Drafted Beyond the Stars
Chapter 2: The Exploration

Copyright© 2020 by Wendell Jackson

Spring had finally came, the snow melted back leaving new shoots pushing up through the sodden ground. New never seen before beasts were moving around the base camps, and some problems were developing with their arrival. Several of the creatures had been shot and dressed out. The hunters particularly went after the buffalo looking one’s back on earth. It turned out the meat was edible. The lab tech’s couldn’t find anything objectionable about the meat, and gave it an Okay.

Tom had demonstrated the steps in dressing and skinning the animals. Stressing the importance of saving the hides, as they would soon run out of ships clothing. Until someone built a loom, and learned to weave cloth, they would be reliant on animal skins as one replacement for clothing.

The camps began to reek of rotting hides and dead flesh. The tanning process was new to everyone, and some just didn’t get it right. Numerous hides and meats had to be tossed, before they finally learned to tan and set up smoke houses. It was irritating to Tom, as he felt they just didn’t see the need for preparing ahead for lean times. It would explain the lack of enthusiasm for preserving the meat and hides.

A food source had been found, but it came with a price. Some animals hunted the Grass grazing beasts, as well as attacking the Pioneers. Two of the hunters had been lost, due to the attack of the long clawed beasts. A revenge hunting party went out looking for the guilty animals, and upon finding a pride of them, killed every last one. The skulls and hides of the beasts were hung around the camp, which seemed to keep the predators and other beasts away. It was the first showing that the people were taking an active role in their survival.

The people wanted to call the predators Wolves, but Tom pointed out that these animals had claws, unlike a wolf. So they did the next logical thing and named them Puma’s. Which in fact they more resembled. Shooting one gave the man or woman status, besides having a pelt that blended in well with the tall grass. Wearing one, allowed the hunter to get close for a kill shot on a Buffalo looking beasts.

Tom was having the time of his life, studying the animals and learning their ways. Several of the women, had taken up studying them too, and helped categorize the different kinds. Tom was giving lesson’s on tracking and stalking the new food source, which everyone finally realized its importance. The training was enjoyable for him, but he kept looking at the far off mountains. He longed to find out what secrets and adventures they held. Shondra had asked him to stay and help get the settlement going, and he agreed. He just couldn’t turn down a request from that woman.

Richard, at the farm base, built fencing around the plowed fields. If all went well and nothing interfered with the crops, they would have plenty to eat this coming fall. Using the chain saws, they felled tree’s and split them much like cedar posts, for fencing. It kept the larger animals out, but the smaller ones, ran straight through. A net of some kind had to be strung along the inside. It would take a while to make and put in place, until then they had to constantly patrol the gardens and kill the little creatures. It was another food source, but not as well liked as the others.

There were many problems to be solved, and more would spring up. For the time being they were working on solving the problems of farming. Man power shortage was hampering progress, and the over worked men were losing enthusiasm for the jobs. If it didn’t seem important or important enough, it was hard to get people to work on it.

On the domestic side, the women seemed to be holding up better, though many were pregnant and showing the advance stages of the impending births. There were so many jobs that the women could not do, especially in their current condition. For the most part, everyone was happy with the pregnant women, as it meant survival of the colony.

During winter months, the goings back and forth between the farm base and the medical base, a route was established. With the Spring, the way was improved, but as yet was only a dirt track. Other than a few mudded ruts, it improved with usages. Plan’s were made, that before the snow came again, they would try and really improve the road. Making it fit for foot traffic, was the goal, as they were running low on fuel for the Amphibious vehicles. The extra men and women from the Medical Base helped get the farms going. Still there was a shortage of the needed help, but as of yet, the two bases, were the only ones in contact.

Shondra had hoped to keep some of the members of the security force that had rebelled against them, but a vote of pioneers, was against it. The rebels were sent on their way, with one rifle and two axes and two shovels. It wasn’t very much, but no one wanted to send more of their irreplaceable equipment. Especially with people most likely doomed to failure. Be sides, there were many that thought it better to shoot them all and not have a threat lurking in the forest.

So now, with the farming and logging, the settlement was taking hold. They were even building separate dwellings for those choosing to marry and raise a family. A few women decided to share the same man, and set up a private living quarters. No one objected as the women out numbered the men, four to one. With deaths, the ratio began to change but the women still numbered more. Man power was coming up short in more ways than one.

