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Submission #1 – Voyage (By Jessi)
A chilly wind swept across the barren landscape, throwing dust into the air. Only a few tough grasses struggled for survival in Locostwa’s cracked soil.
I tore my gaze away from the bleak expanse and focused on the ramshackle town surrounding the spaceport inn we stayed in. We were here for bounties, not a lousy view of flat land with a few distant peaks.
Dad scanned the crowd of miners as they left one of the holes in the ground. All of them, other than the feathery Torfs, wore tattered clothing that did little to break the wind. Tattoos marked some as slaves.
I shivered and followed Dad. We headed past the slaves without looking for bounties hiding among them. Escaped slaves and criminals hid because they wanted to avoid the mines, or worse, the pits. They wouldn’t hide in the very place they wanted to escape.
I brushed dust from my hair. I should have cut it short before coming to such a dustbowl, but I liked it long. It made me look younger, which gave me the element of surprise. People tended to dismiss teenage girls without considering them a threat, even if I carried a stun pistol. Lots of girls carried those, but unlike normal girls, I’d spent months in the Hunter Academy learning to shoot.
Dad pulled his infosheet from his pocket and touched an icon. “Rumor has it this Chix is around. Says she’s dealing in black market slaves.” He brushed dirt out of his red sideburns. “With all these workers coming and going, it would be pretty simple to nab a few.” He handed the infosheet to me. Unlike the newer models, which were very thin and folded over at least twice, this one only folded once.
An image and description of a Chix appeared on the infosheet screen. Nerrini Kazini. No slave tattoo marked her lustrous black fur. She held her tail high, almost higher than the tips of her ears. Golden rings hung from her ears. A few even adorned the flaps of gliding skin between her arms and legs.
The infosheet read: Wanted for illegal slave trade, kidnapping, enslaving, resisting arrest, kidnapping of hunters, murder of two hunters. Bounty: 4,000 Coin
My shoulders tensed. Maybe the Chix would only reach my waist if I stood next to her, but considering this one killed hunters, we’d have to be careful. I gave the infosheet back to Dad.
“You okay, Krys?” Dad glanced at a passing Torf who had lost most of the feathers on his tail.
I shrugged. “Fine. I just wish there was some sort of scammer we could go after. This one sounds like she’s dangerous.”
Dad playfully punched my shoulder. “We can do this. It’s a Chix.”
His words did little to comfort me. Chix were the reason we won the Tupra war.
“Come on.” Dad headed deeper into town.
Most of the buildings were composed of rough stone and rusting metal. I examined every person we passed. None stood out as potential bounties.
We traveled through the poor outskirts and into the market area of the town where brightly painted stalls stood against smooth stone and steel buildings. A few Gorkam and Torfs tried to sell us any kind of trash the planet produced. One Gorkam held up a bit of its own shedded exoskeleton. I moved on without pausing. Why would anyone pay for the spotted shell of a giant insect?
Ahead of us, a few larger shops and inns stood. Dad stopped and gazed at a tavern in front of us. Unlike the buildings on the outskirts, this stone building had been smoothed and painted. A mural depicting a comet flying over lettering spelling out Comet’s Tail had been painted on the wall.
“Looks like the hub for any sort of criminal,” Dad said. “Can you go in there and scout it out?”
I clenched my teeth and nodded.
“Don’t engage if you find something.” Dad handed me his infosheet. “If Nerrini isn’t there, see if anyone else has a bounty on their heads. Don’t let them see this.”
“I won’t.” I did my best to shove the apprehension down. I’m sixteen. I can handle this.
I pushed open the steel door and stepped into the tavern. Noise of various species talking and shouting assaulted my ears while starchy smells enveloped my nose. From the earthy scents, I guessed most of the food was plant-based, though a bit of meat scents clung in the air.
The doors swung shut behind me.
Local Gorkam and Torfs made up at least half the patrons. A few families sat around tables in the center of the room while the edges had rougher customers, most of which kept their backs to the walls. Some even wore their pistols in the open. Another group of the rough bunch stood at the bar or perched on stools.
