She didn't know exactly what she was running from, but she had a very good idea. She had seen the insignia on the APCs which had suddenly appeared. She had seen the soldiers which poured out of them. And she had seen the nature of their weapons.
Susan ran faster, her breath coming in short, quick gasps. She plunged headlong through the thick foliage, not caring about the innumerable scratches she received in the process. All she cared about was running.
She had seen the torches carried by the mob of renegades. She had seen the mob piling dry grass in front of the buildings, and pour gasoline onto the walls.
Then she saw the mob throw the torches at the building.
Susan could not hear the pursuers anymore, but she ran on anyway. She couldn't bear to stop and remember the screams of the people who had been herded into the building like sheep. She didn't want to remember the raucous laughter of the renegades.
Sprites and Anthros. Teaming up, to attack and destroy a defenseless village of Humans.
Susan tripped over a root, and she fell, sliding on the wet ground. She noticed now that it had started raining.
But it was too late for the Humans. Susan knew that they were all dead.
She was the only one left of her village.
Susan curled herself up into a ball, and started sobbing.
Robert nodded. The burly human didn't want to be here, cleaning up after those renegades. Knowing them, they should be somewhere far away by now, leaving behind them a trail of death and destruction.
Which meant more work for the Search-and-Rescue Division Chief. Him.
The copter pilot swung in low. Now Robert could see the full extent of the destruction.
The village was totally gone. Here and there, charred remains of buildings could be seen.
"Want me to bring it down?" the copter pilot asked.
Robert grunted. It was only a formality, as he didn't think there would still be anyone alive. Still, it would look good in his report, and Robert's twenty-seven years of experience in the S&R Division had taught him to expect the unexpected.
Besides, it would do his heart good to find out where the bastards went, tell the Guardians about it, and watch them wipe out the renegades.
The copter landed. Robert stepped out of it, and gestured to the copter pilot to follow. Two sets of eyes are always better than one, he reminded himself. Especially in this rain.
The two of them walked past charred areas of ground, and grisly corpses. Robert stopped at a wall which had been untouched by the fire, but was now covered in graffiti.
"'Users Out'," Robert read aloud. "'This is your last warning". Well, doesn't seem like a warning to me. More like a declaration of war."
"Aren't the Guardians already at war with renegade groups?" the copter pilot asked.
"Not 'at war', Jimmy. The Guardians strongly discourage renegade behaviour, but they don't feel real good about arresting renegades. Something about two of their past heroes being renegades themselves."
"Found some tracks, sir," the copter pilot reported, crouching down. "Looks like APC tracks to me. Two of them."
"Two APCs with full weaponry and crew," Robert commented, "against a defenseless group of humans. How nice." He followed the tracks. "And a portable portal generator. These tracks start a short distance away out of nowhere, and end the same way. I say we've got a rich renegade group here."
"What is it, Jimmy?"
"I found some footprints. Fresh. That is, not too old."
Robert glanced down. "Small. I'd say it's a kid. These lead off into the forest. The tyke was probably too scared to think clearly."
"Which means that we've got a survivor. My scanner's picking up nothing but worms and bugs, and the occasional carrion eater. I think that this kid's the last survivor of this village."
"Want me to go back to the copter, sir?"
"No need. The kid's trail is fairly clear, but it's not glowing. If we don't hurry, the rain will wash out the tracks. Besides, personal contact is better for traumatized civilians."
The copter pilot looked at him. "You do have a soft spot in you, sir."
"I've got a soft spot for getting the hell out of here, Jimmy. Now move."
Robert looked at the sprite with a faint expression of distaste. "She's sleeping. In the back room. It's a wonder she can stand the smell."
The Prime Guardian leaned against the wall. "The question now is, of course, what we are supposed to do with her."
"That's your job. Mine is to find them, not give them homes."
"I've considered the possibilities, and the only one which seems reasonable is adoption."
"Great. So send the kid off to some adoption facility, and everybody's happy."
"Actually, the psychologist said that sending the child to a foster home at random may not be a good idea."
"And why not?"
"The foster homes all operate under a policy of non-racism. If we specify that we want the child to be adopted only by humans, there's going to be a lot of repercussions."
"Your point being?"
"The child's eight, from the medical examiner's report. She knows what happened to her family, and who killed them. Sending her to a sprite or Anthro family may not be the best of ideas."
"Uh-huh. So where do I come in?"
"I thought the answer would be obvious."
Robert stared at the Prime Guardian, and the blood slowly drained from his face. "You don't mean..."
The Prime Guardian nodded. "Congratulations. You're a father."
Robert slumped down in his seat, then glared at the sprite. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"
"Merely a smile of happiness for the child."
"At least somebody's happy. I know I'm not."
"Relax. You'll live through it."
"I doubt it."