Shondra was busy setting up a medical center at the farm settlement, as fuel for running the Lander Medical Base would run out. It would be a while, but she wanted to get a jump on an alternate site. She and Richard conferred on the future growth of the settlement, and the need to find a source of fuel for the vehicles.

It was only a matter of time, before something wore out on the machines. The next big item needed doing, was to contact the base with the Machine shops. Without spare parts, they would be useless even before they ran out of fuel.

The day came when Tom was summoned to the New Medical Shelter. It was being improved with ongoing work as he entered the building. Richard and Shondra sat at a long table, going over plans for the settlement. Looking up, they greeted Tom with a smile and bade him take a seat across from them. Tom thought they were sitting a might too close, but since he and Shondra didn’t have an understanding, he said nothing.

“We have something we want you to do.” Richard started off. “Your wanting to strike out on your own, but before you do that, we’d like you to look for a few things for us.”

“I’m not striking out on my own. I just want to explore our surroundings. I intend to return, with a report.” Tom made it clear, that he wasn’t leaving Permanently. He wanted that fact stated in Shondra’s presents.

“Even better.” Richard replied, unaware of the seriousness of Tom’s statement. “In your explorations, we’d like you to look for certain important things. One of which is some sign of oil or gas. We need to keep using the vehicles as long as we can. Building hand carts, will be okay, for local use. Though moving things to the other base, the distance is far too great for men pulling or pushing a hand cart.” Passing a tablet across the table to him, Richard continued. “We have more of these now, so if you will look for oil, tar pits anything we might be able to process, record it on the tablet. It will help you in your explorations. Plus it will map out the location of your discoveries.”

“Don’t these things feed off a satellite?” Tom picked the tablet up and checked out the screen.

“No, They’re set to use the surrounding terrain, something like radar. Mount it on your chest and it will record everything you see and do. Just turn it off when your camped or any time you don’t want recorded for that matter.”

“The reason I want you to do this,” Shondra spoke up. “Is because we haven’t discovered the tree you used for your wounds. We’ve examined the cementum of every type we have in our area. None are like what you were wearing when they found you.” She wanted to make clear, that his going off on his own for however long, was not her idea. He was an oddity in her eyes. He should have died from the wounds inflected on him, but something he did or used, kept him alive. He would have died, if not for arriving at the Medical lab, and the intensive care Shondra and her staff administered. But something else kept him alive before he arrived.

She wanted him to stay so she could study and find out all she could about Tom, and discover for herself what it was that kept him from dying. There was also another reason, she felt a growing attachment to Tom. He was old, yet not as old as he was when they first landed. His hair was darker, and thicker. He had more stamina and a stronger heart. She could sense he had a feeling for her too. As yet, She couldn’t pursue those feelings, but if allowed to run its course, it would eventually happen.

“Okay, I will try. I’ll look for something you can make gas out of. But you don’t have equipment or the people to spare. Half your people are up all night working as scare crows to keep varmints’ out of the gardens.” Tom Pointed out. “Maybe I should give a try finding the others. At least one of the Landers should be near enough to trade with.”

“That would be great, but you can’t count on finding anything within fifty miles.” Richard said. “There’s still those Rebels, we kicked out. Some of them might have had a change of heart, but I doubt it. If do you run into them, don’t let your guard down. The general opinion is that I should have had them all killed.”

“If they have survived, they’re tougher than I gave them credit for.” Tom put the tablet in his pack, as he spoke. “They’ve had what, two weeks head start. No one’s seen them in the area, so They might have headed for the next lander themselves. I think we should be very careful about bringing any others into our circle.”

“What do you mean?” Shondra asked, puzzled. Richard cocked his head and waited for Tom to continue.

“From what you said of the General, I don’t think we’d get along very well with him or his ilk. His party could be a well organized bunch of pirates. Deadlier than what we just dealt with.”

“I believe you could be right, especially if the General wanted to take command of our community. I remember what happened to the man in the big meeting hall.” Richard nodded, referring to the man shot because he spoke up and demanded to be released. “The General’s aide drew a pistol and shot him dead. There’s no reason to expect anything less. Here they have no one to answer too. We’re a long way from home and civil laws. They make their own rules now.”

“How long do you expect to be gone?” Shondra voice sounded her concern.

