“You’re not going to do anything of the sort,” Cromwell said.
Doug swung on him. “We damn well are,” he said. “I’m tired of this doнnothing nonsense.”
“You’ll do what you’re ordered to do, Douglass! You’re insubordination is the cause of this situation!”
“Don’t give me that crap.”
“I’m giving you an order, technician! You’re confined to your cubicle.” Cromwell pointed in the direction.
Doug turned red, and took a step toward Cromwell. Lipton stepped in front of him, and pushed him back. To Cromwell, Lipton said, “You can’t give him orders anymore.”
“What? What did you say?”
“Doug’s a member of the colonist tribe,” Lipton said. “He takes his orders from Kinjon.”
“No its not. You know what that ceremony was about.”
Cromwell was silent for a moment, shifting mental gears.
“Well, if he’s no longer part of the expedition, he no longer has access to technica equipment.”
“He does if Kinjon says he does,” Lipton said. “Kinjon is the utmost authority on this planet, and he doesn’t recognize Technica as a separate state.” Lipton had a wild look in his eyes, like he wasn’t under control anymore.
“Lipton, don’t be a fool!”
“That’s the way it is, Cromwell.” Lipton took a threatening step toward the man.
“We’ll see about that,” Cromwell said, backing up a step.
“We’ll see what Technica thinks about it.” He turned and quickly left the room.
“A meteorologist in charge of our expedition,” Lipton said.
“The thought makes me ill.”
While Cromwell was busy in communications, Doug and Lipton opened the weapons rack and armed themselves to the teeth. They left the capsule and commandeered the observation flyer, which was nothing more than a flat platform with a railing. When the villagers saw them coming there was a big commotion, and Doug had to shoo them out from under the craft so that they could land.
Kinjon came out to meet them, and Lipton addressed the man.
“We need two of your bravest so we can go out and kill the skike before they can come back.”
“I go w’you myself,” he said. “Jahk too.”
“We brought extra weapons, so you can learn to use them.”
“Good.” He nodded, appearing very pleased. Doug and Lipton helped him up into the flyer, then the warrior named Jahk.
“Hold on to the railing,” Doug told them, and they nodded and held on. Doug sent the craft drifting into the air, across the village and over the jungle.
Cromwell’s voice came over the com unit, but Doug switched it off.
They made a spiral path around the village, extending outward, flying for hours with the scanners finding nothing. Then, several miles out, they ran across a dozen of them in a group.
“This is perfect,” Lipton said. “We’ll wipe ‘em all out at once and be rid of them.”
“Yeah,” Doug said, speaking with more confidence than he felt. He let the flyer drift silently down to treetop level, and set it to hover. They’d shown the colonists how to handle the weapons, and the two picked up on it quite fast. Point and shoot ннн there really wasn’t much to it, the energy blasts fired perfectly straight. They each picked a target and fired. The skikes screamed.
Doug discharged his rifle three times, killing two and wounding one, then stopped to let it recharge. Most of them were dead, the rest wounded. Doug’s rifle recharged and he killed the last one he’d wounded, and then there was another one. He killed it first shot ннн the skikes had no natural enemies that attacked from above, their brain cases were easy targets. But, then there was another one. Doug was losing count. He fired on it as well, wounding it, and then there were two more. Only then did he realize there was more than the original twelve. More were coming into the little clearing from the east.
He told the others to stop firing, and turned his scanner to the east. He swore. “There’s hundreds of them!”
Lipton looked over the scanner reading. “Looks like more than that. The scanner must be malfunctioning.”
“No, it’s not.” Doug raised above the treeнtops and sent the flyer east. There was a large clearing ahead, and it was all brown. It looked like acres and acres of fallen logs, but the logs were moving.
Now it was Lipton’s turn to swear. “Thousands of them,” he said under his breath.
“Tens of thousands,” Doug said. He was watching the scanner.
“They’re all heading that way.”
“All of them?”
