On the next mission, Gold 1 was sent out with Red 3. But, this time 2nd Lt Clearwater was sent out as the pilot of his own ship. He’d been paired with a new sergeant for crew. This one was Sgt. Chew. They were on their way to check out the co-ordinates from which broadcast signals had been picked up. The Grapevine got thwacked again. This time it was more serious. Systems were damaged.
“Grapevine to ‘Lily’,” Alexander said, calling Cate. “We got thwacked. Guidance systems are out. Life support is iffy.” He thumped the oxygen meter a couple of times and it jumped. “I’m going off course and am going to have to land. You continue on and make contact.”
“Say again Grapevine ,” Cate responded. “We are not reading you well.” But Alexander never heard it. He looked and noticed that the indicator light for wither the radio was working was out. There was also no sound coming from the speakers. “Communications is out,” he reported to Sgt Jones. “I’ve got to set this baby down on the planet. We may have to eyeball it,” Sgt Jones stationed himself at the other window. “I see a spot,” he said. It seems to be on a sort of plain. Coordinates 2, -3, 1.” Alexander turned the ship and angled it down. “I see it,” he said, when the flat area came into his line of sight. He kept heading in that direction. On entry into the atmosphere, the ship began to light up. It glowed a fiery red.
Unknown to them, close to the edge of that plain, there was a village. The people who lived there lived a very primitive live, courtesy of the decisions of their ancestors. It was set aside as a preserve with various natural and artificial barriers set in place so that there was no contact between the people here and the ones in the dominate technologically advanced civilization that the other pilots from the Lizbet were contacting right now.
In that village, the High Priest noticed the controlled fall of the Grapevine. Though he did not know what that thing was, he took in on himself to go and speak to the present chief of the village. This chief had only been so since his election on the death of the previous chief. And his term in office was about to end with his death. “Sir,” the High Priest said to the Chief. “It appears that you have won some-thing of a reprieve. The gods appear to have sent us their own sacrifice for our festival tonight.” He pointed to the streak in the sky, which the chief could also see. He smiled. If that was so, and everything went well tonight, then it would be taken as a sign from the gods. He could remain as chief until he died of natural causes.
The landing of the Grapevine was rough. But Lt. Arden did manage to avoid crashing. They burned off some of the grasses of the plain. Fortunately, it had been a rainy season and the fire kept to a minimum. They got out and looked at the ship. They noticed scorch marks that did not make any sense. “My God,” Jabin Jones exclaimed. “Did we get shot at?”
“Maybe,” said Lt. Arden. “That would certainly explain systems going haywire when they should not have. You take the outside and I will take the inside.” They assessed the damage and began the repairs. Repair of the com-systems was easy. It was modular so one simply pulled the old module and replaced it with a new one. It was obvious that the society aiming at them did not know where to hit them. No vital systems were hit. The ship could be space worthy again with just a few hours work. The guidance systems only required a little realignment.
“There is a lot of burn scorching out here,” Sgt. Jones reported. “I’ll come out and help you,” Arden responded. It was important to keep the exteriors of the ships clean as too much heat build-up could be caused if they were not. It was also important for the inspection of the tile. If too many tiles were damaged or destroyed, they would not attempt to take off again. Instead, they would activate their beacon again and wait for the Lizbet. She would bring the tiles and all the equipment and crew necessary to replace them.
While they were working, a noise was heard. Alexander looked up from his work. He saw some figures coming across the grass towards them. “People coming,” he said. “I see them too,” Jabin responded.
Forced to rely on the dictionary they had compiled so far, Alexander stepped out to meet them. The people bowed down and kow towed to him at first. He motioned for them to rise and said the words that he hoped meant,”Please get up.” Then someone wearing a headress of horns and feathers addressed him. Arden did not know what the fellow was saying, but it was obviously a welcoming speech. When he got a chance to look-up what the man was saying it seemed that he was right. The man said they wanted him to be their zank at a kazam. He mimed eating and dancing. They seemed to think this was very important. Lt. Arden thought about it for a few minutes. He decided that it was not a good idea to upset the locals so he would go along with what they wanted.
