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18 April 2017 @ 09:25 am
Scrambled_ part 5  

Chapter Nine

By morning they were so thirsty they headed out, dinosaurs or no dinosaurs.

With every possible vessel in the building. Coffee pots and mugs. Trash cans. Two big, wheeled, garbage bins that very badly needed to be scrubbed. Disposable drinking cups. Discarded beverage bottles.

Lou took point . . . and headed away from the dinosaur swamp.

We want cleaner water than that . . . and I hope we don't get thirsty enough to not care anymore.

They circled the block, first. Stepping off the alley that ran up the east side when the boundary got too close to the edge . . . the northeast corner of the building was shaved off. just missing a few centimeters . . . it looked like it never got deeper than the façade, then clipped off a chunk of the roof.

Lou looked back . . . Two hundred and eighty-eight people. About three quarters women. About half over fifty. And I left the three in wheelchairs and the five with canes behind to guard the building. I ought to have left more.

The back of the building faced a small parking lot. Seven cars.

That one is Sergeant Baldwin's . . . I'll search his desk and see if I can find keys, but like as not it works on implanted ID.

He looked over his shoulder and raised his voice. "Anyone know who the cars belong to? A couple of the execs, maybe? Were the heck are they?"

A laugh from the disorganized mob following him. "They were invited to watch the glorious army advancing to destroy the One World."

"Probably dead."

"Maybe they just aren't here."

"We ought to go look at the gate area"

Lou turned his back on the babble of speculation, and walked across the lot. It looked like ninety percent of the Department of Native Education and Training Department executive office building had made the transition . . . before partially collapsing.

He eyed the interior from a safe distance. No reason to expect them to have horded water. No bodies in sight, that's good. And if they had sense enough to run for a normal looking place, they're safe at home.

He walked on . . . to a half empty tide pool, barnacles on rough rocks, slimy sea weed starting to stink. More dead fish . . . he detoured around a very large shark, even though of course it was dead. He dabbed fingers in a bit of water caught in a stone basin and tasted.

"Salt water." He stepped off the narrow slice of tide pool and walked to the end of it . . . the end of the displaced land. Grass stretched in all directions. A few stands of trees . . . hills in the distance . . . a darker line of vegetation to the northwest. Trees or brush along a stream?

He pointed. "I think that's our best bet, for fresh water."

A mass groan from behind him.

"Any of you who don't think you can make the hike there and back, and carry water back, please return to Main Accounting." He didn't wait for an answer, just forged ahead through the tall grass.

Lou was heartily sick of grass and rough hummocky ground by the time they found the ravine. Not much water flowing, but some deep pools that looked . . . not horrible. They drank their fill, and filled container, and drank more. Scrubbed the garbage bins with swatches of grass, and filled them. Dumped out half the water, and still had trouble getting the big bins out of the ravine.

Harrison straightened his back. "It's going to be a slow trip back. Why don't I take half the people ahead and get them back behind doors. Then I can comeback and help with the garbage bins."

Everyone turned suddenly at the sound of motors. Motor bikes roaring straight at them. Halting close enough for both sides to get a good look at each other. Far enough away to make a gun fight unlikely. One guy finally got off his bike and walked forward.

"So, where are you people from?"

"Main Accounting . . ." Lou trailed off as he took in the man's weird clothing. "Earth . . . "

"Huh. Funny. You don't look like rabid warmongers. Accountants, eh?"

"Most of us."

The biker looked over his shoulder. Two of the bikes turned and roared off. One of them was carrying a passenger.

"There were some vehicles back there. They'll try to get one of them working." The biker eyed all the containers and shook his head. "Man, we've gotta get some water wells drilled, or maybe we should all just move."

Harrison walked back to stand by Lou. "Glad we ran into you, instead of soldiers. All we know about you is that you attack on sight."

"We attack? You attacked one of our colonies. Captured our gate."

Lou snorted at this twisted view. "You nuked us. We lost all of our colonies. All of our mining worlds. Hundreds of them. We've only found six worlds, since then. All new. Probably all our marooned people died."

Harrison thumped his shoulder. "Stop it. That was fifty years ago. We need to deal with this . . . situation, right now."

The biker nodded. "Yeah, umm, call me Enough."

"I'm Lou, this is Harrison."

Enough looked over his shoulder. "They've got a truck running. We'll leave you with it. Good luck!"

"Thanks, and, umm watch out for dinosaurs."

The electric runabout was perfect. They loaded the water, and a few people and lurched and thumped their way back across the prairie at little better than a walking pace. They traded off who rode and who walked and stayed fairly close together.

They were home by mid afternoon . . . and hungrier than hell.

The old geezers hadn't been idle. They'd collected wood and had a bonfire ready to light, plenty of extra wood set by. A small fire smoldered in its own ring of stones on the far side of the pile.

Paulette Hill limped up to meet them, looking pleased. She flourished her cane, and pointed.

"We've set up what ought to work for a sand filter, so we don't all get sick drink who-know-what bacteria and viruses in the water here. We can also boil it, but the one pot we found is awfully small. But with luck, we can keep those things away tonight."

Mr. Ferguson rolled up beside them. "If you boys can hunt, I know how to field dress a deer. We found a few fruity things that might be edible, but we need to go slow and test tiny amounts."

Harrison perked up. "Did you see any deer?"

"Tracks. Those things last night may have chased them off though."

Lou bit his lip. "Right . . . Okay. You two are in charge here. Harrison and I will see if there are any edible critters around here.

