Have you ever been unconscious, truly unconscious? If so, then you may know what I mean. When you are not conscious, you are not. Time is not. Space is not. Nothing exists, not even emptiness. You perceive it only in projection, as a hole in your memory. It is no wonder men fear death, when they thus remember it.
You don't remember being not alive? It's easy. Just stretch your memory backwards as far as you can. It goes back to perhaps two or three years of age. Beyond that, if you are the imaginative sort, there is a murky sort of region that represents in part what you think you ought to remember of your time as a very small child, in the cradle, even in the womb, although one can never fully trust those memories as they lack any sort of context. But before that?
Not even emptiness, which implies a capacity to be filled. Nothingness. No thing ness. How long does it last? All the time from the next moment, through the end of time itself and back to its paradoxical beginning, up to the instant of your birth. Infinity minus a lifetime equals never. So call it that.
After a time that never happened forever I found myself reborn, incarnate, fully dressed, sitting on a rocky throne very similar to the one I had recently vacated. It, too, was on the top of a cliff, but this cliff overlooked the ocean just past a narrow grainy shore. Gulls and other birds wheeled tirelessly in the wind. A grey mist clung to the the green sea, and the sound of surf crashing into the shore was an endless, comforting rush of furry sound. I must admit that I was somewhat surprised to be alive.
I took a breath. It smelled like air. Very fine air, at that. Salty and fresh. Not too cold. I decided that there was some chance that I might even live a while longer. My two biggest fears had been landing inside a star or a rock or in hard vacuum or in liquid methane, any of which I reasonably expected to be instantly fatal, or landing in a ``normal'' Earth analog world in a glacial period or in the middle of a desert or ocean, or a hundred feet up in the air. Here there was warmth in the air, grass and heather, and gulls. Porpoises sported on the waves not too far from shore. There would be food to be caught or bought, and maybe men to associate with as well. And from here I might find my way home.
The idea had sort of crept up on me slowly. I mean, I'm not a helpless romantic (or maybe I am, but I repress it). Still, I love (or loved) Julie with all my heart. I lived happily with her, and saw her laugh and cry and watched her corpse (not hers but hers) swinging from the rafter with madness tugging at the edges of my brain.
Yet now I knew that Julie One was out there somewhere, lost in a virtual infinity of close-but-not-quite copies. There is a hollowness, the surreality of a nightmare, in chasing endless ghosts through infinite pages looking for one who resembles one you once knew. Nonetheless, it was something to do, and I needed some sort of purpose or plan to hold the ragged edges of my sanity together.
If there were a denumerable infinity of universes, then it was highly unlikely that I was the only human to have discovered the basic principals of transfer. In fact, on virtually any inhabitable world, it is (or so I told myself) likely to find at least one or two ``world walkers'', folks who had learned how to master the jump and travelled from world to world, time to time, universe to universe at will.
That first jump I made was a ``blind'' jump, the kind one makes from a second story window in the middle of the night when her husband's key is turning in the lock and he happens to be a sergeant in the Marines and you're not. This time I landed on a nice, soft, bush but next time I might land in a trash can full of broken glass. Before I even thought about jumping again I wanted to find, or trap, a Mathematician who understood the Secrets of the Manifold. I wanted to find a knowledgeable world walker and pry, bribe, threaten, cajole the knowledge of inter-universal navigation from him. Or her.
Unless I could figure them out from scratch myself. I had paper, pens, and both a slide rule which I detested but could use in a pinch and a solar powered programmable calculator which I relied upon. I also had my laptop, as long as its batteries could be recharged and its hard disk held out. The only problem I faced was that you can't deduce the shape of whatness or which way is up; you have to measure them. I was (and am) more of a theorist than an experimentalist. And the only way to get more data by myself was to make more jumps.
That idea scared me silly. There might have been (and, as it turns out, there is) some sort of conservation principle that guaranteed that your next destination was always inhabitable, or nearly so, but a trivial calculation shows that, all things being equal, the probability of ending up in a vacuum is essentially unity. Next most likely is landing in a star. Third inside a solid planet. Fourth on the surface of an instantly fatal (superheavy, hard vacuum, methane, cold) planet. Way down the list was landing in that itty bitty portion of a given Universe that is approximately inhabitable. If I had landed ten feet out from where I sat, I'd have been a puddle of organs oozing into the rocks below.
Maybe I beat those odds once, or maybe not. It was entirely possible (and turned out to be the case) that the laws of inter-Universal travel required as much physical congruence as possible between source and destination - enough so that not one piece of my hodge-podge of packages, boxes, and equipment fell over from ``landing'' on ground at a different angle. But I intended to get that data from someone else. Then I could map the planes, or at least determine if a map was possible. If it was then I planned to go home.
You see, at that point I was not really thinking clearly. For some reason I had completely forgotten that every jump that I made, up to the last one, was an ``exchange'' interaction between universes. I didn't leave a single live Julie behind that was not paired with a Sam. If I did make it back to Julie One (or infinitesimally close to her, as universes go) then she would be with Sam Two, who would be so close to me that it would be really rotten to either kill him and take over (a strange sort of suicide) or steal her away by enticing her with tales of worlds far away.
And I'm not really the killing type2.1. At least in cold blood. Sam Eleven, the murderous Sam who (maybe) killed a Julie that I might have loved, him I might kill. And it seemed to me that I might meet him again one day (or his doppelgangers) because after he got over the shock of finding his victim alive he would be the only other Sam that knew that transitions were possible. And if he gave up his drinking and snorting and set to, he could solve the problem from the rather good notes I ``left'' him.
Anyway, none of this occurred to me at that moment when I needed some stray purpose to cling to until I found my feet again. And by the time, some weeks later, that I worked it out I was starting to enjoy life again and no longer cared as much; but that's getting ahead of my story.
For a while I just sat there, savoring the rest of that beer that miraculously did not lose its fizz during its trip across the planes. After all, while I expected to find beer on almost any world inhabited by men, I did not necessarily expect to find it ice cold. And so far, there was no reason to think that this world was inhabited by men.
The ocean was magnificent. It reminded me of the coast of Ireland, though I've seen it only in pictures and movies. But it had a grandeur, as it passed over rocks and reefs, that evoked a poignant response deep within me. Of those last few moments that I took for myself before facing the unknown world around me, those last moments of my adolescence (as I look back on it), I best remember that sea.
I finished the beer, and then another one. I was ready to get up and reconnoiter, when I saw something rise from the sea that brought the hackles up on the back of my neck. It had a long, thin neck, a mouthful of sharp teeth, and a body I never saw properly because it was so far off shore and it didn't fully break the surface. It could have been the Loch Ness monster. It could have been a hallucination. But it looked like a plesiosaur.
I began to wish that I had brought something a little heavier than my semi-automatic .22 rifle. Say a forty millimeter cannon and a case of grenades.
I reached for the rifle to pull it out and load it. And I discovered that I was not alone.
There was a flash of brown fur streaking up my outstretched arm and before I knew it I was holding a soft, furry bundle that was slickly wet and struggling to open its eyes. A soft, furry bundle with needle sharp claws and no teeth.
