Preview – rough draft of the first four chapters of The Second Wave – Gaea Ascendant: Vol. II (c) 2014 E. S. Martell
If you’ve read “The Time of the Cat”, you should have an idea that Dec isn’t through with the aliens and vice versa. I’m currently (10/2014) about 40% of the way done with the second book. Here’s the first four chapters for you to sample. WARNING! This is my first draft, so the writing is going to be rough. My writing path involves getting the story down and then fine-tuning it considerably, so please don’t expect finished work here. This is about 10k words. Comments are welcomed!
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The Declaration of Independence – July 4, 1776
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
I was unable to sleep. It was awful. I tossed and turned all night and it seemed like the sun would never rise. I don’t know how Liz put up with it, but she was quiet and, I assumed, sleeping, while I rolled around like I was lying in a bed of fleas. First it was too hot and then too cool. The window was open and I could hear the stream gurgling along with an occasional chuckle and splash. That sound usually helped me get to sleep, but tonight, the energy field just seemed to conflict with mine. I knew what the problem was, but I didn’t want to face it.
That damned falling star – I knew it wasn’t a meteor. It fit everything I had learned from the Ancient-One prior to killing him. I was certain that it was some kind of shuttle bearing – and I knew this for a certainty because it was what the aliens had done the first time – another transporter. I remembered from the Ancient-One’s memories that I’d hijacked from him as he tried to dominate me mentally that the original transporter had been sent down with programmed instructions to locate a radio-active ore deposit. There had been one, far underground, in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The deposit was still there and the Pug-bears and Pugs knew where it was. It only made sense that they set their shuttle to return to the same location. I figured that the transporter network blowing up hadn’t damaged the ore deposit. After all, it was deep in the rocks under the ridge where we’d found the transporter link to Titan.
If the falling star we’d seen late in the evening was a spacecraft, then the Pug-bears had made very good time in returning to Earth. I had been certain that they would need several more years to return, but it hadn’t been nearly long enough. Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft had taken approximately 7 years to make the journey and it hadn’t even been four full years since we’d blown the Titan base and destroyed the transporter network. Yet, here they were again!
The worst thing was that humanity hadn’t even begun to recover from the damage that the aliens’ high-altitude nuclear blast had done. The resulting electro-magnetic pulse had effectively destroyed all of the electronics on the face of the globe and most of the electrical grid also. It had resulted in a massive die-off of the human species. Oh, sure, primitive people across the globe hadn’t been affected that much. They didn’t rely on just-in-time inventory supply or any of the other “modern” conveniences that our culture had burdened itself with. They just got up the next day and went out and caught some more fish or went hunting or picked some…
Damn it! My mind was wandering uncontrollably. However, when I opened my eyes, I realized that I’d actually been sort-of sleeping. There was a faint suggestion of daylight coming in our bedroom window and the breeze coming through the window screen wafted the wet lumber smell of the morning dew on the sides of our log home to me.
I took a deep breath and resolved myself, then stretched and rolled over to find Liz staring at me with her eyes open. Her face was only about ten inches from mine and I thought again – for about the ten-thousandth time – how lucky I was that she had fallen in love with me.
She smiled and my mood lightened up in response.
“You didn’t sleep at all, did you, Dec?” It was more of an observation than a question.
“Not very well. I kept worrying about that falling star,” I responded, somewhat reluctantly. I knew from her slight frown and the little wrinkling between her eyebrows that she’d made up her mind about the thing. I didn’t want to start talking about it, because I knew what her decision would be. It would be the same as mine and I didn’t like my decision one little bit.
“You and I both know that wasn’t a falling star,” she said, frowning. “It was the Pug-bears returning to Earth. They have to be stopped quickly and permanently, Dec. If they aren’t, well, we won’t have a future.”
She looked over at the window and then turned her face back to me.
“We’ve got to plan for Michael. He needs a world that’s safe to grow up in,” she said.
As usual, her face softened when she said his name. For such an independent woman, and Liz was as tough as they come and a good fighter too. She had fallen completely for her little son. It must have been catching, because I, too, would do absolutely anything to protect him.
It’s amazing what having your own child will do to your attitude. I can remember that I used to think that other people’s kids were just a nuisance, crying in restaurants and ruining the atmosphere just when I was trying to have a nice meal. Now I’ve got an incredible amount of patience for what the little ones go through and I’ve also put up with some major crying bouts myself. You get used to it and it becomes more or less natural to give comfort and try to make things better. When they’re happy, it’s like the whole world is aglow.
I knew what I was going to do and I didn’t want to do it. There wasn’t any option. I was the only one who knew enough about fighting the aliens to be able to make a difference. I’d proven pretty deadly to them in the past and I was now even more prepared. The mental changes that had started under the Ancient-One’s attack had continued and I was better at both mental communication and remote sensing.
Liz and I were normally in a low-level linkage. You’d probably call it telepathy, but it wasn’t really like that. It’s as if the others thoughts were just part of our own thought-stream. We didn’t have to pay attention to them, but they were always there in the background. This continuous communication made us very close and we each seemed to know what the other needed. Right now, I needed some encouragement and she knew it.
“Look, Dec, we both know that was the Pug-bears coming back. It was obviously some kind of space ship or lander. Now, it may not have brought any aliens. It might be only a robotic ship, but you can be sure that it has a working matter transporter in it. They’ll be back as soon as they can get their transporter link re-established,” she was speaking softly as her eyes locked with mine. “You know that something has to be done to disrupt their plans again.”
