Drafted Beyond the Stars
Chapter 5

Copyright© 2020 by Wendell Jackson

The search for raw materials extended into the Northern Mountains. Richard thinking if the mountain ranges developed along the same lines as back on earth, they would find deposits of mineral rich ore. Sending Tom and two others to scout out the mountains and report back with their findings, was the next step. Steve and Ron wanted to go, but Tom was reluctant. Hanging back and keeping house with Shondra was his sole ambition. It was only after Shondra asked him directly to lead the exploration, that he accepted the mission.

A promise came with Shondra=s request. This would be the last time she would send him on a mission. If he was needed on another, then she would accompany him. Her medical talents were needed at the settlements, but soon she would have the trained personnel to take over all her duties.

This time they didn=t have to cross the long miles on foot. Richard took time to ride along with them on one of the Amphibious carriers. Stopping at the foot hills, Richard went over the details one last time. They were to map and scout out mineral deposits. Gold was not on the priority list. Copper was the valued metal now. With copper came electric motors and generators. With other metals, they could not only fashion spare parts, but create new machines and replacements.

The only thing that concerned Tom and his two companions was how to find large deposits of ore bearing rock. Of the three, only Ron had any back ground in mining, having studied geology in collage. Tom and Steve were just along for protection. All three men were armed, Tom carried a new rifle, and with ammunition enough to fight off a herd of whatever may attack them. His magnum hand gun, was holstered on his hip, for quick access. He warned his two companions to keep a watch on the sky, especially for those birds of which one had done so much damage to Tom. They were in a part of the world where the animals hadn’t developed the fear of man.

Ron was carrying a chemical kit, from which he brought out a bottle and eye dropper. Several times he=d place a drop of liquid on an odd looking rock or even a drop on soil. He=d watch the acid or whatever it was, for a reaction, and then move on without comment. Tom had prospected some back on earth, but that was for gold. He=d seen deposits of copper in a couple mines, but didn=t bother with it, as it took a large mining operation to exploit and make money. He only had an interest in gold, but the little he found didn’t justify the effort.

The mountains were mostly bare of trees or bushes. The steep canyon walls didn=t have enough soil to grow anything less it was in a crevice. Ron commented that it was precisely that which might lead to their success in finding the minerals they were looking for. Picking out a canyon at random, Ron led the way while Steve continued to use the eyedropper. They left a trail of chemical tested spots.

Tom looked the scenery over as they moved deeper into the steep sided canyon. He was more eager than Ron to find something. With a woman waiting for him back at the settlements, he wanted to get back there as fast as he couldn’t do that until they had something positive to show for their efforts.

While looking over the canyon walls and beyond, Steve claimed to see ape like figures moving away in the distance. Tom and Ron both looked with binoculars but didn’t see anything. They weren’t sure that Steve hadn’t just seen limbs or brush moving with the wind.

Picking a climbable slope, Steve carrying extra coils of rope began carefully picking his way to the top. Thinking to pull himself up by grabbing on a bush, he jerked his hand back. It only took that moment to discover that the scraggly looking growth was covered with thorns.

Learning from Steve’s experience, Tom climbed through the brush, taking care not to rub up against the thorns or leaves. The place was getting greener, but looked very dangerous. Every bush or tree had sharp thorns or needles that would Cut a hand if grabbed hard enough.

Looking back at the canyon walls, the men all noticed a change of color on the far slope. Steven pointed there, and said they needed to get a closer look. That meant one of them was going to be lowered down the canyon side, to try to get a sample of the rock. Tom wasn’t concerned about dangling over the edge on a rope. He was larger and heavier than the other two, they didn’t want the job of pulling him back up. Ron said it should be Steve as he was the one with the education, and the lighter of the three.

Wrapping the rope once around a tree, to keep the decent slow and controlled, they lowered Steve down the canyon side. He carried his little hammer and that bottle of acid. He pecked at the rock, but only got dust and a little grit. He gave up after several try’s and used the acid. He made note of the color that resulted, then called for Ron and Tom to haul him up.

Steve was excited, saying there was a large mineral content in the rock. With the right tools and some blasting powder, they could be in business. Tom didn’t ask where the man power was coming from, as everyone was being worked to exhaustion as it was. Ron in response quoted Richard, who said, With mineral ore, they could build the machinery to do the work for them. Tom thought that was a long way off. So for the time being, the mission was successful. They’d map out the place, and head back in the morning.

