I Am Khaaneph Part 2
“No”, Creet’tho replied, sounding the word out carefully: “In-Di-vid-U-al”. “I know of no such word, sandworm.” Creet’tho sighed, exhasperation beginning to overcome his feeling of surrealism at the situation he now found himself in. Yesterday he had rescued the sole survivor from a wrecked Khaaneph cruiser, an imperious girl who’s age he estimated to be around fourteen. She had a lithe build, medium height, and skin tanned a deep brown, darker even than that of her ship. The torso bruising she had suffered from the wreck had apparently done nothing to temper her spirit, or the keen edge of her tongue. “You take from the sands…the sands that are rightfully MINE!” The girl had lost consciousness shortly after uttering this statement, delivered with all of the authority of a Kiith’Sa. Creet’tho wondered if she possessed a standing among the Khaaneph that would explain her imperiousness, but communicating with her was proving challenging.
“I do not need your words, or your trespassing. All that enters the sand belongs to ME, Khaaneph!” She rose partially from her prone position to deliver the statement, her words filled with vehemence. “You should not move” Creet’tho said “you may have cracked ribs and moving could puncture a lung. It would be best for you to rest a few days while the bruising subsides, and hopefully the pain with it. If the pain stops soon, that should mean your ribs aren’t fractured. Here, have some water.” She continued to glare at him, although she returned to a prone position, lying back on what had been Creet’tho’s sleeping mat. Perhaps she was in more pain than he realized.
Creet’tho had attempted conversation in an effort to gain knowledge and intelligence about her people; and to determine if they were likely to mount a rescue. To his surprise, while she spoke the same language as he did, she didn’t understand certain words. She seemed especially confused by phrases expressing individualism or individual identity. Creet’tho pondered this oddity as he helped her drink from his canteen. Judging from her expression, he might as well have been a poisonous insect, rather than her rescuer. But rescuer he was: he had dug the sand out from around her unconscious form, and, placing her on a drag tarp and covering her in a protective thermal blanket from his survival kit, had slowly towed her to safety across the sands. After picking her up and placing her on his sleeping mat, he’d checked her vital signs. His apprehension was confirmed: she was approaching hyperthermia. He removed the thermal blanket from her still-unconscious body, dampened her clothing and decreased the outpost’s internal temperature to help reduce her core temperature. Then, staggering in exhaustion, he’d made his way to the radio and once again attempted to reach Command. The radio continued to greet him with the strange, pulsing static, and he had sunk to the floor in exhaustion, at loss for what to do. There he sat, head in hands, when sleep took him.
Creet’tho awoke to groans from his new charge, and looked over to see if she was awake. Checking the display on his wrist computer, he was surprised to see that he’d been asleep for nearly ten hours. She groaned again and shifted, still half asleep. Her neck-length, medium brown hair fanned around her, framed her head as the lay on her back on his mat. He rubbed his eyes and shook his head in an effort to clear his mind from sleep inertia and general confusion. Creet’tho had never found himself in a situation like this before, and, unable to reach Command, was at loss for how to proceed. Like all Kiith Gaalsien military personnel, he’d been trained in advanced desert survival and emergency medical training, but if this mysterious Khaaneph girl had internal injuries, he wasn’t going to be able to help her. And he did want to help her, he realized, and that desire came from more than the his Kiith’s lack of information on this mysterious enemy. “What if I could save her…save the soul of this young Godless?” He could think of no effort more noble than salvation. But first, she needed more than spiritual guidance.
Standing up, Creet’tho opened the outpost’s medical kit and extracted the small digital vitals monitor and unrolled a set of medical leads. Turning towards his patient, he paused, momentarily puzzled as to how to remove the flexible, one piece body armor and tunic she wore without potentially causing more injury. Deciding that propriety wasn’t worth the risk of puncturing a lung or internal organ, he dug through the medical kit again until he found what he needed. The small set of servo-powered shears, designed specifically for medical providers to cut through protective layers of body armor. Starting at her left ankle, he began to cut upwards towards her neck. Once the entire cut was made, he peeled back the layers of armor and underclothing to reach her torso. Like the Gaalsien, she had low body fat. Food was never available in excess in the Great Waste for his people, and he wasn’t surprised for that to be the case for the Godless. Her skin, however, was darker than most of those in his Kiith, although lighter than it was on her hands and face. Setting the monitor on the folded-back armor to hold it away from her skin, he quickly attached the leads around her heart and to the lower part of her torso, as well as a blood pressure cuff and a fingertip blood oxygen monitor. The machine turned itself on and began recording readings: heart rate, blood oxygen, blood pressure, respiratory rate, temperature and hydration level all appeared on the display after a few minutes. Besides being slightly dehydrated, none of her vital signs struck him as alarming, and that being the case after ten hours. meant it was unlikely she had any internal injuries. Feeling grateful that his patient’s needs remained within his skill set, Creet’tho turned back to the medical kit and began to prepare an IV.