“Yeah, but why couldn’t someone else do it?” I was arguing a lost cause and had already made up my mind, but I still wanted to have her convince me.
“You know you’re the only one with the experience and ability to seriously screw them up. They took a beating the last time and they’re going to be more ready this time, but so are you,” she was referring to my maturing psychic abilities.
I knew she was right. My ability to insert thoughts and emotions into another mind had greatly increased since the time when I resisted the Ancient-One’s control. So had my remote-sensing ability. It was handy, since it made me a deadly hunter. In the post-electronics world caused by the alien’s EMP, being able to put food on the table consistently was a blessing.
“I don’t want to leave you and Michael!” I complained, “And, and, I know that you can’t come with me. There’s too much danger on the eastern slope from humans, let alone aliens!”
At this, she sort of kicked her feet to untangle them from the bedclothes and to get them clear of our cat, Jefferson.
He’d been lying between her feet. It’s a bad habit he has. He was a street cat and used to hardship and unused to human contact. However, he’d decided that living with us was the greatest thing that ever happened to him and he just adored sleeping in the bed with us. He would sometimes try to get between my feet, but I was a little too restless and would usually kick him off. Liz, on the other hand, seemed to tolerate the heavy, hot lump that he made.
Now, she kicked and he got up and stretched, then jumped down and went into the other room. After a minute I heard the cat flap and knew he’d gone outside to do his morning duty and check the homestead. He was at least as good a guardian as a dog. I knew he’d alert me to anything amiss. Of course, I could check things out myself by mentally extending my perception.
I did and there was nothing dangerous in the vicinity. I judged that Jefferson would be fine. He’d learned to steer clear of coyotes and cougars. There were a few wolves and bears that had found their way into the area and he left them strictly alone.
I was pushing my mind out a little farther into the aether, searching the general energy level for problems, when I was suddenly interrupted. Liz slid closer to me and put her arm around my shoulder. Her other hand was between us and it just kind of naturally found a sensitive part of my anatomy, and… Well, it’s not necessary to tell everything.
A few minutes later, Michael started crying from the other room and we got up, arranged our clothes and began the morning routine.
During breakfast, we discussed what needed to be done. Liz and Michael would have to stay in Grand Lake at our homestead. Jefferson, for all his alien fighting ability, would have to stay with them. The whole task was going to be up to me.
I needed to get the place prepared for Liz to run, but we had plenty of wood already cut and the chickens and rabbits were usually her task to care for. They created plenty of eggs and the rabbits were just about self-sustaining now that it was moving into summer.
We’d rigged some moveable hutches with wire cages attached and all you had to do was pull them along on their low wheels. The rabbits moved along inside without panic. They’d been through the moves often and knew that after the brief movement, they’d be lowered down over a fresh batch of grass. As soon as the hutch and cage was in place, they hopped eagerly around and began to graze on the untouched grass.
Rabbits are great. They produce more meat per acre than cattle and you can believe that they produce more rabbits faster. Just look up Fibonacci’s formula and you’ll see how fast they can reproduce.
The chickens were just about as easy. The only problem with the animals that required much care was the lesser predators that were attracted to them. Coyotes, foxes, raccoons, weasels, the odd Fisher-cat and, once, a wolverine had all fallen to my .22 fired from the porch. The darned things were always optimistically thinking that they could get an easy lunch at our place.
I finally figured out how to place a mental barrier around the farmyard that would generally keep them out. It was an area of gradually increasing unease. As they approached, they would begin to sense fear and it would increase. Few of them came on in after I set that up. The ones that did found there was an actual justification for the fear.
I’d taught Liz how to do the barrier and she was working on it, but not really facile as yet. However, she was at least as good a shot with the little pump rifle as I was.
We took inventory and realized that she was pretty well set. It wasn’t as if she would be totally alone either. We did live out of town a few miles, but we had plenty of friends in the area and they’d be happy to help out if she needed anything in my absence.
During the entire time we’d lived in Grand Lake, there had only been a few intrusions from the outside world. We knew that the Denver area and most of the front range was under the control of some warlord who mostly ensured peace as long as he got his way. His gang or tribe or whatever you want to call it had never come over the mountains. From what we heard, he had his hands full ruling the people that were left on the eastern slope.
There were occasional intrusions from the plains too. Migrants or wandering peoples who caused trouble and raided his villages. Denver had lost almost all of its population in the big die-off. Starvation came quickly without any trucks to bring food.
Humans had survived the EMP though. The few radios we had managed to get going again told us that. People were gradually beginning to rebuild in various enclaves around the country and across the world. Kansas City seemed to be doing pretty well. The Kansas wheat farms were still producing, although at a low level about comparable to the 18th century. They had begun to build steam engines and lately had managed to get some oil wells producing again. I judged that things would be back to normal in about forty or fifty years, provided that the Pug-bears left us alone.
As for the monstrous Pug-bears, we understood that they’d all been killed. The ones left on Earth after the transporter network blew were strictly feral. They had shipped plenty of the symbiont eggs to Earth, but the Pug-bears wouldn’t eat them unless they were caged and forced to eat the things. The few intelligent Pug-bears had supervised the Pugs in that activity. The symbiont life-form would infect the Pug-bear about once in a thousand times, but when it did, it resulted in the Pug-bear developing a large cranium to house the symbiont. The minds of the two creatures merged and they became quite capable of rational thought. Capable enough that they’d now completely dominated fourteen planets and were giving signs of trying to dominate ours once again.
