02:05:25 - High Tundra Drifter, Eh?
"What's Happening!?" Carla screamed over the noise inside of the shuttle. She tried to keep her head from slamming into the side panel a third time as the craft violently changed path.
"Ambush!" Rhino yelled back. "We're under attack."
What little Carla could see of Flarm was glints of purple blur. The pilot was using nearly every single one of his appendages keeping the craft out of serious impact. The cockpit was a glow of red yellow lights.
Suddenly, there was a rather disturbing noise from the rear of the ship. Carla would have screamed but the immediate downward shock had her more focused on keeping her lunch.
Paul squatted on his lookout peak surveying his land. His weathered skin draped in a combination of furs and bits of red and black flannel. He frowned feeling that something was not quite right.
He scraped a bit of lichen from a rock and sniffed at it carefully. He then put it to his lips, testing its taste before applying it to the middle of his forehead. He filled his lungs, bent back his head and cried out.
The lichen fell of his head.
He opened his eyes. Above him he saw a small star appearing in the middle of the day. He watched it, focusing on it as it shimmered and glistened. It didn't waver. Paul first thought it must be Auknukac, the Antlered One, appearing. It surely was an omen.
The star grew brighter and seemed to be surrounded by a dark rim. Yes, if this was the Antlered One, it was a bad omen. Paul stood waiting for the fates to tell him what to do as the star grew brighter in the sky, until it was not like a star at all, but more like a, uhm, pointy thing with, err, four pointy bits, SQUARE, that's it.
Suddenly "Auknukac", veered leaving a quite evident trail of black smoke behind it. A second or two later Paul was knocked flat by the sonic booms. Auknukac must have had really bad gas.
As Paul sat up he looked across his domain to see a newly formed trench stretching past the horizon. Paul frowned. Auknukac may be a god, but there's no need to go messing up the landscape. He began jogging toward where a plume of smoke was rising from the end of the trench.
"Head count. Who's missing theirs?" Jack called out as they exited the smoking remains of the ship. Phil was working on putting out the small grass fire near the exhaust manifolds. Carla was sitting on a rock, obviously shaken, but alive. That left Roger, Rhino and..
"Jack! We need you! Flarm's hurt."
Jack raced back into the damaged ship, toward the flight center. Roger was already inside. Flarm lay pressed against the deck, not quite moving. His abdomen continued to flex, he was alive at least.
"uuhhngghh... must... must..." The purple wasp like alien mumbled,
"Easy Flarm, Roger, how is he?"
"I'm not a doctor, but according to the scanner, he's got a pretty good concussion. Well that or acne."
"Can we move him?"
"One minute I'm reading." Roger studied the screen. "According to what's here, we should be able to, but there's a couple of notes here. There's not much known about Flarm physiology."
"Don't you mean 'Flarm's'?"
"They're great pilots, but seriously lacking in the creative naming department. From what it says here, they're built for reduced gravity and heal best in a micro g environment. I'm guessing that means we need to get him back in orbit soon."
"That's not going to happen." Phil said as she stuck her head in the compartment. They got the engine array on that last shot.
"What about the fuel?"
"It's contained, no worries there. But unless any of you are really good at multi-ton shot put, we're not getting airborne. Here's the medkit. Do you have a compression bandage for his head?"
Roger looked through the minimal kit. "No, We'll have to do this the hard way."
Flarm stirred again, "...must.. must save.... save..."
Jack put a hand on Flarm's shoulder, "Easy, your in our hands now."
Roger placed his hand against Flarm's head. His hand began to melt and flow into a generic lump as his wrist became thinner. Roger grimaced, and started gritting his teeth. "NOW!"
Jack sliced through the thinnest part of Roger's wrist, separating off Roger's "hand". Roger yanked it back and massaged the tip, breathing hard. Jack set about wrapping Flarm's head with the cloth bandage keeping the new pressure bandage in place. He worked fast, but was careful. "Roger, you ok?"
Roger flexed his new hand as it slowly took form. One finger much redder than the others.
Jack looked solemnly at his partner, "I know he can't say it, but thank you Roger."
Roger slowly opened his eyes, "Yes, sure, fine, he owes me." he said quietly, then added "dinner and a movie at the very least."
Roger nodded toward Flarm "she'll do what she can to keep bug boy's brains intact, but she'll only last a few days on her own."
Jack thought about asking, then thought better. He was comfortably ignorant about many aspects of xenobiology and had little interest in changing that.
