"Captain, I have finally established subspace contact with the planet."
"Good. What was the problem, T'Soral?"
The Vulcan communications officer looked up from her console. "Drevan might want to confirm this, but there appears to be an unusually thick and large, heavily ionized layer of atmosphere that interferes with even subspace communication. We are at maximum sensitivity to be able to establish the channel, despite what appears to be a very powerful transmitter."
"Mainviewer, then. Maybe we'll get some greater input on what the problem that we're here to solve is." Captain Uhura turned to face the main screen.
On the screen, the face of a middle aged Filipino male appeared, his hair thinned and gray, his face haggard and worn; the screen itself was filled with static, and the voice distorted. "Greetings, Captain Uhura. I am Makarit Pinili, the director of the Koemul One research base. I thank you for coming; we are in dire need of your assistance."
"So I hear. What seems to be the problem, Doctor Pinili?"
"Several missing individuals, Captain. How much did Starfleet tell you about our research base here on Koemul One?"
"Nothing; we weren't even told the nature of the emergency." Uhura leaned forward, hopeful for some clarification.
"This planet is populated by a reptilian biome, roughly equivalent to the Terran mid-Cretaceous. We have spent the last several years studying the fauna, principally the interaction between the large carnivores and herbivores. Four days ago, we decided to do a more general survey of the sauropod population; four of our staff took one of our flitters out to a preselected area. They did not return. As large as the area was, as intense as the survey was expected to be, no one became alarmed for eighteen hours; by then it was dark, and too late to send a flitter to search. Manluluko, my younger brother, took the second flitter out, and also failed to return.
"I need assistance in locating and if possible rescuing our missing personnel. Regrettably, I cannot go: I am the only remaining individual here at the research base, and except to come to your ship, Starfleet regulations require I stay put. I'm sure you understand."
"I understand, Doctor. We will beam a team down immediately."
"I'm afraid not, Captain. You must let me bring our shuttle to you; the same atmospheric ionization that renders communication difficult makes transporting impossible." Pinili's eyes narrowed in apparent frustration. "Indeed, it makes use of standard shuttles quite impossible; the ionization is almost as intense as what would occur in a class three ion storm. Without sophisticated shielding, the shuttle controls will fail. Were it not so, we would have set up an orbital observation platform, avoiding the inherent risks and difficulties of surface life on a planet of this nature."
"Very well; we will expect your craft shortly. I'll assemble a team to meet you. Will you need anything else?"
"Your kindness in coming down to do what you can to find my colleagues is more than I could have hoped for, Captain. Koemul One out."
Uhura pulled a long face. "Sounds like I'm drafted as part of the team. Drevan, you're a hotshot in biology; I want you to join me."
"Of course, the fact that I'm an Andorian and meaner in combat than a Klingon with a burr in his britches has nothing to do with it, right Captain?" The Andorian's antennae swiveled to face each other briefly, then swiveled back, the Andorian equivalent of a wink. "I'm in. Since we're hunting for some folks, and it may involve ground activity to find them, could I suggest a couple of others to join us?"
"Only if it's Running Bear and Eletto, Drevan. Tracking's sort of a hobby with that pair, and I intend to have their skills on tap, on the off chance that I need it, and chances are I will." Uhura turned to her Vulcan communications officer. "T'Soral, if you would have them at the shuttle bay in twenty minutes, ready for an away team in wild environment?"
"I have contacted them both; they are already getting themselves prepared, Captain." She looked up from the communications console. "I conjecture they will be checking phasers out of the armory; neither of them usually keep phasers on their person."
"Any more than I do, T'Soral. Your gentle hint is well taken." Uhura got up. "Marsden, you have the conn. Drevan, come with me."
It was perhaps fifteen minutes later that joined Drevan, Running Bear and Eletto in the shuttle deck. All three were, as was Uhura, in standard Starfleet uniform, with communicator and phaser on their belts; Running Bear and Eletto sported what were clearly good sized, very serious appearing knives, Eletto sporting a modest-sized backpack. The captain was clearly taken aback by the unusual accoutrement. "What's with the non-standard additions to the uniform, gentlemen?"
The engineer and the doctor looked at each other, the physician choosing to answer. "Just our little insurance policy, Captain; there is no knowing what we're facing down there. A phaser may be more powerful, and it may have a much greater range, but as long as I'm moving, a knife isn't going to run out of power, which is more than I can say for a phaser. Running Bear made them out of some scrap trititanium, and he's got them sharp enough to go through soft steel; they're hard enough that it wouldn't dull the edge a bit.
"As for the backpack, my little medikit is pretty versatile, but we could be dealing with several injured individuals in the field, without being able to transport them up. Doctor M'Benga and I figured we'd better put together a good-sized medical field pack." Eletto patted the backpack. "If you don't like the idea of my calling it insurance, you can say it's my security blanket. Or maybe security blankets; Keme made me pack a bundle of those ultra-light, ultra-tough blankets we use for transporting the wounded. Must have half my pack full of the things." He rolled his eyes. "You'd think we were rescuing an army, not five people."
"Let's just hope you have some survivors to use it on, Giac." Uhura looked over at her chief engineer. "How soon will the shuttle be arriving, Indri?"
"It's on the final approach, Captain. Three minutes, max." The dark-skinned man tapped on the control area. "You might as well head down there; I expect they're itching to get you out and hunting."
Without comment, the team filed down to the shuttle area. By the time they had arrived, the shuttle from the surface had arrived, and the entry ramp was deploying. They all filed on board.
"Make yourselves comfortable; I'm hoping to be back on the surface swiftly." Doctor Pinili was strapped in at the controls. "Just be sure to strap in well; going through the ionization layer is almost always one rough ride. Lots of chop, I'm afraid."
"Thanks for the warning, Doctor." Uhura started strapping herself in, as did the others, Eletto securing his backpack first. "While we're on our way down, could you brief us on what we're up against?"
"No problem." The passengers being safely seated, Pinili started the shuttle back to the surface. "We can give you the area being surveyed; in order to minimize the distortion our presence might have introduced, we went some distance away, about a hundred kilometers. You won't have to hunt for them along the flight path, because we established they got to the five kilometer square we were going to examine before they started the survey, and the second flitter had let us know they were there, too. That exhausts what we know."
"Fill me in a little on the biome, will you?" Drevan leaned into the aisle a little as he spoke. "I've a little background in this area myself, and I'd like to have a sharper idea of what we're going to be seeing."
Makarit nodded. "It's not a perfect match to the Terran Cretaceous. Plant life is closer to the palms and woody perennials of, say, Florida or the Philippines than to the cycads, although there are plenty of cycad-like specimens, too. Nothing more advanced than reptilian forms; no birds or mammals, nor is there anything in the grey zone between themno proto-mammals or proto-avians. As you would expect, there are numerous herbivores, many of which have reached sizes comparable to the Terran quaesitosaur; an assortment of oviraptors; and carnivores ranging from chicken-sized carrion eaters to aggressive creatures comparable to the carcharodontosaur. Insect life is a little more robust than the Terran Cretaceous, if we've judged accurately from the fossil record. Nothing really surprising, actually, which is why we chose the planet."
"I see." Drevan slid back into a more comfortable position. "Anything similar to order Pterosauria?"
"Yes; analogs to suborders Ramphorhynchoidea and Pterodactyloidea are both present, but not as abundant as the Terran fossil record might lead us to expect." The shuttle began to shudder and buck. "Pardon the rough ride; don't say I didn't warn you." He was clearly accustomed to fighting the layer. "Anyhow, that differential may represent a sampling bias in the fossil record; that's what my younger brother, Manny, thought, anyhow. Pterosauria were sort of his specialty, so to speak."
As abruptly as it started, the bucking of the shuttle ended. Drevan took the floor again. "I take it the ionization layer is part of what keeps the planet's climate mild?"
"It's almost uniform, and you're right; the hydrosphere is augmented by the ionic activity in the ionization layer, and the hydrospheric cloud layer is what keeps things comparatively uniform." Makarit relaxed visibly. "It's easy flying from here, folks, and not far vertically. Our guess is that the unusually prolonged period of climactic uniformity is what has allowed the remarkable, apparent prolongation of the Cretaceous equivalent on the planet."
The talk in the cabin fell to idle chatter as the shuttle made its way to the hangar on the surface. Pinili unstrapped himself, standing up as swiftly as he did. "It is only about an hour past local dawn, Captain. Are you and your crew up to heading directly out?"
Uhura looked at the faces of her companions; all were ready, and at least Drevan was clearly eager. "I believe so. Do you have the coordinates we are heading for?"
"They are already programmed into the autopilot of the cargo carrier, Captain." Makarit waved at a large craft. "Beside the fact that it's the only transport we have, other than the shuttle, it is also the best suited for transporting any wounded that you may find. She's a little slow, and less nimble, but she's the best we've got."
"Time's wasting, then." Uhura looked at Drevan, Running Bear and Eletto. "Let's go. Running Bear, how do you feel about piloting?"
"No problem, Captain. I cut my teeth on machines like this." The Illiniwek moved toward the vehicle. "Come on, let's get started."
The foursome piled into the vehicle. Makarit watched as they strapped in and as the machine lifted off, waving tiredly. "God speed, friends. God speed!" The transport moved out of the hangar door, rapidly flying out of sight. He moved back into the research station.
Once the vehicle was out of the hangar and at a
reasonable altitude, Running Bear triggered the autopilot. "Might as well let the
electronics do as much work as they can." He leaned to his left, nose pressed against
the window. "It's not every day that an engineer like me gets a chance to look at
this sort of thing. Will you look at that?" On the plain below, a huge herd of
grazers was working along the ground, consuming the fern-like foliage around it.
Drevan peered out. "Looks like the Terran Nodosaurus genus. Over thereby the large pond; it looks like a group of Corythosaurus. Duck-bill like mouth area, large crown-like crest on its head, that's amazing. No wonder they're studying these creatures; they're unbelievably similar to the Terran fossils." All along the way to the search area, they stared at the scene below, totally fascinated by the vista, with Drevan periodically announcing that this or that creature reminded him of something from Earth's fossil record.
Before long, the transport slowed, finally stopping, hovering over a single place. "Looks like we've arrived, folks." Running Bear settled himself behind the controls. "This is where we start a simple grid search for whatever evidence we can find about the missing folks."
"Hold on a second, Running Bear." It was Drevan. "Let me do a quick scout around; I've got a little bit different sensory capability than you Humans, and I may be able to spot em from here if they're not over about a kilometer away. Save some time, if I can." The Andorian lowered the window nearest him, sticking his head out. Methodically, patiently, he scanned the ground. "Tell you what, lock this location into the return module of the autopilot, and move, hmmm...about eight fifty meters, bearing one seventeen. And move slowly, please; I think I've seen what may be the wreckage of one of the flitters."
Only a moment of hesitation passed, then the transport began to move in the direction Drevan had indicated, the blue head of the Andorian science officer sticking out of the window, his white hair and antennae moving in the wind. Occasionally, he pulled his head in to redirect the course. Without warning, Eletto grabbed Drevan's shirt, pulling him back into the vehicle, shouting at Running Bear, "Evasive action, man. Everyone hold tight!" Before anyone could react, there was a deafening clang, and the vehicle started to plummet.