“I’m only carrying supplies for a week, and that’s if I can add to them. Otherwise, I’ll be back in four days.”

“Then I should expect you by Monday at the latest.” Shondra said as a statement.

Richard noted her concern. “If it all goes well, next time out, maybe take someone, maybe a couple with you.” Richard added seeing that Shondra was really concerned about Tom. “by then we might be able to spare a man or two.”

“Yes, you have worked with Steve and that other fellow.” Shondra exclaimed. “There’s safety in numbers.”

Tom agreed that he would on his next sojourn into the wilds, take someone with him. For now he would be content on his own. For what he wanted to do, he didn’t want anyone along that might put up an argument. He was longing for some freedom to do as he wished, especially if he met up with certain people. People on his vengeance list.

The next morning at daylight, Tom left the safety of the farming village and headed Straight north. He knew the radio signal they received, was most likely from the east and so he avoided that direction. It was also the direction the banished security group was thought to have gone. This trip was for exploration and discovery. Later he would seek to exact some revenge, but not this time.

Several sets of eyes watched him leave, some were worried that he might never come back and one was wishing he wasn’t going. The grass lands were empty of game, the larger animals having moved further west ward, for whatever reason or instincts that drove them.

Tom knew he would need many hours and days of studying to understand the buffalo like beasts. They did move as a herd, much like the ones on earth. Their horns were more for scraping up grass roots, with what looked like peanuts attached to them. Large areas of the grass plains bore the scar’s where the animals had scuffed the soil, getting at the roots, while moving across the land.

Several places he came upon the remains of one of the beasts. All that was left was the skeletal parts of a predators meal. Birds had picked clean whatever was left, only white bones lay on the ground. He was pleased to see that there were plenty of similarities with earth animals.

While moving through the grass, Tom kept the rifle at port arms. Ready for anything rising up out of the three foot high greenery.

There was no pollen as yet, so he wasn’t wearing a face cloth. That would come later in the year, when the long strands of Grass turned brown and produced clouds of the stuff. For now he was happy to enjoy the aroma of the open country side. Even with the strong perfumes flowing in the air, it all seem clean and refreshing.

When the grass lands were behind him, he came face to face with one of the beast’s they’d named Puma’s. It didn’t show any fear of him, and begun to crouch low and slowly move towards him, getting ready to spring. Tom had the rifle ready and aimed directly at the Puma’s head. He didn’t want to mark his journey by leaving dead critters every time they confronted him. Yet he wasn’t about to risk turning his back on this one either.

Speaking loud enough for the animal to hear him, he warned that if it came any closer he would shoot. He didn’t expect the Puma to understand what he said, but it did detect his mood. For some reason, whether it was not hungry or didn’t perceived Tom to be a threat, it slowly turned and moved away. Tom kept an eye on it and scanned the area around him, making sure if the animal hunted in packs, there wasn’t another one sneaking up behind. The Puma like animal continued to move away and soon it was hidden from view in the underbrush. Warily Tom continued on his way, keeping an alert watch on the back trail just in case.

Staying on a game trails that skirted the thickening forest, Tom made his way higher into the mountain. finally he could look back in the direction he’d come and make out the area where the Farm camps lay. He didn’t see much detail, but it was possible to make out the darker color of the planted fields. He wondered as he looked back, how well the crops were going to do without irrigation. He was concerned they’d settled in the wrong place.

That afternoon as he crossed over the summit of a low ridge, where he spotted a valley with a river winding through it. Trees scattered along open meadows. He saw several pools of water, with birds floating on them. Deciding that was where he wanted to go, he left the game trail he’d been walking and struck out over unmarked ground.

Descending the other side of the ridge, he soon was into trees blocking the view. He picked his way carefully around several sharp drop offs. Some places he had to swing wide in order to find a way down through the jagged rock cliffs. Even here trees grew among the huge rocks and boulders. Loose rubble from the out cropping’s were strewn down the slopes. Game trails ran side hill along the slope of the ridge. There were tracks but no animals, just the occasional flutter of wings as a bird like creature hurried to get out of his way.

The decent into the valley was taking longer than expected, and the hour grew late. He was on the western side of the ridge, with the sun still shining low through the trees. He would have loved to spend time examining the rock facings of the escarpments for precious metals, but had to remind himself that gold didn’t have the same value on this planet.

