Crimson Wolves – Chapter 3: Home

By Brubek Coltrane

“Why can I never come on these missions?” Ratchet asked Illien.

“Well,” Illien said. “Because it’s very dangerous, and you could get hurt.”

“Oh yeah?” Ratchet replied. “I used to beat you all the time when we were little!”

“Really?” Petra inquired, raising an eyebrow.

“Not true!” Ilene shot back.

“Is too.” Ratchet replied.

“No it’s not!” Illien replied.

Erik had calmed down a bit by now, and spoke up. “Then we’ll have to settle this the old way.” He said.

“What’s that?” Petra asked. “Throwing axes at each other and screaming?”

Erik shot her a glance, then continued. “The old way, where both contestants duel to the death till only one remains!” A crazed look in his eyes began as he said this.

“Woah, calm down there, Erik.” Illien said. “I think you’re still high on battle-rage or whatever.”

“Cognitive Behavioral Disorder.” Erik corrected.

Ratchet turned to Illien, then spoke up. “Illy, you’re changing the topic.”

“Huh?” Illien replied.

“Why do you guys always leave me behind?” He asked bluntly. “For real.”

“Well,” Illien began. “For starters, you’re the only one who really knows the ship well enough, and so you can keep it in shape. Plus, we need someone to guard the ship.”

“Well, clearly we don’t, since you asked me to come pick you guys up!” Ratchet hurled back. “Ratchet to the rescue!”

“We would could have taken those guys!” Illien shot back. “Right guys?”

Petra looked back with a mixed expression. Erik was about to say something about smashing their skulls in, but was cut off by a sudden outburst from René.

“YOU BASTARDS! YOU KILLED HER! YOU TOOK THEM ALL AWAY FROM ME! NO! NO! ZAMA! ZAMA! YOU BASTARDS!!!” The Jeep went quite.

René looked around at the others, who were all staring at her. Illien broke the ice, after a brief pause.

“René.” He said carefully. “There’s no one here. It was just a nightmare.”

René felt a tear running down her cheek, and quickly brushed it away. She took a deep breath, then looked back up at the others. She wished they were right. She wished that one day, she would just wake up and shake it all off as just a bad dream, and forget it ever happened. She wished she could tell Zama all about it and they’d laugh and forget about it. She wished none of the things she’d been through had ever happened. But all the things that had happened weren’t nightmares, and remembering all the things she’d been through only made it worse. No use  lamenting over what could’ve happened. She always told herself. But sometimes, she just couldn’t do that.

“I’m sorry.” She said quietly. “I just..had bad memories come back…Sorry.”

“Must have been bad.” Erik said. “What with all the screaming and whatnot.”

“I just…I don’t want to talk about it, okay?” She replied, a harshness in her tone making the others weary of responding. Brushing her hair back, and adjusting her blue headband, René tried to keep her resolve and be strong, despite the flood of sadness that was surging through her.

“We’re here!” Ratchet cried out, bringing the jeep to a stop.

To the vehicle’s right, on a plain of swaying grass, with rain pelting down on it, stood their ship, and their home. The decrepit old stingray-class starship, The Crimson Wolf. The ship had seen better days, at the hands of many different captains. Its faded red paint and heavily replaced and modified exterior made it look prickly on the outside. The first thing that would stand out about it was its shape. It was shaped like a sideways stingray (Hence the name), with a midsection, and two ‘fins’ that jutted out on the top and bottom. No, it wasn’t much, but it was home, and it was theirs, and in the end, that was more than good enough.

All five of them felt a sense of relief as the Jeep proceeded off the road with no shortage of bumps, and made it’s way to the belly of the ship. It was pouring outside, the dark clouds overhead unleashing sheets of rain upon them. Quickly, they all piled out, Ratchet and Illien at the front, Petra and René at the back. Erik spilled out one side, collapsing on the rain-soaked grass. He winced as he picked himself up and, to the surprise of the rest of them, limped around.

“Those damn haggards sure hit hard.” Erik said remorsefully, limping towards the ship.