"What in space?" Drevan struggled to get into a seat as Running Bear struggled to pull the transport out of its dive.
"You're the hotshot biologist, Drevan, so you'll have to give us the genus and species and all that, but it's a flying reptile and it's big." Eletto managed to get himself into a seat. "Oh, yeahand it's got an attitude that leaves a lot to be desired. A whole lot to be desired."
The transport clanged and shuddered again; this time, Drevan managed to see to see the creature. "Looks like genus Quetzalcoatlus from your Earth. Lovely." He looked out the front windshield, something catching his eye. "Okay, now it makes sense; I see what looks like a nest with hatchlings. Running Bear, try to get this heap on the ground before ol' Quetzalcoatlus drives us there in little pieces which, given a little time, she'll surely do in defense of her young."
"I see the wreckage of the flitters; I'll get as close as I can." Running Bear continued to wrestle with the controls. "If I can keep it in flight that long." There was a shriek from outside the transport.
Eletto pulled his phaser off his belt and stuck head and one shoulder out of the transport's window. Uhura looked at him as if he'd been pithed. "What in space do you think you're doing, Giac?"
Drevan mobilized his phaser, moving to do as Eletto had done. "What I should be doing, too: trying to keep that oversized flying lizard off of our backs. You and Running Bear man the front end; we'll handle defense." His head and arm disappeared out the window, too. While Drevan and Uhura had been talking, Eletto's phaser had carved a deep crater in the pterosaur's chest. Drevan's phaser aimed at the webbed portion of one wing; Eletto took the other, their combined efforts dropping the now-dead pterosaur out of the sky. Both beings pulled themselves back into the transport as Running Bear brought it down in the softest landing the remaining integrity of the vehicle could manage, which was none too gentle.
Scarcely had the craft touched down than Uhura was out the door, phaser in hand, scanning the sky. As she had anticipated, the immense flying reptile had a mate that was determined to avenge the death of its partner. Her phaser spat energy, joined quickly by the phasers of the physician and the science officer. Unable to save itself from the combined firepower of the three phasers, the massive reptilian crash landed, crumpling in a charred heap, only about a hundred and fifty meters from the now wrecked transport.
Running Bear finally exited the transport. "Bad news, folks; this heap isn't going to fly again. The lift mechanism didn't survive the beating and the landing, and I'm not exactly hopeful about the power plant, either. At least this explains what happened to the other flitters; they're light enough, they probably didn't fare as well as our machine did."
"Great." Uhura turned to Drevan and Eletto. "Eletto, Drevan, I want you two to go and check the wreckage of the two flitters; Running Bear and I will cover you. I'm not betting that the scavengers that will be flocking here over the feast we've provided are going to be too picky to call us lunch. Running Bear, salvage anything useful out of this wreck that you canand see if you can figure a way to recharge our phasers off it."
"I'm on it, Captain!" Running Bear lifted the cowling off the engine area. Drevan and Eletto moved off toward the other two wrecks, leaving Uhura scanning sky and land for oncoming threats.
The first wreck they reached deserved the name wreck; the craft had landed nose down, and clearly exploded into flames on impact. Eletto deployed his mediscanner. "Looks like the scanner works well enough, despite the ionization layer, at least at this short range. No survivors that I can detect; let's head to the other craft."
Eletto made his way directly to the wreckage of the other flitter, Drevan following, keeping watch for hostile fauna. A velociraptor-like creature came from one side, to succumb to the phaser's onslaught. Oblivious, Eletto turned his scanner on the wreckage. "Looks like we've got a live one here; let's hustle. From this distance, it's not clear what the individual's status is, but it can't be good."
Drevan made no comment; he just continued to cover. Eletto climbed onto the side of the half overturned flitter. "Anyone in there?'
"Yes, and believe me I am most sincerely glad to hear a Human voice. I'm trapped in this accursed seat belt; the release mechanism is crushed in the wreckage, and I've nothing to use to cut myself loose."
There was no mistaking the individual: the resemblance to his brother Makarit was almost striking. "Manluluko?"
"You must have met Makarit. Mack always calls me his younger brother; he's older by all of twenty minutes. We're identical twins. You wouldn't happen to have a knife, would you?"
Eletto pulled his knife out. "I would. This is going to be a bit challenging; I'm going to be hanging by my toes, here, unless you want to grab it and cut yourself loose."
"I'll cut the webbing, if that's acceptable to you." Eletto passed his knife to the trapped biologist, who made short work of the restraining straps. Manluluko tried to stand; the grimace on his face made his status clear. "I guess I'm worse off than I thought."
Bringing his mediscanner to bear on the man, Eletto nodded. "You sure are, man. Your right femur's broken, just distal to the midshaft, and your lower left tibia's in three pieces. Walking is strictly out of the question."
"Then unless your transport is working, you'd better abandon me."
"When white dwarfs all freeze over, we'll abandon you. That's not how Starfleet works, and it's sure not how I work, either. There're four of us, and we'll manage." Eletto backed out. "Drevan, I need some serious muscle here, and you're just the being."
The Andorian nodded. "I think between us we can right this thing, and make our lives easier, Giac. Game?"
"Game. Manny, grab on tight!" Eletto dropped back to the ground, moving next to Drevan. "On the count of three. One, two, three." The two beings heaved against the roof of the flitter; it moved, rocked back, and was pushed a second time, then a third and a fourth, finally falling on its underside. Manluluko grunted with the pain of the sudden landing. Giac moved to the door.
"Out of my way, pink skin; that door's going to be jammed tight enough to demand more muscle than a Human can boast." Drevan gently moved Eletto out of the way. Reaching through the broken window, the Andorian triggered the door release and pulled on the door. Slowly, almost reluctantly, it opened, the metal of the door complaining and crumpling slightly as it did. Eletto reached in and moved Manluluko out, laying him on the ground. With the man flat, it was easy to see where the fractures were, by the external deformity of the legs.
Foraging in his medikit, Eletto knelt next to the injured Human. "Let's start with something for the pain; you're going to need it." The hypospray hissed. Running Bear and Uhura arrived on the scene. He looked at his Human companions. "Any chance of recharging the phasers off the transport's engines, Running Bear?"
"None; there's nowhere I could tap in, even if I had the tools, which I don't. Power plant is totally trashed, too, so we'd have been out of luck anyhow. The machine's subspace communicator is wrecked, and I've already checkedour communicators haven't got the power to reach the Hyperion or the base. Looks like we get to hike home." He looked down at the lone survivor of the survey expedition, then back at the physician. "We're going to have to tote him. Looking at the shape of that leg, I figure he'll need to be splinted, but I don't figure him for walking. What'll we need?"
"A couple of limbs about two and a half or three meters long, to build a travois, and about that much again to make splints. There's going to need to be some serious traction here." Eletto studied Manluluko with the mediscanner. "And you are in serious need of fluids."
"I noticed a stand of what looked like bamboo off to one side of us as we got here," Uhura offered. "Think it'll do?"
"It's going to have to. Harvest the biggest ones you can find. Old, dry stalks would be best. Running Bear, see if you can get anything off the flitter's remains." He turned to face his patient. "It's going to hurt, despite the medication, Manny. I'll be as gentle as I can, but..." Eletto let the sentence trail off. As he spoke, Uhura and Drevan headed off toward where she had seen the bamboo-like plants.
"Do what you have to. I'll get through it; I've seen enough doctors in my time to know you'll do the best you can to minimize my pain." Although he tried to sound cool and calm, there was no mistaking Manluluko's anticipatory fear.
Running Bear appeared from the flitter a handful of small diameter metal bars. "I'm guessing you're going to need these rigged to produce some traction on the broken stuff, right, Doc?"
"You got that right. Can you scrounge a couple of plates we can put on the ends, so we're not ramming rod into his legs?" Eletto started assembling the rough outline of what he needed the rods to look like. "If you'd cut the metal and weld it into this shape?"
The Illiniwek engineer moved to the assembly Eletto had made, cutting things to size with his phaser, then using it on a different setting to weld them together. He took squares of metal he'd harvested from the body of the flitter, welding them inside the tops of the U-shaped structures. Eletto foraged in his backpack, digging out some padding and a skein of rope. Using the rope to secure the now-padded upper ends of the makeshift traction splints to Manluluko's upper thighs, he moved looped it around the man's ankles. His hypospray hissed again, giving Manny an additional dose of medication for pain. "Running Bear, you pull against the upper end of the splint, to keep it anchored for me. This is going to involve some major force. On the count of five, Manluluko. One, two, five "
Without warning, Eletto pulled, hard, seeing the misshapen femur straighten as Manluluko howled in agony. He tied the rope around the padding on Manny's ankle to the crossbar at the bottom of the splint. The physician nodded. "That was the toughest one; I'm not going to need to put near the effort on that ankle of yours. Running Bear?'
"Remind me to give you counting lessons, Doc." He shifted to the other leg. "Ready to go."
With much less effort, the physician was able to stretch the leg so that the tibia seemed to be in acceptable position to the naked eye. He turned the mediscanner on his patient. "It sure isn't perfect, but it's good enough; it's as good as it's going to get without Sickbay under foot. How's the patient?"
Manluluko looked up, his speech somewhat slurred. "Groggy, but better. That's good stuff, Doc."
"Yeah, it's the big guns, and I'm not blessed with a whole lot more of it." Drevan and Uhura returned, toting what looked like blue bamboo. "How tough is that stuff?"
"Not very; no way we can make a litter out of it." Drevan shook his head. "And you don't want to know what it took to get this stuff. That copse was crawling with carnivores looking for an easy meal. Phasers are about dead; I'm down to ten percent charge, and the captain is at less than three percent."
Running Bear held up one hand. "You don't need to say it, Captain. I'll see what else I can scrounge out of the wreckage. At least we can use that blue stuff to make a bit of a platform for Doctor Pinili, here. I'll scrounge the rest of what I'll need for a travois out of the wreckage." He disappeared, phaser in hand.
Pulling his phaser off his belt, Eletto looked at the charge. "I'm at about thirty percent on this thing; you take it, Captain. I'm going to see if I can rip some padding off these seats. The back seat's a bench; it just might do." The phaser out of his hand, he pulled his knife loose and began working on the seat coverings.
Moments later, Running Bear came around the side, a large, triangular frame in hand. On the widest end, where the two sides of the triangle extended half a meter or so longer than the base, there were a couple of metal pins pointing toward each other. "Let's see if we can get the bit of that stuff with the largest diameter, and cut it to fit between these things."
Uhura selected a piece, giving it to Running Bear, who trimmed it to his satisfaction. Using his phaser as a cutting and welding tool, he reshaped the metal travois so that the pins pushed into the end of the bamboo-like material, without letting the metal bar rub against it. "Wheels would have been nice, but I'll take what we can get; we're going to be pulling this thing."
