Two days later, after fruitlessly prowling up and down the streams, the water level dropped enough in the shallow section to cross. Then south . . . to a stark black rock coast to dip up buckets of salt water and pour through the filter.
Then back to her ford, and another three days wait until the gate opened.
A blissful three days at the Director's mansion talking to other people. Including her old friend Xiat, who admitting to agreeing with Rael's assessment of her twins as "adorable little messes."
"Thank the One they grow up!"
Then she loaded up the ute and did it again.
At least the weather was nice. Satellite download, soil and plant samples. Ick! Small traps for small reptiles and mammals, a net for insects. Pictures of Natives, peeking out of tree cover, but keeping their distance. Pictures of deer, odd looking big headed things that more-or-less matched pictures of North American Bison, long extinct on the One World, and birds.
It was nice to head back. No temptation this time to leap out of the ute and kiss the pavement.
Next up, roughly the same thing, this time with Neanderthals.
"Soon as bright light, run up close and watch."
Ghost ducked, taking most of the strength of the blow away. But he staggered anyway. If he didn't look like he been hit . . . he'd definitely get hit.
Headman Umbri glared. "You watch for last gar. Scream."
Ghost nodded, head down. It hurts me too! I hear from people what they feel.
Maybe the Evil will be different.
The Evil had built this big house, but no one lived here. Except once a year, the big door would open suddenly, their gars moving out with no one to push or pull them.
Over the years, they'd made small holes in the walls and spied on the Evil. The Evil appeared in a light as bright as lightening . . . and a week later they always vanished like a flash of lightening.
The hunters had chased away the fems who were hoping for shiny knives for their dowries. Which they usually got, before the Evil went to the village looking for unwilling fems.
But this time the Evil would not be allowed to hurt anyone.
This time, I will scream them.
They just had to lay in wait. The Evil would come soon.
The hunters settled down at the peepholes.
Ghost curled up and slept. When several of the men withdrew a bit and pulled food out of their sacks, he managed to snitch a few morsels, and only got cuffed once. When Umbri broke for lunch, he tossed Ghost a rabbit thigh bone with some meat on it.
He looked at the woods.
There could be nuts or berries.
Umbri glared. "Stay here."
Ghost stayed. If I'm useful, maybe I can stay with them after this.
A low whistle from Lat.
Ghost ran to the big door.
The hunters all started backing away from the building, going to ground far enough away that he wouldn't hurt them, close enough to the door to charge in after Ghost screamed them. Umbri had explained it all.
The big door started rising upward magically.
Ghost crouched and peeked around the corner. Just a single gar this year, the sun-bright lights behind it dimmed quickly and he ducked under the door.
Ran up beside the gar and screamed. Loud, and more than loud, a horrible whip of mental pain, shrieking, spinning, outward.
An answering scream, muffled inside the vehicle and a wave of pain engulfed him. He rolled on the floor, covering his ears, but unable to shut out the mental pain of the single person inside the gar.
The door of the gar opened and the Evil fell out, hands to head, on the floor and cursing.
The hunters pounced.
Ghost took his hands away and crawled to the wall.
Sobbing, tears running down his face. He used the wall to climb to his feet, took aim at the door and tried to run.
Marruc shoved him back. "Stay . . . need to do it again."
His ears weren't working right, filled with noise.
He collapsed into the corner and watched through slitted eyes as the Evil tried to fight. But they had ropes ready and had his arms and legs bound . . . her? A fem Evil?
Ghost swiped tears from his face and gawped.
The hunters laughed and kick the ugly fem a couple of times, then turned to the gar. They pulled things out, tore apart packages . . .
"Where are the knives?" Brutti shook a box, dumped a clanging mess on the floor and threw the box away.
"It's all colder than winter." Ausone sniffed, then bit at something. Spat it out.
Then the gar lurched into motion.
Whoops and the hunters grabbed a few things from the ground and galloped after it.
Ausone pause in the door and looked back at the Evil. He grinned and headed for her, pulling up his tunic, as he knelt beside her. The Evil curled up in a ball, and straightened. Bound feet hit Ausone square in the chest and knocked him backwards.
The Evil rolled over to the wall, sat and leaned, shoved to stand up.
Ausone rushed her . . . and she bounced out of the way . . . and bounced back to ram Ausone into the wall.
Pain spiked through Ghost's head, and he curled up in a ball. Peeked to see the fem bouncing around, perfectly balanced, ramming Ausone back into the wall.
Ausone grabbed her, she backed into him, chin down, snapped her head back . . .
Ghost grabbed his nose, vision blurred with pain, but his nose was just fine.
The woman was on the floor, and rolled away again. Curling up and dragging the rope tying her hands together behind her back, down and scrapping over her butt.
And getting her legs through, kicking out and hitting Ausone's shins, knocking him down on top of her.
Ghosts whimpered at the pain in his shins, the spasm of pain as if he were the one under the falling man . . . His hands flew to his throat . . . he couldn't breath!