Tom began gathering up all the loose limbs and sticks in the area. Using some of the standing bushes, he urged his two companions to help make a small corral, where they’d be safe for the night. This wasn’t Toms first over night stay in the wilderness, and he wanted something between him and roving night creatures. Steve had forgotten about the ape creature he said he’d seen only a couple hours ago. He didn’t think it was necessary to build a fence around them.

They piled the thorn bushes six foot high and left a small gate that could be moved to the side for comfort calls. Tom figure he would just relieve himself in corner instead of going outside, especially after dark. After the defensive corral was finished, Tom had them gather more wood for a fire. He wanted one that would last the night, both for warmth and light. He wanted to be able to see what ever came around.

No one slept near the corner that Tom used as a urinal. Before they turned in, Ron used it too. It took some adjusting to make where they laid down comfortable, mostly by moving twigs. Tom was straight across from the closed gate, with his magnum revolver at the ready. Steve question him, asking if he wasn’t concerned that he might pull the trigger in his sleep. Tom grinned and shook his head, saying he only did things like that when he was running a fever. He touched his fore head, and squinted, saying he did feel a little warm. The joke was lost on both men. So Tom got the fire going, and told each of them if they woke during the night, to add fuel to it.

Laying back, Tom gazed up through the trees at the stars. They hadn’t named the new constellations yet, and Tom thought it might be important in the future when they needed some way to tell the seasons. He made a metal note to bring that up with Richard.

Tom was about to close his eyes and let sleep take over, but suddenly a large object came crashing through the closed gate. It was all reflex, for Tom. He fired the magnum point blank at the huge creature that fell upon him. He managed to fire another shot, and the ape like animal’s muscles relaxed. The heavy beast lay dead atop him. Tom was kicking and pushing, trying to get the foul smelling carcass off him. Steven and Ron quickly recovered from the shock and surprise, reached out and pulled the dead animal off to the side.

Holding his revolver at the ready, Tom told both men to get the gate back up, and reinforce it. He then looked carefully at the dead creature that had attacked him. It looked exactly like a long legged ape, covered in grey fur or hair. Beside it lay a long spear, half of it under the body. Tom pulled the wooden shaft out and examined it.

“Good Grief,” Ron stared at the animal. “Is this what you saw.” He spoke to Steve.

“Yeah, but it was a ways off. They didn’t look this big.”

“Well, we’ve found intelligent life. Took a while but here it is.” Tom glanced back at it, while he shown a light outside their enclosure. He was checking to see how many more they could expect.

Steve shook his head in disagreement. “I don’t think this is that intelligent. Jumping in with a stick for a weapon. It didn’t work out for it.”

“What makes you think this is any more intelligent than the rest of the animals.” All Ron could see was a dead ape like animal. It resembled a man, but so do monkeys.

“Look at the end of this shaft.” Tom held it out for them to see. “The end has been sharpened.”

“Yeah, I see that. But so it took a stick and rubbed in on some rocks.”

“More than that. The end has been placed in a fire, and heated. Then it was rubbed on rocks.” Tom held the point close for them to examine. “The point is hard and sharp. Tribes back on earth used the same techniques when they didn’t have flint or obsidian for a point. This animal manufactured this weapon.”

“Why now, why are we just now finding them?” Ron was clutching his rifle at the ready. He was convinced that Tom was right, but still wanted more confirmation of the animals intelligence. Fighting one to the death, might be simple, but what if a whole tribe of them attacked. No one had an answer for Ron. Tom just said that there would be a lot of killing.

Tom holstered his revolver and picked up his rifle. He causally flipped the small lever to full auto. A little concerned the rest of the apes wouldn’t die as easy. Taking time to use the same corner again to relieve himself, Tom went back and sat down on his bed roll. For a few moments he looked undecided on what to do, then he laid back and closed his eyes.

“You’re not going to try and sleep are you?” Steve couldn’t believe what Tom was doing.

“We’ve got several hours before daylight. I’m tired, and your awake. You keep watch, while I get some rest. Besides I killed mine, the next ones yours.” He meant it as a joke, but he was tired and wanted to be fresh for whatever greeted them in the morning.

Ron put some more wood on the fire, and then laid down. Looking to Steve, saying he would take the next watch, and to wake him in an hour.

Tom didn’t sleep either. He lay there, eyes half closed, watching the doorway. The lone attack had been met with instant death. Those that planned to follow, now hung back. That was what Tom was surmising.

When the sky in the east began to lighten, they let the fire die down. Finally dawn arrived, with wisps of smoke from the remaining coals wafting slowly into the air. Tom rose and collected his bedroll and made ready for the journey back home. Taking time to replace the expended cartridges in his magnum, he put the spent brass in his pocket. Richard may soon be able to produce brass cartridges, but until then, he would keep saving his for reloading.