An hour later, his patient’s vitals were normal, and, to Creet’tho’s chagrin, so was her voice. “Helped Khaaneph” she said, her tone a mixture of accusation and surprise. She had partially propped herself up against the wall of the outpost, although her abdomen pain seemed kept her from sitting up the entire way. She glared at Creet’tho, showing no evidence of embarrassment despite her clothing and armor being cut open, and was equally unfazed by the medical equipment attached to her bare torso. She was too young and thin to have much of a womanly figure, but Creet’tho remained surprised at her boldness. “Why?” “What is your name?” Creet’tho countered. “I am Khaaneph, sandworm! Have I not said so? I must urinate. Help.” It was an order, not a request. Creet’tho sighed inwardly, careful to appear emotionless. His hands ached again, his legs were sore, and he had no way to reach Command to inform them of what was an unprecedented encounter with their elusive enemy. “I will perform and endure my duty”, he reminded himself. He just wished he could reach Command. “Why no help?” insisted the girl, her voice full of confusion. “The waste collector is right over there” said Creet’tho, pointing to a funnel-shaped device attached to a tube that ran into the shelter’s water reclamation system a meter away from the bed. “But there isn’t any privacy…”. “Pri-VA-cy?” She replied, with an odd emphasis “What does that mean, privacy? I do not have patience for this speech. Help.” Sliding a rations case over to put it in reach of the reclamation tube for her to use as a makeshift seat, Creet’tho turned back towards his patient. “Can you stand?” he asked. “Khaaneph cannot stand” she replied “help move”. Creet’tho flexed his hands experimentally, making sure they had range of motion for the task at hand. “Sajuuk, grant me the strength and patience to assist the soul of this young Godless, for her sake and for the benefit of my Kiith” he prayed silently, then turned. It was unlikely she weighed significantly more than than the weight of his protective equipment and rifle of which he was accustomed to bearing, so picking her up and moving her a meter should not prove too difficult, despite his protesting muscles. “Let me disconnect you from the monitor and we’ll need to get this armor off of you” he replied. “Who is this ‘you’?! I am Khaaneph!” Her tone was that of one speaking to a child. “Okay, I need to take off these leads and your armor, Khaaneph, so that I can move you…I mean, Khaaneph” said Creet’tho. The glare he received spoke volumes, declaring that these were obvious factors that did not need to be explained. Greatly perplexed by his charge’s speech and behavior, he peeled the medical monitors off of her skin and pulled her armor the rest of the way from her body. She expressed no embarrassment, and made no move to assist. Putting his hands under her armpits, he prepared to lift. “Do not hurt Khaaneph, sandworm” she warned. Given the fact that he’d had plenty of opportunities to do so if he’d wanted, Creet’tho felt this didn’t warrant a reply. Flexing and turning, he lifted her off of the bed and placed her on the makeshift seat, carefully leaning her against the wall of the outpost as he set her down. “There. Let me put on my coat and mask and I’ll step outside while you…” “Go nowhere” she replied “Khaaneph will need to be put back on bed”. Turning away and moving five meters to the opposite end of the outpost, Creet’tho did as requested.