The Pugs, the humanoids that I’d thought were the only aliens for a long time, were a sort of helot race that the Pug-bears dominated mentally. They had all died off soon after the transporter network went down. They were biologically incompatible with our atmosphere and needed breathing masks and protection for their skin. When their respirators failed, they died quickly and humans hadn’t been bothered by them for several years.
There was something that still puzzled me. I had searched the Ancient-One’s memories as best as I could and still only had a smattering of its knowledge. I knew the Pugs weren’t capable of creating technology. They were used mostly as slaves by the Pug-bears. The Pug-bears didn’t have the physical capability to manipulate things. They were all teeth and claws combined with a tough carapace, but they had no hands.
What puzzled me about the aliens was that I didn’t know where they got their high level of technology. They had space-flight that was far better than man’s. Their transporter network utilized quantum entanglement and torsion waves – things which we’d only just begun to understand – and their weapons included the anti-matter “eraser” gun and anti-matter bombs along with the poisoned glass splinter shooting gun, two of which we still had.
The splinter-shooters held what seemed to be an incredible number of shots, but we’d been preserving ours. Their magazines were down to about ten percent at this point and we kept them back, just in case a Pug-bear showed up. They were the only weapons, short of a fifty-caliber sniper rifle that would lay a Pug-bear out with one shot, as long as the poison splinter was placed right down the alien’s gullet.
Thinking about it, I realized that I’d have to go into town to let the Sheriff and some others know what I was going to do, so after breakfast, Liz and I saddled my horse. He was named “Paint.” Not a very original or creative name, but it described him. He was about as colorful a pinto as there was in the area.
Waving goodbye to Liz and Michael, who was too busy pulling Jefferson’s tail to respond, I set out for town.
It didn’t take Paint long to carry me into town. He crossed the creek, his hooves clacking on the water-worn stones and his legs splashing in the fast running, shallow water. We took the old jeep trail and followed it into town, finally arriving at the town center. The first person I saw was William Smith.
He had showed up a couple of months previously, claiming that he’d come over the Continental Divide from the area around Vail. A couple of the dedicated downhill skiers in town had spoken with him and they thought that he didn’t seem to know enough about Vail to have come from around there. It didn’t matter, though. In this post apocalyptic world, people sort of reinvented themselves and he wasn’t the only one who changed their background story.
He greeted me congenially and inquired about Liz and our homestead. He’d been nothing but innocuous in all of our interactions, but for some reason, I didn’t have a good feeling about him. Perhaps it was due to the shifty feel of his energy field.
I should explain that my enhanced mental ability doesn’t allow me to read minds without others knowing about it. I can sense general energy fields, but in order to read their mind, I’d have to intrude in a way that they would consciously recognize. It’s a lot easier to do with those with whom I have an emotional bond, too. Tapping into a stranger’s conscious level of thought is difficult for me. Invading a stranger human’s mind hadn’t been difficult for the Ancient-One, but I thought that the Pug-bears naturally had very powerful psychic abilities. I believed that they must be be stronger that way than humans, even though I hadn’t met any humans with my mental ability, at least as yet.
William said that the Sheriff was over at the Courthouse and I headed that way. As I rode off, he ingratiatingly said, “Tell Liz ‘Hi’ for me.”
I nodded and thought, “As-if she’d be even slightly interested in hearing from him!” His idea of friendliness just grated on me. He was over-familiar without any basis for it and I didn’t like it. I also didn’t like the way he looked at Liz. A couple of times I’d observed him looking covetously at her when he thought I wasn’t watching.
When I got to the Courthouse, the Sheriff was just coming out. “Hi, Dec!” he greeted me with a smile.
“Hey, Dave! What’s up today?”
“I’m getting tired of being called into court on account of Mrs. Perkins’ chickens,” he wiped his forehead with a stained handkerchief. “She keeps loosing them to coyotes, but every time she claims that it’s Ralph McKinley’s dog. She keeps trying to get the judge to order me to put down the best varmint dog in the area!”
The Sheriff and Ralph McKinley had a kind of varmint hunting club. They’d get together one or two nights during the week and go out with their dogs to run various wildlife. Raccoons, mostly. The dogs didn’t care. They just loved to chase things. Dave and Ralph didn’t care either. I suspected that they mostly used it as an excuse to get drunk and stumble about in the woods. I just hoped that Dave didn’t fall in a hole and break his neck some night. He was a great Sheriff, not given to getting too excited, but very effective at keeping the peace.
“Sheriff, I’ve got a favor to ask of you,” I told him.
He turned serious, instantly, “You know that I’d do anything I can for you and your wife, Dec.”
“Did you see that fireball that crossed the sky about ten o’clock last night?” I looked up and traced an imaginary line along the path the thing had taken.
“No, but I heard something about it from several people. A couple of the guys were coming out of the tavern and they were pretty excited about a meteor. I just thought they’d had too much to drink,” he said, deprecatingly.
“Liz and I saw it cross the sky. I’m sure that it landed over around Estes Park. You know that was where the aliens landed on Earth originally,” I was just stating a fact that I was sure he knew.
“Yep! I remember that’s what you told us when you first got here,” he recalled.
“OK. Well, I’m dead certain that wasn’t a meteor. It was a spaceship that they sent back to the same place. There’s a reason that they landed there in the first place and it has to do with some kind of radioactive ore deposit deep underground. I believe that this landing will re-establish their matter transporter link to Earth and, if I’m right, we’ll shortly see them coming back in force.”
