He thought of the bedraggled puffer crouching in the corner of the lab aviary, mangled and dying. The foremen howled with laughter as McIntyre bowed, a toothy grin spreading beneath his moustache. Cal glanced at the crippled puffer-owl behind the transparent wall of the aviary, luminous eyes studying its captors as if they were the ones in a cage. Joseph's laughter rang against the walls, bold and unfettered for the first time since his arrival on Kelvyn. The pulverizers were roaring at full capacity when Joseph and Cal reached the edge of the clearing zone. Joseph stared at the stocky crew chief, knew with sick certainty that the man would not back down. One section of the colony structure and three pulverizers were demolished while the crews slept. Joseph knew little of his own Cherokee heritage: only scraps culled from thousands of history disks he had searched over the years.
Cal shamed McIntyre into letting Joseph out the next morning after it happened for the second time. A mogre slipped from the splintered tree line on six powerful legs, drawn into the open by the scent of death.
The two men jogged toward the temporary sleep-cubes where McIntyre and most of the foremen bedded down. Marsalis glanced at the ruins of the crew chief's cubicle, then nodded with obvious relief. Joseph and Cal were in the lab four hours later when the last shuttle blasted off for the Surveyor.
Cal studied Joseph with a new expression in his eyes: surprise, admiration, a trace of fear. The two men stopped just inside the stand of trees that marked the boundary of the village. Cal was a slender man, but he managed to sling Joseph over his shoulder and stagger back toward camp. Cal sank to the ground in exhaustion, breath coming in strangled gasps, and laid Joseph beside him. 20121 Kings 8:28 -- But please listen to my prayer and my request, because I am your servant. Each tree was a scale model of the forest, supporting a complete ecosystem within its massive coils. He was in better shape than anyone else in the Surveyor's crew, but the strong gravity of Kelvyn still sapped the strength from his muscles.
Skin and bones would drop to the forest floor, where scavengers feasted on the porcu-pine's leavings. A mousipede crouched in the grass near the center of the clearing, nibbling on the fruit of a bloodberry bush.
A broad pair of forewings and a smaller pair of hindwings controlled their speed and direction of flight. Joseph could not see the creatures hidden behind the leaves, but their terror and confusion buffeted him in waves. He searched the work zone for Angus McIntyre and spotted the crew chief near a field console, poring through schematics with a cluster of foremen. It didn't take long to locate McIntyre, but the noise made it impossible to talk in the open.
He read of the Busk, the festival celebrating first fruits and new fires, but the words had no flavor. The essence of what the Cherokee had been eluded him, like the dappled outline of a lightning-buck darting through morning mist.
He looked more like a cornered animal than the puffers that circled above him, singing their silent rage.
They fell to the ground, Joseph clawing for the laser, McIntyre still trying to aim at the retreating puffers. He had been up most of the night, haunted by ghastly visions of Shaman erupting into flame.
For a moment he was gliding through the ancient forests of America with his ancestors - strong and unbowed - sinews stretching down into the fragrant soil like roots.
Yet the rustle of leaves, the fragrance of vegetation, the spring of living carpet beneath his feet offered familiar comfort. He took three swallows from his water pack and watched in fascination as a nearby porcu-pine lured its prey.
It scurried halfway to the tree line on its dozen stubby legs before the puffer's talons dug into its back. He wriggled between the loops of a corkscrew so his presence would not disturb the puffers.
I also know that Corporate is rattlin' their saber a little louder every day, and it's not your head'll be rolling if we fall behind. When we rape a world, it's never the same again; it dies of shame and misery, then it rots around us until we leave. He read of Sequoya and others who tried to adapt to the white man's customs, hoping to salvage some shred of their culture.
The tension in his body unwound as the three of them ambled through the maze of plasteel and titanium toward the far edge of the site. An ugly purple bruise bloomed on one cheek; a split lip bulged beneath the bushy moustache now matted with blood. Massive crocodilian jaws snapped up the tenderest chunks, crushing them to pulp as they vanished into its maw. These men did not fear anything in the galaxy they could see, but an invisible enemy was too much for them.
I've reviewed every scrap of seismic data I have, and there's just nothing out of the ordinary about this chunk of rock. Then the crippled puffer-owl spread his speckled wings, inflated, and vanished into the sky. Corkscrew ferns twisted toward the sky in tightly bunched loops all around him, giant fronds feathering out to catch the orange sunlight. He felt in tune with the rhythms of nature here, reconnected to the threads of growth and life woven into the very fabric of his soul. A brown flying-lizard not much bigger than a pigeon hovered between the branches, drawn by the aroma of honeysap that oozed from the porcu-pine's bark.
It squeaked twice as its captor flipped it and sliced through its tender belly with a scythe-like beak.
Well, now, there's a thrivin' colony on that planet, and I don't believe a one of them that built it spent a slim second in lockup. The roar of the pulverizers swelled, much tamer now that half their number had been reduced to scrap. We've only five pulverizers left as it is, and the lads can't make any progress with this commotion. Before Joseph could react, a rod of light leapt from McIntyre's hand into the mass of puffers. Shackled by the roustabouts, Joseph could only shout to drive the demonic creature back into the forest.
He's dead and buried… just a few hours after you told him he oughta haul ass out of here for his own safety. He saw the same wonder in Cal Benton's eyes that he himself had felt when he first walked among the corkscrews. I better get you back so we can drug you up good… and so I can jabber some double-talk at Marsalis. They had been chased away by a ghoul with hair the color of blood and a moustache of flame. Eight interminable months trapped in the sterile shell of the Surveyor had almost driven him mad… but the land restored him. As soon as the flyzard touched the sticky sap, the branches snapped together, impaling it with a dozen needles. A few minutes passed before the bloated outline of a puffer-owl glided from the upper branches.
Because of the strong surface gravity of Kelvyn, they could not get off the ground without the buoyancy of their flight bladders.
Far beyond his vision, a clan of puffer-owls had built their living chambers, piling section upon section as family and home grew together, intertwined.
He barely missed an outstretched porcu-pine branch as he labored back the way he had come, legs pumping against the iron grip of Kelvyn, black hair dancing in the wind. It floated across the glade with silent stealth, riding the wind like a feathered zeppelin. These inflated with hydrogen extracted from the air when the owls rose, swelling them like balloons. When he staggered into the clearing near the camp, ten pulverizers were already online, gobbling the forest and turning it to mulch. McIntyre followed their gaze, stroking a bushy red moustache that burned like fire in the orange light.
But the fact is, we've got to finish the shell structure here and be hyperspatial toward Avalon inside of two months, or it's my ass. After a few weeks with the pulverizers, we'd flattened half their hunting territory and driven most of the game away. Maybe this planet has some weird localized tectonics, some kind of seismic hiccup we haven't detected yet. I programmed the computer to scan the ultrasonic frequencies, and there it was: they have a musical vocabulary, pitched so high that the human ear can't detect it. Soon Shaman's village would be a memory, and here he sat like a caged animal, cut off from the sweet breath of the land… unable to stop the slaughter of a way of life. They wheeled overhead, diving and snapping at the crews, filling the air like a plague of feathered locusts. Without warning he whipped it down across his legs, driving the needles deep into his thighs before collapsing with a cry.
Survivors climbed frantically above the inferno, but McIntyre kept firing, setting off a dozen smaller explosions. Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one today.
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