Episode Four of Dinosaur Planet.

Notwithstanding my sincere elation last post at completing the first draft of Princess of Shadows, the last few days I have felt rather like a sprinter who, having crossed the finish line after a supreme effort, now lies gasping for air on the infield grass. I have just barely started working on the second draft. Instead, I’ve been playing Halo and doodling with Dinosaur Planet. The fourth episode is a bit short, but it seemed to break naturally where I left it.

The rumors that reading the following prose will cause hair loss and un-American activities have not yet been substantiated by scientific study, but caution is advised. As usual, copyrighted by me, in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Thirteen. God be with you.

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Episode Four: Unpleasant Surprises

Paul knelt beside Mackemann. The commander’s breathing was ragged, but he was conscious. He met Paul’s eyes and tried to reach out with his right hand.

Paul caught it, gripped it tight.

“I’m sorry,” Paul said. “I’m sorry, Mac, I didn’t see the trees….”

“Nothing…you could have done,” Mackemann wheezed. “You got…Jasper?”

“Barely,” the AI said. “I’m thinking of complaining to the management….”

Mackemann rolled his eyes in disgust; Paul said, “Shut-up, short-circuit. Mac, what can I do?”

Mackemann shook his head. “Nothing for me. I’m done. You need to leave me….”

“I can’t do that!” Paul said.

Mackemann gripped Paul’s hand harder. “Listen! I’m finished—you can’t lug me anywhere, and you have to get out of here. Now. The Weasels…know we’re here. And that smoke…ah!” Mackemann writhed in pain. “The smoke will draw them. You have to get Jasper out of here, to…someplace from which…you can transmit the intel. You’ve got to, you understand?“

Paul gulped, panting with the heat and the tight constriction of his throat. “All right, all right…I get it. What can I do for you?”

“Give me a…drink of water, and then get the hell out of here.”

Paul unzipped his suit and shrugged it off; the air was thick and humid, and he was already sweating from his exertions. His ship coverall was more than enough, it seemed, in this climate. There was a potable water canister attached to the survival kit he had pulled from the ship; he unclipped it and gave Mackemann a long drink. The commander seemed to breathe easier afterwards. “Save…the rest…for yourself,” Mackemann said.

Not saying anything, Paul reattached the canister to the kit. He snapped the kit’s locks and opened it. Every kit was equipped with a backpack and cargo belt, into which he could transfer the kit’s ration packs, weapons, shelter, and medicines. With that and Jasper’s carrying sling, he would be pretty much set.

The kit was empty.

Paul stared in surprise. Empty, or nearly so—there were no food packs, or medical supplies. There was no backpack or belt. There was just one pulse pistol, where there should have been four, as well as a pulse rifle. There were no spare energy packs. There was no tent.

“What…what the hell?” Paul whispered.

“What?” Jasper said. “What’s happened now?”

“I…must have grabbed the wrong pack,” Paul said. “This one’s got hardly anything in it.”

“Oh, that’s just typical!” Jasper said. “There are no supplies at all?”

“What do you care?” Paul snapped. “You don’t have to eat.”

You do, you moronic chunk of carbon, and if you die, I’m stuck with a moldering corpse out in the boonies somewhere, waiting for my energy pack to deplete. You grabbed the wrong pack! How could you grab the wrong pack? Of all the….”

Jasper shut up suddenly, so mid-stream that Paul looked up in alarm. “What is it?”

“We’ve got movement,” Jasper said, in a voice that utterly reminded Paul of someone cocking their ear to catch a sound. “To the southwest. “

“What, animals?” Paul asked.

“Not unless animals carry pulse weaponry,” Jasper said. “I’m picking up several energy signatures.”

“Weasels,” Paul said. His heart made a serious effort to climb up out of his throat and run for it.

“That would be my guess, too,” Jasper said.

Paul snatched the one pulse pistol out of the pack, snapped it to his belt. The only other items of use in the pack were a utility knife and a telescoping corner pole of the tent that should have been there. He grabbed them both.

He ran back to Mackemann. He wasn’t going to leave him here for the Weasels to find and torture. But as he knelt down Mackemann’s eyes were fixed, staring at nothing. Paul felt for a pulse at the commander’s neck; nothing.

“He died forty-five seconds ago,” Jasper said. “Lucky bastard. He’s out of danger.”

“We’re not.” Paul reached down and closed Mackemann’s eyes. “Sorry, Mac.” He picked up Jasper’s sling, slung it over his shoulder. “Which way?”

“The opposite direction of the Weasels, stupid,” Jasper said. “Northeast. Twenty-five degrees to your right. Right, good. Now, run.”

Paul ran.

Next Episode: A Whole New World
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Later.

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