Coffee Break Read – Man From The Stars

They came across the first body before they had reached the edge of the blackened area. It was so badly burned that Caer could not even tell whether it had been truly human. There were others scattered around, all equally burned and very dead and as Caer had suspected there was nothing of any value left in that blackened zone. Even the metal was too brittle to be of use, shattering if hit hard. But when they reached the part of the hulk that lay beyond the devastation, it was a very different story.
The men left their ponies and clambered into the metal cavern, making echoes with their shouts of discovery. There were several undamaged crates, which they forced open to reveal such familiar offworld devices as flash-lights and power-cells, and a whole range of other strange items which none of them could identify.
Caer instructed Shevek to take one of the other men and ride out in an arc around the hulk away from the burned area, just in case anything else of any value had been thrown clear of it by the explosion. The rest of the Zoukai he set to collecting samples of the salvageable loot to take back to Alexa. Looking around, judging quantities and weights, he realised it would probably take the best part of the next day to remove all that was here. For all the richness of the haul, he could not help but feel a small bite of disappointment that there were no weapons – the kind that could fire many times from a single reloading or burned through flesh and bone with an invisible finger of fire. Caer consoled himself with the thought that the bonus he could expect from bringing this hoard into Alfor, would buy any such weapon that might be imported from Keran.
He had just finished selecting the samples to take back for Alexa, when he heard an excited yell. The Zoukai he had sent out with Shevek, was waving to him. He swung himself onto his pony and rode quickly towards the waving man, who shouted again as he got closer:
“Captain, you must see this.”
“See what, Zarul?”
He reined in his pony beside the young Zoukai.
“A man from the stars, Captain, an offworlder – and he’s alive.”
Caer looked at the younger man doubtfully. He could see no way anyone could have survived the explosion. Even if they had been able to get some distance from it the force alone would surely have been fatal.
“You are certain?”
“Well Shevek says he’s still breathing.” Zarul scratched at his bald scalp. “You can come and see for yourself.”
Caer pushed his pony into a fast trot, suddenly very curious. He might not trust Zarul, but Shevek had been riding with the caravans since before Caer had been born. Though when they reached the place where the old Zoukai was standing, the man on the ground beside him certainly looked dead. He was not burned as the other bodies had been, but he lay as still as a corpse and the side of his head was thick with blood.
Caer slid from his mount and crouched down, his fingers probing beneath the jaw. There was a pulse. For a moment Caer felt an odd sensation of excitement. Although he knew that people lived on other worlds which were out amongst the stars, it had never before seemed fully real, he had never actually seen anyone from offworld before. Curious now, he drew his knife and ripped through the cloth of the offworlder’s garments, surprised that such thin fabric resisted the blade. The other two Zoukai helped him cut and pull off the clothing, including a heavy belt, until they had stripped the man.
Caer’s breath hissed between his teeth. For some reason he had assumed that offworlders would be frail, with weak, puny bodies. From all he had heard they were feeble, using machines they had invented to do the work of their muscles. But this one was as strong as a Zoukai, and his body was built like any ordinary man. His flesh carried several old scars and his muscles were clean and compact beneath the skin. The thought struck him that this man would fetch a fortune in the Alfor slave pens. The castellans would be scrambling over each other to purchase something so rare and exotic as a genuine offworlder.
“See, he is a fighter, Captain. This and this – they were made by blades.” Zarul said, pointing at the scars.
Caer nodded.
“Well, if he lives, perhaps we shall find out what kind of fighter he is, this man from the stars.”

From The Fated Sky the first part of Transgressor Trilogy, and the first book in Fortunes Fools by E.M. Swift-Hook.

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