RESCUE IN PELLUCIDAR
Fiona travels to Pellucidar to rescue her long-lost children.
By Rick Johnson
The messages were short and to the point, totally unlike the sender who worked hard to convince the movie industry that she had a brain above her very ample chest. “Di, Fi! I found my children. They were in Finland if you can believe that! Phillip hated the cold and he ran off to Finland with his new wife! I found a polar-flight and I got my kids a ride. They'll be in LA tonight, midnight! I'm so happy! After all these years, I'll see my children again.” [beep]
“Di, quick, call Jason and get here fast! The plane with my children went down in the Arctic. The FFA says no survivors but I learned that they still haven't found the jet and are still looking so there's a chance. I'm packing everything I have for cold and taking Barry's private jet up north to find them. The pilot reported seeing two suns, elephants, being disorientated and the compass going wild. I've left a copy here for you so follow as soon as you get this.” [beep]
“Di, where the fuck are you! I'm in the air with Barry and his Learjet, don't ask how I'm paying him for this but we're on the way north. He's plotted the flight path of my children and thinks if we follow it in reverse, we can find them. When we do, I'll toss the blankets and coats and food out the door when we pass low and report their position. Hurry the hell up!” [beep]
“Di, we've left Point Barrow and are now on course with a full tank and more clothing and gear in a rented snow-plane or whatever the fuck they call these things with skis instead of wheels. I've left a copy of everything at the pilot's lounge at the airport so you can follow. Tell Jason I'll repay him everything he spends paying the bills. Just hurry, please. I don't think I can do this alone. The Arctic isn't Chicago in the winter so I'm totally… this… do the……. Can…….. …………. ……………. .th………….” [beep]
Fiona wiped her mouth, repressing the urge to brush her teeth. It would have been so easy had Barry only wanted money but his desire for Fiona had never diminished and he made it plain that she only had one thing worth his time and fuel. So she paid him. She hadn't seen her children in years since the divorce and no price would be too much. Hell, she'd lay on the runway and let the entire Air Force have her if it would find and save her children from freezing to death.
Barry was chattering away and she barely listened to him as she adjusted her bra and shirt. At least he didn't make her fly naked as he had joked once she complained that the cold in the jet made her nipples ache too much to concentrate. “I cannot believe that those are real! Most women half your size are hanging to their belts and you nursed two kids. How the hell do you stay so firm?”
“Syria,” Fiona replied without thought. “When I lived there we found a medicine that repairs damaged collagen and skin and tissue. So long as I take care of myself, they don't flop.”
“So that's why you still look thirty?”
“Something like that.” She didn't want him to know she really was thirty and that the last thirty years of real time didn't exist for her. Barry would try to manipulate the time machine if he knew it existed and people like her who traveled through time and space liked to keep it a secret. Still, somehow her children were still young and not the thirty-something they should be. Maybe that is why they got a ride on that government jet? The government wanted to know how two children born in 1970 could still be children more than thirty years later. Maybe Phillip had stumbled through another time portal like the one that led her from 1970 Chicago to 1475 Turkey then to 2006 Los Angeles. Well, Jason was the expert and all she needed to do was to get to her children and let Jason get them away from whoever was asking embarrassing questions.
“I could make a fortune with that,” he commented.
“You already have a fortune. Why more?”
“Money is like sex, Fiona, you can never have too much.” Well, the man was insatiable. Fiona enjoyed the act as much as anyone and she knew she was good at it. She spent too many years dancing and exercising to neglect ‘those’ muscles. It was just that a couple times a month was more than enough for her and really, she preferred the holding, kissing and cuddling over the act itself. Like most men, Barry chased her because she was athletic, beautiful and had the attributes that made most men and every skin mag pursue her. Being an actress, she lost a lot of roles because of her refusal to do nude scenes and she firmly believed that the writers added those scenes only when they found out who was playing the part.
She looked out the window and scanned with the binoculars even though they were too high to see anything. As they approached the estimated crash site, they'd fly lower and complete the search. He was talking again, and this time she listened.
“These are the Queen Elizabeth Islands. I was stationed up here when we still had a DEW Line and I flew supply and search runs all over the arctic. In about an hour, we'll change course and then follow the other aircraft's course for six hours until we reach their last known transmission. Then we turn around and search on the way back to refuel and do it again.”
“I really appreciate this. How long are you willing to keep this up?” She meant the search but he leered, flipped the aircraft auto-pilot on and unzipped, “For as long as you are willing.” Sighing, she leaned over again. Goddess, money would have been so much easier.
Around two hours into the flight search, they saw aircraft, also searching. One jet approached, called for his identification then admonished them to be careful when the other craft learned that the children's mother was on board. Canadians were so polite though the American jet that also approached wasn't as civil.
“Why are they using the military to search?” Barry mused. “And why Canadian and US forces? This is really strange.” Then he pointed, “Look, they're radar-mapping the islands.”
“Yes, they fly a grid pattern directing radar down and recording the results. Then they feed the info into a computer to get a three dimensional map of the area and program the computer to look for the downed aircraft. The problem is the computer is only as good as the man who programs it. Don't worry, I've done hundreds of searches up here and find that a good set of eyes and binocs never failed to find the lost souls. Here, as we drop lower, notice the patterns of the ice and snow. Then use your peripheral vision to scan for discordance. When you see something that isn't in the pattern, use the binocs to look closer.”
Another hour or so of flying and searching then Fiona noticed that Barry was tapping various instruments. Looking over at her he glanced out the window then went back to searching, “Don't worry, we always get magnetic anomalies up here. The magnetic pole is off in that direction but we are flying...” he looked at the shore-line and continued, “About east north-east just north of Ellesmere Island. The farther we go, the more the magnetic pole will move west when north is over our port wing. This is why you trust your eyes and guts and not your instruments.”
