Day 34, just after midnight
“Go ahead, Sin. I’ve got a couple quick things to deal with here. Won’t be more than a minute,” I told my friend. Andy was right, we’ve lost too many people to the rumbler to let it go any longer. And if anyone could track it Sinopa could.
“The girls?” she asked. I nodded. “All right. I’ve got to pick up the .50 from my tent in any case. We’ll meet you where it got Burke.” She and Ash turned and left the lab as I went back over to Jai’s bed.
“Girls? I’ve got a job to go do. Are you going to be alright if I’m gone for a little while?” My two beautiful twins looked up at me, then back at their sister.
“Yeah dad,” Aya replied.
“We’ll be fine. Besides, Jai’s going to be ok,” Arra continued.
“But we’ve got to let her rest now, right?” Aya finished. I smiled softly. They almost seemed a part of each other at times.
“Yeah, she’s going to be just fine. Come on, Kaiya will take care of you while I’m away.”
The rain finally stopped well after dawn. The trail was still clear – nothing that big could move through a forest without leaving a pretty significant mark on the landscape. It was even clawing a tree up every mile or so (a territory or mating marker, I assume), making the tracking almost laughingly easy despite the rain. If I was right we were about ten hours behind it, meaning if we pushed we could make its resting place before the sun went down and it got up. There were too many ‘ifs’ in the plan for me to like it, but we couldn’t afford to let it go again, and we all knew it.
I hadn’t tracked anything with quite this sense of urgency in ages. We had to kill the rumblers in this area, that much was certain. We probably had fewer than a dozen weapons in the camp that could take them out, and even fewer people that were actually capable of using those weapons. It takes a special kind of person to fire a .50 without destroying their shoulder, and until a few hours ago we didn’t even know about the plasma rifles. Relying on guards obviously wasn’t going to work, so we had to go hunting or be picked off one by one.
As we continued on upstream (a ways in from the river so as to minimize the slizzard risk) the shredded trees grew closer and closer together. By the time we were by my best estimate an hour from the place it had bedded down they were coming every couple hundred yards, and some looked several days old. The more I saw the more I was convinced mating season had arrived, which of course explained the other one that had trapped the Washington boy.
Had I been sure my trusty old .50 Alaskan would drop the thing I would have had the boys stay put and ended the trip myself. The winds were working in our favor for the time being, but the risk of them shifting and warning the rumbler was too high, and while Connor is all right in the woods and I’m sure Ash can hold his own as well, the honest truth is that there are few people I would stake my life on being able to stalk a predator this dangerous, and they’re not on Alchibah. But I really had no idea what it would take to kill the thing, so Connor and Ash stayed with me.
What we saw when we arrived at the rumbler’s resting place about an hour before dusk was what I would imagine the apocalypse would look like. An area the size of a football field was simply destroyed. Every tree in the area had gouges ripped out of its trunk, and most of them were pushed to odd angles or entirely over as well. It was as if a tornado with claws had spun itself through the stand. And in the midst of all that wanton destruction the rumbler was resting peacefully. Snoring, actually.
The actual killing of the thing was amazingly simple, considering all it had put us through. We silently moved into place along the border of the dead zone. With Connor training the plasma rifle on it as insurance, Ash and I pumped enough lead and explosives into its head to kill a mid-sized whale. Apparently rumblers are at least as easy to kill as mid-sized whales. And that, as they say, was that.
After resting the evening and night a safe distance away from the kill site (in case its mate got bored of the Washington kid before Magic and the Reaper showed up) we headed back to Liberty. Or what was left of it. There was no doubt that frontier life was hard, and as wrong as things had gone in our first month on Alchibah you almost couldn’t help but think that the planet itself had turned against us. Like it was trying to spit us back out after realizing that we might be bad for it. But despite that we are here, and we are staying. The people that made this journey are a remarkable bunch, to say the least. I’m not sure what it would take to dislodge us from our new home, but I have no doubt it will take more than a tsunami, hurricane, mudslide and hostile population of dangerous predators. For good or for ill, this is our home. We will have to learn to live with it, and it with us.