“Tomorrow morning, we should go back the way we can and wipe that whole Invader camp clean,” I told Levi with a dark look.
He lowered the meat he was munching on. “That’s out of the question.”
“They’re Invaders. A whole camp of them. Weak and easy to take out.”
“That’s not what we’re here to do,” Levi reminded me.
“It’s what I’m here to do,” I argued.
“I told her we wouldn’t,” he motioned to the Invader. It was almost night and she was lying still. I assumed she was sleeping, or whatever her kind did to rest.
I just stared at him in disbelief. “Are you serious?”
“I’m very serious,” Levi frowned. “These people were attacked by Dragons, already beat down, and I’m not going to go in an murder them, no matter what chip you have on your shoulder.”
I felt an old, familiar rage boil up in me. I just couldn’t believe he was saying this. Defending them. Not after everything he knew.
The tension in the air gave me away. He started talking again before I could find words to voice my anger.
“I know this bothers you.” He was using his calm voice. “But this girl may not have anything to do with the misery you lived through.”
“They’re ALL the same,” I growled.
“What if they’re not?”
“She’s a student! Practically nothing more than a child!” He protested.
“That’s what she says! You don’t know that for sure!”
Levi stopped, recomposing himself before this turned into a full-out fight. Then he spoke slowly, “No, I don’t know that. But I didn’t know if I could trust you, either, when we first met. I took a chance on that, and on risking everything to help you.”
I bristled a bit, but calmed myself, too. “That’s different.”
“Because I’m not…” I stopped.
I almost said something like “I’m not a murderer.” Or “I’m not a torturer.” But that wasn’t true. I’d done terrible things in the name of revenge. And though Levi never came out and reminded about this, he wanted me to think about it now.
Levi crouched down next to our prisoner with a plate of food. He touched her lightly on one shoulder, trying to wake her.
When her eyes opened, they reflected with an internal glow on the rim of her goggles. She focused on Levi and gave a muffled sound of dismay. Maybe she’d thought this was all just a terrible dream.
“Do you eat?” Levi asked.
She shook herself out, glancing from his face to the plate of food. She tilted her head away and said something that translated to, “Green-food only. Not flesh-food.”
“You mean plants?” He pulled at a leaf from a nearby bush.
“Which plants?” His frown indicated this might get more complicated than he realized.
The Invader pointed her chin in different vague directions, indicating plants she could eat. This wasn’t helpful at all.
Levi ran his fingers through his hair and grimaced at me.
“Don’t look at me. You’re the one who wants to feed it.” I just grumbled.
He stood up and brought the plate to the dim ash-pit where he placed it on a rock. “I know you’re not going to like this, but we’re going to have to let her move around. I have no idea what she can eat.”
I groaned. “It’s playing with you, Levi. Next thing you know, it’s going to stab you and run.”
“Just like the laser eyes,” she broke into our conversation.
“No one asked you!” I retorted.
“I’m not going to try to escape,” she grumbled. “It wouldn’t do me any good.”
“That’s right,” I prodded.
“I don’t know the direction back to my camp,” the Invader admitted. “Even if I did, I don’t have any weapons to defend myself. And no one is going to come out looking for a Junior Tech when they have bigger problems to deal with. I’m as good as dead to them.”
“Your own people would abandon you?”
She made a frustrated sound. “That’s not what I meant.”
“That’s what it sounds like.”
“Think whatever you’d like.” Her body drooped against the tree. She was done fighting.
Levi did untie her from the tree to allow her to choose her meal. He stayed close by her, but I don’t think he was as intent on watching her as I would have been. I knew this was leading towards a problem, so I tried to address it.
“She doesn’t know anything about the Dragons that can help us,” I reminded him once she was settled back down and eating.
“I know.” His tone indicated he really didn’t want to talk about what I was going to push for. He already knew.
“So it’s time to get rid of her.”
“You don’t want her going back to her people, so by ‘get rid of,’ I’m assuming you mean to kill her.”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” I grumbled. “She’s still an Invader. Still our enemy.”
Levi got to his feet, and with a surprising motion, handed me his sword. “Ok. Have at it.”
My mind swam with this unexpected turn of events. This was a challenge, right? He wouldn’t give me his own sword to do the dirty work if he thought I’d really do it.
I took the sword.
Well, he was wrong. I was just as able to kill now as I used to be. He was going to have to deal with blood on his blade, whether he thought it was innocent or not.
