Another snippet…

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Chapter

 

The GalPat liteflyer landed in front of the temple and a broad, squat sergeant climbed out. He ambled over to where the four of them were standing and waved his hand in a vague salute. “Sergeant K’yak’yali-kwe, reporting as ordered. Call me Joe Eagle.”

Fargo bit back a smile and replied, “Sergeant, I’m Ethan Fargo. I…we need to go look at a few things. Are you comfortable flying low and slow?”

The sergeant’s flat face broke into a grin. “Oh yes! I love getting down in the weeds!” His expression sobered, and he added, “But the colonel says I can’t overfly New Tokyo, and can’t break another bird. No Surveillance allowed.”

“Damn. What about the coastline?”

“Sure, no problem, sir.” He looked at OneSvel doubtfully, “Er, how many of you are going?”

“Just me.”

The sergeant’s smile returned. “That works. Anytime you’re ready, sir.”

“You don’t have to sir me, I’m just…call me Fargo.”

“Yes, sir.” Fargo shook his head as they walked to the liteflyer. “Where do you want to go first?”

Fargo climbed in and fastened the belts. “We are interested in the flowering bushes that seem to have appeared out of nowhere and these creatures that appear to be killing the locals. The plants seem to end just east of here, but look like they run all the way to the coastline.”

The sergeant lifted off smoothly despite the wind and dropped the liteflyer deftly down the side of the ridge. “I can’t overfly New Tokyo, but I think I can squeak by on the north side, especially if I stay low.” Fargo extended his empath senses and felt Eagle’s absolute confidence in what he was doing, which made him a lot more comfortable.

Fargo activated his lapel cam as they dropped toward New Tokyo and asked, “Are you by any chance from Anadarko?”

Eagle grinned and looked over at him. “Sure am, sir! Born and raised! How do you…have you ever been there?”

Fargo shook his head and pointed out the windshield. “No I haven’t. Shouldn’t you be watching where you’re going? I…uh…I know a team of GalPat scouts from there. MobyDineah.”

Making a moue of distaste, Eagle said, “No, they are Apache. We don’t…mix. I wouldn’t want somebody living in my head all the time! I’m Zuni. My last name is my clan, Eagle, but nobody can pronounce it, so I go by Joe Eagle.”

Fargo was staring out the windscreen and mumbled, “Looks like the plants are getting bigger.” They neared the outskirts of New Tokyo and he started seeing the creatures. “Can you slow down? I want to get a look at these things.”

Eagle replied, “Rog, slowing. Anti-grav…now.” The liteflyer didn’t even bobble when he switched over and dropped even lower. “They don’t appear to try to attack the liteflyer. I’ve done some checking and I can get damn near on top of them without provoking a reaction.”

“Interesting.” Fargo saw four large and what looked like six to eight smaller creatures eating the bulbs off the bushes and described them to the lapel cam to back up the vid he was getting. He noted two of the little creatures appeared to be staggering. “Do the little ones look like they’re staggering around?”

Eagle laughed. “Yep, look like they’re drunk to me.”

Fargo looked sharply at him. “Drunk?”

Eagle sighed. “Us Darkies have a problem with booze. We get drunk easy and stagger around like that. They played a video of me staggering around when I got busted a couple of years ago.”

Fargo winced. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to bring up—”

“No big. I stay a sergeant to keep flying. I promote, I gotta do paperwork, manage people, and shit. All I want to do is fly. I love to fly! It is freedom!”

The closer they got to the water, the less intact bulbs they saw, even as more creatures moved up the valley toward the fresher bushes. When they hit the waterline, it surprised Fargo to see what looked like sailboats out on the water. “Sailboats? What the hell?”

“Fishing boats. They get most of their protein from fish they catch. They’re all genied to not need meat. Kinda strange. I mean, the food is…kinda good, little rolls of what they call rice with stuff inside it, but me, I like meat!”

Fargo looked at his data comp. “Can you go north and south along the coast? I want to see how far these things extend.”

The liteflyer picked up speed, rolled up on a wing, and they were back over the beach, heading north in moments. “Them flowers run back up into the valleys for probably twenty miles north and south. Right where all the rainfall has to come down off the mountains.”

Fargo nodded. “Thanks.” Five segs later, the landscape flattened out, and they didn’t see any more of the bushes. “Can you go back to that last valley where we saw the bushes and go up that valley?”

“Sure, sir!” The liteflyer rolled up on a wing again, sped rapidly back to the valley and headed west up the valley. It was much narrower, and once again the bushes near the water had the bulbs missing. There were fewer creatures, and they were further up the valley, but acted the same, eating bulbs and staggering. They passed over the creatures and climbed out of the area where the bushes were, the walls of the valley getting steeper and steeper. “Want to go to the next valley, sir?”

