Nightmare Journey

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen-

All Creatures Great and Small

 

“Imothera, the Brumyatta have great influence on this world.  I’m afraid that this clo Yondah will be able to figure out where the Robinsons went, given a bit of time, a few well placed friends and some bribe money,” Smith said to his wife.

“Zachary, I was only trying to protect you.  I didn’t think I said anything that would hurt the professor and his children.”

“I know,” Smith said.  “But now we must go to the spaceport and send a message to him.  You get the car ready and I’ll be right along.  I have some notes that I need to take to the health office anyway.”

Soon they were bouncing along in the swamp vehicle, oblivious to the non-descript car behind them.  As they reached the outskirts of the city, Imothera decided to reapply her makeup.  Holding up the mirror she noticed a vehicle, closely resembling the rented one that had stopped at their house earlier. 

“Zachary, turn toward the open air market,” she said abruptly.  He began protesting.  “Zachary, just do it now,” she ordered.  He did.  Using the mirror, she noticed the vehicle making the same turn, almost screeching because of the sharpness of the angle.  “Turn left here,” she said. 

After several more turns it was evident that they were being followed.  “Zachary, we’re fools, assuming that they would easily find out where the professor is.  clo Yondah is following us, hoping that we will make his task easier.  And we almost did,” she explained.  “Let’s go see what’s at the market.  We’ll park at the end of this street.”

Smith folded his papers and tucked them inside his shirt. Imothera slung her purse over her shoulder and taking his hand, led him into the crowds that always thronged at the street market.  At first they took their time, looking over the merchandise as though with a mind to buy something.  Finally Imothera did just that, picking out a ring that caught her eye.  When Smith had paid for it, she put it on and then in delight, hugged him tightly.  “Zachary, make it look good, my dear,” she whispered.  “We need to make them believe that all we are interested in is a day at the market.” 

He hugged her a bit closer.  “And I thought I had been a good spy,” he said dryly.

Soon Imothera led him into even denser crowds. She weaved and dodged around Anoxans and aliens alike, finally coming out on a side street that opened onto a large thoroughfare.  Whistling, she stopped a small vehicle and pulling Zachary in with her, instructed the driver to head to the spaceport.  Continually looking out the back window, Imothera was finally satisfied that they had lost their followers. 

Soon they were in the communications building of the spaceport and in front of a computer terminal.  Imothera punched in the access codes to send an off-planet message and waited for the signal to compose a message.

 

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In disgust, Will realized what the little blue alien meant by working with animals.  He threw the shovel full of manure into the recycling chute and then scooped some more.  First thing this morning, the job message had come, giving them barely enough time to grab a bite of breakfast.  In the next stall, he heard his dad doing pretty much the same thing.  Penny had lucked out; she got to help the dog trainers groom their animals.  At least dogs were the closest proximity to the creatures he had seen.

“Dad?” he called out.

“Yes, Will?” his dad asked, his voice weary. 

Will felt a sudden pang of anxiety and wondered how much Dad had actually recovered from the anot.  Suddenly he heard his dad chuckling and then laughing out loud.  He walked across the corridor and looked in, puzzled.  Dad was leaning against his shovel, still laughing.  “Son, I wish I knew how we could transfer out of this, uh, chicken… outfit, myself.  And where did you learn language like that?  I’m ashamed of you,” he said, controlling himself once more.

“Houston.  Was I that obvious, Dad?” he asked, blushing at his dad’s perusal of his thoughts.

“That obvious,” came the answer, with a great sigh.  “But I must admit, that was a wonderfully humorous interruption to this otherwise disgusting morning.   This is not what I had when I signed us on this ship.” 

“Me neither.  Uh, Dad, are you all right?” 

“Just tired, Will.  But that too shall pass,” he said, leaning against the side of the stall. 

“Let me finish my stall and I’ll come help you with this one,” Will told him. 

“Thanks son, but don’t count your tired old father out yet.” 

“I’m not, Dad.”  Will got back to work in his own stall, shoveling furiously, so he could go to the next one and help his father.  A few minutes later, the door at the end of the corridor opened and a young man several years older than he came down the corridor leading an animal that Will could best describe as a furry dinosaur.  It stood as high as a race horse on two very powerful hind legs, its front arms no longer or larger than his own.  Its head was more horse-like, if horses had two rows of sharp teeth, no ears and piercing green eyes.  There was a mane; it hung down in satiny curtains that shimmered as the creature tossed its head, but the tail like that of a dinosaur.  Its whole body was covered with a downy fur that was striped in shades of blue-green and yellow.  The creature also gave the appearance of a very efficient killer, with saber-like teeth that showed plainly every time it opened its mouth. 

The young man stopped at the stall his dad was working on and peered in.  In chagrin, Will realized that his dad had dozed off, but the approach of the boy and his animal woke him up.  Rushing over to the stall, Will saw the young man and his dad studying each other.  “I was told that these stalls would be ready by now.  Corintle is restless and wants her feed.  It’s past her morning feed,” he said petulantly. 

“We’ll be done in a minute,” Will said hastily.  He and his dad worked side by side.

“I was told that the new hirelings had the appearance of being able to work hard.  Apparently that is not the case,” the boy snapped as he rubbed the animal to reassure her. 

“Wrong judgments are very quick and easy to make, young man, especially when all the facts are not known,” John told him without rancor.  With both of them working, the stall was soon clean and ready for the prancing animal.  “Very graceful looking animal,” he added, as he and Will left the stall. 

“Very dangerous one if you aren’t careful.”  When the animal was fed and the stall door closed and latched, he turned to the Robinsons.  “I have to get the other three.  That stall is almost ready; I’ll bring Tarixle next.  I won’t be long.”

