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matapam
29 August 2015 @ 07:20 am

"Yeah . . . but you're stuck here, baring an emergency."

"This is an emergency." Ogly piled up pillows and leaned back, as close to sitting as the splint would allow.

Ebsa bit his lip . . . and stepped over to the fab and punched in the code for red wine. Stood where Ogly couldn't see what he was doing. He topped off his tube of joy juice, and dripped a bit back into the glass. "Since you're off duty. Not that you're going to get much of a buzz off a glass of wine . . ."

Ogly sighed. "How the hell do you get a fab to make wine? I swear, you are the oddest damned Teamer, ever." He took the glass and sniffed dubiously at it.

"How the hell can this knowledge not be part of the unofficial culture of Teamers?" Ebsa grinned. "I also know the code for really bad beer. Remind me to write them down for you."

"Whoo! This is good stuff!"

"Probably all the feel good pain killer spells Paer put on you. Don't try dancing around the room. It's actually barely mediocre, as wine goes."

"Hey. Well in that case she ought to bottle up and sell those spells."

"I'll tell her you recommended that." Ebsa jumped down and stepped over to the trailer

It was full of grumbly scientists who wanted out. "You've killed them all. Why didn't we have that powder?"

"Because no one knew they swarmed like this?"

Paer looked around from their comm station. "I sent Ogly's scan to Dr. Atly, he was duly impressed and said there was no rush to bring him back. Wxxo was there and said since there were so many more bugs here, you and I staying for a bit was a good idea."

"Good." Ebsa caught Yeahza's eye. "Shall we clear a space where we can work on the tires?"

"Good plan." He fairly leapt out of the trailer.

"Do you know how to do a push?" At his shaken head, Ebsa demonstrated. "It's just a small rectangular shield, like a bulldozer blade. You just push it ahead of you, barely off the ground." They shoved the dead insects out of the area between the trailer and crawler, and the ute. Swatted flying roaches that attacked them. Then rolled out the wheels and got to work.

They had both vehicles back in working order before the sun was high enough to drive the remaining insect into cover.

Paer marched out with a glass holding the dregs of wine. "Honestly, Ebsa, giving wine to an injured man! Now take this and put glyphs on all the tires and the whole ute."

Ebsa opened his mouth to say something about Ogly not being drugged . . . shut it and got to work. His fingers tingled a little, and Paer looked really, really, good and maybe they could evict Ogly . . . Did she notice that this wasn't just any wine? Or did she think I was smart enough to only use an illegal substance in life-or-death situations?

He used the last smears of the wine on the trailer's new tires, and rinsed the glass out.

"So, the ute can carry eight if you're feeling really, really, friendly?" Ebsa eyed the group. "Perhaps some of us ought to stay . . . "

A babble of indignant refusals cut him off.

"Right. Well, can the crawler get to the site? No? Well, then . . . "

With the back open and Ebsa, Paer, and Vee dangling feet over, it worked well enough.

Ogly was happy to stay and watch the camp. He appeared drunk. And happy.

"It was only one glass! Honest!" Ebsa winced away from Paer glare. Right, I remember feeling amazing after just one drink . . . well, there were a few more sips, here and there. I wonder what the alcohol content is, or if there's something else at work?

He braced himself as Yeahza swerved around heaps of bricks and stones, barely cleared ancient roads, eroded and collapsed here and there. Pipes? Or just washed out naturally? Sink holes?

They rarely exceeded a walking pace, but all the scuttling in the foliage was scuttling away, not toward them.

Ebsa rocked as the ute stopped abruptly.

"Look at the size of that thing!" Yeahza sounded appalled.

Ebsa craned his neck but couldn't see past the others heads. Something greenish . . .

"Bufo Alvarius!" Professor Coffee yelped.

They flinched and ducked as one. A shadow overhead . . . the frog touched down, turned enough to cock an eye at them, turned more, mouth gaping . . .

Ebsa threw up the rifle and started shooting. Vee hit it with the shotgun, Paer's 10mm joined in . . .

The frog collapsed.

"Yeahza, drive on. Please." Ebsa tried to scrape up some humor . . . "Unless anyone wants frog legs for dinner? They're fresh."

The ute jolted forward.

"Picky eaters."

Paer elbowed him. "Behave."

Vee leaned around her to eye Ebsa. "He was kidding, right?"

"Probably. But don't count on it. He loves to cook, and I have witnesses him eating some really gross things."

"Prissy."

Harder elbow.

Ebsa grinned suddenly. "You do realize that we're trapped in a Grade B Science Fiction Flick, don't you?"

That got a few snickers.

"Yeah, saw that one. I think they did three sequels before they ran out of absurdities. And they never did learn a thing about special effects." Yeahza slowed and turned. "That's where we're going, dead ahead."

A dome of rubble, almost a small hill. A building collapsed in on itself. Half a kilometer of rough terrain between them and the dome.

Ebsa eyed it. "It looks almost like it fell in large slabs, and could have free space underneath. And you noticed the radio static burst while you were tracking down a weak magnetic pulse?"

"Yep." The professor climbed out and stared at the dome.

"Right. First we're going to have a very good look at what we're dealing with. Especially we're going to see what is supporting what. We can remove a lot of the loose rubble, and see where the support looks reliable, and then remove rubble from underneath." Ebsa paced up to the building. "The foundation looks intact on this side."

"That going to take too much time."

"Collapsing the overburden into whatever space is in there and crushing that possible working machine would be very unfortunate for your career." Ebsa eyed the old man. "Not to mention the career of the poor fellow underneath it all."

Reluctant nods.

Professor Coffee scowled. "Yes, well, we shouldn't have sent Ogly in so quickly. But we thought, just a quick look . . ."

"Right. Yeahza, you and Vee go that way around, with half the archeologists, Paer and I'll go this way with the other half."

Ebsa and Paer each had a shotgun slung across their backs, and the rifles in hand. Yeahza, roughly the same. Vee had only the shot gun . . . and lots of shells. He took one of the sacks full of bug bombs, Ebsa carried the other.

He studied the ruins carefully, how material had fallen, the glimpses of long slabs that could roof over spaces below, areas with lots of big roaches boiling out . . . He threw bug bombs onto the rubble pile, aiming for the crack the majority seemed to be calling home.

"Where are they all coming from?" Paer raised her gun, but the roaches were dying fast.

"There must be space, under the rubble. One! I really hope we don't need to go in through a big roach nest." Dr. Rich tried to peer into the crack from a safe distance.

"Yeah." Ebsa eyed the crack, jagged, twenty centimeters wide. enough rubble underneath that they could probably clear out space to get under the slab . . . Good thing I don't have claustrophobia. They walked on, noting possible entry points, and met the other group eyeing an almost vertical gap between two slabs.

Yrahza looked over at them. "This is where we went in. The earthquake . . . we ran for it, everyone got out safe, then that damned rock rolled down from the top, bounced off the edge up there and hit Ogly's leg.