Without waiting to be bidden, Uhura began sorting the material she and Drevan had collected, finding a number of pieces of similar diameter. With Eletto's help, she lashed them to the metal, then helped Eletto lash the pads he'd retrieved from the flitter into place. Running Bear nodded in approval. He tried to weld another piece onto the metal travois, but his phaser ran out of power before he could finish it to his satisfaction.
"Here, Running Bear. See if there's enough charge on mine to do any good." Uhura offered her nearly spent phaser; there was just enough power to do the job. "Only two phasers left, gentlebeings, and they're not at anything close to full charge. We'd better save them for desperate conditions; it's a long walk back to safety."
"Captain, I appeal to your good sense. The four of you can make better time without having to tote a wounded..."
"Zip it," Uhura snapped. "None of the four of us would abandon an injured being, no matter how sure we were that we could get back and stage a rescue."
Manluluko nodded. "I understand. At least give me the least charged phaser, so I can guard our back."
"First sensible thing you've said on the topic." Uhura offered him the phaser. "Now, let us get you onto that contraption of Running Bear's."
Drevan scooted in, lifting the Human and depositing him gently on the padding. He lifted the pointed end of the travois up, Eletto moving to where he could throw the straps attached to it around his shoulders and chest. With what appeared to be surprising ease, Eletto moved forward. "I can do this for several kilometers without trouble. We've only got, what, a hundred and ten to hike? Let's get rolling."
"I agree, Doctor. I'm surprised the scavengers haven't started bothering us; they're making swift work of the pterosaurs." Manluluko pointed to the two creatures, which were rapidly being reduced to skeletons as the group stared at them. "Anyone here know how to get back?"
"I'm pretty sure I know the direction," Running Bear offered. "See that peak there? We need to head toward it, and a little to the right. Somewhere close, there's a modest river that'll run to within eyeshot of the research station."
Manluluko nodded. "I think you're right, sir."
"Call me Running Bear. The Andorian is Drevan; the doc is Giac."
"And you can call me Nyota." Uhura turned to the others. "I'm all for proper introductions and such, but what we principally need to call ourselves is gone." She looked at the sun. "I'd judge that it's got to be at least ten in the morning, local time. I want to get as far as we can before dark, and we need to leave time to put together whatever shelter we can. Running Bear, you and Drevan take the lead."
"Captain, before we move out, I'd like one of those bits of blue bamboo you and Drevan harvestedsomething like three centimeters diameter and about two and a half meters long." Eletto reached out a hand to receive it.
The Bantu supplied it, slightly puzzled. "What are you up to, Giac?"
Eletto took the bamboo and used his knife to quickly trim it so that the septum of a pair of nodes a couple of meters apart made hard ends. Sheathing his knife, Eletto grasped the stick in one hand, grinning. "Walking stick, Captain. You folk might consider making yourselves one, too; might come in handy. And we might just as well pack some of that bamboo-like stuff up for later usemostly stuff over a meter and a half long, and up to around eight or ten centimeter across."
Running Bear fashioned a walking stick for Drevan, who picked it up, hefted, grabbing it in both hands and batting with the ends. "This thing works fine as a quarter staff, too, Giac. Good thinking."
Having fashioned a stick for Uhura, Running Bear carved one for himself. Uhura used the remnants of the rope to bundle up the rest of the plant stalks she and Drevan had harvested. "Here you go, Manny; a little more for Giac to drag along. How hard does this stuff get when it's dry?"
"Pretty hard, Nyota; in two or three hours and the thinner stuff should be fairly dry, and about as hard as Terran maple." The biologist settled the blue bamboo next to himself. "When we get near some fresh water, we can use the largest ones for canteenscut them so that there is a separator on either end, and then put a hole in one. Submerge it, it'll fill; you can use a bit of a smaller piece of bamboo to make a cork."
"Assuming there's no obnoxious fauna there to take your hand off, which I'd bet against." Eletto started moving forward with surprising ease. "Let's get rolling, folks. I figure three or four days to our next bed and bath, unless you folk favor skinny dipping with Icky the ichthyosaur. In case you hadn't figured it, I'm not planning any such excursions."
Drevan and Running Bear scuttled to get ahead of the physician, Uhura taking her place next to the wounded biologist. She looked up. "At the pace you're going, Giac, you're not going to last too long."
"Permit me to differ, good Captain." Pinili turned his head to face her. "This world is at about 89% earth's gravity, and like most worlds with giant sauropods, its oxygen content is significantly higherabout 27% oxygen. Even allowing for the lower total atmospheric pressure, the partial pressure of oxygen is significantly higher than what you're accustomed to breathing. Your endurance and prowess may amaze you." He shifted, trying to get more comfortable. "It's still a long walk home, and there's some unpleasant ground between here and there."
"Just out of practical curiosity, Manny, is the meat of these creatures edible? And are any of the plants poisonous?"
"We've found none that are poisonous to eat, Nyota." Pinili rubbed his chin. "But come to think of it, I wouldn't eat the carnivores; there are a ton of little parasites like the Terran genus Trichinella, and I suspect that they would be as happy encysted in Human muscle as they are in reptilian. Fish would be out for similar reasons: tapeworms similar to the Terran genus Diphyllobothrium are much too abundant."
Rolling her eyes, Uhura nodded. "I'll check with Drevan later, just to be sure you're not trash talking to me, pretending you're rolling off scientific names. How about the plants?"
"We'll just have to watch for bugs in the fruit."
"Hey, bugs are just free protein!" Drevan looked over his shoulder as he responded. "And he's not trash talking with Trichinella and Diphyllobothrium, Captain. Just ask Giac. They're Human pathogens."
Uhura favored the Andorian with a look of disgust. "I'll trust you on the fancy names, but I'm still not eating bugs. Well, not yet, anyhow; I'm going to have to get a lot hungrier before I do that."
"I don't blame you, Captain." Running Bear pointed off to his right, intentionally trying to change the subject. "As I read the tracks, the river's probably off this way. Let's get something to slake our thirsts." He started moving in the direction indicated. "If I don't miss my guess, by the time noon comes, we'll all be thankful for having some water jugs."
"For that matter, I wouldn't mind a mouthful to drink right now." Eletto half turned. "Manluluko, how about handing me one of the really large diameter hunks of the local version of bamboo? My hands are free, and as I cut these things loose, I can hand em to you. Game?"
"I'm game. I think they'll still be soft and comparatively easily worked. Some of the thinner ones will be drying a bit." Manluluka found a large diameter piece that wasn't particularly long. "How's this?"
"Works for me." Eletto took the stalk and began working it, cutting and trimming sections, then using his knife to whittle a hole in one end. As they trudged forward, Running Bear in the lead, the physician managed to turn out a dozen or so containers, shaping plugs to close them as he did.
Before long, the river came into view. Fifty meters or so from the bank, Eletto halted. "Captain, I'd suggest that we stop here, and let either Drevan or Running Bear fill the makeshift canteens."
"Reasonable enough, Giac. Let me help you out of that contraption, so you can take a bit of a rest." Uhura came to a stop and began loosing the physician from the travois. "I expect that this isn't exactly the smoothest ride Manny's had, either."
"No disrespect intended, but you're absolutely correct. I'm sure it's just the primitive roads, eh?" The biologist produced a forced smile. "Frankly, I'm thankful to be alive. Some of the scavengers were a little hard to keep at bay while I was still trapped in the flitter."
"How's the pain, Doc?" Freed from his load, and with the travois on the ground, Eletto was able to attend to his patient. "Tolerable?"
"That's about the size of it." Pinili shrugged. "I'm satisfied. I figure I won't want any more until tonight. Sort of get juiced up before I try to sleep, but save it otherwise."
"Good enough." Eletto looked up. Drevan and Running Bear were down near the river bed, at a quiet eddy. He turned to the captain. "If it's okay with you, I'm going to head down to the river with the other two. If you wouldn't mind guarding Manny, here?'"
"Go ahead, Giac. Manny and I will be safe." She waved him to the shore with one hand. "Maybe you can figure out why our Andorian friend is trying to turn a stem of the bamboo and a chunk of rope into a macramé fishing line."
Eletto scratched one shoulder, where the rope had been. "Didn't know the fellow even knew of macramé. I'll go see what I see." As the physician approached the other two, he noticed that Running Bear had sharpened one end of his walking stick into a sharp point. Realizing what the two men were doing, he put one hand to the hilt of his knife, silently taking his place on Drevan's other side.
The pool the two had chosen was calm, compared to the rest of the river; off to the left, it had an area filled with what looked like reeds, but the remainder was almost still. Although it was reasonably clear, it was deep and the bottom was obscured in darkness. Drevan had rigged up a network of rope, with a stone at the bottom that would allow him to suspend a bamboo canteen in the water without having to enter the water himself. He dipped it, letting it stay submerged until the bubbles quit rising, then pulled it out. Hanging from it was what looked like an immense crawdad.
Running Bear used his sharpened stick to persuade the creature to let go. Deftly, Eletto removed the filled canister, put in a drop of something from a small bottle he'd retrieved from his backpack, then corked the canister with a bit of shaped bamboo, putting an empty one in its place.
Repeating the dunking, Drevan heaved the filled canister out of the pool, bringing up several of the crawdad like creatures with it. Again, Running Bear induced them to return to their habitat. With the filled canister replaced by an empty one, Drevan again lowered it to harvest another volume of water. Hardly had the bamboo canteen disappeared in the water when there was a swirl from the depths of the pool and the pole bent almost to the surface, straightening and flinging the rope sling, with the shattered bamboo canteen, high in the air.
The Andorian swiveled around, lowering the sling to where Eletto could reach it. "Judging by the way that went, whatever hit that was bigand didn't like bamboo for dinner." He paused as the physician put a new section of the blue bamboo in place. "I don't expect it'll be back; probably learned his lesson the first time around."
True to Drevan's prediction, nothing happened with the next canteen, nor with the one following. With the third one, a large, crocodile-like creature erupted out of the water, directly toward Drevan. As if he were expecting it, Running Bear charged the creature, his sharpened stalk of blue bamboo plunging deeply into one eye. Wounded, the crocodilian backed off, pulling Running Bear's stick out of its head as it did so, then rushing the Illiniwek engineer. He stood his ground, the point of his makeshift lance aimed at the oncoming maw. Eletto leapt onto the beast's back, grabbing on tightly with his thighs.
Suddenly, the beast turned its head, moving back toward Drevan. The physician placed his trititanium blade at the point where the crocodilian's skull pivoted, throwing his weight against it and driving it into the creature's body to the knife's hilt. The effort was rewarded by seeing the creature's legs go limp.
"Good eye, Stares-at-a-Star." Running Bear started collecting up the water containers. "How'd you know where to put the knife?"
Eletto got off the creature's back, pulling his knife out with only minor difficulty. "It's simple engineering, actually. Suspend the body from the backbone, and to protect the vital connections of the spinal cord, run the spinal cord just above the vertebral body, sheathed in a little extra bone. Stands to reason, where the head pivots will be near where the backbone meets the skull, and thus the cord meets the brain. Sever the cord, stop the beast."
