More Company

            A bird flew overhead, casting only a silhouette as it eclipsed the pale red sunlight of the sun - a supergiant star that seemed dim and cold despite its infrared radiation.

            Sarah and Danny kept walking, now with a consistent heading and pace. Each step hit a wooden beam, perpendicular to the tracks. And never did either of them idly waste energy balancing step after step upon the cold metal tracks - as a bored child would.

            "I'm beginning to think that --"

            "Shhhh," he interrupted her, in a whisper, "Look up ahead."

            There was a bloody carcass against the tracks far ahead. It was not their horizon, for the tracks bent around a corner there in the canyon. And a humanoid figure, brown with thick fur, was hunched over the body - feeding on the meat.

            "Crllckcrr!" Danny trilled.

            Sarah frowned.

            The bird that had been above them flew down, circling, and landed on Danny's outstretched hand. It pecked affectionately at his fingers, tenderly gnawing his fingernails. It was yellow, with orange jowls and a frill upon its head. The creature had the look of an overgrown cockatiel. It was a foot tall, from head to talon, and had six inches of tail-feathers wiggling gleefully behind Danny's arm.

            Sarah backed away, afraid of the creature. She saw the queer look in its red eyes, which she deemed sinister.

            "Don't worry, Sal, she's as friendly as you are." And the bird began to walk sideways down the length of Danny's sleeve, to cuddle against his forearm. "And just as cold as we are."

            Sarah gave a hesitant smile, "Does he-she-- does she have a name?"

            "Scout." Danny said with simplicity. "It's what she does. Been with me for years. Empathy and telepathy, a bit of conditioning, and she's as loyal as any dog."

            "Crruck! Crck!" she chirped, bobbing her head affectionately.

            "Pleased to meet you, Scout," Sarah said, curiously and cautiously rubbing a finger into its jowls. "I'm Sal."

            "Crrck! Sal! Cruck! Saaal!" And then Scout bobbed her head several times, as if listening to some musical rhythm only she could hear.

            However, only the cold howling wind could be heard. And down the tracks, between the rocky ridges of the canyon, the furry beast kept feeding on the dead flesh.

            "You deserve a treat for that," Danny praised. And again, he took off his leather pack, passing Scout onto Sarah's arm and dug his hand into a side-pocket. He withdrew a sprig of large millet seeds, and held it in front of the bird. "Eat up. Then you're gonna show us what's up ahead."

            "Crruck! Crrrruckuck!" And the flat beak frantically pecking at  the cluster of seeds.

            Sarah looked nervous, with the bird on her arm. And yet, it did not look like a bird of prey. Just a large herbivore. She looked at it curiously, as seed shells fell to the tracks. And her legs enjoyed this brief pause in the journey - even if it had not given her a chance to sit down.

            And Danny looked down the path at the ominous hulking figure down the tracks. A shiver ran down his spine, greater than any goosebumps the wind might cause. And his heart welled up with dread. "Now, little one, let us see what lies down the tracks."

            Scout looked up from the now-empty sprig of millet seeds, and then down the tracks where her master was pointing, "Crruck!"

            Sarah was relieved as the yellow bird took off from her arm and flew low above the tracks, towards the voraciously eating carnivore. She smiled at Danny, "You seem to be a man of many talents."

The End

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