A Mother's Love
The cruise liner shook again with the impacts of weapon hits.
Reyna Hevn, a rather plain and severe looking seven-year old, was rushing after her mother. The panic of other passengers made this difficult; doubly so as they were going against the flow. While others sought refuge in the cramped, in theory vacuum proof shelters or life pods the Hevn family was instead headed to one of the lounges.
Buffeted by the surging crowd Reyna let out a cry as someone roughly shoved her against the wall. Her head hit the plasteel causing Reyna to gasp in pain. Momentarily stunned she slid to the floor on all fours. Another pain shot up her arm as someone stepped on her hand, grinding it into the floor in their haste. Reyna screamed in pain and fright.
Then a strong arm grabbed her, yanking the young girl upright. Looking up at her savior she saw the eyes of her mother – strong, sharp, glinting with the hard edge that comes to veterans. Her mother’s stance was as solid as a granite promontory embedded in a beach. Like that promontory the panicked flood of passengers broke around them as waves in a storm creating a small safe space around Reyna.
“Reyna, you MUST keep up! Do you understand?”, her mother stated in a firm voice tinged with urgency. What there was not was even a hint of fear. “I must carry your sister. You are old enough to stay with me.”
At the mention of her younger sister Reyna looked at the silently crying Vreda. Tucked under her mothers left arm she was being carried in an awkward but tight embrace. Using both arms would have made it easier but her mother was keeping her strong side open and clear, the faster to pull the machine-pistol currently strapped to her thigh.
“Yes, I understand.” she replied in what she thought was an imitation of her mothers tone. The slight quaver of fear still came through.
“Good, now when I turn around you grab my belt. Hold on tight… like this…”, her mother demonstrated by fiercely gripping her arm. “Even if you fall you hold! I will drag you but we cannot stop, mitt körsbär.”
Reyna swallowed hard, wiped a hand across her face, then looked up at her mother giving a single nod. She was scared, the monsters were coming, yet she so deeply did not want to disappoint by letting it show. Her mother let go of her arm then gently stroked her face before facing away from her. Reyna reached up barely clutching the belt before her mother took off.
The next few moments were a blur. The journey was made slightly easier as her mother stayed near the wall versus trying to push their way through the crowd. Reyna stumbled a few times being dragged as her mom said. But she was always able to get to her feet when they slowed due to the crowd.
Vreda had it worse being occasionally run into by another passenger. This was due to her mother keeping her gun side to the wall – again to ensure a quick draw if needed as well as to prevent being disarmed through either design or accident. Vreda bore these hits stoically, hands covering her head.
Occasionally Reyna saw her sister peering back at her, head cocked to the side. When that happened she put on her big sister face. Whether this calmed Vreda was a dubious prospect, but Reyna did it any way as it was her job to protect her sister. She knew this as her mother had made this clear numerous times as they grew up.
Eventually the crowds thinned and disappeared. Reyna had not realized how loud they had been – shouting, crying, cursing… Here in the quiet of the corridor the warning horn could now be heard along with instructions – both automated and live – directing passengers to safe areas. Her mother shouldered the door open, finally letting Vreda down as they entered the lounge.
It still smelled of the early supper that many were enjoying. Only some tipped tables contents tumbled on the floor, fresh food still steaming on others, and a slight irritating smell of food burning in the kitchen belayed the haste in which the room had emptied. Reyna felt a hand slip into hers, looking down into her sisters eyes, tear tracks on her cheeks, she gave a squeeze stating “It will be all right.”
“Come – both of you.” their mother commanded. Standing with her arms folded, feet again solidly planted she barely moved as the enemy weapons again rocked the ship. Her eyes were firmly locked on the battle raging outside. Reyna moved to her side, gently pulling Vreda with her.
The ships were difficult to see due to the distance. Weapons fire was a different matter – glittering arcs of pure blue, a nauseating purple-green that hurt the eyes and soul, and occasional bursts of orange pinpointed dying ships. All against the bright, unblinking white stars embedded deep into the black velvet of space.
Her mother began to explain the battle outside the window. Extolled that one did not run from danger but must face such trials to overcome them. That the monsters – a form of “pair-ah-sight” – wanted this ship with its passengers to turn into their slaves. Reyna and Vreda knew the stories of these monsters well as their mother fought them often. The sisters stayed silent as the narration continued.
Vreda finally spoke, “Will the monsters get us, mor?”
Reyna watched her mother’s hand involuntarily twitch to her weapon. The reply was soft yet tight, “No… one way or another the monsters will not get you. I will ensure that.”
