About forty six billion light years from the center of the universe, there is one last solar system capable of sustaining life. It is a binary system, that is to say, a solar system with two suns. Only two of its thirteen planets are capable of producing and supporting advanced life-forms, and of these only the smaller of the two has sentient life. This small, hospitable planet is known as Chandara by its inhabitants.
Chandara rotates around the two suns, giving it a long solar year. The planet has three moons of varying sizes and orbits. It is a dense planet covered with a wet, tropical climate and dark, lush forests. These forests and the slightly oppressive gravity have given birth to strong, durable organisms and some large predators.
The first sentient and highly intelligent race on Chandara was a four-legged furry creature, fast, agile and dangerous, and with pointed ears and retractable claws. As the species evolved it split and two more races developed from the first. This slender, four-legged creature eventually became an upright and less furry animal, the Chandarans of today. The other Chandara are called the Rasarara, and while they lacked the spoken language of their cousins they could be equally intelligent.
The evolved Chandarans that were bipedal, or walked on two legs most of the time, lost their tails in the process of evolution.
The Rasarara were worshiped among the other bipedal Chandarans; the name Rasarara literally means mother and father. The life span of the quadruped Rasarara was much longer than that of their tailless cousins. The Rasarara could watch three generations or more of their biped cousins grow up and have lits.
Most Chandarans are still relatively wild by nature and prefer sleeping in thickets or caves in the wild, making ayries to sleep in with shredded bits of leaves and feathers. In the cities they use shredded bits of cloth and feathers, which they call toyle, for their ayries. Whether wild or urban, Chandarans have always lived in groups and slept together in piles.
The Rasarara are smaller than the common ancestor, but are similar to them in many other ways as they are quadruped, excellent climbers, and they possess a love of heights.
The Chandarans are all extremely superstitious, as a result of a unique ability to be in tune with the world around them. Pollution is an almost unknown concept, not only because of the small planet's fragile ecosystem but because the people are so sensitive to changes in the environment. Chandarans are remarkabley sensitive to any changes in their solar system.
The planets population was last estimated to be about one million Chandarans; and of these most were stretched out across the planets tropical, rainy land masses which make up about a third of Chandara. The planet possesses an excess of wild lands and many of its inhabitants chose to live in rough places.
Those clans and tribes are often isolated from all the other cultures, with the exception of the tribes or clans nearest them. The only part of Chandara they do not live in is the great desert, stretching in a rough gouge over eighty streaks of the planet; the desert had been struck by a large comet crashing into the planet setting the region ablaze and scorching it. Years later the region is still practically unlivable.
For those that do not wish to live their lives hunting daily in the Wildlands, there is only one place to go to, and it is there that they can find the the only organized government on Chandara. This is the kingdom of Madzara. For the last ten thousand years the House of Madzar has ruled as a dynasty.
The kingdom is made up of twenty-nine regions. The population of Madzara was last estimated to be nearly one hundred thousand people. The largest city in the kingdom is Naarmad with a population of almost two thousand. Omada is the capital city, despite being the smaller only two cities on the planet, with about a thousand citizens. The capital is shielded by the Tadoma mountain range which has kept the kingdom safer than most areas of the planet. The foothills of the mountain flow downward and the rivers spill out into lakes and reservoirs.
To the north pastures surround these bodies of fresh water, and here the feedstock graze meekly. In the south the rivers and lakes feed the intimidating forests of Madzara. The townships border the farmlands and from there Omada rises up, but the towering trees aren't really trees at all. They are the Chandaran towers, a modern accomplishment of natural, living materials. The towers cohabitate peacefully with Chandaras delicate ecosystem.
Within the heart of the city there is the hum and thrill of the palace, a sunburst of bright and vivid colors, which sparkles in the light of the two suns. Beyond the capital city sandy beaches slide into the ocean.
Two of the three moons shone in the sky. The light kept most of the planet from true darkness even at night. In this twilight dark, from the towers of the palace in Omada, a ship shot through the air and out of the atmosphere. It carried inside two exiles who had been banished from the planet forever.
The emptiness of space seemed cold and threatening and it seemed a terrible thing to thrust two innocents into the wide darkness. The men responsible wrapped themselves tighter in their dark hoods and told themselves that it was the only way to save the world.
