Gerrold stepped down on the wet neo-cycad log below… and it turned in place, dropping his heel abruptly to the harder ground. He felt the tendon go, again. The big one, just above the heel… the Achilles. “Dammit, this is NO time for this!” Swearing wasn’t his long suit, so he didn’t follow up. He did, however, sit down. Carefully, he pulled his arm out of the ‘viro-suit sleeve. Working it down and into the leg of the suit, he felt along the roughened skin from heel-bone to calf. About two centimeters above the heel he found it. Besides the bulge that told him he was right; the tendon sheath had ruptured again, there was the flare of agony at his touch that turned his ankle to fire.
He bit back a choking sob, and tried swearing again, “Sunnuvva-BITCH!” That felt right. He decided to quit while he was ahead. Tonguing the tabs in his helmet, he selected an analgesic and a HealQuik™. Pulling a tab in the leg of the ‘viro-suit, Gerrold tightened the anklet portion from heel to calf, making a temporary, slightly flexible cast.
Gerrold stood up. Another flare of lesser agony elicited a swallowed groan.
“Gerrold?” His partner’s deep alto, questioning in uncertainty, told him he hadn’t fully swallowed that last groan. “Gerrold? He had to get the mission back on track..
“Stupid rain planet’s tryna KILL me, Cadline” he radioed back. “Stumbled a bit, but I’m OK. Finish your transect, and I’ll meet you at camp.”
“Promise you’re OK?”
The near-childish expression made him laugh. “Promise.” He reoriented himself, checked his GPS against the satellites temporarily in orbit, and began recording. So far, the largest land-based animal seen by any surveyor was an arachniform about half a meter in diameter. There appeared to be no chordate analogues, at least on land. The arachniform in question had the appearance of an amazingly outsized spider. When describing spiders of Terra, a spider said to be half a meter in diameter, would have been measured from leg-tip to leg-tip. THESE arachniforms were measured across the body; a body so light that it could be supported on ten multi-jointed three-meter legs, each less than a centimeter across at its thickest point…three of which had just appeared before him.
Gerrold stopped walking. “Well,” he muttered, “you’re a walkin’ bag o’ sticks… aren’t ya?” He craned his neck, peering up along the nearest leg. “Hello.” He waved at the comical body, tiny by comparison with the legs attached to it. “Good job we’re not food for you, “ he muttered, looking at the constantly moving sharp mouth-parts. The view made him grateful for the Kevlarized fabric of the suit.
With a speed that belied its awkward look, the super-spider performed a deep curtsey, bringing its face level with Gerrold’s. It bounced a little. Gerrold felt himself retreat a step. Of course, being surrounded by the legs, retreat was a relative term. “Hello,” he said again, for no particular reason at all.
“Hel-l-l-lllo-o-o-o-oooow-w-w…” sang the creature.
“Uh-oh.” Gerrold’s worldview was darkening at the edges.
“Gerrold…” Cadline's throaty alto was back.
Gerrold turned to his left. A short ‘viro-suit, shaped vaguely along the lines of his own, but substantially wider in relation to its height, strode toward him. Gerrold stepped toward the shorter suit. His leg was fire again, and it betrayed him.
“Gerrold!” Cadline ran toward him as he fell.
“Ger-r-r-r-o-o-o-ol-l-l-ld...” The super-spider sank with him as he fell.
“Oh, Hel-umpf!” Gerrold hit the ground, Cadline dropping to one knee beside him. Groaning again, he levered himself up and looked at the two creatures next to him… the Cantarrian dwarf with the muscles of a gorilla, the mustaches (as Gerrold knew) of a Russian Tsar, and the voice of a Terran sultress… and the giant spider, a near massless brain on ten legs.
“Why-y-y-yyy do-o-o-ooo you-u-u-uuu ha-a-a-avvve tha-a-a-a-attt ski-n-n-n???” sang the super-spider.
Cadline leaned back against a neo-cycad and watched the hydrocarbon rain trace runnels down its side. “You won't understand most of this... yet." He thought about the two weeks they had been here, and the complexity of the thoughts the Spider had already communicated. "But I'm betting it won't take you long. OK, here goes... Without the 'skin' we'll die. We breathe Oxygen. Your atmosphere is nitrogen, like ours, and something we call methane instead of oxygen. We can’t breathe methane. We have oxygen inside the 'skin.' And then there's the atmospheric pressure... the 'skin' diverts the pressure around us. If it didn't, we'd be squashed.”
He contemplated the unlikelihood of a cold, methane atmosphere planet/moon producing not only life, but evolving sentient, intelligent life. “We need to be here. Your very air is fuel for us. Seems, however, that now we’ll have to trade for it. Gonna to take a long time to figure out what we have that's of value to you. And, of course, we can’t forget that we need to leave you something to breathe. Oh, yes, this is going to be interesting.”
Gerrold hauled himself to his feet. “And expensive.” He limped off toward the landing zone. “I’m the pig that flew,” he muttered. “The human race finds two sentient species in its own back yard, and I’m the guy who finds both of ‘em. And they BOTH want to talk me to death.”
Cadline and Spider were wisely silent.
© 2010- All Rights Reserved R C Larlham