“Yes, let’s see if the same thing is happening there.”

Eagle pulled the liteflyer almost vertical, climbed up the side of the valley, seeming close enough to the rocks that Fargo could reach out and touch them. He extended his empath sense and felt perfect comfort from Eagle, even as he felt like his ass was puckering and sucking the seat up. I could never fly like this. I’d be dead in the first five minutes. He’s got to have disabled the prox warning system on this liteflyer! They cleared the top of the valley and Eagle rolled the liteflyer inverted and pulled down the far side into the new valley, finally rolling right side up. “Yee ha!” He grinned and glanced at Fargo. “Sorry, sir”

Fargo glanced down at Eagle’s hands and feet on the controls and realized they were constantly in motion. “No problem. I…uh…fly a little, but nowhere near as good as you do.” He looked out and saw the tops of the trees swaying in the wind and rain. “How bad is it? I know I get bounced around a bit when I fly down the valley I live in.”

Eagle bit his lip, then reached for a switch. “Hang on. Activating the autopilot…now.” The liteflyer started bucking, bouncing, and fishtailing immediately. He let the autopilot fly for less than a seg, noting that Fargo was getting a bit green around the gills, and flipped it off.

The bouncing immediately stopped and Fargo stared at him. “That is amazing! You’re better than the autopilot!”

Eagle grinned. “Eagle clan. I’ve always loved flying, started on Anadarko at twelve.”

Five divs later, the last valley to the south had been explored and Fargo rolled his neck tiredly. “Can we go back to New Tokyo and go up the other side of town?”

“Yes, sir, but I can’t overfly it. We’ll have to go up along the ridge top. They’ve spread out all the way across to the thousand-foot level on that side.”

Fargo slumped in the seat as they flew back up toward New Tokyo. “Have you ever had to go try to do rescues of fishing ships?”

Eagle nodded solemnly. “Yes. Usually nothing found but debris. A couple of times, panicked message about something dragging their nets down.” He shook his head. “Then there was that one rowboat…”

“Rowboat?”

“Little bitty boat, way too far offshore. Three people in it, fishing. Called for rescue, something kept bumping the boat while they were fishing. Got out there and saw…shit, I just realized it was one of those creatures. That was what was bumping the damn boat! Anyhow, managed to save them, and one of those things bumped the boat, tipped it, and ate the fish. Had to have.”

They turned up the ridge and Fargo sighed and started looking out the windscreen again. “Deity damn! Those creatures are going down the streets toward the water!”

Eagle flipped the liteflyer up on a wing, glanced over, and replied. “Yep, that area is where most of the people have been killed. Most of the incidents have been occurring in the late afternoon.”

“They’re drunk. Shit…they’re drunk and staggering home,” Fargo mumbled under his breath. Ten segs later, the sergeant landed him back in front of the temple. Groaning, he climbed out of the liteflyer, suddenly realized he really needed to hit the head, and said, “Thank you very much, Sergeant Eagle. You’ve given me a lot to think about and work on.”

“You’re welcome, sir. And if the colonel asks, I…maintained all safety standoffs from all obstacles.”

Fargo smiled. “Of course you did, even when I wanted you to go lower.”

Eagle grinned, threw him a sharp salute, and lifted off as soon as Fargo stepped back. He watched the liteflyer disappear down the ridge, and picked out OneSvel, Garun, and Shan, humping it back up the ridgeline toward the temple. I can hit the fresher and get back before they get here.

Refreshed, he stood at the main entry, bulbs of energy drink in hand, as the three of them trooped up and stopped, the odor of alcohol bright and sharp from them. He passed out the energy drinks and said, “Smells like a brewery out here. What in hell did y’all get into?”

Shan smiled, “Nothing that got inside us. We found some interesting things.”

Fargo looked at them and finally at OneSvel. “Well?”

OneSvel waved a pseudopod at the entry. “Food first. And I need to review a few items from the local media. And Garun and Shan should change. There are enough sugars in that alcohol to…make me want to get drunk.”

Fargo hastily said, “Okay, fifteen segs. I’ll get the rat packs going.” I don’t want to see OneSvel drunk again, much less deal with the aftermath. That was…scary.

***

The four of them sat around the table in the kitchen eating their ration packs as Fargo projected his vids from the day and described what he’d seen. He wound down by saying, “I honestly think these creatures aren’t actually trying to harm the locals. They are just drunks trying to get back to the ocean.”

Garun and Shan looked at each other, then at OneSvel. Garun finally said, “Well, we did find one dead creature.”