It was asking a lot of him to believe that I was correct, but he knew enough about me to realize that I wasn’t joking about it.
“You’re kidding, aren’t you – No, I can see that you’re not!” was his response.
“No, Sheriff, I wish I was joking, but I’m afraid that we’re going to be up in our necks with those things unless something is done.”
“What can we do? The last time, only a few of the Pug-bears showed up around here. Are you thinking that there will be more? Will they try to take over and what kind of force will they have?” He took his hat off and mopped his brow again.
“That’s just the problem. I don’t know for sure that they’ll bother us in force very soon, but I do know that the damned things have taken over at least fourteen planets and eradicated almost all of the life on them.”
“Wait a minute! How could you know such a thing? It doesn’t seem likely, now, does it?” He looked at me carefully with his law-enforcement expression.
I knew that I needed to be very precise with what I said next. I’d told him before about my encounter with the Ancient-One, but I hadn’t gone into details about the mental battle we’d fought and the resultant effect on my mind.
“OK. Dave, I haven’t told you this yet, because it sounds unbelievable, but when I killed the Pug-bear’s leader, he was trying to dominate my mind with some kind of mental linkage.” He nodded as he recalled the story. “When I found the strength to resist, it shocked him and he accidentally opened his memories to me.”
“Well, but you couldn’t have learned much in that short a time, could you?”
“That’s a good question. The time was short, but thought is very fast. What happened was that a large number of his memories, I think maybe all of them, leaked into my subconscious and were stored. All I have to do is to ask the right question now and I can usually recall enough information from him to answer it.”
“But, how do you know which question to ask?” Dave was sharper than he looked, no question about that.
“That’s the issue. I often don’t. I don’t know what I know until something cues the recall, but here’s the point. I do know that the aliens are deadly and mean us no good. Even if they let some of us live, we’ll be no better than slaves at best and probably more like beef cattle, since they will eat humans along with just about anything else that moves.”
“We’ve got to do something about this!”
“That’s what I was getting to,” I responded. “I’m preparing to go against them again.”
“Well, what do you want me to do?” he asked, getting back to specifics.
“I’m going over the pass to see if I can’t stop them from coming back,” I said, definitively. “I’d just like you to keep an eye on Liz and Michael. They’re going to stay at our place. It’s too dangerous for me to risk her going with me and she has to take care of the boy anyway.”
“That’s no problem! You know I’ll keep an eye on them. You’ve got a lot of friends in this town and we’ve learned that we either stand together or we won’t survive,” he responded.
“Times have been tough, haven’t they?”
“Yeah! I’ve got to admit that I didn’t believe everything you told us when you first showed up, but things have gone just about the way you said,” he shook his head in regret.
It was true. Times had been tough. We lived in an isolated community and we’d had to develop our own food sources. There was no way anyone would send supplies to us. There wasn’t really even anyone who knew or cared where we were.
“Listen, Dec, are you sure you should go alone? I can get some of the boys and we can – ” he started.
I held up my hand and interrupted him, “No, you can’t. You’re the Sheriff here and the town needs you and all of the able-bodied men available for defense. I know that no one has attacked us in the last few years, but there’s always the possibility that the Eastern Slope Warlord or some other gang will decide to move into the North Park area. I’d like the help, but I’d rather you and the guys stayed here and protected the town and my family. Besides, I’m experienced at fighting the creatures and most of the people here aren’t.”
He bridled a bit over that, “Now, hold on a minute. We’ve killed our share of Pug-bears.”
“I know you have, but none of them have been the smart kind and, if they’re coming back, that’s what will come along with a lot of their soldiers. Those are the man-like ones I call Pugs. You haven’t seen them, but they’re tough and hard to kill and the big thing is, they can shoot back. The Pug-bears can’t.”
“OK. You’ve made your point. I’ll just make it my business to keep a close eye on your place while you’re gone.”
“Thanks, Dave! You’re a real friend. I knew I could count on you,” I turned Paint and rode off towards the general store. I’d promised Liz that I’d get some woolen fabric so she could work on winter clothes. You don’t know how convenient it is to simply buy clothes off the rack until they aren’t there any longer. Grand Lake had run out of garments a couple of years ago. Fortunately, a couple of the locals had developed fairly sizable flocks of sheep and we’d all learned to make do with woolen clothes. They didn’t even itch much due to the colder climate in the mountains.
We’d learned that wool is a great survival fabric. You can get it wet and it still keeps your body heat in. Cotton will kill you in sub-zero temperatures if it got wet. Wool won’t; it will keep you comfortable and, if not totally comfortable, it will keep you from freezing. We all wore wool shirts, pants and socks as a matter of necessity.
While I was selecting some cloth in the store, I overheard a couple of young women talking. They were from the far side of town and I didn’t know their names although I’d seen them a few times. They gave the overall impression of less prosperity than the average. I mean that, given the circumstances, we were all poor in comparison to where we’d been prior to the alien attack, but these two had threadbare clothes and their moccasins were just about on their last mile. One of them had holes in both toes where the leather had given out. This was not usual in town. Most of the people took good care of their clothes and equipment, so these two stood out.
Anyway, they were chatting excitedly about William Smith. One of them seemed to have romantic aspirations for him and the other was encouraging her.
“He’s just so handsome that I could just die when he looks at me,” she said.