Petra and Illien turned to René, who shrugged at them.

“Yeah…they sure do.” Illien said, turning and winking at René.

Ratchet had already begun to lower the boarding ramp, which let out a metallic whirr as it lowered slowly. The rest of the crew was walking towards the lowering ramp. Illien spoke up.

“Alright.” He said to the rest of the crew, who perked up, and began to listen. “We leave at 19 hundred hours, once we find out where we’re supposed to take this .”

A chorus of dull approvals rung out among the crew, and they began to move up the ramp, inside the ship. Ratchet backed up the jeep into the cargo hold, slowly and steadily as he could.

“Careful there Ratchet.” Illien cried out teasingly.

“Watch out there.” Ratchet replied. “You may just get run over if you don’t watch your step.”

“Woah the-” Illien began, before diving out of the way as Ratchet accelerated menacingly.

“Geez.” Illien burst. “Ratchet!”

Ratchet smiled mischievously as he passed by, then brought the jeep to a stop.

Ratchet hopped out and ran to shut the doors. Petra and Erik went to the medical station, and René disappeared to her bunk. The doors closed with the strain of machinery sounding, then with a clank, shut tight, then went silent.

“There. All back in one piece.” Illien said, breathing out a sigh of relief knowing that they were all safe back on the ship.

Ratchet walked over and jumped onto the Jeep, then with a shove, pushed the crate they nearly all died trying to get onto the floor. It crashed to the floor.

“Careful Ratchet!” Illien urged loudly. “Hashan’s got a high price on that one, and he’s not exactly the kind of guy who forgives and forgets.”

“Oh, come on.” Ratchet replied. “It’s not like he’s smuggling bubblewrap or anything. Right?”

“Hashan told us not to open it.” Illien said sternly. “I’m as curious as you are, but, I don’t want my teeth hanging on Hashan’s neck, or worse…”

“Hashan doesn’t scare me!” Ratchet said. “If I were there, I’d have walked right up to him and knocked all his teeth out! See how he likes his teeth around someone else’s neck.”

Illien smiled. “It’s not quite that simple.”

“Is it?” Ratchet replied. “The way I see it, Hashan’s just a big bully.”

“I know.” Illien said. “If I could, I’d have done a lot of things by now…”

“Like knocking out all of Hashan’s teeth?” Ratchet mused.

“What?” Illien laughed. “Well, yeah. I guess I would. And make keychains out of them.”

They both laughed at this, and then they both fell silent. Ratchet was fiddling with something in his hands, the sound of crinkling metal in his hands echoed throughout the cargo bay.

“Illy?” Ratchet suddenly asked.

“Yes, Ratchet.” Illien answered.

Ratchet looked around the cargo bay, then found himself suddenly fascinated with the intricate floor tiles that lined the cargo bay floor. Without looking up, he spoke again.

“Do you think…Do you think we’ll go home one day?” He said, suddenly looking hopefully into his brothers eyes.

Illien looked back, then broke their gaze. Home. Illien’s memories of home were faded; they almost seemed like they had taken place centuries ago. He remembered now the green fields and cozy little houses that dotted the plains world. That was years ago. Warm memories flooded back to him, ones of joy and happiness. When he closed his eyes, he could almost see the faces of his parents and relatives and friends. He felt the warmth of the sun in summer, and remembered long, lazy days of lying on the grassy hills and watching the clouds roll by overhead with Ratchet.

A Spaceship, a dragon, a sword. They were all there, up in the sky, all that it took was a little imagination to find them. Illien smiled when he recalled all the times Ratchet had claimed he saw a llama in the sky, awkwardly plodding around. They would argue about it, then fight about it, then roll laughing down the side of the hill together.

Those were the days, Illien thought. Those were the days. But those days were no more. He remembered the outbreak, hearing it on the news, the situation getting bleaker and bleaker by the day, being sent away. No, there was no going back. Illien thought sadly, but then smiled when his thoughts came back down to earth, and he saw Ratchet staring back at him.

