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Happy Collateral

By Kim Mazaraki All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

Chapter 1

Jailer O’Waslik lay there, slack jawed yet grinning creepily. I sighed with relief, leapt over his corpse and, hand covering my mouth, ran through the dust and falling debris.

A brick clocked me on my back as I ran through my cell's new exit causing me to stumble and sprawl on broken masonry. I picked myself up, groaning as I realised that my shin throbbed with pain. No time now to worry about it.

Another explosion boomed, this one off to my left. I headed toward it, figuring it might just be one of the walls or a tower.

“All prisoners return to your cells!” boomed a command over the broad comms, “Any prisoner outside of their cell will be shot!” Great. So much for minimum security and apathetic guards.

Gunshots fired; bullets pinged off masonry, screams indicated some had also found their mark. A panicked Grislack wearing prisoner fluros bumped into me. His facial tentacles grasped at my arms, but I delivered a sharp elbow to his cheek which caused him enough grief to allow me to blunder forward and clear the haze.

“All prisoners return to your cells! Any prisoner outside of their cell will be shot!”

Massive floodlights shone down from the towers and the prison complex behind me. Not the time to be on open ground. Further to my left I saw a gaping hole in the perimeter wall. I had made it this far and, glancing over my shoulder, the thought of what Bolio and his gang were planning for me made me think that heading back wasn’t an option. With a grimace I started into a crouching, hobbled run, and made for the wall closest to me.

Above me I heard the familiar buzz of a hovering aircraft, and then the crack of single gunshots. The lights on the towers nearest to the opening in the wall went dark, and then the next tower along was hit, and the next. It was like watching a blackout creep closer towards me.

I gulped down a breath, tried to mentally suppress the throbbing in my leg and surged forwards again. Running adjacent to the wall I managed to get within ten metres of the breach when a thin red beam raced along the ground in front of me and stopped, a neat spot on my fluro shirt.

“Stop, or I’ll have to shoot!”

I stopped, and even put my arms up. He was offering me a chance, which was more than what the broad comms had suggested, and more than what Bolio would give me.

“On your stomach.”

Keeping my arms raised I began to drop to my knees. I let out a gasp as pain shot through my injured leg and chewed gravel as I fell face first into the ground.

“Keep still.” he said whilst his boots crunched on the gravel as he moved cautiously toward me.

He let out a sigh and suddenly dropped, a dead weight, a top me. I arched my back to roll him off me. As he slumped to the ground I saw that blood was trickling from his mouth. Not one to dwell on opportunistic happenstance, I made as quickly as I could for the rubbled wall, and salvation.

Negotiating the broken masonry was slower than I would have liked, my injury prevented any nimbleness on my part, but thankfully I clambered through without further event. Some more damnable crouched running saw me through to the tree line where ominous two hundred metre tall giants towered above me. Massive trunks supported enormous branches and foliage. Whilst they were sparse near the ground, the cover they provided from the air was almost complete.

I took a moment to recover and listen for any sounds of pursuit, aerial or otherwise. Now that I was free my first precaution was to remove the tracer from my forearm. It was injected upon my incarceration and contained not only my personal details but also transmitted a location beacon, which was probably how the guard had found me.

I selected the sharpest rock I could find, clamped my mouth down on a stick and began to cut into my arm. By Barsonis it hurt so much that I almost passed out, and that was before I stuck my fingers into the wound and gouged the spherical tracker out. I crushed it between two rocks and bound my self inflicted injury with a strip torn from my fluros.

For a moment I felt safe for the first time in a long time, but I gave myself only a brief respite before moving off again. I needed to get to the city and hide myself. Between guards and their Snarls, sure to be onto any escapees trail soon enough, and some of the more dangerous large wildlife on Senteen, I wouldn’t last long out here. However if I was recaptured I would undoubtedly be forced to meet Bolio again and that would be literally painful, not something I wanted to endure. I guess some people never forgive and forget do they?

After a kilometre or so I came across a creek and was quick to clean my wound. I tore another strip from my shirt and used it to bind the gash. After drinking my fill and washing myself, I caked my clothing with mud. I hoped the mud would not only hide scent but also cover the damned fluro which would reflect any search light.

It was a warm summer night, even this far south of the equator, warm enough for the teeblers to be flitting about the undergrowth and mushroom-like trees that grew beneath the canopy of giants. Their elongated phosphorescent abdomens provided enough light to ensure I didn’t trip; although the hum from their wings was quick to grate on me. I smiled fondly as I recalled the last time teeblers had lit my way, but that was a much happier circumstance than the one I now found myself in.

In this ambiance I plodded further into the forest. I knew little of the geography of southern Senteen, but knew enough that somewhere to the south west of Camp Kronef, my recently departed ‘home’, was the city of Yarish L’nor. It was there that I headed, for in a city I could steal clothing, tools, money and perhaps an identity and then reassess my options. But first, I needed to get through the night.

Only then did I think back to the events of my escape. Something had exploded on both the prison wall, and the outer wall of the Camp Kronef. Someone had deliberately attacked the prison. I assumed that because both explosions had occurred close to one another that it was a deliberate ploy to aid someone to escape.

The aircraft I heard had likely launched missiles of some sort to cause the devastation, and may even have picked up the con who was their target. It probably even carried the sniper who pinged the lights and the guard who had tried to recapture me. He would have been a fine shot too to hit those marks from an aircraft.

I was most grateful to whomever it had been who orchestrated and enacted their plan. I was happy collateral. Very happy indeed.

Sometime about mid-morning I finally stopped my journey for a rest. I was exhausted, not only from walking through the night, but from the adrenaline of escape, and my consequent freedom. Even if I felt confident enough to sleep in the branches of one of the giants and not to turn and toss my way off, there was no way for me to climb them. So I resolved to sleep in a natural ditch in the brush, covering myself with whatever leaf litter I could find.

As I drifted off, all I could think was that soon, very soon, I could start afresh and then life would be so much simpler.

I woke in a start. I was engulfed by the darkness. The teeblers, so prominent the previous evening, were nowhere to be seen. An eery silence hung over the forest, so much so that I wished for the teeblers’ annoying hum to return.

I let my eyes grow accustomed to the dark and soon I could make out the vague shapes of the forest. I would have preferred more light, but there was nothing for it but to continue.. So, very carefully I set off, eyes peering, arms reaching and feet shuffling.

My slippers were not at all suited for the terrain nor all the walking I had already done, and the shuffling finally did them in. I cursed as the sole of my right shoe snagged on a root and was torn off. Ah, there was nothing quite like prison issue quality.

I had just uttered a few ill tempered words when I heard it; a grunt, a deep and decidedly unpleasant grunt, followed by heavy footfalls. I panicked and sprinted. As soon as I did a beastial squeal sounded and a heavy body crashed through the undergrowth.

I only managed a few strides before I fell sharply and tumbled uncontrollably down an unseen slope. Rocks, roots and brush tore at me. I threw my arms over my head, attempting to draw my knees to my chest as I rolled.

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