Professor Coffee nodded. "We had to pry it off him." His eyes drifted back to the gap. "We couldn't find a way deeper in. We were going to clear the rubble, see if we could find a way to go further down."

Ebsa pulled power, and concentrated a small ball of light. Visible spectrum, this time. He tossed it in the gap, and the scientists all maneuvered to where they could see.

"It turns to the left and drops down . . . " Dr, Ajbo edged forward.

"Don't even think about it, Beau!" Coffee shifted uncomfortably. "I ought to be the one to take the risk."

Ebsa snorted. "Nope. This is my kind of thing." 

 
 
matapam
28 August 2015 @ 09:06 am
 

"Oh, good idea." He staggered back around the corner toward the door.

Ebsa finished the trailer, and feeling a bit puny, headed for the crawler and dinner, himself.

He ate a sandwich while walking the rounds of the camp, familiarizing himself with the grounds. Silly. This isn't a war. It's just bugs. And maybe they're done swarming.

They swarmed.

Ebsa took a single look at the cloud of flying bugs silhouetted against the sunset and ordered everyone into trailer or crawler.

"That's not something we can shoot our way out of. If they subside in the morning, we'll check out your site. If they don't, we'll clear them back enough to work on the tires, then get out of here."

Beau looked over with a sneer. "Assuming you still have tires on your crawler in the morning."

"Indeed." Ebsa looked around. "Paer, do you need Ogly in the crawler so you can keep an eye on him? Vee? The crows nest would make a good vantage for skeet shooting. Why don't you come with us, too."

Paer nodded her approval. "Good idea. Professor Olle? If you think you might need further pain suppression tonight . . . "

Professor Coffee nodded. "That'll give us a bit more elbow room here, as well."

Ebsa broke out the stretcher and he and Vee toted Ogly across to the crawler. Paer held a physical shield around the path, but no bugs tried to eat them. Ebsa helped shift Ogly into a bunk and took a look out the window. The bugs were staying half a meter away from the crawler.

"Excellent." He popped up to the driving deck and turned on the comm. "Take a look out your windows. Are the roaches keeping their distance?"

A long silence. Then Ug's voice. "Yeah. Man, I'm going to use the hell out of those glyphs of yours tomorrow!"

"Right. Well, I'll leave the comm open all night. If there's a problem, yell."

Ebsa silently hoped that wouldn't be necessary. Because I have no authority, here. They've followed a few orders . . . but if they start questioning them . . . well, I'm the bloody camp cook. I think Wxxo would back me up if I said we need to leave . . .

But just what was that "huge burst of static" anyway? Old equipment wouldn't have a power source . . . and our equipment . . . It must have lasted long enough to have been detected from two places. So either the trailer and ute both picked it up, or they were out in the ute and it lasted long enough for them to move and get a second reading.

Note to self: See what instruments they have, and which of them had this "static" on them.

He looked over his shoulder. Vee was eyeing the upper bunks, and turning away. He caught Ebsa's glance and climbed up to the driving deck. "There wasn't much to do all day except sleep." He looked apologetic. "I didn't even wake up in time to get into the betting pool for which switchback you'd get stuck on."

Ebsa snickered. "I'm really glad we didn't have to roll those tires down the hill and through the ruins." He eyed the young man. Grad student? Can't be more than a year or two younger than me. "This static burst they detected? What was it like? Radio frequency?"

"Umm, yeah, the burst was radio . . . but we were out trying to triangulate on a really weak magnetic anomaly that was . . . it had a pattern to it. A magnetic pulse in a simple pattern. But weak. It reminded me of the early dimensional beacons. I thought it might be from an old exploration team. Or, worst case, Earth, predating our discovery."

Ebsa pursed his lips. "I doubt an old one could possibly still be working, and Earth's beacons are complex . . . So maybe another world? Just starting out?"

Vee's eyes gleamed in the light from the instruments. "And that would be really interesting too."

Ebsa leaned back, feeling the grin stretching across his face. "Indeed. So . . . the bugs are going to have to be really bad tomorrow, to keep us from checking the site out. Under ground or under the rubble?"

"Bit of both. The building mostly collapsed into itself. If it hadn't been for the earthquake It would have been safe enough."

"Well, if you're going to stay up, I'm going to sleep. My day started really early. When you hit the rack, wake me."

"Gottcha, Boss."

"Three Hay Emm . . . Or is that oh three hundred for you proper Directorate guys?"

Ebsa groaned. "It's usually known as 'Too Damned Early,' just speaking from experience. Thanks Vee. I needed that." He rolled over and peeked though the blinds . . . no bugs between them and the trailer.

"A few have flown down and then sort of . . . mushed. They're keeping their distance, all around us."

Ebsa rolled out of his bunk and peered out the opposite side. The ground heaved and moved, right up to half a meter from his spells. "Excellent. Now if they'll all just go away in the mornings, I'll be a happy man."

By the time he got out of the shower and dressed, Vee was snoring in the bunk above Ogly and Ebsa put on a pot of coffee, and started trying to convince the fab to make a decent breakfast. Periodically checking the bugs wasn't helping his appetite, but the bugs thinned out as the sky brightened.

He looked up chemical formulas for bug killers that were fairly harmless to humans and set the fab to producing a whole bunch of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane powder. In fragile paper bags.

Paer woke, and checked her slumbering patients. Kissed his cheek and headed for the bathroom.

He set all the food well aside and loaded up for the War of the Bugs.

"I'm almost afraid to ask."

"Insecticide. Bug bombs. I'm going to go up to the top and start tossing them."

He sent the anti-chitin spells ahead of himself, and cracked the hatch . . . nothing on top of it. He lowered it all the way and climbed up. His spells had kept the top fairly free of the nasties, just a few drippy remains here and there. He looked across at the trailer. The roof was crawling with bugs.

"All right. Target acquired." He reached for the first paper sack . . . paused and pulled up a physical shield, a filter shield across his face . . . "Right."

He threw the first bag. It hit the roof, split, bounced off the far side of the trailer, spilled white powder as it disappeared. "Well . . . " He threw the next one in a high arc. It splatted on impact, but the area covered with powder was not impressive. He checked the wind, lofted another and hit it with a slice spell as it started to fall. A cloud of fine powder fell through the air, covering half the trailer and drifting beyond.

"Did you just slice that, like, from five meters away?"

"Morning, Vee. Yep, but that's my limit." Ebsa eyed him. "So . . . how good are you with that shotgun?"

Big feral grin. "Let me load some bird shot and I'll show you."

"Deal . . . umm, tell the guys in the trailer that we're going to be doing some shooting and to not be alarmed."

"Spoilsport." Vee ducked down while Ebsa eyed the bugs on the trailer. Much more spastic squirming. A few belly up. Excellent. Now we just need to cover a large enough area to work on the tires.

The trick to bug bomb skeet was a strong throwing arm, and getting out of the way. Vee never missed a single bomb, and they coated the entire camp with powdered insecticide.

Then Paer stepped over to the trailer to check her patients. Vee followed her, shotgun loaded. Professor Olle followed, muttering something about planning the day's activities.