Some time later, the fog set in. Fiona returned to her search then heard Barry whisper, “really strange.”
“This fog. Fog is when heat rises and the airborne moisture forms a low cloud. There isn't any atmospheric moisture up here, it's all locked in the ice. The arctic is the driest place on earth. Or fog forms when warm moist air flows over a cold spot. This feels like the latter but where is there enough warm air and moisture?”
“Are we turning back?”
“Not yet. We can still fly above it if need be. So long as it doesn't get any worse, we'll be ok.” Then he looked out both windows and at the controls and back out the windows.
“I don't know. We are flying level according to my ears and my artificial horizon but the horizon is above us. Its like we are flying through a valley or the ground is curving up to cover us.”
“Is that possible?”
“Not this far north. Damn, the fog is getting too thick. We'll keep on a few more minutes in case it thins then have to rise above it.”
“Are we turning back?” So close.
He must have heard the sorrow in her voice and smiled, “Not yet. I've done this before. We still have fuel and I can still hear the other aircraft talking to each other for a directional guide.”
“Just don't do anything stupidly macho and get us killed.”
“Hey! Fiona, getting killed is the lowest thing on my list. Either of us dies and my weekend is shot,” he had to decency to almost laugh when he leered at her.
“Save my children and that will be the best 72 hours in your life. No rules, no hesitation, no regrets.” Then, “Barry, you may be a pervert but I trust you as a pilot. Do what you feel is best.” But secretly she wanted to go on.
As the fog closed in he began to rise according to his artificial horizon then he yelled, “Got you, you bitch!”
“What!” Fiona demanded. She never liked being called that in the best of time and the stress of the flight and Barry's constant sexual demands drove her to near breaking.
“Listen! Its the transponder of the downed flight. We found it! Hah! Care to add another day?” as he adjusted the flight a bit.
“We'll discuss that later. Are you certain?”
“Almost. Let's get above this pea-soup and take some bearings.”
“Do people still use words lie Pea-soup?” Fiona asked, more in conversation than anything else.
Barry ignored her and almost immediately broke through into the green sky. “What the hell was that!” she yelled as a shape flashed by.
“Just a gull!” he managed to croak.
“No it wasn't and you know it too.”
“Then what was it?”
“I don't know but it wasn't a gull. I did a seashore special for the Nature Channel.”
He stared at her, this time at her face, “What can I say, they like my voice.” She smiled as she made that comment.
Saying nothing for he often forgot that she could act, dance and sing and only the fact of her incredible body kept her from the good roles so voice-overs for nature shows probably paid her rent. Instead he adjusted course and added, “We should find it soon. Look at all that green. Its like spring down there with fingers of ice and snow stretching through the golden sea of the flowers.” Then, “None of this makes any sense. Still no horizon, the sun is ahead of us and there shouldn't be this much vegetation for another thousand miles or more.”
“Barry, if we were going north, the sun should be behind us. Why is it ahead? Did we pass the North Pole and are in Russia?”
“Impossible, I don't have that much fuel. I don't know what's going on. Nothing makes sense.”
Then a flock of... something hit them, cracking the windshield and covering the surface of their aircraft with blood and fur. “Mayday, Mayday! Delta kilo lima four six niner taking bird strikes. Position North of Greenland about forty-five degrees west by eighty-five degrees north! Visibility good with ice and grass below. Mayday! Mayday! Bad news Fiona is that we are going down fast, but look on the bright side, we'll crash on top of your kid's aircraft. Mayday Mayday! Delta Kilo Lima four six niner has taken multiple bird strikes. Port engine dead, starboard damaged. Going down!”
Fiona strapped herself in then pulled whatever bags she could into her lap for cushioning. She had never been in an aircraft crash and hoped that Barry was as good as he thought he was.
They hit snow, skipped and hit and skipped again. Then the snow ended and the grass took out the skis, then a rock the size of a house the right wing. As the aircraft bellied in, Fiona thought about glaciers moving rocks down Canada and into America then more grass and the craft slid forever along another tongue of ice to rest feet from the edge of the ice-field. Then she passed out.
She awoke as Barry lifted her head and said, “Take these,” as he handed her two pills and a cup of water.
“What are they?” She did have a drug problem and any decent pain-killers would put her back on the spiral.
“Aspirin. Are you allergic?”
Taking them she swallowed and drank the cold water. “No. I gather we are still alive.”
“Well, if this is heaven, there should be a bed and whips and handcuffs. If it's hell, you'd turn out to be a guy. I don't think either is true so we must be alive.”
She stood, dizzy then felt her head, bandaged as he said, “Just a bump. I've had worse rising up under a sink. I think you fainted and didn't pass out.”
“I never faint. That's for southern belles with really tight corsets.”
“Then you have a concussion and need to lay down again.” He stared into her eyes, moved his finger before her face and said, “Good tracking, no pupil dilation, no you fainted. So let's figure out where we are.”
“I vote for Canada. More people to find us than in Russia.” She stopped and stared outside through the window. “No horizon. Too much gold. And that…”
“Yeah, elephants. There are a dozen of them out there. Probably woolly mammoths. I thought they were extinct.”
“They are.” Then, “I did a dinosaur special for the Discovery Channel. I guess we need to redo that segment.”
Both dressed in winter parkas then exited the downed aircraft and looked around. “Well, I suppose we could train one of the mammoths to drag that wing back. How much duct tape do you have?”
“You're being funny? Right, Fiona?”
She wasn't listening because she had pulled a bird from under the aircraft. “A pterosaur. Rhamphorhynchus I think. Late Jurassic.” The bird was mostly wing with a long tail and sharp teeth and was covered with fur. She lay it down gently. “Jurassic reptiles and Pleistocene Mammoths. This can't be.”
