Joint Post by Andrew Stuart and Connor Benjamin
The pre-dawn hours of Day 3 found Mariana and I scuffling for room in the small tent as we both prepared for a long day. “Mind if I take your rifle today, it at least looks like a hunting piece?” I asked.
“No problem. I’m going to be inside the Lab most of the day piecing the racks together and calibrating the entire system. Dave and Kurt are going to haul the racks down from the temporary site and do the electrical hook up. By the way, what got into ‘Herr Dokotor Kellerman’ anyway?” She asked.
“Near as I can tell and I don’t know for sure, in order Ash, Sally, Ash, Sally and SALLY! Those two can ruin somebody’s whole week you know. Y’all have to ask Sally how many barrels she unloaded on him but I ‘spect it was about everything she had!”
Mariana’s evil smirk really wasn’t becoming to her, “Well, if she missed any I’ll be happy to ‘blige. He came about that close to chiving my behind big time.”
Keeping my face carefully neutral, I finished strapping the big Gerber Survival knife on my thigh. Picking up the Springfield, I fastened the friction sling over my neck and shoulder and stepped out to see Connor approaching. He had his ancient (yet gorgeously maintained) Garand and it looked like he was wearing his sidearm in a shoulder holster under his open jacket. Good, he’d taken the advice about staying low profile. He also had what looked like some sort of khukuri strapped to his pack with the handle over his right shoulder.
“Well Connor, if you have no objections, I am going to be watching the river and tracking our location, I’ll also call in our position reports. You take point, call the stops and do the sampling. You know more what we are looking for than I do.”
After I met up with Andy we started upriver, pausing every now and then to stop and pick the flowers (and bugs, and weeds, and anything else I thought we might not have gotten a sample of yet). The going wasn’t as slow as before, as many of the specimens we were coming across either Jai or I had already gotten in the past couple days. After about a half a mile Andy called in our progress.
“Comm. Central, A. Stuart; who’s minding the store?’
“A. Stuart, JJ here, training some new Op’s”
“Roger JJ, A. Stuart and C. Benjamin leaving the grid Northeast from Z0. Say again November Echo from Zulu Zero”
“Comm. Central, Copy All”
We walked in silence for a while. What we all were doing is just beyond belief. It still hasn’t really sunk in. We were the first humans ever to set foot on an extra-solar planet, the first ones to ever see alien life first hand. We were also, however, the first humans to kill alien life. Part of me feels like we never should have come. What are we going to do to this planet? Its animals? Will the colonists insist that we exterminate the slizzards like we Americans exterminated the wolves and grizzlies? As much as I hate the UNWG there are some things it got right. Would we be able to leave behind the bad and keep the good, or would we simply step back in time to a different set of problems?
As we reached a bend in the river Andy called in again.
“Comm. Central, A. Stuart”
“Party 2.5 miles Northeast of Z0, river makes 40 degree turn to due North now traveling 5 degrees off of due north and upslope.”
“Comm. Central, Copy All”
Another couple miles upriver we found just what I had been looking for. To our left was a large stand of the pillowbark trees, hundreds of them. If I was right about the bark layers regrowing then we just found enough of the native fiber to provide the entire colony with all the fabric it would need.
“Well there it is Connor, that’s what I’ve been hoping for!” Andy exclaimed.
“I know! A stand that big will give us all the fiber Rajnar could want.”
“What? Great, that’s great too. But I’m talking about that!” He pointed out at the rapids a hundred yards or so upriver from our position.
“Nice!” I said. “What am I looking at? I assume you’re talking hydro power of some sort?”
“Let me call it in and then I’ll fill in the holes, OK?” Connor just nodded, so I kept going. “Comm. Central prepare to copy complex!”
“Comm. Central, on record Go Ahead!”
“Central, A. Stuart sending locator beacon from 5.1 miles upstream from Z0. I am at the base of a constriction rapid with a fall of 25 to 30 Ft. Estimate a pressure head of approximately 250,000 gallons per minute. Brute force clearable on the west bank for a sluice diversion and slope appears to be conducive to excavation. Inform D. Webber that I have our Hydro source. Inform J. Fortson that we will need lumber support for an estimated 8 Ft radius water wheel and any potential farmers that we have a gristmill looking to happen. Break! Inform M. Stuart to get on the computer and mark this location. Whenever we figure out staking land claims I want this spot. Clan Stuart builds here!” I looked at Connor and asked, “Any questions, this is my energy base?”
After Andy had examined the rapids in more detail and I had done the same to the stand we headed back to camp. After a bit I brought up something that had been bugging me.
“So I’ve been thinking. So far we’ve found two trees that have some sort of defense mechanism for their trunk. Or, at least, they could very well be that. The log tree is capable of healing itself in a matter of hours against most cuts or gashes in its bark. The pillowbark tree goes a step farther and actually has slash resistant bark, and multiple layers of it to boot. I’m not totally sure, but it seems like there may be a large predator out there that claws trees a little too much.”
“Hmmm… Interesting theory. Not sure if I buy it but I guess it’s possible. If you’re right it would almost have to be a mating practice – territory marking wouldn’t be widespread enough.”
“That’s what I was thinking. Or I suppose it could be more random than that. It could just like to claw things. I mean, cats have clawing posts, right? Anyway, it’s food for thought. I doubt it would be the animal I mentioned yesterday – too small, for one. We should keep our eyes peeled, but there’s certainly no reason to spread this around, especially before we’re sure one way or the other.”
We were at just about the two miles out point when the brush to Connor’s right erupted. I was slinging the Springfield up as time began to slow. All I saw was about 18 feet of alligator sized body on multiple legs and LOTS of teeth in an open jaw. The first round was in the air when a little voice told me ‘Not Enough!’ so, I jacked out the second solid round and fired the third which was HE. To my left Connor had managed to shoulder his Garand, but he realized the job was already done. Not half bad for a non-Spec Ops with no out of place genes. As time began to speed back up my right hand caught the unfired round as the HE blew out the back of the head and upper neck of the monstrosity. It dropped in its tracks and Connor swore, lowering the rifle. “Shit! That’s one big ass slizzard. Mean little fracker too.”
“Congratulations,” I told him, “You were just bait for the first confirmed predator on Alchibah and an ugly sucker he is.” Pocketing the unfired round I reached down and picked up the two expended casings when Connor asked, “OK. How come I only heard one shot?”
“Well, like I like to joke with Mariana and used to with Angel; get faster! Now help me cut some poles for a Travois ‘cause I just know you and Mariana want to dissect this ugly sucker!”
‘Comm Central, A. Stuart; Advise all that we have encountered our first confirmed predator. And before M. Stuart asks, yes I am dragging the big ugly thing back!”
Just before dark, we staggered back into the camp with our energy base site and the carcass of our first predator on the end of my shoulder harness. Hanna, bless her heart came up to me with a mug I know everybody thought was booze and was really coffee with enough sugar in it to put a diabetic into instant shock. Gods how I needed some sleep!
And then my wrist comp when off with the Emergency Channel buzzer sound!