Ebsa lagged a bit, glancing at Ogly.

"Look . . . isn't there some way to speed this all up? I hate being helpless."

 
 
matapam
27 August 2015 @ 05:02 am
 

" . . . be an ass Ogly." Paer looked around as Ebsa stepped into the very crowded trailer. "Oh good. Ebsa, grab his foot. The idiot has made things worse, fighting off cockroaches a few hours ago."

She had her hands on Ogly's right thigh, staring down at the wrap around it.

Can she really see the bones and stuff?

"Good. Now pull gently. More . . . a bit further, it's not too compacted, but I need the extra room to get the pieces into place . . . " She fell silent.

Ebsa tried to keep still, to not change the tension on the leg.

Ogly was sweating. "Ebsa, you got any idea what she's doing?"

"Telekineseis to get the bones into the right place. Then she's got a calcium crystallization spell that'll hold it in place while it heals. Beats the hell out of surgery. Then she'll look over the soft tissue. Physical repair, where needed, then she'll apply the usual healing and anti inflammatory spells. She's the best."

"Oooo. Got lucky did you?"

Ebsa glared . . . failed. Tried for lofty. "I prefer to think of it as fate. Two souls, meant for each other."

A snort from Paer. "If I thought you were serious, I'd never kiss you again." She straightened. "Right, the bone's all stuck together, but it's fragile. I'm going to put it in the splint, and then we'll . . . " she looked around the trailer.

It must have been cramped before they'd added eight wheels. It was twelve meters long, and no driving deck, of course. The trailers were shoved through the gates, with nothing but momentum and a small steering wheel to get them out of the way. But even though it had side modules that could be pulled out, Ebsa knew what eight men in a small area felt like. Add the wheels off both ute and trailer, and man eating bugs roaming outside . . . Just thinking about it was enough to induce claustrophobia and cabin fever.

Ebsa sighed. "We'd better move you to the crawler and take you home."

Ogly was shaking his head. "Can't. The bugs have been bad. I think the coast had a milder winter, and wetter. I think the bugs are swarming, all of them. Right now."



Chapter Six

"We can't leave these guys with a single shooter. Yeahza's good, but there's only one of him."

Ebsa bit his lip. "Right. Well. In that case I'll see about reinforcing some spells around the camp. In the morning, we'll get the new tires on the wheels, and we can all leave. Return midsummer when the bugs have all . . . gotten back to their normal behavior."

"If they do." The older man sounded exasperated. "There was a huge burst of static, electromagnetics of some sort. We got a rough fix. Do you have any idea how incredible finding working electronics would be?"

Ebsa eyed him, looked at the predatory, sharp glances from the other scientists. Oh. No. "Why . . . I suspect it would make you reputations in the field. Papers published. Talks at the big conferences. One save me, you don't care how dangerous it is, do you?" Stubborn faces all around.

Professor Coffee nodded. "We're not leaving until we find it."

"Right. How far away was this rough fix?"

"Two kilometers. We walked around the surface. It's got to be underground." A second scientist glanced guiltily at Ogly.

Ogly snorted. "It was a bad time for an earthquake. But I'm glad I wasn't any deeper underground."

Ebsa contemplated the group. Looks like two Professors, a couple of Post Docs, and a pair of grad students to do the grunt work. And two guards.

"Right. We'll see what the roaches do tonight. If it looks safe, we'll take a look at your site. But if the bugs are bad, we are very definitely out of here tomorrow afternoon." He cleared his throat. "Umm, I'm Ebsa, this is Paer. Ogly we know . . . "

"Professor Coffee." The older man shrugged. "They call me that because I prefer tea. Ocfe Withione Azteca if you want to be formal. This is Professor Olle Withone Tunis, Dr. Ajbo Withione Black Point, Beau, here in the field. Dr. Uflu Withione Al Cairo—call him Rich. And the Graduate students, Ugg and Lovey are gaining valuable field experience this season. Probably more valuable that they'd expected."

Lovey rolled his eyes. "Wbvy. With a double eu. Please call me Vee. And Ugg is Ugko."

"Pleased and all that." Ebsa eyed them. "Do any of you hunt? Have any weapons proficiencies?"

Vee shrugged. "I shoot skeet."

Silence and shaken heads from the rest. A disapproving glance from Professor Coffee.

"Good. I'll get you a shotgun."

Disapproval slid into outrage . . . and faded with a glance out the window.

"Ebsa, why don't you move the crawler around so the doors are fairly close. It'll minimize our exposure if we have to get from one vehicle to the other." Paer turned back to the civilians. "Now, someone mentioned roach bites. Any bad enough to need treatment? They may not be poisonous, but that doesn't mean they aren't dangerous."

There was a general shuffling forward of all six Archeologists.

Ebsa boggled. "All of you got bitten? Must have been a real adrenaline rush, for a while there!"

Coffee nodded. "I am really glad it happened in the daylight. At night? Honestly, I wonder if we wouldn't have been eaten alive."

Ebsa stepped outside, looking around. Vee followed him.

"We can just, like, close up and wait them out, right? I mean, if Rich hadn't insisted on going outside this morning, and if everyone hadn't been sick and tired of each other's company and stressed over Ogly's broken leg . . . No one would have been attacked. And Ogly wouldn't have had to crawl out and saved our asses." Vee grimaced. "Wish I'd had a shotgun then."

Ebsa tapped the 12mm.

"I've not used a rifle much."

"All it takes is practice. Well, a gun, ammo, rifle range, instructor . . . "

Vee grinned and watched him open the gun safe. "No lock . . . whoa, an elcino twelve gauge . . . "

Ebsa grinned and handed over shells. "Loaded for deer . . . how big, in numbers, is a giant cockroach, anyway."

Vee looked up from the gun he was caressing. "Oh, there were at least five species, last night. The little ones were about twenty centimeters, the big ones were about a meter. I can't believe they can fly. Well, the biggest sort of hop with wing assistance, but a fence can't keep them out."

Ebsa eyed him, then dug out all the twelve gauge shells he had. "So Roach skeet. But none-the-less, I think I'll try to lay some spells around, and keep you from having too much fun."

He fabbed up more wine and got to work.

Everyone wandered out to watch him. Well, except Ogly. The scientists were torn between sneering at the primitive glyphs . . . and fascinated by them. Several of them copied them, took notes about what each was supposed to do . . . Anti-chitin, magic bug repellant, and a physical shield. He wound up explaining about putting power into the spells so they'd linger for a couple of days. "We used to make a fine screened dome over our camps to keep the bugs out, but bugs the size I've heard described would fly right through anything but a hard held full on physical shield. Unless you guys want to do some compass work . . . " He grinned as they recoiled. "So we'll most likely just close up for the night, and worry about the bugs in the morning, when we get to work on the tires."

Yeahza came and blinked at him.

"Yeahza, when was the last time you slept?"

"Slept . . . "

"That long, eh? Go eat something. Go to bed. I'll keep watch."