“All of them. They’re heading toward the village.”
The men stared at each other, and then Doug said, “Lipton, how many women and children do you think the orbital can transport at a time? In the passenger compartment and also in the cargo bay?”
“A lot of children could fit. A lot of the smaller women, too.”
“It’s about a hourнandнaнhalf round trip to the Calos Islands, plus say a half an hour to load and unload. Call it two hours even.”
“It’s possible, then. We should at least start. Women and children first, and some men to take care of them, in case …”
Kinjon was following their thoughts, and he nodded. “You go first,” he said. “I want you and Jahk with them.”
“Jahk can go, but I have too much only I can do.”
“What are you thinking about?” Lipton asked.
“The defense system. On the capsule.”
“I’m going to move it to the village.”
“Can that be done?”
Doug nodded, and turned the craft around.
At the village, Kinjon and the warrior Jahk leapt to the ground to immediately ready their people for the ordeal. Doug then flew the craft over to the capsule, and told Lipton to prepare the orbital for its mission as a sky ferry.
“Doug Dunhill!” called out Cromwell’s voice. “By the authority given to me by Technica, I am placing you under arrest.”
He came walking up to the flier as Doug was shutting it down.
“That’s fine, but you’re going to have to wait a few days.”
“I’m not waiting a second.”
Doug looked up at the man, and realized Cromwell was aiming a pistol at him. Janet was standing behind and to the side of Cromwell, looking cool and unemotional. She said nothing.
“There are thousands of those skikes heading right for this place,” Doug said.
“Right,” Cromwell said.
“I’m telling you the truth. If you don’t believe me, ask Lipton.”
Cromwell smirked. “Why should I believe him?”
“What, is he under arrest too? Are you and Janet carrying out the rest of this mission by yourselves?”
Just then the orbital rose into the air beside the capsule, startling both Cromwell and Janet. “What’s going on?” Cromwell exclaimed. “What’s he doing?”
“We’re evacuating as many colonists as we can before the skikes get here. And I’m taking down the defense system and setting it up on the tower in the middle of the village.”
“You’re doing no such thing!”
“You’ll have to kill me to stop me.”
Janet stepped forward. “Doug, you can’t be serious. You can’t take down our only means of defense.”
“Well, what about them?” He motioned toward the village.
“What are we going to do, jam all 400 of them into the capsule?
It’s a bit small, don’t you think?”
“The only other answer is to move the capsule into the village, and it’s a little heavy for that. It was meant for one trip, down, and not back up.”
“You’re not taking the defense system,” Cromwell said. “And I’ll kill you if I have to.”
“Okay, kill me.”
Cromwell grinned, and raised the pistol to eye level. “I will, I warn you. Now go to your cabin like a good little tech.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’m giving you one last chance.”
“Cromwell,” Janet said, “Cromwell, think about this.”
“I’m in charge here.”
“Cromwell, Doug has a good point.”
“He does not! What are you talking about?”
“We can’t let the subject of our study die off right before our eyes.”
“You believe him?”
“Yes, I do. Doug has never lied to me.”
“He’s not lying to you, he’s lying to me!”
“Cromwell, I’m not going to let you shoot my husband.”
“Your husband? Now he’s your husband again?”
“He’s never stopped being my husband.”
Both men gave her looks.
“Well,” she said.
“Look, Cromwell, are you going to kill me or what? I mean, I’m in a hurry, I’m sure you understand.”
“You’re not taking the defense system.”
“Do we have to go through this again?”
“You’re not taking it.”
“Okay, shoot me in the back, then.” Doug walked off toward the capsule.
Cromwell raised the gun.
“Cromwell!” Janet said. She forced his arm down with her’s.
As the two began a shouting match, Doug made his way up to the capsule’s pointed roof with his tools. He disassembled and removed the automatic energy weapons, placing each piece carefully in a sack hanging from his shoulder. The two were still shouting at each other as he finished with the weapons and started on the computer system.