For a moment I held very still, instead of following my instinct and throwing the little demon off the cliff edge. Which is a good thing, because the little claws were almost hooked into my skin through my jean jacket and I would have probably thrown a chunk or two of arm with it.
While holding still, I examined it, noted its condition, listened to its rather appealing mewling, and arrived at a conclusion. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as you prefer, from the following) this last jump across the multiverse was indeed an exchange interaction, although nothing human was exchanged. Whatever the mama of the cub was, and from whatever world, she was destined for the pages of the National Enquirer on Earth Eleven. I can see the headline now: ``Were-Bigfoot slain by heroic police officers.'' At least, I hope for their sakes that the bullet intended for me did its work instead on her. From the condition of her offspring's claws, any other outcome would be most unfortunate for them. And to them, I must have seemed to change from a human into, well, a thing.
So here I was, left holding an orphan of the replacement process and hoping that either she wasn't originally from this world but had been sucked out of one of the zillion or so I had passed through or that Dad wasn't coming back. Junior was very new, it seemed to me, and very hungry.
I finally managed to transfer it from my arm to my chest, where it clung with those damnable claws almost but not quite sticking me, like a cat kneading its claws on your leg. I then turned to business.
First I pulled out the rifle and loaded it. Any good survivalist would probably have been armed to the teeth and had his weapons cocked and ready to fire the instant he came through the gate, but I left Earth Eleven in a little bit of a hurry and the AK-47 I ordered from L. L. Bean just didn't have time to be delivered. If I landed on a world where I could get ammunition, they'd have guns already of their own design and I could procure one. If I landed on a world without them then I'd run out of ammo soon no matter how much I took. So I brought a gun where I could get a lot of shots out of the weight of ammunition I could reasonably afford to bring. A thousand 30-06 rounds versus twenty five thousand .22 hollow-point rounds (fifty boxes of 500) was no contest, at least in my mind.
I also loaded up my derringer. It was a cute little job I picked up at the junk shop downtown that also doubled as the town pawn shop (probably used by a little old drug dealer who only fired it on Sundays), complete with a holster that strapped to the forearm and could be covered by a shirt or jacket without making too much of a bulge. It also used .22 caliber ammunition. On my other forearm I strapped a throwing knife which I didn't know how to use. I planned to practice. A small dagger went into my brand-new army surplus boot. A Marine combat knife at my belt. And both my swords slung over my back, in the style of the Japanese, although it was a little difficult to get the belts past Junior.
Perhaps I wasn't such a bad survivalist after all.
Just to get in the mood, and kill a little time, I killed two more of the beers while they were still cold as I searched for something that Junior might reasonably like to dine on. I know, the sensible thing would have been to do away with Junior in a forthright fashion, but I was pretty emotionally ripped up and just couldn't do it. Besides which, when I cleaned the goo off of - it turned out to be a ``her'' - fur she looked kind of cute and helpless. Even her claws became better behaved, and curled around further and sort of locked her to my jacket without locking her to my skin.
I dug out a can of evaporated milk, taking a chance that Junior was a mammal (she did have vestigial nipples) and that Mama's milk wouldn't be so different from a cow's that Junior couldn't handle it. I was fresh out of bottles, but Junior had lips (setting herself apart from the canines, ursines, and felines of our world) and proved adept at sucking the milk straight from a small hole punched in the side of the can. As soon as she finished off half a can, she went to sleep, still connected to my jacket and thereby to me.
Somewhat burdened with a five pound bundle attached to my chest (and feeling all warm and fuzzy inside) I loaded up and packed my equipment away. I had enough canned milk to get Junior through a few days, and by then I'd have a clue as to whether or not Junior and I would be permanent buddies or just a passing fling.
There weren't any paths to that little plateau on the cliff top, which was rugged and damn difficult to get off of, let alone get onto from either side. Nor was there any sign of earlier occupation by Mama, which was heartening. I took a while to set up my tent in a little knoll a short distance from where I appeared (I didn't trust that spot; it was probably a gate itself and I had no idea when it would randomly trigger again). I dragged the rest of my meager belongings from under the tarp, sorted them and stashed them in a small cavity between two huge boulders in the knoll, protected by the tarp and well out of sight of anyone not right on top of them.
This took about two hours, but the day was getting brighter, not darker. I had left Earth Eleven in the late evening, but it was still morning here. I had a couple of the sandwiches that I had packed in ice, and washed them down with the last two beers. Then I said what the hell and had a glass of my medicinal scotch on cooler ice. Then I had another. Then I was so tired (and yes, a teeny bit drunk) that I could barely stay awake long enough to throw a ``camouflage'' net over my tent (it doubled as a real fishing throw net), strip off half of my gear, and crawl into my sleeping bag.
I fell asleep with the flap tied open, my rifle in my hands, and a bundle of curled up fur attached to my chest.
A long time later I awoke. It was dark outside, and I had no idea how long remained before morning. I didn't even know the length of the day. I was unburdened by Junior, who had let go and gone outside and who was rustling around in the bushes behind the tent. I crawled out of the tent and pissed over the edge of the cliff, and then went over to Junior who was rooting around where we had slept and mewling. As soon as I got within five feet of her there was a flash and Junior was mewling on my chest in her accustomed spot. Let me tell you, she looked helpless but she was greased lightning with razors for toes.
I fed Junior the rest of the milk from the first can. I was thirsty from the scotch and drank some ice-melt water from the cooler. Then I sat down to wait for the dawn, staring out through the mist over the sea, thinking about names while Junior slept again. At least she was fastidious from birth; she had clearly zipped away from me (she did not ``crawl'' by any stretch of the imagination) for the purposes of relieving herself. My jacket could rest in peace.
A light breeze sprang up, and started to clear some of the fog away. The moon's sickled face began to show through the clouds. But it was not the familiar moon of earth. It was huge, subtending maybe five or six times the angle subtended by the moon on earth, and the visible crescent was banded with clouds in exotic colors. It somehow looked far away, for all that it was brighter than the full moon on earth with only maybe a quarter of its area lit. It had a very faint ring and looked a damn sight like a gas giant.
I wondered who was moon to who.
A little later I was surprised to see a second, much smaller moon crescent rise up from the horizon. This one was a clearly flattened spheroid - probably distorted by the tremendous tides - that appeared somewhat smaller than the moon does from the earth. However, it was much closer to me than the moon was, close enough that its surface details, including some tremendous mountains and craters, were clearly visible. It was obviously quite low because it moved visibly relative to a particularly bright nearby star over the brief period of a few hours that I watched it waiting for the dawn (though I could not honestly describe its motion as "hurtling"). Clearly this was a world that would have gladdened the heart of Copernicus and Galileo, a world that had a moon, and was a moon, and orbited the sun nevertheless.
The last bit of mist cleared away, and, just as the wolf's tail appeared in the east (east I dub thee) I saw that I was, at least, not alone on this world. Far along the shore, about four or five miles around a gentle bay, a fire began to twinkle as someone got up to tend to the morning chores.