 
 
matapam
26 August 2015 @ 12:55 am
 

"Right." He eyed the ruins that stretched to the coast. There was greenery everywhere. Large trees. The buildings below looked as if they'd suffered less from the initial disaster and more from time, weather and attack by plants. "So, was the extreme damage back there due to proximity to whatever, or a local effect?"

"I think, being wetter, it may have just burned less."

Ebsa popped his last bite into his mouth and headed down the top hatch. "Ra'd says the proper thing to say in these situations is . . . "

"Hold my beer and watch this." Paer snorted. "I remember the look on Ajha's face the first time you said that. How is it that the stiffest prick in the directorate has all these pithy sayings?"

"It's his bad upbringing, hanging around all those old twenty second century 'Americans.' Otherwise known as the New Prophets. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get that man drunk enough to start reminiscing?"

Paer eyed him. "I didn't think he drank at all, and how drunk were you?"

"He had a bad case of missing Nighthawk. I took advantage of his mood, and stayed as sober as possible . . . just in case he was a mean drunk."

Paer gave him a baleful stare, and strapped into the navigators chair. "Why are you grinning?"

"I always wondered why you and Ra'd never hit it off. I mean, he was a bit stiff when I met him, but he's . . . "

"Still a stiff prick. And still arrogant and defensive. Ebsa . . . you think he's bad now? You should have seen him when he was fifteen. Straight off the battlefield and into this sissy civ full of people who thought he must be a colonial, and probably an upcomer, and looked down on the son of Nicholas and grandson of Emre and Elif. And he wasn't allowed to beat them up."

Ebsa paused . . . "So, he's not . . . umm . . ."

"Mixed with the Multitude? Nope, the jerk is one hundred percent New Prophet. Born and raised, until his mother died, then, well, you've met Umaya. She took over trying to raise him when her sister-wife died. Ra'd was thirteen, it didn't set well, and he was stuck into the Warrior trainees as early as possible. He said he'd scout for them. Dress up like a local boy and eavesdrop on the Chinese, or give them bad directions and disinformation. Then he got stuck in a suburban high school and treated like a poorly educated child."

"Ouch."

"Yeah. Urfa said he really didn't want to see a three-quarters trained Warrior turn into a juvenile delinquent. So he switched to an online school, with Rael coaching him at the same time she was gigging me to study . . . we got pretty competitive . . . "

"Oh kay, as Ra'd says. I hate to tell you this, but guys don't really need to know all that much about their friends' lives."

"Men! Well, with the Olympics and all, I let a lot of stuff slide, so I hated him for beating me."

"Oh, you were pulling down straight A's as a senior."

"Yeah . . . three quarters of the way through college and I finally found something I wanted badly enough to really work hard at it." Paer sighed. "So I wind up mopping the floor and carrying anti-spider-venom."

Ebsa grinned. "Just wait till you wind up assigned with a doctor who's seen you in action. Then you'll start getting some respect." He shifted all wheels forward and turned onto the bulldozed path downward.

It was steep. He switched all the motors to charging and let them do half the work of controlling their speed. The hairpin turn was tight. The next stretch was nearly level, the turn not bad . . . then a very steep decline to an impossible curve.

"Time to walk?" Paer looked out the side window and down.

"Not yet, but I need to check out this corner on foot before I get stuck. Maybe move a few rocks."

He paced out the width of the road at the curve, eyed the crimp in the middle. A half meter drop, from upper leg to lower, that he'd have to get the back end around. But nearly twelve meters from there to the bulldozed rubble pile at the head of the curve

"Ebsa, the crawler won't fit." Paer had paced across the turn. "Eight meters! How did they get the trailer around this corner?"

Ebsa tried to look serious, gave up and snickered. "Let me show you this neat little trick." She looked apprehensive, but followed him back aboard. He switched the motors back to drive and backed up, getting cozy with the cliff to the left. Drove back down, and turned gently across the corner, then hard back to the left, tapping the bulldozed rubble pile with the front bumper, slightly uphill of center. Perfect.

"Umm, Ebsa?"

He checked the mirrors, grinned and put all wheels in reverse. Backed onto the lower leg and kept backing.

Paer peered out the windows and shook her head. "I've got to admit that not turning at the turn would not have occurred to me. How far . . . so we'll go forward at the next turn?"

"I sincerely hope so. Backing up can get tedious."

There were only two more switchbacks he couldn't turn on, so really, it only took an hour to drop down three hundred meters. The sun was getting low as they finally reached flat ground again. The road wound around buildings; some of the lower ones looked almost intact, apart from collapsed roofs and empty windows. The old roads were obstructed by heaps of fallen brick and stone. The bulldozed path was obvious.

The explorers had camped in an open area surrounded by the remains of large buildings.

Ebsa eyed the broad high flight of steps leading to ruins and piles of shattered marble. "Bet that was their capital building, and this was a park." He eased up to the camp. A flimsy wall of corrugated metal sheets surrounded it. A man with a gun stepped out cautiously, sweeping the area for spiders before he swung the gate open and let them in. He knelt and looked at the undercarriage as they rolled past, Then got back up and closed the gate.

"I'll go anti-chitin everything, you go check your patient." They both grabbed weapons as they stepped out.

The guard was checking the Junkyard over. Ebsa joined him, sweeping the spell over and under the whole machine.

"What the hell is that?"

"It destroys chitin, the insects' exoskelton. Then they can't do anything. They die fairly soon, or you can stomp them."

"Huh. Like I'd believe a crazy man like you? I can't believe you got a crawler around those curves." He looked worriedly toward the trailer. "Damned roaches have swarmed the last two nights. Why didn't Dr. Atly come?"

"Paer's better at bones. So . . . want to change some tires . . . " Ebsa frowned from ute to trailer.

"We took the wheels off and put them inside. We'll put on the new tires tomorrow morning, one less night we'll have to defend them from the damned bugs." He jerked a thumb at the trailer. "Go on in, and talk to the boss. Talk him into getting out of here. This isn't just a swarm because they chowed down on some tires. Every kind of cockroach here is starting to swarm."

"Great, what about the spiders?"

"They've started spinning webs and catching roaches. Carrying them down underground to feed their babies when they hatch."

"Oh. Umm . . . how big . . . No, never mind. I don't think I want to know how big the mommy spiders are."

 
 
matapam
25 August 2015 @ 07:44 am
 

"It's my sick masculine sense of humor." He leaned and pulled a damp cloth from his bag. "Would you like to wipe your face?"

"With malice aforethought. Just you wait until we're someplace where professionalism can be safely put aside." She wiped her face, the steering wheel, the instrument panel, her hands . . . his face . . .

"Eww, you've gotten it all sticky." Ebsa snatched it quickly before she could think of somewhere else to put it. "Cheese and crackers while you drive?"

"Are you going to behave?"

"Yes ma'am. In fact I'll even behave nicely."

She glowered at him, but her mouth looking like it was fighting turn up at the corners. She eyed the road ahead and hit the throttle. "Fat. Lazy. Mellow . . . Nope. They're probably running two or three kilometers every morning, with Oak in a carrier on Ra'd's back."

