Carak’s immense relief, the officer appeared.
It was larger than the grunts. Almost as large as a brute, but far less muscled. Though it was still more than strong enough to easily beat most humans in hand-to-hand combat. Its skin was darker than the other Garags, and it carried far more equipment. It even wore armour and a helmet, enough to keep it safe from most weapons at any sort of range.
Most weapons. Not Carak’s. She lined up the shot, allowing for the slight wind and the distance involved. The rifle made the precise adjustments needed. She paused for a moment, making sure everything was set, then she fired.
The Garag officer collapsed to the ground, what little remained of its head a smoking ruin. Carak allowed herself a slight feeling of pleasure. She’d succeeded in her mission, and she’d made a massive difference. With that one shot she’d saved hundreds, maybe even thousands, of lives.
With her official mission complete Carak continued with her unofficial mission… killing enough of the Garag in the area that the little girl would survive.
Carak didn’t know if she would succeed. But, at the very least when her long life finally ended, if she met Larach again she could say she’d done everything she could to save the little girl who loved the waterfall.