“I’ll bet that he’d be a good provider, too. He told me that he always has meat on his table,” her friend chipped in.
“I hope that he asks me to the next dance. He told me he would,” the first enthused.
The clerk who was assisting me just shook her head and spoke quietly to me, “Those girls don’t have the first idea about that guy. I’ve heard that he’s made a run at every single woman in town, especially if they have some nice property. Neither of those two have any prospects and their fathers are both kind of shiftless, so they won’t have anything that would really attract him.” She was shaking her head in disparagement as she spoke.
“Well, Molly, I don’t know them or their fathers, so I can’t say, but I’ve been keeping my eye on Smith. His story didn’t seem square when he first arrived in town and I can’t say that he’s been an outstanding addition to the community, for all his talk about his hunting,” I was, perhaps, a little over-doing it. He hadn’t been a liability to the town and he did bring in the odd deer or elk. He worked mostly as a hand for one of the sheep herders and didn’t have a place of his own.
“Nothing good will come to those girls, if they get to hanging out with him,” she said as she measured my selection. “That will be five dollars, Dec.”
We had continued to use the old currency. There wasn’t any government backing it, as far as we knew and the paper and coins were worthless, but they’d been mostly that way before the attack. It was a convenience that allowed us to keep track of transactions. We simply pretended that the currency had value and it did, as long as people were willing to trade it for food and supplies. Of course, we’d also take food, gold, ammunition and anything else of value in barter, but we always tried to reduce the transaction to dollars and cents to keep it balanced out.
“Here you go, Molly, and thank you,” I said as I handed her five silver dollars and left.
On the way back, I rode past the school. It was in session and I could see Nancy standing in front of the chalk board through the window. She and Mike’s decision to stay in Grand Lake before the EMP had proven to be a great benefit to the town. They had taken over the school and the local children were getting a great education as a result.
She looked out the window and I waved, not expecting a response, but she waved back. I could see some of her students turn curious faces to the window as she did.
It wasn’t long before I got back to our place.
Liz and Michael were having lunch by the time I’d unsaddled Paint and gotten him settled in the corral. Jefferson had complicated things by greeting me and parading around between my feet and rubbing on the horse’s fetlocks. Paint didn’t mind. He and Jefferson were friends and the cat often spent hours in the barn, largely, I suspect, due to the mice that made their hazardous living gleaning pieces of grain that the horses spilled.
I went up the steps, stomped the dust off my boots and entered to find my wife and son sitting at the table. A third plate waited for me.
Over lunch, we discussed our preparations for my upcoming odyssey. I’d decided to dress in my worn buckskins and try to look like a wandering mountain man. I figured that if I didn’t look prosperous and also gave off an aura of competence, most likely, I’d be judged as not being worth the hassle of trying to rob. Liz agreed and we went on to talk about how she’d manage while I was gone.
After we’d eaten, Michael and I went through my kit and packed the things I’d need. Warm clothes, a compass, a topo map, sleeping bag, fire starter, my Sig and a couple of boxes of ammo along with all eight magazines. I decided on taking the .300 Win Mag. I didn’t have much ammo, but the thing was a great shooter and easily reached out to ridiculous distances accurately. It was just a little too much gun with too much recoil for Liz to use anyway. I could have taken one of our M-4s, but those just wouldn’t kill Pug-bears. As an after thought, I took down my snowshoes and set them beside the door. It had been a cold winter and the snow wasn’t off the peaks yet.
Over Liz’s protests, I left her both splinter-shooters. I pointed out that she could use them to defend the cabin and they’d easily kill aliens, if any showed up. Besides, where would I, as an indigent mountain man, come up with such a weapon? They’d cast some suspicion on my cover, assuming that I needed cover. I convinced her that I could always scavenge one of the alien weapons if the opportunity presented itself.
I busied myself for the rest of the day, cleaning, rubbing snow seal on the leather and arranging my gear for easy packing. I finished my work in the early evening and spent the time after supper playing with Michael. Liz would occasionally give me a rather forlorn look, but we didn’t discuss my upcoming journey or my low probability of survival and success.
I had another restless night and so did she. We finally fell asleep, huddled together under the down comforter and content with each others closeness.
Dawn finally arrived. Liz had gotten up and had coffee on by the time I’d gathered my things. We ate and I tried to memorize everything, because it promised to be my last family dinner for an unknown length of time.
It wasn’t more than an hour later that Paint and I were crossing the creek. I’d had a little trouble with Jefferson. He had given every indication that he was going to come with us. He obviously recognized that I was preparing for a lengthy journey and he did his best to complicate things, pacing around and yowling periodically. The yowls got on both my nerves and Paint’s. The horse actually seemed glad to get across the creek and away from the cat.
I thought that Jefferson was going to try to swim across the quick-running stream for a moment, but Liz and Michael had walked down with me. She grabbed him, just as he was preparing to make the plunge and I urged Paint to cross quickly.
I paused as we came up the bank on the far side of the ford and turned in the saddle to wave one last goodbye. Paint took that exact moment to try and shake some of the water off and it kind of ruined my seat. Michael laughed and Liz smiled and that gave me a good mental picture to hold in my mind while I was away.
Within an hour, we were heading up the road past the ranger station and moving into the park. The road hadn’t been maintained since the EMP and it was falling apart. The asphalt was cracked and pot-holed and weeds were growing up through the cracks. Nevertheless, it gave us a slightly more level path and Paint gradually wended his way around the obstacles as we began the long climb.