Ebsa sighed. "I have neither run nor exercised all this week. I'm the one who ought to worry about fat and lazy."

"Well, you've always been mellow. So, you know, fat and lazy would be right at home."

He gave her a hurt look, but she had her eyes on the track, and smirk on her face. "Right. I'll start running every morning. Lift weights every afternoon. Katas every other day, alternating with target practice."

"Ata boy! That'll take care of all that spare time you've been complaining about."

"Funny how even at the Directorate School the view of the Action Teams is of violent bullies. How did we lose track of the Teams that are around to protect scientists in the field?"

"Public perception is that those are 'Explorer Teams' and sometimes they are. The teams get used for so many things . . . They specialize, but they also switch around."

"It might be time to lose the name." Ebsa shrugged. "And some of the Teamers are . . . all right. But a whole lot of the Teams are psychologically . . . irredeemable."

Paer sighed. "Yeah. No kidding. I wonder what Ajki is going to do . . . Did you catch the news this morning?"

"No. What did I miss?"

"Disco's stepped into the Granite Peak mess. And rumors are circulating that the President may ditch Ajki and put a hatchet man in to clean up External. Izzo's been mentioned."

Ebsa winced. "One! That's . . . a nasty turn of events. Maybe I should stop complaining about the giant spiders. Poisonous politics are worse by an order of magnitude."

"You've got that right."

Ebsa sighed, and this time he did drift off, waking when Paer slowed.

"Check the map, This is the right distance for the turn to almost directly west. But I'm not seeing any definite turns." Paer scowled as he spread the print out.

Ebsa stuck a finger on the turn. "It looks like a narrower stretch, branching off."

Paer slowed further and eyed the jagged ruins to the right. "I don't see anything that looks drivable, let alone bulldozed. It widens up ahead though."

Ebsa tapped at the panels. "The satellite is below the horizon, so I can't spot us relative to the turn." He squinted at the map. "I think I see your wide spot. Turn right as soon as you can, I think there's a kink north, then west."

"Oh . . . yes. It looks like a fallen bridge over a deep stream bed." She pulled up to the edge and stopped. "I'm going to take a look over." She grabbed a shotgun.

Ebsa followed her out, grabbing the 12 mm. Leaned over and studied the stream crossing.

The construction team had gone for expediency and speed, not proper construction. They'd shoved some large slabs of old concrete into the gulch. The slabs bridged the streambed, leaving enough space between randomly fallen slabs and chunks to probably allow the flow of water. And then gravel was packed on top.

It was still a pretty deep, steep, drop.

Ebsa eyed the lip of the drop. "Wanna bet we high center one side or the other?"

"With my driving skills? Have a little faith, Ebsa." Paer grinned and headed back inside. "Besides, we've got three axles. All I need to do is keep at least four wheels on the ground, right?"

"Right. And gun it at the bottom, so we have the momentum to carry us over a few belly scrapes at the top on the far side." Ebsa strapped in. Subduing a grin. And a desire to be the one driving. Paer's had enough experience to do this, so stop being bossy.

"Gun it at the bottom, eh?" Paer edged the crawler forward. The front wheels lost contact. They ground forward, the front hanging out . . . then the whole crawler tipped. The front wheels touched down as the crawler dived down the slope, picking up speed, the slight curve to the flat part was enough that the nose only scraped a bit before they were on the flat, and Paer floored it.

The nose grazed the upward slope as the front wheels found the ramp and they charged up the slope and didn't actually go airborn at the top, but with three axles, the front lost traction, then crashed down and the crawler bounced away from the stream.

"Holy One! I don't believe I did that!" Paer heaved a deep breath.

Ebsa laughed. "And very well done, and there's the road, such as it is."

It was only another hour to the crest of the low hills. And the steep drop down to the coastal plain.

They stopped for lunch, and a long hard look at the switchback road down the steep west slope.

"Crumb." Paer finished her sandwich. "Am I going to regret saying you could drive the last stretch?"

Ebsa lowered his binocs. "Well, I've never accidentally rolled a crawler. But some of those turns are going to be really tight."

"Well, a bulldozer and a ute pulling a trailer made it down, so we can too, right?"

 
 
matapam
24 August 2015 @ 09:31 am
  I know I'm getting a bit tedious here, A lot of this will get cut, I just write it first, then decide what to keep.


"Sorry, Umm . . . "

"I think it's a great idea. But we'll have to see what shape Ogly's in."

"Umm . . . this isn't the same Ogly we knew at the Uni . . . it is? Well . . . he was one of the more sensible Action Team Trainees."

"Yeah, poor guy. His whole world's falling apart. Action Teams aren't allowed to bully anyone, no spreading the genes of the One around unless the woman initiates and makes clear that she desires a pregnancy. Ajki's facing a revolt . . . and I don't know what he might do. He's shifted an awful lot of the nice guys away from Gate City and the teams. I hadn't quite noticed that until I overheard the guys talking about it."

Ebsa squinted at the building ahead, one of the taller ruins. "I think we turn here. And then the highway—or whatever—ought to be a few hundred meters ahead." He hunched his shoulders. "Yeah, I've sort of been watching the personnel shifts. I'm not sure but that the resorting isn't being done by the Action and Exploration subdirector. Ajki's aware of it, and I expect he'll exploit it . . . I think it's going to get dirty, though. I just hope Ajki survives."

She gave him a startled glance, then frowned at the rubbly road. "I . . . just sort of hoped he might send all the bad sorts off to Dinosaur Worlds or something. Keep them where they can do no harm until they retire. But I was afraid he might have more dire intensions."

Ebsa squirmed. "I'm not very political, and I don't rub elbows with subdirectors. But Iffy is still pissed over what he sees as a demotion, from Acting Director then back to Subdirector. And he wasn't the only one feeling passed over."

"Yeah. Damn, Ajki better watch his back." Paer drove up a low slope and turned. The gravelly ridge ran straight as an arrow to the southwest. "This has to have been train tracks. But some people have been heard to opine that it was a road—and the roaches ate the asphalt pavement."

Ebsa grinned. "Sure. Mind you, the vegetation is a bit thin, but it's got to be more palatable than road tar."

Paer giggled. "It's still the tail end of winter. It rained last week and warmed up. I can see buds on all the plants. I'm really looking forward to seeing the desert bloom—not that the ruins are a proper desert, but that's the impression I get. The people who've been here the longest said the fall foliage was spectacular."

Ebsa eyed the ruins with a more critical eye. "There are a lot of bare bushes. I just sort of figured they were dead, since some of them are green."

"Yeah, the more poisonous ones."

"Figures. So . . . this place was hit by a kill-everything-nice bomb, right? What about the grass . . . No don't tell me, super allergy pollen. Right?"