Chapter One: Hadara
For Matya, each star represented the hope that the vastness of space would not be as harsh as Chandara. Matya kept a silent vigil as Zia slept the sleep of the drugged. Matya knew the clergy and advisors to the Queen that had forced them to leave Chandara had programmed the ship's navigation system to be unable to hold or follow Chandara's co-ordinates. They would soon be outside the binary solar system they had called home.
By the time Zia awoke it would be impossible for them to find the way home.
Matya was curled in a ball in the cockpit watching the stars pass by outside the ship. Her two hands, each with five clawed fingers, were tucked under her breasts. Matya was anxious about the future but she was more afraid of ever returning than she was of anything else. She couldn't imagine anywhere in the galaxies could be more dangerous to Zia than Chandara.
Matya had been a child of privilege, of sorts. She had not gown up hunting daily, as they did in the Wildlands, although she had lived like that later, after finishing her training in the palace and joining Zia in the Wildlands.
Matya's mother had gone into house-bound service and had been hand-selected to serve the nobility of the Madzar. Prior to the birth of Matya, the Queen, Amadra Madzar, had chosen Matya's mother, Asthar, to be a companion to one of her daughters.
That daughter, Amiora Madzar, had not been selected as Queen at first but through a random twist of fate had become the ruler of Madzara nevertheless.
Only a woman could rule Madzara. The process was long and complicated. The woman had to be tested in many areas; above all she was required to be fertile, intelligent, compassionate, and just. Those who advised the crown sent all of the Queen's daughters to be tested while they were still young.
If none were fit to rule the country the Queen's sisters could have the daughters they'd raised tested. Only once had the royal daughters failed to find a girl-child among them that could take the lower royal dias and be titled Crown Princess.
Men were never royals; when the Queen had a boy child he was called zharli, a noble son, and would often marry a wealthy merchant or earn a position in the government. An exception had been made to the rules only once; the oldest of the zharli had been allowed to be tested. When he passed the test he was still only allowed to have his daughters tested because a man could not be Queen. Only one of his daughters was found fit to rule.
An exchange was made; the Queen of that time allowed her brother's wife to adopt one of her daughters in return for being allowed to adopt the daughter that would be Queen. The daughter that had been traded away from the Queen went willingly. She had not passed the test and as a result could not ever rule. The Uncle was of noble blood and his wife was not, as a result the traded daughter of the Queen and her descendants lost noble status.
Despite this her children and her descendants were always introduced as cousins to the royal family.
Matya was descended from the Traded Daughter, and her family had since been more beloved and favored by the Royals than any other; descendants of the Traded Daughter were treated as cousins, or aunts and uncles, to the royal family. Amiora had become especially attached to her cousin and lady's maid. She trusted and loved Asthar above all others, save for her own children.
When Matya and Riya, Asthar's youngest daughters at the time, had tested for and been accepted into the service of nobility, Queen Amiora had immediately chosen them for a very important task.
Matya and her sister were trained in more than house-bound service. Finally, Matya was selected to be the sole companion of Elizia Madzar, a Princess of Madzara. It was done secretly, of course, because at the time Zia was thought by all but the Queen and Matya's mother to be dead. On top of the usual training for a lady's maid Matya had reluctantly received training in the art of the spy, a little hand-to-hand combat, and the basic survival skills for the Wildlands.
This unusual situation had been necessary for the same reasons that the Princess and her companion now found themselves traversing the quiet reaches of space, far from their home planet of Chandara. All that was behind them now and Matya was somewhat grateful for the escape from the dangerous politics. Matya had managed to save Zia from death, but not from exile.
Despite advanced technology, Chandarans disliked space travel for the uncomfortable feeling traveling outside their home star system caused while their bodies adjusted to the differences. Matya, like all Chandarans, intensely disliked the uncomfortable feeling of being off planet. Zia was lucky in the respect that she would sleep through most of the space sickness.
Matya figured she was lucky in many ways; Zia's mother had been unable to protect her daughter from the dangers inside her own palace but she had made a niche for Zia nevertheless.
As a young child, and following a great tragedy, Zia had been saved by the Rasarara and later found by Matya's mother Asthar. The Queen had done the only thing she could at that time; Amiora had banished Asthar from Madzara to the Wildlands with the small Princess Zia carefully hidden among her things.
