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Chapter 4:
The Pack-Out

Poor Scrawny didn't know what hit him as he flew backwards with a loud, hideous bellow. I blinked several times, and looked over at the freaked-out space lizard cowering along the bank of the crater rim. I gave him a reassuring smile and held out my hands.

"It's all right. Just a bad dream." Even though he wasn't wearing a translator, he seemed to understand the reassuring aspect of my meaning, and soon calmed down.

I then realized that Mike and Greg were gone. I looked around nervously, then clambered to the top of the rim. Panic was slowly starting to grip me when I heard some twigs snapping from behind the trees. Mike came walking through, dragging several stout fir limbs. They were each about six feet long and five inches thick.

"Morning!" He cheerfully proclaimed. "Greg's decided to take another look at the little girl inside the car. I think these should work OK for a makeshift stretcher. I'm just glad she's not full grown!"

"I need a drink!" I said, reaching for the backpack. No more beer left, so I opted for water. My morning cotton mouth probably appreciated it more than a brew anyway, but my nerves didn't. The vivid memory of the dream was still wedged in my mind, but rapidly retreated from the advancing reality of morning.

With great bravado, Greg stepped through the hatch of the "Lizard Car." His sweat-drenched clothes added to the liquid illusion of the door. "Phew! It's HOT in there! Well she's as ready to travel as she's going to be." By now Mike had the limbs down within the crater area, and was rigging up an emergency stretcher with his sleeping bag in the wilderness survival style of the Boy Scouts.

I decided to make myself useful by gathering up some loose branches and brush with which to cover up the ship from view. It seemed pretty well secured from above by the trees overhead, but deep down we all knew that sooner or later we would have to return here, so we didn't want any casual hiker or federal alien hunters to accidentally stumble on "our" find.

With the assistance of FB and Scrawny we were able to bring Nuzzle Muzzle out of the ship. She was semi-conscious now, and didn't know what to think of us humanoid types. But she was too physically drained to do much about it. Besides, FB and Scrawny did a good job of calming her down.

They both now had on dark black backpacks that they must have had stashed in the ship. Both packs were bulging from what I supposed was lizard-chow.

We transferred her to the stretcher and wrapped a sleeping bag around the entire unit, with only a green sleeping head exposed. Mike and Greg gingerly proceeded on down the hill, trying to retrace our path from yesterday as best we could. Scrawny walked beside the stretcher, calming his sister the best he could as they went.

Feather Butt and I remained behind to cover up the ship. We both had the translators on, so I commented that it might be wise to throw some dirt over the exposed hatch area. "Good idea!!" he replied as he rapidly whipped off and opened his pack. A slender green arm reached in and pulled out a small round device, about the size of a tea saucer.

We walked over to the exposed bank, and FB started pressing on his little device, as he held it above the dirt. I glanced over his "shoulder" at the droid in his hand. "This is the key to the car. I should be able to use it to cover the outside with dirt . . . if I can just remember how . . ."

A small oval "screen" had appeared in the center, Capthraw letters glowing from within. "Here it is! Watch . . ." The bottom of the key flashed from what looked like an electric strobe. Then FB pressed on the droid again.

A low rumbling noise started coming from the white plastic of the half-buried car. This rapidly changed to a sound reminiscent of wet rubber gloves being turned inside-out. Simultaneously the color and texture of the exposed hatch area changed to that of the surrounding dirt! Only the shimmering silver "vertical pool" remained.

"There! Covered with dirt!!" FB exclaimed, as he pressed another button causing the liquid door to close. As we were preparing to leave, I had the feeling that we were being watched. By whom and from where, I had no idea. Just that uneasy feeling one gets every so often. Probably my imagination.

And with that we threw a few bits of wood and ferns on the surface and quickly headed down the hill after the rest of the team. We caught up with the stretcher and I took over for Mike for awhile.

The going needless to say, was more difficult than it was coming in. In spite of the fact that NM was only about 60 pounds, walking down the side of a semi-steep slope with a loaded stretcher is no easy job.

We rested at the bottom of the canyon next to the stream. Lunch consisted of a short nibble of trail mix washed down with stream water.

FB and Scrawny had no problems with drinking stream water. We even gave a cup to Nuzzle Muzzle, who was still semiconscious. Mike took over for Greg, and we headed across and up the other side of the canyon to where Mike's truck was parked.

I traded off as stretcher bearer with Greg again for awhile. I noticed as we walked along, the dudes were picked huckleberries which they scarfed down with fervor. And strangely enough, they seemed to enjoy them. I put on the translator and asked FB if he felt any queasiness or stomach cramps that might indicate poisoning. He replied that he had always enjoyed fresh berries off the bush.

