Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Episode 8, Arrival © C. J. Hoare 2006.
All rights reserved.

Scroll down to Previous Posts to select Episode 1 and start from the beginning.

Gisel glanced up from sealing the stranger's wound to see him staring at her. He spoke, his a words meaningless grumble.

She grinned and pulled up her own sleeve to show the red blaze of her own sword cut. "I'm good at cutting arms. I did it to myself."

His eyes narrowed, not suspicious now, not angry. Curiosity? He put out his left hand to her, patting her on the arm. M'Tov leaned down abruptly, an automatic pistol in his hand. "Don't get antsy, buster. I'll blow your head off if you try to hurt her."

Gisel shook her head. "I don't think he meant me any harm. He recognises help and concern when he sees it. I'd say we're well on the way to making progress with this guy."

M'Tov straightened up. "You could be right. I mean to take these two with us."

Gisel pulled the guy's torn sleeve down and stood. "Then he'll do until Dr. Hather can stitch him. By the way, we were expecting these guys to speak something like English, but I can't understand a word these guys say."

"I know. I've already found that out."

"What does it mean?"

M'Tov shrugged. "We'll discuss that later, let's get moving."

"Are we taking off right away?"

M'Tov glanced toward her father, sitting on the ground with one of the guards spraying the bloody graze on his head with antiseptic. "We've accomplished most of what we set out to do."

Henrik looked up. "I think so. Give me a hand up and I'll be ready to walk back to the Intruder."

Gisel stepped over and put out her hand. He glanced from the hand to her eyes. "I won't question whether you're strong enough to help me up. You're a tougher little devil than I've given you credit for. A damn sight better with a rapier than I am with a pistol."

M'Tov came to her side and took Henrik's other hand. "She's very good. If swordplay is important in this world, I can see she's going to have to give us all lessons."

They pulled Henrik to his feet. He wavered a moment before standing stiffly upright. "I'm good. Ready to march when you are."

"What about the horses?" Mort asked, gesturing behind them.

"Better leave them," M'Tov said. "None of us knows how to handle them. They'll likely find their own way home."

The three guards slung their assault rifles from their shoulders. They motioned the captives to step in front of them. Alan and Mort set out in front, carrying the captured rapiers, but Alan abruptly turned to walk over to Gisel. "You'd better carry this one. You know what to do with it."

She accepted the rapier with a grin. "Then you lead the way back. I don't want to lose everybody."

She walked at the rear, beside her father as they followed the track out to the edge of the woodland. "What do you make of this place?"

Henrik shrugged. "Even more different than we expected. Not modern, that's for certain. These people could learn a lot from us – I'm thinking that should be our next approach to them."

"We'll be coming back? To the castle, maybe?"

"Depends on what we learn from these two – if anything."

"If we find out how to speak to them."

"Yes, that's a surprise. In our world this was part of England, but they don't speak English. The history in this world must have veered away from ours, or else these two are foreigners."

Gisel glanced at them. "They seem to be what passes for soldiers around here. Think there could be more?"

Henrik glanced around the hillsides as they emerged into the grassy meadow. "I hope there are none nearby, but if these two were just scouts – "

"They'd be waiting for them to report back."

"Good thought. Let's hope they are."

She raised the rapier to examine it. "What could they learn from us?'

Her leaned to peer at the steel. "Better metalworking. I'll want to do an analysis on these swords when we get back to the Iskander. I'd lay odds that we could teach them a thing or two about steelmaking. We have all the facilities and people on Iskander to set up an industrial infrastructure – I'm going to suggest to M'Tov and Dirk Scopes that we should be looking for a place to establish ourselves for such a program."

"But, here?"

He smiled at her. "You're set on that castle aren't you? I must admit I'm curious, but this isn't a likely location. We'd need to be near iron ore and coal deposits."

"But Iskander has steelmaking equipment, you just said so."

"An arc furnace – enough to refine iron that's already smelted." His eyes began to shine, a sign of enthusiasm she knew bubbled near the surface of this mercurial man. "I'm thinking we could be steelmakers for the whole world. We'd need to build blast furnaces, a complete steelworks. If we're stuck here, we can make ourselves a very good life among the locals that way."

"Who do you mean – you, Robbie and me?"

"No, all of us. The Iskanders. We're going to need to be an even closer team on this world. We are a hundred Earth people among maybe millions of these backward locals. We'll get nowhere unless we stick together."

"So, they are backward? That's how everything seemed to me."

Henrik shook his head. "Maybe not backward. That's not fair. It may be that this is as far as their development has reached. These two with their cuirasses and rapiers could be the leading edge of society."

"Mort and Alan told be those woods were a cultivated oak plantation. Maybe to build wooden ships."

He smiled. "That's interesting, if it's true. I could teach them a lot there as well. You know, maybe I'm going to like this world a whole lot more than I first thought. Just think – a chance to replay the Industrial Revolution – without creating all the mistakes and pollution of the first one back home."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Episode 7, Arrival © C. J. Hoare 2006.
All rights reserved.

Scroll down to Previous Posts to select Episode 1 and start from the beginning.