"Never thought of that, and I'm the being with the fancy degree in biology." Drevan collected up the rest of the containers, as Eletto knelt to wipe the blood off his knife. "I'll"
Uhura's voice interrupted the discussion. "Get up here now, and follow me. Hurry!" The threesome turned, seeing Uhura rapidly strapping the harness of the travois over her shoulders.
"Captain, at least let one of us pull that."
"Just shut up and move, Running Bear. And that goes for you others. Move it!" None of them could understand the urgency in her voice, but all decided that discretion was the better part of valor and moved swiftly. Out of the water, there suddenly exploded a head with a long, sinuous neck; the head drove itself into the cadaver of the crocodilian, ripping one leg and a large section of the side of the abdomen loose. As it swallowed, the piece of the dead crocodile made a lump in the creature's neck, one that was soon followed by a second and a third, making the creature's neck look something like a string of beads. None of the three beings wasted any time catching up with Uhura, who was moving with surprising speed, getting away from the gory display of appetite.
"Now you know why the hurry. I saw a shadow in the murk coming at you, and didn't like it. I guess I was right." The captain moved forward with determination, intent on putting as much distance as she could between herself and the river creatures. "I'm not taking any chances on that monster being able to come ashore."
As before, Running Bear and Drevan took the lead; Eletto took Uhura's position with Pinili. Uhura looked at the sun. "I'm guessing we've got about five or six hours until sunset; if I recall correctly, this planet has a shorter rotational period than Earth. Let's plan on another two to three hours of travel, then find a defensible looking position, and a couple of us go hunt for some food."
"You had to say food,' didn't you?" Eletto rolled his eyes in mock agony. "Until you mentioned it, I was doing fine. Now I'm hungry. Go figure." He drooped his head, trying to look like he was suffering direly.
"Oh, knock off the martyr act, Giac." Uhura's voice was full of amusement rather than anger. "What was it that you were putting in those bamboo canteens?"
"Sodium hypochlorite, ten percent solution, Captain; Keme and I talked it over and figured there might be a problem with the survivors getting dehydrated, so rather that pack a huge supply of water, we packed the solution. In my day, we called it bleach, and it was only about five percent concentration."
"And the point of your antics was?" Her curiosity showed clearly.
"It'll clear the organic stuff out of the water, and it'll kill off about any reasonable infectious organism known. Give it about twenty minutes for the chlorine to work, and the sediment to settle and we've got water almost as safe as the recycled stuff on the Hyperion. Given how events fell, I'm glad we've got plenty of it."
"Before this is over, I think we're all going to be glad of it." Running Bear turned to Uhura. "Captain, I suspect we're out of danger; what say you let me take a turn pulling the travois?"
Lieutenant Commander Reichard turned the center
chair to face T'Soral. "Anything from the surface?"
"Not yet, Lieutenant Commander." T'Soral turned to face her fellow officer. "They are now four hours overdue for checking in. At this point, it is logical to suspect that there may have been some sort of unanticipated event that is keeping them from communicating."
"Maybe it's just the ionization layer, do you think?"
"The ionization layer would block the transmission via the communicators the away team is carrying, but it would not keep Doctor Pinili's subspace link from connecting with us." She turned back to her console. "I must express some concern."
"That makes at least two of us, Lieutenant. I want to talk to the surface."
"I am already working on it, Captain." T'Soral tapped a final contact.
Makarit Pinili's face filled the screen. "Good evening, Hyperion. Have you heard from the team?"
"No. I was hoping that they had reported to you, and you could give us some input on their results. I would have thought that the transport would have managed to cover the search area before now."
The biologist's voice remained calm, but there was no mistaking the interplay of fear and grief he was experiencing. "I hope that nothing ill has befallen your fellow crewmembers."
"I share your concern, but knowing the four that went down, I am confident that they can handle whatever they face. Their phasers would be a pretty convincing argument where the life forms of your planet are concerned." Reichard took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "However, I would like to send down a shuttle to try to locate and, if needs be, rescue them."
"The trouble is the ionization layer, I'm afraid. As I hope you recall, it requires major modifications of the shuttle's structure to be able to navigate safely through the atmosphere. I would come up myself, you understand, but I feel that someone needs to be here for the team on the ground."
"Now that you mention it, I recall that ion layer; and of course, you're rightwith the interference with communications, we have to have you down there. Look, can you send the necessary information on how to do this to our chief engineer? Maybe he can do something to handle the problem." The enforced inactivity with his friends and fellow crew at risk was clearly telling on Reichard.
"I shall do so immediately. Koemul One research base out."
"Already connecting to Engineering, sir."
Indri's voice filled the bridge. "Engineering, Indri here. How can I help?"
"Pinili, the biologist on the surface, is sending up the design changes needed to enable a shuttle to get through the ionization layer. I want to know how long it'll take to get them made, so we can send a shuttle down."
"I'll be happy to look at them, Lieutenant Commander Reichard. As to how long it will take to make them, well, that's another question." The man's voice held a small lilt of amusement. "We already have one shuttle under modification, just in case. Unless they have a trick I haven't thought of, however, it will be a minimum of thirty six hours more."
"With Uhura, Drevan, Eletto and Running Bear down there playing hide and seek with a bunch of dinosaurs, you have to know that's one ugly long time."
"Yes, Ken, all too bitterly." The pain Indri was feeling was clear through his voice. "That's my good right hand that those giant sized geckos are probably threatening, to say nothing of my captain and my good friends. If Running Bear were up here, rather than down there, I'd have this thing done in twenty-four hours or less."
Reichard realized his remark had been inadvertantly cruel. "I understand, Indri; that was mean of me to say it. Look, I know you're doing all you can. As soon as you have it ready, you, Tucker and Marsden get on board and find them, okay?"
"I'll take that as orders, Ken. There's room for one more, you know, without overloading the shuttle, even if all the folks on the flitters survived. One more phaser might make a difference."
"Thanks for the offer, my friend. I'll negotiate on that one." Ken smiled grimly. "I'm keeping you from getting the shuttle done. Bridge out."
Running Bear turned his head, gauging the angle
of the sun. "Figuring on the day being about twenty-two standard hours long, as
Doctor P here said it was, I'd give us about two and a half hours to sunset. What do you
think about looking for somewhere to use for shelter? There's a bluff over there," he
pointed with his chin, "with an exposed rock face. If we can find a part that's been
undercut a little, that might do well enough."
"I'm for it, Running Bear," Uhura responded. "You're probably ready to get the travois off your shoulders, anyhow. Lead on!"
"Tell you what, Captain, why don't I take another turn with the travois, and let him rest," Eletto offered. "I think I'm good for a couple hours more, and I can't figure it will take all that long to get to the cliff."
Running Bear stopped walking and started shedding his harness. "There's an offer I won't refuse."
With Pinili and the travois strapped to Eletto's shoulders, Running Bear moved back forward. "Drevan, how's that bluff look to you?"
"Hopeful's the best I can offer from this distance. Looks like there may be an undercut area, as you were thinking; not too far from it, there's a herd of grazers of some sort, with their young." The Andorian strained a little. "If they don't get too far away, I think I see supper, to put it bluntly. If Giac's up to it, let's hustle a bit, and see if you and I can take down one of the smaller grazers."
In response to Drevan's challenge, Eletto picked up his pace, the rest picking theirs up to match. Reaching the limestone bluff and finding an area to nestle in took less time than they had thought. Drevan and Running Bear were clearing the detritus that had collected in it, blown by the occasional wind, by the time Uhura and Eletto arrived.
"Don't get too enthused, gentlebeings! Some of what you're clearing out is the kindling I'm going to need to get a good fire going." The physician turned to his Illiniwek friend. "I'm hoping I can con you two into scrounging some firewood up, enough to keep a blaze going through the night. Somehow, I just can't believe that this whole world goes to sleep when the sun sets."
"It doesn't." The voice was Pinili's. "You'd think, with the majority of these beasts being cold-blooded, that they'd all go down at night, but there are an unfortunately large number of modest-sized nocturnal predators here."
"I don't suppose you'd be willing to define that phrase modest-sized,' would you?" Uhura's voice made it clear that she half-expected to hear that they were the size of a small shuttle.
"Meter and a half to three meters tall, Madame." Pinili shrugged, not an easy thing to do while riding on the makeshift travois. "The nocturnal scavengers and carnivores were more Makarit's area of focus, you understand. The bottom line is regrettably simple, however: they're aggressive and obnoxious, and several species run in packs of five to twenty-five. Thankfully, the larger packs tend to be the smaller ones, less than two meters tall, but that's still an issue."
"Which all goes to say," Running Bear pointed out, "that we're going to have to set watch through the night. No shock there; I had figured that was going to be in the picture. Giac, let me help you out of your straps. What say we lean the travois up against the wall somewhere the ground is good and level?"
The pair got Pinili settled, while Drevan and Uhura scrounged up armloads of firewood; the task was not hard: above the bluff, there was a significant clump of trees and cycads that had dropped dead material over a period of years. Uhura looked at the pile of kindling Eletto had put together. "I suppose I'll need to use the phaser to start the fire."
Shaking his head, the physician pulled his knife free, unscrewing the end of the hilt and pulling what looked like a bit of shaped stone from it. "Nope; Running Bear insisted we put flint into the handles. I just need to strike a few sparks, and with a little care, we're going to have a nice blaze rolling in a matter of minutes." He squatted near the kindling, scraping the back of his knife against the flint; a shower of sparks flew into the dried leaves and shaved wood, rewarding him with a tiny flicker of flame. Gently, almost tenderly, Eletto coaxed it into a larger flame, adding twigs, then small pieces of branches, until he could lay larger pieces in place and build a decent blaze. He looked at the accumulated firewood, selecting three long pieces that he lashed together to form a tripod.
"I hope you're not planning to cook a roast from that thing, Giac. It'll take hours, and I'm hungry enough I'd probably go crazy waiting for it to get done."
"Unless you've got a better idea, I was figuring we could hang some thinner slices, and get em to cook in a more reasonable time frame." He looked up from his task. "Needless to say, I'd be more than happy if you had a quick solution. Short, of course, of sauropod sushi, I mean."
"Let me borrow that knife of yours, Giac. I think I can do one better." Taking the offered tool, the captain took a piece of the bamboo and began splitting it into thin withes, which she wove into an open mat. "Here you go. One blue bamboo barbecue grille. Think you can find a way to suspend it?"
"If it'll get me fed faster, you bet I can." Eletto grinned. "Watch me." He quickly lashed it to the poles of the tripod. "All we need is our two hunters to return with something to cook." The physician looked around himself. "Until then, I suppose I'd better gather some more firewood. I have the feeling it's going to be a long night, and we may need it. That, and it'll whet my appetite; I'm a little dubious about what dinosaur tastes like."
Pinili winked. "Chicken, of course. Light colored mystery meat almost always tastes like chicken."
Amused, Uhura turned to the biologist. "You don't say. How about the tannish colored mystery meat, and the really brown stuff?"