“We need to find wood for a fire before the sun sets, if it does.” Barry was looking around, trying very hard to not look at what had killed his airplane. “And I rented this thing. My insurance rates are going through the ceiling.”
“If this is tundra, there won't be any wood. We should find mammoth dung to burn.” Fiona suggested.
“Have you ever smelled burning shit?”
“In Syria and Iraq we used dried camel dung for firewood. It stinks but works. How long do you think before sundown?” Fiona was already planning and looking towards the sun which was also in the direction of the other downed aircraft.
“I don't know. The midnight sun is north, very far north and there shouldn't be this much grass or flowers that far north.”
“Buttercups.” Fiona was smelling the blossoms. “Mammoths in Siberia were found to have fresh buttercups in their stomachs. That made the cryptozoologists think that mammoths were still alive somewhere in Russia. Those must have come from these.”
“Fiona, I am lost and not afraid to admit it. We flew almost due north-east and never changed direction until we picked up the transponder. Considering our speed and direction, we must be around 85 degrees north. The only land that far north is Greenland and a few Russian and Canadian islands and this doesn't look like any of them.”
“Then,” Fiona added, “If this is the midnight sun, then it won't get dark and it won't get any colder. What survival gear do we have?”
“The usual. Flare gun with a dozen flares, lots of winter clothes and food, thanks to you. Knife, matches, signal mirror.”
“How far to the other aircraft?”
“Maybe a dozen miles. I could see it as we went down. Just follow the nose into the sun, we were pointed directly at it when we took the strikes.”
“A dozen miles?” Fiona did some quick calculations. “Three miles an hour, less with packs. Five or six hour hike. We should get going.”
“Can you fix the plane? Then we may as well go now!” They were so close.
They packed food and some clothing but mostly food and whatever medical supplies they could find. In the end, with no sled they each had a twenty pound pack and the rest was stashed in the aircraft for later. And they walked and walked and the sun never moved save to maybe rise a bit, but that could be an illusion for there was no horizon to compare it to. And with no horizon, no landmarks.
“Barry?” she asked as they walked along an ice ridge, their feet pressing the buttercups and grass as they strode. “I think the Earth is hollow and we're on the inside.”
“No it isn't!” he snapped. And they walked on in silence until he snapped, “down!”
Fiona wasn't someone to stand and ask ‘what’ in the middle of a street to be struck by a racing car. She was on her belly almost before he was, her pack off and beside her. Then after listening, she whispered, “What?”
“Wolves aren't dangerous to man.”
“They are if they are big enough to eat a mammoth,” then they heard the trumpets and howling and soon some nightmarish sound that she knew was the terror and death of a mammoth larger than an elephant. She covered her ears but kept down for fear the wolves would see her as easier prey and then it was over. She rolled over, rummaged in her purse and pulled her compact out, opened it, glanced at her reflection out of habit then slowly moved it up until she could see over the ice ridge. “Dire Wolves. They were mostly scavengers but fought with the saber tooth cats. I guess we have to rewrite that chapter too.”
Barry took her mirror and looked for himself then handing it back, whispered, “Low crawl away.”
After some feet, he whispered, “Can't you get any lower? They'll see you!”
To which she replied with some vehemence, “You try to low crawl with a double-D bra and dragging a pack this size.” He bit his comment and kept on until after what seemed like hours he said, “I think we are safe now, … oh fuck!” Three Dire wolves, each the size of a lion were watching them from the snowy ridge. There was no way to tell how long they had been there but Fiona looked down and whispered, “Be submissive. Don't look at them. Don't move, be a rock and act totally harmless.”
He whispered back, “Discovery Channel special on wolves?”
“Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat.”
“Oh, I hope you aren't on your period right now.”
“You didn't notice? I'm spotting. That's what they are smelling.”
“We are so fucked,” she saw him pull the flare gun from his belt and cock the hammer, never looking up, “At least the one that eats me will have heartburn.”
Then a moment later she said, “When they try to mount you, let them. It'll make you submissive and harmless. Try to think like a woman bent over the ottoman while a guy pounds away at you.”
“I don't think I can do that. Its been nice and I'll miss you. I'm sorry we couldn't find your kids. Bye.”
“Well, if you give up that easily, I'll just go on myself,” and she stood and shouldered her pack.
Looking up he exclaimed, “How long have they been gone?”
“A few minutes. Their stomachs were full of mammoth meat so as long as we didn't make any threatening moves, we were safe.”
“You knew we were safe and you led me on? You are such a bitch!”
“Think of it as punishment for crashing the plane. So while we are looking for my children, you get to figure out how to get us back outside and home safe or I don't put out!” She moved ahead, not caring if he were following or watching her ass. Her children were only a few miles ahead and any thought of them not surviving the crash she repressed. After all these years, they were finally within reach.
Hours later, maybe days later, there was no way to tell other than her watch that had broken in the crash, they came across the crash slide in the turf. It seemed to go on for miles and was littered with parts of the aircraft. Here and there were pieces of aluminum and there a wheel, ripped off as it caught a rock. And fuel staining the grass and moss, the buttercups dead and the snow yellow. With every step her heart fell a bit more. What if her children had been sucked out and eaten by the wolves?
They stopped once to eat and once to take a quick nap then seeing the wreckage among some pine trees ahead, she had to force herself to not run. Desire fought with fear and fear won.
Finally they were there. The craft had broken in two, the wings long behind, seats and parts scattered about. Barry started to climb inside then heard her scream and when he reached her, she was on the ground crying at the graves she had found.
Diane was in Fiona’s home, not as large as most in Hollywood but then, after the Mid-East, anything more than a single roach-infested room was a luxury. She read the papers left behind then decided to call her ex-husband. Most women would have refused, considering that while married he had slept with Fiona but Diane wasn't one to hold a grudge, especially when her best friend was at risk.