“Ratchet.” Illien began, as gently as he could. “We can’t go back.”

“Why not?” Ratchet rose up. “Maybe the whole thing passed over, maybe they found a cure! Maybe they’re all okay! Maybe they’re just waiting for us to come back, and everything’s all better!”

Illien knew Ratchet was getting more and more desperate by every sentence, hoping upon hope, that his older brother would tell him that everything would be fine. But Illien couldn’t say that. He couldn’t lie.

“Ratchet,” Illien began again. “We can’t go back. We don’t know that. The reports were pretty dire when we were evacuated, I don’t think they could have come back from that. I dont; think any planet could have.”

“But maybe they did!” Ratchet said, but it was clear to him that he was fighting a losing battle. “They had to! They…They can’t have just all…all…”

Illien shook his head sadly, then walked over to Ratchet, and grabbed his shoulders firmly. Ratchet had his head bent over.

“Listen to me.” Illien said firmly to his little brother. “Our old home is gone.”

Ratchet sighed. “You may be right, but I’ll never stop looking, or lose hope.”

Illien gently tilted Ratchet’s head back up.

“I’m sad too.” Illien said, his words reflected by the look on his face. “But this is our home now, Ratchet, this is our family now, we look out for each other.”

Ratchet looked back at Illien, his mind in a haze of thought. “I know.” He said. “But, I can;t just give up on everyone back there…I just can’t!”

“I know it’s been hard for you.” Illien said. “It’s been hard on all of us, but together, we can pull through, we always have. We may not have much, but we do have a home, and we do have each other.”

Ratchet started to smile now, and looked back at Illien.

“You’re right, Illy.” Ratchet replied, smiling at his older brother.

Illien rolled his eyes playfully. “When will you stop calling me that, you little Llama!”

“When you take me on a mission with you!” He replied.

The two brothers embraced in the cargo hold, Ratchet holding Illien tight. Illien was all that Ratchet had left, and Ratchet was all Illien had left from home. After a brief few seconds, Ratchet pulled away, restored back to the happy, smiling little brother Illien knew too well.

“Well,” Ratchet said. “Where are we headed?”

“Let’s find out.” Illien said, showing Ratchet the data drive.

And with that, the two brothers climbed up the ladder at the far end of the cargo room, walked down the catwalk above, then up another set of stairs as they climbed towards the bridge.

* * *

René walked slowly up the stairs to the catwalk bordering the wall at the back of the cargo bay. Climbing up the stairs to the back of the cargo bay, she ascended another, and found herself in the galley, next to Illien and Ratchets’ bunks. She walked over to a another flight of stairs, to arrive finally on her own level, next to the medical bay. She strode past it to her bunk, opened the doors, and shut them behind her.

Her rifle was still slung over her shoulder. She was still processing the flashback she had had earlier, and decided to calm her mind. Finally reaching her bunk at the ‘bottom’ end of ship, she paused before opening the door. She walked over to her bunk, and shut the door behind her. Silence. René liked silence. Silence meant she could focus her thoughts, and try to recollect herself. Her bunk was decorated with incense from her home planet, which she was fond of from her home-world. The walls were lined with colorful streamers of Yellow, Green and Red, the colors of freedom from her home.

Her bed was lined with sheets of the same colors, and on her bedside table, she took off the blue scarf she used to keep her hair back, and gently laid it on the table, beside a picture of her and her family. Her father was there, so was her mother, even old nan, who René’s only recollection of lay in memories of delicious smelling flatbread and spices. And there was Zama.

After placing her rifle on the floor below her, René collapsed onto her bed, back first, and lay there. Se rubbed her eyes, and stretched her arms. Looking up, she could see the circle of birds the Ratchet had made for her when they first found her. They circled around, suspended by small strings, and propelled by tiny magnets. René didn’t really know how they worked, but she did know after that, that these people on this ship, were her new family. Even though nothing could replace them, she felt almost at home on the ship. Almost.