"Ebsa, you goof. Actually they think . . . well, there aren't any fallout decay products, so no nukes. Itchy thinks maybe a solar flare. Dr. Ybba says a nearby supernova. Dr. Kiop says an unusually active solar cycle combined with a magnetic field reversal. And . . . well they're all running frantically about looking for evidence to base a theory on. There's a layer of carbon, but whether that was part of the catastrophe, or just everything burning because of it, or just uncontrolled burning with no one left to put out fires. But they dated it, so they're pretty sure the fires happened just a hundred and fifty years ago."

"That recently? We were . . . well we were researching dimensional travel, but hadn't ever opened a gate. But this could be an early Earth colony."

"Shh! Sacrilege! The Archeologists want a truly new, undiscovered civilization. Not that they'll fail to acknowledge that, if they find evidence. They joke about 'the war of the hypotheses,' but really, any evidence to the contrary, and the idea gets dropped and kicked under the rug and they act like they never actually proposed anything so absurd."

"Huh. Scientists are so fickle, one single solid disproof, and it's all over for that theory. I need to get out of the kitchen and talk to more people." Ebsa looked around and shook his head. "Wake me up when we get to the interesting part."

He eased his seat back and squirmed around to have an easy view of Paer.

After a long moment she glanced his way. "What are you doing?"

"Indulging myself watching the play of light on your gorgeous face. Ah, there's that narrowing of the eyes, with the humor crinkles, thank the One. Mouth pulling back into a smile, the silky hair swinging forward as you duck your head."

"Ebsa, you are, you are . . . Never mind, keep going."

"The play of light across your long elegant fingers as they almost unconsciously make the minute adjustments necessitated by the rough road. The quiver of the shoulders as you laugh at me."

"Ebsa! You goof. What have you been reading lately? Manuals on how to complement a lady?"

"I was stuck in a meeting last week. Incredibly boring. The lady sitting next to me had this . . . novel running on half her screen while she faked taking an occasional note . . . So it kept catching my eye, and . . . worse thing is I have no idea of the title so I'll never find out what happened."

She sputtered with laughter, wiped tears of mirth from her eyes.

Ebsa grinned and climbed out of the seat. "So, coffee or something cold?"

"Cold. It's getting warm—not that the winter here is really cold, just a couple of freezes and no snow at all—and I'm beginning to think the summer may be brutally hot."

"Good. I'll work on my suntan . . . umm, the bugs don't do anything odd in the summer, do they?"

"Well, the camp just got set up . . . let's see, I think in Shaban, so people were here at the end of last summer. I guess this'll be the first spring."

Ebsa loaded a few essentials into a bag, snagged his comp and climbed back into the navigators seat. "Let me see if any of the early Exploration teams were here in the spring."

"Wow, Imagine how they felt, finding this place. Exploration Team would be a fine deployment . . . Surely they need med techs."

"In case they find something like here? Damn straight. And, yeah. Exploration Teams would be fine. Science Support Teams are my favorite. Although personally I prefer smaller science projects than this one. And . . . don't tell the tykes, but I'd really rather be Action Team than Mess Chief on this sort of assignment."

"Ha! Don't worry about the tykes. I'm telling Ra'd that you want to be on an Action Team."

"Oops. I may be in trouble . . . although after a few months of family life, he may be so mellow . . . Oh Dear One. Do you think he might get fat?"

He'd timed it perfectly. She sprayed soda, snorted it out of her nose, and hit the brakes.

Half coughing, half laughing. "Oh you are dead meat. You did that on purpose!"

 
 
matapam
23 August 2015 @ 10:05 pm

I'm going to maroon these guys for a short while. What is more credible?

A permanent gate with a new mechanism so anyone can close it and release the cones? That, when the rebellion in _Exterior Relations_ touches off someone does close the gate, by Ebko's orders. _Or_ would a powered gate who's scheduled time could simply be cancelled, possibly with sabotage to the gate anchor, work better?

The assumption being that that will take a lot of attention away from Granite Peak at a crucial time for the rebellion. "OMG! FIND THE PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER!!!!!"

_Or_ it could be due to the insect swarms triggering a biological emergency protocol. And of course being reported to Subdirector Ebko, who's too busy to pass it on. Or laughed gleefully and stuck it in file thirteen.

So, the question is: Best means and type of gate?
Deliberate or Bio emergency?

I don't actually have to decide about the malice or motive right now. But I do have to decide about the gate.

 
 
matapam
23 August 2015 @ 09:37 am
 

Dr. Atly hustled up. "I looked at the scan they sent. Straight forward closed fracture, but he shouldn't be moved without a splint." Scowl. "Paer's a Med Tech, I'll send her along with the splint. She's got good pain reducing spells."

Yes!

"Right, so how many tires? And how do I keep these super cockroaches from eating mine?" Ebsa looked around as Ocho joined them.

"Three. I've got them here, so we don't have to wait for them, or go across and collect them ourselves. This is the first time they've eaten tires. I shouldn't be surprised though, they'll eat anything organic."

"Right. Anybody got a map?"

Wxxo pinched his nose. "There goes the cook."

"Ah, I've been here a hair less than a week and you've already gotten spoiled? The tykes are getting better. I'm sure you'll all survive."

"But will we want to?' Iqfo hunched his shoulders. "Let me show you the map while Ocho loads the tires." He led off down the row of office squishies.

Now I know why the whole row is on a long concrete pad. It—hopefully—guarantees that a bunch of hungry spiders won't eat their way through the floor some day.

"We bulldozed out to the . . . well, what we think was once either a highway, or possibly a rail line. It goes southwest around those hills," he pointed west. "Then across some lower hills. We bulldozed again, to get down some steep slopes. The city actually thins out for a bit, then compacts again all along the coast. Then they made me stop, so we didn't do more damage than whatever happened here, happened. And centuries of weather and earthquakes." He turned into one squishy.

It was set up as an office, the old man at the desk looked up and nodded. "I talked to Ogly. He said there was another earthquake, and he almost got out of the way of a minor rockslide. Then the cockroaches all came to the surface, and swarmed them. They're either dead or gone back underground, for now."

"Good. Pull up the map to the coast." Iqfo looked around at Ebsa. "Whenever there's an earthquake, the roaches swarm. Guess they get out so they don't get crushed. Otherwise they mostly only come out at night." He tipped the screen around so Ebsa could see it.

"This part won't be a problem. But this decent to the coast is steep, we bulldozed switchbacks into it. It'll be tight for the crawler. Then once you're down, you'll need to wind around through the ruins to the camp."

Ebsa eyed the route through those ruins. "Worse that'll happen is we have to roll the tires one by one through the ruins. Well, should be less dangerous than the tykes' cooking."

"Ha. Ha. We had two months of fab and vendo crap. It's a wonder we didn't all come down with scurvy or permanent trots."

"Nah. It's all nutritionally balanced. Pity about the psychological effects, though."

"Ha. Ha. Have a nice drive with the pretty girl, you lucky dog."

"Frustrated dog. Field deployments need to stay professional."

That just got him a snicker. "I'd say something like 'If you'd stayed on Action Teams, we'd have cured you of that silly notion' but if Ajha approves of you, you're probably irredeemably nice."