“Jason, JASON! Turn off the TV. I don't care, that's why you have a VCR. Listen up, Fi's in trouble. Good, I thought that would convince you. Listen to the messages she sent me,” and Diane played the four phone messages for her ex. When done she commented, “Elephants and two suns. Doesn't that sound really strange. Yes, the double sun could be light reflections off the ice or clouds but the elephants? Ok, but I am looking over the papers she left for me. I don't know how she got them because they are probably confidential but the transcript mentions the possibility of time travel and something about terrorism and forcing the Canadian Air Force to help the US Air Force to find the craft fast. I thought that would get your attention. If the government, any government learns about the Stargates, well our fun and games are over. So rent a jet and pay my ticket and I'll meet you in Point Barrow, Alaska.”
Diane called the airport and chartered a private jet, giving Jason's credit card numbers to pay for it. That was why her Irish ex carried an American Express Card, it made things like this so easy. The fact that she and Fi carried a duplicate of his card never seemed to bother him and he always paid the bills, mostly without yelling at them.
Then she looked around and decided that there really wasn't much she needed from Fiona’s place. Diane had a build far from the average but even Fi's clothing wouldn't fit. So she took something to eat, returned to her house and packed a quick bag then headed for the airport. Years ago when Diane had been married to her first husband, before he died in Vietnam, she held Fi through her divorce and the loss of her children. Back then, all a man had to do was mention that his wife wasn't a Christian and he was guaranteed custody of their children, the house, car and even her personal belongings. Phillip had kept the car, house and kids but left Fi her clothes. Then Phil met that woman from Norway or Sweden or Denmark and vanished. Neither had seen the children since and Fi never forgot her children, never stopped looking, often maxing out Jason's Am-Ex card with private investigators over the years and Jason paid the bills without a sound. Things like that made her fall in love with him and things like that kept them friends. The man was an idiot at times but he truly cared for his friends and was always there when they needed him.
At Point Barrow, Jason was waiting for her, Fi's package on the table of the pilot's lounge and Di knew that there was at least one aircraft waiting for them. Knowing him, he had probably threatened, cajoled and bribed half the Irish and British governments to pressure the Canadians to let them in on the search. Hell, considering Jason's past work with the IRA, London would be happy to keep him happy for fear of what he'd do if anything happened to Fi. Or they'd give him a name and some Irish terrorist would turn up floating in a bog. Well, politics made strange bedfellows and he'd pay for this assistance eventually. Jason took friendship and debts very seriously even if it meant going against his own people. That made him dangerous and feared and even respected.
He stood, hugged and kissed her then sat whispering, “I see the problem. There is a major StarGate up there and both aircraft entered it.”
“Yes, this Barry guy rented a snow-plane and flew his own search with Fiona and then sent a mayday from a bird-strike. The Canadians gave me a copy of the recording.” She placed the earphone in her ear and listened, “So you don't believe that there is grass and flowers up there?”
“Not that far north. But Greystoke flew a dirigible through the Polar StarGate and Byrd passed in and out of it as well. I think it goes to a parallel world where the Earth is hollow and the inside inhabited. But I'm only guessing because the alternative is to believe that the geologists are wrong and this Earth is hollow. We'll know which is true when we get there.”
“I thought you didn't believe in most scientists. You always say that they spend their time ignoring the facts because facts confuse their pet theories.”
“I don't. But sometimes they are right. Regardless, if the Earth is hollow or if there is a StarGate up there that goes to a hollow planet, we need to find it and them before the Air Force does. If we can, they'll cancel the search before they discover the system. I have a Russian MI-24 Hind Helicopter waiting for us.”
“Why a Russian chopper?’
“Armoured! Great range with the extra fuel tanks on the rocket wings, and it can take a lot of punishment and still fly. Pity I couldn't get it here armed but we have a few rifles and such hidden aboard. This one came from the Russian Aleutians and is modified as a search and rescue with a range at least thrice normal.
“Koroshi Deyn, Moe Nazhvahnye… <Good Day, my name is…>” He switched to Russian when the pilot arrived, a language Diane also spoke from their travels with the Russian Amazon he dated but this modern dialect sounded strange to her. Still, they gathered their gear and left for the tarmac. Diane didn't want to consider what favors Jason now owed to all these governments.
Fiona felt as if from a distance, someone holding her then eventually the words came through “…still alive….. alive…”
“What?” her eyes hurt and she barely was conscious so had to force herself to concentrate.
“Those graves are too big for a child. There are adults buried here. I've counted the aircraft, twenty seven seats and ten adult graves, your kids must have survived. We need to just find them.”
She tried to stand, failed then with Barry's help, managed to stagger to the wreckage where she sat in a torn seat while he poked around some more. Fiona pulled her compact out and fixed her make-up, more as a rote thing than to be attractive. Then when done and centered again, asked, “What do you think happened?”
“Probably some young fart of a kid flying on instruments because he wasn't experienced enough to fly himself. The compass went wild and instead of going in a straight line until it settled in, he kept turning to follow the instruments and ended up here. Windshield is cracked so he took a bird strike too, but a big bird, lots of big birds. I can still find parts all over. So they crashed and these jets break up on impact. Ten died and the survivors buried the dead then left for some reason. I found shell casings all over the place so they fought off something. Nine-mill rounds wouldn't slow those wolves at all no matter how many you pump into the pack. So they ran. We just need to figure out where they ran to.”
“Do you know why they were armed with machine guns?”
“Well, I found something here but it's in Arabic so ….”