Asthar had raised Zia as her adopted daughter. Asthar had had a lit of her own, but she had left her two girls behind. From then on Amiora had watched over Matya and her sister Riya in the palace.
Among the Chandarans of the Wildlands Zia was raised tougher than she would have been among the glittering throng of the royal breed. She was taught to survive and defend herself in the dangerous Wildlands and had cultivated a strong, independent spirit. She was also raised knowing she was a princess, albeit a banished one. Zia's past had never been hidden from her, and she knew that there were dangerous political entities that sought her death inside the kingdom.
Amiora's plan had been to reintroduce Zia to the kingdom as a full grown woman and have her earn a position as an Ambassador representing the kingdom to the tribes and clans of the Wildlands where she'd been raised.
Matya hated that they might never again see the three moons of Chandara, the large Rasa Chand, the Rara Chand, and the small Sara Chand, as they crossed the night sky. Matya's eyes fell on the dial that turned slowly on the dash. It showed the date. The passage of time was charted primarily by the three moons. The passage of one moon across the sky was called a moon pass; all three of the moons took about the same amount of time to cross the sky even if they were not all in the sky at the same time.
When all three moons had taken their turn to pass through the sky and the sky was clear for the length of a moon pass that was called the end of a hand. Nine hands constituted a Mada, a lunar year, and it took thirteen Madas to make up a solar year. Back home the Chandaran astrologers used the solar year to measure the passage of a generation.
Each moon had a religious significance to the people of Chandara.
Rara was the Goddess who gave life, the mother of all, it was her moon that first crossed the sky. The God Rasa was the ruler of the sky, who had power over death--- the kind of destroyer the world needed to recreate the world. She and Rasa bore Sara the Goddess of Youth, the smallest moon. Rasa destroyed and was in the process himself destroyed. Rara could bring creation, and Sara, only when Rasa died.
If Rasa did not destroy then he could not be reborn and the world would never change and grow. Sara, the daughter of their union, was the watcher of the worlds while her parents voyaged through the underworld and kept the universe in constant motion.
Zia stretched out her spine from the forty vertebrae in her back all the way down through the twenty vertebrae in her tail. Her jewel green eyes opened bright and wide--- and promptly narrowed in suspicion and warning as she took in her surroundings. She was not where she'd fallen asleep.
Gone was the fresh moving air scented with flowers and silks, gone was the smell of the hot springs except for what little scent lingered on her skin. Her claws kneaded the bedding, scraps of feathers, flowers, and fabrics. She smelled only the metal of the ship she now found herself inside and--- Matya?
Zia, tense and bristling, stalked her way out of the alcove she had awoken in to go and find her closest friend. She couldn't keep her tail from thrashing.
When she found Matya the air in the cockpit was thick with words unspoken, accusations that had not yet been given voice. Matya turned and looked at Zia with wide eyes. Her round yellow eyes were more familiar to Zia than her own; aside from ponds and lakes she hadn't spent much time with mirrors growing up.
"Where are we and what are we doing here?" Zia was now intent on interrogating Matya.
"Let's eat first, Zia, we'll both feel better after food," Matya said, sounding tired.
Zia was worried for her friend. Zia also knew she would be burning calories with the heat of anger and wanted a full stomach before she started to fight.
Matya pulled food from the cabinetry. There was a variety of salted meats on the table and two water bowls filled with what smelled like milk with a dab of honey. Matya began the process of making askuta, a ground dish made by mashing yellow courgur, green courcour, nawaut seeds, and raw, course lepor meat.
Zia began making salad from the nawaut sprouts, and added some kiwaut leaves. She poured fish oil over the salad, maybe a little too much, and put a kiwaut flower on the side of the plate for decoration. They sat on the floor to eat the assortment of salted meats. There was young, tender, fine grained lepor which was Zia's favorite. There was also the firm baranikki ouroski and baranikki chaeris, and a variety of aveia.
The hearts and livers were the best parts of the meat to Matya, and Zia agreed but also loved to eat the bones. The meal was relatively small; an adult Wildlander could typically consume one large hoofed animal in one sitting and be sated for the course of two moon passes.
When they finished all that was left were dirty dishes and a few scraps of bone to nibble on while they rested. Matya learned early on to begin difficult conversations with Zia during the lull that followed having eaten a meal. The two were splayed out on large red pillows. Matya played with the tassels of the pillow she was laying on and watched Zia's tail.
