Karis couldn’t say she minded chatter. Well, provided she wasn’t expected to pay attention to it or partake in the conversation more than necessary. She wasn’t keen on wasting air. But the sound of another voice could be a comforting thing in the dark space of the unfamiliar. And Werric may not have been the best fighter amongst them, or the best anything overly useful, even if he wasn’t the worst either, but he was a good talker. Letting his voice turn into background noise was more pleasant than having to listen to Bart, or Dreefus warbling along with the dogs.
She had absolutely no idea what he was saying though, occasionally tuning in on words about rocks and size and heat. So, she mostly assumed he was half-assedly complaining about their current situation, and left it at that. For her own part, she was finding it something of a wonder that this path was as straight as it seemed, every check back on their own tail, seeing the darker shadow of the trail they’d forded beside the one she was following proved it.
Thing was, that fact alone made her suspicious of this creature they were following. While it was true that walking straight was often the best way to get out of being lost if sitting still didn’t cut it, creatures weren’t often troubled by the idea of lost. They meandered, they explored, they hunkered down and tested their surroundings. But there weren’t any signs of pause or curiousity. Of being uncertain… A look behind showed the dark horizon. A look ahead offered much the same… But if she measured the length of this stranger’s stride, it was much taller than she was. Could it see something she couldn’t? Or did it know where it was going. Scent? Sound? The dog gave no indication of anything attracting her attention other than Werric. And even he was getting tired of talking, she noticed now.
So… Where was it going? “Werric, way this trail goes, isn’t close by. No harm yore headin’ beck lettin’ Lurch know. Might be we’s got us a chase. Nothin’ shows it’s froze itself or movin’ slow. Still might, only, take us a while t’catch up. Best he knows sooner’n later. Bart’n me’ll keep on t’the trees like he asked ‘fore comin’ beck our’n selves.”
If they were better shelter than they looked, it might be smarter not to get too close, but even with the dark obscuring her vision, Karis wasn’t so sure the critter’d have stopped there, either. Looked like some damned spindly ass trunks.
“Suit yehrself.” Commander Loric Rundall wasn’t much used to being anyone’s company. Not that he was bad at it, just that he’d held positions of somewhat higher authority than the average person for much of his life and being chummy with your underlings was less than well advised. But that didn’t mean he was averse to the notion of hearing his men out. Even if he was still suspicious of that plate. He took it anyway; his stomach wouldn’t let him not.
Provided he wasn’t being bribed with his own rations for favouritism, he was more inclined to play nice and listen. He was still unfamiliar with Pinter. Knew his name and face, could pick his voice out of a crowd because he made it a goal to know his men every mission he went on, but wasn’t sure on much else. For all he knew, maybe the man only wanted a bit of friendly conversation. Get to know each other… A man could hope, but he’d been living with Hunters too long to expect much would come of it.
And, there it was. Materialism. Rundall held in a sigh as he filled his mouth and chewed stoically. Man smiled like that, should have known better than to be optimistic. Pinter should have known better than to bring up this subject, too. A man’s greed was what got folks into trouble. Curiousity and hopefulness was fine. Wondering was perfectly safe, most times. Expressing one’s thoughts to the commander was even something he asked for, on occasion. Multiple opinions offered more solutions. It wasn’t until Pinter took that extra step—which Rundall had, unfortunately, been expecting—that he couldn’t help himself.
Leaning back, he turned from the smiling Pinter to the still quiet Jude, whom he knew a little better, and raised an eyebrow. “Ye’s all thet bored, eh Jude?”
If they hadn’t been looking for some entertainment, someone would have warned him off this attempt. Or maybe they just didn’t like him. Granted, Jude was probably here on the offchance it actually worked, but that was, he hoped, a secondary consideration. Well, may as well get it over and done with.
The man’s expression hadn’t changed much, but he gave no other warning before turning back around and slamming his plate into that fading smile with the same enduring scowl. Forceful enough to knock the surprised man off his seat. “What d’yeh think yeh signed up fer, t’set about lollygaggin’?” He growled the words as he followed through, rising from his chair to lean on the log and glare down at the dazed fellow. “Ah’ve plenny hands already do as they’re told when they’re told.”
A snort escaped him, and Rundall sank back so he could aim a light kick at the leg remaining within reach. He hadn’t been trying to hurt Pinter, just shock him into thinking straight. Next time he wanted to get anywhere near the group’s valuables, he’d be a bit more subtle about it. Rundall didn’t much mind a little light-fingered sifting, provided it was done competently. He wanted nothing to do with it and had the right to turning a blind eye. Getting a little over-zealous, though, and being so blatant, that irked him. “Ah laik a man what volunteers though. Git yehrself a pick and make yehrself helpful an’all diggin’ us a shithole. Doan think Ahm lettin’ yeh off, Jude. Ye kin ‘elp our eager lad after getting’ me another plate.”
While he knew it wasn’t entirely fair, especially not in this frozen landscape, that was the point. It wasn’t fair that the Church wanted bribes or taxes on anything their Hunters collected. Mostly legal. Just in an underhanded sort of way. But while he didn’t always like it, and he knew how it disgruntled most, Rundall also understood it from a higher perspective. They weren’t just taking what they hadn’t earned, they were policing the items that exchanged hands. Policing the trade between worlds. That’s why the punishments were so harsh if you were caught hoarding the spoils. If you hadn’t reported everything. They didn’t care if it was simple trinkets or sophisticated artefacts. Because slip up on one, and you’d lose track of the other. And much as he occasionally found himself annoyed by all the bureaucracy, he’d had firsthand experience of the chaos that came without restraint when two worlds met. His own country had been devastated before the Church found them and brought everyone under its wing.
He didn’t want to be responsible for that happening anywhere else. So, he was strict about that particular law. As well as the policy requiring every Hunter to be certified fit three months before missions. No one went to another world without immunization and they were immediately removed from the roster the second they fell sick. Experience, and history, told him to trust the science he’d been briefed on. Though he didn’t fully understand it, he was happy to oblige if it meant averting disaster. Pinter, unfortunately, got the brunt of it. Had his previous leader been blind or simply foolish?