The man let Gisel's father fall to the ground as he turned to face her. He sprang into a swordfighting stance – knees bent, rapier outthrust to the front and his left arm stretched out behind for balance. Gisel had to grin. Just like the old pictures. Bet he didn't know any of the 22nd century competition tricks.

She darted forward in a 2150 Olympic's leading parry. He gave ground, thrashing his rapier about to ward off her attack. If he'd been a competition opponent she could have scored a telling hit – but he wore that cuirass.

His expression turned from surprise to anger, eyes blazing and teeth bared. His turn to attack. He lunged forward, a good three inches on her for reach. She drew back as she parried – his point met empty air.

"Hah!" he shouted.

He stormed forward again, trying to grab her as well as lunge.

"Too clumsy, buddy." Gisel darted away from his attack, leaving him floundering.

She flicked out her swordpoint like a striking snake, slashing open the sleeve of his shirt. If it had been a contest, he'd likely have smiled and given her the point. This was no contest. He narrowed his eyes and took aim at her again. He meant to run her through.

She caught a movement out of the corner of her eyes. Mort was on his feet and looking to go around them, his gaze fixed on Henrik Matah's pistol on the ground. "Keep clear," she said. "He can stick you before you'd straighten up."

"Try to maneuver him away."

The antagonist stormed forward again, sword quivering in the air before her. She flexed her wrist, her rapier sending his wide to the right. If he'd not been wearing that cuirass she could have plunged her blade into his chest. She began to sweat. How was she going to finish this?

"Easy for you to say, Mort. All I can do is back up and hope he follows."

The antagonist laughed and charged her. She parried and dodged behind a tree trunk. He took three steps after Mort, who ran for his life.

Gisel sprang out at the stranger. She tried for his thigh, half turned toward her. He slashed downwards with his sword, almost knocking hers from her grasp. She sprang clear. No more bullshit, Gisel. Keep to the training you know.

She invited him to attack again. He performed his usual lunge that she easily brushed aside. He didn't have any finesse. Guess he relied on strength, and his opponent's fear.

Was she afraid? Too busy – concentrating on the movement of her blade. The Aikido training took control and she became no more than the rapier's servant. She attacked his face but he ducked beneath her point. She darted back and he followed. One more of those and he'd be too far away to guard her father's pistol. Mort was looking around a tree, gauging his chance. She could see Alan, sitting on the fallen man's chest and watching the fight warily.

The antagonist lunged at her again. This was getting monotonous, she parried with a textbook move. She backed up but he didn't follow. He glanced around. Oh shit! Her father was stirring, beginning to regain consciousness.

Mort darted to a closer tree.

The antagonist looked from Mort, to her, and then to Henrik Matah, sitting up and shaking his head. He flicked his rapier point in the air and took two long strides toward Henrik. He'd guessed what Mort was after.

Gisel dashed forward, getting between the man and her father. She leveled her rapier and advanced at the attack. He smashed her blade aside and lunged.

Gisel changed stance to parry and then moved straight into a riposte. She had no room to break ground without leaving her father vulnerable. She avoided her opponent's parry and followed his sword with her point. Another inch, maybe two . . . she leaned forward. Right off balance now, she was dead if this didn't succeed.

Her point slid past his quillions and guard, disappearing into his shirt sleeve. She felt it hit and put her weight behind it.

He screamed. His sword fell from his hand. Scarlet blood spurted, turning the sleeve red. She jumped forward, placing a foot on his rapier. "Yield!"

He didn't have to understand her language. His sword hand fell to his side, the other grasping it. His face turned ashen white.

Mort sprang forward to Henrik Matah, who still stared dazed at the fight in front of him. He grabbed the fallen pistol just as M'Tov and one of his guards rushed forward to grab the man by his arms.

"Nice work, Gisel. You distracted him nicely."

"Distracted, my ass! He's mine – I beat him square."

M'Tov stared at her a moment before his glare softened. "Yes. I guess you did." He tossed a combat lifesaver pack to her. "How about patching him up before he bleeds to death?"
Episode 6, Arrival © C. J. Hoare 2006.
All rights reserved.

Scroll down to Previous Posts to select Episode 1 and start from the beginning.

Gisel kept her eyes on the direction the horsemen had gone. Stay where she was – that was a damned silly idea. Nobody knew where that was – not even her. Maybe the road the horsemen were on led somewhere.

She set out carefully, listening to the sounds of their movement. About the time she reached the distinct trail between the trees the noise stopped. She dodged behind a tree and held her breath. Had they seen her?

She had to look. Leaning forward she peered around the tree. She ducked back! Jeeze, they weren't far away.

Cautiously she leaned out for another look.

The track was rutted and about three metres wide. It wound between the trees but never enough to completely block her view along it. The two men sat their horses in the middle, about a hundred metres away. They looked about them and cocked their heads. What could they hear?