* * *

Petra considered the scene. Bullet wound to the left shoulder. The bullet’s path lead straight through the right trapezius muscle, and managed to lodge itself in the back of the collar bone. A very lucky thing, Petra thought, a little further to the left, and the bullet would have severed the accessory nerve, that would have made things very bad Petra thought to herself.

Erik was looking nervously at the assortment of tools and sharp things laid out on the table beside him. He jumped when Petra suddenly strode over and looked over the tools.

“Let’s just get this bloody thing over with.” He said fiercely, though Petra could tell he was trying to hide his fear.

Petra smiled. She had done things like this for ages. Ever since she had gotten her Medical degree, she had seen all manner of wild and wacky things come into her city’s small hospital on Paveh. Gunshot sounds were certainly nothing new.

“You’re lucky.” Petra said.

“Lucky?” Erik scoffed in disbelief. “Getting shot by some artless lily-livered lump is lucky?!? What universe are you referring to? Because in this one, that’s normally a bad thing.”

“What I mean.” Petra began, “Is that if the bullet hit a few centimeters to the left, things would have been a lot more…Complicated.”

Erik shrugged in approval. “So what is it exactly you have to do?” Very straight to the point.

No details. Not even an explanation as to how things were as they stood. Petra was disappointed. Erik was an interesting fellow. Petra was all about facts, information, data. In Erik’s mind, he didn’t need all that. All he needed was the here and now. Don’t know how he does it. Petra said to herself.

“Well, first, we’ll have to get the bullet out, then stitches, and quite a lot by the looks of it.” Petra said. “But that’s not why you’re here.”

Erik look up, estranged. “Huh?”

“CBD,” Petra replied. “What the hell happened out there?”

Erik looked away, hiding his face. “I don’t know. I don’t really remember all that well.”

‘Really?” Petra answered, suddenly raisin her voice ever so slightly. “Because running headlong into gunfire for no reason doesn’t seem like something you’d just forget!!”

Erik looked back up. “You know what? Maybe spending all that time on that damned planet does things to you. Ever though of that??!!”

Petra paused, she knew she had set off a bomb, and it was starting to explode. She carefully chose her next words.

“That’s behind you Erik, you have to forget what happened there.”

“Forget!?” Erik yelled. “Forget?! You don’t know a damn thing about what happened there, you-”

Erik was abruptly cut off by a blast that shook the ship suddenly.

Petra had barely kept her balance, but Erik had fallen off the patient’s chair.

“What the hell was that?” Erik barked.

“I don’t know,” Petra began, forgetting their quarrel.

“Tracy! What the sunspots is going on?!” Erik shouted.

Petra was noticing Erik was losing his cool.

“I do not detect any errors in diagnostics, ship systems, atmospheri-”

“That’s complete flabberjack!” Erik yelled at the computer

“What do you mean?” Petra asked pressingly.

“Nothing is wrong.” Tracy said.

“I’m warn-” Erik started.

Another blast suddenly shook the ship. Petra was knocked to the ground, and Erik barely held herself up.

“How do you explain that then you haggard-circuited machine?”

“Explain what? More information requir-”

Erik lost it. “YOU USELESS PIECE OF JUNK MACHINE! I’LL RIP EVERY WIRE OUT OF YOUR-”

“Erik!” Petra intervened.

“WHAT!?” Erik shot back.

“Clearly there’s something wrong with Tracy, she wouldn’t just miss something like this.” Petra said, trying to keep Erik calm.

“‘She’?” Erik confusedly said back. “It’s just a computer.”

“Whatever you say.” Petra said back, though inside she wholeheartedly disagreed. “But there’s something wrong with the machine, and without Tracy, we won’t last very long.”

“I’m sure we could last fine without-“

“Erik!” Petra said, her tone suddenly shifting from annoyed to angry.

The change made Erik stop mid-sentence. Petra and Erik locked eyes and stared. A strange mix of anger, respect, and something else. Petra saw some of the contempt drain from Erik’s eyes as Petra sternly stared back.

“Okay,” Erik said, breaking the silence. “Tracy had better not be lying.”