Tigerman led them to a cave on the second level
and then through a passageway to a wide ladder that led to the next level.
This was repeated several times until the group found themselves
six levels up and in a fairly large cave that overlooked the narrow
come soon,” Tigerman instructed.
“Did you say that the head elder was your
father?” Buck asked.
“Ah, you are somewhat of a prince in your own
right, then,” commented Buck.
Tigerman blinked in surprise then shook his head.
“Maybe,” he said noncommittally.
“We small people. Mistress and her father big people.”
Soon young Rrilling males and females were
bringing in various kinds of foods, some spicy, some bland, but all good.
After they had finished, Buck sat back with a sigh, resting against
a rough stone wall. Wilma
nestled against him and he put his arm around her.
“It’s going to be a rough trip, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Yes, I think it’s going to be hard.
I just hope Tigerman remembers the best and quickest way,” he
“And that the reception won’t be too
hostile.” Wilma paused. “Buck, just what is it that you feel?”
“You mean what the admiral called my
“I really can’t explain it other than what I
was saying before,” he began. “And
I kept seeing Avi-iki’s face when realization began to hit her. It was like she was in Garo-tura’s mind, too, feeling what
he was feeling, hearing his thoughts.
And just before I returned I heard a cry of anguish in my mind.
Hers.” Buck sighed.
“I can’t let that go, Wilma.
I have to try and find their descendants and let them know how I
feel; and what happened.”
That he had felt Ava-iki’s thoughts hadn’t
been mentioned before, but Wilma didn’t wonder that it had affected him
so deeply. She still felt the
admiral was right in his assessment of Buck’s behavior; it was almost
compulsive, something so deep seated that even Buck couldn’t totally
understand its influence on him.
As the sky beyond the cave mouth darkened, several
of the younger Rrilling prepared and then lit a campfire in the middle of
the sleeping area. As they
did so, they hummed a deep-throated purring song.
When they were finished, the flames lit up almost every corner of
the cave and brought warmth even to the two terrans leaning against the
“Too bad we don’t have smores,” Buck
“An Earth treat usually fixed on camping trips
over fires,” explained Buck, then he elaborated on the custom.
“Sounds tasty,” Wilma said when he had given
her the details. “Too bad
we don’t have the ingredients.” She
“I guess we should all turn in early,” Buck
said, stifling a yawn of his own. Despite
the earliness of the hour, everyone soon had their sleeping bags out and
were quickly asleep.
The next day, the path was somewhat less traveled
but still easily negotiable. As
they worked their way higher into the mountains and closer to the hidden
valley of the Tane-rapanui, though, the trail became more and more rugged.
“We now in mountains where cubs go to prove
adulthood,” Tigerman said, looking at the ominously darkening clouds
that gathered above the mountains ahead of them. “We
go higher, then valley, then another mountain.”
Buck gazed at the clouds as well, wondering just
how long they would be able to travel in the relatively good weather with
which they had been favored. He
gazed surreptitiously at Sky Mother and Sky Father and could not help but
be amazed at how resilient and tough these bird people were.
The older couple had not faltered once; they had seemed less
susceptible to the cold and extremely sure-footed on the trail.
And as Buck found later, they also had no problem with the
Of course, Tigerman seemed to read the group well,
too, stopping just when a rest or halt was most needed. The Rrilling was an excellent guide, just as Buck figured he
Near the end of the fourth day, Buck found himself exhausted, almost panting by the time they halted. When he glanced at Wilma, he saw that she was in distress as well. Tigerman helped Wilma out of her pack and then approached him. “Time for air.”
kidding,” he gasped. “Didn’t
think it would be so sudden, though.”
After Buck had pulled out his rebreather, Hawk picked up his pack.
Sky Warrior picked up Wilma’s.
Neither protested their friends’ generosity.
“Near sleeping place.
Be there soon,” Tigerman informed them.
The rebreather quickly filled his lungs with much
needed oxygen and Buck soon felt much better.
The sleeping place was another cave, much like all
the rest they had stayed in. As
they reached the cave, snow began falling, large and fluffy flakes at
first but then more biting as the wind kicked in.
Buck watched the swirling stuff from the safety of the cave as the
members of the group pulled out their sleeping bags and prepared their
dinner. He felt the temperature drop and gazed back out of the cave
mouth in worry, sincerely hoping that any storms would have held off until
they had reached their destination. The
temperatures continued to drop during the night and Buck woke up shivering
during the early morning hours.
Miru climbed to the top of the watch pinnacle and
gazed out over the mountains that stood as cold sentinels over the
citadel. The cold wind jerked
at her fur-lined coat, almost ripping it off.
She used one hand to hold it close to her body.