Ebsa accepted a print of the map and headed back to the Junkyard. Giant cockroaches. If my mother ever hears about this . . . Oh, crap . . . Should I have called her about the Warriors thing? Maybe she didn't notice . . .

"Woofie, Rye? I'm taking the crawler off to retrieve a guy with a broken leg. You two are in charge of the kitchen. Subdue your love of fab, and feed these nice people some real food. Lunch and dinner, maybe even breakfast tomorrow. Spaghetti and meatballs works pretty good. Rye?"

"I know, I know. Fry the meatballs." She shook her head. "So much for sleeping in tomorrow."

"Chop up some of that fresh basil and add it to the sauce, and if you've got the time, minicube tomatoes work well, to give it some extra texture."

"Making pasta was pretty fun." Woofie allowed. "Italian salad, garlic bread . . . don't wince! I'll . . . try that weird bread thing. If I have time."

"Start now, don't put garlic in the dough, it'll kill the yeast. After it's baked, slice it and add butter and garlic. Or just serve it fresh with either butter or a pesto sauce." He grinned. "Just think how impressed they're going to be. Shock them."

A ute drove up to the crawler. Ocho hopped out as Ebsa walked over. "Now don't feed these nice new tires to the roaches. Damn things. When they find a bunch of food, they devour it, lay eggs and get bigger. I just hope three tires weren't nutritious enough to trigger it."

Ebsa eyed him, stepped back and eyed the crawler's six tires. "I know some insect repellant spells. I think I'll see about applying them all over everything."

He stepped into the crawler and headed for the fab. Special formula . . . umm 2993-RW3. Rw as in Red Wine. It was considered hideously old fashioned and crude, but he stepped back out and scribbled the hexes in wine on each tire, above each tire on the metal, on the front grill, both sides and above the door . . .

Paer snickered behind him. "Professor Jues would retroactively flunk you, if she saw you using those appalling, superstitous, ignorant, written glyphs. Thank the One Fean's granny taught them to her. They're very handy for long lasting spells."

She had a long blue plastic splint over one shoulder, and her pack over the other. She stepped out of the way of the last tire being rolled up, and followed it inside.

Ebsa looked at his scrawls . . . and added the physical shield and the stability spell. Can't hurt. Right? He threw a casual salute to Ocho and climbed aboard.

Paer was in the driver's seat, so he dogged the door and climbed up the ladder to the hatch. Wrote glyps all down the centerline of the curved roof.

Then he climbed down to sit beside Paer, map in hand.

"In theory, it's a four hour drive. I'll believe it after I've gotten down to the coastal plain. Then we can, depending on what's going on, hand out the tires, load up Ogly and come right back." He looked over at her. "Is there a problem with you using the Comet Fall Medgician methods?"

"No one's said not to, but frankly, Dr. Itchy was the first critical patient since I've been here. What I'm allowed, or not allowed to do . . . hasn't come up. What are you thinking?" She slowed briefly for the gate, then drove off to the left on a very rough track.

"Well, if he was healed, there would be no rush to get back here. The tykes would probably enjoy—and benefit from—the responsibility."

"They had two months of that responsibility."

"With no supervision, apparently. Is the Directorate really that short on experienced chefs?"

"The chef was one of the spider bite fatalities." She glanced at him and away. "He, well, he wasn't much better than the tykes. I hate saying that."

"Oh." Ebsa winced. "Well, they've now been shown how it ought to go, and . . . well if Ogly stayed with the expedition, we'd probably be forced to stop halfway back, when it got to late to drive."

Paer snickered. "I see. Professionalism lasted six days."

 
 
matapam
22 August 2015 @ 06:20 am
 

Chapter Five

The tykes were totally disgusted at the thought of frying donuts.

And ate the results with no protest. Ditto everyone else.

Dr. Itchy survived the night, and a bit to everyone's surprise, so did his right hand. Haad introduced herself, and received a plate of donuts and a thermos of coffee to take back to the aid station.

"Tomorrow, swear to the One, we're making a proper hot breakfast buffet. So you can get back to complaining about the nasty meat. "

Then Ebsa got dragged into the after action analysis.

It was pretty predictable. After six months they'd thought the spider nests inside the compound had all hatched, and shifted their emphasis to watching the perimeter for spiders trying to get in to lay eggs. Especially disturbing was that the teams had had no one near the concentration of people at the mess tent.

"We're very fortunate that only one person was bitten, and he's survived and is recovering." Wxxo nodded toward Ebsa. "Fortunately our mess chief is an experienced teamer, and here to rest after a hairy assignment. And still in the habit of carrying a gun."

A few odd looks from the people who hadn't been there.

"So, Iqgu, looks like you need to start patrolling inside again, and I think I'll—again—poke HQ about a few more people."

A nod. "I've got men walking the inside, and I'll be sure someone's near any grouping of people. Meals will get two." He shrugged. "We're a bit short handed, with the excursion out to the shore."

Wxxo sighed. "Indeed. Ocho, make sure your crews are armed. Dr. Objo? Check all your staff. Any of them with weapons training ought to be packing. Dr. Uhse, I doubt many of your people are experienced, but ask. There were nearly fifty people in the mess tent . . . and only one was armed. I think we've gotten complacent. Time to tighten up a bit."

Ebsa wandered back to his crawler and eyed the guns in the safe. A 9mm pistol for Paer, the small of the back holster would probably not get in the way. The 10mm carbine was stubby enough to . . . stash someplace handy. He turned to the fab. A step above the big commercial kitchen fabs, it was happy to spit out two large brackets, strong magnets on the long flat side. She could hang the carbine on anything metal . . . and maybe she should keep the shotgun in case of small spiders . . . He heard a footstep and turned his head.

Paer looked over his selection and shook her head. Held out the shotgun. "Dr. Atly came back from the meeting and said under no circumstances was anyone to carry weapons in his aid station."

He looked at the holstered 9mm. "If it's not in your hands, is it carrying?"

"Ebsa . . . "

"Oh, all right. But you'd best walk around with that anti-chiton spell ready to hand. Slice too. I don't want to have to explain to Ra'd how I'd been a bad influence."

She stood on tip toe to kiss his cheek. "You are a bad influence. And I am totally beat, and the girl's barracks are full of emotional idiots emoting at each other. May I sleep in your bed?"

"You may. And I shall step outside and remain visible, so as to protect your reputation. Well, and get lunch started."

He slid the pistol under the pillow. "Everything in the rack is either loaded or has a loaded magazine zipped to it. I think I'll tape the carbine under the cold buffet."

"Yes, Nanny."

He gave her a chaste kiss and headed for the kitchen. Lunch . . .

The tykes were looking hopeful and had fabbed up a pile of paper plates.

"So, what are you planning on fixing?" He grinned at their eager expressions. All they needed was someone to show them how it was done.

"The vats are only half grown, but if we use both chicken and beef, not to mention all the veggies in the other vat, we can do nuggets. We'll even fry them."

"Good idea, and maybe a couple of salads? Potato and coleslaw?"

