Making progress on the read-through of Princess of Shadows, but it’s been slow work so far. I hope I can pick up the pace this week.
It’s been a while since I posted an episode of Dinosaur Planet, so I knocked this out. It’s sort of a hinge between the opening and what will be the main body of the tale, should I eventually finish it.
The rumors of brain bleeds and lowered SAT scores after reading this material are unsubstantiated, but caution is urged. Copyright 2013 by Douglas Daniel.
One Foot In Front of the Other….
After about a mile Paul slowed down and settled into a steady walk. He stuck to the trees, and thus his path roughly paralleled the river. He often glimpsed it to his right through the trees, shimmering in the sun.
He hoped that the raptors were plains animals and would normally avoid the woods. He had no idea if that was anything more than wishful thinking. He scanned his surroundings constantly as he moved. He saw more iguanodons, and couple of other species, just as obviously herbivorous, but no carnivores.
Jasper mostly kept his virtual mouth shut, only calling out minor course corrections every so often. Paul found the silence odd for Jasper, but a relief. He had a very trying day so far, and his own emotions were a tangle. He distracted himself by staying alert, but the whole afternoon they saw nothing threatening, either native life or alien military.
Soon enough the primary– the Sun, by default– was low in the sky behind them. Sunlight shone golden through the trees. The peace of the evening seemed at odds with the violence and horror of the day.
It was obvious that they could not camp on the ground. They found another open space, with the same golden-leaved bushes and the same shorter trees. Somehow they reminded Paul of olive trees, with twisting branches and plenty of twiggy ends.
Paul found one taller than the others, with a fork halfway up that would cradle him and keep him from falling out. He doubted it would be as comfortable as his bunk in the billets back on Androda IV, but he was in no position to be picky.
He climbed up and settled himself into the fork. He arranged the useless survival case and Jasper’s carrying sling so that they would stay put for the night. “Gosh, thank you for tucking me in soo securely,” Jasper said, sounding more like himself. “Do I get a bedtime story, too?”
“Get stuffed,” Paul muttered. “You’ve been pretty quiet since we got away from the raptors. Were you having some sort of technical issue, or have you repented your evil ways?”
“Get stuffed yourself,” Jasper said. “I have been busy integrating data and testing a hypothesis.”
“A hypothesis? Regarding what?” Paul asked.
“Why I didn’t detect that last raptor,” Jasper said.
Paul felt his eyebrows go up. “Really? So that concerns you?”
“Of course it bothers me, you organic blob!” Jasper snapped. “I should have sensed that raptor half a kilometer away, minimum, even in these woods.”
“My apologies,” Paul said. “So what have you come up with so far?”
“It isn’t a sensor issue. They all check out. I don’t have any other system or hardware issues. I am comparing sensor tracks with the other group of raptors, and I detected those just fine….”
“For which I am grateful,” Paul put in.
“…but the last one didn’t appear on my inputs until we emerged from that thicket.” Jasper paused; if he had had a human face, Paul would have expected to see a puzzled, worried look on it. “It doesn’t make much sense.”
“How is your sensor sweep doing at the moment?” Paul asked.
“Five-by,” Jasper said. “Nothing hostile in range, a few herbivores, no sign of Weasels.”
“Well, that’s good,” Paul said. “Are you going into monitor mode?”
“It’s probably the best thing,” Jasper said. “It’ll save energy and the Weasels would have to be practically standing under the tree to detect my signature.”
“Good. Please do so.”
“Nighty-night,” Jasper said. His blue sensor eye faded to an amber pinpoint.
Paul waited a full minute more before he settled himself back into the fork of the tree. He didn’t worry about strapping himself to the limbs; he would have to practically stand up and go sleep-walking to fall out. He didn’t anticipate a particularly comfortable night, but he shouldn’t break any bones.
After the day he’d had, Paul supposed he would fall right to sleep. Instead he lay on the rough bark of the branches and stared, unslumbering, out into the alien dark.
It wasn’t the discomfort of the bark; nor was it the sounds that echoed through the night– sleepy bird calls, some creature that periodically called whiker-woo, whiker-woo, and deep, distant rumblings that sounded just like the sort of noise the iguanodons would make as they settled in for the night. He supposed this is what passed for a quiet night on…whatever world this was. Somehow it bothered Paul that he had no idea what this world was called. Perhaps it had no name at all, at least on any Alliance star-chart. Probably the Weasels had given it some moniker in their hissing tongue; but he was in no position to stop and ask them what it might be.
Dinosauria. As good a name as any. Certainly more apt than “Earth” for the water world on which Paul’s species had originated. Paul felt better giving this world some handle with which to tag it.
But that wasn’t Paul’s fundamental problem at the moment, either. He lay in the dark, with the night-sounds and the sound of the wind in the tree’s upper branches, and understood, finally, utterly, what had been lost today. Mackemann and Luropanca, for the three months he had known them, had been the truest friends he had ever had. Back on Trasania, he had lost his parents young and spent his youth in the state youth home; only his test scores had gotten him out of that hell-hole. He hadn’t had any friends at flight school; as the sole Trasanian on Androda, he had been isolated from the time he’d arrived at the school. He had compensated by buckling down and working as he had never worked before.
Then High General Peale had come through, demanding the school’s best pilots for his emergency scouting mission. Paul had been whisked out of his classes and into the cockpit of the S-54. Mackemann and Luropanca had welcomed him, made him a part of the crew, and had even made Jasper’s acidity tolerable. During the long scout, dodging through systems, first sniffing around the edges of Verturi space, then plunging in the depths of enemy territory, the three of them worked together and learned, basically, to take care of each other.
Paul had a hard lump in his chest. He didn’t have the time for grief, though. He would have to save the sorrow, just in case he lived through this and could find the time for it later.
Make sure they didn’t die for nothing. Paul felt very small and useless. Success– whatever that eventually meant– seemed as distant as hope itself. But he would try. It was all he could do.
Next episode: Weasels, Weasels Everywhere….