Splinter: Four tries for an Yxtrang

Here’s a rare look at process, which was found in the recent Scouring of the Files referenced here.

I present the snippets here in the order in which they were found in the file folder. No, I don’t know if the segment on the top was written last, first, or simultaneous with the others, which were clipped together in the order presented.

Steve suggests that he is responsible for the segments told from Nelirikk’s POV, while I am to be blamed for Val Con. Which hardly seems fair, and in any case is another argument altogether.

One note — The text below is reproduced exactly as it appears on the page (with the exception of various stains, which might be coffee, or cocoa, or Something More Sinister).  This means, yes — typos, spelling mistakes, and at least one section that stops in the middle of a sentence, directly after a ‘,’.

We found these bits of flotsam from the past Rather Amusing, and hope you will, too.

* * *

One

It was twilight when the big man finally gave over and began to shut the equipment down for the night.
A somewhat smaller man, snugged down among the ferns under the shadowy embrace of the trees, grinned carefully, keeping his head well down. He had recently fought a similar battle with his own instruments, squandering a whole day in an agony of patience, re-calibrating, fine-tuning and cleaning~ only to net another gaggle of absurd readings.
The second day he had yielded to his own impetuous nature, damned the instruments and the Handbook in blunt Terran and stalked off to do a manual survey and soil sample, after which the instruments performed just as they ought.
The big man really should take a soil sample.
He showed no disposition to do so, however; merely going about the business of getting his instruments properly stowed, his artistically scarred face showing nothing in the lemony after-light but a certain stoic intelligence.
The small watcher nestled his chin on a leather-clad forearm, green eyes watching the scene in the clearing with a sort of drowsy intensity.
The big man’s stoicism was not surprising. Neither, though it ran contrary to beliefs dear to the collective heart of the watcher’s home culture, was the obvious intelligence with which he went about his duties.
What did surprise were the duties he so diligently pursued, mirroring as they did duties the watcher himself was charged to perform.
The Liaden Scouts, an organization in which the watcher held the rank of Captain, First In, owned what was perhaps the most comprehensive library of Yxtrang lore in the Galaxy. It was fitting, after all, that so ancient and terrible an enemy be studied with the respect centuries of predation must engender. It to be deplored that such determined study had yet to yield the final secret of Yxtrang vulnerability, but this had little bearing on the difficulty now facing the Scout Captain.
For all he had learned regarding the Yxtrang showed them to be a race of soldiers, pirates prone to coming locust-like to planets already settled and proven, driving out or killing the settlers or native population and claiming the world for their Never, in all the years Yxtrang and Liadens had chased each other among the stars, had there been any hint that Yxtrang had Yet here was one, performing recognizably scout-like duties with a mien and forebearance expectable from all but the most ill-disciplined of young captains~ alone, unwarlike …accessible.
The young captain experienced a thrill, quickly damped. If Yxtrang had scouts. . .
The big man had finished stowing his equipment. He bent and picked up his pack, slipping the straps over arms the size of the smaller man’s thighs. He settled the load, turned toward the clearing’s opposite side — and paused, head cocked as if he had heard, below the racket of bird calls and tree-groan, the natter of the watching scout’s thought.
The young captain froze, breath trapped deep in his chest,eyes drawn irresistably to the Yxtrang’s utility belt and the wicked curve of the grace-blade hanging there. In the deep forest behind him, the first lizard of the evening coughed and gave tongue.
The Yxtrang shrugged his wide shoulders and turned away.
The scout gulped breath, waited for the count of two hundred, then flitted silently across the clearing and into the wood opposite, trailing his enemy back to camp.

