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The moon trees were in full bloom, their incandescent blossoms illuminating the forest canopy. A gentle breeze stirred the leaves, and the boughs creaked. Petals floated to the ground, gathering in glowing pinkish-white piles. Darius crouched, sifting a claw-tipped hand through the large petals.
I should bring a few back for the class report they ask for every session. He picked out a few of the more intact petals and stuffed them into his jacket pocket. They would retain their glow for weeks, and if they faded, all he had to do was set them out in the sunlight. Every session it’s the same. My father is Donnvan Akaelae. He works as a perimeter guard, protecting our planet from poachers. Last night he and the other guards caught a group of Fox attempting to transport contraband through the forest and across the border. I was not allowed to see what it was.
Darius’ ears twitched, and he jumped, whirling around to track the panicked bleating of some animal beyond the moon trees’ light. He dropped to all fours and ran toward the sound, tracking it with his ears. A little way through the trees, over a rise, and into a clearing. The comforting aromas of upturned earth and torn grass rose to his nose, signs of something moving quickly through the area.
Something moved in the grass, a dark mound rising and falling. Frantic bleating filled the air, coming from the struggling form. He approached slowly, his nose twitching, drawing in air to identify the creature—Drift deer fawn. Black mesh obscured the animal as it kicked and rolled, its breath coming in ragged gasps.
“Shh, not going to hurt you.” Darius reached out and laid a hand on the netting. The animal kicked and screeched as though he had injured it. Get it out of the net. It can get to its feet and find its mother. He pulled on the net, searching for an opening and a hoof emerged from the darkness, almost catching him in the chin.
“I am trying to help.”
The fawn continued kicking, rolling to one side as Darius growled and grabbed the hoof. It appeared only one was free of the net and it jerked and kicked that one leg, thrashing in the grass. Work it out. He jumped over the fawn, laying across the animal to hold it down.
Light flared, cutting into the darkness as he ignited his plasma knife. A few quick cuts and the netting fell away. The fawn’s sides heaved as it lay in the grass, panting and covered in sweat. Flecks of foam covered its muzzle, bubbling up over its nose.
“Not going to get up?” Darius put the knife away and nudged the deer. Its ears flicked back, eyes rolling as if that was all of it that could move. He gave it a moment to recover, but it didn’t even try to move its legs.
What else would he put in his report about tonight? Other threats my father and the other perimeter guards deal with is off-world poachers. They come to harvest animals because it’s an easy way to mine Cyantium. The native animals absorb it into their bodies, and it collects in their bones, making them stronger and lighter for their size.
“Darius,” Father’s voice interrupted his mental report, “I told you to remain by the moon trees.”
“I’m not that far away.”
“You’re still not near the trees.”
“I rescued a fawn.”
“I see, but we are sweeping the area now for stragglers. We would have found it.” Father crouched next to him, laying a hand on his shoulder. “Exhausted. Since you found it, pick it up and carry it. We have a few deer corralled at camp. Its mother might be among them.”
“If she isn’t, can we keep it?” Darius didn’t hide the eagerness in his voice, his lips curling back into a toothy smile.
“No, it’s a wild animal. It wouldn’t enjoy life in Centralis.” His father reached out and tousled Darius’ hair sending it sticking up in all directions. “Arrangements have already been made to send them to the North Facility for relocation in a less active area.”
“Dad, you said I could get a pet this year.” His ears went back, a whine backing his words.
“I did, but you can’t have something bigger than you.”
“That’s not fair. Everything is bigger than I am.”
“That can’t be helped. Now, let’s get the fawn to the facility so it can be looked after. Then it’s back home. Session begins tomorrow morning, and I want you there on time.”
Darius lowered his head, sliding his arms beneath the fawn’s belly. It wasn’t heavy, but its spindly legs went everywhere, threatening to throw him off balance. Father laid a hand on his shoulder to help steady him. The camp wasn’t far, and he chewed his lower lip as they walked through the darkness.