It was twitching slowly from side to side. While this signaled annoyance, and the look on her face wasn't promising, her tail was not bristled and stiff. That was usually what happened before Zia leaped to give someone a well deserved bloodletting.
"We were in trouble," Matya began, "from the moment we left the Wildlands. Well, actually, from the moment you were born you were in trouble."
"The ones who stole away my litmates," Zia surmised, "They put us on this ship." Litmates were sets of children; typically Chandarans had at least two children for each pregnancy. Usually the Queens are very fertile and could have three children for each lit. Rarely were the litmates identical, but Zia's brothers Rielli and Ani'lli had been twins.
"Well, originally it was supposed to be just you, but when I woke I begged them to send me with you."
"What?!" Zia exploded furiously, "You didn't kill them outright?!"
"I'm a spy, not a warrior," Matya said, insulted and a bit indignant, "I was certainly not going to win against all of the royal advisers and the priests with you already drugged."
"All of them?" Zia blinked and sat down with a thump.
"All of them," Matya repeated, "They truly believe that you are a danger to all of Chandara."
"Who, me?" Zia shrugged, "I'm a danger to food, but other than that..."
"It's because of your tail. There is a legend that the 'Mad will return to the royal family. They have tails and according to legend the 'Mad once had a whole city where they shifted into monsters and killed Chandarans for sport."
"So, I'm 'Mad?" Zia was amused. For Zia the discomfort of space was passing and she could bear to think more clearly. Matya's head still alternated between feeling light and being in pain and her skin felt wide on her body. Matya was tempted to speak again and tell Zia the whole story of the 'Mad as the mystics and the advisers had told it to her the night they'd secretly banished Zia from Chandara.
She held her tongue, however, and let silence linger a moment in the air. Zia was not respectful of silence unless she was eating or hunting, however.
"We'll just put in the co-ordinates for home and be back in a shake," Zia said and Matya barely saw the blur of Zia bolting out of the room towards the cockpit. Matya rushed to the cockpit but she couldn't match Zia's speed.
"Zia, you don't think they thought of that?"
Zia growled as the computer automatically scrambled the co-ordinates for Chandara and selected its own new co-ordinates. It turned out to be impossible to take the ship off of its pre-programmed route by any means. The advisers had selected co-ordinates that would send the ship to planets that could support Chandaran life and programmed the ship not to recognize any co-ordinates even close to Chandara.
Zia swore, "Rasa's teats."
"I assume we are bound for the first livable planet in this part of the universe," Matya supplied, "We'll just keep going until we find a place that we like. At least we'll be able to trade for supplies wherever we end up. What is the planet's name in Chandaran?"
"Hadara," Zia grumbled, "Kingdom of had."
"World of... what is had again?" Matya went to pull up the information.
"Həd," Matya read, emphasizing the pronunciation, "The element of water forms had when temperatures drop exceedingly low. This phenomenon can be seen and studied at the highest point of the high Tadoma Mountains on the coldest winter night. Hm. Oh, here's the entry. The planet is a frozen agricultural planet inhabited by large sentient, even-toed hoofed mammals. Almost twice as tall as a Chandaran and four times as heavy... The people of Hadara have very broad shoulders."
"Tadoma high mountains are cold even in the low points," Zia complained.
"Hm. Well, I suppose we could adapt to the cold temperatures," Matya tried to be optimistic.
"Humph," Zia peeked over Matya's shoulder, "They look like food!"
"They are twice as big as we are and four times our weight," Matya repeated, and began pulling up any information she thought might be useful.
"So, maybe I won't get to eat them?" Zia was disappointed.
After what seemed like an eternity the ship landed softly, sending up a dazzling flurry of white. Zia and Matya stared at the shiny surface outside, and as Zia turned to Matya her tail was held straight up and her body quivered. Matya was a bit more cautious, fearful of the shining white dust.
"Sparklies!" she said gleefully and fairly trembled as she waited for the ship's door to lower. Abruptly they were both trembling, but not from excitement.
"Close it, close it, close it, c-close it, c-close it," Zia repeated over and over again as the two of them tried to reverse the door's commands. They shivered, staring around them in shock as the white that had swirled into the ship's bay quickly melted into water. Without a word, and with only a look to communicate their joint intent, both of them hurried back to the ayrie to cuddle together in the toyle seeking warmth. They looked at each other, still unable to believe what had just happened.