I’d hoped to reach the top and be partway down the other side by dusk, but I ran into an unfortunate complication. The snow was packed high and the pass was still blocked. At about the ten thousand foot level, I pulled up. My horse had been making heavy going of it for the last ninety minutes and I knew he wasn’t going to be able to continue. The snow was just too deep. It was also getting too dark to go on due to a front that was coming over the front range. We paused in the wind as I looked around at the desolate scene. After a moment, I led him off into some low trees and made a camp for the night.
I figured that I’d have to send him back down tomorrow, but I didn’t want him wandering around in the dark. Paint was a smart horse and I knew that he’d go right back to the barn. Life there was too good for him to ignore. The thought of regular feedings of cracked corn (hard to get in our valley, but worthwhile) would be enough to insure his return.
I tied him to a spruce and stomped a level area out in the snow. Then I unpacked my kit and set about gathering squaw wood for a small fire. I had a tarp and my sleeping bag and didn’t need the fire to last all night, but I did want a warm supper and some hot tea.
In short order, the flames were crackling and I had a small pan full of snow melting. The wind had picked up and there were snow flakes on the breeze, so I was glad I’d stopped. I fed Paint and then myself, then got my sleeping arrangement set.
I gathered some fresh branches and laid them out into a rough bed. Then I spread the tarp and laid my bag out on it. Taking off my boots, I climbed in the bag and sat watching the fire, my rifle at my side. My Sig was, as it always is, close at hand inside the bag.
The flames died down and the snow came in more heavily as the night progressed. The wind was blowing up a half-gale, but most of it was above the spruces. I’d picked a spot where they were thick and the heavily needled branches shielded me from most of the storm. Paint slept standing up and everything was peaceful, until sometime in the small hours of the night.
I awoke instantly as Paint snorted. I didn’t sit up, but lay there, surreptitiously putting my hand out on my rifle. As I grasped the weapon, I pushed my senses out into the aether. I was immediately aware of a presence there and the signature was definitely feline.
As I worked on sensing the creature, I gradually resolved the signals I was getting to an area to the south of my camp. That was the way I’d come into the trees and the sensation of stealthy approach was localized along my path.
The problem with mental contact is that you don’t always recognize the source. Contrary to what you’d think, animals are somewhat indistinct in their mental signatures. Deer and Elk give off generalized browsing and vegetarian auras with timidity and caution mixed in. Predators, on the other hand, are a little more difficult. It’s relatively easy to tell that they’re interested in hunting and killing prey, but it’s harder to tell exactly what they are.
An animal doesn’t know that it’s a “deer” or a “wolf.” It does have a sense of self in relation to other creatures, but, if you could read its mind, you’d understand that its personal identification doesn’t have elements that relate to human categories. It only knows that it’s predator or prey and aggressive or timid.
A dog, even the smallest Yorkie, thinks it’s every bit as tough as a wolf. The wolf may give off a bit more stealthiness, I don’t know how else to describe it. They’re more sneaky, but so are coyotes and foxes. I found it really difficult to tell them apart based on their mental auras.
The sensation I was now getting was that of a cat, but, aside from the fact that I knew it wasn’t Jefferson, it could have been a house cat, a lynx or bobcat, or a cougar. It approached and I gradually understood that it was interested in Paint. That level of interest keyed my understanding and I realized that it was a cougar.
It was suspicious of my scent, but it was hungry and the horse smelled like a good meal. I read in its thoughts that it had eaten horse-flesh before and had found it good. It was stealthily preparing to attack in a manner that it had calculated held the highest probability of success. The darkness and gusty wind served its purpose admirably. I could sense that it was confident that it couldn’t be detected as it slunk nearer.
Now that I knew what I was faced with, I wanted to frighten it off permanently and not have to worry about it sneaking around for the rest of the night. It knew that horses and men didn’t have the night vision ability it had and it depended on not being visible. I thought that I could frighten it off fairly easily.
I began to push out a general feeling of unease and danger into the surrounding energy field. I quickly built up the projection, trying as I did to bypass Paint. I didn’t want to frighten him into the jaws of the cougar. He shifted uneasily as I created the sense of a large bear, just awakening and angry.
I could tell the cougar was beginning to feel a deep sense of unease. The prey that it had marked was already the property of a bear. It might try to face down a bear, but it knew that it had no chance against one. I kept pushing my energy into the aether and suddenly, I became aware that the cougar’s energy field was gradually fading. It was softly retreating, using the gusts of wind as cover for its moves. I kept up the bear projection and then tried to implant it into my mind where it would reside at a low level with only a minimal conscious effort.
The cat was gone and, I hoped, not coming back for the rest of the night. I sent a mental probe out to it and realized that it was now quite far away and moving out across the valley, searching for other prey. I relaxed gradually. The wind continued gusting and I finally went back to sleep.
Morning came early. The wind had fallen during the night, but the snow had kept up for awhile and I had a couple of inches covering the half of the tarp that I’d drawn over my sleeping bag. I kicked off the tarp and set up, shaking the snow off as I did.
Paint stirred and shook in turn, sending snow flying off his back. Our paths would part today, but first, I probed the energy field surrounding us, finding nothing to cause alarm. It seemed clear all the way back to our homestead and I placed the image of the warm barn and cracked corn into his mind. He snorted and perked his ears. I could see that he was hungry and the idea of corn was very tempting.
I climbed out of my bag and pulled the halter over his ears, taking the time to scratch behind them, affectionately. While I did, I reinforced his idea of heading for the barn, then I let him go.