As Creet’tho stared at the wall, he wondered what this Khaaneph was. A patient? I prisoner? A source of information, to be interrogated for his people…or a test from the Maker, and an opportunity to save a soul? All of those things? He stood, lost in thought until his contemplation was broken by “I require assistance. Why do you stand there still?” Turning, he was once again taken aback by the imperiousness of the girl’s stare, despite being a naked invalid in enemy hands. ‘Does she not understand her situation?’, Creet’tho thought to himself ‘and why is her language so strange?’. Wondering whether he should attempt to teach her manners but deciding he currently had more important things to worry about, he strode over to the Khaaneph girl, and, once again picking her up by her armpits, turned and put her back on the sleeping mat. “Hungry!” she said as soon as he set her down, her imperial expression belying a flash of pain as she propped herself up against the wall. The outpost was well provisioned with enough dry foodstuffs for approximately three months. Opening a supply container and pulling out a handful of nutrient bars, Creet’tho passed some to her. She ate greedily and surprisingly, without complaint. “More” she said in her unique tone, a mix of question and order. Creet’tho decided to use his opportunity to gain more insight: “not until you tell me about your people” he said “How many of there are you?”. She narrowed her eyes at him and scrunched her face in disapproval. “I am Khaaneph! she said, her voice full of frustration and impatience. “One people! One mind! No need for sandworm talk!” With that, she rolled on her side and faced away from him. And that’s when he noticed something odd at the base of her neck. Unless he was mistaken, it appeared to be some sort of electrical plug-typpe connection surgically attached to her spine, but Creet’tho had never heard of such a thing before. “Hungry” she said again, softer this time, almost to herself, her tone pitiable. Creet’tho was momentarily distracted Creet’tho from the astonishment of his new discovery and struck by with a sharp pang of guilt. He was attempting to interrogate a child, and it did not sit well in his conscious. But how many of his people and how much valuable water and equipment had been lost to Khaaneph raiders? He had to do everything in his power for his Kiith, but he vowed to do it while still treating the girl humanely. She had answered his question, and he believed she had answered truthfully, albeit the truth as she understood it. And she had clearly not had enough to eat in a long time. Filling his canteen with water, he gently set it down between her and the wall of the outpost, within easy reach. Next to it he placed enough ration bars to fill a fully-grown man. Without a word and without looking at him, she tore open the closest bar and began eating hungrily.
Patience. It was the conclusion Creet’tho came to after careful consideration of his situation, done so in peace, as the Khaaneph girl had fallen asleep soon after finishing her meal. This outpost was nearly a hundred kilometers away from the Gaalsien pumping stations, and while he could probably navigate his way there, it would risky, and even more so with an injured teenaged Khaaneph to chaperone. He was well provisioned with enough rations for months, despite a second mouth to feed. His small reactor provided plenty of power, and he had a backup solar and wind power system if needed. No, Creeth’tho decided, there was no reason to attempt a trek to the pumping station, despite all communication being disrupted. He’d missed his daily check in with Command twice, which should be enough arouse suspicion. A sandskimmer was likely being prepared to dispatch soon, and he could pass his on his new charge to Command. He hoped they would have greater success with interrogation than he’d had…and he hoped they’d do so gently. Creet’tho glanced over at the Khaaneph girl’s sleeping form, her skin slightly shining with sweat. It was mid-day, a time that always strained the outpost’s environmental systems. Ironically, it was also the time of day when the winds were at their calmest, meaning this was when Creet’tho would take stock of his surroundings, scouting for the approach of potential aggressors. And today, he hoped, friendly reinforcements. After double-checking that he had secured the controls to the radio, environmental systems, and security systems, Creet’tho paused before donning his protective gear. Hyperthermia was a constant threat in the desert, something illness or injuries could exacerbate. Concerned for his new charge’s wellbeing, he connected the vitals monitor to her still-sleeping form so that he could monitor her core temperature via his wrist computer. Then, after setting full power to the cooling system, Creet’tho painstakingly donned his bunker coat, mask, and and gloves before setting out into the inferno that was the Great Waste, hoping to clear his mind of both Khaaneph and the pain in his joints.
Silence. It consumes me, and I have never known it before. I am afraid.
The constant of the burning sands was a comfort to Creet’tho, a source of calming familiarity in his tumultuous situation. Using binoculars, he slowly scanned all around him, carefully observing for motion against the shimmering horizon. All was still, save for the sands. Content to continue his vigilance, Creet’tho waited.
I think there is a word for this feeling inside of me. It is a sandworm word, for the Khaaneph have no need of it. I believe it is “Alone”.
‘What is she thinking?’ Creet’tho wondered, his mind turning inward, wandering to his charge. After a half hour of enjoying the relative stillness, curiosity was overcoming his apprehension of the situation. He could feel her presence in the outpost behind him, like a lodestone of mystery and duty. But he knew himself to be unfit for the task set before him. He was not skillful with words, just with his hands. Or, he had been. But he would not dwell on his ailments, for that was selfish, and did not serve God nor Kiith. He decided to pray for guidance. He went to his knees, pressed forehead to sand, and spread his arms wide to either side, palms down, feeling the grains shift beneath his weight. “Sajuuk, the Great Maker Who’s Hand Shapes What Is, I am but one of your humble yet devout servants from your True People, the Gaalsien. Hear my prayer so that you may consider granting my request. Allow me to discover more from the Khaaneph girl so that I may prevent future harm to my people.” Creet’tho paused, his emotions conflicted. “If she must come to harm for this information, so be it, but I would request otherwise. This heathen does not know you, and her soul is not safe. Provide me the guidance and show me the path so that I may yet show her soul the light, the light of the True Maker. Through me, grant this child Salvation. Use me as your instrument for this purpose. This I humbly ask of you, Great Sajuuk. May your True People shelter in your hand for eternity, once we are free of sin.” The sands stirred around him, swirling lightly as a breeze whispered past. Standing, Creet’tho felt renewed conviction course through him, radiating from his heart outward. The Great Maker would never grant a task to his children that they could not surmount. He would do his duty.