Tom had planned on finding a safe place to spend the night when he reached the valley. Now he realized that it would be late, possibility after sun set before he got there. He didn’t want to be looking for a place in the dark, so he studied the surrounding area. Here he had over head out cropping’s of rock, that would give shelter if it rained. That was good for the protection against the weather, but not so much from prowling predators.

With about an hour of day light left, Tom picked the shelter of one outcropping that had a deep undercut. There he cleaned out a spot in the very back and set his pack and weapons down. With plenty of loose rocks laying everywhere, he gathered large stones and stacked them in two lines under the overhanging rock. The ceiling was low, forcing him to work stooped over. If he had more time he could have built his own cave, but the sun was setting and the light would soon be gone. Plenty of sticks and broken off limbs covered the ground, and in a matter of a few minutes, he had gathered a good pile from the surrounding area.

It was dark when he finished constructing the shelter. It consisted of the two rock walls and an entrance way. The front was blocked by broken limbs, stacked in such a way to provide a fence across the entrance. He thought about building a fire to keep him company, but the confines of the shelter were too narrow. There wasn’t enough room for a fire and him too. Especially with him laid out sleeping.

He finished his work by the light given off from the tablet Richard gave him. The workings of the tablet had been explained to him,. It could be a lantern and even an alarm for rising in the morning or if anything moved in its infrared field. It could detect movement and would sound off, depending on the setting. Tom cleared out a spot for his blanket and gear, before positioning the tablet towards the entrance. He made sure by testing to see if the alarm was loud enough to wake him.

Once he was done, he got comfortable for the night. The rifle leaning against the rock wall, close enough for a quick grab. The magnum revolver, was holstered and laying across his chest. It would be the first weapon he would go for in case anything happened in the night. Once he was settled, he turned off the light app on the tablet and tried to relax. It took awhile, before sleep finally took over.

Dawn came, after a fretful nights rest. Tom wasn’t sure he’d slept at all. He was tired and sore from the hard ground, it left him stiff in many joints. He might be looking younger, as Shondra had suggested, but he sure wasn’t feeling it. Not after laying on hard flat rock all night. It wasn’t the large ones that were the problem, but those little gravel like pieces that felt like nails and poked sharply every time he turned or adjusted his position. Try as he might, he just couldn’t clean a spot good enough.

Nothing had come during the night, as far as he could see. The ground was still smooth from when he swept it with branches. The creatures he called birds were flitting through the forest, squawking to one another. Something like squirrels came to look as he broke camp and repacked his gear. As long as the creatures were small, he didn’t mind them showing up. It was the large ones, even the herbivores that kept him on edge. They could maim a man, just by stepping on him. Those grass eating critters grew to enormous sizes and weights. Tom estimated some to be six thousand pounds or more.

This morning nothing but the little creatures showed up, and for that he was grateful. He wanted to cover many miles today. With the larger animals out of the picture, he could move lot faster.

After resetting his watch back the two hours as had become their standard to make up the difference of the longer day. Richard promised that some day he would make a clock just for the different length of day of the planet. He set off again in the direction of the valley he’d spied from the ridge.

He came out of the tree’s onto a flat low shrub covered stretch of land, with tall branching trees scattered over the spacious ground. He was reminded of the oak groves back home, as these seemed to have flat leaves that rustled when the wind blew. Patches of packed snow lay in the shaded areas, so he avoided the tree groves. Stomping through soft mushy snow was tiring and time consuming. He wanted none of that.

Just before what he surmised to be noon, the clouds again covered the sky. There were several breaks where sun light shone through, but the day became darken, and he thought a little gloomy. The wind continued to breeze around him, and even rippled the water on the streams he crossed. He was almost to the river he’s spied from the ridge, when he caught a whiff of smoke. That got his attention and he quickly studied the wind direction and sniffed the air for more.

The wind was flowing downstream with the river, and bringing the wisps with it. Trees and brush kept him from seeing very far up river, so rather than find a way to cross, Tom moved up stream. It wasn’t very long before he came upon a grove of the oak like trees that showed signs of being burnt. Many were blackened by fire and broken topped, Where something had crashed down hard. Suddenly he could see metal. A large section of something in the midst of the broken trees. Thin curls of smoke continued to rise up from the ground. The patch of packed snow was blacken by soot, where smoke still rose from the ringed burnt edges.

