We clamber out of the beetle nest, Cleve all taken with his new prize, an acid sac. Once out on the hillside, the grandeur of Chiron spills out before us. In the distance we can see a huge stretch of water. It could be a large lake or the edge of an ocean. Around us, though, I can make out occasional bits and pieces of metal poking up through the ground, parts of our section of the ship. I’m impressed at what nature has managed. “I guess this is thirty years of plant growth,” I say.
“What happened?” Cleve demands, less impressed. “Were we shot down? I don’t know a lot about ships, but that did not seem like a good landing.”
There is no avenue for further investigation open to us now though. The rumbling starts again, and I am so glad to be out in the open and light when it happens. Is this an earthquake? Or should I say chironquake? Behind us, the nest starts collapsing in on itself. Me, I take off at a run in the other direction, scampering down the hill. I have no desire to get trapped back down there again. Cleve keeps pace with me. When we reach the bottom, we pause to catch our breath.
Then my heart leaps again at the sound of another gun. The shot sounded farther away than Cleve’s rifle did back in the nest, but I can’t tell if it was aimed at us. I’ve heard plenty of gunshots in my life, growing up where I did, but I’m lucky enough to never have been shot at. I’d like to not break that record today. And I am in no condition for another fight. “Do you think they’re close?” I ask Cleve, assuming the man with the gun knows something about them.
“No idea,” he replies.
Not exactly reassuring. But he holds up a hand and stays still, so I do too. A minute or two is enough to tell that no one is exchanging gunfire. “Could be someone else set upon by bugs,” I suggest quietly. “Or just hunting.”
“Yeah. Or whatever else they do in the thirty years they left us asleep!” Cleve’s words grow faster and louder as he lets off some steam. I can’t blame him for being a little frustrated. He must have been on Unity for some purpose, and who knows where he stands now. Me, I never had any idea what I would do once I got here, so I haven’t lost anything, other than some lunches now and then with Deirdre. I hope she’s still alive and had a better landing than I did. “And what did they do to Roze?” Cleve growls under his breath, reminding me that he has friends here he’s worried about. “Somebody should’ve come look for us.”
I look back where we came down from. There is no visible sign of the ship, particularly with the collapse of the nest. I point this out, but Cleve is not appeased. “But you’re missing a ship. You’re missing four people. Well, apparently three,” he corrects himself, remembering that Morgan is out there somewhere. Two, I correct in my head. Someone definitely should have gone looking for Cleve and poor Sylvia Stanton. Cleve seems like one of those “no man left behind” types but also perhaps a pessimist. It was thirty years. People could have gone looking for him and Stanton and turned up empty-handed, but he assumes no one tried. It’s a large planet and there were only so many people, most of whom had to concentrate on getting settlements livable. I don’t point any of this out though. It might just be concern for this friend Roze that is making him fume.
Worry about Roze sits in the back of Cleve’s mind. The two of them had the dynamic of siblings, with the older Cleve being the more staid one. Roze was always one to push boundaries, even as a tech sergeant. They wouldn’t often get in trouble though, because Roze didn’t get caught and got things done. The way they sometimes circumvented rules did occasionally make Cleve uncomfortable, but there is a time and a place for it, and Roze seemed to have a nose for that, particularly when cutting through bureaucracy was involved. Right now, though, there is nothing Cleve can do about Roze’s situation thirty years ago. And there are more immediate problems, like that gunshot. Cleve’s companion is looking at him expectantly. “My guess is that it’s just hunting,” Cleve says with as much conviction as he can muster in his frustrated state.
“We should try to meet up with them,” the other guy suggests. “We need to find people.”
“Yeah,” Cleve agrees. There was a flare gun in his kit, but who knows where that is now. Cleve unslings his rifle. His earlier shots could have been muffled by the nest, so he fires another one off now, up into the air. Then he waits to see if anyone responds. The other guy opens his satchel and pulls a mirror out. Cleve gives him some credit; it could be a good idea for signaling under other circumstances, but no one is airborne searching for them. However, when the next thing the man pulls out is a straight edge, Cleve is puzzled. Is that the only weapon he has? The cane was pretty good against the bugs. But then Cleve realizes he completely misjudged this situation. This really is one of those types of city guys.