I am surprised and startled as the Sandworm enters suddenly. He is…different.
Creet’tho’s duty was clear to him now: he would find out all he could about the Khaaneph, and, through him, the Great Sajuuk may deliver this girl from oblivion. He was determined to accomplish both goals. Turning, he entered the outpost, not even pausing long enough for the outer doors to fully shut before opening the inner door. Staring sternly at his charge, he said “Khaaneph – that is your name, is it not? I have saved your life and provided you with medical care and hospitality, yet your people attack my people without cause. I would know why!”
The girl returned his stare, her gaze steady, as unashamed as ever of her body and, presumably, her behavior. A single tear, illuminated by the vital signs monitor revealed an inner turmoil that her expression did not. “I was Khaaneph, sandworm” she replied, her voice trailing off as she deflated before his eyes, her gaze dropping. “But now I am…I think the word you use is…alone.” She looked back up at him sharply “it’s gone!” pointing to the back of her neck, she continued “My Rakshiir is gone…and I am…alone”. Her expression crumpled for a moment in anguish and sadness, then regained it’s mask-like calm. “There is no longer anyone else. All I have is me. Me…and you, sandworm.”
Surprised and taken aback, Creet’tho returned her gaze in silence for a moment. Rakshiir meant “One” or “One-ness”, but he didn’t understand how that applied to her situation. Then, in a flash of insight, it came to him. “You had a surgically implanted radio or communication device!”
“It is so much more than your sandworm ‘radio’” she said, flashing him a contemptuous expression that was half smile, half sneer “it is what makes us Khaaneph. Through it, we are one. One mind, one people, one goal. Lord of the sands, and all that which enter it. I am Khaaneph.” Her expression turned mournful “or…I was. Now…maybe I do not exist. Crossing her arms and drawing her knees towards her chest, she turned away. “Now, I am not even a sandworm” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
Creet’tho was stunned, a mixture of awe, excitement, and frustration momentarily rendering him motionless. If what she said was true, this was an incredible piece of technology, and could be of huge benefit to his people! It explained so many things, such as how the Godless could coordinate their strikes so effectively, and why distress signals were rarely sent from their Gaalsien victims. He snapped his fingers, and wincing at the pain the motion caused, exclaimed “this is why my radio doesn’t work! You jam our radio signals because you don’t need radio signals to communicate! Is your cruiser still sending out a jamming signal?”
“Yes, Khaaneph block primitive sandworm equipment. But not blocking now, and did not block one day past. Something…blocked Khaaneph.” She paused, in obvious distress, her voice strained and scared. “We…stopped being one. And then, wrecked. Didn’t think sandworm did this…do not know what did. Has never happened. Always one, before.”
Everything, from why the Khaaneph were so successful at raiding to his charge’s broken speech, suddenly became clear to Creet’tho. Everything except his current radio troubles, and possibly that the Godless’s communication equipment, whatever it was, seemed to be suffering from the same interference. “Where is your…Rakshiir…now? Can I see it? Maybe we can fix it.”
The girl didn’t respond for a moment, then, rolling slowly onto her side towards him, wincing from the pain of her bruised ribs, she responded with a forlorn look. “Lost in wreck. Is only one for me. Cannot get more. You could fix?” Her eyes widened as she spoke the last sentence, a childlike expression of hope appearing on her face. “But why help one-not-Khaaneph-anymore?” “Because the Great Maker wishes for all of his Children to be cleansed of their sin, Ms. ‘One-not-Khaaneph’”. “I not worship your god, sandworm. Khaaneph serve no one.” “For now, as you have said, you are no longer Khaaneph”. The look of pain in her eyes caused a flash of regret to shoot through Cree’tho. But if at all possible, he would save this girl’s soul. “No more talk. Need rest”. And with that, she put an arm over her eyes, and after a few minutes, her even breathing indicated she had indeed fallen asleep.