“Let me see,” then as she glanced over the papers, “I lived in the Mid-East for three years. I speak read and write Arabic, Turkish and Farsi. Hmmm, nothing much here. Just a lot of references to the US Air Force shooting down an Iraqi jetliner and a list of people the US killed in the war. Looks like Arab news dispatches which are just as slanted as the American news.”
“Anything about retaliation against us?”
She flipped through and said, “Lots of threats but nothing concrete. I wonder if the US grabbed some suspected terrorists and were bringing them here, to the US, for interrogation.”
“If the Arabs thought we were murdering their people and planning something worse against them, I wonder if they could have sabotaged this plane to prevent the prisoners from talking?”
“I thought you believed it was pilot error?”
“I do, but I'm considering all possibilities. Let's look around and see if we can find some clues as to where they went. You ok?”
“Now I am. Thanks. For a pervert, you're a really good guy.”
“Back-handed compliment with an insult thrown in. Now that's the Fiona I know and like. I wonder if they were shooting at the wolves, their prisoners or whomever wanted to rescue the prisoners?”
They searched around for a time then Fiona called, “Look, I found something,” She was kneeling in the trees, her hand spread over some tracks.
“Birds?” he asked? “Ostriches?”
“Carnivorous dinosaurs. This small, probably Velociraptors, maybe Dionychus.”
“Your Discovery Channel again? So we're in Jurassic Park?”
“I don't know. But I hope that I'm wrong.”
Barry looked around then said, “I don't think so. Look!” He was staring at scattered bones, still brown and wet and some feathers here and there. “They look like big chickens.”
“They are! The movie made a big mistake when they added frog DNA to the dinosaurs. Raptors are the ancestors of birds so they should have added bird DNA. More or less. Look at that claw here. That's what they kill with. I guess the crew was attacked and killed a lot of the raptors with gun-fire then the remaining raptors ate their own dead.”
Barry stared behind a tree and said, “That's not all.” There was a man, or rather the remains of a man, clothes ripped to shreds, bones scattered, eaten to the bones. Fiona looked then with a strength Barry never knew she had, began to search the ferns.
“What are you looking for?”
“His gun. A knife, anything he had. We need to move on and fast and be armed.”
“The man's dead! Those things killed and ate him! Show some sympathy for the poor guy.”
She grabbed him and stared into his face, “He's dead! My children are alive! That is what is important! I spent years using my best friend's credit card to search for my children. I bribed the FAA to learn what happened with their aircraft, I whored myself to you to get here and NOTHING! Not some overgrown wolves, not some under-sized emus with claws, not some bleaching bones and not you will stop me from finding and saving my children. DO YOU UNDERSTAND!” It wasn't a question and he knew that. He just nodded and she returned to the search.
“Fuck! Nothing! Not even a pocket-knife. What about the aircraft? Did they leave anything at all?”
“No, Fiona. They stripped it clean. I think they wanted to find a better place to camp and the raptors caught them on the trail. We'll probably find more bodies as we go.”
“Give me your knife,” she demanded, then began to cut a small tree with chopping motions. When done, she gave it a quick shape then marched up the trail, carving as she did until she had a six foot pole, an inch thick and pointed at one end. By then they had found the scattered bones of ten more raptors and five people. Plus a lot of shell-casings and two hand-guns, both too damaged to work. One had been pressed into the mud and would require being stripped and cleaned, a skill neither possessed, the other had been bitten and the trigger bent by a tooth. Still they pressed on.
When they got hungry, they ate, when they were tired, they climbed a tree and slept and still they searched, sometimes loosing the trail, sometimes finding it. Twice they hid from danger, once from something that looked like a bear-sized rat with wicked teeth and another time from three ape-like men who could have fought a gorilla. These carried cudgels and wore animal skins but seemed to have no idea of flint-napping. Then finally, Barry stopped, sniffed and said, “I smell smoke.”
They crept close and hidden, found a low hillock with bush and branches to form a totally inadequate barrier. Two men with ragged clothes were trying to pound stakes into the ground while another was whittling the already set stakes into a point. “Idiots!” Fiona laughed, “Don't they know that won't stop anything other than a disinterested deer. Let's go back a ways.”
They crawled back then when some distance away, Fiona walked forward singing some song that was popular on the radio in LA. “What are you doing?” Barry asked.
“Letting them know we are coming and friendly. These fools are on edge and will shoot anything they see before they take a good look. I'm keeping us alive.”
“How the hell do you know all this?”
“Because, my dear, I was a mercenary in the Mid-East for three years.”
“You? A merc? That I don't believe. Which side?”
“Whichever side paid me. Mostly I was a bodyguard though we did do some hunting and the occasional assassination. What? Did you think all I was, was a dancer and actress?”
“Well, yes, I did.”
She laughed and continued to sing until they reached the hillock to find the men armed and behind their pitiful barrier. “Hello, My name is Fiona O’Neill. We heard your distress and came to find my children who were on that plane.”
They looked at each other then she heard someone cry out, “we're saved! Rescue!” And three men ran to them, pumping hands and crying in relief. Fiona looked at them, mostly unarmed and those who were had spears less effective than her own. ‘take a man from his technology and he falls apart so easily.’
Barry yelled, “Hold it! Hold on there! We're in the same boat you are. Our plane went down a dozen miles from yours. I am hoping the search parties heard my mayday and are following. In the meantime, we are all that are here for now.” The original group sank back into despair as Fiona pushed her way through them searching until she saw two children, a boy maybe six and a girl eight. Dropping her pack and spear she ran to them calling out “Jimmie! Cynthia! Finally!”
It was a moment before she realized that they were fighting her for freedom. “What's the matter?” her heart sinking again. Maybe these weren't hers, it had been so long.
“Why are you? How do you know us? Where's my mommy and daddy?”
“Jimmy, I'm your mommy. Don't you recognize me?”