It had to be one of the landers, he surmised, and studied the remains. It had hit hard, burring into the ground and setting the area on fire. Even dirt had burnt, exposing the rocky ground beneath. Wreckage was strewn out ward, some of it looked intact but it all was heavily dented and scarred. The fire had burnt underground all winter, and was still burning. Smoke many yards away, was curling up through undisturbed vegetation, as the underground burn was still spreading.

Knowing that with such fires, there was a hazard of stepping into a soft spot and falling into the hot underground. If something like that happened, the least he would get away with is a charred leg. So Tom picked his way carefully over the crash site, using a long stick to poke the ground, looking for soft spots. Trying to get near enough to see if there was anything that could be salvaged. Some of the metal containers were under hard crusted snow, and hard to see into the cracked openings.

From the discussion’s he’d listened to, he figured it had to be one of the landers, the ship’s crew had taken. Perhaps there wasn’t anyone capable of taking control on the descent. With everything that had gone wrong with the mother ship, it wasn’t a surprise a lander had crashed. Maybe more had met the same fate, and they didn’t have as many survivors on the planet as once thought.

The biggest section of the craft, had burnt hot, Tom figured that any bodies in there were probably cremated. He hadn’t found bodies or the remains, so it seemed plausible that it had been manned by only a few of the ship’s crew.

After awhile he gave up looking for remains, and glad he didn’t find any. Digging a grave for even one, was something he wanted to avoid. What did get his attention was the many metal casing’s laying around. The impact of the crash, had sent cargo flying in all directions, and as he’d seen before, many looked to be intact.

The nearest container was damaged, and split open. The contents spilled out on the ground. It was a food locker, and showed the signs where animals ripped through the contents. Most were ruined and he hoped whatever got into them, had a good time. There were several containers that were solid and undamaged. From the markings he found another food container and opened it to find the packaged meals sealed and unbroken. It came at a good time, he was hungry.

A feeling of joy went through him on discovering the unopened container. He would have a better meal than he’d planned. After taking out what wanted, Tom made sure to secure the latches. Sitting atop the container he opened up the packaged meal and spread it out as if on a picnic. He ate and took in his surroundings. The crash site was several hundred feet from the river, and mostly in the middle of a grove of trees. He wondered if he could set up a camp, with salvaged materials from the wreckage. It would take some time, but it needed to be done. There was the possibility that bigger creatures could come and destroy what’s left of the supplies.

After eating and pondering over what he should do first, Tom began taking an account of what useable supplies remained. Some of the crates were too heavy for him to move by himself alone, but they were crates that could survive being exposed to the elements. They were well sealed and only something the size of an elephant could crack them open, if then.

Finding a locker that contained the prefab shelters like the ones set up at the Farm village, he discovered that several were in good shape. The container had been ripped open in the crash, and many shelters were torn. Taking one of the smaller ones, he placed the packet away from the crash site, on what he hoped was solid ground. He feared setting it up closer less the underground fire break through and consume him and the supplies. The shelter was set up on the downhill side of the grove, as fire basically burnt upward instead of down. He was sure the camp site was safe, as the ground here was soaked from snow melt. Without the canopy of trees, the snow pack melted fast on the expose ground.

Setting the shelter up was simple. All he had to do was position the packet and pull the cord. A surge of pressurized air filled the tiny air sacks and the shelter opened up and stood on its own. Once standing, it would take a concerted effort to destroy the round brown shelter. He remembered how Richard had sprayed the outside with a foam based chemical, which hardened into a protective shell and helped insulate it.

When he came across the bottles of foam spray, he set his other work aside and worked on spraying his shelter with the chemical. It harden fast and so he was able to climb up on the harden surface and spray the entire shelter. Tom was almost giddy with joy, as he now had a safe place to spend the night. He could set up a better more comfortable sleeping arraignment and have room to stack many supplies in it too.

Moving the salvageable containers in, was a lot of work. Tom drug them across the ground, by a rope he’d found in one container. Some he couldn’t budge and left them there. By sun set he had almost filled his shelter with the crates. There was room for more, but he would need to stack the containers to do it. He just wasn’t strong enough for the job, and to be honest it would take at least two healthy men to do it. So he popped open another shelter, putting off for at least the next day before using the canned foam to coat it.