The Hevn family then stood silently watching as others fought and died to keep them safe. However, the enemy had weight of numbers. Slowly the battle drew closer. In time ships could start to be made out. Bright flashes of oblong silver like fish flashing their flanks when seizing prey.
Then the constant drone of the intercom on automatic clicked as a live announcement was made. A quick reaction unit had just Folded in. They would be here within minutes.
As her mother visibly relaxed so did Reyna. Turning to her sister she spoke words of encouragement – it was almost over, they were going to be ok, additional murmurs of support. In silent assent Vreda squeezed her hand then leaned into her. Reyna felt even her tremble start to subside… until her mother gasped!
Peering out the window a fast approaching shape loomed out of the darkness. Encased in a chitinous shell, blue/black with hints of purple, the crab like grappling arms of the breaching pod unfolded. The arms surrounded an organic maw that would not be used for ingesting, but rather to disgorge its contents. The target was obvious even to a child – the lounge.
Reyna and Vreda found themselves flying through the air, tumbling over each other as they hit the floor behind a thick counter used to hold food. Their mother did not hesitate upon seeing the pod – first both girls were hurled as far from the breach location as possible and in cover.
Their mother flushed deep silver as her nanites were called to the fore. Moving faster then one could consider possible she easily leapt tables as she sprinted away from her daughters. Her machine-pistol in hand she pirouetted in mid-air landing behind a counter near the opposite wall.
The sisters cried out in fear as the pod hit with a bone jarring crash. The arms slammed into place with one puncturing the window. Spiderweb cracks formed around the intruding arm; a loud hiss and visible white cloud leaking into space indicating hull breach. Then a deafening explosion knocked the breath from them as a rectangular hole opened into the lounge.
Reyna, now terrified, mustered the courage to peek around the corner. Vreda instead buried her head into her sister, clutching tightly before beginning to sob. When the first of the monsters appeared, Reyna was frozen in fear, unable to will herself to duck back and hide.
Her terror was primal coming from the place deep in the psyche that tells one you are prey. The monster was reptilian. Even the trappings of civilization such as its armor, weapons and clothing could not hide this fact. It surveyed the surroundings then began to turn towards her, the obsidian eyes questing for its first target.
A flat high-pitched chatter sounded. The monster toppled over as part of his head turned to a mist. The bulk of the bloody dross landed on the wall next to Reyna. Warm spots dappled her face, wiping with her hand smears of oily, dark red liquid came away. Hugging her sister in a protective embrace Reyna watched entranced as her mother fought outnumbered and alone.
One of the vaunted elite in an all women’ unit Reyna did not understand the import of that until now. Even stripped of normal weapons and gear her mother was a blur of lethality. Short, sharp bursts emanated from her weapon with every utterance felling another of the monsters. Yet they kept coming with each new enemy clearing the pod adding more fire against the unexpected resistance.
The first time her mother was hit Reyna cried out in horror. The two nearest monsters heard her and turned. Ducking behind the counter she shielded her sister from what was to come. Even through the spastic panic overtaking her she discerned her mother’s weapon burring nonstop.
The cacophony then ceased while a heavy, meaty thud hit the other side of the counter as the final counterpoint. Even partially deafened from battle she heard her mother call out to them.
Coaxing her sister up they stepped into a charnel house. Trying not to look down they went to their mother. Still they slipped and stepped on things that gave off a greasy squelch. Reyna sneezed violently as the smell hit her – a smell of ozone, atomized copper, and corruption.
Their mother was sitting up against an overturned table. A pool of rippling blood slowly spread out from under her. The ripples were caused by the nanites in her system attempting to clot the bleeding. Activated by exposure to oxygen her wounds were too massive to be overcome, yet the microscopic machines attempted to fulfill their programming.
They rushed to their mother who gasped as her daughters held her tight. She whispered words of encouragement and love. That they would need to watch out for each other, but they still had family as the Sisterhood would take care of them. Too be true to the potential gifted to them by the Sphere. Her last words were the pet names she gave them, “mitt körsbär och min blomma” – “my cherry and my flower”.
A brief flash of silver washed over her body as the nanites shut down. She died holding her daughters. Minutes later the relief force found the girls still holding fast to their mother. It took them several more minutes to persuade the sisters into relinquishing their embrace.
On the shuttle to the ship that would return them home Reyna saw the liner surrounded by a flotilla of warships. Fighters flew alongside the shuttle, their graceful lethality burning into an impressionable mind. It was here that she made a vow to join the fleet – to stop the monsters in the dead cold of space before they could reach other innocents. Before they could reach other mothers.
Stories set in the Dropverse.
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Location: The Netherlands, Europe
Location: The Netherlands, Europe