Some day I suppose, the bay where the Church of the Sky Father Christ will be well within the city limits of Shadwell. Ten kilometers is not very far. I have been told that's roughly the distance between villages back on Earth in Europe. I'm not sure if its really true. It makes sense in a way. Europe is pretty old and you were limited by how far you could walk, due whatever you needed to in the next village over and then come back in a day. Assuming you had a road. Or at least a path.
There was something of a path to the Church settlement. However, it was often overgrown. There was no way we were going to make it to the Church before dark though and being out after dark on Shadwell as kids in an area without much help was probably less than wise. I made the remark as such and Tom, of course, wanted to know if the idea weighed less than he did. I had to roll my eyes: he was being a wise guy.
To make matters worse, we were in the midst of a Jefflife forest. There were a few stands of Earthlife forest here on Jefferson, but they were mostly in or around Monticello, Jefferson's capital and sole spaceport. There were lots of Jefflife critters around that might decide we were annoying enough to attack. After all, to them, we smell bad. I guess we definitely smelled worse since they generally smell like things from an Earther donut shop or bakery.
The biggest problem would be Yoats though. Those pack hunting animals DID actually take offense at a Human presence and did, if there were enough of them and too few humans, to kill us. The really bad part was they were smart enough to NOT eat Humans when Yoats would attack. They would try to kill and that was that. If Yoats had been dumb enough to try to eat a Earthlife critter, then they would die and the ones that felt the need to kill Earthlife would die out. The ones who did not, would survive and have young! Yeah for me! I did pay attention in class!
Not that it helped us much right then. However, it would later. I hoped. But not now.
When the sun set and dusk began to settle in, we knew we needed to find shelter. We thought about climbing trees, but we were very worried the adults with their drones would find us with the infrared cameras. Right then, I wished people were cold blooded like reptiles. Then again, maybe not. The image of my friends with forked tongues and scaly was not pleasant. Except Tom. He'd probably love it. He'd say it was fangtastic!
It's really bad when you know the bad puns the punster is punish you with if you bring up a topic.
It was also a topic I really ought to be thinking about right then so I let it drop. It didn't help us and would not help keep us focused. We were on an alien world, people! At dusk! In the forest! And we were 12!
Staying focused seemed like more than just a good idea for the time.
Witty banter, not so much.
We were moving along slowly when it was truly nightfall and we knew then we needed to find a place and quickly. We were looking around when we heard it. Yoatling.
Yoats don't howl like wolves, dogs or coyotes. Yoats do make a noise that reminded someone of the rare art of yodeling from back on Earth. It wasn't an exact match, but given their name, it seemed like an obvious and obnoxious punny name to call their cry. The problem was Yoats yoatled when they had territorial dispute or if they were trying to find other Yoats or...if they were hunting. Yoats seemed to have the rudiments of a language. Not a complicated one, but the basics. Like if different howls by dogs meant really different things sorta language.
The problem was the Yoatling we heard was saying, 'Look, lunch!'
When a Yoat hunting pack came together, it was often made of two to up to four Yoat families. The hunting pack would be up to twelve adults in size. The Yoats would have two Yoats drive their prey forward by Yoatling. Four would run along side, close enough to be seen and scare the prey, but not so close to get into a fight. Then six would wait for the prey to run right to them.
Except we were not a bunch of Yoatkles! Ha! I kill me!
Tom, Jackie and I pulled out our needlers immediately. Veena and Rosa started to, but I asked them to not do so. We needed them to find us shelter. They hunted around - and found! - a creepy bush stand again. We hustled over and Rosa pulled out her pack and set it to start digging into the ground in the middle of the stand. Tom, Jackie and I faced out with our needlers ready. We really didn't want to start popping away at the Yoats, but if we had to, we would.
The Yoats closed in. The yoatling was getting much, much closer and we could start to hear their gargling sounds they used instead of snarling. It was starting to get a little nerve racking: all twelve Yoats closed in and were circling the five of us. Yoats were a bit smaller than we were, but not by much. We didn't want to waste our ammo and we didn't want to start a fire.
let me tell you, Jefflife hates fires even more than Earthlife does. They run away. Really quick. Even taxitos avoid it. Imagine that! The normal thing to do would be to light a fire and the Yoats would move off. Annoyed and irritable, but move along. However, unless we wanted to set a giant beacon for every last adult in the whole world, a fire was out.
A Yoat lunged and I used a bangle on it. The needle made a pop and the Yoat jumped back. Being so close to Shadwell these had probably had some experience with the needlers. I hoped not too much though.
Rosa cried out and she and Veena hopped in the short pit. Tom, Jackie and I backed up and stepped down. It might seem like a really, really stupid thing to do, especially with the Yoats probably thinking "Stupid Humans! Down in a pit! So easy!" However, we were the Merry Pranksters and would not be undone by the likes of these!
We stepped back and in and the Yoats rushed us and the walls of the tent, designed in case of Yoat mischief! - popped up and around us, enclosing us in safety. The Yoats ran smack into the walls with weird yop sounds. They were not happy and very surprised. The pit was a good three feet deep, go team bot! But the bot continued to dig. Except now it was digging in at an angle and firing loads of dirt up into the air through temporary holes it dug above it. Yoats were getting pelted with dirt clods. They yopped and gargled and yoatled, but there was nothing they could do.
We were safe.
We were also exhausted. Escape plan was executed, supplies gathered, original plan changed, security drone foiled and then Yoats denied.
The bot dug us a cave large enough for us to sleep in. It even had bunk...well, not beds, but shelves, made from the very earth, erm, Jeffsoil. We sat down after we calmed down and sipped some water and broke out something to eat. It had been a long day.
We would slept like the dead except for one thing: some time after midnight, there was a very loud thumping, repeatedly and irregularly against the tent entrance to our robo made cave. We panicked thinking we had something new and scary. Scary? A little. More like just surprising.
All over the tent were small creatures landing in goo, cleaning themselves off and crawling away. No one had thought to check, when we were trying to keep from panicking from the Yoats just how ripe the creepy bush fruit were. Apparently, they were very, very ripe and the spiny creepers were popping out and landing on the tent. It wasn't a hatching, but that was the closest thing I could think of.
Tonight, the newly born spiny creepers would be safe. No animal could eat them with the creepy bush fruit juices still so fresh...and poisonous. Ina day or two, that would be different and the spiny creepers were rushing off to see if they could get away to a safe place in that time frame. Not likely. Most would die. But those that didn't would last...at least until their plant symbiote got tired of waiting. ick.
We went back to sleep even with the weird splat tap thuds of their landings and the scurrying sounds of their retreat. We were just that tired.