Sergeant Jones asked Lt. Arden, “Should I go check out the ship, make sure that there was no damage on landing?”
“Sure,” Alexander answered. “I think things are well in hand here. These people seem to be pretty happy to know that I seem to be their Zank. The Kazan seems about ready to start. You can join us later.”
Jabin Jones found nothing wrong in that. Sure their under- standing of the language was incomplete. But the fact that they were throwing him a Kazam, or a party, seemed a good sign. Jones felt that his skills would be better put to use if he went back to the ship and checked it out to make sure that there was no damage. He would come back to the party a little later. Just what a zank was and what a Kazam was he was to learn a little later.
Alexander went rather jovially with a man wearing a brightly colored feather headdress and cape over a rather plainly woven sort of apron. The males and females all seemed to wear that plain apron in the front. The females wore no covering on their chests and everyone’s butts were bare except for the man wearing the cape. They tried to get Jabin Jones to go with them too, but he politely refused. It was about noon when they left.
Jones worked by himself fixing the ship. He got the ships jack out and jacked a broken strut. Then he removed the fasteners and removed the damaged part. He replaced it with one that worked from the emergency supply the ship always carried. Because of this damage the ship would return immediately to the Lizbet.
He checked the nearby jungle from time to time for his partner. He has just barely got the ship space worthy again when there was a terrible crashing on the trail to the settlement. Alexander crashed into the clearing, his face looking terrible and obviously in distress. Jabin ran to him. He realized that Arden was being pursued. As he grabbed a hold of his friend Alexander passed out for the first time. Jones realized that Alexander’s uniform was bloody. He’d been stabbed. It was also obvious that there were things in his pocket, samples that might be important. Jones got him aboard the ship with everything intact. Jones sealed the ship up tight.
He got Lt. Arden into the medical bed aboard the Grapevine and started the medical procedures. It began to treat his wound and gave him shots of human adrenaline and vitamins. Jabin Jones left it to do that automatically while he went to the bridge and executed an emergency take off. He knew that there were natives on the outside trying to use their spears and arrows on the outside of the ship. He also knew that some of them would be killed when the ship took off. He didn’t care. He had to get his friend and partner back to the Lizbet and the greater medical facilities there before he died.
Jones launched. It was difficult for one man to fly the ship, but not impossible. He began broadcasting an SOS as soon as he cleared the atmosphere. “ISSS Grapevine to ISSS Lizbet,” he called. “Emergency. I require emergency clearance to land. Have Dr. McInnis standing by in sickbay. I repeat I require emergency clearance to land. Have Dr. McInnis standing by.” He repeated the message a couple of times before he got confirmation from Lizbet. In the meantime he checked on his partner. It was obvious that he had a sever arm wound. He put a tourniquet on it. Just then a call came over the communications board.
’ISSS Grapevine, this is ISSS Lizbet, please state the nature of your emergency,” the female Lt. at Lizbet control asked.
“Medical,” Jabin Jones reported. His voice betrayed his concern over his friend. “Lt. Arden has been injured. He has sustained at least one stab wound, and I believe that he may have been poisoned. He could be dying.”
“Rodger, Grapevine,” Lizbet control responded. “Is he awake and responsive?”
“No.” Jones said.
“Rodger,” Lizbet control said. “You are cleared for emergency landing procedures. Sick bay is standing by.”
General Arden rushed to the infirmary. In spite of everything people said about him, and in spite of all the bad blood between them, nothing would keep him from his son’s side now. Arriving in Sick-bay, he found his son under the care of Leech McInnis. His arm was in a sling and there were signs of other injuries on his body. Sergeant Jones had obliviously executed normal procedures for dealing with such injuries. Then the General saw the bloody bandage and noticed that Alexander was sweating. Something more was wrong. “What’s his condition?” he asked Leech.
“Wounded by some sort of a blade weapon,” Leech told him. “Sergeant Jones did a good job of putting a tourniquet on the arm and bandaging the wound. He brought your son here as fast as he could or your son would not be alive now.”
“Why is he sweating?” Evander Arden asked.
“There is the possibility of poison or infection,” Leech reported. “We are running tests now to determine if it is one or the other, or both.”
