In the morning the column of smoke was clear. Xen loaded up the folds of the orange suit with throwing stones and tools, and bundled smoked venison and all his arrows in a deer hide. Four jugs of water, the necks tied together and slung over a shoulder.
The latest bow. One spear.
He felt ridiculously over loaded.
But if there are people out there, I may not come back.
He headed south.
Rolling hills, the grasses dry, not much in the way of seed heads, but even a little bread would be nice.
Later. Yeah, an all protein diet was getting old, but first, check out the fire.
Twenty miles until he reached a gully worthy of the name. Dry, not water at all.
Good thing I brought water. I wonder if my stream will dry up . . . and maybe I’d better think about which way to move if it does.
He squinted at the mountains. No snow. I wonder where on the world I am? If these streams are mostly snow melt . . . there could be problems.
He topped the hill . . . and spotted something orange and irregular heap in the grass.
He trotted down to it, the heap resolving in a human shape.
“Hello? Damn, damn, damn, don’t be dead, dammit.” He dropped down beside the figure, and heard the raspy breath as he grabbed a thing shoulder and rolled him . . . her . . . “Oh shit. Jiol! Jiol, can you wake up?”
Shrunken old hands . . . “Dehydrated. Maybe heat stroke.” He worried the cork out of a jug and sat her up. Her eyelids moved, tried to open. He splashed a little water on them, poured a little over her head, to cool her a bit.
Semi-conscious or not, I have to get some water into her right now.
“Take a sip.” He got a tiny splash into her mouth. Her eyes opened and blinked. “Swallow. Just a tiny sip.”
H maneuvered around to get her in his shade, and helped her hold the jug, kept her to small sips, wiped her eyes again.
“Xen?” her voice was a thin croak. She sipped water “Glad to see you survived whatever happened. Not sure I’m going to. No magic. I can’t feel it, see?”
“Yeah. I suspect you’ve got a slug of something like metalformaline under the skin of your back. Once you’ve recovered a bit, I’ll remove it. Take another sip.”
“I’d like a nice long drink, you . . . nice man.”
“Small drink. Then I’m going to carry you up the hill and down into a nice shady gully a travois to haul you back to my home-sweet-home and then you can lay about and recover in safety.” Xen eyed her. “How long have you been here? With no water, you wouldn’t have lasted three days.”
“I did find some water. A scummy little pool . . . and nothing more, so I moved on.” Her brows drew together. “I think I saw a fire, so I turned around and headed back south.”
Xen nodded. “I saw the fire, I was off to look and see if someone had set it, when I found you.”
“Oh, well, we should go . . .”
“No. I need to know that you are safe before I go back to check and see. It may have been started by lightning. I’m not risking your life to find that out.”
“Humph! Did I call you a nice young man? I misspoke.”
Xen grinned, and let her hold the jug herself. Pulled power from the sun beating on his back, and cast a gentle healing spell on her.
“So . . . did you have a slug of solid methalformaline in your back? Or is it still there?”
“I think I’ve gotten most of it out, but it’s located where I can’t see it, I can barely feel it, and it hasn’t been properly flushed out. There’s enough left to seriously inhibit my magic. But it’s improving daily.”
“But you can see to get mine out.” She didn’t make that a question.
“Yes. I’m going to haul you home, to where I have water, and you’re going to get some nice primitive minor surgery.”
“Excellent.” She tried to sit up straighter. Failed.
“Sip water, while I weave you a sunhat, then I’ll drag you on this deerskin, which will get vastly improved once we’re over the hill and down to that dry streambed on the other side.”
She sipped, head turned to watch as he hacked off tall half-dried grass. “Stone tools? How interesting. How . . . typically Xen . . . even without magic you just roll along doing amazing things. How did you catch that poor deer to get the skin?”
“My semi-friendly wolf and I hunt cooperatively.”
Snort. “Your wolf. Of course. Don’t you have your horse and dogs along? Or . . . can’t you open those bubbles?”
Xen kept his eyes on the grass hat he was trying to form. “I wasn’t planning on going anywhere, so Pyrite was out with the other horses. So that bubble and the dog house bubble was at home. And a damned good thing, because all the weapons and so forth that I always have along, are gone.”
“Oh . . . So Pooh Bah is dimensionally able? We wondered, because of the perfect placement of his magic carpet.”
Xen paused. “I hadn’t thought of that. It cannot possible have landed randomly right where it made the best display, facing Disco.”
“Twice. Q checked for a beacon, there was nothing. No sign they’d scouted us out, but I think they much have.”
“Q’s good at looking a world over before she let’s her gate attach . . . I don’t like the idea of facing someone with that same ability . . . but it felt like a powered gate . . . Dammit.” Xen dropped something that might be generously called a hat on her head. “Now let’s see about getting you home.”
She—and all of his stuff—was much easier to drag, once he’d chopped down a couple of slender trees and made a travois.
It was nearly dark before he got back to the water fall, and at her insistence, cut the slug of nasty stuff, out of her back and scrubbed the long cut he’d made.
Then he carried her up to his under-the-tree-house and scaring the wolf.
“As soon as you even halfway steady, you’re going to slice me up and scrub my back.”
She grunted something about telling Inso he said that, as she curled up in his bed and slept.
She was better in the morning, if still weak. She drank venison and wild onion soup, and he laid spells on her burns.
“You’re much less burned than I was.”
“Yes, well . . . There were a bunch of us . . . Rael had something that caught and diverted the first two strikes, as we all tried to get each other off that damned carpet. Inso shoved Q off and I’m pretty sure he and Rael both got off . . . Who else was there?” She shook her head. “At any rate, yes, I got a much lesser shock than you took alone.”
“So half of Disco decided to get electrocuted?”
She snorted. “Well, perhaps a quarter. You’d been gone for two months.”
“And Rael was there? Playing lightning rod?”
“Pretty much. That’s an interesting young woman. Very self contained. If Q hadn’t said she cried in your bed every night, I’d have thought her quite unmoved.”
Xen bit his lip and managed to not say anything about Rael finally moving in with him—once he was gone.
He soaked up some sun, and came back to throw another healing spell on her.
A girl and her dog
Xen reached out, and the bubble jiggled a bit . . . and suddenly rushed sideways as a bright slash of a powered gate cut through the inbetween.
Xen pointed, and opened his eyes. North-northwest. I don’t known how far . . . but I’m going to try and find any new victims of that chubby little menace who zapped me and dumped me here.
“Jiol? How you feeling?”
“Much improved?” She walked over, stiff and careful of her balance. “Why?”
“I think I just saw a powered gate.”
She tsked. “I wonder who they dumped this time? I must have been fifty kilometers or so from you . . .”
“So I may not be back tonight.”
The wolf heard it first. Slinking down, ears focused beyond the next hill. Xen went to one knee and watched where the wolf was focused. And caught an odd sound . . . not a clanking, more of a smooth metal sliding, thumps and rustling grasses.
Movement at the crest of the hill. Metal . . . coppery metal that brought up some bad memories . . .
A robot climbed over the crest of the hill, details emerging. The head with glowing red eyes. Xen could see the exposed metal and plastic scaffolding of the legs. He blinked at the lack of much in between, then the robot turned a bit and he could see that the body was behind those legs, wide and solid. With another pair of legs behind. A robot in the form of a dog?
Crap, I really hope that thing is not here to hunt down people who survived their being injured and dumped here.
The dog’s head turned and studied him.
I haven’t tried a light warp yet. An illusion won’t fool a computer. I wonder if I can slice?