Steve radioed a message to Richard, telling him they were ready to be picked up, and they might have a dead creature for the medical people to examine. Tom wasn’t very fond of that message, as he didn’t want to be weighted down with a dead body. He wanted to get the hell out of the mountains, and back to safety of the settlements.

Ron was all for helping Steve get the dead ape creature, at least to the canyon wall. Then they could lower it down on a rope, or do what Tom suggested, and kick it over the cliff. So they started out dragging the dead animal. Tom walked ahead, constantly studying the trees and rocks for other ape creatures. There was nothing to the front, but looking back over their shoulders they could see dark shapes moving from one concealment to another. Steve and Ron doubled their efforts and picked up speed.

The forest behind them began to fill with howls. Long sounding eerie wails that set their skin crawling. Rocks began falling around them, thrown by the apes. Some coming close to hitting. Steve and Ron were tiring, so Tom reached back and grabbed the rope they were using to drag the creature with. Leaning into the pull, Tom got them moving faster. They arrived at the edge of the cliff and looked over, but didn’t see Richard or one of the Carriers.

Steve was able to dodge a stone at the last second, and only suffered a glancing blow to his shoulder. Tom had enough of the Apes, and let loose a spray of gun fire from his rifle. He aimed high in the trees, so it was more of a warning to the following creatures. The rocks stopped coming, but the howling continued. It was no longer separate calls, but was becoming in one long sounding howl. Steve was paying attention to the noise, and remarked that there was a slight rhythm to the noise. It had changed once they came to the cliff and got ready to lower the dead one down. Tom’s thinking was that they were calling others to come join them.

The howling stopped, to be replaced by deep grunts. They made a loud single grunt followed by two short ones. They kept repeating it over and over, as more of them continued to appear out of the trees and brush. They weren’t coming closer, just standing where they could be seen.

Tom told Steve to kick the body over the edge and let it fall. They were running out of time. Then ordered Steve and Ron to repel over the side, while he held them off. Once down, they were to cover his decent. Saying they understood, both men dropped over the edge.

Seeing Tom’s two companions disappear, the whole body of the Apes began moving forward. Tom fired another burst over their heads, as another warning. Then the rocks started flying through the air again. One bounced off Tom’s chest, dropping him to a knee. He grabbed one of the ropes, feeling it was free from either Steve or Ron’s decent. Tom snapped the repelling ring to his belt and grabbed the rope with one hand and kept the rifle leveled at the approaching apes. He was severely tempted to empty the whole clip at the chanting mass as they moved forward, throwing stones.

Tom dropped swiftly and caught himself half way down the cliff. He was jerked to a stop, and then adjusted the rig and began going down smoothly. Rocks and sticks were zinging past him. Steve and Ron began shooting, Tom didn’t know if they were shooting over the apes heads or if they were killing them. When he was on the ground after coming down hard, he got loose from the rope and followed after Steve and Ron. The three of them headed for the shelter of the trees and were finally safe from the rocks that continued to bounce off trees. The apes were still on the top of the cliff, chanting now a different sound.

The assumption that they were safe slowed them and they decide to wrap the dead ape with ropes, so it could be drug over the ground with less resistance. While they worked they talked over what had taken place. Tom had to rest. His chest was hurting and he had blood staining through the shirt. Steve told Ron to keep a watch on their back trail. He needed to see what could be done for Tom.

“Were safe for a while.” Tom figured. “After the attack last night, they changed their approach. They didn’t try again with just one. After discussing it, they came in groups. Each time they were stopped, they had to discuss it all over again. That’s what they’re doing now.” He was making a guess on what he’d observed. “They make a lot of noise. I guess that’s the way they communicate with each other.”

“I’ve got a lot of it recorded on my tablet.” Dan offered. “I’ll let someone smarter than me try to figure it out.”

Steve placed a plastic backed bandage on Tom’s chest, and sprayed the area down with some germ killing solution. “Let’s keep going.” He helped pull Tom to his feet. “They might be finished with their discussions.”

The carrier Richard sent finally got there. The three climbed aboard, dragging the dead carcass with them. Tom yelled for the driver to get them out of the area. The other team members riding with them, stared at the dead animal. They all had the same question, What was it? Steve and Ron were eager to enlighten them. Tom just sat back in one of the comfortable seats and rested. He was having trouble breathing. It really hurt when he inhaled. His lungs were clear, but it hurt to breathe. He suspected he might have a damaged sternum.