The only direction they didn't look was along the path behind them they'd already traveled. Gisel studied them carefully, ready to spring back behind the tree in an instant. They wore grey conical hats – metal, she guessed, and waistcoats the same colour. What were they called? Ah, yes. Cuirasses – a kind of armour. Their legs were encased in coloured breeches – the red and blue she'd glimpsed. They ended just below their knees, where tall riding boots joined them. What caught most of her attention hung from their waists. Swords – rapiers by the shape of them.

Were these fellows the local constabulary? Maybe worse, bandits or cutthroats.

The horses stamped their hooves impatiently; one skittered backwards. The man with the blue breeches said something to the other – a harsh, gutteral sounding speech. They urged their horses forward and resumed cantering down the track.

Gisel came out from the trees to stand looking after them. They'd heard something – maybe Alan and Mort. If so, the guys were in trouble. She considered the idea more carefully. If the horsemen had heard them, it meant the trail led the way she needed to go. Holding the sampling tool in two hands, she set out to follow.

She should let M'Tov and her father know, but she'd been told to stay put. Dammit – they'd find out she hadn't soon enough. "Colonel. Father. The two horsemen are armed, and I think they're headed your way."

Her father's voice came first. "They haven't seen you?"

M'Tov still sounded winded. "What are they armed with?"

"I see rapiers at their waists. They've got iron helmets and cuirasses."

"Roger," M'Tov answered. "We can handle that."

"Be careful, Gisel. Can you still see them?"

"Not now. They're about a hundred metres in front of me . . . riding down a track between the trees."

"How can you tell all this? Are you on the track? I told you –"

"Dammit, Father. You wouldn't have the warning if I wasn't. I'm worried they'll find Alan and Mort."

"Keep well back until we call you by radio."

"Sure." She continued walking. These were her horsemen, she'd seen them first. She was entitled to see what happened.

She'd only gone a couple of hundred metres when she heard shouts from ahead.

"Colonel! Do you see them? I hear shouts."

"No, I haven't reached your father yet."

"Then they must have found our tree guys."

She began to run. The trail began winding more than before, wide sweeping turns around boggy patches and clumps of bushes. More shouts, and Alan's voice, "Look out, Mort! Run for it . . . Yahhg!" Oh Christ – they were being killed!

The only remaining voices spoke back and forth in the gutteral speech. She could hear the horsemen's breath rasp deeply between the words. She ran harder.

She squelched across a wet patch in the trail. More small bushes here. She rounded them at a run and almost bumped into a pair of tall brown legs, tail swishing and hooves stomping. Horse. The other animal swung it's head and whinneyed at her. God dammit – don't give me away! She dived into the bushes.

She threw herself flat on the ground and crawled under the branches. The men's voices again – sounded kinda like German; so much for M'Tov's idea of landing in what should be the equivalent of southern Britain where people should speak recognisable English. She couldn't understand a word.

A rustling as feet kicked through the fallen leaves. One coming back to check the horses. Gisel lay quiet while she heard the man moving about, his voice now quieter as he soothed the animals. As he walked away, she crawled forward to peer out. She shifted position several times before she could see properly.

The two men stood together, looking down at something on the ground. She couldn't quite make out what was there from her low vantage point. Bodies? Yuk. One bent down to lift something. Mort's head and shoulders came into view. His eyes were open. Maybe he was still alive. The man in the red breeches yanked a rag out of Mort's mouth and spoke to him.

Mort shook his head. "Don't understand you."

The two strangers spoke more loudly.

Mort glared up at them. "Let us go! You'll be in deep shit when the others get here."

"If they get here."

Alan's voice. That meant they weren't dead.

The strangers began to argue, and then one bent down to lift Alan to his feet. Blue breeches drew his rapier and prodded him toward the horses. Shit. She couldn't let them be taken away.

She lay silently as Mort was pulled to his feet and goaded forward. Then she heard running feet approaching. The strangers and Mort swung around.

"Over here!" Mort shouted. "Look out, they . . ."

The horseman swung a terrific punch that knocked him off his feet.

Gisel raised herself up. Between the trees, a man approached at a run. Her father. Where the hell were M'Tov and the rest?

The man in the blue breeches raised his rapier. He spoke briefly to his companion. As the other man threw Alan to the ground, the man in the blue advanced toward Gisel's father, rapier at the ready. Gisel stood and pushed through the branches. "Look out, Father. He's got a sword."

At her voice, Henrik Matah stopped running. The man with the red breeches swung around. He stood very close, his rapier point reached out toward her.

She swung the sampling tool as hard as she could. As it swung she released the handle to let the sampling end extend. It caught the horseman on the side of the head. His helmet went flying.

He collapsed in a heap, his rapier falling to the ground.

A shot rang out.

Gisel looked up. The man with the blue breeches had dodged behind a tree – obviously as her father fired. Henrik raised the pistol into the air as he stepped forward to look for him.

The man leaped out and grabbed for the pistol.

"Look out!" Gisel shouted. "Shoot him! Shoot!"

Henrik hesitated. Bad mistake. The man in blue was close enough to swing his rapier and clout him in the head. Henrik crumpled, the pistol flying from his hand.

Gisel scooped up the fallen man's rapier. She ran at her father's assailant. "Leave him alone, you bastard!"