It turned out that I was hasty in assigning east. The magnetic compass showed it to be west. That was in principle perfectly OK, the earth's magnetic field switches over every twenty thousand years or so and then the sun rises in the "west" there, too, but it left me with a semantic difficulty. I decided to leave the sunrise in the east and just put the north pole at the south point of the compass for the time being. It's half-assed compromises like that that drive students crazy a hundred years later when they learn why they are memorizing an inconsistent set of rules.
Besides, it was the wrong choice. When I thought about it later I realized that while planets could obviously rotate either way with respect to their magnetic field and sun sun, I'd better not screw around with right and left handed rotation, charge, and magnetic moments. At the time, though, I just couldn't deal with a sun rising from the west.
Breakfast was more sandwiches, with another half can of milk for Junior. The meat and mayo would soon spoil without ice, and the ice in my cooler was melting fast. I had some emergency rations, but if I was going to live off of the land I had to start scrounging food (and milk!) and exploring the area. I still didn't know whether I was on a high tech or low tech world, or if the other inhabitants were ``human''.
I took down the tent and stashed it out of sight. I even moved a couple of small boulders to better conceal my cache and to protect the food from passing creatures. Like bears. Or dinosaurs. I took a few minutes to construct a harness for star-marked Tara (Tara I dub thee, named after a dog I had when I was a pup). I was very clever. I deked her into attaching to the back panel of a small knapsack turned inside out when she returned from a potty run, packed some things in with her (including a couple of cans of milk) and slung her, blissfully asleep, on my back.
I then girded my loins, wishing irrationally for a mail shirt over a leather jerkin instead of a jean jacket with claw holes here and there, a bazooka, and most of all some coffee, took up my binoculars, and proceeded down the yellow brick road.
The road turned out to be a little rocky at that point. By chance I had landed at one of the more inaccessible points on the coast. I had to go back up a ways three times to find a better way down, because I didn't dare go down anywhere I was not sure I could find my way up. I marked the trail unobtrusively with small rock piles and my memory. Being an ex-boy scout is frequently useful. Finally I got to the bottom of the plateau top and came out near a goat trail of a path leading down from a gentle rocky hillside. Literally. There were goat droppings all around.
I began to wish that I had brought my bow instead of the gun. With people so near, I didn't want to advertise my presence, and a gunshot carries surprisingly far. I thought that a little tasty goat or deer would surely go well in my bare larder, and that Tara might be persuaded to replace expensive imported cows milk for the locally made goat variety. But I didn't know anything about the moral, political, or social climate, or anything else for that matter and I needed the gun to be able to shoot my way out of an argument.
I moved north along the path (south by my compass) in the general direction of the fire I had seen that morning. I went along fairly cautiously, both because I wanted to see or hear anyone else before they saw me and because I was looking for a way down to the beach.
I heard - and smelled - the goats before I saw them. They were bleating as they came up the path, and raising a slight cloud of dust as their hoofs scuffed the dry dust. This gave me time to climb into a massive pile of rocks that lay alongside the path in a mazy jumble. I found an aperture through which I could peer and waited.
They came along the path in an unruly herd, about fifty or sixty of them. They were being driven by a goat boy who was so human that if I hadn't seen the moons the night before, I would have believed myself to still be on ``Earth'' (one of them, anyway). His skin was a dusky brown, and his features were not exactly Caucasian or negroid or oriental, but were pleasing and symmetric nonetheless. His eyes had a slight slant and appeared black or brown. His feet were bare, he was carrying a stick, and he was clad in a ragged garment that reminded me of the loincloth, or dhoti, worn by men and boys in India.
He didn't look very dangerous.
So I stood up where he could see me.
He walked on a pace or two, whistling an air, then saw me and froze in mid-note. Then he whistled a sharp, piercing note, rising at the end, and an enormous border-collie-like dog of the far side of the herd, so big that I had taken it for a small cow, sprang up and tore around the herd to the boy.
I grinned and held out my hands, palms out. My gun was leaning, cocked and with the safety off, on the rocks below where I could reach it in a hurry, but I didn't want to start off by killing a dog, or a goat boy for that matter. The dog slid to a halt at its master's feet and gazed steadily in my direction. I was surprised by the intelligence that I saw in its eyes. It didn't bark or growl, but it curled its lips up and I swear it grinned back at me. Its grin was a little toothy for my taste.
The boy silently inspected me for a few seconds. A large curved knife had appeared in his hands, seemingly from nowhere. It must have been concealed somewhere in the folds of his dhoti. Finally he spoke.
``J' asa raglar? J' datta? Kwi rattand sit da farand a mai.''
I could see that we were going to have communication difficulties.
``My name is Sam Foster,'' I pointed at my chest, carefully acting out the no-speak-the language ritual as old as Babel, ``Sam Foster.''
He paused, puzzled, then grinned himself. ``Arto Dastak,'' he said, pointing at his own chest. ``Sally,'' he said pointing at the dog. The dog responded by smiling even more broadly, letting a wet tongue loll out of its mouth as it waited, motionless.
``Hello, Arto. Hello, Sally,'' I said, inclining my head to each in turn. ``I am a traveler from far away. I mean you no harm. Might I join you for the day and begin to learn your language?''
Arto paused a moment, listening carefully to my words, then shrugged, telling me eloquently that he didn't understand them. I'm sure that he was afraid at first that I was a robber or a mercenary, both of which, as it turned out, were fairly commonplace. But as he examined my unusual clothing and heard my unusual speech he decided that I was more interesting than frightening, for he lowered his knife and used it to gesticulate back down the trail the way he had come.
``Sind-la-day?'' he asked. I hoped he was asking if I came from the town in that direction. I shook my head and shrugged, hoping that the gesture would be understood as no. He pointed up the trail in the other direction and said ``Ushti?'' Again I 'said' no. He began to look restlessly at the herd, which was milling about and beginning to scatter.
I carefully picked up my rifle, watching the expression on his face as I did so. There was a great deal of interest, but no recognition or fear. Guns seemed to be unknown, or at least they didn't worry Arto or the dog. I gently pressed the safety back on and moved out to the trail. As I got within about eight feet of the two Sally seemed to materialize exactly half way between Arto and myself. Carefully I knelt, cradling the rifle and extending my hand, palm down, to the dog.
Sally (who was quite male) slowly extended his nose, grin still fixed, until it just touched my fingertips. He gave a few sniffs, then seemed to become very interested and moved closer. I held perfectly still while the dog sniffed me from head to foot. He spent quite a long time sniffing at the flap of my knapsack. Finally he yawned and gave a look to Arto, head cocked to the side, that clearly meant: he's OK, and so's his pet, but man do they smell weird. Looking back at me over his shoulder he ambled after the herd and started to collect the strays. I swear that he shook his head in puzzlement as he left.