“Will he loose the arm?” the father asked.
“I think not,” the doctor replied. “There does not seem to be that much bone or tissue damage.” Leech left the General and Sergeant Jones in the outer Sickbay and went into the inner area to tend to his patient.
“What happened?” General Arden asked Sgt. Jones.
“We were surveying a star system,” Jabin told him. He decided to speak as though he was dealing with the worried father instead of the commanding officer. “We found a planet and monitored transmissions coming from it. It became obvious to us that they were fighting a war and were too primitive for us to contact. We managed to compile something of a dictionary of their language. We were preparing to leave when they started shooting at us. They damaged the ship and we were forced to make a landing. The landing was a little rough and we were thrown slightly off course due to a sudden storm. When we managed to exit the ship we found that we were in a wilderness area. We thought nothing of it when the people arrived. Our dictionary seemed to work and our understanding of their grammar seemed alright. They seemed very concerned about something. One of them said something about ‘giving the gods the welcome they deserve’.”
“Oh - oh,” the General said. “That kind of a situation is almost always trouble.”
“We were aware of that,” Jabin continued on. “We tried to show them that we were not gods. I would guess that was where we made our mistake.But the ship had a damaged strut and required repair. The natives started to get restless. My guess, now, is that they were unhappy discovering that we were not gods. One of their spokesmen said that all would be alright if they could have a Kazan and if one of us would be their zanc. Since Alexander was the officer, he volunteered to do that. I agreed to it and got on with the repairs. Now I wish I hadn’t. A Kazan was a religious rite requiring a sacrifice or zanc. That was what happened to him. I didn’t figure it out until I had more time to go through the dictionary and double check the copies we had made of their transmissions. I also checked the transmissions that had been made concerning our attempt to leave. That was when I heard about the place that was some sort of wilderness preserve for the people who did not want to join their modern society, so that they could live apart. The transmission said that they were going to hold an ancient Kazam to the gods, complete with a god for a zank.”
It was at that point that Leach McInnis came into the room. “General Arden,” he said. “I’m afraid it is bad news. It appears that he was poisoned with a toxin similar to scilliroside. This is a poison used in ancient times on earth to poison rodents. We are treating him, but it is likely to be touch and go for the next 24 hours. And we can only hope that we have the right dosage.”
“I understand,” the Gen. Arden said. “Do the best you can for him.” That night was a long night for the General. He paced the floor a while, sat by his son’s bedside for a while and then got up and paced some more. Sgt. Jones went back to see his family.
At one point the doctor joined his friend. “Well your son was certainly a busy man at this Kazan,” he said. “Those lumps in his uniform turned out to be biological samples. He must have grabbed a piece of every plant and food that he could get his hands on and stuffed them in his pockets. I’m having life sciences analyze them now. With a little luck we will find more specifics about the poison they used.”
But when he awoke two days later, it was not his father who was by his bedside but Cate Carstairs was holding his hand. “Hey, Beautiful,” he said, managing a wan smile.
“Hey Mr.,” she said. “You had us going there for quite a while.”
“Yeah,” he said, “well that’s what you get for playing God, and you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“I feel terrible about leaving you,” she said. “I feel like I should have stopped when your communications went haywire.”
“You couldn’t,” he reassured her. “You had your orders and you knew it as well as I did.”
“So how about filling your old man in on what happened?’ the General commented from the doorway.
“General Arden, sir,” Alexander responded. “I’m not sure if I remember it all.”
Cate surrendered her place to the General. “Just tell me what you can son,” he said. “I’ve already had a talk with Sgt. Jones.”
“Yes sir,” Lt. Arden acknowledged. “Well is started off with the meteor shower that forced us off course. We took some damage to our control surfaces. We found a world that was a little too premature for us to contact. They had some broadcast ability, but were still fighting wars and developing new weapons. I decided against contact and we were trying to safely break orbit to return to the Lizbet when they fired on us.” Alexander was becoming more wane and tired looking.
“That’s fine for now son,” the General told him. “Why don’t you get some sleep now? I’ll come back and talk to you again.”
