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The Mysterious Fishies of Mars

AragmarMar 9, 2022, 3:37:29 AM
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Episode ten

 

Camping.

Hector and Lady Nistrie said their farewells and headed back to the shadow. When they got back to the sub, He handed Nistrie a large package.

“What’s this?” she asked, surprised.

“It’s for your training. You can look through it while we travel to our campsite.” 

“Thank you!” 

Nistrie might have bounced a bit in her seat, her fingers itching to open her package.

As soon as they were on their way, Hector said, “Well? Are you going to open it?”

Nistrie didn’t need to be asked twice. She tore open the paper, only to find one large, camouflage print, waterproof backpack. “This will come in very handy Hector. Thank you!”

“Perhaps you’d like to open it, Lady.”

“There’s more?”

“Of course. Why do you think it’s so heavy?”

There were lots of pockets, but Nistrie started with the big one. She started pulling things from the backpack; some items were obvious, but many were not. 

“What is all of this?” she asked Hector.

“I thought you should have your very own emergency pack – every camper has one. We will use everything in there during your training.”

Nistrie's eyes lit up and her excitement was evident. 

“This is the best gift I have ever received!”

Hector began teaching her as they drove. 

“Each camping grove began with one old-growth tree, transported intact from old Earth. That tree and its saplings created a small forest.”

“So each grove has a different type of tree?”

“Yes. And just like campers stock the canals with fish, we also bring smaller plants and rodents to nourish the environment.”

“What type of tree will we find in our training grove?”

“We'll pick one that's not crowded, so I'm not sure yet.”

Once Hector found what he deemed the perfect campsite, he parked the sub. 

“The first step is a small reconnaissance mission. What do you think we should look for?”

“Shelter, a water source, dry branches, and... other campers?”

“Good suggestions. We should also know what kinds of plants and animals are around, and if there are any natural places to hide. Having an escape route won't hurt either.”

“Is this place dangerous?”

“Not usually, but any time you are alone in the wilderness there is a small chance. If heavy rains came, for example, where could we go to be safe?”

Nistrie looked up at the gigantic Oak tree in the center of the grove.

“That might be an excellent place if we could reach the branches.”

“What if we made a ladder from rope and threw it over a branch? Or used rock climbing gear?”

Hector smiled at her creative thinking. 

“Let's have a look around with those thoughts in mind. It's important to avoid hurting any of our tree brethren.”

The grove was an old one, so most of the trees were big and sturdy. They provided plenty of shelter and wood for a fire.

“Look, Hector! Running water!”

“It must be running between the lakes. My scan shows it is non-toxic but the blue tube in your pack will further purify it for drinking. Just use it like a straw.”

They found their purifying tubes in their packs and Hector showed Nistrie how to be aware of her surroundings when she drank from the creek. Then they climbed a small rock cropping beyond the creek and found an empty cave. Hector pointed out that someone had swept it out and there wasn't any scat.

“There are two lessons here.” Hector said and made a motion with his paw, before he continued. 

“First, it is important to know places like this are available, in case we need them. The lack of hair, food, and droppings is an indication that animals don't live here. Second, you'll notice that whoever used this cave before took care to leave it clean for the next person. Campers always keep their sites clean.”

Nistrie nodded solemnly.

“Let's finish our walk around the perimeter.”

Once they had scouted out a prime spot for their camp, Hector showed Nistrie the best way to pitch her tent. The tents were in a small clearing, encircled by mid-sized trees, in turn surrounded by old-growth. This arrangement gave them a good windbreak and plenty of trunks to attach their tarps. They attached a four sided tarp between their tents and a three-point tarp over their fire pit.

“Our final task, before we make the fire, is to lay out a perimeter trip wire alarm. This will warn us of intruders, whether they be of the human or animal variety.”

Hector showed Nistrie how to string the wire low to the ground and attach is to a small, spring loaded device. He didn't expect any trouble, but wanted his partner to always be prepared.

“And now for the fire,” he said, “rubbing his paws together. Let's gather up some kindling and logs, then I'll show you a little trick. Make sure you pick up your feet if you go past the trip wire,” he winked.

Once they had gathered plenty of wood and tinder, Hector had Nistrie pull out a thick black rod with a wooden handle and a flat, black, irregularly shaped piece of metal hooked together with a leather cord. Then he pointed out a little silver tin filled with small pink cylinders.

Nistrie moved them about, touching them, smelling them.

“The ferro rod and steel striker will make sparks and light those fire plugs. You won't always need them but they can save your life if we have a lot of rain.”

He showed her how to pull apart a plug, creating a little nest. 

“Now put the rod on top of the fuzz and scratch the striker on the rod.”

Nistrie did as told and was surprised to find she had a little fire. Hector gestured for her to place it on the tinder in their fire pit.

“There are different ways you can place the wood but the most important thing is to allow for air flow.” 

He put three logs across the kindling, leaning against each other like a Native American tepee.

“I hope you're paying attention because you get to make breakfast!” Hector chuckled.

Nistrie looked a little alarmed. 

“How do we cook on that?” she asked.