“No you aren't. My mother ran away from us. I want my real mommy.” All Fiona could do was sit in the moss. So far and now they didn't know her.
“Honey, sweetie, I'm your real mother. It was your father who ran away. I've been looking for you for years. Don't worry, I'll get us out of here and we can be a family again.”
“Away from the dinosaurs? Back to daddy and mommy?”
“Sweetie, yes, away from the bad dinosaurs.” She had to use all her strength to not cry in front of them then Barry took her and said, “Can I speak to you a moment?”
“Sweeties, stay here, mommy will be right back.”
Then apart, she snapped, “What!”
“Settle down, Fiona, I'm not the enemy. These guys were federal cops taking some suspected terrorists to the US for questioning. Then the plane crashed and the prisoners and some of the cops died in the crash. The surviving prisoners were shot trying to escape and the injured were killed by the raptors. These guys are almost out of ammo and are on the edge. Hell, we're doing better than they are and we don't even have a gun!”
“Guns give a false sense of confidence. A good spear makes me afraid so I hide and live. Let's look around. Sweetie, can you show mommy around please.”
You're not my mommy!” Jimmy cried. He was showing whites around his eyes. Terrified, she knew but had to be strong for them despite her heart that was torn from her chest.
Cynthia came forward, “I'll show you. Jimmy is hurt. He's scared of the dinosaurs. I am too but not hurt.”
“Thank you sweetie. You know, being afraid is ok. I'm afraid too but being afraid just makes you look both ways before you cross the street.” One of the castaways stood before her. She saw Barry hand the handgun to one of the cops who had it field-stripped in seconds and was cleaning it like it was a life preserver.
“So you're the mother. We have questions for you like how come your kids were born in the 1960’s but are still children and how come you were born in the late forties but still look thirty?”
“Later,” she snapped. “I need to be certain my children are safe.”
“We'll ensure that, please come with me.”
“How! Look at that fence! A cockroach could get past that. You expect to stop a pack of raptors with brush and a few sticks!”
“That's our business, you just leave it to us and we'll keep you all safe.”
“Just like the bodies we found on the trail. No, whoever you are, I'm their mother and they are now my responsibility.” She tried to go past until he reached out to stop her.
“Lady, you may be someone in the city but out here you are just another little girl so let the men handle these things.”
It was a bad move and as soon as his fingers touched her, she had him in a wrist-lock and on the ground screaming in pain. “Don't touch me. Don't call me a little girl and DO NOT put my children at risk!” She didn't even hear the weapons being chambered or the others ordering her to the ground.
One man grabbed her and she released the first, kicked the second in the knee and punched him in his throat, sending him choking to the ground. Before any more violence could happen, Barry was there calling out, “Calm down everyone, just calm down. I'm Major Barry Sullivan, United States Air Force. Everyone calm down, I know we're all under a lot of stress but killing each other isn't the solution. Fiona, go talk to your kids please. The rest of you, rescue is on the way, we just need to stick together.”
Fiona left him to his discussion but took her daughter around and looked over the barricade. She also counted the numbers and weapons and made her decision. It would be easier in the dark but she doubted anyone could stop her.
Sitting next to the children, she opened some of the rations she had brought and fed them their first decent meal since they left Finland. Once started the children were a wealth of information. “Then daddy met mommy and they got married and we moved to mommy's country after you left and then one day daddy went to the embassy to talk to someone and men came to take us to an airplane and we came here. It was cold in Finland and I'm cold here too but not as cold. It never gets dark here. I'm scared but these men are scared too. They pretend they are brave but I can tell. Are you scared too? When will we see daddy and mommy again? I used to like dinosaurs but now I'm scared of them. Jimmy saw one eat a man and he's not the same now. You say you're my mommy but my first mommy left us and now I have a new mommy. Why did you run away from us?”
“Sweetie,” She washed her daughters face with some spit and a hankie, “I never ran away. Your father and I simply stopped loving each other and sometimes when mommies and daddies stop loving each other, they get angry. So I had to live in another house for awhile but I always came to see you every day when I could. Then one day I went to see you and daddy had met another woman who was there. After that I could only come once a week. Then one day I came to see you and you were gone. I looked all over and kept looking for years. Then I heard about you leaving Finland and came to save you.”
Further conversation was interrupted by one of the castaways, the one she had taken down. “Excuse me Mrs. O’Neill. We got off to a bad start so let's try again. My name is…”
“I don't want to know.”
“I don't want to know. If I know you, it might bother me when you die. Right now you are just a face and so I won't miss you when you are dead.”
“What makes you think we're going to die. We've been in worse situations.”
“No you haven't. Look, I'm sure that back home you might be a nice guy and good at what you do but here, you're out of your league. You are used to unlimited ammo, back-up, TV, hot meals and going home after the shoot-out. This isn't Beirut and it damn sure isn't New York City. I saw the crash site. All those shell casings laying around. Did you think that the ones that attacked you were the only danger here? Have you thought of one-man-one-round? And look at your men. They're exhausted, dead inside, still fondling their guns like somehow bullets will magically appear in the barrels. I'll bet half of them are out of ammunition and still they carry the weapons as if some allosaurus will respect the weapon or your badge. Hell! Barry and I crawled to within feet of this place, looked it over and left and you never knew we were here.
“Look, I'm grateful for you carrying my children this far but now, your men are gone. Now it's my turn.”
“You don't know what the hell we've been through. You think you can walk past those monsters because you are…”
“Shut the fuck up! I was in the air an hour after you sent your distress call. I've been here only a day less than you and look at us. We've been through a plane crash, faced mammoths and Dire Wolves, cave men and other dinosaurs and we are in as good a shape now as when we started and we did it ALL without a single gun! If anyone is going to live, it's me. And we did it with one flare gun, a pocket knife and a first aid kit. You've done far less with much more. You need to take your badge off your dick and look at reality.”
