Chapter 2 - Refusal of the Call

Often when the call is given, the future hero refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.

The following text may not be in the correct chapter sequence, but I'll put it here for now!

A tree soared to one side and he climbed it, balancing on the swaying tip, eyes narrowed as he looked around. The vegetation was thick, a cloud of bird-shapes lifting from one side. He turned to face the direction in which he expected the barracks to be. He saw a low rise and the glint of something metallic.

"Boss!" King's call was urgent. "Something's coming this way."

It arrived as Stantham's boots hit the ground. The creature was long and vicious with feet clawing the dirt and wide jaws open to reveal rows of shining fangs. The scaled back stood as high as a man; the tail was a hammering club of flesh and bone.

King ducked and sprang to one side as it charged, the jaws snapping air where he had stood. The beast halted immediately, its head turning, saliva dripping; the eyes, set far back from the snout, gleamed like emeralds.

Its speed was fantastic, the long, lithe body as flexible as a cat's. Head and tail swinging, it snapped at the giant again as vegetation crashed all around.

King jumped clear just in time, his foot turning as he landed, throwing him off balance. He rolled in a clump of bushes, thorns ripping at his robes as he struggled to his feet. Stantham's hand slipped under his blouse, reappeared holding the flat weight of a pistol. He lifted it and fired, the red lance of fire spouting from the barrel, a thin thread of flame reaching to hit just at the rear of the monster's front leg, penetrating and exploding in a gout of flame.

Wounded, the creature reared, its head lifting, jaws gaping, turning to sweep its tail toward Stantham's position. He sprang high as the tail cut through the air, but not high enough. A hammer slammed against his boot and he fell, head down, rolling, feeling the claw of thorns on his back and scalp. Caught in the bushes, Stantham twisted, lifting the pistol. At the same time King rushed at the creature, a thick branch in his hands, the end oozing sap where he had ripped it from a tree.

It was a primitive weapon, almost useless even when driven by King's powerful muscles, yet he hoped to provide a momentary distraction.

The sound of the wood as it crashed against the side of the crocodile-like head was that of an axe hitting stone.

Again the thing reared. Stantham fired as the yellow belly came into view.

Spots flowered on the scaled hide, craters blown from the flesh, blood lacing a red trail from the impact of the lazer. They were small but Stantham sent others after the first, aiming at where he guessed the heart would be. Blood from torn arteries sprayed like a fountain.

The thing was dying, internal organs ruptured, the heart ruined, but it was still dangerous. As King turned, running, it crashed down and threshed with dying reflex, dirt pluming, bushes ripped from the soil and thrown high, the tail like a whip as it lashed the air, the very ground.

And, dying, it screamed, a high-pitched, siren-like cry which rose and lingered to hang suspended on the air. Abrupt silence followed as the creature gave a final jerk and lay still.

"Hell, I wouldn't like to meet one of those things in the dark!" King stared at the huge carcass. "And that noise! Calling others, do you think, Cap?"

"That or a warning." Stantham looked at the open jaws, the shape of the teeth. "It must be a predator, which means there can't be too many of them in any one area. That bulk would need a lot of food to keep going."

"And it was probably hungry." King rubbed at his scratches. "If it hadn't been for your gun ...."

They would have been dead, hunted down no matter how fast they ran, crushed by the tail and torn apart by the jaws.

Stantham examined the pistol, checking the load. The power meter was empty except for perhaps one more shot, and one shot would be useless against another such beast.

"We'd better get moving," he said. "That noise would have been heard for miles. It might attract the wrong sort of attention."

"Natives, boss?"

"It's possible. There's certainly life here and there could be people." Stantham checked their direction against the sun. "The barracks is somewhere over there."

They reached the building in just under an hour, moving cautiously, ears strained for the rustle of leaves, the impact of feet. It rested on a slight promontory, a shimmer of light reflecting from the metal of the walls. The entire building was slightly tilted on the uneven ground.

The door was open and it was deserted.

King roved through the upper level as Stantham searched the lower. As they met in the open area before the door King said, "Nothing, boss. From the look of it the men just picked up their gear and went."

"Weapons?"

"Gone."

The men might have taken them, or perhaps they were collected later or even stolen; there was no way to be sure. Stantham checked the drawers of the desk, seeing nothing but official documents, rosters, lists of names. A duty book lay to one side and he opened it, frowning at what he saw.

"The last entry is a package delivered by a native for Lieutenant Vickers. He had room twenty-six. Let's see if we can find it."

Inside: three men, their eyes glazed, blood on their uniforms, the broken shaft of a spear buried in the breast of one, savage cuts on the others.

"Murdered," said King. "But how, boss? They would have been armed and wary. How did they get killed?"

"By surprise," said Stantham softly. "Don't move, King. They're all around us.

The End

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