“There are several ways. First, we can put things directly into the fire, like tatoes or cans.” 

He took two potatoes wrapped in foil and tossed them into the fire.

“Second, we can use this contraption to set a pan above the fire, or even use a large rock.” 

He unfolded the wire legs from a small grill and put it above the fire.

“Third and most fun, we can build a cooking rack. See if you can find five or six long, sturdy sticks.”

Nistrie foraged around, not realizing that Hector already had procured said sticks. She came back with three. 

“Like these?”

“More or less,” he replied, wrinkling his nose. 

“We need them to be about the same length.” 

He pulled out a mini saw and shortened several of the sticks. 

“Take three and use some twine to hold them together.” 

Hector demonstrated and handed the twine to Nistrie. 

“Now place yours opposite mine and we'll put the last stick across the top.”

“What will we do with that?”

“Watch and learn!” 

Hector pulled out a packet of bacon and carefully placed the slices along the stick. He moved the grill so it didn't get splattered with bacon drippings.

Lady Nistrie's nose was dripping with abandon. 

“That smells so good!”

“What should we have with our bacon and tatoes?” Hector asked. 

“If we save some we can have them with eggs for breakfast. Which you are making, of course.”

“We have those tiny chickens.”

“Yes! The cornish hens. Let's get them from the stasis fridge. Don't forget the trip wire.”

Hector had brought a cooler box to the campsite, but didn't have the extra ingredients. 

Once back from the sub, he showed Nistrie how to wrap the hens in foil. He seasoned them with salt, pepper, rosemary, and lemon, added some sliced onions and garlic, then folded the foil and placed them on the little grill above the fire. He wrapped the bacon in foil too, put it aside and handed Nistrie a jar of kvas.

They had a delicious dinner and went to sleep early after a long day. Both slept very well until just before dawn when an explosion, screeching alarms and flashing lights had them scrambling out of their tents.

Nistrie had not witnessed Hector's PTSD symptoms and they scared her more than the alarm. He was in full military attack mode, with his night goggles and automatic weapon, doing an army crawl to the shelter of a tree. She hoped he wouldn't mistake her for the enemy so she went back in her tent.

Two bunnies hopped into camp and threw their paws in the air. 

“Hector! Is that you?” One of them shouted. “How do we turn off the alarm?”

It took Hector a minute to fully recoup but then he said, “R-ralph?”

“Yeah man! How do we stop that screeching?”

Hector pushed a button and it stopped; he sat looking shaken to the core. 

“I guess maybe I should rethink that perimeter alarm. What are you doing here, Ralph?”

“Toshi and I were headed for the canal when I saw the Shadow. I thought it would be fun to stop for a visit.”

“F-fun. Yes. Erm, I've not quite recovered. Nistrie? Nistrie!” he said, looking around.

“I'm here, she said quietly, peeking out of her tent. You frightened me a bit, I thought you might shoot.”

“I'm sorry... I didn't realize what my reaction would be. We will have to rethink the alarm. Maybe without the 12 gauge explosion.”

Nistrie nodded, her adrenaline still in the stratosphere. 

“Would you like me to start breakfast?”

“Yep! Would you like to join us? We're having camping training.”

“No, we won't stay. I would like a word in private though, if you have a minute.”

“Of course. Toshi, could you show Lady Nistrie how to make eggs, after she gets the fire started? Don't do it for her though; it’s a test.”

Toshi nodded and Hector moved toward the creek with Ralph.

“So... why are you two really here, Ralph?”, cautiously asked Hector, trigger paw still twitching.

“There was an accident in close orbit. Happened while you slept, but my boy was up in his starfighter. 'Twas a proper, deadly shooting war...” Though they were both the same age, Ralph looked hunched down, older than Hector, when he said that.

“But... but, your kiddo is just a flight cadet! What the heck were those hotshots from Martian Colonial Air Command thinking?!” Hector grumbled, and Ralph immediately covered his gob with paw, shushing him:

“Shhhh! I am not even supposed to tell you this.”

“What... wait no, who was the slime that attacked us? I bet it was the sodding, fartfaced Clanners again, am I right?”

“Yes, but of the long since deceased variety, Hector.”

Hector's paw stopped twitching and his eyes widened with surprise.

“You mean ghost pilots, flying on possessed starships?!”

His old friend's answered with a nod, while he sneaked a data-crystal in his paw.

“You know what to do, brother. Scout these coordinates; tis their crash site, one maybe two machines. Toshi came since you both served together and will have your back, just in case.”

They both looked up, their eyes scanning the morning sky and full of worry, as if the ghostly starfighters could assail them at any moment...

 

***

I and @todolomejor have been planning and working for months. Mystery, spooky stuff Starshatter style, fishies, munchies, and, of course - aliens! This will be a series of stories following the adventures of two characters - the old submariner Hector and the Dzenta'rii, Lady Nistrie! 

Photo by Lum3n from Pexels 

Episode one.

Episode two.

Episode three.

Episode four.

Episode five.

Episode six.

Episode seven.

Episode eight.

Episode nine.

Episode eleven coming soon...