The man walked away to avoid a fight and Fiona began to plan her escape.
“Fiona,” Barry sat next to her and opened a food packet. “These guys are in a bad way. I don't think we are going to make it.”
“Yes we will. Just decide something. When I leave with my children, you can come with us or remain here.”
He looked at her then said, “As much as it bothers me, I really do think I'm safer with you. But one question, if the raptors follow, are you going to trip me so you can escape while I'm being eaten?”
“Only if I have to, to save my children.” She looked directly into his eyes and he knew she was serious.
“Fair enough. They won't let us leave you know. They think that we're safer here and somehow think that if they tie us up they are doing us a favor. And since the sun never sets, I presume you have a plan that doesn't entail wait until dark.”
“Not yet. But I will. Just keep your pack full and be ready to run.” Barry wanted to kiss her then but honestly, he was afraid of her. Since they arrived and she knew her kids were near, she had developed a drive that was unstoppable. He was afraid she'd stand up to a T-Rex and almost believed that she'd win. Her son, Jimmy, had nestled in her arm and was asleep, probably for the first time since the crash. Such was a mother's love.
She looked at her daughter, a child that barely remembered her and spoke, “Sweetie, I remember how when your brother was a baby, you would stand by his bed with your hand on his diaper and yell ‘poopie’ or ‘peepee’ whenever he filled his diaper. You'd bring me a clean diaper and were such a good mommy's helper. And that scar on your foot, it was from the neighbor's dog. But then you used to tease it so you deserved to be bitten. And one day your father rented a sailboat and we went on Lake Michigan and you got so sick you threw up all over me and we had to jump into the lake to wash off.”
“Eeeuuu! How gross!” But Fiona continued to remember how it was when she would hold her babies and nurse them and she felt sat one with the universe. Moments later Cynthia lay her head in Fiona’s lap and was also asleep and for the first time in years, Fiona was totally at ease.
“Wake up,” Barry was shaking her. “I think the raptors are here.”
Awake instantly, Fiona said, “Get my spear, load that flare-gun and be ready to grab Cynthia and follow. Drop her and you'll wish the raptors had caught you.”
“I won't. Can we save the others?”
She looked around, “Do you think they'll listen? They were trained to believe that their badge and gun makes them invincible, to listen to no one but another cop. We're civilians and they still think we aren't worth listening to, that any cop on the street outranks an Air Force Major with combat experience. They'll try to protect us but they have no idea of how and will insist on doing the same stupid and useless thing over and over until we are all dead. No, Barry, we'll be lucky to save ourselves.”
She woke the children who started and began to shake in terror, “Don't worry sweetie, mommy's here to protect you.. Just do exactly what I say and we'll be ok.”
“Mommy!” Jimmy cried and even Barry knew he wasn't calling for Fiona. She was too busy getting ready, then with pack on her back and spear in hand she waited. The men around were shaking too, most had their empty weapons at the ready, such was their confidence in modern technology. Then the first raptor leapt the brush. The man in front of it never even ducked, he pulled the trigger, ‘click’, then re-chambered and pulled and re-chambered and pulled not accepting that his weapon was empty. Not even when the beast landed on him, clutching him with its arms and ripping his bowels out with its sickle clawed feet. His was the first scream but not the last.
One leapt for Fiona who went to her knees, impaled the beast with her wooden spear and flipped it over her head then spun and smashed the neck of another with a blow from the spear's heavier butt end. Barry remembered somewhere that she had a black belt in some martial art and it showed, then she grabbed her son and ran for the brush screaming “Now!” They were out and as they ran, they heard the weapons fire behind.
Forever they ran, Barry was trying to breathe but fear kept him going. Fear of the raptors, fear of dropping the girl and fear of Fiona so he ran and ran. That woman had legs of iron and her lungs must have grown into her boobs, or were all dancers in this good shape. Finally she stopped, breathing heavily and shoved her son up a conifer yelling, “Climb!”
Barry near threw Cynthia onto a branch then climbed himself to see Fiona throw her spear then leap to a branch and pull herself up an inch before the raptor caught her foot. They all climbed, Fiona helping the children, Barry just trying to keep up until they all settled onto a branch, “See sweetie, I told you I'd save you.”
As she held her children high in the tree, Fiona glanced at Barry and asked, “Barry, do you need both those boot-laces?”
He pulled one free and cut the other in half to tie his boots on and watched Fiona tie a loop in one end of the lace, a knot in the other and then finding the center, she turned it and tied the laces to form a sort of pouch in the middle. “This is called a Greenland Sling. I learned it from a friend, Jason, who used them to toss grenades at British soldiers in Belfast. But we don't have grenades so will use rocks.”
Jason? Funny name for an Irish terrorist.”
“He likes to think of himself as a patriot and freedom-fighter. Funny thing is, we think of George Washington as a patriot, the British think of him as a traitor. Israel thinks of Manachim Began as a patriot and hero, the British called him a terrorist. I guess it depends on which side of the fence you are on.”
“Still, bombing innocents isn't the act of a soldier.”
“And barring his door and burning his home to the ground while his wife and children are trapped inside shouldn't be the act of a police force, but they did it anyway. Fortunately, he taught me to survive and to always have back-up plan.”
“My back-up plan consists of those guys outside hearing my mayday and rescuing us.”
“Then it's a good thing I called Di and left copies of everything at my place and at Point Barrow. He'll find us. “Sweetie, mommy has to climb up the tree for a moment. Can you watch your brother for me?”
“I don't need to be watched. I can climb, see…” His mother grabbed him and whispered in his ear, “I know honey, we used to climb the tree in the back yard. I just said that for your sister. I really mean for you to remain here and take care of your sister for me.”
