KICKAHA WAS A quicksilver Proteus.
Few could match his speed in adapting to change. But on Earth and on other planets of the pocket universes, the hills, mountains, valleys, plains, the rivers, lakes, and seas, seldom altered. Their permanence of form and location were taken for granted.
There were small local changes. Floods, earthquakes, avalanches, tidal waves reshaped the earth. But the effects were, in the time scale of an individual, in the lifetime of a nation, minute.
A mountain might walk, but the hundreds of thousands of generations living at its foot would not know it. Only God or a geologist would see its movements as the dash of a mouse for a hole.
Even cocksure, unfazed Kickaha, who could react to change as quickly as a mirror reflects an image, was nervous. But he wasn’t going to let anyone else know it. To the others he seemed insanely cool. That was because they were going mad.
THEY HAD GONE TO sleep during the “night”. Kickaha had taken the first watch. Urthona, Ore, Anana, and McKay had made themselves as comfortable as they could on the rusty-red tough grass and soon had fallen asleep. Their camp was at the bottom of a shallow valley ringed by low hills. Grass was the only vegetation in the valley. The tops of the hills, however, were lined with the silhouettes of trees. These were about ten feet tall. Though there was little breeze, they swayed back and forth.
When he had started the watch, he had seen only a few on the hilltops. As time passed, more and more had appeared. They had ranged themselves beside the early comers until they were a solid line. There was no telling how many were on the other side of the hills. What he was sure of was that the trees were waiting until “dawn”. Then, if the humans did not come to them, they would come down the hills after them.
The sky was a uniform dark red except for a few black slowly floating shapes. Clouds. The enormous reddish mass, visually six times the size of Earth’s moon, had disappeared from the sky. It would be back, though he didn’t know when.
He sat down and rubbed his legs. They still hurt from the accident that had taken place twelve “days” ago. The pain in his chest had almost ceased, however. He was recovering, but he was not as agile and strong as he needed to be.
That the gravity was less than Earth’s helped him, though.
He lay down for a minute. No enemy, human or beast, was going to attack. They would have to get through those killer trees first. Only the elephants and the giant variety of moosoids were big enough to do that. He wished that some of these would show up. They fed upon trees. However, at this distance Kickaha couldn’t determine just what type of killer plants they were. Some were so fearsomely armed that even the big beasts avoided them.
How in hell had the trees detected the little party? They had a keen olfactory sense, but he doubted that the wind was strong enough to carry the odor of the party up over the hills. The visual ability of the plants was limited. They could see shapes through the multifaceted insectine eyes ringing the upper parts of their trunks. But at this distance and in this light, they might as well be blind.
One or more of their scouts must have come up a hill and caught a molecule or two of human odor. That was, after all, nothing to be surprised about. He and the others stank. The little water they had been able to find was used for drinking only. If they didn’t locate more water tomorrow, they’d have to start drinking their own urine. It could be recycled twice before it became poisonous.
Also, if they didn’t kill something soon, they would be too weak from hunger to walk.
He rubbed the barrel of the hand-beamer with the fingers of his left hand. Its battery had only a few full-power discharges available. Then it would be exhausted. So far, he and Anana had refrained from using any of the power. It was the only thing that allowed them to keep the upper hand over the other three. It was also their only strong defense against the big predators. But when “dawn” came, he was going to go hunting. They had to eat, and they could drink blood to quench their thirst.