“What? Where? Why didn’t you call me back?”

OneSvel waved a pseudopod and his GalTrans chittered, “I told them not to, Fargo. I did an autopsy on the creature. It fell and broke its neck on a shard of upthrust rock. It was over three hundred pounds, mammalian, air breathing, webbed feet, prehensile front claws, near prehensile tail. This creature was fairly old. It had a number of scars, either from fighting or from impacts with unknown things. It had nictating eyelids, the ability to block its nostrils, extremely large lung capacity, and nominal organ placement. It also has what appears to be a separate airsack, probably used for floatation. The stomach contents were fish, some kind of seaweed, and a number of bulbs from the bush, in various states of chemical digestion. It appears to be fairly similar to our processes of glucose, amino acids, and fatty acids.”

Fargo cocked his head. “Is that all?”

OneSvel chittered a laugh. “No, it was also, what is the human saying? Drunk as a nearskunk?” OneSvel sucked on a bulb of energy drink and continued, “The level of alcohol in its system was enough to kill the average human. So, we agree with your thesis that these creatures are merely trying to get home, if you will. Garun checked the local media for any mentions, and every one he located was in the late afternoon, early evening, and it was in New Tokyo itself.”

Shan chimed in. “It also appears over eighty percent of the interactions have come from the southern part of New Tokyo.”

Fargo nodded. “Based on what I saw, I would agree. There is room for the creatures to go around New Tokyo on the north, but not on the south, because of the town’s expansion all the way up the side of the valley. Every other valley, and only the valleys, had the creatures in them. Once you get north or south of the mountain chain and into the flatter lands, there is no indication of the bushes, or any of the creatures.”

OneSvel replied, “We need data. We need weather for the last sixty planet days, compared to the last number of years since settlement. Shan recovered two seeds from the bush for a growth experiment, which we will start tomorrow.”

Fargo groaned silently. OneSvel is on a roll. Where they are going, I have no idea, but I’m sure they do. “I will ping the colonel for access to the data. Tomorrow.”

***

A scrape and sibilant cursing in Nepali snapped Fargo awake. He heard a clatter as a something was knocked over and he rolled out of the sleep sack, grabbed a chemlite off his harness, broke it and threw it in the noise’s direction. Getting to his feet, he pulled the vibroknife from his pants, slid it on and stared in the direction of the noise as the chemlite lit off. Two people were rolling around on the floor, huffing, puffing, and cursing in various languages as they scuffled for position and control.

He saw OneSvel lumber up and extend multiple pseudopods, even as Shan came in from the direction of his sleep sack. The screeching noise of the vibroknife drowned out whatever Shan said. Then OneSvel enfolded both of the bodies in his pseudopod and lifted them off the floor.

The red chemlite gave off fairly bright light, but Fargo couldn’t determine if either one of the men was bleeding. Sliding the vibroknife off, he approached cautiously. OneSvel had picked them up when Garun was starting to gain control, and his back was to the Taurasian, his arms around a badly scarred, lean Asian who was now screaming in Japanese. OneSvel threaded another pseudopod to the man’s temple, touched him, and the man slumped unconscious.

Garun coughed. “Can you ease up now? I’d like to breathe,” he said in a strangled voice. OneSvel eased the pressure a bit, as Shan flipped on the interior lights.

“Put them down, OneSvel. We’ll sort this out in a seg,” Fargo commanded.

Shan said, “I’ll get cord to restrain him, since we didn’t bring any cuffs.” He went off mumbling to himself about proper equipment as he searched through his bag. As Fargo sat the chair back upright, Shan came back with a wrap of emergency cording. “This will work. Sit him in the chair.”

Garun dropped the man in a chair, holding his head up by his hair to keep him upright as Shan secured the man to the chair. Garun finally said, “Sumbitch is a fighter. He’s a pro. He sensed me and reacted before I could get a good grip on him.” He paused and rubbed his eye and temple. “Damn near put me out with a backhand.”

Fargo looked at OneSvel. “How long is he going to be out?”

“As long as necessary. I would like to examine him first.” OneSvel moved around in front of the man, gently removed the remnants of his shirt, and Fargo winced at the scarring visible on the man’s torso and arms.

“How did he survive that level of burns?”

OneSvel said distractedly, “Not all at once. Small areas each time, over…a period of time.” Reaching down with a pseudopod, they pulled up the pants as far as the cord permitted. “And the same on the legs.” Rolling the man’s head back, he inspected the teeth, pried each eye open, and finally stepped back. Then he reached in and touched the man’s temple.

