Ah, rise and shine! An early morning guard shift and then up at the crack of dawn. This 20 hour day is going to take some getting used to. I’m sticking to my “caffeine in emergencies only” policy though, so decaf would have to do. Gulping down the last of the cup I headed to the supply area.
After rummaging (carefully and in an organized manner) through the appropriate containers I found what I was looking for. Thick rubber gloves and tall boots, check. Specimen jars and case, check. Clear plastiglass cup and large metal spatula, check. I had everything your amateur entomologist could need. Time to collect bugs!
While this was far from my specialty, I was starting here in my investigation of the local fauna for two reasons. First, insects and their ilk get around a lot easier and are more likely to become a widespread danger (through disease, poison, etc.) than your more visible animals (rodent imitators excluded, which will come next). A well put together camp would go a long way towards guarding against the larger predators we were likely to encounter, but creepy crawly things tend to go where they want. Second, I had a hunch that the local bugs would be a tad easier to capture than the rather, er, larger specimens I was hearing last night.
So away I went, spatula over my shoulder, pack full of specimen jars, whistling some old tune I had stuck in my head. It was a beautiful day.
“Excuse me?” a delicate voice from behind me asked.
I turned around…and quite nearly took a step back. In front of me was a young woman who could only be described as stunningly gorgeous. From her yet-to-be-worn-in hiking boots to the top of her baggy blue jean cap she couldn’t have been more beautiful. She was like some sort of Asian movie starlet from the 3Ds. This could only be one of Chen-Ling’s daughters. I wondered a bit as to how suited she was to this whole colonization thing, given her attire.
“Where are you going with that…spatula?” she asked incredulously. I gave her a questioning look.
“Oh, no no, I didn’t mean it that way.” She exclaimed quickly, putting her hands out in embarrassment, “I’m looking for something to do. I don’t exactly have any special skills that would be of use, at least for a while anyway. I’m a school teacher,” she explained. “You seem to be in with the people that are getting the most done, and I want to make myself useful. So, anyway, what are you doing with that spatula?”
“Um, yeah. I can see how heading off with rubber gloves on and a cooking implement over my shoulder might make me look a bit like an insane janitor or something.” I laughed. “I’m collecting bugs, to examine them and make sure they’re not dangerous. The spatula is to scoop them up after I get the cup over them. A method tried and true in the bathrooms and bedrooms of the insanely humane everywhere, mine included, although I usually use an index card. But anyway, yes, I could use a helper. Connor, by the way,” I finished, removing my glove and offering my hand.
“Kaiya,” she replied, taking it. Ok, so a firm grip and an offer to help. Maybe I was going to have to reconsider my hasty judgment of her.
“Pleasure to meet you. Now lets go get you some crazy plumber gear of your own.” She laughed.
We spent most of the rest of the day combing the river banks (I avoided the wetlands for now, worried that they might contain more than rubber gloves and a spatula could deal with), then moving on to the open field near our landing site and the tents. We talked the whole time, reminiscing over the fields and streams of Earth and speaking of our former lives. She talked about how excited she was to start teaching again, though she hoped that the kids we imported to Alchibah were a tad less bratty than the ones she left behind (and said that if my girls and the Parkers’ were any indication, she was hopeful). I told her I could certainly relate to that, having taught martial arts most of my life and dabbled in coaching track. Despite being over a decade younger than me, I really felt like there might be a connection there, something that I had never thought I would be able to say again.
The insects (if that was even the proper classification for them) we were collecting were certainly interesting, if nothing else. Everything from tiny furry ones to crawly iridescent ones to spiky ones to flying ones to jumpy ones. The only thing really consistent about them was that they all kind of, sort of seemed like something you could find on earth, but if you did you’d definitely show all your friends. The day was generally uneventful, except for one incident near the end as we approached the forest edge. Kaiya hadn’t been squeamish or bothered by the bugs at all, which is why I reacted the way I did. And, as I found out later, it was well warranted.
We were poking around on some sandy ground near a few large rocks to the west of the landing site (S3) when Kaiya shrieked and jumped back. Before she was fully on the ground again I had the HK in hand and had stepped in front of her. I slowly backed away from the rocks, keeping her behind me.
“What was it? Some sort of an animal?” I asked, keeping my eyes trained at the darkness between and under the rocks.
“I don’t know. It looked like some sort of a giant spider. I’ve never seen anything so creepy.”
I holstered the gun and got out the cup. It was pretty big, but if this bugger was as mean looking as she said I was not going to take any chances. After a moment something skittered into view. It was “only” about two inches wide, but she was certainly on the ball in calling it one creepy mofo. It was a fast little thing too. I darted in and slammed the cup down on it, quickly scooping it up and moving back from the rocks in case its cousins were watching. I carefully got it into one of the specimen jars and, after moving back a bit more, got a better look at it. It was darting around as much as it could in the confines of the container, but it looked like it had about 15 legs, all of them very, very pointy. The coloring was, shall we say, aggressive, primarily black with deep red patterning, though the bottom quarter or so of each of the legs was an iridescent blue-green. As close as I could tell its mouth was underneath it, and it seemed to have six eyes spread around the top of its head.
“That is one freaky little bastard, isn’t it?” I commented. “Not quite as big as I’d guessed though.”
“The one I saw was waaay bigger than that. Not that that one isn’t bad enough, but I swear it was bigger than that.”
“Alright then, let’s see.” I went over to my pack and got out the Surefire. We crouched down about a dozen feet from the rocks and I turned the flashlight towards where we had seen the last one come from.
“Crap!” I found my gun in my hand again as Kaiya scrambled back. “Frack! Let’s get the hell out of here.” I shoved the flashlight and the last jar back into my pack and slowly backed away from the nest. There were at least a dozen of the things in there, the largest probably eight inches across. I didn’t know if they were dangerous or not, but I knew for damn sure I wanted nothing to do with them.
I sent out notice for everyone to keep their eyes peeled and to stay away from the area over the comm and we hightailed it back to the tents. Not exactly how I would have had the day end had I been given a choice, but I think it turned out all right. We went our separate ways when we got back to camp, but with plans to get a drink at the makeshift First Inn that night. All in all, creepies or not, it was a good day.