Xen stayed for an hour, chatting while charging Killerbite. Hunter got close enough to sniff the unmoving robot all over before retreating at the first sign it was powering up.
Once the just-past-full moon was well up, he slung the water jugs over his shoulder and headed south. And got an itch to hurry.
Bloody Hell. Last thing I need is premonitions and such.
He hurried, running through the grass lands and tripping through the trees and across a dry gully. Back into grass as the moon set and however brilliant the stars, the night got darker.
He spotted the dim glow of a dying fire, the cacophony of frightened men. Karl with a spear, circling the fire in a sideways shuffle to stay between the strangers and whatever prowled, a moving bulk, turning suddenly and rearing. In the dim firelight, towering over Karl. A bear. Size extra large.
Xen dropped the water jugs, gathered power as he charged up the hill. I’d better get close. And if it doesn’t work, what then?
A darting shadow, and the bear spun to leap at the wolf.
“Hey! That’s my wolf. Leave him alone!”
The bear swung around and charged Xen.
The bear hit the ground and tumbled past him, a splash of blood . . .
Karl galloped down the hill, a handful of flaming twigs in hand. “Honestly, the sheer amount of time we spent worrying about you . . .”
“Heh. The first two weeks were a bit rough. Everyone all right?”
“I only had to bodily tackle one of them to keep him from running off and becoming bear chow.” Karl shook his head. “I’m a city boy too, but . . .”
“But the Army knocked that out of your head?” Xen looked around. “Now where did I drop the water?”
“Yeah, it got really dark when the moon set. Up till then I could see the critter and make the civvies get fuel for the fire. Not that there was much.” Karl shifted his grip on his improvised torch.
Xen stepped over and snapped thin branches off a small bush and lit his own torch. Walked down hill a few steps. “Damn that’s a big bear.”
And my slice didn’t make it all the way through its neck. Good thing it hit the spine and jugular!
“The sun’ll be up in an hour, then I’ll butcher it.”
And thinly from up hill. “You’re going to eat a bear! Shining one!”
Xen snickered. “Yummy. And here are the jugs. It’s only another ten kilometers to home. Jiol and Cali are fine and the stream is still running.”
“All’s well with the world.” Karl dropped his voice. “So, how about a gate?”
“Not yet. I just finally managed to grab a bubble . . . three days ago now.” Xen grabbed the jugs and headed back up hill. “And once we get home . . . the first thing we’ll have to do is build a few more cabins. Eight people will definitely strain my accommodations.”
“Accommodations? A mud hut perhaps?” Sam snorted. “I can’t believe it’s come to this.”
Xen tossed his smoldering branches onto the fire. Noted that the huddled scientists didn’t have so much as a stick among them. The second spear was laying on the ground. Maybe one of them just set it down. I didn’t think to cut them so much as a walking stick, but then we were carrying Sam. Tomorrow, we’ll get a bit better organized.
He stretched out an napped until the sun peeked over the horizon, then walked down to where Hunter was prowling and bristling around the dead bear. And perked up and looked hopefully at Xen.
“Don’t tell me, let me guess. You not only want the liver, you want me to cook it for you.”
Karl laughed. “Yeah, you’ve got that wild animal half-tamed all right. I didn’t think you could eat bear liver. Toxic levels of vitamin A.”
“Nah, that’s polar bears, because of all the fish and fish-eating seals in their diet. This guy should be fine.”
“That’s gross and disgusting.” Sam called down from the hilltop.
The other three walked down and stared in horror as he and Karl got to work.
Clanking from up hill. Sam staggered down pulling the deer hide, loaded with the water jugs.
“I’m going to go find this putative home of yours.”
Xen stepped over and grabbed one jug. “See you there.”
The other three shuffled their feet, and finally followed him.
“Another house. Real fast.”
Karl grinned. “But yours gets the big bearskin rug, right?”
“Right.” Xen cut a quarter off the liver and tossed it to Hunter. Then started cutting the meat off the bones. “I’ll need the brains to tan the hide, and this lovely fat for various things, and we’ll just leave the rest.”
“Yeah, probably only a couple hundred pounds . . .”
“Did I mention that I finally caught a bubble—and don’t mention that to them—we could take the whole thing . . . and in fact some of these nice meaty bones for the wolf.” Xen grinned. “Now if we just need to find some had grains, a bee hive, test more veggies and we’ll be in fine shape.”