"Pork and beef, Captain. It's mostly got to do with the amount of myoglobin in the muscle, you see, which makes it darker as the levels rise, and gives it an increasingly beefy flavor." There was no mistaking the fact that the biologist had taken Uhura's facetious question seriously. "Now, buffalo is even beefier than beef, having even higher myoglobin levels, but it's not quite as sweetthe glycogen levels are lower, and"
"You had to ask, didn't you, Captain?" More out of a desire to avoid the serious response than anything else, Eletto focused on feeding the fire.
A little over two hours later, after having
feasted on the roasted young stegosaur steaks Running Bear and Drevan had brought back,
the physician leaned against a smooth part of the rock face that held up the travois
Pinili was resting on. The physician looked up. "Manluluko, you were right. It did
taste like chicken, somewhere between the white and dark meat." He smiled,
contentedly. "Look, there's still a reasonable supply of the synthendorphinol; I
could give you another dose to help with the pain. As a side effect, it'll make you drowsy
and let you get some sleep."
"I appreciate the offer, but maybe we should let me wait until morning. I can sleep during our trek tomorrow; for tonight, I can keep watchwell for as long as I can stay awake and alert, anyhow." The biologist shrugged, which was an interesting challenge while lashed to the travois. "One of you can bunk close enough that I can poke you with a stick if something happens."
"I can work with that." Eletto eyed the horizon. "Sunset looks like it's imminent. Just be sure that you wake one of us if the fire starts to dwindle."
"Rest assured, I will. It is my belief that most of the noctural predators and scavengers will wish to stay out of the light."
"Good. In that case, I bid you all a good night." The physician foraged a thin, silvery sheet out of his backpack and curled up under it near the biologist's perch. "After today's walk, I could do with a nap."
Eletto snapped awake, the end of a rod gently
prodding him in the ribs. It hadn't been the first awakening he'd had during the night,
having been awakened to put more wood on the fire a couple of times, but this time came
all too close to the last one. In the dim shadows just beyond the edge of the circle of
light from the fire, he could see shapes moving. "What's up, Manny?"
"The Koemal equivalent of jackals; maybe a meter and three quarters tall, bipedal, sharp claws and teeth." There was clear tension in the biologist's voice. "They rely on speed more than physical power. It looks like they're trying to get the nerve up to move into the fire light."
"Time to wake up the other two, then." Eletto prodded Running Bear, then Drevan with the stick. Drevan nudged Uhura. All four were on their feet in an instant, Eletto and Running Bear on either side of Drevan, shielding Uhura and Pinili. Drevan and Eletto held their walking sticks like quarterstaffs; Running Bear had his knife in one hand and a shorter, stouter piece of the blue bamboo in the other. All three stood between the fire and the night marauders, waiting for the reptiles to make the first move, hoping that the fire and the appearance of opposition would dissuade them.
Without warning, events began to happen at bewildering speed. One creature, either braver or more foolish than the rest, shot its head at Drevan, trying to take a bite out of one of his legs. Drevan's stick intercepted the beast's head, sending it flying back, its jaw clearly broken. Confused and terrified, it lunged again, this time finding the business end of Drevan's walking stick applied to its neck, driving neck and head backward.
Perhaps emboldened by its pack mate's efforts, or more likely hoping that the assault on Drevan would distract the others, a second lunged forward at Eletto. Dodging, the doctor applied the staff to the beast's leg, being rewarded by the sound of bone breaking and the sight of the beast going down. Despite the snapping of its jaws against his walking stick, Eletto used his stick to shove the now incapacitated beast away, back among the others at the edge of the circle of light. Its fellows fell on it, the shrieks of their dying one-time companion not deterring their feeding frenzy in the least.
Even as some were gorging on their fallen companion, another went for Running Bear. Using the thicker bit of bamboo as a shield, the Illiniwek native plied his knife to the beast's demise.
Off to one side, the sky began to show the first red streaks of impending dawn. As if it was a signal for a mass assault, the majority of the pack of nocturnal sauropods lunged at the three beings. Though more than a match for any of the beasts individually, the sheer mass of numbers gave them the edge, forcing them to retreat.
Just as defeat almost appeared inescapable, the rules of the game changed dramatically. While her companions had been defending the camp, Uhura had dismantled the tripod, igniting the ends of the branches used to make it. Once they were burning well, she exploded into the fray, driving the burning brands into the faces of the invading horde. None of the pack had ever faced such a thing, much less knew how to deal with it. Light, feather-like coverings ignited on several of the creatures, causing the creatures to panic, spreading the flames to fellow creatures. With the high partial pressure of oxygen, the beasts went up like torches, further illuminating the landscape.
Surrendering her firebrands to Running Bear and Drevan, the Bantu woman grabbed the remaining branch of the tripod, taking a long piece of wood out of the material on the fire. Between the rising sun and the necessity of facing the flaming brands, the pack decided that discretion was the better part of valor and made its escape.
There was an almost stunned silence as the five beings surveyed the now-abandoned area before them. The morning was becoming well enough established that the light from the planet's sun was finally brighter than that of the fire. Three, perhaps four of the creatures had fallen in the combat; it was hard to tell the number precisely, as the feeding frenzy of the others in the pack had torn their skeletons apart as it had removed almost every scrap of flesh from the victims, and the large insects were taking what was left off at a furious pace.
Tired from their intense but comparatively brief combat, the Andorian and the Humans retreated to the fire. Drevan looked over. "Giac, you're bleeding from that left arm; it looks nasty." Without asking, he began to remove the physician's medical whites. Between his shoulder and elbow, there was an open wound, bleeding profusely.
Eletto looked down at his injury as best he could. "Here, scan it for me, will you?" He offered Drevan the scanner. Drevan complied, handing it back so the physician could read out the information on his own injury. "Well, at least the wound doesn't involve any muscle or major vessels. That's something." He started rummaging in his backpack. "Unfortunately, the talon that raked me was anything but clean, from a microbial standpoint. The way I read this scan, nothing I've got in the kit here is going to touch the mess of microbes left behind." As he was talking, the physician brought out some bandaging material.
Running Bear moved to look. "Giac, we both know what I've got to do. That wound is too big to ignore, and too dirty to close. There isn't the time to boil enough water to clean it, to say nothing of letting it cool to where we can do it without causing more trouble than you need. The old ways aren't always best, but it's pretty well all you've got."
Nodding, Eletto turned to face away from his friend. "I know. Do it." He crammed a handful of bandaging material between his teeth, biting down on it.
The engineer took out his knife, holding it above the coals until it became a dull cherry color then swiftly applied it to the wound. Grunting in pain, Eletto bit down hard on the material in his mouth to distract himself from the burning and the sound of his own tissues sizzling. The blade came away, leaving the wound scarred from the heat, the bleeding stopped by the heat of the blade.
The physician spat out the now-wet gauze. "Captain, if you could give me a hand dressing this? Keme and Hardav have fixed things worse than this mess, but I don't want to tax them any more than I have to."
"Just give me that backpack of yours, Giac; I know how to wrap a wound." She dug into the pack. "Don't you have any topical anything?"
"The tan pouch over to the left, Captain. It's got a little of a couple of topical antibiotics and more than a little something to quell the pain." Eletto grimaced. "I'm most interested in the latter."
With business-like efficiency, Uhura quickly applied the indicated unguents to the burn and wrapped it in gauze. Satisfied, she returned the remainder of the material to the backpack. "How often do we change this, Giac?"
"It should be good until camp tonight." He moved his arm. "Much better, thank you. Hey, Marie could do with a little help down in Sickbay. Wanna volunteer?"
She took a playful swipe at the physician's head. "Don't tempt me, boy, don't tempt me. Especially since I figure I'd end up on shift with Kemeand you'd end up having to do all the work."
Eletto just snorted. He moved to the biologist, backpack in tow. "Manny, how're you doing?"
"Other than sleepy and thoroughly thankful that those carnivores age gone, you mean? The legs are throbbing a good deal." Pinili looked down. "And they look a little swollen to me, but that may be due to my being propped up all night."
The mediscanner swept into position. "Let's not forget the damage due to the fractures, here; that's feeding into the swelling, too. Let me give you a dose of the synthendorphinol, so you can get a little sleep. You need it." Pinili nodded his assent; the hypospray hissed.
The other three had been concentrating on clearing up the campsite. Drevan came back with a chunk of roasted dinosaur meat. "Giac, Manny, have all the breakfast you're going to get. The captain salvaged as much as she could out of what she dumped into the fire turning the tripod into weaponry."
Both men accepted the offering hungrily. Eletto picked up one of the improvised canteens, unplugging it and pouring some of its contents into his mouth. Refreshed, he offered some to the biologist, who also partook. "Looks like we'll have to refill these sometime today." Eletto hefted the bamboo section. "This one is about gone, and there're only two others with anything in them, neither of them quite full, I think. Running Bearis there somewhere other than the river we can fill these, between here and the research base?"
"Don't remember, Giac. The sooner we get moving, the sooner we'll find out." Running Bear shouldered the straps for the travois. "Manluluko, how far do you think it is to the research station?"
"Farther than we're going to get today." The biologist's head lolled to one side as sleep claimed him.
The sound of a turbolift door opening onto the
hanger deck jarred Indri into full wakefulness from the half-drowse he had descended into.
It had been twenty or more hours since he had last slept, as near as he could figure it,
so he was hardly surprised that he had started to nod off, but he was anything but pleased
with himself over it. He looked up to see Reichard descending on him.
"How goes the effort with the shuttle, Sleeping Beauty?"
"Okay, so you caught me napping. Rub it in." Indri was more nettled at himself than at Reichard.
"That won't be needed. I'm taking over for the next four hours, and you're going to sleep. That's an order." He moved to where Indri could see him easily. "And before you remind me that you outrank me, I'm well aware of that fact, but I'm equally well aware of the fact that Uhura left me in command when she went down on the away team."
"Just let me brief you on what's done, Ken, and what needs done. We decided to use the armored shuttlecraft. I've fabricated new ceramic hull sections with adequate grounding; when they are installed, the shuttle will be virtually a flying Faraday cage. If I'm right on my timing, the last of the ceramic should be out of the oven in an hour or so. It'll have to cool a little to be ready to install." He shook his head, trying to clear it. "I can do the preflight checks when I wake up."
"Good. Now get some sleep, or you'll be useless when we go down." Reichard watched as Indri meekly made his way to the turbolift. He nodded to himself as the man disappeared into it then turned to survey the area. Personnel were fitting chunks of ceramic together, rebuilding the outer shell of the hull of the shuttle; off to one side, where the equipment for cooking the ceramics had been set up, there stood a Vulcan, monitoring the system. Reichard moved toward the being, figuring that his chances of getting a precise estimate from a Vulcan were better than from anyone else. As he approached, the Vulcan, clearly sensing the approach of a familiar mental signature, spoke before Reichard could.
"If you would give me a moment or two to finish adjusting the furnace to my satisfaction, Lieutenant Commander Reichard, I will be at your disposal for several minutes." The being remained focused on his task, not even turning as he spoke.