Flarm mumbled again, "...must save... Tokyo..."
Roger and Jack looked at each other.
"So where are we?" Carla asked.
"According to the maps, we're in the Northern Provinces of Canada. I'd say what town we're near, but it's unpronounceable and a several days walk." Rhino replied.
"Oh great." Carla said with a bit of exasperation.
"Wait, it gets better. From what I can tell, shelter is about ten miles that way."
"Ten Miles?" Carla whined. "Why can't we stay here?"
"Because we'd probably be caught in either the concussion wave or the bits of shrapnel when we blow up the shuttle." Rhino said as if he were discussing weekend plans.
"BLOW UP THE SHUTTLE!?" Carla screamed as if she weren't discussing weekend plans.
"Carla, we were being shot at. People who are interested in you living do not shoot at you. Now granted, thanks to Flarm's skills and some of the jammers we triggered we've got a few hours jump-start on whoever was on our trail. But since they have an air advantage we don't we need to pack up what we can and leave something vaguely recognizable. Now here's your backpack."
"It's huge! I can't wear that!"
Rhino was beginning to lose his temper. He took a heavy breath. Turned to Carla and said in a low voice. "Wear the backpack, or we bury you here. Your choice."
Carla stopped whining and took the pack. She wasn't happy about it, but knew that now was no longer the time for discussion.
Rhino relaxed a bit after Carla strapped herself into the pack. "Did you go to the bathroom yet?"
"Uhm, no not yet."
"Hmm, better than me. I didn't think I'd make it to the toilet fast enough after we landed."
Carla smiled a bit at Rhino's honesty.
Rhino continued, "But you'd better make the trip yourself before we get started. It's going to be a long trip, and we'll need to have the DNA here."
Minutes later, in the privacy of her thoughts Carla realized what the last part of Rhino's statement meant. She made probably the best Mr. Yuck face she had ever done.
"Is he dead?" Carla asked. The group was gathered about a prone body that lay face down in the low grass, the breeze shifted, "He smells like it."
Suddenly the body's head snapped upright and smacked his lips together as if waking from a nap. The eyes abruptly focused on the pair of mud encrusted boots directly in front of him. He leapt to his feet and raised his hands and snarled like a badger, then suddenly
relaxed a bit.
"'Ey, you not Aknaanukuk." The wild man observed.
"No" Jack responded. "My name is Jack. Who are you?"
The man stood proudly. "Me Paul. Paul of Pointy Mountain. Paul of Mighty Stick."
"Sadly, not Paul of Proper Hygiene." Roger mumbled.
"Paul can you tell me where we are?" Jack continued.
"Dis mighty land of Paul." Paul said as he threw open his arms to encompass the open vista they stood in. "Land da Pointy Mountain, Paul."
"He and Flarm would get along great."
"Quiet Roger." Jack returned his focus to Paul. "Yes, but can you tell me where there are more people like you? Where there is a village or town where we can call our friends?"
Paul frowned, although it was difficult for anyone else to notice. "Paul not like civi-liz-a-tion-iumn-ing, eh? Folks dere try to scare Paul or play tricks on Paul, eh? Dey spray water on Paul."
"But the wily dog gets away before they break out the soap." Roger mumbled beneath his breath. Carla stifled a giggle.
Paul sniffed the air suddenly. "Ookukaglugs! Hide, now!"
"What? Who?" Roger protested as Paul began peeling back the thick sod.
"Dey bad people who come from sky, eh? Dey not look like you and Paul. We hide now!" Paul had managed to free a sizeable chunk of the sod and hurried the group beneath it. From the outside, they suddenly looked like one of the other randomly distributed hillocks that dotted the area.
"Who are the Ookuk.." The pitched whine of a heavy transport suddenly filled the air. Bits of sod rained down from the vibration. The engine tone was distinctive in it's regular pulse.
"Slax" Phil swore under her breath. "I should have known."
The engine drone slowly disappeared as the craft headed toward the remains of the wreck.
"Anything?" Jack asked Rhino.
"Nothing on the passive scans. Either they're not scanning or the jammers are still working. Either way, they didn't see us."
Jack lifted on corner of the sod and peered out. He carefully kept looking right until Paul threw the sod back and stood up. "Dey gone, eh? 'Ere. 'elp me put ground back."