“Do I really have to go? This is what I want to do. I’ll learn more here than anywhere else.” Words spilled out of Darius’ mouth. I don’t want to go back. They call me names, and every wolf my age is taller than me. Mom gets so mad when I have to prove I’m not a little cub. Everyone gets mad, but what am I supposed to do?
“Son, you need time to try out other things. I’d hate to see you make a life decision without seeing everything you could be. Don’t choose guard work because it’s what I do.” Father patted him on the head, deliberately smashing his ears.
“Dad, this is what I want to do.”
“No, you just want to get out of going to school.”
A low growl rose in Darius’ chest. “But I do want to become a perimeter guard. And I want to run the space perimeter and Avistary. I want to see it all, and I don’t want to waste time.”
“You’re not going anywhere without a signature from your mom or me.” Father lengthened his stride, easily outpacing Darius as they neared the camp.
“Dad!” he struggled with the fawn, its legs hitting his knees.
“Not another word, Darius. We’ve discussed this how many times?”
“Four,” grumbled Darius, lowering his head, stepping beneath the first lantern that marked the camp boundary. “I could attend the summer session at Akaelae towers.”
“No, you have to remain in the transitional school until you decide on a profession.”
“But I have decided, and you won’t sign off on it!”
“I suppose that’s a problem until you’re considered an adult.” Father kept walking, heading toward the closest trailer. There were four, situated in a semi-circle around a round pen full of drift deer. Several wolves stood next to the pen, gesturing to the deer and discussing when transportation would arrive to move them.
Darius carried the fawn up a ramp and inside the trailer.
“What do you have there, Darius?” Jolene, their veterinarian, patted the examining table in the center of the room. “Straggler? Is it injured?”
“Just exhausted,” said Father, standing at a terminal in the back corner of the room. His short nails tapped over the keys as he went through the same routine he did every time he returned to camp. Entering a report.
“I found it.” Darius slid the fawn onto the table with Jolene assisting. The fawn panted, its hooves scrabbling over the smooth metal as it attempted to stand.
“Now, now, stay down. We’re not going to hurt you.” Jolene placed a hand on the animal’s back, and its legs splayed across the table. She dragged her other hand over its body, looking it over. “Appears to be fine, just tired and panicked. Needs to eat. I’ll take it out and see if I can find its mother in the pen, or at least one that will allow it to nurse.”
“They’ll do that? I mean, nurse a fawn that’s not theirs?”
“Sometimes. They prefer their own fawns, but it’s worth a try.” Jolene scooped the fawn into her arms and headed for the door.
At least there was some hope it’d be reunited with its mother. Darius brushed his arms off, glancing at his father. He couldn’t interrupt him while he was working, but he wasn’t finished with their earlier conversation. There was little time between now and when they got home. Mother would insist he take a bath and go to bed when they arrived.
“Three more sessions, Darius. Then you decide what you want to do, and we’ll sign our recommendations and approvals.” Father turned toward him, flicking his gray ears forward. “Yes, I could take your word for what you want to do now, but you might change your mind, and it will be hard to shift your courses, and it would inconvenience the Academy.”
Darius took a deep breath, speaking as maturely as he could manage as his voice broke, “I know what I want to do. I don’t need to go back. What can they teach me that I don’t already know? I recall everything I see, and I know everything.” He tapped the side of his head.
My final word is no.” A low warning growl rumbled through Father’s reply, his muzzle twitching up to show his curved canines.
“At least in the towers I’m challenged.” Darius rubbed his arm, ears pressed back as he lowered his gaze. Father turned away, exiting the trailer.
Discussion over. Darius sighed, bits of conversation floating in the air as the drift deer bleated and rustled within their fence. The fawn would be fine. Jolene’s voice carried the news. Either they found its mother, or one of the does simply accepted it. At least someone would end the night happy.
The story will remain the same, however…. it’s not going to be told the same way. – Tiff