The man snapped to consciousness, momentarily continued to fight the bindings, and finally slumped against the cords. He looked up and said, “Me Kazu. Who you? Why you in my temple? You no belong here!” He started bubbling spit out of his mouth as he rocked back and forth to some inner beat.

Fargo stepped in front of him. “What is your real name, Kazu? We were brought here to kill the creatures. If you are a priest, why are you not in New Tokyo?”

Kazu shrieked with laughter, rocking back and forth even harder. “Me crazy man. Priest take me in, feed me. Me hungry.”

Fargo extended his senses and was shocked to feel a predatory, watching feeling from him. “You are not crazy. Maybe crazy like a red animal, but not crazy. If you do not tell us the truth, I will have the Taurasian probe your mind.”

Kazu snapped around and looked at OneSvel as they extended a pseudopod. He slumped again, radiating fear now. He finally raised his head and stared at Fargo. He said formally, “I am Akihiko Kazuyuki. My apologies to this man,” he glanced at Garun. “I am hungry. I am a caretaker here, and the priests do think I am crazy.” He bit his lip, looking around, and continued grimly. “Are you here to take me back?”

Shan blurted, “Take you back? For what?”

Kazu straightened as much as he could. “I am an escaped Gokudō. I thought I had covered my trail well enough. I would prefer to die here, rather than be returned.”

Garun grunted. “Well, that explains your ability to fight. Yakuza, eh?” He rubbed his eye, now swollen almost shut. “How long?”

Kazu chuckled. “Thirty years. I was the wakagashira of Hokkaido.”

Fargo shook his head. “The burn scars? You burnt your tattoos off?”

Kuzu nodded. “Two weeks. My…associate burned them off my back and places I could not reach before he committed seppuku. He too had reached the end of his beliefs.”

A half div later, Kuzu, now released, was eating his second ration pack and leaned back with a contented burp. “So glad to get something besides fish. Or what passes as fish here.”

“One more time on these creatures. You’ve seen them, but didn’t interact with them? How close did you get?” Fargo asked.

“Two, maybe three yards from an adult. I think a she. She ignored me unless I made a move to the little ones with her. All three of them were consuming bulbs as fast as they could, then staggered back toward the water. I followed them down the canyon to New Tokyo. They never attacked or stopped on the way.”

Fargo growled. “I’m going to have to have a chat with Colonel Ishihara. We need more information.”

Kuzu asked tentatively, “Are you going to mention me?”

“No. I don’t see any reason to. You…have been through enough, as far as I am concerned. Do you have a place to sleep?”

He pointed up to the second level. “I have a pad there.”

Fargo looked at the others. “I think we’ve…had enough for now. I’m going back to sleep. We can discuss what we need tomorrow.”

The others agreed, and Fargo went back to his sleep sack as the lights clicked off.

(C) JL Curtis 2021 All Rights Reserved

Comments

Another snippet… — 16 Comments

  1. Now, why did I suspect that the critters getting blind drunk on fermented plants was the main problem?

    Good snippet though 🙂 And very similar to real world nature — this sort of thing has been seen before.

  2. Hey Old NFO;

    I liiike, I surmise that encroachment has impacted their natural habitat so conflict was inevitable. Excellent read, I would say “Hurry up and flog the “Nearburro if you have to, LOL

  3. Many years ago, in North Carolina, my neighbor had a fig tree. I harvest all the figs I wanted to make jam. Many overripe fruit would fall on the ground and in the heat of summer begin fermenting. I still remember the smell. This story with the fermenting plants reminded me of it.

  4. Toast- LOL, who’s to say it won’t happen in the future too?

    Bob- Thanks, and working on it!

    Jaime- Oh yeah, rotten figs, apples, and peaches… Whew…

  5. OneSvel’s description sounds like an really big otter-monkey, so telling the colonists “Don’t stay around drunken Ookawauso*” might be a pretty good solution.

    *Ookawauso = Giant Otter per g-ggle translate…

  6. A good read!

    “Us Darkies have a problem with booze.” Oh, look, nobody screaming “racist!” at the author; you have a civilized readership.

    “the less intact bulbs they saw” I think “fewer” is better; “less” for amount, “fewer” for countable things.

    “put me out with a backhand” Backfist?

    Moar, please!

    • Upon re-reading, I want to clarify that ““Us Darkies have a problem with booze.” Oh, look, nobody screaming “racist!” at the author; you have a civilized readership.” is a compliment, not a criticism.

      BTW, many years ago, I bought a tube of Darky toothpaste at an outdoor market in Hong Kong. It tasted like peppermint. It was a British brand which has since been renamed, darnit.

  7. Great snippet but a little predictable until Kuzu turned up.