Tom wasn’t sure if or when the Apes would come down off the cliff, but if they did, he didn’t know how they should face them. The apes had attacked them first, but there was hope for a peaceful meeting. Steve pointed out, that they might be able to communicate and establish a truce. Ron didn’t hold any views like that. He was sure the only way they would be able to live with them, was if they were all dead. For the moment, there wasn’t anyone following. At least none that they could see.

Shondra was not happy seeing the condition of her man. Especially after she encouraged him to go on the exploration. Hearing about the ordeal, she was greatly concerned and carefully checked him over. From how they described the events, she was concerned the ape men might pay them a visit. A general meeting was held, by the entire Settlement, After informing them of the new dangers, She asked for ideas on how to handle the situation. Especially if they showed up around the settlements.

Richard turned to Tom and asked for his input. He wanted Tom’s ideas on how to deal with the menace. Tom citing the battle tactics of the Germans in the second world war, he brought up how the generals wanted to fight the overwhelming hordes of Russians. One of the educated members, called out that the German’s lost. Tom acknowledged that, and explained that the Generals plans had been over ruled by the leader at the time. If they had fought the Russians like the top generals wanted, they would have fallen back to certain points, creating kill zones. The war would have gone on but in the end the Germans would have been whipped no matter what.

The term Kill zones got everyone’s attention. Tom explained that the kill zones, would have kept the Russians from surrounding them. Instead they were funneled into compacted area’s where preset weapons could unleash hell on the troops. It worked where it was tried, but since it required giving up some territory, the German leader was against it.

Tom thought it was a good idea and it would work. He observed the Apes didn’t think on their feet. Once they were moving, they would continue flowing into the kill zones, until they regrouped and changed to a different tactic. Somewhere along the line, the hope was the Apes might come to the conclusion it might be better to get along with humans. Course Tom didn’t hold much hope for that.

The Kill Zone idea appealed to everyone. Richard asked Tom to head up a committee and draw up the plans for creating what was needed to make the Kill Zones. Tom didn’t need a committee, instead a couple of drafting students submitted their ideas. They designed some concrete solid barriers, in vee shapes. The idea was the hordes would come against the sharp angle, and be funneled into a single flow of attack. By the numbers coming from behind, they would push those ahead into constricted spaces. There a concentrated mass firing would gun them down.

It was a simple plan, with a simple lay out. The walled angles were easy to build, only the gun emplacements required more detailed construction. Along with the new construction, several new weapons were designed. Basically the weapons were huge shot guns. Mounted and aimed at the deadly areas. The guns could be loaded simply by rolling in another canister shot. Closing the breach and pulling the trigger. The canister shot could be made from anything. Paper, rocks, sticks or garbage.

Then there was the age old mine field. Cheap and easy to construct, those working on the mines were turning them out faster than any of the arms. The mines were the last items to be deployed. Richard wanted a detailed map of the minefield, so they could recover the ground later, and remove any unexploded devices.

Sentries were posted to watch all approaches to the villages. Once the defenses were built, the people went back to everyday living. Always keeping an ear for the alarm the sentries might sound.

While this was all going on, the medical staff was dissecting the dead ape, and finding that the organs were very much the same as humans. Their blood was red, and they had a digestive system. From what they discovered in the stomach, the creature ate leaves, among other green growing things. There was no sign of meat, not even in the bowels.

Shondra came by often where Tom sat going over details with Richard and those appointed to developing defenses. She didn’t have any trouble luring him away for a one on one, discussion on family life. He reminded her of the promise to go on an exploring adventure with him. She rolled her eyes on that one. With the ape men running loose, it didn’t seem safe to be exploring. Not without a heavily armed escort.

Pointing out that the Ape men seem to be confined to the mountains and not native to the rest of the land, made no difference. It didn’t deter Shondra’s fear of traveling alone or even in a small group. The dead ape they were dissecting and studying looked stronger than any five or ten humans

There was still the problem of obtaining mineral rich ore. Living the life they wanted, depended on obtaining ore. Mineral rich ore, from which they could extract the copper and other metals they needed for production. So far the only place known to contain the ore, was those mountains. The home of the ape men. Tom didn’t know enough about the Apes, and if they were ever going to have those minerals, something had to be done with the them. For some reason he felt responsible to find out everything about them. Especially if they were going to be attacked.

Checking with the sentries still on watch for an attack, Tom learned that no sign of them had been seen. So after being turned down, by Steve and Ron when he asked them to join him on an exploratory mission, Tom set out on his own. He knew when he returned, there would be hell to pay. Mostly from Shondra. There was no way she would approve of his going alone, but there were things he had to learn about this new enemy.