#

Dawn found him at another certain place, crouching in the lee of a black-and-purple shrub, the end of a rope tied to the roots at his feet. The rest of the tight-stretched length angled sharply upward, vanishing into the dense vegetation over his head.
His arrangements had long since been made, and he only awaited the advent of the Yxtrang — of the Yxtrang scout. Yes.
Well, and it remained to be seen what a Liaden scout might accomplish against the ancient racial enemy.
Observation over three days had shown that the Yxtrang came to this place every morning at dawn to check his traps and harvest his breakfast, Yxtranq regulations apparently not being as stringent as Liaden regarding the ingestion of alien foodstuffs. The Yxtrang would soon learn the danger of keeping too partrcular a schedule on an unknown world, where an unsuspected sentience might well be spying upon one and all one’s affairs.
The scout captain checked his own utility belt, fingers straying from pellet gun to the woodclad stickknife. He slid the knife free and flicked it open and shut so quickly the blade blurred in a snag of silver, and smiled. It was not so grand a weapon as the Yxtrang’s grace-blade, but it would serve. It would serve.
A rustle not of the wind’s making warned him and he ducked close to his bush, as the Yxtrang came along the path with a grace astonishing in so large a creature. He paused at the first of his traps and grunted in satisfaction at the still-wriggling small-life caught there. He wrung its neck with calm efficiency and hung the carcass from a hook in his belt before bending and resetting the lure.
Trap rigged for dinner, he continued down the path, passing close enough for the scout to smell the odor of gun oil and soap, and was gone, four steps, six steps, seven …eight …
“Hai!”
The tree snapped skyward, dragging the Yxtrang, feet first and swearing, toward the murky clouds.
“Hai!” the scout cried, echoing the other’s cry as the sticknife gleamed downward, parting the rope in one clean stroke.
The second and third trees whipped high, launching net and binding strings as the scout came half-erect by his bush, grinning like the boy he was; in fact, nearly laughing. Except it was no laughing matter, the quickness with which the Yxtrang understood his situation. One try he made for grace-blade and belt through the tangle of the vine-woven net; one attempt to gain control of the rope’s swing; then he was still, patient as a rock.
But not quite rocklike. As the scout watched, the huge muscles in the Yxtrang’s shoulders tightened, testing the coils pinning his arms to his chest, concentration and feral intelligence showing in the tatooed face.
The scout gulped against a sudden sweep of lightheaded nausea and touched, as if for assurance, not only the skinny stickknife, but the other blades, as well. He was right, he assured himself firmly and came to his full, meagre heiqht there by the bush.
He was right. The enemy of his people hung a dozen steps away, powerless, awaiting his will.
He was right.
Firmly, he stepped out into the path and walked out to work his will.

* * *
Two

Egreth Battalion Stormeng Company Ilpraz Unit Fourth Soldier Detached, Nelirikk proceeded cautiously through the tall trees, skirting clammy hanging vines and upthrust roots. This was an ancient place, peopled it seemed by mere animals, rather than animals with weapons. Thus far, then, it was well.
Underbrush now, and a slight thinning of trunk and vine. Nelirikk paused at the edge of the clearing, cautious in spite of the lack of man-spoor.
Grid by grid, he studied the place, noting that the pinkish grass stood unmarred. Nothing had passed this way for quite some time. Excellent. He would rest here, eat, consider where next to travel on this world he meant to claim for Yxtrang.
Satisfied, he straightened and strode across the grass. It hissed past his ears and pinned his arms to his sides before he had a chance to react. Startled, he jerked his arms outward, meaning to snap the puny thing, only to find it tightening, lifting.
He roared and fought, legs churning fruitlessly as the thing had its way with him and he was suspended nearly a foot above the crushed and broken lawn.
Dangling, he looked about him. The clearing was empty. A glance downward showed the thing that held him captive: a supple, wire-thin rope. His guns hung on his belt, and his grace blade. But he could not reach them.
Captive! There was only one creature so lost to honor that it imprisoned its enemy, rather than offering clean death.
“Terran!” Nelirikk roared, swinging gently to and fro at the end of his rope. “Come out, thing, and let a warrior see a coward!”
Silence in the glade. Nelirikk struggled to reach his blade and began to describe a ragged arc.
“Terran! ”
“No Terrans here, Chrackek Yxtrang.”
Nelirikk searched the clearing for the owner of that soft voice; turned his head too sharply to see behind and added a twirl to the arc.
“It might go better,” commented the voice gently, “if you were to hang loosely and allow the motion to still. A suggestion only, you understand. Far from me is the ordering of so mighty a warrior as yourself.”
“Stand out, animal!”
“As you will.”
No leaf moved. No branch rustled. Across the clearing a small man, spaceleathered and toolbelted, simply was.
“Liaden!” Nelirikk spat and the rope shivered.
The little man bowed. “Chrachek Yxtrang.”
/
And then, Nelirikk says to Val Con, “Why do you hesitate, Liaden? Slay me.”
“Ah,” murmured the little man, coming silently across the grass. “I thought perhaps we might speak.”
“Speak? I am an honorable man. What should I say to an animal?”
“You seem to have said several things already,” his captor pointed out. “It is possible you might find something else, given a few moments to consider and form your thoughts. Or, I might ask you a question or two and you might answer. This process is called ‘conversation’.”
“Conversation,” sneered Nelirikk, giving no sign of the concern that began to shape in him. Obviously, this Liaden was rabid. It had always been the case between Yxtrang and Liaden that one slew the other. No other way was possible. Terrans. . .Terrans took prisoners among the Yxtrang. Terrans — especially those called ‘Aus’ — questioned under duress. It was told that Liadens and Terrans cross-bred now and again. Perhaps this one had Terran blood in it, and thus was mad.
“Conversation,” agreed the little man, seating himself on the grass a few feet from where Nelirikk hung, impotent.
“An exchange of ideas — perhaps even an exchange of information. For an instance, my name is Val Con yos’Phelium, Scout Captain.” He paused, then prompted softly. “Now, you might tell me your name,