Arto apparently trusted his dog. He voiced no objection when I fell in alongside of him and walked back up the way that I had just come. We walked for an hour or so, passing the path up the plateau cliff to my camp, and came to a steep and rocky trail that followed a washed out ravine down to bottom where a narrow bridge went over a small brook. On the other side was a set of soft, rolling hills covered with green grass that rose from the sea to an elevation of perhaps a thousand feet or so. Except for the green (it was green), it reminded me a little of California. It was quite pretty.
There was a rude hut with a goat pen made of logs and bramble on the third hill over. A clear stream ran from a spring a little ways up the hillside, a crude outhouse sat a little ways down. Arto filled an terra-cotta jug with stream water, wetting it through so that evaporation would keep it cool, and carried it into the hut. Sally dispersed the goats around the next hill over, keeping them on the side of the hill facing the hut. The dog was a genius.
I followed Arto into the hut, which was furnished with a table, three handmade chairs, a rock fireplace in the corner, and a chest. Arto went to the chest and took out a wind instrument not unlike a recorder, a flint and steel, a small but thick terra-cotta cooking pot, and a box containing some spices. After a few tries he managed to get a fire going. I was tempted to help with my pocket lighter, but had no desire to jeopardize a burgeoning, if taciturn, relationship with a silly little thing like witchcraft.
Arto went to the door and whistled a pair of trilling notes. Sally cut one of the goats out of the herd and drove it down to the hut. As it got closer I could see that it carried a pack strapped to its back.
Arto took the pack off of the goat, which waited until he slipped it a piece of sugar cane from inside before it headed off to the hill again, Sally urging it silently on. It contained meat and some tuber like roots that could have been potatoes, but tasted more like water chestnuts to me. Whistling, he chopped the meat up and threw it into the pot with some water, some dried beans, and some of the ``potatoes''. A few pinches of spice and it went onto a rock next to the fire and he began to rake hot coals out onto it - good practice with pottery cookware that can't take direct flame all that well.
I pulled a chocolate bar out of my pack and offered it to Arto. He took it and looked at the paper curiously, unsure of how to proceed, so I took one for myself to demonstrate. As his lips closed on his first bite they curled up in a smile of pure pleasure. He wolfed the rest of the bar and grinned up at me, so I took out the two sandwiches I had brought for lunch and offered him one. He again was a little puzzled, but caught on quickly as I ate mine. I was pretty sure that the ingredients were reasonably recognizable to him, but I don't think the Earl of Sandwich had lived on this world to discover their ideal assembly.
A mewling sound issued from my pack, which began to wriggle like a wild thing. Arto, was momentarily nonplussed, but soon smiled as he realized that I had a ``pet'', in there. I wasted no time in opening the flap as I had no desire to see the pack shredded from the inside.
There was the customary blur and Tara was attached to my chest as usual. Fortunately I hadn't removed my jacket although the day was warm. Her eyes were definitely open this time and she had the temerity to give me a verbal dressing down for the trick I had played on her. A can of milk soon quieted her, and she dozed for a while in my lap while I petted her, having finally consented to release her sleepy grip on my jacket.
She was the size of a small cat and already inclining towards plumpness. As I smoothed out her feet I could see that her toes were really little fingers (claws aside) and that she had a fully opposable thumb. I revised my estimate of her species analog from cat-dog-bear to otter-cat-lemur. It was early to say if she was a primate (howdy, cousin!) or just a different evolutionary branch altogether, but it looked like she was equipped to grip.
Arto expressed great interest, naturally enough, but showed no signs of recognition and shrugged when I ``asked'' him for a name. Sally, on one of his many orbits through the shack, sniffed Tara up and down quite thoroughly. Tara woke up for a moment during this process and momentarily bristled (causing me to fear for Sally's eyes, Tara's life, and my health) but settled down and actually returned sniff for sniff. Finally Sally broke it off and shook himself down with doggie disgust and lolled back out of the door, his tongue hanging limp as he shook his head from side to side. I don't think he liked being stumped.
It was pretty clear that Tara was almost as far from home as I was. It was also pretty clear that we were bonded and that I was ``mom'', at least for the time being.
Tara went outside for a quick potty trip and zipped back up and onto my lap, claws sheathed this time , and went soundly to sleep. I began to ask Arto questions, pointing to the items in the room and repeating their name in English and then pausing while looking at him. After a moment he guessed my intention and entered the game with good nature. He would point to the table and say, ``gonta'', and then point to the chair and say ``gonsa'' and so on. As the day wore on we pursued this and I built up a vocabulary of about a hundred words. Some of the words, like that for soldier and that for town, we communicated by drawing pictures. We decided to leave Tara just Tara, since she was pretty clearly one-of-a-kind and didn't need a generic name.
By late afternoon we could ``converse'' poorly, where I guessed his meanings from gestures and context and made myself understood with sign language and pictures when words in his language failed me.
As the sun slipped down, Sally gathered the goats and waited while we talked. Arto had just started telling me about the town and the number of people it contained, and I was trying to figure out how to ask about radios and automobiles and airplanes, when Sally, very quietly, started to whimper a little and sat, watching Arto. Arto stopped talking, and looked at the sky, and quickly jumped up and went into the hut to put away his few belongings and dump water on the fire.
He seemed to be in a hurry, so I helped the best I could, packing Tara back in her pack (where she settled happily enough, still asleep) and setting things back the way they were, but as soon as the fire was out he gestured me out of the hut. I picked up the rifle and left.
He immediately struck out down the path, and he seemed slightly nervous. Sally had already started the goats moving over the hills back to the cliffs. I tried to ask what the problem was. He said a word I hadn't heard before, so I shrugged. He lifted his hands up, and up, and up. So big. And out, and out. So wide. He bared his teeth, pointed to one and held his hands six inches apart. Big teeth and lots of them. Then he went up on his tiptoes and danced down the path, teeth bared and swinging an arm behind him for a tail and holding his other in a sort of a kangaroo posture in front.
I remembered the plesiosaur from that morning and shuddered. There were a few other denizens of the Jurassic period on earth that would fit that general description, but none that I would care to meet in a dark alley. Or at night on a hillside path.
The sun set just before we got to the bridge near the cliffs. And just as the sun set, Sally bristled up and let go a single, low bark. Arto looked wildly around, though I couldn't tell if he was looking for the source of danger or someplace to hide. Then we both heard the thuds of heavy feet and a slithery sound coming up the draw to our left. Arto began to run. The herd began to run. Sally began to run. So, what the hell. I began to run. I followed Arto.
When whatever it was splashed through the stream we had just crossed by bridge I made the mistake of looking behind me. I am unashamed to say that I lost control of my bladder (which I had been looking for an excuse to empty) on the spot. I am proud to say that I ran just as fast, or even faster, with wet pants.
After all, I am one of the first humans from my world (with the possible exception of Professor Challenger's protegé, Edward Malone) to have ever been chased by an allosaurus and lived to tell of it.
Suddenly Sally appeared at my left side, urging me over to the right. We had just left the grassland and entered the rocky trail up onto the cliffs, and there were huge boulders and small rocky hills on both sides of the path. I let myself be driven for a short ways, rapidly tiring, and then I saw a boulder that shielded a short path up a fifteen foot cliff wall to a narrow ledge. The light was fading slowly, but I thought I might still shoot.