"Indeed so." He continued adjusting controls until he was satisfied with the result before turning to face Reichard. "I realize that my training is mainly in the biological sciences, but I have other skills as well. I worked in the ceramics production facility operated by my family before enrolling at Starfleet Academy. The skills I developed then have not totally left me."
"I am impressed. How long before the last of the new hull ceramics are ready for installation?"
"Allowing for cooling to room temperature at a safe pace, four point two three hours, Lieutenant Commander. Installation should not take more than one point one seven hours, assuming a reasonable degree of fitting is needed."
"Excellent. There is no way of shortening that time, is there?"
Subhar shook his head gravely. "Not without risking ruining the sections." The Vulcan biologist tilted his head slightly to one side. "I understand your need to rescue our companions. We are all, I am sure, eager to see them back on the Hyperion. You must not let your feelings stand in the way of your better judgment."
"Easier said, I'm afraid, than done. I guess I need to let you get back to the ceramics." Reichard turned to look at the activity in the shuttle bay. He moved to a readout, pulling up a list and scanning it. Nodding to himself, he looked up. "Listen up, gang. I want these folk standing in front of me in three minutes." He began reading off the list; before him, Reichard saw an assembly of about ten engineers collect up, all Human. To his eye, they were clearly spent. "Okay, I count a dozen names on this list; there are only ten of you. What's going on?"
One of the engineers looked up. "That'd be the two that collapsed and were carted off to Sickbay, two, maybe three hours ago, sir. What I hear is that they just dropped from exhaustion, but I wouldn't care to swear to it."
"That doesn't surprise me. According to the readout, you're all the alpha shift personnel; not one of you has been on the task less than eighteen hours straight, probably twenty. Any of you want to tell me what the consequences of a small error in shaping a part of the ceramic hull might be?" The question was quasi-rhetorical; Reichard knew the answer.
"Can't fix it; would have to remake the piece, sir. Delay'd be, oh, maybe six hours or more."
"I don't choose to face that sort of delay. Worse yet, I am totally disinterested in having a mistake made that escaped notice because you're too tired to know what you're doing; the consequences are unthinkable. I want every one of you in your cabins, sleeping, in ten minutes, and I don't want you back for four hours. Subhar assures me that the final parts of the grounded hull ceramic won't be ready for over four and a bit hours."
Reichard decided to play his trump card; there wasn't time to argue, as far as he was concerned. "No buts. I've already thrown Indri off the task until he gets some sleep. What makes you think I'm going to let any of you off any easier? Just get out of here, and be back in time to finish installing the last parts of the hull."
Realizing they had no choice, the Humans shuffled to the turbolift, heading to their quarters.
Making such speed as they could, Uhura, Drevan,
Running Bear, Eletto and Pinili made their way in the direction of the research base, more
or less paralleling the river that they knew passed close to the base. Off to one side, a
herd of ceratopsians were grazing peacefully, the wide bony shield around their head
roughly centered on a single, large horn. Drevan looked back at Pinili. "Hey,
Manluluko, take a look at what we're coming up on. One of my fellow students in biology
theorized they'd show some interesting herd behavior. What have you seen?"
Pinili craned his neck until he could see the herd in question. "Enough to warn you to steer clear. If they get spooked, they usually do one of two things. If you're lucky, they'll form a protective ring around their young and the gravid females. Those big frills around their head make a pretty convincing wall, when the males and non-gravid females are standing shoulder to shoulder. Toss in a horn that I've seen eviscerate large carnivores, and you've got an impressive protective barrier. Sometimes, they'll stampede; the males will form a wall, advancing toward whatever the threat was, and the females and young will charge the other way. Trust me, it isn't pretty if you happen to be the predator they tackle, or if you're in the way of the stampeding females and young." The wounded biologist relaxed, looking behind again. "Like I said, probably best to avoid them altogether; probably by a couple hundred meters or so. No sense in asking for trouble, right?"
"Right." It was Running Bear, who veered off to the left as he answered. "I just don't like the fact that we're going to have to get close to that mass of brush. Between the cover and the potential prey, you understand, there's too much potential for meeting large scale appetites."
"Don't particularly blame you, Running Bear," Uhura quipped. "On the other hand, I'm not totally in love with the idea of getting skewered, either. I guess we just strike the best balance that we can between being too close to the one or the other."
"If I might be so bold as to suggest it, erring toward being too close to the forest might be safer." Pinili twisted slightly, trying to see Running Bear a little more clearly. "Most of the things that are likely to come out of the forest are going to be less dangerous than the ceratopsians."
Drevan and Running Bear made no comment, altering their course to reflect Pinili's advice. Slowly, they began to close on the gap between the herbivores and the nearby forest. As they did, it was clear that the creatures were nervous; the approach of the troupe seemed to make the creatures fearful about the limited options for escape. With the river on one side and the woods, only minimally passable with the wide flare of bone at the back of their heads, on the other, they could only move forward or backward. Being bottlenecked was not, it appeared, to their tastes.
Drevan turned suddenly, orienting to sound the others had not yet heard. The Andorian's eyes widened, the tips of his two blue antennae moving apart. "Gentlebeings, I think we are in deep trouble. Captain, if I were you, I'd get that phaser where you could use it."
Uhura turned. Before her, she saw a bipedal beast, vaguely reminiscent of a tyrannosaurus and easily five meters tall, moving toward them at a surprisingly rapid pace. Unflinchingly, she lifted the phaser, taking aim at the beast's head.
"I do not believe you need bother, Madame." The voice was Pinili's. "The creature seems to be focused on the herbivores. My guess is that it will move past us without so much as a moment's notice of our presence."
"He's right, Captain." Drevan moved closer to the travois, motioning to Running Bear to join them. "Compared to those lumbering grass eaters over there, we're just not worth his effort. Watchmaybe we'll get to see the ceratopsians do something interesting."
True to the science officer's prediction, the quadrupedal dinosaurs began to take up a defensive posture. The majority of the herd turned to face the approaching giant carnivore, the wide flares at the back of their heads forming an almost solid wall between it and the rest of the herd, the long, heavy horns protruding like the pikes of a Medieval army. Almost as if it were oblivious to the threat before it, the carnivore continued moving forward, running past the small troupe, focused wholly on the feast before it.
Obligingly, Eletto maneuvered himself and the travois where both he and the injured biologist could watch events as they transpired, his mediscanner deployed on the advancing giant. Between the lone carnivore and the herd of herbivores, the distance steadily closed, the armored wall of adult herbivores standing its ground stolidly. Behind the wall, the females and their young began to run, clearly intent on putting as much distance between themselves and the hungry dinosaur as they could. Only a few meters in front of the protective wall, the carnivore slowed then stopped, roaring loudly, as if hoping that the sheer volume of its voice would break the line and allow safe passage to dine on the creatures behind it.
From inside the cover of the forest there exploded several similar giant reptiles, the largest barely four meters tall, the least perhaps only three. They moved swiftly, each one coming in from behind the fleeing herbivores, grabbing a victim and hurrying back to the forest with it. Hearing the cries of those behind them caused the beasts making up the protective wall to turn to see what was happening; once they saw the carnage, they began to hurry to protect the herd. An opportunity before it, the large carnivore swept down on one of the males, grabbing it and hurrying away.
"I don't believe what I just saw." Pinili's voice carried a tone of astonishment. "That seems to have been an adult, with its offspring, acting as a coordinated team, cooperating as they hunt." He shook his head in disbelief. "That's the first hint of serious intelligence I've seen."
"Mind explaining yourself? I've seen packs of wild canids show collaborative group behavior taking down large herbivores." There was obvious puzzlement on Eletto's face. "That's not to say that wild dogs or wolves or coyotes are stupid, but I wouldn't call them seriously intelligent."
"First off, Giac, a lizard showing the level of intelligence that a dog has would be showing remarkable intelligence for a lizard, don't you think? No disrespect to the Gorn or Saurians intended, you understand, but these are saurian reptiles." Drevan started moving forward as he spoke, the others coming with him toward the now emptied space between river and woods. "But think about it. The packs of canines give chase, then gang up on a particular animal or two, worrying it to exhaustion. What you saw was something altogether different. The big brute scared the herbivores into defensive posture, sending the other, more easily captured herbivores scurrying for safety. When the ones on the run are past where the younger carnivores were hidden, the big one signals them, and they're out getting a victim and retreating before the older females can turn and react. That noise distracts enough of the protective line for the big brute to grab a victim for herself and run. What you've just seen involved advance planning, putting the smaller creatures in position then coming around to where the plan could be executed. Intelligence, at least bordering on sentience if not actually having achieved it, is definitely in the picture."
"Drevan's right, Giac. With wit like we just saw, all those creatures need is a language and they'll be on the road to technologywell, potentially, anyhow." Pinili craned his neck a little. "That's a mixed blessing. It'll be fascinating to watch the development of a coordinated civilization, but on the other hand, that may make our life more difficult getting back to the base, too."
"Then it's all the more important to concentrate on covering as much territory as possible before we have to wrap it up for the day." The captain stepped the pace up a little. "Let's just hope that the leader of that pack didn't think we were worth the time to notice."
The troupe picked up their pace to match the captain's, moving between the river and the woods. In the wide plain that stretched beyond the bottleneck, the ceratopsian herbivores had recollected into a herd, moving to what, presumably, the herd felt was a safer grazing spot. Running Bear lifted one of the make-shift canteens to his lips, finding it dry.
"I don't mean to be the Klingon in the cafeteria, folks, but we're going to need more waterespecially if we maintain this pace."
"After the experience you three had the last time you did the water routine, we'd better stick to filling only a couple of them at a time in any given place." Uhura pointed to an area of the river. "That looks like a good place to start, gentlebeings. Two canteens, and we move on. Giac, I hope that you've got more of that water purifying solution."
"Plenty, Captain. It was easier to carry more than we were likely to need than to try to find a bottle small enough to meet the expected need." He winked. "And expected needs may not turn out to be the real ones, you know."
Uhura decided to ignore the remark, unhitching the travois from the physician. "You three go get a couple of canisters of water. I'll stick with Manny, here, and watch for suspicious looking moving shadows in the water."
"I wouldn't get too worried about that here, Captain." Running Bear looked at the river. "It's pretty wide and slow moving hereprobably not more than a couple of meters deep, I'd guess. Most of the really big stuff would want deeper water than this, right, Manny?'
"Don't bank on it. There are some pretty large critters similar to the Terran python." The biologist looked over at the engineer. "Two meters would be plenty enough for them. And they're very affectionate. They'd just love to hug you to death. Literally."
"Point made." Running Bear chuckled. "I promise to be careful."
Collecting full containers, though it took several stops at several shallow areas in the river, was uneventful and consumed little time, more being taken by getting the oversized crawfish off the apparatus than actually filling the containers. The troupe resumed their determined trek toward where the research base was reckoned to be. Other than Pinili taking out a pair of modest-sized carnivores that made the mistake of trailing them, the day proved otherwise uneventful, other than the arrival of colder air and a steady, drizzly rain.