Carla vainly tried to wipe the fertile earth from her clothes and suddenly understood why grubs don't wear cotton. "Oh, what I wouldn't give for a shower."
"Dibs" Phil said and helped her up.
"Ok, we go Pointy Mountain now. Safe dere, eh?",
"How far away is Pointy Mountain?" Jack asked.
"T'ree Days Run."
"Th.. Three days??"
"Not to worry, eh? We walk instead. Much faster, eh?" Paul said as he strode purposefully across the field.
Quador Clan Military Headquarters
A monitor snapped to life. A raspy voice spoke from the darkness to the image. The image spoke quickly.
"Your forgiveness, my Roi, for not presenting this information in person. We are currently still under jammers and must send you this tightbeam report. We have successfully shot down the GC ship. We have tracked it's remains to a wilderness section. It appears that their drive had gone unstable after the crash. We have found some trace DNA from at least five individuals, but a perimeter check has shown a trail leading away from the site. We will follow the path and clean up any survivors. We have detected no transmissions in the area and our attack was not detected by ground surveillance. Once the Customs has been weakened we can begin our operations in earnest. Kha'Ki out."
The figure sat, contemplating the news, then brought up the current invoice for this particular "operation". It was coming in under budget. Good, he'd only have to double the rate then.
"What wrong wit' little purple black fly, eh?" Paul asked Phil. Flarm was strapped to her back muttering something vaguely Japanese.
"You mean Flarm?" Jack asked.
Paul clearly pointed at Flarm, "Little purple black fly."
"Remind me not to visit here during black fly season." Roger commented to Carla. Carla didn't respond. Her subconscious mind had decided there were certain things that were best stored up for those sausage, pepperoni and jalapeno pizza binge dreams than simply squandered on spur the moment hysterics.
"Welcome ta Pointy Mountain" Paul announced proudly. The rest of the group simply stood in disbelief. Pointy mountain was simply a slightly larger hillock with what appeared to be a small opening on one side and a large stick protruding from near the top.
Rhino simply looked at it for a few moments. "This is going to require a bit more strategy than what I had planned."
"What did you have planned?" Jack asked.
"It involved throwing rocks down the hill."
"That's it?" Carla said in mild disbelief "Aren't we supposed to be the baddest thing on the planet and the only thing we have to defend ourselves with are rocks?"
"Carla, calm down" Phil said as she slid Flarm carefully off of her back and onto the floor. "We weren't exactly expecting to get jumped."
"Whoever did this knew what they were doing." Jack spoke, mostly to himself, "The first shot took out comms, the second one would have taken us out too if it hadn't been for Flarm",
"GOJIRA" Flarm buzzed, then passed out again.
"But why attack our shuttle? Attacking GC craft is enough to get trade rights terminated to your planet for a millennia."
"What if you didn't care about trade rights?"
"Great," Roger said with as much disgust as he could muster, "the Slax. Still, someone had to hire them. They're nasty, but not stupid. They wouldn't come after us without someone footing the bill."
Carla was becoming nervous again, "D-don't we have anything that we can use to defend ourselves? I mean won't the come looking for us?"
"If we're lucky, no." Roger said.
"Actually, if we're lucky, yes." Jack corrected.
"I'm sorry, Jack, I had no idea you had a head injury too." Roger replied "ARE YOU INSANE?"
"Roger, we need to get Flarm back in space. Paul here is a gracious host, but I don't think I'd like to get used to his lifestyle. We have no comms equipment to radio for help and no idea how far a town is. To put it bluntly, we need a ship."
"So we're going to hope that the Slax drop by and give us a lift back into space? Right, silly me, I'm sure they'll have no problem dropping our bodies off in low orbit. Jack, all we have is the bare necessities."
"Ookukaglugs." Paul said as he looked down the path.
Jack sprung into command, "Ok, show time, everyone to the back of the cave and stay quiet, that includes you Paul. Paul? PAUL!"
Paul stood out in the plain staring up at the ship that hovered above him. Paul raised his spear up in stark defiance. The main cannon of the ship swiveled toward Paul and pointed menacingly. Carla yelped.
"It's ok" Rhino said, "If they fire that fusion cannon, they'll take themselves out as well as Paul, they're just trying to make him sweat. Heh, looks like it's not working."
"Well, not for Paul at least." Roger mumbled.
The ship dropped harder than it needed too. Paul dove out of the way, but was back on his feet in an instant. The main hatch opened and two Slax got out, brandishing rather nasty looking weapons.