An hour later, his charge had awoken and had begun eating enough ration bars in silence to fill a fully grown soldier. Watching her eat with a mixture of pity and curiosity, Creet’tho once again began probing for more information. “How big is the Rakshiir?” he asked. In response, she broke off a piece of ration bar about two centimeters long and held it up to him “this size” and, pressing it against the back of her neck, she said “goes here, like this.” “Maybe we can find yours, and perhaps it could be reattached. It must be near the wreck. What is it made of? Maybe I can use the sensors in my wrist computer to help locate it if we return to the wreck site. Even if not, I can take one from one of the bodies, they should be easier to find”. The girl paused, seeming to need a moment to decipher this much spoken language. “I not know what it made of” she said after a moment, the angst in her voice apparent “and other Khaaneph Rakshiir not work for me. Just mine.” “I may still be able to detect it, and even if not, we may be able to find it by searching and digging”. Her expression brightened “I help!”. Creet’tho hesitated before responding “It’s over a kilometer away, and your ribs are badly bruised…” he trailed off as her excited expression was replaced by one of stubborn anger “you not control Khaaneph!”. “Even if I let you come, your armor and protective equipment is ruined, how would you-” “Simple! I take spare air mask and wear blanket” pointing to the emergency thermal blanket and protective wrap, she continued “then you pull me, like good sandworm” she finished, gesturing to the emergency drag sled that still remained unfolded in the shelter. “And, you not be able open Khaaneph cruiser – requires this!” She exclaimed, making a pressing motion with her palm. “A biometric lock?” Creet’tho guessed. “Hand touch!” Creet’tho nodded “if we’re able to adequately protect you and if you promise to answer all of my questions about your people, I will take you with me”. Creet’tho was basing the decision to bring her more on the potential security risk she posed while left alone for long periods of time in the outpost rather than on her desires, but he would gain as much benefit as he could from the situation. His charge nodded enthusiastically “Khaaneph be good girl!”. Eyeing her closely and deciding she was telling the truth, Creet’tho began to collect the equipment required for the outing. “If my people haven’t arrived by then, we’ll leave an hour before dark”.
At dusk, looking more like a lump of supplies rather than a girl, his charge sat by the exit of the outpost on the emergency drag sled, propped up against a bag of equipment. After cladding her in a spare breathing apparatus and jumpsuit to protect her from the heat, Creet’tho had wrapped her in heavy-duty, sand resistant tarps designed to temporarily protect equipment and vehicles in the field. Straps ran from the sled to attachment points on the harness built-in to Creet’tho’s standard issue military bunker coat. They were ready to move. Creet’tho looked back over his shoulder “I’ll be monitoring your vitals, and if you start to overheat, I’m turning back. You’re still injured, and I don’t want you getting hyperthermia.” “Then make sure you walk fast, sandworm!” She replied. Eyeing her through her task mask, Creet’tho thought he detected the hint of a smile, despite her words. “Or maybe I’ll just leave you in the sand” he muttered, turning towards the door. Feeling a sharp tug on the straps, he looked back. “I too valuable!” She said, wiggling under the protective tarp as though trying to cross her arms “you wouldn’t leave me”. Her voice was a mixture of statement and question, and Creet’tho once again felt pity for the injured child, separated from her people and all she knew. “No” he said “I wouldn’t leave you”. Nodding, she responded “we help each other, then. Go!”. Cycling the doors, Creet’tho went.
Creet’tho stepped into the sand, breathing deeply and appreciating the desert for what it was: his people’s path to redemption. The setting sun coated the dunes in shades of pink and gold, and the evening winds buffeted him in greeting, whispering a language spoken by the impact of grains against his coat. Until he was granted shelter by the Maker, this was his proving grounds, and his home. He knew nothing else, and wished for nothing else. To him, the sands held purpose…and beauty. Exhaling contentedly, he began to walk. A lifetime of hardship and manual labor had prepared him well for the task at hand.
“I love the Ko’Rhiim. It so beautiful.” Her words broke Creet’tho’s contended introspection, and he stopped, surprised. Looking back at her, her eyes met his. “So do I” he said frankly. “It is beautiful. And more than beauty…it will save the souls of my people.” He was met with silence. After a moment, as he turned away to continue walking, the Khaaneph girl asked softly “What is ‘soul’?” “Let’s recover your device, and I will explain once we’re back under shelter” he responded, looking back at her. With hope for her salvation granting him renewed strength, Creet’tho surged forward, continuing their trek.
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