Uhura stared at the cloud cover, doing her best to judge the position of the sun. "We need to figure some shelter, and get food for the day. Manny, does any of this area look familiar at all?"
"I think it does; if I've got us placed correctly, we're within about fifteen, maybe twenty kilometers of the base. Tomorrow's jaunt shouldn't be much trouble at allI hope. Especially if the weather improves." He looked over at Drevan. "You know, those oversized crawfish are quite edible. They taste rather like lobster, actually."
"Hey, I thought mystery meat tasted like chicken, pork or beef!" Even as he made the wisecrack, Running Bear was loosing the harness on the travois.
"That only counts for land meats." Pinili winked. "I bet we could catch a load of those creatures and roast the tails over a fire, if we can figure a way to keep one going in this wet weather. Consider that a hint. Of course, drawn butter does improve the flavor quite considerably."
"First, he's a biologist, now he's a gourmet." Drevan's antennae made the small elliptical movement that was the Andorian equivalent of rolling his eyes. "Hey, Manny, how about turning weatherman and getting some clear skies for us so we can get a fire going?"
"Don't know that I can manage it, but the rain's not all bad; between the cold and the rain, most of the reptiles here, especially the big and dangerous ones, are going to be hunkered down, waiting for cheerier weather." Pinili pulled a wry face. "I don't blame them. I'd like to be somewhere dry, myself; all of us would, I guess."
"I think that may be manageable." Uhura looked off to one side. "Given a handful of those saplings and Eletto's supply of high tech blankets, and a little help, there's hope. Assuming, Giac, you've got enough blankets and rope."
"Keme figured two or three per victim, and rope enough to make the blankets into some sort of cradle to lift the injured. I figure we've got enough." The physician started rummaging in his pack. "They're water resistant, too, just in case anyone was wondering. Right about now, that's a feature I appreciate."
Rather than engage in the conversation, Running Bear and Drevan made their way to the edge of the trees, returning with an armload of tall saplings. The pair selected one of the longer ones and headed out to the river to catch supper while Eletto and Uhura started tying the tops of the saplings together and planting their wider ends in the soft ground, putting together the frame of a simple hut.
Hours later, a small fire crackling happily in
the fire pit, its smoke curling out the small hole left for it in the top of the hut,
Uhura leaned back against one of the saplings holding the dome of blankets over them.
Running Bear looked over at her. "I thought your background was communications, and
your parents owned a large horse ranch in Africa. Where did you learn how to build a
shelter like this?"
"Back home, really." She shifted her position, trying to take better advantage of the warmth the fire afforded. "Ugogo, my father's mother, was determined that her grandchildren would have some first hand knowledge of the old Bantu ways, at least the way she saw them. When I was a kid, she'd take me out to the brush, and we'd live off the land for a week or two. Of course, the Bantu didn't use blankets to thatch their homes, but that's a side issue. Ugogo wouldn't let me bring a tent, but she'd let me use whatever I could find to make a shelter."
The captain smiled, remembering fondly. "I thought she was a little squirrelly at the time, but the memories are pleasant now, and what I've learned has been worth the knowing." She paused for a moment. "Just how tough are these blankets, anyhow?"
"Tough." It was Eletto's voice. "If I remember correctly, the weave has a transparent aluminum thread every four or five millimeters, with a weave of some polymer or other in between, then a thin layer on both sides of some other polymer that's flexible and water repellent." He yawned. "Details to the side, it's tough enough that nothing this planet boasts is going to rip it."
"Giac's right, Captain." Running Bear idly stirred the fire with a bit of wood as he spoke. "The saplings will snap long before the stuff tears. The rope's the same wayjust twisted rather than woven, with transparent aluminum fibers in it. If you're going where I think you're going with this, I agree. No need to set a watch tonight. The critters that'll be out aren't going to get in here, and the stuff isn't going to catch fire, either." He curled up on one side, his arm under his head. "G'nite, folks. All this fresh air and walking has done wonderful things for my ability to catch a nap. Wake me in time for breakfast."
Indri stepped out of the turbolift onto the
shuttle deck. He was pleasantly surprised at the improvement that just a few hours of
sleep had made in his status, and equally so at the progress that had been made. The crew
was installing the last of the sections of modified hull ceramic; others were checking the
integrity of the seams of the parts already in place.
Reichard walked up to him, smiling tiredly. "Good morning, Indri. I hope you find all is to your satisfaction. Before I banished him to his cabin, Subhar declared the ceramics ready to go, and they're almost assembled. You can do the preflight checks without me. I'm going to get a couple of hours of shut eye, then report back here for the trip to the surface."
"Don't get in a big hurry, Ken. It's going to take at least three, and more likely four, hours to get the shuttle checked out and ready to go." The engineer cast his eye at the ship. "She's not going to be the most maneuverable shuttle we've got, and no mistake about it. Once we've got the team back, she'll have to go back to her original state."
"Guess that's why they don't make all the shuttles this well grounded, eh?" Reichard yawned prodigiously. "Tell you what, why don't you call me about a half hour before you're ready to go."
"You're on. Now go to bed; I don't need you too drowsy to hit a dinosaur." Indri made shooing motions toward the turbolift. "I'll call youjust you be sure you're not too deep asleep to answer."
Reichard shook his head, stepping into the turbolift. "Can't guarantee that, man, but I'll try hard. We leave as soon as that thing is up to your standards. We've already got the approximate route the others would have taken out; it's a good bet they'll be somewhere on the same line on the way back."
With the lieutenant commander gone, Indri turned his attention to the shuttle before him. The bench was littered with reports on the integrity of the assorted seams, none of which satisfied him. Like his mentor, Montgomery Scott, Indri preferred to double check things for himself, especially if someone's life might hang on the results. Picking up his engineering tricorder, he walked briskly to the assembly area and began his inspection. More than ever, Indri felt the absence of his friend Running Bear; with his assistance, Indri was confident, the shuttle would have been spaceworthy and the captain back on the ship hours ago.
Eletto stashed the last of the skeins of rope
into his backpack. "I think that's got it, folks. Any of that roast crawdad left for
a hungry old man?"
"Some. Probably more than you'll need; I hope you don't mind that it's cold." Uhura offered the physician a skewer filled with roasted crawfish.
"All I ask is available." The physician took the offered meat. "How about someone giving me a hand hitching Manny and the travois to me? I'm anxious to get back to civilization and a hot shower. Civilization is optional."
"Hold up a second, will you?" Running Bear descended on his companion. "In case you've forgotten, you've got a wounded arm. I want to look at that thing before you do anything else."
"If you insist." Reluctantly, Eletto shifted to allow the bandage to be removed. "Just be careful with it, will you? That thing is sore."
Uhura moved in as Running Bear peeled the last of the dressing off the wound. "I'll bet that thing's sore; that wound is red, swollen and ugly. Your mediscanner, please, Doctor?"
"Are you sure you really want to know?" Lack of enthusiasm was written all over Eletto's face. "It's not like anything I brought is going to do any good against the local microbes, you know."
Drevan stepped over, adding his opinion. "Knock it off, will you? In case you've forgotten it, you came with your own supply of obnoxious bacteria that are perfectly capable of causing loads of trouble. That arm of yours really does look ugly, Giac." The Andorian leaned a little closer, peering intensely with both eyes and antennae. "I don't need a mediscanner to know an infection's going in there."
"Nor do I, Drevan." The Human winced as he moved his arm. "I've already dosed myself with the stuff in the pack, okay? It's not doing the job. We just need to get moving, so I can get back to Sickbay and get what I really need."
Uhura handed Eletto the scanner. "You might as well look at this, Giac, since I've scanned the area."
The physician looked around at his companions. "Come on, guys. Am I the only one that's heard the saying that ignorance is bliss? Do I really need to know? Just hitch me up and let's roll."
"With all due respect, Doctor, you need to look," Pinili insisted. "There might be something new going on that you can address, after all, perhaps an abscess that might be drained or some such. It is far easier to handle an enemy you know, is it not?"
Scanner in hand, Eletto studied the readout. "It's not good, gang. The infection is spreading through the tissues of my arm, and it's heading for my shoulder. Give it a couple of days more at the outside, and at this rate, and I'll be septicthe microbes will be in my bloodstream big time, and I'll be a gone gosling." He looked over at Uhura. "All the more reason to strap me up and get going, Captain. My legs are fine, and the sooner Keme and Hardav have a chance to get to me, the likelier I am to see my next birthday."
"Not until I bandage up that thing, Giac." There was no mistaking the fact that Uhura was not open to debate on the issue. "Let me have that topical stuff for pain and infection, and a handful of bandage material." She stood, hand extended, waiting. Eletto complied, tolerating her ministrations. Finally, she nodded. "That'll do for now. Are you sure you're up to dragging the travois, Giac?"
"Well, not forever, but for a while. Something in my gut tells me that we haven't faced our worst problems yet, and I don't feature me being worth much when our next problem hits, what with one arm almost out of commission. You folk stay as rested as you can, so you can handle whatever comes up." Eletto turned to make hitching himself to the travois easier. "I'd prefer to be doing something useful, rather than tagging along as a wounded warrior being a burden on the rest of you."
"Here, here!" It was Pinili. "At least you have the choice, Doc, which puts you one up on me. I vote with him; let him be the pack mule while he still can."
Reluctantly and gently, Uhura and Running Bear strapped the travois onto Eletto's shoulders. The physician nodded and began moving. "Tell me, Manny, is there anything that we'll be able to use as an aid to navigating as we get closer to the research station?" There was no mistaking the fact that the physician wanted to shift the focus off his arm and onto anything else.
"Sure is. There's a big, tethered balloon that goes to the lower level of the ionized layer, maybe three and a half kilometers or so up. One of the engineering double-domes that helped set up the station figured a way to power the station off the electrical potential between the ionized layer and the ground. It's visible for, oh, maybe five or six kilometers away." Pinili craned his neck to where he could see the captain. "It'd be visible from here if the balloon were bigger. That would be a big help, too."
"No joke." Drevan scanned the horizon. "Maybe I can find it; there's an advantage to having little blue antennae."
"You're welcome to try, but I don't think even your sharp Andorian senses will be able to see it before about noon, assuming I'm right about where we are." Pinili tried to shrug.
"That means we have to keep on going," Uhura said. "Let's put our breath to walking, folks. Unless you think that our communicators would be able to raise the research station."
"Unfortunately not, I'm afraid. Reflecting off the ionization layer would produce so much distortion that it would look like noise; we'll have to be line of sight with the building. The wire tethering the balloon wasn't intended to be an antenna."
"Your brother, Makarit, indicated that the folk in the first flitter had contacted him, Manny." Eletto's doubt came through clearly. "I don't mean to question you, but are you sure?"
"Dead sure, Doc; the two flitters had subspace communicators built in. We tried everything to avoid that problem, but nothing worked. Sorry." Pinili was as disappointed as Eletto had been doubting. "Believe me, if the flitter communicators had worked, you'd never have ended up here. Hence, the long walk."