``Thanks, old boy. I see it.'' I panted. Sally took that at face value and ran to herd Arto towards it. Arto had slashed one of his bare toes on a sharp rock. It was bleeding and he was limping a little in his run, but he would make it. I was glad I was wearing heavy boots. The allosaurus snatched one of the fatter, slower goats and bit off its hindquarters, swallowing it while it ran after another, dropping the rest of it. It caught the second and simply stepped on it and clenched its claws before leaping onto a third and snapping at a fourth.
And then Sally was upon it. It was one of the great all time fights. Beauty vs. Beast. David vs. Goliath. Dog vs. Allosaurus.
Sally danced just out of its reach, while it lunged at him. The dog whirled behind it and actually bit its tail, then let go just in time to avoid being whipped as the tail swung around. The allosaurus spun, but Sally kept just ahead of it. Sally ran behind a large boulder, and the allosaurus tried to follow, but skidded on the scree. Sally managed to nip the tail again and then waited in the middle of the path for the allosaurus' small brain to get straightened out. The last of the goats disappeared up the path. Arto puffed onto the ledge beside me and tried to whistle but couldn't.
So I did. Sally gave a quick glance in our direction and started to turn to our path, when all of a sudden a movement there froze my blood.
A second allosaurus stood at its base. Its head was not three feet from my shoe. I sort of thought that it could probably reach my leg, if it tried real hard.
It seemed like a good time to remember that I still carried my rifle.
Now, a .22 rifle is not the gun of choice for elephant hunting. And I suspect that these over-sized lizards out-mass elephants as a general rule. Nevertheless, nearly every land animal that hunts is a little sensitive about its eyesight, and besides, its eyes tend to live immediately in front of the brain.
So I very carefully aimed at the eye staring at me from about seven feet away. It was so close that I had to correct the sight pattern to compensate for no drop, but on the other hand, it was a pretty big eye. In slow motion, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sally dance out of the way of the other one again, but this time there was no fooling around. He sensibly ran behind the boulder.
I fired again.
I fired at the other eye as it turned toward me.
I jumped back against the cliff as two jaws a yard wide snapped where I had just stood. But then it jumped and snapped at thin air parallel to the cliff. Then it managed to jump into the cliff itself and knock small boulders loose that fell under its feet, causing it to trip and roll down onto the ground. It was screaming, and its eye sockets were a pulpy, bleeding mass that dribbled down onto its face.
Large, heavy animals do not take falls too well. It broke its left rear leg in the fall. Sally dodged delicately around its twitching tail and made it up to our ledge in an admirable two seconds flat.
The first allosaurus still chased him, but got tangled up by the tail of the second. Even better, the second allosaurus thrashed around and sank its not inconsiderable array of teeth firmly into the leg of the first, whereby it, too fell to the ground, snapping at allosaurus two.
The three of us watched from the ledge while one dispatched two (which was at a rather severe disadvantage) only to discover that its leg was out of commission, having been flayed to the bone and missing all sorts of important tendons. It sort of sat down at the base of the path, looking up at us and screaming. I began to feel like Dorothy and the Wheelers.
I was too dark now for a decent shot, and I didn't care for the idea of spending the night on that ledge, so I crossed my fingers and reached into my pack and dragged out my flashlight.
It was a super job, with rechargeable batteries (I had solar panels to recharge them and my laptop and sundry other rechargeable-electronic stuff from, purchased from one of the nifty-physics catalogs all physicists find regularly stuffed into their mailboxes), a fairly tight beam and it was brand new. I turned it on and pointed it at the allosaurus's face. I could shoot by that. I gestured to Arto, who sort of moaned a little when I turned on the light, but he came forward gamely enough and seemed to understand when I put the light in his hands and steadied it on the eyes, which glowed greenly back. I grinned at him, and he smiled back, a little weakly, but his grip on the light firmed up.
I said, ``I'm going to shoot him. Loud noise. Bang! But don't drop that light! Please!'' I closed his fingers tightly on the base.
He didn't really understand, of course, but I was no longer scared and didn't want him to be. I also didn't want him to drop my flashlight off of the fifteen foot cliff when he heard the gun go off. Fortunately .22's only make a sort of loud ``Pop'' instead of the real ``Ka-Blam'' of a heavy rifle or shotgun.
It took ten shots through the eye sockets (and a few near misses, since it was thrashing pretty badly near the end). I suspect they ricocheted around in the skull, which had to be too thick to penetrate. Even so, there wasn't much brain to hit.
Tara slept through the whole thing. It reminded me of the time one of my nieces kept her baby-sitting, graduate student Uncle (me) up all night screaming and then calmly slept away the morning -- while they tore down the decrepit old house next door with heavy equipment.
I patched up Arto's toe a bit with my first aid kit, taping a splint to it and cleaning off the worst of the blood. It needed stitches, but I couldn't do it on the ledge. Arto had wet himself, too, so I didn't feel so bad. We both were pretty rank with piss and scared sweat, but we were alive.
At the base of the cliff I started for the path, but Arto quickly slung one of the least damaged goats over his shoulder before coming, and Sally no longer seemed nervous, so I took the stepped-on one, after quickly field dressing it (one slash and a quick pour of guts to the ground). The carcass felt almost jellied, so many of its bones were broken. Sally wolfed down one of the livers and Arno grabbed the other and few other choice giblets and threw them into the pack from the dead goat's back. Meat was probably a precious commodity and losing four goats, if not more, might be a hard blow to his household. I looked for the bitten-in-half goat and roped it together with the other so I could carry it all, with some effort.
The rest of the trip back was uneventful. About a mile farther on, Sally started taking short trips off of the path, returning with a few goats each time. It was uncanny how he could smell each point at which they left the path. Then we came upon the bulk of the herd bedded down at the top of the steep hillside that led to my place just as the giant moon rose and flooded the night with light. Apparently it was too steep for the big lizards to climb, and the goats knew it.
I was exhausted, bruised, scared, and otherwise had no intention of going with Arto back to his home. So I suggested that he light a fire and wait for a moment. He looked puzzled, but complied, using some of the dead wood scattered from the few trees around the hillside. I put down the goat and climbed up to my retreat.
A few minutes later I went down again, with a bottle of whiskey and my surgical kit.
Now mind you, I'm not a doctor. Not a medical one, anyway. But I was willing to bet that I knew more about disease and the body than any of the local physicians, and so I conferred upon myself an honorary degree, read the instructions in the medical text I had purchased in the university bookstore, and proceeded to feed Arto Cutty Sark.
The first sip was something of a shock to him, but he grinned. After a cup he started to sing. When the bottle was half gone, he passed out. I took a hit or two myself, used some of the rest to wash the wound out, splashed it liberally with some betadyne, and stitched up the gash, using thread that (my book said) should be removed in about a week, healing permitting. Arto twitched a couple of times when I stuck the needle through the skin, but I had a good grip on his leg. Sally watched the whole procedure with interest.