Rye eyed him cautiously. "The fab does a good coleslaw."

"Yep, not that I won't customize it a bit. So let's get started . . . "

No spiders interrupted lunch. This time.

He sat with Ocho and a couple of his crew. "What's this excursion to the shore? Not enough ruins immediately to hand?"

Ocho grinned. "Over the hills, there in the west. Some of the buildings are more intact, a couple of the basements have been goodie bags for the Brainy types. "If it weren't so hard to get to, I think we'd have moved the whole camp."

"Hmm. Sounds like you need to talk to Disco about moving the gate."

"No one wants to spend the money."

"Hmm. Yeah, I can see that."

"But a couple more intact buildings, and they'll do it."

For two days he let the tykes pick the food, and just steered them toward using real food, real spices, and especially real bread.

He gave them the next morning off. "Sleep in. We'll start rotating who does the early breakfasts and how to do easy meals a couple of days a week."

Woofie grinned and looked around the camp. "Wow. Time off in Paradise."

Rye snickered. "Can we save up time, and take a weekend back home? You have no idea how badly I want out of the barracks, here."

"Should be doable . . . Umm. Why is Wxxo rushing off?" Ebsa started drifting off that direction and spotted Iqfo angling in to meet him.

He got close enough to catch Iqfo's exasperated, ". . . everything have to happen at once."

"It's just a broken leg. We'll bring him back and stick him in the docbox." Wxxo looked vexed, not worried.

"Yeah, which would be fine, if only the cockroaches hadn't eaten a couple of tires, while they were fighting to keep them off the people."

"We'll go get him . . . " Wxxo's gaze fell on Ebsa.

Ebsa grinned. Road trip! "Can a crawler get there? I could bring him back a heck of a lot more comfortably than any of those utility vehicles."

 
 
matapam
21 August 2015 @ 05:57 am
 

A woman trotted by, aiming a comp at them.

Ebsa raised his eyebrows.

"Head count. Wxxo doesn't want to find someone's body three days from now." She headed out toward Ocho's work team.

"Makes sense. Now, is there a broom somewhere? Or . . . given the spider gore spashed around, maybe a hose?"

They looked appalled.

"Not by the vendos!"

"Oh, yeah, good point. Well, I'll deal with the edge over there, you two sweep the uncontaminated areas, then I'll hose down the spot over there." Where there's both spider goo and human blood. Gelled . . . toxic?

He looked out at the work crew and headed that way.

Ocho looked around.

"So, spider goo on concrete. Hose it off or burn it then hose it?" Ebsa looked at the whispy smoke from the pit. "Need me to add some combustable garbage?"

"Couldn't burn any worse. I've got a lad fetching more kerosene. The larger they are, the poorer they burn, and these are the biggest yet."

"Don't say yet. I don't want to see anything even larger, and I speak as a man who's been on dinosaur worlds."

Ocho snorted. "Wait till you see the cockroaches. Only good thing you can say about them is that they aren't poisonous. Yes, bring the garbage, yes, burn off the spider goo. Don't burn down the tent."

"Gottcha chief." He walked back to the tent. "Take all garbage out to the pit. Including the empty crates and containers around the back." He walked over and contemplated the drying goo. Collected power, not the usual fire ball, he just wanted heat. All those lessons from Ajha will finally be put to use. Infrared frequencies . . . He dropped the fire ball and mentally compressed it until it was nearly white hot, and the goo charred to a powder. Then he mentally nudged the ball around, following it all around, adding power steadily to keep it hot, then rolling it quickly across to where the spider had bitten the man and then charred everything there.

Back to the kitchen side. He eyed the packed chalky gravel that constituted the ground around the tent. Shrugged and sent the fireball out to the spots that looked like they'd been recently anointed with spider liquids.

One of the work crew stomped over and watched for minute. "The sun will kill the odors. Can that burn the mess in the pit?"

"Well . . . let's find out."

Everyone stood back as he dropped it into the pit and added more power, spread it out and stepped back to watch. The pit glowed. Not much flame, just concentrated heat.

Wxxo walked up and grinned at the chief. "Told you he was handy to have around."

A third man stomped around and glared at Ebsa. "Why aren't you on a Team?"

This must be Action Leader Iqgu. "I've been on both Action and Exploration Teams. But . . . somehow a lot of people don't want that Closey Upcomer on their team, so I keep finding myself the odd man out and doing something else until I'm needed."

"I saw about half of what you did. That was experience."

"Yes. Team Thirteen."

The man tilted his head and studied him a moment. "I see." He turned and walked away.

Wxxo was stiffling a grin. Ocho gave him an inquiring look.

"Thirteen was Ajha's Helaos hunters team."

Blink. "The Philosopher Ajha? I mean, he wasn't yet, but . . . "

"But he spent a year rescuing women who'd been kidnapped by the Helaos."

Ebsa shrugged. "And being the Third Alternate Philosopher hasn't changed him a bit. You wouldn't believe how much we cleaned up, betting on him, when he started ruffling feathers. 'We' being anyone who's worked with him. So, yeah, basically, killing spiders is easy, when you've had to kill men." They didn't seem to need any more help with the fire, so he walked back to the kitchen. Crisis or not, people had to eat.

Rye actually failed to complain when he sent her off for lots of dough number twelve. Woofie eyed the frozen boneless chicken breasts with trepidation, but ran them through the slicer and bagged them to defrost in the fridge. Cheered up when he was sent off for fabbed veggies.

"Whole cream? Are you sure? There's so much fat in it . . . " Rye sighed and took the two jugs. " . . . entire expedition's going to die of heart attacks . . . "

Ebsa grinned and pretended to not hear. Put the dough in the fridge to rest. Demonstrated making a cilantro problano cream sauce. Put them to work slicing the fake veggies, frying the chicken, then the veggies. Then the pasta maker came out. Good fun, lots of noodles made, boiled, dished up with veggies, meat, and sauce. He worked to not notice the diners avoiding the side of the tent the spiders had gotten to, not to mention the two armed Teamers around the tent. He ran out of customers, fed the kids, stuck two servings on paper plates and took them down to the Aid station. Paer looked up and smiled.

Ebsa eyed the docbox . . . a mix of red yellow and green lights. He winced. "Are you allowed to take a meal break, and is there anyone else here?"

"Dr. Atly." She nodded at a closed door. "Is this the incredible dinner Haad popped in to tell me I was missing?"

"It is. I'll leave this one for the Doctor. You going to be here all night?"

"Yes. Poor Itchy—Dr. Ijte, actually—we've no idea yet what permanent damage has been done to his lower arm and hand. He's one of the university archeologists. His wife's also with the project. The doc gave her a tranq and sent her to bed."

"One damn. Umm, can I get another injector? Suddenly I dislike not having one handy."

She pulled open a drawer and handed him two. "Just because you get into so much trouble. In fact take three, on account of the tykes."

They stared at each other for a long moment.

Ebsa hesitated, sighed. "Professional." He walked out into the twilight.