Vox Cul-Dar’s bulbous eyes snapped open.
He was in both pain and a large hut made of sturdy logs and stone. The roof looked like it was made of a forest floor, and dim light filtered in through a trio of holes that probably passed for windows in this society. Pulling himself into a sitting position he saw that he was on a small mat made of woven leaves and reeds. Other mats filled the room and a purple-scaled Sthenite with a grievous wound in its side was motionless on another. Tiny pots and jars lined the walls.
“I rise a new person, prepared for a new day, prepared for my future,” said Vox Cul-Dar, automatically reciting the words for the second time on this jungle world. His jaw hurt while speaking. His sides hurt while sitting. His head gently throbbed with pain.
“Heed well my words, Vox Cul-Dar,” said the voice of Rendelac, sitting on a cushion of reeds at the head of the simple bed. “You have been through a great ordeal and experienced incredible trauma from a concussive force. Had you not leaped from Fletch’s explosive, you would have surely perished.”
“I feel as if everything is bruised,” Vox said, quickly examining himself. His tunic had been removed, making it easy to see numerous abrasions and areas where the green was turning a sickly shade of orange. “This is a hospital of some sort?”
“Yes,” said Rendelac. “The explosion drew the attention of the Sthenites, in particular one named Surshen. I have found them to be intelligent and wise in their handling of you and your situation.”
“Judging from what I’ve been able to translate of their language, their understanding of biochemistry was sufficient to determine how to give you quick treatments. They avoided certain medicines, saying that they may harm ‘other worlders’ but treated you with others that they felt would be safe.”
“I see. Were they correct?”
“In one instance, yes,” said Rendelac. “However, I believe most of their previous experience with people from other worlds has come from humans. It may please you to know that while most Other Worlders gain a certain term in their tongue, they have determined it does not apply to you.”
“Oh? What is this term?”
“Hmm. Yes… better to be at the mercy of their medicine than at the skill of their hunters.”
“Instead, they have taken to calling you Sky-Carrion.”
Vox narrowed his eyes.
“I think I like that. But I’m not sure.”
“There is a certain rough-and-tumble appeal to it, Vox Cul-Dar. Feel free to take joy in the term, but do not let it cloud your judgement about who you are.”
“Have no fear of that,” said Vox. “I come from their sky, was left for dead when I should have died, and I have risen again. I am under no misconceptions about who I am.”
He started rising to his feet, but the dull ache that stretched all the way down his legs quickly became a sharp, almost tearing sensation and he dropped back to the mat.
“Though I admit I may not have recovered as fully as I’d hoped.”
“This endeavor has taken a great toll on you, Vox Cul-Dar,” said Rendelac. “I fear it is transformative. I fear even more that it is merely a capstone of the path you have walked for years. You must rest.”
“Perhaps,” said Vox. He looked at the Sthenite on the other mat. The snake-like alien ruffled its feathers, giving the first indication Vox had seen that it was alive.
“Perhaps I shall stay a bit longer,” he said. “However, I must not tarry. How regularly do they check on their captives?”
“You are a patient.”
“How regularly do they check on their patients?”
“Regularly,” said Rendelac. “The Sthenite in charge of medical care enters every forty-five minutes, a time scale that fits their planetary rotation.”
“I will wait for another treatment from this medical caretaker of mine,” said Vox. “I will take more medicine. I trust they are receptive to you?”
“Yes, they have encountered computers before, presumably from other off-worlders. I could not understand the entirety of what they said to me, but they were civil enough to leave me near your bed.”
“With my limbs free for gesturing and your linguistic capabilities, perhaps we can convey which medicines will be most beneficial without poisoning me. I may have just lost the chase for Gamma to Fletch, Rendelac. That doesn’t sit well with me, but you are right that I have been pushing myself. Perhaps just a little longer… why do you think she set a bomb, Rendelac?”
“You are asking about Fletch’s motivations? This is difficult. She has never seemed like the other humans in the Desperate Measures Agency. She values things differently than others. My belief is that she set the explosive as an act of kindness.”
“Kindness?” said Vox, whipping his head in Rendelac’s direction and instantly regretting it. Pain radiated from his spine, encouraging him to lie back onto the bed.
“You had the dexterity required to avoid the blast, especially with the timer set after you triggered it. You were disoriented, but you were found by the natives. Killing you would have been simple, and she knew how to do it. Given your physical training and physiological differences from a human… that bomb slowed you down without ending your life.”
“I see. I can’t wait to receive her Get Well Soon noose.”
“Either way, you need to take the time to rest, Vox Cul-Dar.”
“I will take some time,” said Vox. “Not as much as you’d like, though. Or as much as she would like. We only have a limited amount of time to return her act of charity in kind.”