I smeared it with antibiotic cream, bandaged it and splinted it up tightly. I knew that he would walk on it, and I wanted to give him an even break against infection.
I spread my sleeping bag out beneath the ringed moon, moved us both onto it and under a blanket, and finished up the bottle while watching the fire flicker. Tara woke up long enough to take some milk and cuddle in between us. Just as sleep began to overtake my strung out nerves, Sally came over and sat right next to me. He looked me right in the eye, reached over, and licked me once, delicately, with his tongue.
This brought tears to my eyes - I had lost everything and everybody I ever knew or cared about, but maybe, just maybe, I could make new friends. Or perhaps it was just fatigue and stress - my head was swimming and not just from the whiskey. Sally lay down on the blanket with us, with his head in my lap (next to my rifle, which I had right at hand, of course) and we both fell asleep.
I awoke a couple of times that night, once with a raging thirst (which I slaked with water and an aspirin) and once because, and I swear that this is true, Sally was dragging wood over to the dying fire to build it back up. I have a feeling that I know where Lassie and Rin-tin-tin hail from. They were certainly never born on earth.
The next morning Arto looked terrible and obviously hurt, but it was his head and gut that bothered him and not his foot. I grinned and gave him some water and a couple of extra-strength Tylenol, and proceeded to butcher one of the goats. He moped on over to the other and started on it. We toasted the liver and kidneys for breakfast, giving Sally the most of the rest of what was in the sack and the trimmings from the carcasses. I cut the meat into strips and hung it over the fire on long sticks, putting green wood chips into the fire for smoke. I spared a little salt on it, since I was pretty sure I could get sea salt to replace it.
Tara awoke hungry, but Sally cut a nanny-goat out of the herd that needed milking and Arto skilfully pumped it straight into Tara's mouth. He then played with Tara for a bit, which she seemed to tolerate pretty well, while I snuck back up the cliff for a plastic jug and a funnel. With both my and Sally's help, we managed to get all but two of the milch-goats milked and had filled my two and a half gallon jug with the stuff. Aroused, as it seemed, by the smell of all that milk we stuffed Tara to the gills before she just couldn't take any more and curled up in her knapsack all by herself. Apparently she learned quickly. I guessed that her world had some pretty severe evolutionary pressures, if the young were born ready to run, fight or hide almost from the first day.
Four hours after sunrise the meat was well along (as we'd made the fire bigger and built a lean-to of wood to trap the smoke). Sally's ears pricked up and he looked down the trail. I moved to hide my sleeping bag and anything that smacked of technology except what I carried on my person. The plastic jug I had ditched in a pool of cool water below a nearby spring.
A middle aged man carrying a heavy, recurved bow came along the trail, moving at a spry clip. He looked worried until he saw Arto, and then he smiled. The smile faded a little when he saw me, but he was still friendly enough, if a little wary, when he came up and said (I'm filling in the translation of the conversations over the next few days with guesses and Arto's later recollections because believe me, my contributions were limited to some generic sign language and grunts) ``Arto, what happened? You did not come and we were worried. We feared that the crena (allosaurus) had taken you.''
His eyes said, ``and who is this?''
Arto said, ``Creni almost did. My brother (he accented this word) saved my life and killed two creni. His name is Sam Foster and he is a mage and warrior.''
At this point the old man grinned, not believing a word of it, but he bowed slightly in my direction and said to me, ``I thank you for saving the life of my worthless goat boy. And, undoubtedly, several goats. How many did you lose?'' The last he directed at Arto.
``Four,'' his head hung down in shame. ``But we salvaged the meat of two. We would have lost all if not for Sam and Sally. There were two creni.''
``Two creni,'' laughed the old man. He looked over at me and saw that I wasn't really understanding a word of it. ``And I suppose this `mighty warrior' Sam killed them with a bolt of lightning like T'sala himself. Well, it could have been worse. But why, oh simpleton, were you still on the downs when the sun went down instead of in the rocks where you are safe? Do the creni now hunt in broad daylight?''
Arto looked at me and rolled his eyes. ``I suppose you would never believe how the creni were killed. Perhaps we should take the rest of the goats to pasture since you are here to take the meat back down.''
The old man looked stern, but his eyes twinkled as he looked at Arto. I am quite certain that his gaze took the bandage on the toe, the relaxed air of the dog, and the smell of urine in the air into account. ``Faugh,'' he said. ``You both stink. No offense,'' he said to me, just in case I understood (which I did, almost, the word for urine and the words for `smell bad' by now being in my vocabulary). ``I've bepissed myself the times I ran into creni in the open. I will take the meat back down. You may have what is left on the path for today. The jackals shouldn't have taken it all. Not even very hungry jackals can eat two whole creni.'' He cackled at the thought.
We all loaded the still warm goat into a crude sack made from their skins, and he took off back down the path.
``Whew,'' said Arto. ``I was lucky. Brand would not challenge a warrior, at least not without reason, but I'm bonded to him and he could have beat me for losing those goats. I never thought I'd be lucky to piss on myself.''
I collected my things together while Arto tried to stand up and gather the goats - or rather to tell Sally to gather the goats. Most of the preceding exchange was just jabber to me and I wanted another language lesson. Although I'd gone down a bit in the world (physicist to second-rate guard to a goat boy) it was a fair exchange - Arto would need help with his foot out of commission for a while, I needed language lessons, food, and especially milk for Tara. Without asking (how could I ask?) I brought out my hatchet and cut him a passable crutch from a sapling we passed.
The crutch wasn't terribly interesting to him although he accepted it gracefully enough. My hatchet, on the other hand, made his eyes go wide. Was this a stone age culture? I wasn't surprised that guns weren't known around here, but the terra-cotta cookware and surprise at an ordinary steel axe suggested primitive metallurgy at best.
We arrived back on the scene of the previous nights fiasco. One of the goats was gone, and the hamstrung creni was nibbled where the wound was ripped, but the other goat (missing only its head) was still there and reasonably fresh. I skinned it out quickly, throwing its liver and heart to Sally since I no longer trusted them. The flesh looked and smelled wholesome.
Arto had borrowed my hatchet and was doing something in the background to the creni. When I finished and turned around I saw that he had filled a crude lizardskin sack with the teeth of the two creni, which were apparently easy to dislodge, like shark teeth. I liked the look of the lizardskin, and skinned out the top side of one crena, getting two chunks that were as much as I could sensibly carry. It was extremely thick and tough. I thought that it would make a decent body armour or at least a nice belt and boots. Arto did not hesitate, but started in skinning out as much of the other crena as he could, considering that both of us together were not about to turn over an allosaurus with rigor mortis to skin the side next to the ground and that the wet hides were quite heavy.
Sally had taken the goats on to pasture. When we arrived at the hut, I started to smoke the goat meat and cook a goat stew as I had seen Arto do it while he milked the two goats who had missed the morning's milking and were suffering for it. We talked and I learned that this world was definitely non-technological. Arto was convinced that I was a powerful magician because of my ``magic stick'' and flashlight and a powerful warrior because of my two swords, which I had showed him the day before.