Slowly but inexorably, the sun rose in the sky, almost reaching its zenith when Drevan spat a stream of angry-sounding Andorian. "Great. I can see the balloon clearly." He pointed across the river. "If you strain your eyes, you just might be able to see it. Our problem is, I hope, totally obvious."
"Totally." Eletto sank to his knees, visibly exhausted. "Oh, well, I needed a rest anyhow. River's fairly narrow here; it doesn't look more than, oh, thirty-five or forty meters acrossbut I'd bet it bends somewhere near here. Any chance of that, Manny?"
"It bends here and there every couple of kilometers, meandering to and fro, yes. I don't get the point."
"I do." It was Uhura. "Driftwood would likely collect near a bend; maybe we could find four or five good-sized trunks to lash together to make a raft. If it's not too deep, we could use branches to push ourselves across; if it's too deep for that, Running Bear and Eletto get to carve us paddles."
"You're ignoring the issue of the critters in the water, Captain." Drevan turned to stare at the river. "I still remember meeting them the other day, and I don't remember the meeting kindly. For that matter, a good batch of driftwood is likely to have a few nasties hiding in it looking for easy meat. Being lunch for a sauropod wasn't what I had in mind for my retirement."
Eletto looked up from where he was sitting. "I don't blame you, Drevan, but unless you've got a better idea, this is the only plan we've got." He shook his head, as if clearing it. "Unfortunately, I'm not sure how much help I'm going to be. I'm not feeling so good."
"You don't look too hot, either, Giac." Running Bear took the mediscanner off Eletto's belt, surprised that the physician offered no resistance. He turned the machine on his companion. "Whoa, I don't need a degree in medicine to tell you got troubles, man. Look at this, will you?" The engineer started freeing his friend from the straps on the travois.
Meekly, Eletto took the mediscanner. "Nothing we couldn't handle in Sickbay. Just need to get there, eh? But nothing fixable without Sickbay's resources. Haven't got the stuff we need."
Drevan turned to face the river. "All the more reason to get back to the Hyperion as soon as possible. Let's head this way; I think the river takes a bend less than a kilometer this way."
With more confidence than he felt, Drevan took the lead, Running Bear pulling the travois and Uhura helping Eletto keep moving. True to the Andorian's prediction, the river bent not far away, a collection of logs of varying sizes stacked on the near shore. He studied the pile. "Well, at least one thing has fallen in our favor; there isn't anything hiding in the pile, other than some insects that don't look too vicious. Let's see what we can manage."
The Andorian grabbed at a piece of driftwood and pulled; it broke off in his hand. "Soft as balsa. Well, at least it'll probably be light, but we're still going to have to unstack this stuff carefully."
As Running Bear joined Drevan on the pile of driftwood, Uhura watched with some concern. "That stuff will hold together long enough to get across the river, won't it?"
"Should do." The engineer picked up one end of a log, the Andorian the other. "At least, as long as Drevan and I manage to pick ones that aren't rotted out. How about getting some of that rope we coiled up this morning out of Eletto's pack? We're going to need to tie a few of these together."
Trying not to disturb her ill comrade, Uhura fished four skeins of rope from the pack. She couldn't help but notice that Eletto's skin was flushed, and warm to the touch. Pinili looked over. "If you'll pick Doc's pocket and give me that knife of his, maybe I can fashion a couple of paddles out of the remaining bamboo and a couple of the water bottles. I don't think it's likely they're going to be able to find anything they can use for punting poles in that mass of detritus."
The Bantu gave the biologist the knife, leaving him to his devices, moving over to where Drevan and Running Bear were laying out the logs they'd chosen for the make-shift raft. The rope in their hands, the two beings quickly lashed the logs together into a crude raft. By the time they were satisfied, Pinili had managed to construct two simple paddles and Eletto's knife was in its sheath again.
With some difficulty, Uhura, Drevan and Running Bear managed to get the raft almost off the beach. Drevan kept it anchored while the others got Eletto and Pinili aboard. The Andorian looked to be sure everyone was on the raft, then looked down stream. "Running Bear, we're going to have to paddle like mad to get across this river. You ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be. Captain, you've got that phaser ready? I'm not sure I like the thought of crossing this river unprotected."
She pulled the weapon off her belt. "Ready for anything, and hoping not to need to be."
Eletto struggled to his feet, knife in one hand, determination on his face. "I may not beat a phaser, but I'm better than nothing. Let's get moving."
Straining every muscle to do so, Running Bear and Drevan pushed the raft off the sand shingle and into the current. Both beings paddled with all their might, hoping to get to the far bank before the craft attracted the attention of any hostile river creatures. They were better than half way across when a large, crocodile-like creature spotted them, sliding off the bank and moving toward the oncoming raft.
Uhura took aim with the phaser, patiently waiting until her target was almost point blank before she hit the contact. Nothing happened. The crocodilian closed in, planting its maw firmly on the side of the raft. Eletto's knife fell on its snout, carving a deep gash. Uhura grabbed what had been Eletto's walking stick, ramming it into one of the creature's eyes, as Running Bear had done a couple of days ago.
Agonized, it released its grip on the raft, but remained intent. It came at the raft from another direction, moving under the raft, its back striking against the underside of the craft, rocking it. Drevan and Running Bear continued to paddle fiercely, doing their best to keep the paddles out of the creature's jaws. Slowly, almost too slowly, the bank neared.
Without warning, the now-wounded crocodilian's head exploded out of the water, forcing the raft away from the bank, crushing its way through the soft wood. Before others could react, Drevan brought his makeshift paddle down against the beast's head, shattering the end into a thousand shards, then driving the splintered end into its remaining eye. Blinded and wounded, the crocodilian tightened its grip on the soft wood.
Eletto crawled over its snout, ramming his blade into the back of its neck, hoping to achieve a lethal wound. His aim was poor; though the blade sunk deeply into the creature's skull, the wound was far from rapidly fatal, and the crocodilian released its grip, tossing its head backwards, sending Eletto flying toward the shore before it grabbed the raft again. The four beings on the raft watched in horror as his flight arced toward the water, large shadows from the deep congregating where it appeared he would land.
Just before the physician should have hit the water, his trajectory changed, moving straight up. Almost simultaneously, a searing beam of phaser energy streaked from above, hitting the creature clamped on the raft in the back of its head. All three looked up to see the shuttle, with Reichard hanging out the door, phaser in hand, as the ship's tractors gently lifted the raft and placed it ashore. Eletto and the raft had hardly touched down before the shuttle landed and its crew began spilling out.
Uhura took control of the situation immediately. "Two casualties: Pinili has fractured legs; Eletto has an out of control infection of his left arm. Let's get everyone on board and back to the ship as fast as possible." As she spoke, she started freeing Pinili from the travois, gesturing to Running Bear to help the physician onto the shuttle. "And good shooting, Ken. That oversized crocodile had one bad attitude."
"All part of the service, Captain." Reichard's light-hearted tone belied his serious attitude; he, Tucker and Marsden had formed a defensive perimeter and were keeping an eye on the environment. "We aim to please."
Ignoring the play on words, Uhura and Drevan lifted Pinili into the shuttle, taking seats when they had settled him into place. Drevan looked over at Eletto. "Hey, pinkie, how're you feeling?"
"Tolerable. I'm just going to be glad to get to the ship." He lay back in the shuttle's seat. "Really glad."
"Stares-at-a-Star, I return your knife." Running Bear extended the knife, hilt toward his friend. "I got it out just before the phaser vaporized the creature."
"Thanks, Running Bear." Eletto took the knife, gently wiping it against one trouser leg. "Glad I didn't have to talk you into making me another one."
"Everyone strapped in?" Indri was at the shuttle's helm, preparing to lift off. He received a chorus of variations of "yes" from all aboard. Hearing that, Indri ran his hands across the controls; the shuttle lifted off swiftly, climbing almost vertically. There was no doubt that the chief engineer meant business. "Joe, raise the research base and let Makarit know we've got his brother safe and more or less sound. I'm assuming that he'll want to meet us on the Hyperion." The shuttle hit the ionization layer, shaking as it ploughed through, then going back to smooth sailing. "And be sure Sickbay's got a team there on the shuttle deck, will you?"
"I'm on it, Commander." He looked up. "They'll be ready and waiting."
The remainder of the short flight was made with all involved resting as best they could.
Once the shuttle was in the ship, Marsden and
Tucker carried Pinili out, Reichard helping Eletto. M'Benga was at Pinili's side almost
before the man was on the deck. "Let's get the litter over here,
Mariefractures, both legs. A little on the old side, but nothing we can't fix easily
Hardav knelt next to Eletto. "Hey, Giac. What's going on, here?"
"Deep wound, left arm, inflicted by the claw of a dinosaur that supposedly is a bit of a carrion eater; last scan I looked at, the primary infecting agent was a bacterium with a heavy glycolipid cell wall. None of the stuff I had would touch it." Eletto let Reichard lower him to the deck. "It's a mixed bag in there, but the neokef and the dendromycin have been controlling the other microbes adequately."
"If you call that mess adequate control, Giac, you need your brain re-treaded." Hardav shook his head. "Time for the big guns, I suppose."
"Onodrimane for the glycolipid envelope, I suppose, and let the neokef do its thing?" Eletto relaxed slightly as the PA's hypospray hissed.
"Onodrimane, yesbut given the mess, I'm going to go with nantasaralene." The hypospray hissed again.
"So you think you can salvage my arm?"
Davids looked down, mischief graven deeply on his face. "The arm, I'm sure we can salvage. The rest of you may beyond salvage." He held his nose in mock misery. "When did you last shower, boy?"
"It rained on me yesterday, Hardav. Does that count?" The physician made an attempt at a grin, but the pain medication his colleague had given him left him too drowsy.
"No. Looks like Marie and I get to clean you up again, you old icicle."
"'Sokay, Hardav. I can shower later. Need to sleep."
Uhura looked at Running Bear and Drevan. "Let's get out of here before Indri tries to hose us off, gentlebeings." She lead the charge to the turbolift.
Drevan looked up from the science console. "Captain, I've just gone over the scans of the large carnivorous sauropod we met down there. Judging from what I can see of the brain that beast has, I'm willing to bet that it has rudimentary language skills. If we'd had a universal translator, we might have been able to talk to it."
Uhura turned to face Science One. "Odds on, we wouldn't have liked what it said. It'd have probably asked us how tasty we are."
"More likely, Captain," T'Soral offered, "they would have asked us to go away and leave them alone."
The Bantu nodded, pensively. "You're probably right, T'Soral. If I understand what Drevan's saying, they're probably in their equivalent of proto-Stone Age culture. It'll be ten to twenty thousand years before they have space flight, I suppose."
"A pity." The Andorian's antennae drooped slightly. "They'd be marvelous for negotiations with the Klingons."
One of Uhura's eyebrows raised slightly. "How do you figure that, Drevan?"
"Look at it this way: how much argument are you going to give a five meter tall carnivore that looks like it thinks you'd make a nice snack?"
The captain giggled. "Point made!"
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