Paul stood defiantly, holding his stick against them. The Slax looked at each other and began laughing. One reached an arm out and snapped the spear in half. Paul looked at his broken weapon, then let out some sort of yell. He then turned and ran away from the laughing Slax, and the hillock. The Slax kept laughing as one raised up his weapon to fire.
Suddenly the ground began to vibrate, heavily. The Slax lowered his weapon in surprise. Bits of the ceiling of the cave rained down on the members of the GC.
The Slax looked toward "Pointy Mountain" and opened their mouths to scream. They never got a chance.
Suddenly millions of small rodents poured over everything in sight. They rained down past the opening of the cave nearly blocking the view, There was the sound of muffled cries and the occasional sound of energy blasts as the Slax tried to curtail the wave.
Within minutes the wave passed, and Paul reappeared at the opening of the cave. "Paul know dat little shrew t'ink Ookukaglugs mighty tasty, eh?"
The group headed out toward the ship. There was almost nothing left of the Slax except a few gnarled bits of cloth and a few metallic items.
Jack turned to Paul, "Thank you. You've done your planet a great service. Is there anything we can do to repay you?"
Paul stood thinking for a few moments. "Paul not want t' go back t' city life. Paul like living out in Nature, eh? Paul like simple t'ings. Paul friend to fox and beaver and moose. Well, no, Paul not really on buddy-buddy terms wit' moose after whole 'Summer Shower' t'ing, eh? Ah, Paul know what Paul would like. Paul want Sat'lite Dish. Paul not been able to follow league since Paul little tyke. Paul like to know what Gretzky average wit' Oilers like now, eh? Gretzky really good player, maybe win fifth cup?"
"Well, he won more than that..." Rhino mentioned before Jack cut him off.
"We'll be happy to set you up with a dish."
"Maybe Paul get nice trailer t' watch games?"
"Uh, sure. We can get you a nice shelter too."
"Ooh, boots? Paul like new boots, eh?"
Thirty minutes later Paul was pretty well set for life and cheerily waving the newly manned Slax ship off.
"Ok, Jack how are you going to requisition a limited edition Land Rover from Chuck and Radar for our forest buddy down there?" Roger asked chipper as always.
"I'm more concerned about why he'd need two Ski-Doo Mach Z 800 snowmobiles" Jack grumbled.
"Well, I suppose he'd need it to impress the ladies. Or females at least."
"Too bad he didn't ask for deodorant." Carla
"Right Radar, thanks. We'll let you know if anything else happens." Jack terminated the comms link and floated above it for a few seconds.
"So, how did Radar take the news?" Roger said as he returned to the bridge.
"He was glad that we were safe, annoyed about the Slax, and dubious about our theory."
"That's what I like about Radar, his predictability. Did you tell him about Paul's shopping list."
Jack laughed, "No, Paul set back our budget by about a year and a half by my estimates. I'll talk to Chuck later about what to do. Where's everyone else?"
"Rhino's manning the cannon, and Carla's helping Phil with Flarm."
Jack paused. "I thought you were helping with Flarm."
"Me? No, I just needed to get something back. *urp*" Roger drifted by to find a reasonably comfortable chair near the sensor array.
"That's it, just keep those ends together" Phil told Carla as she started to unwrap the blanket from the Flarm's makeshift gurney. "It's not heavy, but I need someone to keep stuff from drifting."
Carla watched a bit as the blanket was removed. Suddenly she realized that there was a reason the frame felt so thick. "Phil? What are these?"
"Oh, They're a pair of 70mm Gauss rifles with self propelled rounds."
"Didn't Jack say to grab just the essentials?"
Phil looked at Clara a bit confused. "I did."
Carla reminded herself that some people have different ideas of what "essentials" were.
"So why didn't we just use these when the Slax arrived."
"We would have, but we only have a limited number of rounds. I'd have to make them count."
Flarm groaned a bit in his harness. "Oh, man, what happened?"
Carla drifted over to check on him. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I had front and center tickets to a Black Death concert" Flarm whispered. "I'm guessing I conked my head against the panel when we landed?"
Flarm moaned again, "Oh man. I hate when that happens. Worst part was that I had this really weird dream?"
"That you were Mothra?"
Flarm turned his head a bit to look at Carla in a bit of surprise. "I wish, No.. no.. I kept dreaming about Roger in a dress..."