Jiro rose to a crouch, moved over to the generator’s left edge and peeked. A second laser shot pounded the generator. Jiro fired toward the source back in the trees, then slid back behind the generator. A third blast hit the outpost wall behind him, causing him to shield his head. A fourth and fifth blast battered the generator.
If he remained pinned down here, the second Malsain would have a clear shot when it circled back from behind the outpost.
Gambling, Jiro turned and rushed back inside. He punched the emergency button and miraculously the door slid shut before another laser shot shook it.
Only a single, flickering light remained on, dimly lighting the outpost. The steel cages were blackened and bent; one door hung from its top hinge. The shelves inside the cage had all toppled over onto each other, dumping food and supplies everywhere. The mini fridge in the kitchen lay on its side, contents splattered on the floor. Jiro spotted the remains of the LCS. Had anyone on Wodan received his message?
The outpost had no other doors or windows, except for the cage ceiling and he couldn’t squeeze between those bars. Another light grenade thrown in from the back or dropped through the ceiling would be all it took to kill him.
Moving back to the kitchen, Jiro found a hole near the base of the wall behind the overturned fridge. Not enough for the Malsain to crawl through, but more than enough for a light grenade to slide through. Shredded cables lined the wall leading to the hole. He needed something to plug it.
Faint footsteps reached the door. Jiro ducked behind the fridge, fully expecting the Malsain to blow the door. Or would the Malsain try to blow the whole outpost up now instead?
Returning to the caged area, he grabbed what was left of the LCS pole with its v-shaped pair of legs from under the table with the shattered radio equipment. The pole looked to be the right size. He returned to the kitchen, and stuck the pole into the hole all the way to the legs. The hole was a little bigger than the pole, but not enough for the Malsain to send another grenade through. He then shoved the mini fridge up against the wall to block the pole in place.
A concussive blast shook the door, freezing Jiro in place like a deer in headlights. He waited for the door to fall, but it held. How many blasts could the door sustain?
The only place left that offered any protection was the resource area. Jiro lifted the crooked door enough to slip past, then hid underneath a partially overturned shelf, squeezing in among the canned and boxed food dumped on the ground. How long could he hide out here? He had plenty of food, but the broken ceiling left him so exposed.
He stared up at the night sky, terrified of seeing the outline of a gun appear above the glass.
A loud roar overhead silenced everything. For a second Jiro feared it was the start of some weapon meant to destroy the outpost, and then he realized it sounded like a ship.
Several blasts rocked the front of the outpost, and Jiro feared the Malsain had summoned backup. Were their more rogue Malsain on the planet? With a ship, they would penetrate the outpost at any moment.
But nothing further happened. After a minute, the roar of the ship died.
Then a faint outline appeared at the edge of the glass ceiling, moving slowly toward the hole. Jiro tensed, ready to shoot, but not wanting to expose himself either. He searched all around the ceiling to see if there were any others.
“Is anyone in there?” the outline called down.
Jiro frowned. That voice sounded human.
The figure turned on a flashlight, momentarily illuminating a large man with a full beard. He then pointed the flashlight down into the outpost. “Is anyone in there? We received your distress signal.”
Jiro leapt to his feet, waving his hands in the air. “I’m here.”
He raced to the door, pressing the release button. The door slid open. Six men in camouflage gear, spread out in front of the outpost, all turned light rifles on him. Beyond them, more men with rifles deboarded a tour ship.
Slumped against the wall next to the door was the body of one Malsain. Men from the ship chased the other Malsain into the forest.
“Are you alright?” The beared man jumped down from the outpost roof to the ground.
Jiro nodded. Then his momentary relief faded. “We have to get my father.”
“Where’s he at?” the bearded man asked.
“West,” Jiro replied. “In the forest. He’s got a badly broken leg.”
“Are you ok?”
“Right arm is hurt.”
“Come on.” The man motioned for Jiro to follow him to the ship. “We’ve got a doctor on board. We’ll pick up your father.”
Onboard the tour ship, a doctor examined Jiro’s arm. A small fracture. The doctor assured him that it would heal just fine. He put Jiro’s arm in a sling and gave him a shot of nanobots to begin repairs.
The tour ship took off and ten minutes later, they had recovered Daichi, once more unconscious. After a quick examination the doctor assured Jiro they had the tools to care for him at the lodge on Wodan. Jiro wanted to stay at his father’s side, but the doctor forced him out, telling Jiro he needed to sleep.
The ship picked up the hunters who had pursued the remaining Malsain, then the ship returned to Wodan and Daichi was rushed to a clinic for treatment. Jiro spent several hours pacing the lobby of the clinic, despite the urging from the staff that he get some rest or eat something. They would find him as soon as his father awoke. But Jiro refused to leave until he knew his father was ok.
Finally, at some point in the middle of the night, Jiro was allowed to visit his father. Daichi slept, and the doctor instructed Jiro not to wake him. Now that he could at least see his father again, and had assurance he would be alright, Jiro slumped into a chair by the bed. His burdens at last slid from his shoulders. They had survived! He tried to rest, but his mind replayed the day’s events. He flushed a little at the thought of telling Noboru that his first kill had come from chasing a woolly rhino off a cliff and falling after it. The memory of their ship blowing up sent a shiver back down his spine. Would he ever be able to return to Herne without fear that they would run into other rogue Malsain?
He chuckled. “For all your insistence that we not use technology for hunting, you sure kept a lot in the outpost. I was angry with you for not letting me have any, but at the end when we needed it most, you had it all.”
It seemed silly to talk to his dad when he was asleep, but he found that now that he had started, he couldn’t stop. “It does feel good knowing all that I accomplished. Of course, in the future I intend to have carry whatever devices I can.”
The point of the hunt had been to prove himself a man to his father. Measure himself against sabre-tooth cheetahs or rhino hogs. His father had understood the need to challenge oneself.
“I get why you hunt without it, though. What if our technology failed? Could we still survive on our own?”
Jiro grinned. “Today we did.”