"You mean you have huckleberry bushes growing back in your home ship?" I asked. "Oh yes . . ." He replied, ". . . our vegetation is very much the same as the stuff growing here. Except that our berries are bigger. These ones taste pretty good though!" So much for the poison Earth food theory.

Remembering the images in my dream, I asked him to describe the home ship. "It's a big cylinder that turns as it travels through space. The turning makes it possible for us to stand up without floating around. In the center the sun lights up the place to keep us warm and give light to the plants to grow."

"What makes The Sun glow?" I asked. "I never really thought about it; it just glows." He answered. I got the idea that this was like asking a ten year old to explain the workings of a fusion reactor. "Do you feel heavier or lighter?" I inquired. "I don't understand . . ." He answered; ". . . heavier or lighter than what?" "Do you feel like you weigh more here on Earth than back at your home?" "I feel the same, I guess. Except that it's kind of chilly here."

The outside temperature I guessed was in the mid 80's, and they thought it was "kind of chilly." After being inside their sweat box of a space ship, I was not surprised.

So it would seem that their home ship was rotated to around our same gravity, but their average temperature was a little higher. And judging by their heavy panting as we hiked up the hill, it seemed that perhaps their atmosphere was of a higher pressure or oxygen content as well. Other wise, they seemed to be biologically very similar to us.

And in spite of their reptilian appearance, they were definitely warm blooded. More like birds with arms than lizards. Since their greenish scales were more like feathers, maybe "Feather Butt" really was!

I decided to probe on with some of Greg's speculations: "You said that your grandparents left their planet 1200 years ago . . ." "1202" He corrected. ". . . what ever. How long is your year?" "Our home world made one complete orbit around the sun in 1400 days. Our days are divided into 40 hours, which are divided into 140 minutes which are divided into 140 seconds, which are divided into 140 degrees."

"Yeah, but how long is your day compared to ours?" I asked. "Scrawny told me that our days are very close in length to your Earth days. Let me have him answer that for you, since he's the resident math nerd of the group."

He handed the translator over to Scrawny and relayed what I had asked. "My measurements and calculations show that your Earth days are only about 44 minutes shorter than our Thrawnian days. How long is your year?" He asked. "About 365 days long. 364 and a quarter actually. Every four years we add a day in February to catch up."

He had kind of a puzzled look on his face and asked, "How many days?" "364 and a quarter." I repeated. "I don't understand. The translator must not be working properly. I got three hundred and four and quarter. But what is six?" This was strange. Surely even kid space lizards could count. Then something occurred to me. "Count to ten." I requested.

"Sure. One-two-three-four-five-ten." I should of figured it out earlier. They have only three fingers on each hand, while we have five. Human number systems until recently have almost always been based on the total number of our fingers. So with only six total fingers, these guys' "ten" is our "six."

Apparently the translator was designed for base six math, and not for base ten. Which answered another question. The droids must have been designed only for space lizards, and not other intelligent life forms. But this still left me wondering how it even worked at all with us.

Scrawny was really puzzled now, so I explained to him, with a short lesson in human digital anatomy, how our math works. So all the time figures they gave us were in base six, not ten as we had assumed. That would appear to make the times involved shorter.

I was now really on a roll. How many planets in the Thrawnian solar system? Does Thrawn have any moons? How long had they had space travel? The questions were popping into my head so fast I forgot where I was going. FB, Scrawny and I had gotten quite a ways ahead of Mike, Greg and the stretcher, so I suggested that we wait up for them.

We sat down and I pulled out my canteen for a swig when the two dudes sat up and cocked their heads down canyon. Several seconds later I heard it too. THUMP-THUMP-THUMP. The chopper was back. I told Scrawny to get under the trees and to tell Feather Butt to do like wise.

It looked like the same mean green unmarked machine we saw yesterday. It flew over without seeing us, and hovered a bit up the side of the canyon. Right where Mike's truck was parked. Then it landed. We must be close to the clear cut area, since we could barely make out voices after the chopper shut down.

Mike and Greg by now had caught up with us, and I helped them stash the stretcher undercover near the guys. "Shit! I think they're looking over the truck!" Mike exclaimed. "Let's just hang tight 'til they leave." I said, trying to sound optimistic.

"Nothin' here Major!" we heard some voice say, "Looks like those backpackers. I doubt that they'll stumble on anything, that boggy is probably miles away from here, if it's still in one piece!" "Well get the license number anyway, just in case. Lets get the hell out of here!"

This was followed a minute or so later by the sound of the helicopter starting up, and flying away on up over the ridge. After several more minutes of silence, we reached the truck, which was covered with a thick coating of chopper dust. © 1996 by R. D. Frederick Green Line

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