Soon she was as far up as possible and looking around, realized that the only difference between here in the near forest and the snowy plains was that the sun was maybe a tiny bit higher. There was still no horizon with the landscape fading off into the distance. Sunward, she saw some hills that promised caves or at least, rocks to build a wall so returned to her family and found Barry cutting branches to make a platform. “I don't know how long we'll be here so I thought a nice bed would be comfortable.”
“Thank you, I'm exhausted myself. Sweeties, mommy needs a nap so can you keep me company for a few minutes?” She lay in the bedding which was supported by cording from the pack and soon the children were asleep again, with her fast following as Barry made his own nest above.
When they awoke she never knew for the sun hadn't moved an inch. So she lay there smelling the pine and noticed that one of the cones attached to her bedding had gone from closed to fully open as she slept and she was terribly hungry. Rising carefully, she sat there for some minutes watching her children sleep until Barry awoke and asked, “What now? I've taken survival courses in the Air Force but nothing prepared me for dinosaurs.”
“Sunward is a ridge of cliffs. I'm hoping that we can find or make some caves for a base until we are rescued. By the way, don't think of this as Adam and Eve, I am not your wife or even your lover unless you figure out a way to get home. We sleep apart, we work together for my children or you leave and I go it alone.”
He thought for a moment then said, “Convince me first.”
“Ok, when we were in the Mid-East, Jason was married to Diane and pissed her off. He did that a lot but this time she left him and I left with her. We got picked up by some Turkish big-wig who wanted Diane because she was blonde. Di kicked him in the balls and he decided that if we wanted to dress and act like men, we should die like men and he tossed us into an arena with nothing but a sword each. We spent three days in that arena killing everyone and everything he sent after us until we were too exhausted to fight. I killed a tiger with a sword, we killed a pack of maddened dobies with those swords, I must have killed half a hundred men, all bigger than me over those three days. That's were I got this scar across my belly.
“So I'm laying there, bleeding my life away in D's arms and the doors open and an army rushes in to finish us. Only they weren't there to kill us, they were running away.
“Jason had captured, tortured and killed half the Turkish army to find us and was killing the other half to save us. He was there, telling some doctor he had kidnapped that if I died, he'd wish he committed suicide to avoid Jason's anger. He knows we are in trouble and NOTHING will stop him from finding and rescuing us. All we have to do is stay alive until you repair that plane or until Jason shows up.”
Barry looked into the trees then said, “Ok.”
“Thanks, Barry. I'm surprised you're taking this so easily.”
“Fiona, I am an Air Force Officer. I'm used to giving orders, not taking them. And to sit here and wait to be rescued by someone I consider an international criminal galls me no end. But I get the feeling that you'd listen to me only if you thought it would benefit your kids. And if you thought otherwise, you'd abandon me like you did those cops back there. And frankly, you can beat the shit out of me so if we can work together, great. I'm not following your orders, but I will listen to your suggestions because I know that you won't make any decision that would put your kids at risk and if they are safe, then I figure that anyone around them will be safe too. In the meantime, I think the raptors are gone so we should get moving before they return.”
She woke her children and reached the ground with no difficulty then began their trek to the cliffs. Fiona started to pick up rocks the size of her fist and encouraged her children to help until the pockets of her parka were full and she carried one in her sling always. Suddenly a pack of chicken-sized dinosaurs broke and ran across the trail. Instantly Fiona swung the sling over her head and the rock struck one of the feathered dinosaurs which was flung away with the impact. By the time Barry had reached it, the thing had stopped twitching and was dead so he plucked the feathers as they walked. “Dinner tonight will be Chicken Cordon Bleu. Now if you can use that sling of yours to find us some cheese, broccoli and a nice bottle of Chardonnay, we will be set.” ‘Maybe’, Barry thought, ‘we will get out of this alive.’
“See sweeties,” she said to her children as they cut narrow strips from the kill, “Its just like camping.”
Cynthia replied, “Daddy said you hated camping.”
“I do sweetie, but that doesn't men that I can't be good at it. Sometimes you do things that are necessary even if you don't like them. And if you learn to be good at them, you do them easier and faster.”
As always, when they were hungry, they ate, when tired, they climbed a tree and slept and always hid from whatever they saw be it animal or dinosaur and despite this, they made good time. Until they left the tree-line and were attacked by a group of man-apes.
Rick Johnson Feature Articles and Fiction in ERBzine
|ERBzine 1645: Johnson:
ERB Fan Profile
ERBzine 1522: Sociology of the Wieroo
ERBzine 1527: Maltheusian Decimation in Pal-Ul-Don
ERBzine 1547: Opar
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Pellucidar ~ At The Earth's Core
ERBzine 1965: Rescue In Pellucidar
ERBzine 2296: Where is the Opening to Pellucidar
ERBzine 2394: Dinosaur Survival On Earth
ERBzine 2855: Journey to the Centre of the Earth
ERBzine 3036: How To Get To The Earth's Core I
ERBzine 3037: How To Get To The Earth's Core II
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ERBzine 1370: Mapping Barsoom I: Can It Be Done?
ERBzine 1562: Mapping Barsoom II: Compromises
ERBzine 1565: Mapping Barsoom III: The Past
ERBzine 1633: Valley Dor
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ERBzine 1712: Spy: Arrival On Mars
ERBzine 2165: Battle at U-Gor
ERBzine 2166: Lost On Barsoom
ERBzine 2167: Meeting of the Panthans: Pt. I
ERBzine 2168: Meeting of the Panthans: Pt. II
ERBzine 2169: North to Barsoom
ERBzine 2196: Jahar
ERBzine 2303: Return to Barsoom I: Letters
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