After spending the night and enjoying a much more comfortable sleep, he was up and ready for more. Somewhat tired and sore from all the pulling and shoving he’d done the day before, Tom was still excited on saving the supplies. One item he came across that set him back, was several containers with odd markings. Not knowing what it contained he opened one and discovered a cache of weapons. That sobered him up as he realized he couldn’t just leave them out in the open. The containers were too big and heavy for two men to move let alone one. Tom counted three of the odd marked containers and decided to open them all and move the contents to a safe secure place where only he knew where they were. He would have to turn off the tablet that was strapped to his chest, recording everything he did.

After removing the tablet and placing it safely inside his sleeping shelter, Tom began working out his plan. He erected more shelters and sprayed them down with the foaming chemical. Inside one of the shelters he brought in one of the containers after emptying its contents. Set in the rear opposite the door way, he placed the container. Then began taking the weapons from the heavy containers he couldn’t move, and placed them inside the one in the shelter. Moving the arms was a long process and required several more empty containers to be brought in. Once the arms were out of the original containers, he dragged them inside and refilled them there with the weapons.

When he was almost finished, he had the three original containers and two more stowed in the rear of the shelter. They were filled with the weapons and ammo that he’d been able to find. With that done, Tom covered the containers with some damaged tarps and then sprayed them down with chemical foam. The result was a rock hard stage that could be used for many purpose’s. No one would know what was under the stage, and the only way to get to it would be having enough man power to lift the harden foam. It was the best idea he could come up with outside of destroying them all together. That was something he dare not do, as they would need them in the future.

After three days of going through the scattered containers, Tom eyed the main wreckage, There had to be some items in it, even if the fire damaged the entire lot. He felt he should give it a through going over. He surmised that with so much cargo that was usable, the lander must have come down under power with the engines slowing the descent. There was no mistaking the fact that the ship had hit heavy, but the trees did more than just help break it up. The ruptured the fuel tanks and added to the fire. The inside had be completely gutted. He would have to make sure just the same.

After returning from the river with a resupply of water, Tom ate a good breakfast and ponder ways to enter the wreckage. No hatch way was visible from any side, as he walked around the whole broken mess. Finally he cleared some fallen metal sheeting and entered through one of the many open rips in the ship. The smell of burnt oil and rubber permeated the air inside. For several feet he climbed over unrecognizable wreckage, and felt that it was a wasted effort. Then he was able to move and bend an over head piece of metal that exposed a distorted ladder.

Climbing up rung by rung, Tom moved carefully and slow. He wasn’t sure that it wouldn’t all give way and crash down on him. He climbed further up, not recognizing anything like on the other landers. Finally he passed through an over head section where he was able to step out on and find solid footing. A hatch was slightly ajar to his left, so he tried opening it further. The metal screeched open on heat fused hinges. Inside was piles of stinking unrecognizable refuse. He was able to pass into another room, but found the closed hatches, were inoperable. The fire and heat had fused them shut. So back he went to the distorted ladder and continued his climb.

The crews quarters were empty blackened berth’s, twisted beyond use. Nothing was without irreparable damage. He found the main seating area with piles of refuse, where the chairs once were. The control panels were gutted and bent out of shape. So far nothing in the ship was salvageable. It was all ruined. At the top level, he found a harden fire proof container, still attached to the bulkhead. At first he couldn’t open it with just his hands, so looking around he found a long rod like chunk of metal and broke the latches holding the container closed. Inside he found a telescope and several binoculars. He looked them over carefully before picking gently them up, lest the Lenses were brittle from the fire. They turned out to be in good condition.

Again Tom was elated for his discovery. He’d had need of these on many occasions. Now he had several pair. It had been worth the climb. He looked around trying to find something more, but it was all just piles of ashes.

On the way down, he paused in the main seating room and gave the place a better looking over. There on the floor among the twisted metal of the seats, he could see the skulls and bones of the people that rode the lander to its end. It gave him pause to think about them, but he wasn’t about to do anything with the remains. Sometime later, when he had more help, they would return and give them all a decent burial.

At the river, Tom tried to wash off the smell of the burnt debris. The stench of the many materials, seemed to linger in his lungs. He’d found a small pool along the river bank and stripped down to wash the smell off. He laid the revolver and rifles across his discarded clothing, all within easy reach. He kept an eye on the sky, lest the bird creatures suddenly swooped down and attacked.

While he bathing, he kept a check on the surroundings for movement or anything strange. He kept paying particular attention to the sky. The memory of the huge feather creature that sank its talons in him was still a sharp and painful memory.