We ate the stew washed down with the milk after it had cooled in a baked clay jug in the stream. Tara woke up to drink some milk and actually tasted some of the broth from my stew. I didn't want to make her sick, but I did want to ``wean'' her as rapidly as possible. For a while we played with her, and I ran my finger over her gums and cuffed her (gently) when she dug her claws into me. She accepted my scolding and actually stopped gouging quite so hard. I continued to wonder what sort of creature I was raising.
When she went to take her morning nap I washed my pants and dried them in the sun, and washed me at the same time. Arto did the same, and seemed to be fascinated by the paleness of my legs. There followed a period of lazy afternoon while Arto worked in the hut on something while I explored the little valley between the hills, always keeping Sally in sight.
I also did some calisthenics and worked out for an hour with my swords. Arto had said that mercenaries were common; so were casual fights. I needed to get in shape, especially my footwork and reflexes, which were rusty from lack of practice. Long before the sun was low, I took another quick bath, this one to wash off the sweat, fed Tara the last of the milk, packed, and was ready to go when Arto came out of the hut.
I left him at the path up to my little camp, while he hobbled on down the trail, presumably towards Brand's place, goats and Sally swirling around him. He had indicated that the trail from here on down was steep and rocky and hence perfectly safe from creni.
The next day Tara and I were down at the path early and hopeful and was soon rewarded by the sound and stink of goats. I fell into step besides Arto who, aside from greeting me, gave me nary a glance.
So it went many days. Without really meaning to, I very quickly gave up on counting days or time in Earth terms. There were no newspapers or other events to give any sort of rhythm to my existence - only the moons overhead seemed to be clocks worth counting. The days were different enough in length that my watch was all but useless. Besides, I just didn't care - I no longer had a job other than that of staying alive, feeding my adopted pet, and being an uninvited guard to a limping goat boy with his genius dog. So why keep time?
When the time was right, I took out Arto's stitches; his toe had healed nicely. I spent the rest of my days getting in shape, hunting for meat, doing some simple physical observations that only a physicist could love (for example, using a measured length of string, my watch, and a handy rock to figure out that on this planet was around 0.8 that of Earth - call it 8 meters per second squared). That explained the bit of bounce in my step - I only weighed maybe 160 pounds instead of the almost 200 I'd weighed on the earth - even lighter than the 185 I weighed when I was in perfect form and fencing every day.
I also took notice of the moons because they were so cool - Earth had nothing like the display that this world had. In addition to the little moon (bound to the planet I was on) there was the gas giant ``moon'' (that we were bound to as a moon), and it had dozen smaller moons that were much nearer its main body with much shorter periods. I had plenty of time to watch them through my 50mm binoculars, sleeping out under the stars except when it rained (which fortunately was not often except for roughly eight days out of every revolution of the planet around the gas giant, when it also got noticeably cooler and we had to be extra-careful about creni. I had arrived right at the end of the wet ``season'' which was lucky since it took me some time to find a small cave and pack away my crated stuff so it wouldn't easily get soaked in the rain.
Sometime not long after the gas giant had gone through a complete set of its phases (and the little moon had done its phase cycle maybe ten or twelve times - I wasn't really counting) we were up at the goat meadow cooking a small four-antlered deer I'd nailed with the .22. I tried to contribute some meat to our diet to add to the vegetables and bread Arto generally brought up with him, which was a pleasure since I like to hunt anyway. I'd given him a smattering of pennies at some point, (hoping that metal coin was ``money'' here even if it did have Abraham Lincoln on it instead of whatever they stamped their coinage with locally). This turned out to be correct, and if anything the pennies were worth a lot (because of the fineness of their work) and now he generally brought plenty of food for the two of us.
At the moment, though, I was pretty hungry because he hadn't taken the goats out to pasture in creni country for about five rainy days running during the coolest part of the wet week and I was living off of the land - I didn't want to eat all of my very limited food resources up at the camp.
Staying in my tent all day and night in the cold rain (except when I really had to go out) was not fun. Staying in my tent hungry and with a hungry (if furry) mouth to feed was un-funner. Arto had brought me a bag of vegetables on his last trip and let me keep a nanny goat to milk to feed Tara that could graze for the few days on the relatively sparse local plants, but ... the vegetables molded, I couldn't start a fire, my meat spoiled ... you get the idea, the rain sucked. Now that we were going back up to the goat meadow I viewed roast leg of deer trimmed with simmered vegetables as a real feast.
I had a pretty decent beard going. I had the brilliant idea of bringing a straight razor along with me, but there wasn't enough water up on top of my hill to be able to shave every day (at least when it wasn't raining) and I was willing to bet (incorrectly, as it turned out) that in a steel-free culture shaving or dipilation was pretty rarely done. I didn't care; I was trying to actually groove a bit on the barbarian culture thing. I managed to view the whole thing as fun as a mix of my fairly extensive experience in the Boy Scouts (no kidding, I was an Eagle scout once upon a time, and camping and being self-sufficient and all that was fun for me) and a practical solution to a painful problem, since this particular camping trip looked like it was going to last a lifetime (however long or short that might turn out to be). Given lemons make lemonade and all that.
While lunch was sizzling gently over a slow fire (and I was sucking down a couple of what looked and tasted like mangoes) Arto indicated that he wanted to talk.
Talking in general went much better at this point. While trying to teach me, the first week Arto spoke v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y to me as if I were some sort of idiot that would get it if he just spoke slowly enough. Then he understood that speed wasn't as important as supplementing words with gestures, signs, pantomime, pictures, and so on, and our sessions were a form of spontaneous theater, comic art. They were enhanced by the fact that Arto loved to talk, and would babble along like a house afire once he realized that I wasn't, actually an idiot. At any rate, I have a bit of a gift for languages (I spoke three or four with varying degrees of fluency back on Earth) and it gradually worked. At this point I had a vocabulary of a few thousand words I mostly remembered, a decent grasp of syntax and tenses and cases, and could hold ``conversations'' (still supplemented by some signing and pictures whenever a new word or word I'd forgotten came up) in Ushti, as his language was called.
He began rather shyly. ``Sam, can we split the money for the teeth? I know they are yours, but I can help you get a good price on them. I'll also help you find the right merchant to sell to-one who won't try to rob or cheat you.''
``Sure,'' I said. ``Fifty-fifty. What are a fine set of crena teeth like this worth, anyway?''
``If I work them over and mount them, we'll get a silver piece for every one. That's over a hundred silver pieces! I can buy my freedom for half of that.'' His eyes shone.
I laughed. ``Great! And then what will you do?''
``Why, tend old Brand's goats, of course. But now he'll have to pay me wages, and I can buy goats of my own. In ten years I'll be a farmer. Look at this land. I'd love to farm it, but you have to have a small army to hold land in crena country.''
I smiled at him and said, ``maybe someday it'll be human country and the crena will be gone.''
He looked up at me (I was a little taller than most of the inhabitants of that world) and grinned and said, ``I made something for you.''
``What?'' I asked.