"Th-that was ha-Had?" Matya asked.
"Apparently," Zia said, she was snarling but not at Matya, "I can't believe anyone would call this planet inhabitable."
"We have to go out in that," disbelief and dismay permeated Matya's words.
Zia growled, "For the love of the moons, why would we go out in that?"
"We ate, remember? We need to restock and gather supplies before we can move on to the next planet. We don't know how long it will take to find another habitable planet. We didn't exactly cover this; the study of space is only important to a small group of scholars."
"It's not something the royals usually know anything about?" Zia made it a question, but she knew that the Queen had made certain to have Zia educated in all the usual royal ways.
"Well, once a new Queen is chosen that girl must then take a short course in astronomy. None of the other royals need know anything outside of our own solar system."
"How far away are we?"
Matya shrugged, "I know that Chandara's solar system only possesses two planets where life can survive. Chandara is the better one, of course. Our planet is almost entirely hot, lush, and wet. Our sister planet, Saikatara, is a hot, dry desert with scarce plant life and few animals."
"We have deserts on Chandara," Zia was thoughtful; "We passed through the desert of Todoma on the Wildlands side of the mountains."
Matya informed Zia, "Mountains create the shadow deserts, deserts in the shadow of high mountains, because the warm, wet air is stopped by the mountaintops. The deserts of Saikatara are formed by the nearness to the sun. It is difficult to keep the water wet above ground and underground wells are so far apart that it was ruled too difficult to cultivate the planet."
"I'd rather be too hot than ever have to see Had again," Zia pointed out.
"I tend to agree with you. Still, we must find someone to barter with or a wild place to gather food. We hunted in the Wildlands; we can survive anywhere," Matya said, trying to bolster herself as much as Zia.
Zia snorted, but she stretched and rose with Matya to go find something to cover up with in order to find food and supplies. Most of Zia and Matya's clothing had been thrown into bags and vacuum sealed for the trip. Matya hoped it meant things to trade but she was afraid the people of Hadara would have little use for the sheer cloth that made up most of the elite vestments.
Typically, Chandarans wore only their own short fur. Most of the pieces of clothing they had were decorative, like jewelry and sheer veils. The warmest thing from Zia's armoire was a leather belt with seven layers of multi-colored veils and brightly colored cloth coming down to form a half skirt.
Matya handed the skirt to Zia to put on and then pulled out a skirt reminiscent of yellow and green courcour petals and instead of using it as a skirt she draped it over Zia's shoulders. Zia gave her a look but said nothing.
"I feel warm," Zia said. It was Matya's turn to snort.
"If I opened the bay door with you as you are you'd bolt right back inside," Matya chided.
Zia held obediently still while Matya wrapped veils around her hair and face until her brown-black hair was a shadow beneath the many layers and all anyone could see was Zia's bright, animated green eyes. Matya dressed herself as she had Zia but her skirt was much shorter.
"We'll still freeze after too long here. The first thing we should find is clothing that will keep us warm. Then we find or trade for as much food as we can find," Zia told Matya, "As soon as we have what we need we are getting off this moon forsaken planet."
"Our bodies would adjust after a year of living here," Matya suggested quietly and was silenced by Zia's dark glare. They opened the bay door once again to the frozen cold of Hadara and shut the ship behind them.
"It r-really is moon-forsaken," Matya chattered in the cold. Zia glanced at her and then set her eyes determinedly on the goal ahead of them. Matya had provided a map with co-ordinates near what had been recorded as a major point of trade for the planet.
Matya took that as a reason to continue, and talking kept her from thinking too much about the cold, "Hadara has no moons; it is quite unusual."
Zia shook her head. She was not surprised. Suddenly, the ground was shockingly firm beneath her feet. Zia looked down and saw that they were standing on tightly packed Had dust rather than the loose Had dust where the ship had landed.
"I think this is a road," Matya said. Zia agreed with her. She saw that there were tracks on the road left by some heavy vehicle. It took some time but they followed the road to something that resembled civilization. Zia stopped abruptly, silently surprised and unhappy. Matya made a noise of protest to express her dismay.