He took a few tentative steps back towards the road, pushing through the hardened snow drifts under the trees. As he reached the road, he paused and looked back at me where I stood in the embrace of the spruces. I mentally pushed him down the road and without another glance, he turned and waded through the deep snow to the asphalt, heading down the hill.
Returning to my tarp, I restarted the fire and cooked a couple of pieces of bacon that I’d brought. As I did, I mentally followed the horse to ensure that he continued back. I checked again after I’d eaten and cleaned my utensils in the snow. He was a long ways down the road and it seemed likely that he was speeding up.
Then I had a sudden thought. What would Liz think when he came back alone? I crouched in front of the small fire and concentrated on her. She was asleep, but presently, she was in touch with me on some half-sleeping, half-waking level. I did my best to convey the idea that I was fine and had sent Paint back. She seemed to understand. I finished by projecting a sense of love and concern for her and Michael, then withdrew from the deep level of contact.
I gathered my kit and heaped snow on the coals of my breakfast fire. It took me a moment to strap on the snowshoes and then the work began. I had to climb a couple of thousand feet through the snow and I wanted to be down the other side and into the tree line before night fell. It wouldn’t do to remain exposed above the trees over night. It might turn out okay or not. The weather at this time of year was unpredictable, but last night’s snow had warned me that I shouldn’t take chances.
I’m going to skip over the next few hours. They were unpleasant, involving a lot of walking, resting, gasping for breath and curses about the snow. It was packed underneath and last night’s snow had served to cover up hollows and icy patches. I had a devil of a time avoiding stepping in a hole and the ice made it harder, causing me to slip at the most inconvenient times..
I was more than ready to quit climbing by noon. The day was clear, so that was a blessing. I paused and took off my pack in order to pull out some jerky that was stored, inconveniently in a back pocket. Stuffing a huge bite in my mouth, I looked around.
I’d been focused so closely on taking the next step and then the next that I’d neglected to notice how high I was getting. When I looked around I realized with pleasure that I was at the top of the pass and only had a few hundred yards to go before I started down the other side.
I shuffled along with the bow-legged stride the snow shoes necessitated and was shortly looking down the eastern side of the pass. I paused to consider my course of action. If I continued down the main road, I would probably miss the site where the lander had come down. I expected to find it close to the ridge where we’d previously found the transporter that led to Titan. As I thought about the possibilities, a vague sense of disquiet intruded into my mind.
Finally, realizing that I was getting more and more uneasy, I paused and tried to open my senses to the general energy field. As soon as I did, the source of my disquiet became obvious. I hadn’t sensed it earlier, due to being mostly exhausted from the climb and simply concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other.
There was a concentration of humans about three miles away from me. They were somewhat to the east and down about two thousand feet. That was just about where I judged the lander would be.
This was going to be harder than I’d hoped. I hadn’t planned on having other people around, but it looked like the Eastern Slope Warlord’s gang had seen the landing and had come up to investigate. The thought patterns that I was sensing were a combination of curious and aggressive. It wasn’t a nice kind of aggressiveness, either.
After thinking about the situation, I decided that it would be better for me to head eastward. To accomplish what I wanted was going to be a real chore. I needed to come across a huge snowfield on the north-east side of Old Fall River road and pass Marmot Point. Then I’d have to climb a steep spur of the mountain, cross through a heavily wooded area and eventually descend to Chapin Creek. I could follow the creek until the trees closed in and then I’d be near the end of Chapin Creek trail. I presumed the trail would be marked by the Park Service, although the condition if the markers at this point was likely to be pretty poor.
Assuming I could find the trail, I’d reach Chapin Pass and be able to head South. Then I’d be more or less due East of the location where we’d found the alien installation four years ago. I’d try to come up to it from that direction.
This approach gave me, I hoped, plausible deniability. The group of people I’d sensed were undoubtedly surrounding the lander and I was going to have to interact with them in order to accomplish my goal of sabotaging the aliens’ transporters again. With any luck, I’d be able to enlist some of the people to help, but whether they would prove to be helpful or hostile, I wanted to give no clue that I’d come over the pass from Grand Lake. They’d left us alone for the past few years and I wanted that to continue.
Getting across the snow field was a chore. My foresight in bringing my snowshoes was something that proved to be very helpful. It was mostly hard snow covered with a couple of inches of wet, fresh snow, just as it had been coming up the west side of Trail Ridge. I took my time with the traverse and checked with a spruce pole that I’d cut to make sure there were no crevasses buried under the snow.
After a couple of hours, I reached the tree-covered ridge. It was steep, but by zig-zaging through the forest, I eventually came to the top. Then I had to work my way down to Chapin Creek. That part of the journey was dicey. It was even steeper and the snow was wetter on the south side of the ridge. The net effect was that I was constantly in danger of slipping out-of-control. I found myself grabbing spruce branches for assistance about every third step. I didn’t fall and after a lot of work, I eventually found myself coming out of the trees onto a steep and barren slope that led down to the creek.
It looked like the trees had been repeatedly scoured away in this area by avalanches and I kept a wary eye up slope as I descended. I needn’t have worried, though. The underlying snow was icy and the deposit from last night’s fall wasn’t thick enough to create any avalanche danger. I finally got down to the creek and was pleased to find that it was running and even had a few stretches of open water in the steeper sections.
