Chapter 37

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CLAY

The next morning, Dekker crouched down just outside the tower and stared into the sun as it crept above the horizon. His mind hadn’t stopped gyrating since he and Simmons had talked long into the night about everything that had happened, and what was coming next. It didn’t matter how he arranged it, but he couldn’t help running the tally again. MEF hadn’t been heard from since the night before, so there was no way of knowing who, if anybody was left. The Paladin was safe for now, but with Second Brigade heading for the Pyramid, it was only a matter of time before he was overrun. The First Brigade was still unaccounted for, but it was a safe bet they were still defending the Highlands – not that there was anything to defend them against.

That left Dekker and his understrength battalion. He had three companies of infantry against three battalions of Terran Guard, plus their tanks. It wasn’t even close to an even fight. Entrenched in a prepared defense, he might hold out for a while, but he would have to find better ground.

He took a sip of water from a clear plastic water bottle and watched as a few drops splashed onto the cold patch of clay just outside the tower. He watched the water seep into the clay and disappear. He dribbled a few more drops and imagined his Marines being ground up by a swarm of steel bolts slung out from the legions of Terran Guard troops he would soon have to face. He poured the rest of his water onto the ground and let it settle into the clay. He pulled his knife from its resin fabric sheath and skewered the ground, digging up chunks of the moistened clay. He placed them in his palm and started mashing them with his thumb.

He had to work fast as the clay was already starting to dry. He pawed at it with his fingers, straining to pull it into the shape of a cup. Just as he managed to coerce it into the shape of a shallow bowl, the clay finished drying. He stared at his creation with the indentations of his thumbs set into its sides, as if somebody had hit him over the head and dragged him away before he could finish it.

A whisper of awareness touched his consciousness, like a butterfly landing on a petal. It held still just long enough for him to feel a shimmer of comfort ripple through his mind, then fluttered away. He was rolling the cup between his hands when he felt her hand on his shoulder.

Shahn’Dra knelt down next to him and looked at the cup. “He is safe,” she said. He turned away from the memory of Jommy’s voice wailing over the radio. “He is scared,” she continued. “But he is safe and very far away from them.”

He took her hand and lay the cup in her palm. “I’m not very good at this sort of thing,” he said. She scraped the rim of the cup with her claw, curling away the uneven bumps and ridges and scratched around the indentations left by his thumb, smoothing them over.

“I, too, am learning new ways,” she said.

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©2016 Michael J Lawrence