* * *
Three

Stareg Battalion Gred Company Exbolg Unit Detached Soldier Exploratory Nelirikk walked carefully beneath the trees. They were old trees, sky-high; looped with ropy brown vines along the lowest branches.
Nelirikk bent low, careful of the vines in spite of the throat guard he wore. They seemed harmless — like the trees — but one never knew.
A clearing presented itself. Nelirikk crouched, taking advantage of the scant brush; quartered the area in his mind’s eye and examined each quarter before again carefully considering the whole.
No signs of habitation. No signs of laid traps. No sign of danger — manmade or natural. Apparently, it was safe to continue.
Nelirikk remained in position, eyes slitted, nostrils distended as he tasted the essence of the clearing. This was not a technique his superiors had instructed him in. Rather, it was something he had heard in a story, about the fires when he was made part ,of the Boy’s Troop. The tale was of the Smallest Soldier and how he had kept his life and the lives of all his Troop by taking but a moment longer to “test the air’ and listen to nothing in particular.

* * *
Four

Egreth Battalion Stormeng Company Ilpraz Unit Fourth Soldier Detached, Nelirikk proceeded cautiously through the tall trees, skirting clammy hanging vines and upthrust roots. This was an ancient place, peopled it seemed by mere animals, rather than animals with weapons. Thus far, then, it was well.
Underbrush now, and a slight thinning of trunk and vine. Nelirikk paused at the edge of the clearing, cautious in spite of the lack of man-spoor.
Grid by grid, he studied the place, noting that the pinkish grass stood unmarred. Nothing had passed this way for quite some time. Excellent. He would rest here, eat, consider where next to travel on this world he meant to claim for Yxtrang.
Satisfied, he straightened and strode across the grass.
It hissed past his ears and pinned his arms to his sides before he had a chance to react. Startled, he jerked his arms outward, meaning to snap the puny thing, only to find it tightening, lifting.
He roared and fought, legs churning fruitlessly as the thing had its way with him and he was suspended nearly a foot above the crushed and broken lawn.
Dangling, he looked about him. The clearing was empty. A glance downward showed the thing that held him captive: a supple, wire-thin rope. His guns hung on his belt, and his grace
blade. But he could not reach them.
Captive! There was only one creature so lost to honor that it imprisoned its enemy, rather.-than offering clean death.
“Terran!” Nelirikk roared, swinging gently to and fro at the end of his rope. “Come out, thing, and let a warrior see a coward!”
Silence in the glade. Nelirikk struggled to reach his blade and began to describe a ragged arc.
“Terran!”
“No Terrans here, Chrackek Yxtrang.”
Nelirikk searched the clearing for the owner of that soft
voice; turned his head too sharply to see behind and added a twirl to the arc.
“It. might go better,” commented the voice gently, “if you were to hang loosely and allow the motion to still. A suggestion only, you understand. Far from me is the ordering of so mighty a warrior as yourself.”
“Stand out, animal!”
“As you will.”
No leaf moved. No branch rustled. Across the clearing a small man, spaceleathered and toolbelted, simply was.
“Liaden!” Nelirikk spat and the rope shivered.
The little man bowed . “Chrackek Yxtrang.”

–30–

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller present rare genre moments for readers looking for a fiction fix