“By the way, I’m John Sims and this is my son, Will,” John held out his hand, then looked at its condition and drew it back, smiling.  “You are....”

“Jeris,” the boy said and turned on his heel. 

“What a snotty kid,” Will commented when the door closed at the end of the corridor. 

“Wrong judgments, Will?”  John said vaguely as he worked on the next stall.  “There’s something about that boy.  Something hidden, secret.”

They worked together and finished the next two stalls just as Jeris brought in Tarixle.  This creature appeared more nervous than the last one, but the boy seemed to have a way with the creature and it, too was soon in a stall, eating.   Jeris left for the next animal.

“Will, you can finish the last stall on your own.  I believe I’ll go on to the next task.  If I recall, it entails feeding one of the animals.  Nothing taxing like shoveling dinosaur crap,” John said with a slight smile.  He leaned the shovel in a narrow closet and moved on down the corridor where he stopped in front of a large cage with a bucket hanging on a peg outside. 

Peering inside the container, John quickly jerked his head back.  Whatever was in the bucket had been dead for a while; the odor was noxious.   He could only assume that the resident of the cage must be a carrion eater.  Unlatching the door, John stepped inside with the bucket, looked at the hook on which to hang the meat, and then glanced back in the bucket in disgust.  He perused the sleeping inhabitant; its head tucked under a wing, and noticed that the creature was not terribly unlike Talon, but a bit more bat-like. 

Gingerly he picked up the chunk of meat and hung it on the hook.  A loud, sibilant, hissing noise alerted him to the fact that the resident of this cage was not asleep, and jerking around he found himself face to face with a nightmare from Hell.  He ducked, just being missed by the long, sharp talons and quickly pivoted around to face the enraged creature.  It was between him and the gate and with a cry of rage it launched itself at him again.  John briefly caught a vision of a hunt by a small pack of these creatures, the prey a large two-legged creature.  Then an ensuing fight after the prey was dispatched. 

In horror, John realized that he was considered the breakfast, not that disgusting piece of rotten meat, and he understood its anger.  It didn’t eat carrion; it hunted and ate fresh meat.  John understood this all in the brief seconds before the bat-bird struck.  He held his arm above his face and the sharp claws made shallow furrows along his forearm. 

Visions of the creature’s leadership hierarchy made a brief visit in his mind before a signal of intense pain did.  The terrible pain began coursing through his veins like molten lava and a scream of agony tore itself from his throat while the creature prepared itself for another attack. 

Will jerked up from the door of the stall where Jeris was bedding down the last creature, hearing his father’s cry in his ears and his mind.  His breath hissed through his teeth at the intensity of Dad’s telepathic output.  He ran down the corridor, looking for Dad.  Vaguely, he heard Jeris using the intercom to call for help.  Looking in the cage, he saw his dad backed in a corner with a hideous birdlike bat with a sharp jagged bill and wickedly curved talons. 

“Don’t open the door, Will,” his father snapped. 

“Dad, you’re broadcasting, big time,” Will said, anguished that he couldn’t do anything to help.  The waves of pain ceased beating in his brain.  “Jeris has called for help.”

John finished building his mental shield as the creature prepared for another attack.  Suddenly he saw what had to be done to get out of the situation.  Crouching down, with his injured right arm held tightly to his chest, John glared at the bat and held his left arm out straight in front of him, fingers extended.  He tried to approximate the call the alien creature had made and then advanced, slowly but steadily.  Confused, the bat made a guttural sound in its throat but it didn’t advance.  He jerked his hand back and then forward again, repeating the call, keeping his eyes on the animal.  It continued to glare at him, but it hesitated to attack, suddenly unsure of the change in its prey.

The burning, throbbing sensation continued to radiate up and down his arm, threatening his concentration, but John continued advancing, closer and closer to the door.  Repeating the cry one last time, John called to Will, “Open the door when I’m closer to it than this creature is.”

“Yes, sir,” Will called out. 

John advanced a little further, then heard the latch click open. He made a dash for the gate just as the animal realized that its prey was escaping.  Its claws ripped the bottom of his pants just as he made it out the door.   John vaguely heard the cage door clang shut as he slumped down against the far wall, the pain coming to the forefront of his awareness once more.  He glanced at his bleeding arm as Will rushed over. 

“Such little scratches,” he hissed through gritted teeth.  “Tiny wounds.”

“The claws of the Orantis are very painful, John Sims, and this one’s claws have had time to build up a goodly supply of poison,” Jeris said quietly.  “You were very adept in dealing with the creature, but why didn’t you heed the warning about the Orantis?”

“What warning?  The instructions simply said to feed the animal whatever was in the bucket,” John informed him, gasping with the effort to remain lucid.   “But I don’t blame it for being upset.  I would be upset too, if I had to eat that disgusting trash,” John said with a laugh that ended in a moan.  Suddenly someone else was at his side and Jeris backed off, wondering at this new man. 

“I would say, my foolhardy friend, that this shot would hurt, but that would be a ludicrous statement, so I won’t,” the newcomer said, sticking a needle into John’s upper arm.  The professor only half heard the doctor and certainly didn’t feel the shot.  “This is a pain blocker and it should take effect in the next minute.”

Gilbrolen appeared at his side just as the shot began taking effect.  John took a deep breath and looked the captain squarely in the face.  “Capt. Gilbrolen, that creature needs fresh meat, not garbage that died last year.  I didn’t appreciate being that fresh meat.” 

The little, blue skinned alien jerked back in surprise.  “I want to see you in my office when you are feeling better, Professor.”  Then he turned and left. 

“Uh, you might be in a bit of trouble, Professor Sims,” Jeris said sardonically.

 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen
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