Third snip of the space opera novella. I think one more, next week sometime, and then I will publish. Which means I have to get moving on the cover! This morning, however, math. I keep thinking I’m going to get a handle on it and it will stop taking like umpteen hours of homework for four hours of lecture, but no…
Again, any errors or grievous story issues, feel free to comment.
She opened her eyes again. “Just resting. I am thirsty, though. Could you get me one of the jugs out of the plane?”
Jed brought back one of the two gallon jugs and a coffee mug he had rinsed out in the lake. He supported her head and shoulders while she took a drink of water, and then helped her get comfortable.
“I want to see how bad it is.” He touched her scalp gently, palpating the injured area. Paul looked worriedly on from the other side of the fire, his leg stretched out stiffly.
Jed slid his hands down to hold her cheeks. “Gabi, your skull is fractured. Not depressed, but definitely not intact, either.”
She nodded slightly. “Well, let’s hope it doesn’t swell too much.” She tried to say lightly, but it did not come over well. Both men could see the fear on her face. She tried to get their attention off herself. “Paul, how is your leg?”
“Okay. It really smarts, but it stopped bleeding. I don’t think it’ll even need stitches.”
Gabi smiled, and yawned. “So how are we going to keep me awake?”
Jed grinned down at her, his heart heavy at her pain. He was forcing himself to be cheerful. He had gotten angry too many times in the past at her pain. He could not help it. When something was wrong, he wanted to fix it, and he had never reacted well when he could only sit and do nothing about it. But tonight he was determined to keep her spirits – all of their spirits – up until help came. Just as so many time in the past, he was in command, and morale was his responsibility.
“How about campfire songs?”
Gabi groaned and rolled her eyes. Paul laughed and sang “I’m having a wonderful time but I’d rather be whistling in the dark…”
Gabi giggled. “Oh great, if we’re going down that road, how about ghost stories?”
“How about Jed tells us what’s really going on with the UFO?” Paul suggested
Jed made a face at him, appreciating his willingness to play along with the effort to lift the gloomy mood that had hung over them. “Just so you stop with the ‘they might be giants’ songs. That one always sticks in my mind for days.”
“Well, let’s see, where do I begin? I don’t know all of the story, mind. Colonel Matthewson called me in because he knows me, trusts me, and knows I have an open mind. He told me that we had been contacted by aliens, and that after a lot of discussion, it was finally decided that we would host them here in the US of A for their first landing on Earth. A small landing ship headed in, carrying an ambassador and his retinue, as I understand it, but something went wrong and they crashed here in Alaska. They had come in over the pole to reduce the odds of being seen. I guess the powers that be are still trying to figure out how to break this to the general public.”
“Wow.” Paul interrupted, looking up at the darkening sky. The first stars were beginning to come out. “There really is someone out there, then.”
“Yes, and I have seen them. They wanted us to find the ship and mark it so they can come and get their casualties. They were afraid that searching for it themselves would attract to much attention, and they couldn’t get into a close enough earth orbit to find it with their scanners without the same problem. So the Colonel called on me. After I got through pointing out that I was a little old for this kind of thing, he told me he wanted someone with a little more experience and intelligence than your average grunt.”
Jed looked down at Gabi, who was struggling to keep her eyes open. “Hey, am I boring you?”
“No, no, this is fascinating.” She tried to smile.
“OK. So the Army shipped me off to Eilson, and a Blackhawk dropped me at the crash site after we found it. Finding it took about a week. I wanted to come down and see you, Gabi, but they were keeping pretty tight tabs on me. Anyway, we had instructions from the aliens not to allow anyone but me too close to the wreck, so I went in alone and put a beacon on it for them, made to their specs. I turned it on, and then took a good look around.”
“What do they look like?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. They’d been dead a week, and the animals had been at them. All I know is that they look a lot more like a man than made me happy. Anyway, I had been told to look for that thing.” He nodded at the box lying next to Paul, rewrapped in a neat package of parachute silk.
“What is it?” Gabi asked faintly.
“They told us it is a gift to humanity. I have no friggin’ idea what it really is. I’m not to sure about the gift part, with seven of them dead and one of ours.”
Paul flinched at the reminder of the dead man, still in the plane.
“Should… should we take the major out of the plane?” he asked tentatively.
“No, I think the officials will want to satisfy themselves that he really did die in the accident. Besides, we probably couldn’t move him by now. Oh, rat’s ass. I forgot to get the survival kit out. Are you hungry?”
“No, I feel really nauseated,” replied Gabi, to whom he had addressed the question. “Paul?”
“Yeah, I’m hungry.” he admitted reluctantly. “How can you be so… so… calm about Major Williams?”
Jed gave him a twisted smile, rueful. “I’ve seen a lot of dead bodies, and one thing I know about them. They are harmless. The person that used to be in there is gone. The thing that is left behind is so much cold clay and there isn’t a thing I can do about it.”
He got up and headed for the plane. he carried a red flashlight to guide him to the water’s edge, careful over the rough ground. The white of the fuselage glimmered in the starlight. The moon was just rising. He stopped and looked up into the sky , into the brilliance of the stars. Nowhere else on earth could you see the sky quite like here, he thought. The air was absolutely clear, and the light of the stars was illuminating. He raised his fist and growled at the unseen craft far above. “She dies, and I’m coming to get you, bastards.”
On the way back, pack in hand, he could see the glimmer of the fire and hear their voices. Paul was saying “Yeah, Mom is a really nice lady. More than makes up for Dad’s preoccupation with his work. What about your family?”
Gabi glanced up at Jed, who smiled at her and dropped down by the fire. He dug in the pack and handed Paul two MRE’s. “Your choice of Tuna and Noodles, or Beef Stew.”
“Oh, gross! Not the tuna, Jed!” Gabi protested. “Poor guy.”
“Well, I guess that means I should choose the beef,” Paul handed the other one back to Jed with a lopsided grin.
He tore it open and got it ready to heat in a canteen cup. “You were telling him about your family, Gabi?”
“Hmmm… well, I have a lot of family here in Alaska. I live with my Dad and and uncle, actually. They were batching it for years, after my Mom died, and it has taken them some adjusting to get used to having a woman around the house again. You know, little things like curtains, hot meals at home… The Northstar called me and complained that I had lost them two of their best customers. I compromised with them and only cook one meal a day for the guys, now. My cousins live out in the bush. They guide cheechakos out for big game. Some of them are decent enough, but…”
She trailed off, staring into space. Jed looked hard at her, feeling worried. It was unlike her to ramble or get confused. He cleared his throat. “How about the story of the blue and yellow wolves?”
“Huh? oh, all right…” she thought for a moment, then began “well, my second cousin went to college in the Southeast, and studied Forestry. S… no, wait, it was Uncle Jim… I think.” she trailed off with puckered brow, staring into space as if expecting the story to pop into sight in midair.