As he bent down to rinse out the rag, he noticed his leg. It was if he was seeing it for the first time. What caught his attention was the scar. It was an old scar, he gotten in a car wreck. A high school friend had taken him for a joy ride and promptly put them in a ditch. The result was that the door came open and he was hit by a splintered guard rail. The crash ruined the car, and also sent Tom to the hospital, where he got several stitches in his leg. The scar had faded over the years, but it was always there to some degree. Now it wasn’t. Peering closer and running his hand over the area, he couldn’t see anything of it. It was gone. He thought maybe Shondra was onto something when she pointed out that he was looking healthier and slightly younger. He’d have to let her look him over when he got back.

Getting back. The thought came to him, as he dried off and began putting the same clothing back on. He was suppose to be back at the Farm camp today. Well he would only be two days late if he started out now. There was so much to do with the supplies around the crash site, that he was hesitant on leaving. It had all been a distraction, but now he realized that Shondra was expecting him today. For the first time in many years, he felt oddly obliged to someone. It bothered him that he would be disappointing her when he didn’t show up. It was time to go back.

After selecting several meals to take, Tom packed his gear and the several pairs of binoculars. He wasn’t returning empty handed. The telescope he would leave for another trip home, as it was too bulky to carry. He had kept one of the side arms out of the arsenal from the wreckage. A 44 magnum and a shoulder holster to wear opposite the 357 magnum he carried on the other shoulder. It was extra fire power he felt needed in case those huge animals proved to be a problem. The 357 magnum was ample, but he wanted more fire power, just in case.

Often on the route back, he again found himself facing the large herds. This time he moved steadily through the standing bison as they fed. Some of the herd eyed him briefly then went back to feeding. He did make an exception when he saw young ones grazing alongside their mothers. Not wanting to provoke a response from a mother protecting her calf, he circled wide avoiding a bad situation.

He saw long necked beasts pruning trees, as they milled about in smaller herds. He felt assured that they had no interest in him. Yet he wasn’t about to get too close, lest they decide they didn’t like his being there. The long claws that they used in pulling branches of leaves down, could do a lot of damage to human flesh.

Many small creatures went scurrying about in the brush, hardly seen as they kept to the cover of leaves and tall grass. Sometime in the future, Tom promised himself, he’d spend some time studying all the life forms. What he was learning so far, was that the same rules of science applied on this planet as back on earth. The grass eaters, gathered in herds, while the predators stalked them. Sometimes singularly or in small groups of five or less.

Keeping a constant vigil about him, and an eye on the sky for danger, Tom was fearful of another attack by one of the large bird like creatures. He could see them in the distance, circling on the rising air currents over the mountains. He hoped they would stay far away, he was enjoying his travel without having to deal with them. He figured if any animal needed to be brought to extinction it was those flying feathered creatures. Once he saw one swoop down and grab a small deer like animal and fly off to where ever its nest might be. A settlement with people moving about would be in danger of such attacks.

Just when he was thinking that those birds were the greatest danger, he came upon the remains of one that suffered a violent end at the hands of something stronger. The ground was scrapped with long furrows of torn up sod. Blood and feathers littered the ground where the predator had devoured the kill. Some of the feathers were two feet in length, still clinging to bits of skin. Most were broken along with hollow bones laying in small piles. Whatever had done this, he surmised had picked through the carcass, eating and tossing the cleaned bones aside.

Spending only a few minutes looking the scene over, Tom couldn’t find tracks of whatever killed the bird. The tablet strapped to his chest, was recording the scene, so he’d study it later. Taking the time now, just delayed his journey and he needed to reach his previous camp site before dark.

Retracing his route was easy, as he didn’t try to cover his tracks. He’d only be at the camp site this last time. On the next trip out, he’d use one of the small shelters and set up a better secured sleeping arrangement.

The rock outcropping he’d spent the night at, was just as he left it. As far as he could tell, nothing had come sniffing around while he was gone. There was still ample daylight left, so he added more to the shelter. This time he laid another wall and enclosed it with more limbs and stone. A small stone circle for a fire was placed at the entrance. It wasn’t that cold at night, but he would be becoming this way again, and wanted to improve the camp for future use. Even with a small dome shelter, it would be nice having a camp fire to brighten an evening.

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