At supper time the general was back with a bowl of soup for his son. “The doctor wants you to eat something, but nothing too hard on that stomach of yours. He has managed to neutralize the poison that they used, but counteracting its deleterious effects is something else again. He does think that eventually you will recover on your own.”
“Will I fly again?” Lt. Arden asked General Arden seriously.
“You’re one of my best,” the General admitted rather matter of factly, “of course you’ll fly again.” He began to feed his son the soup, but Alexander wanted to talk.
“The high priest was my host,” Alexander began. General Arden realized that this would be part of the report and ordered. “Computer begin recording.” Alexander began again, “The High Priest was my host. The Kazan was held in a large and quite ornate temple, far more so then you would have thought a primitive people like these appeared to be could have built.” “Sergeant Jones was able to answer that one.” the General informed his junior officer as the father got more of the soup into his son. “He told me that the area was a preserve set aside for people who wanted to return to a more primitive way of living.”
“The Kazan,” Alexander continued, “started with the people all coming into a large room of the temple. They brought offerings of food and drink. I took as many samples as I could and put them in the pockets of my uniform because I didn’t have any place else to put them.”
“Dr. McInnis found them and got Life Sciences to work on them right away. Those boys of his are pretty good. They managed to isolate the poison that was used on you from those samples and tested until they found an antidote,” the General said.
“I don’t know if it was meant as a poison. The high priest took some of it and passed it to others. It was like we were enjoying a meal together. And I must say that some of it was tastier then this soup is.” he said and took another gulp.
“I’ll have you know that your sister made this soup for you with her own hands. You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it,” the General replied rather pragmatically. Alexander tried it again.
“It wasn’t until after the meal was over that the trouble started,” Alexander said. “That was when the people began to move back away and there seemed to be some sort of a signal given. But I missed it. They seemed to want me to move toward some -thing, but I stayed where I was. I noticed that they had some sort of a big-eyed flame idol behind me. I was just looking at it, admiring its size and construction. Then someone moved behind me and struck me. I think it was a wound that was meant to be fatal, but it was too high and too far to one side to be fatal to human beings. At that point I went into defensive mode. I used my self-defense training and survival training to get myself out of there. They were so surprised that only one man could think to fight back, and that was the High Priest. He stabbed me one more time before I could get out of there. Then it was a matter of getting through the woods to the ship before they killed me.
Fortunately Sgt. Jones had completed enough of the repairs that we were able to take off. But he made sure that I was safely in our sick bay before he did that. He can tell you about what happened after that. I passed out about then and did not come to until I was aboard the Lizbet.”
Alexander spent sometime in sick bay while his wounds were healing. When Dr. McInnis finally let him out he had to use a scooter that had the ability to step over doorways. It was part of the medical equipment that they had been waiting for when they launched. He had some fun learning how to use the thing. As the doctor said, “Before I let you loose on the ship in this thing you have to succeed in getting out of sick bay.” That didn’t take long to do and by the end of the day Alexander challenged Lt. Eviss to another game of poker in the O club. He said, “In my poisoned condition you might even win.” Lt. Eviss hissed when he lost.
In his quarters his roommate had to get used to the scooter taking up most of the room. It could not be left out in the narrow passage way of that area of the B. O. Q. Keeping to an agreed upon schedule became important. The duties that Alexander had on the ship had to remain light since he had to report to sick bay daily for the first three days and then every other day for the next two weeks. He was able to perform his duties as commander of Gold Wing. But Jabin Jones had to take the brunt of the duty for making sure that the ship was repaired. Some of the other Sergeants helped him check that the control surfaces answered their on board computer controls.
As far as his social life was concerned, he had dinner with Cate whenever he could, but most often dinner with his father and sister. He was there when the news about Alexander Brown came in. “Dad,” the General’s son-in-law said, “He finally weighed in at 8 lbs. 7 oz. According to Philip that makes him by far the biggest grand -kid. He is beautiful too, he’s got his old man’s rusty brown hair and they say the eyes are going to be piercing blue. So I guess that proves that he’s related to Alexander.” The first images showed that the baby looked just like his father described him. They also showed his two years older sister kissing him and him with his cousin George.
Are you enjoying my ongoing story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, SargeWrite a Review