Chapter Ten

"Lady Fang" turned out to be ridiculously friendly, begging tidbits from everyone. But she followed Nick when he headed out of the camp.

"I'll see about locating water, get a look at the wildlife. See if the Black Horses are doing anything." He carried one of the rifles he'd acquired during the fight at the gate. Ten rounds.

I'll slice whenever possible. And I ought to practice—and show the others—the things I learned from that merge with Ebsa. From seeing him fight.

He headed for a hill a couple of kilometers away. Not very high, but it gave him a better view around.

Trees marked the line of a stream to the east, and south a large clump of trees in a swale between hills might indicate water as well.

Moving dark spots. The binocs turned them into cattle. Lean, with serious horns. Wild, not feral. He spotted a doe with two fawns. Something startled some large birds into flight.

This world is looking really good.

There were mountains on the southern horizon, pale in the distance, capped in white. A single tall peak a bit separate, to the west of the main range of mountains.

He headed down the hill to check the swale first.

A mixed grove of oaks, pines and something that might be a nut of some sort, surrounding a large pond. Something large and dark moved in the shadows . . . Nick lowered his gun. A big black horse. Lurching awkwardly away from him, then standing still as it recognized a human.

Nick whistled as he took in the animal's injuries.

"Standing in the wrong place when the change happened, weren't you?" Nick reached to pet the horse's injured face carefully. Teeth exposed where the lips and outer edge of the nostril had been sheered off. A slab off the hindquarters, a good chunk of hoof. "I'm surprised even panic could get you this far. So let's just see if Ebsa's potion will fix you up. If you can drink it."

The mare sniffed the tiny bit he poured into his hand, then licked it. She relaxed with a sigh.

Pain killer spells? Nick poured a bit more, and another bit.

"Let's see how you do on that much. And I'd better add winemaking to my list of things I wish I knew how to do."

Lady Fang wuffed a little, and also licked his hand when he lowered it to pet her.

"I don't think you need that stuff. And the other effects, well, you'd probably just run off to find a wolf to seduce." Nick put the jar away and circled the pond. A steep edge around most of it, ten cems or so above the water level. A low spot and a wide game trail leading to it. Excellent. He picked up a fallen branch and probbed. A couple meters deep just off the edge.

"The question, Fang, is is this runoff or is there a spring?" the south side rose a bit, a ledge of limestone overgrown with vines, a seep of water running from between layers in the undercut ledge. "Spring fed. Excellent. This must be a sink hole. We should move here. Or see if there are anymore like it, further away from the Guards."

Instead of circling around to the east like he'd planned, he climbed the hill to the south. The horse limped partway , then stopped and started grazing

There were several other grove of trees in swales.

"Oh yeah. I think we've landed on an excellent bit of a very nice world. It's mid summer, and the springs are still dripping, there's snow on those mountains . . . The closer to the mountains, the less likely springs would dry up. Right Fang?"

Fang flopped on the ground, panting.

"You fat old city dog. Let's take a look at that grove down there, then I'll drag you back home."

The fat city dog raised her head and growled, sniffing.

Nick turned, raising the gun, firing at the big cat that charged out of the grass . . . sidestepped as it collapsed and surveyed for more . . . "Leopard? Jaguar? You know, we don't even know what continent we're on. I just assumed Europe, because we started in Paris. But that's not actually a safe assumption, is it?"

The dog was bristling and growling as it sniffed the big cat.

"Waste not, want not. Although I'm not sure leopards are edible . . . "

And damned heavy to tote home, even after he'd gutted it.

But it impressed the heck out of everyone.

And with enough spices, it was edible.

There were plenty of jokes around the campfire about "cat tacos" and the Skinners told everyone about their encounter with Earthers.

"Pathetic. About a hundred women traipsing through the grass in white blouses, short black skirts and high heels. Trying to haul water back to their office building, that way out on Vane eleven. Oh, there were men, too. But not as many. About half-and-half fat old guys and skinny office boys. Two guards. With pistols, not a rifle in sight. And they warned us to watch out for dinosaurs. We jacked a little electric truck for them. It looked like it had solar cells on the roof, so they ought to be able to keep it running."

His girlfriend, Pits, snorted. "I heard what they told you. They were all grudgy over the Nuke. Like we had a choice?"

"He said they'd only found six worlds since then." Enuf shrugged. "They won't last long."

Nick bit his lip. "Six Worlds. Kirk? You guys were on one of those, right?"

"Right, and there was another mining world . . . "

"I read about a dinosaur world."

Nick nodded. "So with Earth and One, there were eight worlds swapping slices around on these eight vanes. I won't say it makes any sense, but the numbers are right." He stood and picked up his rifle. Walked out to check the large warm thing approaching . . . the black mare had followed them home.

Meisha laughed. "Well, we all followed you, why not stray animals as well? Can you find a milk cow next? Perhaps some chickens?"

Nick's laugh was cut short by a sharp pain in his lower abdomen.

But "Black Beauty" was oooed and awwed over.

"She must have had her left hind quarters just over the boundary, and her head turned left. Oh, poor baby!" Karima was stroking the horse, who seemed to be collecting a halo of teenage girls.

Nick shook his head. "I think tomorrow I'll go talk to your Earthers. They sound . . . like a helping hand now could yield some decent neighbors down the road."

muirecan: Withersmuirecan on April 19th, 2017 06:02 am (UTC)
This could be an interesting paring.

And what the hell. Nick the animal tamer.