I lumped along, clambering over boulders and fallen trees that were racked up beside the creek. It seemed like it took me forever to descend the thousand feet or so to where the trees closed in on the creek. Apparently, the avalanches hadn’t reached down this far, since the terrain flattened out. Once I got into the trees another problem arose. I couldn’t find the trail! I cast around a bit, but there was just no sign of it. How quickly man’s marks on the wild fade!
There was nothing for it, but to follow the slope downward, so I did. In another thousand feet, I came to what looked like a reasonable ascent to a small pass I saw above me to the south. Climbing it, I finally did find a marker set into the south side of a boulder. It said “Chapin Pass Trail” and I knew I was in the right place. I crested the ridge and was able to see a series of rocks that looked like they were in the right location.
There was another, more obvious cue. I could see the smoke from a fire or fires rising over the ridge from the far side. I figured that whoever it was had made a temporary camp there. It was pretty certain that the people I’d find would be gang members, or whatever they called themselves.
Thinking ahead, I paused while I found a crack between some large rocks to store my backpack for later retrieval, then I started off again on my downhill hike. I was working my way around a series of boulders when a rifle shot plowed into the snow a few feet to my left. I stopped and held up my hands and waited.
It didn’t take too long before I saw a couple of raggedly dressed men coming out of the rocks about a hundred yards away. They had me covered with rifles and I assumed that there was probably another one or two that were providing back-up from some hidden location. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t there to fight.
When they got close enough to talk in the light breeze, the uglier one of the two shouted, “Who are you and what d’ye want?”
I called back, “Name’s Dec. I’m just coming down out of the high country and heading for Estes. I’ve about had it with this crazy weather.”
Both of them laughed, “There ain’t anything at Estes anymore! What kind of ignorant fool would head there? Everyone around these parts was et up by the aliens years ago.”
I tried to look surprised as I replied, “I didn’t know. I came out of Wyoming this spring and I’ve been working my way south through the mountains. I thought I’d get down to Denver for the summer.”
“Well, if you’re going to Denver, that’s where we’re from,” they laughed and eyed each other surreptitiously. “You’ll have to come with us. We’ve got a camp over the hill by the spaceship that come down the other night. You’ll have to talk to the Warlord’s assistant, though.” They paused and one elbowed the other while they both laughed.
I didn’t know what was so funny, but I answered, “OK. That’s no problem with me. I’ve got no grudge against anybody around here, so I’m happy to talk.”
“You might as well save your breath,” the one with the ready elbow answered. “You’ll have to square accounts with the Red-Head and that usually takes some doing. Follow us and don’t start acting funny.”
From their general look and the level of their conversation, they obviously weren’t on the high end of the IQ bell curve. Even so, I didn’t want to give them any ideas. I judged it best to try and seem friendly, “You going to let me keep my rifle?”
“Yeah, you can carry it for now, I got enough to carry. But, keep your hands off it; you’re covered from a couple of locations,” the smaller one answered. They seemed confident in their backup.
We hiked down to the ridge-back and around to the down hill side. I remembered the area well, even though I’d only seen it once. There was still some signs of the transporter explosion, broken rocks and debris. I could even see a bit of the door frame where it had been set into the rocks.
A little farther down was an open area and the aliens’ lander was there. It wasn’t at all what I’d thought it would be. Instead of looking like an engineered spaceship, it appeared to be almost organic. It was covered in some dull-black material that didn’t reflect light, so that it looked sooty. It was as if it were covered with lamp-black. And the shape! It wasn’t smooth, but had ridges and coils of unknown function covering the roughly dome-like object.
I started to head towards it, but they stopped me. “You’ll have to get straight with the Red-Head afore ye get anywhere near that thing.”
The other added, “Yeah! You better be convincing about where you’re from and what you’re doin’ here. She ain’t in a real good mood this morning.”
“Why would that be,” I wondered, more to keep them talking, than curious. They’d already given me some good information and I hoped for more. The mental energy field in the camp area was confused and gave off equal parts of fear and hostility and aggression. I couldn’t get any useful sensation beyond that.
“Ain’t nothin’ she’s tried that can open that thing up. It just sits there grinding,” the ugly one answered.
“Grinding?” That aroused my curiosity.
“Yeah. It makes a kind of grinding noise. You can hear it, if you put your ear against the boulders around here,” was the answer.
“OK,” I paused and thought, “Maybe it’s grinding up rocks or drilling.”
The instant I said “drilling” I knew that was what the thing was doing. My Ancient-One memories told me that the lander was equipped to drill down to the radioactive deposit in order to extract ore so that it could power up the transporter it was carrying. The process was automatic and was controlled by a series of fairly simple relays and a low-order computer system. I didn’t think their cybernetics was on a par with ours, or, I should say, the way ours used to be.
My thinking about the lander was abruptly interrupted as we approached the fire. There was a large clot of men standing around, all carrying weapons ranging from rifles to swords and spears. There was a sudden, sharp exclamation from the middle of the group and the standing men scrambled quickly aside, leaving me facing a beautiful, red-headed woman.
She was dressed in some good quality mountaineering gear and from that, I judged that the supplies in Denver hadn’t run out yet. Despite the rather shapeless down jacket she had on, I could see that she was about my age and in good, no great physical condition. She would have been a pleasant sight, except for the angry frown that was displayed on her face.
End of Chapter 4 — From here, you can expect a couple of more races of aliens, FTL travel, space combat, adventures on a primitive planet and a lot of additional action.
Hope you liked the preview!