Every Undertaker’s Friend
by Trek Journeyman © 2016
Part Two Start at Chapter 1.1
As the four pirates were regathered around the fire. Joseph was prowling through the trees in search of Nate. His lungs heaved from both fear and fatigue, but mostly fear. Surprised that the two brothers didn’t follow him deeper into the woods, he had hid in a thick batch of bushes. After a half hour, nobody came looking for Nate’s body. Despite their initial doubt of Nombeko’s claim, the three men didn’t seek confirmation.
Joseph was free and clear for the moment. Again, it would only last until morning when Esparza would want to see Nate for himself. As close as he was to the ships, there would be no way for him to tell whose tracks were whose. Even the odd looking native tracks were pretty well mixed in with the human tracks. Further in the trees he would be able to get a sense of whose tracks were whose. It was fortunate he snagged a set of light amplification goggles. Marco had been distracted by Nombeko shooting before approaching camp.
With the goggles, the ground was visible in the twilight and he could see well enough. He could clearly see the tracks in the soil. He knew where his own tracks were from his earlier escape into the woods. He knew where he and his daughter had gathered wood the night before. From this he could tell the prints from when Nombeko had come from a direction no one from the camp had come from. Being familiar with animals, Joseph noticed that the tracks from the natives were pig-like. They were the same as the ones Esparza discovered after Joseph ran the first night. The idea that he could be watched even now gave him a shiver. He followed Nombeko’s tracks to a tree with a low fork in the trunk. Through the forking trunks he spied a blaster sitting next to another tree trunk standing about thirty feet away.
When he picked up the blaster he immediately recognized it. It belonged to Nate. At least it looked like the same model Nate carried. There was no way Nombeko would have left a blaster like this one lying around in the woods, had he seen it. So if he had shot Nate, it was as he claimed. From a distance and never approaching Nate to check how dead he was.
Closer scrutiny of the ground and the tree trunk revealed blood. There was a rather wide splatter on the tree, and a large puddle in the leaves at the base. Someone did indeed get hurt here, but nobody died, yet. A flame of hope scorched Joseph’s emotions as he believed Nate was on this same planet after all. Regardless of the odds of it being true, his spirits soared from the prospect.
Now armed with the best blaster a man could have, Joseph followed a set of tracks leading away from the bloody spot. They had to be from the victim, Nate. Native tracks crossed these, but they seemed to be made before Nate’s. Nate’s tracks circled the camp and came to a stop north of and out of sight of the camp. Here, the boot prints disappeared. Joseph looked up into the trees. He looked around. He didn’t see any sign of Nate.
Something seemed out of place. Several broken branches were cast about the spot. They were fresh, and broken off from trees and bushes surrounding where the boot prints vanished. Nate owned a drift cycle. Maybe he had flown it from his ship to the camp, and hid it. Then he skulked about the perimeter of the camp to see what was up.
How would he find Nate now? Did the Natives have him?
Joseph sat on a nearby fallen tree trunk. Nombeko had to have his own ship. Maybe he could follow Nombeko’s tracks and find a way to contact Nate or go looking for him.
He jumped up and retraced Nate’s tracks, then he picked up Nombeko’s near the forked tree. Joseph followed those tracks deeper into the woods for about a half hour. The soft soil and lightly vegetated forest floor allowed him to follow the prints without any difficulty. On occasion, he would see sign of the native’s tracks, but it was only when he got closer to the ship that they were thicker. The ships must have piqued their curiosity, and the supplies surrounding them.
After a while he found Nombeko’s ship. It was wide open, the hatch left open. More of the pig-like tracks were scattered about the landing area. They had searched through Nombeko’s boxes as well. But the ship being wide open, what a find, what luck! Nombeko was alone and back at the camp, so there wouldn’t be anyone holding down the fort. Joseph went straight to the cockpit and activated the sensors. On the screen he saw the positions of both his and Esparza’s ships back at the beach. He also saw a lone signature far to the east. It was a ship. There was something else too. It was moving.
The only way the sensors could pick up movement on the other side of the island was if there was some sort of live feed from orbit. Maybe Nombeko had left a satellite in geosynchronous orbit. There was no way it had been here before he and Esparza had arrived. They would have detected it on approach.
Familiar with modern sensor packages, Joseph’s hands danced over the controls, manipulating the view. It zoomed in close enough to show a drift cycle making its way around the island. It looked like it could be a drift cycle, but it was dark. Even the advanced sensor gear on the satellite couldn’t see color at night.
Using the satellite, Joseph attempted to contact the cycle with a tight beam laser. No response. He tried a second and third time with the same result. He then did it a fourth time, but this time he aimed it at Nate’s ship. Nate’s AI would record it and inform him on arrival.