``I took some of the teeth-from my share, mind you-and made you a belt from the crena skin. I learned how by watching old Malki work and helping him when he'd let me. I boiled it out in cure-powder and boiled out the teeth too. I just finished fixing the teeth to the belt. It is cured, but still wet - you should let it dry on you now to hold your form, and I'll finish it back at Brand's. I want you to wear it when we walk in. Here it is.''
He held out the belt. It was beautifully done, especially considering how fast he had worked - I had seen him working on the belt from time to time in the hut, of course, but hadn't realized that it was for me. The teeth were all individually drilled with a little bow drill he kept in the chest that used bits that did seem to be made of wrought iron or bronze, and Arto had a bronze dagger as well, so I'd upgraded their culture to late bronze/early iron age, which seemed to jibe with things Arto had talked about during his incessant chatter.
The teeth were tied into onto a leather base about five inches wide in such a way that they formed a row of daggers that curved symmetrically out from the belt in front. A clever fastener, made of two of the longest teeth and a carved bone loop, terminated the end. It needed a little work still and maybe some oil (the leather was still pretty stiff) but it was better than anything I could have done.
I was touched. ``Thank you,'' I said. ``But take the teeth out of my share. If we are brothers, then its share and share alike.''
He lit up like a beacon. ``All right,'' he said, ``then half from your share and half from mine. It's my gift to you.''
At this point we always left the goat meadow well before it cooled in the evening - neither of us had any desire to repeat the crena incident, and apparently they were largely nocturnal or at least avoided moving much in the heat. Arto was disappointed when I stopped at the base of my hillside every day and refused to go down to Brand's house, but he cheered up when I agreed to go down when the belt was completely finished. I had no desire to deal with more people until I could properly defend myself without a rifle. I also cautioned him to hide the belt and keep the teeth to himself and not parade them in front of Brand. That way Brand couldn't confiscate them and the surprise of the belt would keep.
The next day, I was sick - in retrospect, I'm amazed that I'd held out as long as I did, but I'd really only had contact with one person (Arto) and only ate freshly cooked meat and vegetables. I was drinking the local water without boiling it, but we were pretty high up and I guess the springs and streams were fairly pure.
Anyway, I made up for it. I puked my guts out. I had diarrhea. I developed a fever and broke out my limited supply of Tylenol again, and threw some random antibiotics in with it, hoping. It wasn't enough.
I got worse and worse. I was slipping in and out of a fever dream for who knows how long while shivering away in my sleeping bag in a drizzly cold rain, Tara mewling away on my chest, when Arto (probably guided by Sally, who was nobody's fool) finally figured out how to climb up into my little hideaway.
For a few days Arto took care of me and Tara too. I guess Sally took care of the goats. God knows he was smart enough to. I think in retrospect that was why Brand believed the crena story, at least in part; Sally knew his job too well to lose goats to anything lesser.
I also had a vague recollection of a girl who appeared and bathed my head with a moist rag, but afterward it seemed like it must have been a fever dream. I took pepto bismol (got to be a slave to the stuff) and septra (a broad spectrum antibiotic). The drugs gradually seemed to help. The foul smelling brew Arto cooked up and fed me also seemed to help, strangely enough.
Anyway, after about a week of this, my system at least partially adapted to the local bacteria, and I was able to feed Tara myself and go with Arto to the hills again. There I explained that I had to regain my strength before I went down to Brand's to forestall any trouble (my belt was beautifully finished by then). Arto didn't seem to mind at all and even approved of the idea. It seemed that Brand's tavern could get pretty rough, and one didn't go in there if not at the peak of health.
The next few weeks were idyllic. I grew strong and tanned in the outdoor sun. Tara had more than doubled in size and developed the buds of little, sharp teeth (which she immediately learned to curb when playing with humans). At this point we had added eating meat broth and even little chunks of boiled out ``rabbit'' (a rodent called bidi-bidi that was common on the moors) to her diet. She slept less now, and spent part of the afternoons running rings around Sally. She didn't scamper, she ``flowed'' along the ground with every foot placed exactly so. I crossed out otter in her analog-tree and substituted wolverine.
But she was as sweet as she could be, never actually touching Sally in mock-fights although she was fast enough to cut him to shreds with her little razors (at three weeks of age!) as she darted in and out. Sally, to her credit, was still a little smarter and developed a strategy for intercepting Tara in an orbit and neatly trapping her between her paws, grabbing her by the nape in timeless dog-fashion, and depositing her yowling and wriggling body gently in my lap. He would then sit back and laugh, his tongue lolling out of his mouth, while Tara would sit up in my lap and chide him from the safety of ``mom's'' arms. I began to think about training her, months ahead of my earlier estimates.
My fencing steadily improved as I regained the wind soft living followed by hunger followed by a round of sickness had taken from me. Somewhere in there I had taught Arto the rudiments of fencing after cutting us a couple of wooden fencing swords and making rawhide lizardskin fencing jackets for each of us - the skin from their legs, especially, was very tough and dried into a sort of armor if only slightly cured and shaped wet onto a human form to shrink and dry. Arto slowly became at least competent as a sparring partner, and I regained some of my old form. The rest would have to wait until I found someone better to practice with.
From another big piece of the rawhide I worked on making a suit of lizardskin armor. It covered my upper torso to the crotch. I made gauntlets to protect my forearms, and lined the whole thing with soft cured goat leather Arto bought for me using imported US coinage (metal coins were always worth at least their own weight in metal - these were worth a lot more as they were perfectly stamped, in contrast to all local coinage). Arto sold the teeth a few at a time to a merchant named Hassan.
He bought, at my direction, several drawn coils of the wrought iron that they worked here in smithies instead of steel. Local iron swords here were soft and needed constant resharpening because they did not know how to make steel, but beat the hell out of bronze swords still in common use throughout the land.
But I did know a fair amount of metallurgy. The references I had cleverly brought knew even more (I didn't read ``Mysterious Island'' a zillion times when I was growing up for nothing). I even knew how to make a crude steel from wrought iron and charcoal. So I forged links of steel, using a real hammer (imported) and a hard rock as an anvil, a few each day, and slowly worked them with pliers into a shirt of chain mail, albeit a fairly rough and heavy one. When it was done I heated it to a dull glow and quenched it in the stream.
It was heavy as hell, but tight enough and hard enough to protect against most sword cuts to the torso and maybe even stop arrows. I started wearing it during my workouts, since I planned to wear it pretty much all the time at least until I had a chance to figure out how ``civilized'' civilization here really was, and I didn't want to be slowed down because of it.
A few days later, with due pomp and circumstance, I put the mail shirt on outside my new lizardskin leather armor and fastened a cloak that Arto had also purchased at my request to links in front so it wouldn't choke me. Around my waist went the belt Arto he had made me, teeth glistening and sharp in the sunlight, my marine combat knife attached to it on the side. My swords I slung crosswise on my back with the cloak streaming down between the hilts (carefully arranged so it wouldn't foul a draw). I looked like a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. I felt like a million bucks.
Rainy season was almost upon us. It was time to go down to Brand's.