I hurried to a dark corner near the doorway and sat at a small table before scanning the faces again. A bark-colored Chix with dark purple eyes sat at the bar next to a huge Elba with various weapons and sharp claws. A family of dark sable Chix sat around one of the tables. The mother’s fur had just enough black in it to be Nerrini, but this Chix had a family.
Two more Chix, both with reddish brown fur, sat in a dark alcove. No other Chix were in the tavern.
A young Torf flitted to my table. “What do you want to eat?” His sandy-colored feathers were shiny, hinting that he got paid well enough to care about his appearance.
A menu had been carved into the metal tabletop. I read the first thing on the list. “Fried sarga root,” I said.
He scurried away.
I leaned back and pulled out Dad’s infosheet. I kept it in my lap, hopefully out of sight of any patrons.
The Chix at the bar turned its head.
Submission #2 – The Raindrop Race (By Megan)
“All right everyone! Hustle up! Storm’s coming!” The scruffy voice of the raindrop commander hollered. He could frighten just about anyone into doing something. Rainer, though, well he was a different story. Every time it was about to rain, he would hide deep in the corners of his cloud so he wouldn’t fall to his death when it opened up.
Rainer began his usual routine of making sure all three of his particles, two hydrogen and one oxygen, were in place. He would then roll as quickly as he could to his hiding spot. “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!?!” Rainer suddenly heard. He froze, for he had been discovered. He knew that there was nothing he could do to prevent his death.
Once Rainer was gathered with all of his fellow raindrops in the center of the cloud, he tried to think of things he could do to escape, but nothing came to mind. He decided to wait for the countdown and let everything happen. “3… 2… 1!” The bottom of the cloud opened up from below Rainer, and he felt himself falling.
The next thing Rainer knew, he was sitting on a bright red piece of metal, surrounded by other raindrops like him. They were all laughing and having a great time. How can they be so happy? He thought. We all just became homeless! A very happy-looking raindrop came up to Rainer. “Comin’ to the races, dude?” He asked. “I guess so,” Rainer replied.
Once at the races, Rainer couldn’t believe his eyes! Raindrops were rolling off the sides of the metal like it was a game! A blobby drop seemed to read his mind. “It’s the only way to get off of this dang old car,” He said. “If you’re nervous, go that way. It’s the least-steep.”
Rainer was nervous, but he wanted to get off of this so called “car.” He carefully approached the edge of the bright red metal. “Here goes nothing,” He whispered. Then Rainer rolled off of the edge. He felt himself rolling faster and faster and noticed that he was on glass now instead of metal. The glass quickly became metal again, and Rainer was eased to the ground.
“Whoa!” He exclaimed. “That was so cool!” The other raindrops on the ground explained to Rainer that he needed to go down the “driveway” to the puddle where the all of the other drops were. He slowly rolled down to the puddle to see what they were doing.
There were too many raindrops in the puddle for Rainer to count. Everyone was squirming around and pushing each other. Rainer’s attention was quickly drawn away from them, though. He was being sucked into the ground! No matter what he did, nothing helped. Rainer was soon surrounded by a deep darkness.
After what seemed like hours, Rainer finally saw the light of day. There was good news and bad news about this. Bad news: He had somehow ended up in the ocean! Good news: He was near the top, so he could find his way out easily.
Once he was on top, Rainer took in several deep breaths. As soon as he began to feel relaxed, he felt like something was pulling him up! Rainer was floating in the air, and he was much thinner than before. “What’s going on?!” He screamed. A nearby drop who was also very thin told him that they were evaporating, or floating back into the clouds.
Rainer waited for the “evaporation” to be over until he was safely back inside his cloud. Once there, he rested and thought about everything that had happened to him. “Turns out,” he concluded. “The water cycle really isn’t that bad.”
Rainer never tried to escape another storm again. He rode out every one, and even began winning races. Rainer would tell all of the new drops how things were done, give them tips, and help them through their first time. To this day, he is still falling from the sky whenever there is a storm, and living to tell the tale.
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