Not aware of the seriousness of Nate’s wounds, Joseph took his time to explore the ship. He found a flightsuit that had decent armor. It was a little big but he could work with it. In the hold he found a drift cycle. He floated it outside through the hold’s main door and loaded it with food. Water, a blaster, and a beam rifle. Then he took off toward Nate’s ship.
The first segment took Joseph on a circuitous route to avoid the campsite and any path Nombeko might take to his ship. The rest of the way was a long ride. It was best if he resisted the temptation to continue signaling Nate. It would be wise to avoid the risk of tipping off Esparza or his goons to what he was doing.
The ride might have been dull, but Joseph stole several long looks at the scenery. Both moons were up and casting a silver glow on the beach he followed. The surf glittered as he flew, seeming to travel with him like a rainbow travels with observers. Reflections of the moons on the ocean also followed him. Circumstances aside, it was mesmerizing to watch.
By the time the moons had moved a short distance across the sky, Joseph noticed an artificial light in the distance. He was finally nearing Nate’s ship. The light was the bridge light glowing through the forward viewports.
Joseph pulled up and came to a stop below the bridge. Parked next to the main ramp, Nate’s drift cycle was still powered up. He shut it down. Two sets of prints streaked the sand as though someone had helped Nate inside. They disappeared at the ramp. Nate was inside somewhere, with someone.
This close to Nate’s ship, Joseph attempted to comm Nate? “Nate! Its Joseph Sanford. Are you alright?” The AI responded with a warning to leave. Ignoring the warning. he told the AI to tell Nate he was coming aboard. He then walked up the ramp, hoping he was cautious enough to not spook Nate. He still carried Nate’s blaster, but not in his hand. It hung on his waist. As he entered the airlock he saw both doors were open. Lights activated as he walked into the airlock and then into the passage.
A sparse dusting of sand littered the floor and it led Joseph into the ship’s infirmary. Nate lay inside his own autodoc. His flight suit, stained with blood, lay on the floor beside the autodoc. He was unconscious, but appeared to have a steady rate of breathing. The readout on the autodoc showed him to be in fair condition. Joseph tapped on the screen until he got to the patient diagnosis.
Nate had a bad concussion. That would have been from the head shot Nombeko claimed. It looked rather bloody. Nate also had a severe looking wound in his torso. That would be from the second shot Nombeko claimed he made. An infection from local fauna has also been detected. The last thing on the diagnosis was blood loss. Nate had lost a lot of blood, and it was a wonder he had made the trip back to his ship alive.
The autodoc had its nano-surgeons at work double time. The wounds were being repaired at a rate fast enough Joseph could watch new flesh being constructed. With Nate in good hands, so to speak, Joseph decided to get a bite to eat and study Nate’s log. It was at this time that Gary walk in behind Joseph. The AI had informed Gary of an intruder.
“Back away from the doc!” Gary held a blaster.
Hands in the air, Joseph turned around to face the familiar voice. “Oh, Tech Gomes. What are you doing here?” Joseph had many questions about the past several weeks related to Nate’s journey, including how Gary came to join him.
Gary lowered his blaster and then Joseph lowered his hands. “Nate asked me to join his crew until further notice.”
“Oh. Okay. I heard you’re a top rate tech,” said Joseph. “You hungry?” he asked.
Gary shook his head, “No. But I could use a Caff while you eat.”
The two men moved into the galley for cups of Caff. Joseph ordered a steak and potatoes produced from nutrient sludge. He also ordered a water. The meal making device hummed, hemmed, and whirled. Then plopping sounds came from inside as it placed the fresh food in a serving dish. Steam fogged the window, blocking the view of the food on the dish. The small door and window slid up and presented Joseph with his order.
Joseph ate as Gary sipped his Caff. When finished, Gary stood. “I’m sure you have questions, and I figure I’ll let Nate answer them if he wakes in the morning. Otherwise, I’ll fill you in, but for now these old bones need some sleep.” Did you and Nate see any strange tracks around here?”
“No, Why? Did you?”
“Yes, at Nombeko’s ship and at my camp. They looked like pig tracks of all things. Only they were switching between being bipedal and quadrupedal. As though they walk on two and four legs.”
“Sorry. I can’t help you. But Nate spent a good amount of time away from the ship. Maybe he can tell you something.” Satisfied for the moment, Joseph drew Nate’s blaster and held it out to Gary.
“Yes. I found it were he was shot,” Joseph said. Gary turned to leave the galley. “Wait. Where do I bunk?”
Gary stood still for a moment. “Two doors down on the left. It’s a small bunk slash closet. There’s a sleep sack in a drawer somewhere. Goodnight.” The hatch closed behind him, leaving Joseph to finish eating alone.