I stalked across the camp to where the prisoner huddled. She watched me, very aware of what was about to come. Strangely, she seemed calm about it now. Previously, she’d stank of fear and sounded whimpers. Maybe she’d made her peace with the idea that she wasn’t going to get out of this alive.
Even when I loomed over her with a grim face, she didn’t resist. It was a lot less fun, somehow, when your prey didn’t show fear.
She spoke quietly, “Will killing me really make you feel better?”
“No,” I growled. “I won’t end this until all of your kind are wiped from this planet. Like it should be.”
“I think what they did to you and your people was wrong,” she murmured. “I didn’t know it was happening. A lot of our kind don’t know… this is happening.”
“Would they care if they knew?”
“I think so,” she lifted her chin. “This is not the way we are. I don’t know why it became this way here.”
“And I should believe all this because?”
“You probably won’t. I don’t blame you.” She looked down at her muddy suit. “I can’t even blame you for this. I don’t think what you’re doing is right, either. But I think I can wrap my head around why you’re doing this.”
She was making this hard. I didn’t want to feel bad for her. I didn’t even know if any of what she said was true. She had a lot of time to think stuff up, sitting there by herself all day. Invaders were sneaky and rotten to the core.
“I don’t want your pity.”
Her gaze locked with mine, her voice level and sure. “I don’t pity you. You’ve suffered, but it made you strong.”
“Strong? Or just angry?”
“Does it matter? You survived.” She shrugged. “I’m not strong. So, I’m going to die. That’s how it works in this world, right?”
I was silent for a moment. Then I asked her, “Did you really come to this planet as a student?”
She nodded, then motioned with one of her tied up hands towards the chest of her suit. “Can I…?”
I wasn’t sure what she wanted, but my blade was ready. I doubted she could cause much trouble unless she had a hidden blast weapon on her. I grunted again.
The prisoner unfolded a part of her suit — it was some kind of pocket — and withdrew a document with strangely-colored scripture written over it. I could see a seal, but the language itself didn’t make any sense to me. She knew this, so she read it aloud.
It was an approval to transfer to what they called Planet 7789b, of the Far Sector. A land that held colonization possibility. It stated she was a student, who was transferring to get on-the-job experience with fixing and maintaining machinery.
“The only opening they had was in the combat wing,” she finished. “I didn’t want to work on things that would hurt people. But we were reassured that the cities were well protected and the conflict was minimal. They said colonization was well underway and it would only be a matter of time before the atmosphere was reconstructed to support our needs.”
By this time, Levi had come to stand closer, listening to her story.
“So they never told you,” I grumbled.
“Do you think it’s so odd?” Levi spoke up. “A leadership who can resort to slave-warfare would certainly not be past stooping to covering up and withholding information from their own people.”
“Now that we transfers know…” her voice was somber. “They’re not going to come looking for us. Leave us for the beasts. If we were to survive to tell just how terribly wrong this has all gone…”
“You think it could cause them a lot of trouble?” Levi asked.
“I think it would put a stop to a lot of this.” She sounded determined. “There are codes. There are regulations. All of this goes against it. I… I just don’t know why… or who…”
I pursed my lips. During the length of the conversation (we weren’t supposed to be having), I realized I’d lowered the sword. I realized I was really going to do this. The unthinkable. The stupid, soft, weak thing.
I was going to try to believe her.
“What do they call you?” I asked, the words forced from between my lips.
Levi glanced at me, eyebrows arched in surprise. This turned into a slight grin that he tried to hide. I knew it was there. It annoyed me to no end.
I would still prove to him that I hadn’t lost my nerve.
The prisoner also looked surprised. “You mean… you’re not…”
“Just answer my question,” I growled.
She said a word, her name, which was obviously something spoken in her Invader language. The mask translated it loosely to call her, “Horizon.”
Levi repeated it. “That’s an interesting name…”
She winced at the terrible mispronunciation. “No… no… Horizon.”
Again the strange translated word.
“Horizon,” Levi tried again.
Her sigh said that it was nowhere near being correct. But she said, “Close enough.”
“Well, Horizon,” I leaned back on my heel, looking down my nose at her. If we really weren’t going to kill her, I’d at least let her know who was in charge around here. “What do you feel about finding and stopping some Dragons?”
Horizon blinked up at me slowly. “Actually, I’d feel really good about that.”
Maybe she would be useful, after all.