Then she fastened the buttons and ties, making sure they would stay
closed this time. Shivering,
Miru wondered at this timing of Queen Arana to send her out in what seemed
to becoming the worst storm of the winter. But then, those lowest in the
social stratum always seemed to get the brunt of Arana’s whims and there
was no one lower than Miru. Even
so, it was her turn for a scouting run, so it could just be coincidence.
The clouds continued to lower and Miru felt the
first wet snowflakes against her face.
Such snow would not long remain; soon it would become colder,
harder, blown by winds that were already becoming fierce, howling like the
lowland creatures that came up to the heights to prove themselves.
Her head feathers stood on end in the wind and Miru tied the cords
that would keep the hood in place. Better, she thought as she
continued to peer toward the craggy mountains that separated her
people’s hidden mountain home from the Rrilling and Draconians.
She knew she would see nothing, not just because of the snowstorm,
but also for the simple fact that no one ever ventured up here except the
Rrilling cubs. Then she
wondered if that would ever change and she felt pricklings in her mind
that she had never felt before. Miru
remembered the Elder Leader’s beloved telling her a week ago that she
had dreamed of something wonderful and terrible coming to their city.
Unfortunately, the old birdwoman couldn’t or wouldn’t be more
specific than that. Now,
though, Miru wondered if that coming event could be in the form of
invaders or visitors. She
gazed out into the thickening storm, as if by will alone, she could see
something coming. Miru felt shivers going up and down her spine and suddenly
felt the rightness of what she had been wondering.
Something or someone was indeed approaching.
Miru wrapped her arms around herself to loosen
cold-stiffened muscles and then proceeded down the path.
She noticed that her breathing was deeper to compensate for the
thinner air, but it was nothing that she need worry about.
She wondered briefly, as she so often had before, why she had been
cursed to live her life without wings.
It didn’t happen often, but it had happened to her.
Most of the time the miru-moruku died young, but she had managed to
live, she and Muriin and a few others.
As she had before, she wondered if Muriin would be her mate.
None of the winged would, that’s for sure.
But she didn’t really love Muriin in that way, although she
guessed that could come with time. But
no, he and she had grown up almost as brother and sister, almost the same
age, clinging tightly to one another since no one else would.
Miru snorted in disgust—at herself, at the
wingeds who acted so superior, at life in general.
She didn’t even know who her parents were.
None of the winged women would dare to acknowledge a deformed child
for fear of ridicule. The
miru-moruku were left at the crèche in the middle of the night when no
one was watching. She
sighed. The orphan crèche had been all right, but for almost sixteen
turns of seasons, Miru had longed for the arms of someone who truly
cared—someone like a mother.
Oh, well, she thought as a
particularly strong blast of cold wind brought her back to reality.
She peered out again, trying to see through the clouds.
She felt something again. She
didn’t know what, but she felt something!
And that surprised her because Miru had never felt anything like
Where? she asked herself. Where? She
kept on the trail she was on, the one that led southeast. If there were intruders, she would have to be careful.
She would have to observe without being observed.
She would have to report back to the warrior/guards.
Of course, for one as agile and small as she was,
that wasn’t too difficult, she thought.
Miru was slight of build, but she had compensated for it by working
hard to strengthen muscles. She
could climb and run longer and faster than any of the winged.
They, after all, had their wings.
But she, Miru, the despised, could climb and traverse these little
trails like the mountain kerlongs that bounded up and down with impunity
and careless abandon. That
was why she had these assignments. And
it suited her fine. Miru
liked the mountains. They
were her friends, even now, when the wind bit at her viciously.
She had watched the kerlongs, knew how they used the wind, the
rocks. At times she felt an
exhilaration that had to match that of the winged in flight.
And the mountains didn’t look at her with pity or scorn.
Sometimes she felt that the hard rocks were kinder than the stone
hearts of the warriors.
Miru continued down the mountain, watching for the
telltale signs that told of icy spots.
The cold was so complete by now that even when she reached the next
valley, the snow still fell, hard and icy.
She began clambering up the other side of the valley, a near
escarpment, taking a shortcut that only she and the kerlongs knew about. If there were any intruders, they would be coming on the
narrow trail. She would be able to spot them from above if, of course, the
storm didn’t intensify.
Even though it was full darkness, Miru continued.
The slight amount of reflected light of snow against snow was
enough for the moment. When
it became too difficult for even her keenly developed abilities, she found
a small cave where several furry trindles lay, curled up, hibernating.
They only grunted as she pushed herself among them, taking
advantage of their warmth. Trindles
were only dangerous at one time of the year—mating season.
And sex was the last thing on their minds right now.