Taking his magnum again, and more ammunition for the rifle, Tom added some compressed all purpose cakes, to his ration pack. They could be eaten direct from the package, or mixed with other items for a meal. He carried a large supply of water purification tablets. Fresh drinking water now would be a rare find. So the tablets were very important. He figure to be out there for a while.

The basic idea of this scouting trip, was to check on the Ape men, and find out if they still controlled the mountain. With what he’d learned from the previous contacts, they were capable of change. That might mean where they lived too. The apes had driven them off, but reality was, humans had kicked ape ass. Course if the ape’s had pushed the issue, it might have turned out different. Tom kept that memory too.

Tom was good at sneaking, and also keeping one eye on the sky. Those damn bird creatures, were still high on his list for killing. They tended to make their circles in the sky, several miles away from humans, especially when there were guns present. For the time being, it was thought better to leave them be, if they were not posing a threat. That was fine, for most people, but Tom wanted to kill them all. Having them keep to a distance, didn’t help meet that goal.

Following the path to the Cliff site, Tom checked for tracks. He expected to see the bare foot print of the Ape men. There was nothing, but the occasional three toed track of an unseen creature. It puzzled him, that something could leave so many tracks and yet not be seen. It wasn’t the track of those huge flying birds. He knew that much, because he’d seen one up close and personal. He didn’t need a second look. He’d run into the three toed tracks before, and never got a look at what made them.

It had been a lot easier and quicker covering the ground in a Carrier. On foot, it required Tom to watch every step. Huge roots lay across the surface of the ground, exposed by down pours washing away the soil. He was covering the same ground the Carriers drove over, and he could see the scrapes and rutted tracks where the bark was scraped from the tree trunks. On one of the torn roots, he noticed a thick white goo oozing from it. He paused long enough to poke it with a stick, and noticed that it clung to it like a glue. That was something he’d have to look into again later. For right now, he was trying to find out, why the Ape men had not continued the pursuit and attacked.

He was nearing the end of the trees, where they had escaped from the rock throwing apes. There were sounds ahead that reminded him of ravens fighting over something dead. So when he came to a point where he could see out where those huge bird creatures were feeding on the dead carcass’s of the Ape men, that they had killed. A whole flock of the birds were dipping down and ripping up chunks of flesh. Spreading the wings to keep the others away from their meal.

Well he’d seen what he came to see the open area. The ape men had retreated back to the mountains. They left their dead laying where they fell, for the birds to feed on. So if they were intelligent creatures, they didn’t have respect for their own dead. Taking out a small pair of binoculars, Tom scanned the cliffs, looking for any sign of the ape men. There was nothing there or moving, but he could see the ropes still hanging down off the cliff. He thought about it, but figured that would be pushing his luck a little too far. With his tablet, he took a few pictures to go along with the video it was taking automatically. This would give all the science boys something to study.

Tom started back, when a thought came to him. What if the ape’s were meeting somewhere and conferring like they had after the previous attacks. They could be thinking up a different approach, and another mass run at them. He’d been ready to call a halt to the construction of the barriers and the kill zones, but now he wasn’t so sure.

The creatures had a different way of reacting to things. They were capable of anger, he knew that. They could attack without warning. So far they hadn’t killed a human, despite their trying. He knew that wouldn’t last. They had just been lucky, and the apes rock throwing was off. Any organized fighting with them, would need to be done with helmets and body armor.

Going back on the Carrier tracks, he was going to try and cut through, making a wide loop around to the cliffs. He’d come out a good safe distance from the birds feasting on carrion. As much as he wanted to kill every one of them, he had to let it go this time.

He was about to step off the trail, when he noticed that white blob of goo oozing out from the damaged roots. The stick he stuck in it was laying there, and the goo looked hard. Tom touched it to see, and it was hard. No stickiness to it. There was more, where the roots continued to bleed out. Tom picked up another stick and dabbed it into the fresh goo. He touched it with a finger lightly and then wiped it off on his shirt. The goo was interesting. At first he thought it might be good material for tires, but it set up rock hard. Soft until exposed to air.

Taking out his knife, Tom went about sticking it into other roots. Not all of them bled white goo. He was able to tell which exposed roots contained the goo. He was a little excited, with his discovery, but he didn’t quite know what value it had. It was light in weight, and could be spread over a surface. He discovered that much. Then as he was about to continue on his self assigned mission, he had an idea. Going back to the roots still oozing the goo, he took out one of his water bottles and emptied it. Then he used a broad leaf and scooped up some goo and funneled it into the plastic water bottle. A couple scoops and it was full. He replaced the cap and stuff the bottle in his pack. When he got back, he would have something for Richard to look at.

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