"This is a major center of trade?" Zia growled.
"The last time any Chandaran ventured to investigate this planet was about a hundred madas ago," Matya whispered. Chandarans were capable of space travel and had been for many solar years but they were rarely interested in any culture or planet besides their own. Space travel was considered bad luck.
"They have nothing we need," Zia imitated the Queen's voice with no accuracy whatsoever, and it had nothing to do with being muffled by the scarves. She was right about the sentiment, though. The Queen was always dismissive whenever the explorers returned with reports of agricultural communities off-planet, "We raise and grow animals and plants natural to our lands and natural to our bodies. They do nothing better than we do here. I have no interest in them."
"They have things we want now," Matya replied, disheartened, "But it might not be here." The little village they had found was built amid the ruins of what had once been the metropolis the explorers had recorded in their reports. They were both worried they would not be able to find enough food here.
"Let's get clothing and food and go," Zia grumbled, "We are in so much trouble. The next planet could not be much worse. Let's just go in somewhere, it's freezing out here."
Zia sounded viciously annoyed. Matya gave her a worried glance. The monochromatic landscape was grating on both girl's nerves but Matya was hardly ever as peevish as Zia. She missed the warmth, the vibrant colors, strong scent of fruits and flowers. Zia thought she might even miss the humidity. All she could smell on this planet was ice and frozen manure.
"I hope this isn't a private home," Matya spoke softly.
The wood house was not very wide; Zia thought that she could stretch out inside it and touch the tips of her toes to one end and the tips of her claws to the other if she stretched but the walls themselves looked to be three arms thick in Chandaran measurements. It was very tall in order to accommodate the natives who were so large. The door took up half of the width of the house to be able to fit the Hadarans broad forms and was made of leather animal skins to keep in the heat. The house was long enough to have twenty Hadarans living there comfortably.
The inside of the house was especially dark and Zia and Matya paused for a moment inside the door to adjust. The natives were speaking conversationally in a language that sounded like roaring. The voices of the Hadaran seemed naturally deep, as if they spoke from the bottom of the chest, and they spoke a guttural language in deep, prolonged bellows. The sound faded and the locals turned to watch Zia and Matya.
Matya felt a chill crawl its way down her spine. She was fairly certain these were townsfolk that did not welcome strangers, much less strangers from another planet they'd never heard of before. The locals here had no contact with off-worlders because they had no ability for space travel. She vaguely remembered something important about Chandarans off-planet.
"Chandarans are forbidden to make contact with off-world cultures without the Queen's leave," Matya hissed at Zia.
"We don't have much choice now that we are exiles; the old rules no longer apply to us, Matya. We are no longer considered citizens of Madzara," Zia growled back. The hackles on the nearest Hadarans rose; quite literally the fur around their shoulders bristled and stood up straight. Matya felt her heart drop into her stomach.
There were definitely more than twenty Hadarans in the long wooden house and it was very frightening to be so outnumbered.
Zia stretched her taut muscles, willing herself to relax, "We've already landed here and made contact. The punishment for doing so is to be considered an off-worlder and restricted to living off-planet. We were already restricted to living off-planet; they banished me remember? It was your choice to follow me. That is not my fault."
"It's rude to hold a conversation they can't understand in front of them," Matya muttered, ducking her head to one side. Among Chandarans tucking your head and turning to one side was a signal of meekness but the Hadarans had a similar gesture and it signaled the intent to attack.
The Hadaran nearest Matya rumbled in a low roar and she froze, all the fur on her body abruptly standing straight up while her heart in her stomach, heart and all, dropped into her feet. Zia's tail bristled to three times its usual width and Zia growled low right back at them. It was a child's growl to the large Hadaran. Curiosity overcame one of them however and a small Hadaran approached Matya to sniff one of the strange creatures.
The child Hadaran was actually still as big as a large male Chandaran. Matya held very, very still and Zia watched the smaller one with narrowed eyes. Delicately the child touched Matya's face and that was fine until he rubbed her whiskers the wrong way. Abruptly, Matya simultaneously jumped and sneezed. Then she sneezed again.
The child Hadaran gave a snort which was the Hadaran form of a short laugh and Zia let herself snicker as well. Matya gave her a dark look but it broke some of the tension. One of the largest of the Hadarans came forward to grab the young boy and pull him back.