Miru slept and dreamed. Her dreams were strange and wonderful, of others like herself, miru-moruku who lived and died without ever knowing the winged ones. She also dreamed of humans, those hated by her people. Some of the humans were vicious and cruel, killing the people or forcing them by their presence, into caves to live away from the life giving sky. Others were pleasant faced and smiling, their eyes filled with curiosity and kindness. Miru was puzzled, always having heard of the cruelty of the humankind, but if her dreams were true indicators? She awoke confused, not knowing what to think, but wondering just what was approaching her people’s sanctuary.
Hawk watched his human friends with great concern,
especially Wilma. While they
had both come equipped with oxygen and the right clothing, Wilma seemed to
be having a problem with the cold. She
complained, a thing in and of itself unusual, about waking up shivering
throughout the night. After
they had eaten breakfast and set out, Wilma had done better, but the
weather didn’t look as though it was going to moderate soon.
If anything, it felt as though it would be even colder. Buck seemed to be handling it a bit better, especially since
he had donned his rebreather the day before.
Hawk sincerely hoped they reached their destination soon.
He studied Sky Mother and Sky Father carefully.
It was really those two who worried him the most.
Wilma was young, but this had to be hard on the two Tane-rapanui
elders. He noted that while
Sky Mother and Sky Father were taking the altitude quite well, the
strenuous nature of this trip was beginning to take a toll.
They appeared wan and tired. Hawk
approached them as they were gathering their packs.
Even though he, Sky Warrior, Creel and Keresh were carrying most of
their supplies, the two Tane-rapanui leaders had insisted on carrying part
of their supplies. Hawk
picked up Sky Mother’s pack, adding it to his own supplies.
“No, Hawk, you have enough to carry,” Sky
“No, Sky Mother, some of our supplies were food
and are now gone. I will
carry your pack now. It
is much lighter,” replied Hawk, his tone brooking no argument from her.
After gazing into his dark eyes, Sky Mother
agreed. Sky Warrior did
the same for Sky Father.
Hawk surreptitiously approached Tigerman as
everyone began the next leg of the hike.
“How much farther do you think it is?” he asked quietly from
just behind the felinoid’s shoulder.
“One more day. Then
half day. Maybe more,” he
said gazing at the snow-laden clouds.
The dry flakes bit at them periodically but the sky threatened to
do more than that in a very short time.
He turned and made a terse order for everyone to rope together.
The storms in these mountains were quick and deadly in their
intensity and could lower visibility in seconds.
He looked back at Hawk, “You, other young bird people, do good.
Older ones, terrans, not so good.
Hawk nodded and returned to his position in line.
The path, like the one the day before, was rugged and narrow, and
their progress was slow. It was no wonder, thought Hawk, that the winged cousins were
able to stay hidden so long. The
clouds continued to thicken and the snow fell more consistently, sometimes
thick enough to make it difficult to see even the person just in front. It became a matter of watching one’s feet and trying to
keep from stumbling or slipping on the ice coated rocks.
Then as the morning became afternoon, Hawk felt
something. He felt eyes
watching and wondered if there were predators out hunting in a storm like
this. The feeling grew that
this was not an animal but something intelligent.
Hawk wondered first if other Rrilling might have followed them, but
then he asked himself if this could be a Tane-rapanui.
The feeling continued even as the afternoon advanced and the sky
further darkened, and finally Hawk was convinced that this was indeed one
of his people.
When they finally found a cave to shelter in, Hawk
quietly slipped off his backpack and just as quietly approached Sky
Mother, who was sitting against a stone wall, resting.
“I am going out to scout around a little bit,” he told her in a
I think there is only one watcher, but this is their land,” she
said, her voice tired.
He simply nodded and then went back to his pack
where he pulled out a pair of night vision lenses.
He checked his laser pistol and then as soon as it was totally
dark, slipped out of the cave. The
lenses revealed the area in startling clarity, even with the swirling
snow. Watching for ice at the
same time, Hawk scanned the rocks around him.
He scouted in an ever-widening perimeter from the cave, knowing
that someone was not too far away. He
also realized, though, that he could not roam too far.
Even with the lenses, the terrain and the still intermittently
falling snow would make it difficult to find his way back if he went too
far afield. Stopping and
listening, Hawk could only hear the incessant howling of the bitterly cold
wind. He shivered lightly,
feeling the chill even through the thick parka he was wearing.
“Do you see anything?” Creel asked.
Hawk started, but recovered almost instantly.
“No, but I feel something.”
When Creel remained silent, Hawk continued.
“You stay here. I am
going to check a bit further out.”
He slipped from rock to rock, edging closer to where his senses were telling him their mysterious watcher was. Something in all of this seemed familiar to Hawk, but he couldn’t tell just what it was. He continued on, knowing he was almost beyond his safety perimeter. He slipped behind a boulder and came face to face with a young female Tane-rapanui. But before he could say anything, she fired a weapon and Hawk felt only a brief instant of his own stupidity before blackness engulfed him.
|Buck Rogers Contents|