Deciding it was time to stop standing next to the door where it was cold Zia left Matya's side and approached one of the five hearths that burned for warmth. Zia warmed herself by the fire while the crowd watched her. Deciding that it was best not to remain where they weren't particularly welcome Zia approached one of the Hadarans to try to trade.
The Hadaran who had pulled back the young one was probably a woman, despite her enormous size, and Zia figured her skirt could make some sort of decoration for her. The belt would have barely fit around her forearm so it would probably not be clothing in her wardrobe.
Zia held out one edge of her skirt towards the woman and shook it. The woman Hadaran jumped a little and watched Zia with wide, round brown eyes. Zia took the belt off slowly, holding it in front of her with one hand. She pointed with one claw towards the woman who immediately backed up a step. Zia sighed.
"I don't think that's working," Matya called out. Hardly anyone was paying attention to Matya standing next to the door; everyone was far more interested in figuring out what Zia was trying to do.
"I'm freezing," Zia called out cheerfully, "And we need to find food, too."
Zia slowly stepped forward, unaware that her cheerfulness was being mistaken for aggression. She paused, watching the woman carefully. One of the other Hadarans called out and Zia tried to ignore it. She watched the woman Hadaran carefully. No one trusted anyone in this situation and they were both afraid the other would attack.
Zia had a moment to wonder why the locals were so afraid of someone so much smaller when they were large and in a big group before she let the thought go and concentrated on the woman before her.
The brown eyes weren't straying from Zia. Zia reached out slowly and softly touched the woman's shawl. She let her hand rest there a moment and then she tugged. Zia was about to hold the half skirt and try to indicate a trade but the tug did it. The woman reared and cried out, shoving Zia down. Zia hissed angrily and swiped at the woman's hooves with one hand.
At that point all of the Hadaran's began roaring in fury and attempting to stomp Zia into a puddle on the ground. Zia leapt up and dug all of her claws into the shoulder and back of one of the Hadarans. He roared with real rage and then the fight exploded.
Two Hadarans pushed a shouting, hissing Matya out of the door and barred her way. They earned some vicious gashes for their trouble. Zia evaded the clumsy grasping arms of the Hadarans and shot herself into the rafters. After one short coughing fit Zia discovered that the smoke holes where the hearths were allowed to vent made for an excellent escape, as long as she didn't try to breathe. She hit the ground running and only paused long enough to grab Matya by the shoulder. Zia dragged her along; Matya couldn't have kept up with Zia if they'd been racing each other but Zia pulled so that the older girl was almost stumbling. Zia wasn't going to leave Matya behind, especially not now considering the ones chasing them were slow and plodding animals like feedstock. Dark clouds had moved in while they were inside and it made it difficult to find the ship but Zia's innate sense of direction got them back the way they had come.
"Damn feedstock," Zia screamed as they rushed into the ship, "We're running from damned, overgrown food!"
"That overgrown food will batter our ship if we don't hurry," Matya said, trying to rush the bay doors closed, "Hurry and key in co-ordinates on the dashboard, Zia."
"We don't know where we're going," Zia snarled to herself, keying in Chandara's co-ordinates again. They were basically the only ones she knew. The computer scrambled the co-ordinates and selected another destination at random.
"It's giving me an error; something about the weather," Zia went on over the intercom from the ship's main console.
"Select sky car mode," Matya instructed her from the bay doors, "We'll get as high as it will let us in that mode and then go back to the default."
"How does she know this?" Zia muttered, but the intercom was still running.
"Part of the journey from Chandara was done in cryostasis. While we were under anesthesia we learned the navigation of the ship. I know more than you do, apparently."
"Some people learn better while asleep than others," Matya shrugged, even though Zia couldn't see it over the basic ship intercom.
"Sucks," Zia grumbled, but realized she was grateful that she at least knew how to put the ship into sky car mode.
End Chapter One
Author's Note: I had the excellent assistance of Damien in the editing and proofreading department. Please send kudos for the rewrite to Damien (known on FictionPress as SpawnMeister666). Any mistakes are my fault alone (since I tend to keep editing/adding/writing after Damien has done his beta work) are mine and mine alone. Any and all flames for crappy writing shall be sent to me the author---and do not bother my beta with nasty e-mails. Thank you and please come again. - S.D. Lynn